- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 106] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Friday, February 8, 1889

     7.45 P.M. W. was sitting in his room in his big chair. The light was down. His door was wide open. It was rather cool. His head was dropt to his breast, ruminatively. He was not asleep. He started up instantly on my quiet entrance. "Oh!" he exclaimed, extending his hand— "it is Horace: and how do you do?" Then: "I will get you to close the door: I was alone in the house: I thought I would leave the door open." And after another of the usual preliminaries— "how's the weather?"—and the brief reference to his own health, which he called "still good," he asked me quickly: "And how about Sarrazin? did you tackle him?" I expressed my pleasure, adding: "But it is only enough to whet the appetite: I want to see the whole article." W. agreed. "It is so: what we have there are a few specimen bricks: we should have it in its entirety." After reflecting: "But Doctor writes that he is waiting for Kennedy's abstract—will then himself go through it thoroughly." Here something seemed suddenly to occur to him. "I had no news from Doctor today but bad news, very bad news, from O'Connor." I must have looked the serious twinge this gave me. "Oh!" he went on, in observing it: "it was not a long letter—only a postal—from Nellie: I hurried it off to Doctor Bucke: she wished it so: she knew he wanted to know." Ed says W. was very serious all day: had sent the postal north as soon as it was received. W. continued: "O'Connor appears to be sinking—slowly: he cannot write: he is in bed—broken down,

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 107] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
W.'s tone pathetic. "The worst of it is not in Nellie's despair: she tells me O'Connor himself regards his condition as probably fatal: that is bad, bad, bad." But he would "still hope": would "bear in mind" Nellie's "peculiar constitution": "she is of the nervous makeup—so candid she becomes pessimistic: sees too much. That so frequently happens: the differences between people are remarkable: Nellie is somber, overgrave: William generally the opposite, taking the bright view." He "never failed to recall Carlyle" in "this connection." "He was much the same: every whit honest: in all his sourness, dyspepticism, straightforward: yet Carlyle took the dark view—as I say it, had the pessimistic trend, drift: saw too greatly or too emphatically the bad side of things: but no man was ever more candid."

     Ed here entered with a letter. W. took it eagerly. Then relaxed. "Oh! I was hoping it was from O'Connor," he said: "I have been sitting here all day thinking of him." Only a letter asking for an autograph.

     Return to Carlyle: discussion of his status. I was warm pro. "We must take the balance of quality in a man." W. acknowledged. "All that is to be said: I think it only right to allow for all that—to take it into account, give it a large margin. But that was not all: there was a local flavor in Carlyle—a flavor of bitterness that was not wholesome, not generous. I should say that something in the same vein is found in our own Dick Stoddard—in his assaults on Poe, others." I protested: "But Carlyle makes up grandly for all this: he has another side." He admitted it. "That is true—and Stoddard has not." Pausing. "Indeed no one would be more ready to stick up for that than I. Carlyle refrained from assaulting Burns—forgave his peccadilloes." W. further: "I do not know why: Burns was not Carlyle's man: Carlyle probably overlooked the sins because Burns was a Scotchman." If that was so how can we account for his defense of Byron? "Did he ever defend Byron? I did not know it." I quoted Froude—that Carlyle would freely criticise Byron himself but not allow it from another. W. said: "That is good to hear. Strangely, too, my own attitude towards Carlyle has always been the same. Mary Costelloe—Mary Smith—would often say: 'You won't hear anything said against Carlyle, will you?' It was a day in the city there: everybody was against Carlyle: there at Smith's, everybody: I stormed like the devil: I would not have it." I asked him

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 108] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
if he didn't think the Carlyles necessary at certain periods? "Yes: I would not deny that—would stoutly defend it in fact." But then he amusedly added: "Carlyle was a great bear, too: hard to live with: not essentially a fraternal spirit."

     I quoted Warden Brush as saying to Chadwick of the Sing Sing prisoners: "They sustain my faith in human nature. They are a big-hearted set: very kind to one another." W. visibly touched. "Yes, yes: I am very amenable on that side—very amenable to the story, the appeal. Indeed, Horace," his voice dropping lower: "indeed, there's not a word you have said—not a word—that I do not myself applaud: not a word. You have touched a chord that always induces my sympathy."

