Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Edmund Gosse to Walt Whitman, 12 December 1873

Date: December 12, 1873

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02227

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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

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

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The Library,
British Museum.
Dec. 12th 1873.

Dear Sir

When my friend, Mr. Linton1 was here last, I asked him, during one of our conversations about you, whether I might venture to send you the book I was then writing, as soon as it came out.2 If he had not encouraged me to do so, I should hardly have liked to trouble you with it, and yet there is no one living by whom I am more desirous to be known than by you. The "Leaves of of Grass" have become a part of my every-day thought and experience. I have considered myself as "the new person drawn toward" you;3 I have taken your warning, I have weighed all the doubts and the dangers, and the result is that I draw only closer and closer to you.

As I write this I consider how little it can matter to you in America, how you are regarded by a young man in England of whom you have never heard. And yet I cannot believe that you, the poet of comrades, will refuse the sympathy I lay at your feet. In any case I can but thank you for all that I have learned from you, all the beauty you have taught me to see in the common life of healthy men and women, and all the pleasure there is in the mere humanity of other people. The sense of all this was in me, but it was you, and you alone, who really gave it power to express itself. Often when I have been alone in the company of one or other of my dearest friends, in the very deliciousness of the sense of nearness and sympathy, it has seemed to me that you were somewhere invisibly with us.

Accept the homage and love, and forgive the importunity of your sincere disciple
Edmund W. Gosse.

English writer and critic Edmund Gosse (1849–1928) was born into a small Protestant sect called the Plymouth Brethren. He later cut ties with that faith and authored the book Father and Son (1907) about his childhood, which has been characterized as the first psychological biography. After beginning his career as assistant librarian of the British Museum, Gosse ended his career as librarian of the House of Lords Library, retiring in 1914.


1. William J. Linton (1812–1897), a British-born wood engraver, came to the United States in 1866 and settled near New Haven, Connecticut. He illustrated the works of John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, and others, wrote the "indispensable" History of Wood-Engraving in America (1882), and edited Poetry of America, 1776–1876 (London, 1878), in which appeared eight of Whitman's poems as well as a frontispiece engraving of the poet. According to his Threescore and Ten Years, 1820 to 1890—Recollections (1894), 216–217, Linton met with Whitman in Washington and later visited him in Camden (which Whitman reported in his November 9, 1873, letter to Peter Doyle): "I liked the man much, a fine-natured, good-hearted, big fellow, . . . a true poet who could not write poetry, much of wilfulness accounting for his neglect of form." [back]

2. As yet we have no information about this publication. [back]

3. Here, Gosse is referencing the poem "Are you the new person drawn toward me," which first appeared in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass as number 12 of the "Calamus" cluster. For more information about this poem, see Frederick J. Butler, "Are You the New Person Drawn toward Me? (1860)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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