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Julius Bing to Walt Whitman, 21 January 1869

 loc.00099.001_large.jpg My dear Mr Whitman,

I thank you for your thoughtfulness in sending me the Atlantic with your glorious poem which has caught up the grandeur & harmony of the Cretian itself.1

I hope you will take the Crusades in hand in reference to Crete & the contest betwixt Christian & Musalman.

A grand subject worthy of your genius! a gathering of natives as shining & wild as that now tossing about in these States, all bent on driving the Turks & Saracens from Christian land. Popes, Kings, Emperors, he of France the sainted Louis IX2 & the English monarch Richard Coeur de Lion3, Martinus Aussens & Principes, the flower of the nobility, all armed to the teeth, armor-clad with no thought but hatred to the Turk & love for Christ & for Womanhood, which the Turk defiles. Immense Caravanserais starting from all lands for several centuries, inspire by rapt men—Peter the Hermit,4 Walter the Pennyless,5 all classes joining, all races, all ages; children's crusades; eighty thousand children En route for Holy Land; rabble; loafers; religious & otherwise joins; thieves; prostitutes; all; high & low, virtuous & vicious, all humanity on horseback! But mark  loc.00099.002_large.jpg but then mere thousands of sailors; the ships of Venice, Genoa & Spain & behold the result! While their ships were crossexamining Mediterranean & Aegean sea to find the best harbour wherein to lay hand on Turk they became acquainted with navigation, with the art of navigation!

The spirit of maritime discovery was thus initiated by these crusading fleets, & when this spirit had culminated in the discovery of America, then Crusading spirit dies out & trading spirit, venturesome, engendering negro-traffic, was ushered into existence.

Hence the poet is right to conclude that the Enterprise which originated in Christian Enthusiasm, was killed by the spirit of maritime discovery to which it had given birth

If the Genoese & Spanish sailors had not been experimenting on the sea in the Crusading expeditions, the best of discovery would not have been developed; Columbus would not have been incited to his expedition & America would not have been discovered.

And then the poetry that was born by the Crusades. Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata6 & Goethe's drama, Torquato Tasso with his poetic love of Princess Eleonora.7 And the chivalry, the heroic, martial spirit; the martyr; the Christ spirit the millions of Christians slain in the attempt to wrest the sepulchre from Turk.


You see the connection. The discovery of America was the indirect result of the Crusading expeditions. But the spirit of Enterprise crushed that of religious enthusiasm & thus it was that the Turk was allowed to remain to oppress Crete & Greece & now America repays the debt which it owes to the poor Christians of the East whose dream was sealed because America had to be discovered & a maelstrom of material Enterprise to be let loose

How grandly you might weave all this together in words & mankind—stirring stanzas! Ponder over it & if I can make further suggestions, let me know

Faithfully— Julius Bing

I enclose an outline of the main idea in a map.

I further enclose a string of sentences, which express part of the ideas.

 loc.00099.010_large.jpg  loc.00099.003_large.jpg Popes, Bishops; Christ Peter the Hermit Walter the Pennyless Godefroi de Bouillon8 Richard Coeur de Lion Louis IX period of enthusiasm & martyrdom & & & Venetian Genoese Scandinavian Spanish Portuguese sailors rise of art of navigation & gunpowder industry speculation decline of religious enthusiasm further rise of navigation. Columbus–America death of religious enthusiasm Christians remain in bondage to Turks. Damnation! Ages elapse; suffering; woes; Greek war of independence Clay & Webster begin to discharge American debt of gratitude. Cretan war of independence. All despots conspiring against Crete American more alive than ever to her debt Walt Whitman's poem. Revival of moral enthusiasm! Down with the Turk! America accomplishes the mission of the Crusades, interrupted by the event consequent upon her discovery.  loc.00099.004_large.jpg  loc.00099.005_large.jpg

Full two hundred years before Columbus came The way to his advent was clearly traced By the armadas thronged with Crusaders Who drove the Moslem from the land of Christ. While all Christian men & women too seized the pilgrim's staff To wrest the hallowed East from Turkish grasp Thrilled only with the Sermon on the Mount and caring not for tracing hidden empires It so happened that their wrestlings with the seas opened new vistas to ships & the art of navigation. Genoa, Venice & Spain were most busy on that craft Their swift sailors spread dismay in Moslem camps Even as in these days the Syran Candiot sloops But mark! this sea alliance of Italy & Spain Stretches far beyond the Saviour's tomb Columbus was its immaculate conception and a new world thus linked with old Palestine

Peter the Hermit & Walter the Penniless little dreamt That their rhapsodies would give a lift to sailors and wings to the cross-examiners of the sea Until the Genoese struck upon these shores To communicate this mystic bond between East & West which the Voge's​ & Castilian fleets9 had initiated in olden times  loc.00099.006_large.jpg Alas! greed soon followed in the train of enterprise The crusaders degenerated into traders The Turk desecrated the tomb of Christ and built his Harems in the Holy Virgin's land.