     At this point the talk floated back to O'Connor again. At last things wore "a disastrous outlook." And, as W. said: "All the worse that we cannot go to him—see him." Further talk then of Sarrazin. I asked: "Have you written him?" W. said: "No, but I sent him a copy of the big book—sent him a package of pictures." I judged a picture of S. himself would be welcome to W.? "Yes, indeed: he must be quite a fellow." He had no way of "knowing whether Sarrazin is young or old, rich or poor": "in fact, I know nothing at all about him." "Doctor writes me that he has written to Sarrazin or will write." Here W. laughed heartily. "And what a mess that will be, too! I try to imagine Sarrazin trying to get over the Doctor's handwriting: I confess that is one of the things in the Doctor which I can never become reconciled to. If it had not been that I have become accustomed to it through years—have long struggled with it—I would not be able to make much out of it even now: Doctor has a pernicious habit of stringing his words together—sometimes a whole line: it is hard to puzzle it out. Why in heaven's name a man will write a hell of a hand—good people, too, often the best people (especially the English: they are the worst offenders)—I can't say: an insufferable affectation, negligence, carelessness." Especially was this "the offence of the literary classes." "I feel that I am a great sufferer from it: so many of the fellows write me that way."

     To Sarrazin again. "I showed you his letter, didn't I? You know he said there he would print the article in full, in a book—that part of it was cut out of the magazine. Even as it stands it must make five or six pages. Could you make much of it in the French?" Was Bucke

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 109] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
to return the magazine? "That was not stipulated in the bond: he probably does not expect to: but I shall take care to get the book: give instructions for it in New York or Boston—perhaps in London: or perhaps Sarrazin himself will think to send me the book." At any rate, when the book comes "we must get a full and strong translation." He has sent out a number of sheets containing Kennedy's abstract. I alluded to the S. piece as "superior to most anything our fellows have done." He responded: "It is indeed: it is among the strongest pieces of work which Leaves of Grass has drawn out. I think Kennedy's sentences there read as if they were pretty genuine—pretty well followed the original. If it reads so well translated, how wonderfully more vivid it must be in the French—the clear quick flow of its first gush." He didn't think this essay "written in the French style closely": it was not "in the order of the French essayists, polite writers—of Daudet and such: rather like—oh! who is that great fellow?"—here poking the fire with the tongs—bent inquiringly towards me—answering himself: "I have him—Renan! And then there's another, greater still, I think: no, not Hugo: Hugo is vast but not in this direction." I asked, after hesitating myself: "Is it Taine?" He was at it with a flash. "Taine: he's the man: the writer of English Literature! Sarrazin writes more like him—has his solidity, breadth." Then Taine struck him? "Oh my yes: I think his history one of the greatest books of our time: most genuine, most subtle, most profound." Better than it had been or could be done by an Englishman? "No Englishman could have done it: it has a quality no Englishman could have imparted to it." Arnold was "superficial compared with Taine." "Even Grote, the greatest of the Englishmen in that line, could not equal it." Yet Grote's History of Greek Literature "is very profound: rather dull, heavy—yet not heavy: elaborate, plodding." It was "monumental"—a "monumental job" to one who undertakes to read it. He (W.) had "accomplished the whole task." Still: "Taine, too, is a long story: we cannot approach it or depart from it in haste." W. took "no interest in" Arnold's "charge of lubricity against French literature." "Does he use lubricity in the sense of oiliness?" asked W.: "of making things move smoothly?—of furthering grace of motion? I should say, in these of all things the French writers excel: there are no others within range of them."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 110] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     W. received a copy of Liberty today. He had not noticed that it contained Carpenter's essay on Customs reprinted from The Fortnightly. "I looked over it: I did not see that: certainly I must lay it aside and read Carpenter." Then he explained: "You know Edward is a great Socialist: in fact, all the young fellows over there seem to be Socialists: even Rhys, if not Socialistic himself, breathes the air of Socialism—absorbs it." In fact, "even Costelloe, Mary Smith's husband," had lately been "elevated through some sort of Socialistic victory" to a position "on the Town Council—something or other—Board, or what not." W. motioned towards the table. "There's a note from Mary—I want to send it to Doctor Bucke—in which she speaks of it." He could not make clear to himself the "precise nature of Costelloe's position"—how "elevated thereto"—but "it came out by some Home Rule and"—here a word lost: "a common word in England" which he could not "recover": "a political combination of some kind, however." It was evidently an important position. "A man so fixed is a distinguished personage." And he exclaimed: "London, with its five or six millions of people: the greatest city in the world: it almost thrills you merely to think of it!"

