Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Karl Knortz, 8 April 1889

Date: April 8, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: med.00868

Source: The location of this manuscript is unknown. Miller derives his transcription from a transcript of the letter published in American Literature 20 (1948), 162. The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:319. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Caterina Bernardini, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

Camden, N.J.
April 8, '89

The enclosed was brought this morning by the carrier. Suppose you received some copies of the "Grashalme,"1 as I did from Rolleston.2

Am still laid up here by disablement and paralysis—am confined entirely to my room and mostly to my chair. I received your acknowledgment of the big book "Complete Works."3

Dr. Bucke4 is well—hard at work managing the big Insane Asylum at London, Ontario, Canada. My dear friend O'Connor5 is very ill at Washington. Am sitting here in big arm chair (with great wolf skin spread back) as I write—raw dark day—keep up pretty good spirits.

Walt Whitman

Karl Knortz (1841–1918) was born in Prussia and came to the U.S. in 1863. He was the author of many books and articles on German-American affairs and was superintendent of German instruction in Evansville, Ind., from 1892 to 1905. See The American-German Review 13 (December 1946), 27–30. His first published criticism of Whitman appeared in the New York Staats-Zeitung Sonntagsblatt on December 17, 1882, and he worked with Thomas W. H. Rolleston on the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry, published as Grashalme in 1889. For more information about Knortz, see Walter Grünzweig, "Knortz, Karl (1841–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. Whitman is referring to Grashalme, the German translation of Leaves of Grass by Karl Knortz and Thomas W. Rolleston. The poet received his copies on February 25, 1889. See his letter of February 25, 1889, to William Sloane Kennedy. [back]

2. 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). [back]

3. Knortz's acknowledgment is not extant. Whitman is referring to his Complete Poems & Prose (David McKay, 1888). Traubel records the poet's first reactions to the new book in Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, January 23, 1889. Also, on January 23, Whitman wrote to Bucke: "a handsome substantial volume—not that I am overwhelmed or even entirely satisfied by it, but as I had not put my calculations high & was even expecting to be disappointed, I shall accept it." [back]

4. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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