Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Michael Rossetti to Walt Whitman, 4 April 1876

Date: April 4, 1876

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01890

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Eder Jaramillo, John Schwaninger, Nima Najafi Kianfar, Caterina Bernardini, Marie Ernster, Erel Michaelis, Amanda J. Axley, and Stephanie Blalock

page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4

56 Euston Sq. N. W.
4 Ap.

Dear Whitman,

I write in haste, & specially for the business purpose named further on. Mrs. Gilchrist1 & Dowden2 (who happens just now to be in London) have seen your letter of 17 March,3 & doubtless appreciated it as I do. I have received also your post-card of 20 March,4 & the Two Rivulets5 wh. that announced.

What I want to know is the precise fact about the prices &c of your books. The printed slip mentions only Leaves of Grass £1 ($5), Two Rivulets £1, Mem. during war6 6/—, & all 3 for £2; & of each of these only 100 copies printed. Is it a fact then that a L. Grass is not anyhow obtainable at less than £1 nowadays? & that, when 100 copies are sold no more purchasers need apply? w.d you kindly tell me precisely about all this. Were it not that I find the uncertainty about this most embarrassing, & the presumable chance of enlisting purchasers at such high prices much diminished, I shd already have drawn up my proposed circular to start the scheme. Perhaps you w.d prefer to telegraph back in fewest words: note this as you prefer.

Your poems printed in Athenaeum7 of 1 April.

Some minor details when next I write.

Your Affectionate
W. M. Rossetti

Please tell me also how you w.d like me to send over the various sums I have received for your books. I presume you w.d send the books direct to the purchasers: not but that I w.d receive & distribute them if really any object to you, but it w.d cause delay to all, & to me some work of a kind at wh. I am not particularly ready.

William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868, Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to Frederick S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. Anne Burrows Gilchrist (1828–1885) was the author of one of the first significant pieces of criticism on Leaves of Grass, titled "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman (From Late Letters by an English Lady to W. M. Rossetti)," The Radical 7 (May 1870), 345–59. Gilchrist's long correspondence with Whitman indicates that she had fallen in love with the poet after reading his work; when the pair met in 1876 when she moved to Philadelphia, Whitman never fully returned her affection, although their friendship deepened after that meeting. For more information on their relationship, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Anne Burrows (1828–1885)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. Edward Dowden (1843–1913), professor of English literature at the University of Dublin, was one of the first to critically appreciate Whitman's poetry, particularly abroad, and was primarily responsible for Whitman's popularity among students in Dublin. In July 1871, Dowden penned a glowing review of Whitman's work in the Westminster Review entitled "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," in which Dowden described Whitman as "a man unlike any of his predecessors. . . . Bard of America, and Bard of democracy." In 1888, Whitman observed to Traubel: "Dowden is a book-man: but he is also and more particularly a man-man: I guess that is where we connect" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 10, 1888, 299). For more, see Philip W. Leon, "Dowden, Edward (1843–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. See Whitman's letter to Rossetti of March 17, 1876[back]

4. This postal card has not been located. [back]

5. Published as a "companion volume" to the 1876 Author's edition of Leaves of Grass, Two Rivulets consisted of an "intertwining of the author's characteristic verse, alternated throughout with prose," as one critic from the The New York Daily Tribune wrote on February 19, 1876 (4). For more information on Two Rivulets, see Frances E. Keuling-Stout, "Two Rivulets, Author's Edition [1876]" and "Preface to Two Rivulets [1876]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Memoranda During the War (1875) chronicles Whitman's time as a hospital volunteer during the American Civil War. Whitman began planning the book in 1863; see his letter to publisher James Redpath of October 21, 1863, in which he describes his intended book. For more about the completed volume, see Robert Leigh Davis, "Memoranda During the War [1875–1876]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. The Athenaeum (1828–1921) was a literary and scientific journal published in London. Norman MacColl (1843–1904) served as editor from 1871 to 1900. [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.