     W. gave me a copy of the Sarrazin sheet for Clifford: also three dollars for insurance. Saw Oldach. Told him of W.'s anxiety. Promised copies of book tomorrow. McKay goes Monday evening. W. greatly relieved. As to numbering books he said: "You do it, won't you? Do it, too, just in the way you think best: I am afraid to undertake it: the worry of getting the numbers right I must not subject myself to: I want to please you—to do what you and Dave advise: but I think you could manage the numbering better than I." First he thought: "Let us keep all the early numbers for our copies here." Then: "I am not so impressed as you and Doctor and Dave with the necessity of this but I am willing it should be done." San Francisco Chronicle review "very light—not worth considering: I sent it to Doctor today." He also said: "Doctor must have his Sarrazin slip by this time: we'll see what he says of it."

     Just as I was about to leave, W. handed me two Rolleston notes pinned together and asked me to read them to him. I looked at my watch. He asked: "Haven't you time?" I said: "Yes: I was only wondering whether it wasn't too late for you." This seemed to

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 111] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
tickle him. "Staying up late is your specialty, Horace, but I don't see why it should be your monopoly." I sat down again and read.

Dresden, Nov. 22, 1883.

My dear friend and master—

I am at last able to send on the lecture, which I have now got published together with another by a friend of mine here, delivered before the same society. I hope it may do something, however little, towards making the L. of G. known here. If any American bookseller would like it, which is not, I suppose, very probable, he must write to the publisher, Tittman. We are selling it for one mark—which I think a quarter of a dollar, about. I have sent a copy to Doctor Bucke. Would you kindly transmit one to W.D. O'Connor, whose address I don't know? As to Doctor Knortz, I fear it would be quite impossible to carry on the work of translation with him at such a distance. I have appended to my lecture a translation of the Song of the Answerer, and in getting this translation into final form, I was astonished at the amount of discussion it gave rise to between myself and a German friend who looked over my proofs, showing that it would be quite impossible to carry on the work of translation with another person across the Atlantic. Besides, I greatly doubt if he would go into it. His admiration for the L. of G. is decidedly qualified by objection to your system of punctuation, use of participles, &c., which matters seem to bother him more than they ought. His translations are sympathetic and effective for the poetic passages—but when he comes to a word whose meaning is a little remote or unusual, he evades this difficulty. For instance, here is his rendering of a passage from The Mystic Trumpeter:

Blow again, Trumpeter! Take for thy theme
The All-encloser, the Redeemer and Orderer—
Love, pulse of the All, of sorrows and of joys,
The heart of man and woman;
No other theme than love—immortalizing, all-embracing, self-surrendering Love.

On the whole I begin to fear that a complete translation is not feasible, at present. But I might possibly reckon on assistance

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 112] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
enough to produce good rendering of, say, eight or ten of the longer poems, which might then be published in a small book, and perhaps pave the way for something more. What would you think of this?

I am sending McKay a copy of the lectures and am asking him to let me have a copy of the L. of G. with broad margins, if he has got one. The 1882 reprint is not very satisfactory in this way, to me at least, as I like to make notes and references in the book.

Things are going badly in Ireland. The government is putting down meetings (of the National party) right and left, for no reason, and the people are getting very exasperated. I had hoped great things from Gladstone's government, but that accursed Egyptian war opened my eyes finally to the mixture of hypocrisy and injustice which lie at the root of English policy. If you could only live in Ireland for awhile, and see this sensitive, keen-sighted, but helpless nation dragged about in the clumsy lurches of English opportunism—seeing it all, knowing its own mind and ideal, but condemned to incapacity for realizing it—you would wish us Godspeed. [ "I do wish you, I did wish you, Godspeed, God knows, Rolleston: yes I did, do, out of my whole body and soul!" ejaculated W.] and yet I did not always see my way to these views myself.

Now I must close. I was glad to hear of your health and pleasant circumstances, &c., in your last letter. May this one find it all unchanged.

Yours always,

T. W. Rolleston.

     Before I started the second letter W. had something to say. "That 'master' business at the beginning would make me sick if I didn't know its honorable origin. The last fate I'd wish for myself anywhere anytime would be to be 'mastered.'" I said: "On the ground that a master always implies a slave?" He cried: "Good! you hit the nail on the head the first lick!" He went on: "It's a way some of the English fellows have: it's in the grain: they don't mean to be obsequious. You'll notice that in the second letter Rolleston drops the 'master' for 'Walt,' which sounds much better." W. said of the translating episode: "Rolleston and Knortz, who started out at odds, finally got effectively together, with the result you know. It's a detail of which you should be informed—you who have become

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 113] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
or will become our historian in chief."
I said: "Yes: the chief cook and bottle washer of the administration!" W. settled himself in his chair once more. "Read the second letter," he said.

