Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Michael Rossetti to Walt Whitman, 13 November 1885

Date: November 13, 1885

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03609

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 note: The annotation, "see notes Sept 16 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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13 Novr. /85.

Dear Whitman,

I read with great concern the statement in your note of 20 Octr that you are "in poorer health even than of late seasons": it wd. give me & others the sincerest pleasure to receive pretty soon a statement to the reverse effect.2

Since I wrote last to you little sums have been accumulating in my hands:3 I enclose an account of them, amounting to £31.19— Within the next few days I shall take the usual steps for postal remittance of this amount, & will send you the papers.

In the letter of Miss L. Agnes Jones to me (more especially) there are some expressions wh. I think you will be pleased to read. I don't know this lady: she writes from 16 Nevern Road, Earl's Court, London. "The necessities of persons one knows, & may be bound to do all one can for, are so near & pressing that to give money to help—on the efforts of those who try to realize one's ideals is seldom possible; &, even in sign of one's gratitude to one who has partly reformed our ideals, is less so. . . . Yet Walt Whitman shd. have those: to whom it is at once instinct & natural inevitable duty not to count any cost, or weigh this claim with that; but to break the alabaster, & pour the ointment, with no thought but of him. Has he not? This is a long apology for sending 5/-: it seemed so poor & ungenerous to send, unless I had said what gratitude it may yet stand for. Walt Whitman knows better than most that the sense of spiritual gain can seldom find the expression it longs for; & that it may forever remain unexpressed in material terms, & yet be present & abiding. I have as often wished to thank him."

I grieve to say that Mrs. Gilchrist has been much out of health of late, & I fear still continues so.4 No doubt you have details from head quarters.

Yours in reverence & affection,
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 | 328 Mickle St. | Camden | New Jersey | U.S.A. It is postmarked: LONDON W. [illegible] | NO12 | 85 | S.M.P.; NEW YORK | NOV | 21 | F. D.; CAMDEN N.J. | NOV 22 | 5PM | 1885 | [illegible] [back]

2. Whitman's prior letter is not extant and in his reply to Rossetti of November 30, 1885, he has little positive to say about his health: "nothing new with me, only my eyesight is better." [back]

3. Rossetti is referring to the funds that he and Herbert Gilchrist had been raising in England to support Whitman. For more on this "free-will offering" see Anne Gilchrist's letter to Whitman of July 20, 1885 as well as Rossetti's letter of August 25, 1885[back]

4. 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]


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