Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Michael Rossetti to Walt Whitman, 1 January 1885

Date: January 1, 1885

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03606

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.

Editorial notes: The annotation, "from Rossetti | Jan 1 '85," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "see notes July 6 & 8 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Kyle Barton, and Nicole Gray

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1 Jan. /85.

Dear Whitman,

Some while ago I received your kind present of the 2 vols.—Leaves of Grass & Specimen Days: recieved them, I am certain you will believe, with extreme pleasure, & with a grateful sense of your continuing to remember me across a somewhat long lapse of years. To be remembered by Walt Whitman is what any man shd be proud of, & none is so more than I.

I have read the Specimen Days vol. right thro: finding various new things, & continual pleasure in reviewing my acquaintance with the old ones. Am extremely pleased to find in this copy of the book something wh. is absent even from Mrs Gilchrist's2 copy—the photographs of your mother & father. If you were blessed with an unsurpassably good mother, I can with truth say the same of myself. My mother is still with us—aged nearly 85: health & faculties sound on the whole, but naturally bowed & stricken with the weight of years.

I have also scanned with a good deal of attention (that of complete re-reading) my old & constant admiration, the Leaves of Grass vol. I observe that some edition (I think the Philadelphia edition is named, but my vol. is not under my hand at the moment for reference) is mentioned as the only final & complete form of Leaves of Grass. The vol. with wh. you favoured me is not the Philadelphia edition, but I am in hopes that it may none the less be regarded as complete.

I am glad to note in this country from time to time symptoms of the increasing appreciation of your works: especially something written by Ruskin,3 & the Sonata from the Lincoln Dirge.

Accept as heretofore the affectionate respect & regard of

Yours always
W M Rossetti

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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey | U.S.A. It is postmarked: LONDON, W.O. | 4 | JA 3 | 85 | (?); NEW YORK | JAN | 12; (?) | E | ALL; 85. [back]

2. 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]

3. John Ruskin (1819–1900) was one of the leading art critics in Victorian Great Britain. Whitman sent Leaves of Grass and a "couple of photographs" to Ruskin via William Harrison Riley in March 1879 (see the letter from Whitman to Riley of March 18, 1879). Ruskin, according to Whitman, expressed "worry...[that] Leaves of Grass is...too personal, too emotional, launched from the fires of...spinal passions, joys, yearnings" (see the letter from Whitman to William O'Connor of October 7, 1882). Whitman, late in life, said to Horace Traubel: "[I] take my Ruskin with some qualifications." Still, Ruskin "is not to be made little of: is of unquestionable genius and nobility" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, January 24, 1889, 17). [back]


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