New centuries have since come & gone But the old bond between East & West survives When Arcade fell with thousand Christian martyrs & Men & women gave their mete to Crete Then the old bond revives with all its mystic charm. Pilgrim Rock & Calvary, Crusaders & Columbus and all the chivalric, holy trinity of them get revived To do in our days & in our quiet way What was done of yore in turmoil & confusion So great is the result of the Genoese's adventure That our influence transcends all the armies of all the Crusaders Let us pay the debt we owe to these great souls Where monarched Europe failed, let free Columbia win. Let our nation give the honour of fellowship to Crete To Crete delivered from the Turkish yoke And by a divine law of gravitation They consummate the work in which Saint Louis was foiled. The enterprise that killed mediaeval rapture built up our Continent Our bounties shall yet atone for a guilt that brought us into being  loc.00099.007_large.jpg The Turk need not complain for he had his spree And more than this: when he is hurled back to Asian wilds He may then apply what he was taught by Greek & Cretan. But he shall no longer rule in Christian lands His time is up; even Stanley sounds his death-knell Let him not stand upon the order of his giving, but go,— Crete redeemed shall lead the way to Holy Sepulchre And upon the grave of Him of Nazareth America fold her star-spangled mighty banner Are Popes, Sultans, Kings the only anointed of the Lord Or are we so given up to policy & pelf And join the sceptic who decried the age Let the People resolve to oust the Turk & we, too may have our age of Christian divinity

Julius Bing was a social reformer appointed as clerk of the Joint Select Committee on Retrenchment in early 1867. Bing wrote more than twenty articles on the civil service, which were published in the North American Review and Putnam's Magazine. Little is known about Bing, and although this letter suggests that Walt Whitman had written to Bing at least once before, no other correspondence between the two is currently extant. Whitman explored in some unpublished manuscripts the suggestions Bing made about a poem referencing the Crusades but is not known to have published such a work. See also Art Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils: A History of the Civil Service Reform Movement, 1865–1883 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1968), 40–49.


  • 1. This letter has not been located. [back]
  • 2. Saint Louis IX of France (1214–1270) ruled as king of France from 1226–1270 and participated in the Seventh and Eighth Crusades (1248 and 1270). [back]
  • 3. Richard I of England (1157–1199), better known as Richard the Lionheart (Cœur de Lion), led the Third Crusade (1189–1192) and defeated the forces of Saladin (1138?–1193) but failed to conquer Jerusalem. [back]
  • 4. Peter the Hermit (1050?–1115) was a priest who led members of the People's Crusade (a faction of the First Crusade in 1096) to the Holy Land. When his followers were killed by Seljuk forces in the winter of 1096, Peter never returned from a supply run to Constantinople but instead joined Godfrey of Bouillon before attempting to desert. [back]
  • 5. Walter Sans Avoir, known as Walter the Penniless, was a French knight of the First Crusade. He was killed by the Turks in 1096. [back]
  • 6. La Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered) is an epic poem by Italian poet Torquato Tasso (1544–1595). First published in 1581, the poem depicts the Christian forces of the First Crusade (1096–1099) in a hard-won triumph against the Muslims at Jerusalem. [back]
  • 7. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), Lord Byron (1788–1824), and Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848) all composed works that presented the Italian poet Torquato Tasso (1544–1595) as romantically infatuated with Eleonora, the sister of Duke Alfonso II of Ferrara (1533–1597). [back]
  • 8. Godfrey of Bouillon (1060?–1100) was a French noble who led the First Crusade to Jerusalem from 1096 until his death four years later. After the siege of Jerusalem in 1099, Godfrey assumed rulership of the city but declined the title of "king" for religious reasons. [back]
  • 9. The reference to the "Castilian fleet" dates back to the Middle Ages prior to the unification of the two main kingdoms (Aragon and Castile) that essentially made up Spain, both of which had developed powerful fleets at the time. Castile had developed its naval capabilities during the reconquista against the Moors, achieving many victories including the capture of Cadiz in 1232 and the 1402 conquest of the Canary Islands for Henry III of Castile. Perhaps its most notable achievement was its arrival in the Americas, which resulted from an ongoing race of exploration between Castile and Portugal. [back]
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