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Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (1857–1920)

Thomas William Hazen Rolleston's interest in a German translation of Whitman can be attributed to his interest in German literature (which he studied in Germany from 1879–1883) and his Irish nationalism. Educated at Dublin's Trinity College, he came from an intellectual environment which fostered (under the leadership of Edward Dowden) an enthusiasm for Whitman. Germany, as an economic competitor and potential military adversary of England, was considered a natural ally for Irish nationalists and, therefore, what strengthened Germany seemed good for Ireland. German passiveness and dry positivism could be overcome by a hefty dosage of Whitman's poetry.

Together with Karl Knortz, Rolleston was the coauthor of the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry. He contributed the major portion of the translated poetry, attempting to make the German translation as shocking to German readers as the original had been to Americans. In a letter to Richard Maurice Bucke, he wrote: "A German translation of W. which should never startle the 'ordinary reader' or seem ridiculous or coarse to him, would not be Whitman at all" (qtd. in Grünzweig 27). Whereas Knortz provided an interpretation of Whitman as a political poet, Rolleston stressed Whitman's aesthetic revolution. Both conceptions were important for Whitman's German success in the twentieth century.

Rolleston's close affiliation with Whitman is documented in an extensive correspondence relating to Germany, the Irish question, and Whitman's reception in Europe.


Cotterill, H.B., and T.W. Rolleston. Ueber Wordsworth und Walt Whitman: Zwei Vorträge gehalten vor dem Literarischen Verein zu Dresden. Dresden: C. Tittmann, 1883.

Frenz, Horst, ed. Whitman and Rolleston: A Correspondence. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1951.

Grünzweig, Walter. Constructing the German Walt Whitman. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1995.

Rolleston, Charles Henry. Portrait of an Irishman: A Biographical Sketch of T.W. Rolleston. London: Methuen, 1939.

Whitman, Walt. Grashalme: Gedichte. Trans. Karl Knortz and T.W. Rolleston. Zurich: Schabelitz, 1889.

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