Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Thomas W. H. Rolleston to Walt Whitman, 14 August 1882

Date: August 14, 1882

Whitman Archive ID: loc.05119

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 Whitman and Rolleston: A Correspondence, ed. Horst Frenz (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1951), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff. The material appears here courtesy of Indiana University Press.

Editorial note: The annotation, "pictures sent Sept. '82. | & wrote postal card," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Kirsten Clawson, Eder Jaramillo, Elizabeth Lorang, and Nicole Gray

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August 14th/82
29 Lange Strasse

My dear master

I wish you could send me, if you have them loose, a few of your portraits, especially of the shirt-sleeves one—or perhaps you could tell me where they are to be had, if they are attainable to the public? I should like also to have a couple of copies of a brief autobiographical note of which Edward Dowden gave me a copy some time ago—intended to accompany presentation copies of the L. of G.1 I am just home from a summer's walking-tour in Switzerland, where I, and a friend who lives here, had a glorious time together. Anything more bracing and invigorating than the air on the high mountain passes it is impossible to conceive. We went over one glacier, where my friend distinguished himself by falling into a crevasse. As we were all roped together—two guides and ourselves, he was extricated without much damage. Scenery on the glacier the 'Tschingel' was marvellous. It is a vast lake of ice, probably some 200 feet deep, lying high among the peaks of the Bernese Oberland. It is mostly covered with a thin coating of snow, but at one point it pours down through a break in the mountain-wall, by a kind of gorge or ravine, into a deep valley. It has the aspect then of a river, not a lake; and at this point there is no snow—the ice being heaped up into enormous ridges & pinnacles like a river when there is a long reach of rapids, only in the glacier everything is much vaster—the waves as big as a terrace of houses, with deep chasms between them walled as far as one can see with gleaming ice. The ice is only semitransparent & is of a very strange pale green hue. The wild, tossing confusion of the ice-river contrasted strangely with the absolute stillness and immoveability, broken only, now & then, when some great block would totter over and come thundering down into the valley, hurling huge fragments & splinters into the air as if they were dust.

I am working now at an essay on the L. of G. which I am to read before a literary society here. Shall introduce quotations liberally & see what they think of my translation. If I like this essay when it is done I will publish it here in pamphlet form & send it well about Germany.2 I suppose you got a page of translation I sent you some time ago?3

I hope all is going well with you. Heard some months ago of an intended prosecution of the new edition—but I suppose that was a mere 'canard.'4

Much interest here about the English in Egypt.5 A shameful business altogether, which makes me thankful that I am not an Englishman except against my will. The other European governments feel some satisfaction at the course taken—whenever might is the order of the day despotism feels securer, & they like to see England, the home of liberty, acting as unjustly as any dynasty with its traditions of iniquity. They do not yet fully comprehend that English liberty is regarded as being only fit for Englishmen.

I suppose you have seen Swinburne's new vol. Tristram of Lyonesse.6 There seems some fine verse in it—especially the ode to Athens, but I have not read it thoroughly yet.

Now farewell, with all good wishes & greeting. Please do not forget about the portraits and Note.

Yours sincerely
T.W. Rolleston.

Thomas William Hazen Rolleston (1857–1920) was an Irish poet and journalist. After attending college in Dublin, he moved to Germany for a period of time. He wrote to Whitman frequently, beginning in 1880, and later produced with Karl Knortz the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry into German. In 1889, the collection Grashalme: Gedichte [Leaves of Grass: Poems] was published by Verlags-Magazin in Zurich, Switzerland. See Walter Grünzweig, Constructing the German Walt Whitman (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995). For more information on Rolleston, see Walter Grünzweig, "Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (1857–1920)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. The first edition of Leaves of Grass contains a portrait of Whitman in shirt sleeves. It is a steel engraving done by Samuel Hollyer from a daguerreotype taken in 1854 by Gabriel Harrison of Brooklyn. The picture, which is used again in the second, sixth, and seventh editions, is probably the one to which Rolleston refers. [back]

2. Rolleston read a lecture on Whitman before the Literarischer Verein of Dresden on September 25, 1883. The lecture was published in Ueber Wordsworth und Walt Whitman; Zwei Vorträge von H. B. Cotterill und T. W. Rolleston (Dresden, 1883). Rolleston gave a humorous account of the Dresden society in "The Literarischer Verein of Augustusstadt," The Dublin University Review, 1 (April 1885), 50–52. The article, which is signed "T.W.R.," contains some interesting reflections on German poetry and criticism. Rolleston also commented on the lectures on Wordsworth and Whitman which he and Cotterill had given before the society and claimed that "Walt Whitman got, on the whole, a rather more encouraging reception, perhaps because he was treated from a more exlusively philosophical point of view." After the joint publication, in pamphlet form, of Ueber Wordsworth und Walt Whitman, a good part of it was translated into English by Horace Traubel and appeared in the Camden Post on Feburary 13, 1884. [back]

3. See the enclosure to the letter from Rolleston to Whitman of February 14, 1882[back]

4. The "some months ago" would coincide with his statement of June 10, 1882 that he had just heard about the controversy over the "Children of Adam"; both references then are to the banning of the Boston edition of 1882. [back]

5. When Egypt's hazardous financial situation required European intervention, England and France established dual control in 1876. An antiforeign uprising was crushed in May, 1882, by the British Forces. [back]

6. Tristram of Lyonesse, and Other Poems (London, 1882). [back]


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