Dresden, Aug. 7, 1884.

My dear Walt:

I write to tell you how things are going now about the translation, &c. It is nearly through its last stage. Our way of working is this. First I translated all I am going to give as well as I could out of my own unassisted resources and handed over the manuscript to my colleague. He then read it over carefully with the English text and made such notes and corrections as occurred to him. Then he handed the notes and MS back to me. All this is now done, and at present I spend the evening in reading a portion of the translation with his notes, and considering all carefully. Next morning I visit my colleague and we go over what I prepared the previous night, everything, every sentence, and give final shape to the translation. In the afternoon I write out for the printer what we have done in the morning.

I have now ready for print the Song of Myself, Starting from Paumanok, I Sing the Body Electric, Song of the Open Road, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, and a dozen or two of the shorter poems. We were at work this morning on Salut au Monde! As to publishing, I am trying to get a Dresden man, Heinrich Minden, to take it upon commission. He is now away in Moskow, on business, but returns in a few days. I have written to broach the matter. Curious fact, illustrative of rule in Russia. I wanted to send Minden my translation of Starting from Paumanok, with my preface to the work and Freiligrath's article from the Allg. Zeitung. But they told me at his office that if I ever wished to see these things again I had better not despatch them—as this highly revolutionary and explosive literature would assuredly be confiscated on the frontier by the Russian police! So I left them in the office, where I suppose they will label them "dangerous," and put them on an upper shelf till Minden comes back.

The German colleague I alluded to is not a partner in the strict sense and takes no part in the publication of the work, nor has legal responsibility for it. His name is Gustav Adolf Israel—he is Master

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 114] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
for German literature in a school here. I have known him for long, and knowing his capacities engaged him for a fixed sum of money to revise my MSS. You must not let his name be known. It would have serious consequences for him if he were known to have taken any part in the production of the L. of G. No one supposes that the book will be much of a success financially speaking. [W. blurted in: "Neither now nor never! Much of a success? No success at all. God save us from success forever more! Amen."] A bookseller told me the other day that no one reads poetry now in Germany, or buys it, except to give pretty books as presents to young ladies on their confirmation. But then as the leading critical organ here, anent my lecture, asserted that the L. of G. are not poetry, perhaps there is a chance for them.

I have not gone into detailed criticism in my preface. Said that if anyone didn't see his way to calling the book "poetry," he might call it by any other earthly name he liked, if he would only begin to listen to it. Gave a sketch of your life, in which I have corrected some mistakes I made in my lecture, and gave your letter, i.e., the portion you wrote for this purpose. I mean to give the English text, but not on alternate pages—underneath in smaller type, on the bottom one third of the page, so as to give the idea that it is there for reference, making the German rendering the main thing, as it should be for German readers. But this is a good deal dependent on the publisher's own opinion.

We are thinking of leaving Germany about the middle of September. My address then will be Glasshouse, Shincone, Ireland. This indeed is always sure to find me. I shall be glad to get among my own people again, and to have a bit of a holiday too, for I have been working pretty hard all this summer. I hope you are well and prospering.

As soon as there is further definite news about the L. of G. translation I'll let you know. Meantime goodbye.

T.W. Rolleston.

     W said: "Rolleston is a sort of republican: has no notion for kings: looks ahead: sees the Empire crumbling: all that. Then he is for a free Ireland: so am I and for a free every country. If I had my way I would break down the last barrier between nations—abolish the last separatist law. Rolleston has the Irish spirit: is fiery,

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 115] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
strong, vehement, uncompromising. I always enjoy him: he always imparts to me something of his own intractable spirit. That's very good, what he says in the second letter about calling the Leaves poetry or not: that German critic is not isolated: he has many agreeing compatriots: Rolleston's reply is the only reply—except that we might say that the best reply is silence. I find that the best thing for me to say even under the worst provocation is to say nothing. They talk about form: poetic form: this tradition for sculpture, that for painting, another for the written word: form: complying to the dicta of professors, pedagogue, stylists, grammarians. Well—a man can do that and be crowned: then he can not do it and take his chances: I have had to take my chances: after I had once started there was no turning back."
W. spoke of R.'s criticism of K.'s translating. "I am interested in the question he raises but am not in a position to answer it yes or no: that's all outside my province. I find myself also largely indifferent, which perhaps I should not say—which is probably censurable."


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.