Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Frederick S. Ellis to Walt Whitman, 24 August 1871

Date: August 24, 1871

Whitman Archive ID: loc.05067

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, "Ellis London," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Marie Ernster, Paige Wilkinson, Noelle Bates, Amanda J. Axley, Caitlin S. Matheis, and Stephanie Blalock

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Aug 24 1871

Dear Sir:

When I wrote to you yesterday I quite forgot to mention that Mr. Swinburne1 had for a long time been very much concerned that not knowing your address he had been unable to send you a copy of his "Songs before Sunrise". As I think it possible that by this time you may have got the book I send you one of the special copies printed on fine paper, of which only 25 were struck off and shall feel much gratified by your acceptance of it.

Believe me
Dear Sir
Yours faithfully,
F. S. Ellis

To Walt Whitman Esqr.

Frederick Startridge Ellis (1830–1901) was a London bookseller, publisher, and author who published the works of William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Whitman first wrote to Ellis on August 12, 1871, to ask if he would publish Leaves of Grass. Ellis declined, writing in an August 23 letter that there were poems in Leaves of Grass that "would not go down in England," but he praised Whitman's poetry and sent him a specially printed copy of Algernon Charles Swinburne's Songs before Sunrise.


1. The British poet, critic, playwright, and novelist Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909) was one of Whitman's earliest English admirers. At the conclusion of William Blake: A Critical Essay (1868), Swinburne pointed out similarities between Whitman and Blake, and praised "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" and "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," which he termed "the most sweet and sonorous nocturn ever chanted in the church of the world" (300–303). His famous lyric "To Walt Whitman in America" is included in Songs before Sunrise (1871). For the story of Swinburne's veneration of Whitman and his later recantation, see two essays by Terry L. Meyers, "Swinburne and Whitman: Further Evidence," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 14 (Summer 1996), 1–11 and "A Note on Swinburne and Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 21 (Summer 2003), 38–39. [back]


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