Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: R. Brisbane to Walt Whitman, 1 February 1887

Date: February 1, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: syr.00008

Source: Walt Whitman Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library, Syracuse, N.Y. 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 notes: The annotation, "BRISBANE, R," is in an unknown hand. The annotation, "see notes March 3d 1889," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

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83 Bould St Michel
Feb 1st 1887

Dear Walt Whitman.

Your two postals came duly to hand—the last on the 2d of last month—but the letter there in announced has not come. It is now too late I presume to expect it:

I will say for Mr Laforgue1 that he is glad of your permission to translate "Leaves of Grass" & that he expects to make of it an interesting Volume2

We want to publish it with a preface in the shape of a biographical sketch. It would be pleasant to have facts in your life not yet published: your youth, how you gave yourself on the battlefield during the war, etc. Would you have the strength & the inclination to furnish us such?

I am sorry to learn thro' the papers that you are permanently disabled physically. I trust that the appearance of your poems in a foreign dress will have a happy pecuniary result. In any event you have too many friends on both sides the ocean ever to be forgotten.

As the interpreter of the little group here I am the bearer of many good words

Ever yours sincerely
R. Brisbane

R. Brisbane was a French admirer of Whitman and apparently a collaborator on a planned translation of Leaves of Grass into French.


1. Jules Laforgue (1860–1887) was a French free-verse poet born in Uruguay. Laforgue, whose work mixed symbolism with impressionism, became one of Whitman's most important supporters in France, and he translated thirty-four of Whitman's poems, published in La Vogue in 1886. Shortly after receiving Whitman's permission to translate Leaves of Grass as a whole in 1887, he died of tuberculosis. [back]

2. Horace Traubel asked Whitman about this project a few years later: "Did this scheme ever come to anything?" [Whitman] shook his head: "No: to nothing." Then he quietly chuckled: "But that's not surprising, not exceptional: my schemes never came to anything." "Then there were none of the pecuniary results Brisbane speaks of?" "Least of all, pecuniary results: does anything I do ever have pecuniary results? When I think of all the schemes—some of them mine, some of them from others—designed to establish for Leaves of Grass some plausible wordly estate, I am struck with amazement—almost consternation. George once said to me: 'Walt, hasn't the world made it plain to you that it'd rather not have your book?" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 3, 1889). [back]


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