Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Karl Knortz, 4 May 1889

Date: May 4, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: med.00869

Source: The location of this manuscript is unknown. Edwin Haviland Miller derives his transcription from a transcipt that was published in American Literature 20 (1948): 163. The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:330. 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, Alex Ashland, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden,
May 4, '89.

Am continuing on here much the same imprisoned in my room and chair and locomotion quite out of the question—mentality and brain action (while easily tired and sore at the best) remain, the muscles, especially my right hand and arm, good—spirits, sleep etc. fair—and the main elementary functions active at least half (or even plus half) to keep off so far my complete down fall.

I believe I told you I am preparing a small handsome pocket book bound edition of L. of G.1 including the "Sands at 70" and "Backward Glance," as a sort of commemorating my completion of 70th year (May 31, 1889). Shall send you a copy when out. Sarrazin's2 book is out in Paris—"La Renaissance de la Poésie Anglaise 1798–1889." Papers on Shelley, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Tennyson, Robert Browning and W. W. A handsome 279 pp. book in the beautiful easy handy French style.

Your postal card of two weeks since received3—have not heard anything more of "Grashalme"4 or Rolleston5—hear frequently from Dr. Bucke6—my dear friend O'Connor7 at Washington very ill yet—Wm. Walsh8 on the Herald, and Julius Chambers9 on the World are friendly to me—I am sitting in my big rattan chair by the oak fire writing this—sit here this way nearly all day—a young man, friend Horace Traubel10 (of German stock) comes in every day, is very faithful and kind and serves as medium to the printers. Write—


Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
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).

Notes:

1. Whitman had a limited and autographed pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass printed in honor of his 70th birthday, on May 31, 1889, through special arrangement with Frederick Oldach. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. The volume also included the annex Sands at Seventy and his essay A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads. See Whitman's May 16, 1889, letter to Oldach. For more information on the book see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary[back]

2. Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France, who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. See Knortz's postal card to Whitman of April 14, 1889[back]

4. 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]

5. 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]

6. 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]

7. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). 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]

8. William S. Walsh (1854–1919) was an American author and editor of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine.  [back]

9. Julius Chambers (1850–1920) was an American author, investigative journalist, and travel writer. After working as a reporter for the New York Tribune, he became the editor of the New York Herald and, later, the New York World.  [back]

10. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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