Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Addington Symonds to Walt Whitman, 7 October 1871

Date: October 7, 1871

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01960

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: Kenneth M. Price, Elizabeth Lorang, Ashley Lawson, and Beverley Rilett

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see note sept 7 1888

Oct‑ 7. 1871.

My dear Sir,

When a man has ventured to dedicate his work to another without authority or permission, I think that he is bound to make confession of the liberty he has taken. This must be my excuse for sending to you the crude poem in wh. you may perchance detect some echo, faint & feeble, of your Calamus.—As I have put pen to paper I cannot refrain from saying that since the time when I first took up Leaves of Grass in a friend's rooms at Trinity College Cambridge six years ago till now, your poems have been my constant companions. I have read them in Italy by the shores of the Mediterranean, under pine trees or caverns washed by the sea—& in Switzerland among the alpine pastures & beside the glaciers. At home I have found in them pure air & health—the free breath of the world—when often cramped by illness & the cares of life. What one man can do by communicating to those he loves the treasure he has found, I have done among my friends.

I say this in order that I may, as simply as may be, tell you how much I owe to you. He who makes the words of a man his spiritual food for years is greatly that man's debtor.

As for the poem I send you—it is of course implicit already in your Calamus, especially in "Scented herbage of my breast." I have but set to an old tune the new divine song—: for you know that on this side of the Atlantic at least people most readily listen to old tunes. I fear greatly I have marred the purity & beauty of your thought by my bad singing.—I am an Englishman, married, with 3 children, & am aged 30.—

Answer to this I scarcely expect, as I certainly do not deserve it. The poem I send is due for reasons already set forth. It is a printer's proof at present & no more.

I am your grateful and attached
John Addington Symonds


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