Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Addington Symonds to Walt Whitman, 7 February 1872

Date: February 7, 1872

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01961

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, Ashley Lawson, Beverley Rilett, and Herbert M. Schueller and Robert L. Peters

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Feb: 7. 1872.

Dear Mr Whitman

Your letter found me today. This is my permanent address. I live here in a large old house wh. belonged to my father—a house on a hill among trees looking down upon Bristol with its docks & churches—a picturesque labyrinth of masts & spires & houseroofs.

Your letter gave me the keenest pleasure I have felt for a long time. I had not exactly expected to hear from you. Yet I felt that if you liked my poem you would write. So I was beginning to dread that I had struck some quite wrong chord—that perhaps I had seemed to you to have arrogantly confounded your own fine thought & pure feeling with the baser metal of my own nature. What you say has reassured me and has solaced me nearly as much as if I had seen the face & touched the hand of you—my Master!

For many years I have been attempting to express in verse some of the forms of what in a note to Democratic Vistas (as also in a blade of Calamus) you call "adhesiveness." I have traced passionate friendship through Greece, Rome, the medieval & the modern world, & I have now a large body of poems written but not published. In these I trust the spirit of the Past is faithfully set forth as far as my abilities allow.

It was while engaged upon this work (years ago now) that I first read Leaves of Grass. The man who spoke to me from that Book impressed me in in every way most profoundly & unalterably; but especially did I then learn confidently to believe that the Comradeship, wh. I conceived as on a par with the Sexual feeling for depth & strength & purity & capability of all good, was real—not a delusion of distorted passions, a dream of the Past, a scholar's fancy—but a strong & vital bond of man to man.

Yet even then how hard I found it—brought up in English feudalism, educated at an aristocratic public School (Harrow) and an over refined University (Oxford)—to winnow from my own emotions & from my conception of the ideal friend, all husks of affectations & aberrations & to be a simple human being. You cannot tell quite how hard this was, & how you helped me.

I have pored for continuous hours over the pages of Calamus (as I used to pore over the pages of Plato), longing to hear you speak, burning for a revelation of your more developed meaning, panting to ask—is this what you would indicate?—Are then the free men of your lands really so pure & loving & noble & generous & sincere? Most of all did I desire to hear from you own lip —or from your pen—some story of athletic friendship from wh. to learn the truth. Yet I dared not to address you or dreamed that the thoughts of a student could abide the inevitable shafts of your searching intuition.

Shall I ever be permitted to question you & learn from you?

What the love of man for man has been in the Past I think I know. What it is now, I know also—alas! What you say it can & shall be I dimly discern in your Poems. But this hardly satisfies me—so desirous am I of learning what you teach. Some day, perhaps—in some form, I know not what, but in your own chosen form—you will tell me more about the Love of Friends! Till then I wait. Meanwhile you have told me more than anyone beside.—

I have been led to write too much about myself, presuming on what you said, that you should like to know me better.

It will give me sincere pleasure to receive a copy of your book from you. I am grateful to you for purposing to give me so great a gift. Will you complete the benefit by sending me a portrait of yourself?—

It is good to hear that your work does not deny you leisure. Work with an ample margin of freedom is the best thing for man; but I cannot believe in the modern Gospel of Work & no leisure. This ends in a Science of Human Mechanics.—

When I am free enough from home duties, I hope to be for America, on a tour with my wife. Then I shall request to be permitted to pay respect to you in person.—

That you may know my face I enclose 2 portraits. The little girl in one of them is my youngest child.

I am your ever grateful & indebted
John Addington Symonds


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