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William Michael Rossetti to Walt Whitman, 8 October 1871

 loc.01882.001_large.jpg 56 Easton Sq. London, N.W. Dear Mr. Whitman,

I was extremely obliged to you for the present of your photograph & books; the vol.​ of poems2 containing (what I now read for the first time in that shape) the important section of Passage to India,3 & many modifications here & there in other compositions. It happens that I have lately been compiling a vol.​ of selections from American Poets,4 & I had had to use your earlier editions for  loc.01882.002_large.jpg the purposes of this compilation: but I have now set those aside, & used your new edition throughout—so the kind & welcome gift came to me at a very apposite moment. I confess to a certain reluctance to lose the old title "A Voice out of the Sea"5 of that most splendid poem (rated by most of your English admirers, I observe, as the finest of all, tho​ I am not prepared to acquiesce in that estimate): however, in this as all other respects where the editions differ, I have followed your new edition. Many thanks also for the separate poem subsequently received "After all, not to create only"—replete with impor loc.01882.003_large.jpgtant truths.—I don't well know when my American Selection will be out: my work on it is done, & the rest depends on the printer & publisher. I shall hope to beg your acceptance of a copy in due course.

I sent on the copy of your works transmitted for "The Lady,"6 after some little delay occasioned by my being absent from England up to the end of August. She was (& I think still is) in the country: but, to judge from a letter of acknowledgement she wrote me, you have probably by this time heard from her direct. I know also that you have heard from Profr. Dowden,7 the writer of the ar loc.01882.004_large.jpgticle in the Westminster.8

Mr. Burroughs9 called here10on 5 Octr., & is to dine with us tomorrow: I like his frank manly aspect & tone, & need not say that you were a principal subject of conversation between us. He seems very considerably impressed with the objects & matter of interest in London: I wish it might be my good fortune to see you here also some day. Rumours of your projected arrival have been rife for some while past, but, as I learn from Burroughs, the prospect is as yet not a very definite one.

Believe me Most respectfully your friend, W. M. Rossetti.  loc.01882.005_large.jpg Rossetti Oct. 8 see notes Dec 24 1888  loc.01882.006_large.jpg

William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868, Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to Frederick S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Washington—D.C. | U.S.A. It is postmarked: LONDON-W | 7 | OC 9 | 71; NEW YORK CITY | OCT | 22 | PAID; CARRIER | OCT | 23 | 8AM. [back]
  • 2. This communication has not been located. [back]
  • 3. First printed as a separate publication containing the title poem, some new poetry, and a number of poems previously published in Leaves of Grass, "Passage to India" was Whitman's attempt to "celebrate in my own way, the modern engineering masterpieces . . . the great modern material practical energy & works," including the completion of the Suez Canal (1869), the Union and Central Pacific transcontinental railroad (1869), and the completion of the Atlantic Cable (1866) (see Whitman's April 22, 1870, letter to Moncure D. Conway). Although Whitman submitted the poem to the Overland Monthly on April 4, 1870, it was rejected on April 13, 1870, for being "too long and too abstract for the hasty and material-minded readers of the O. M." Conway, Walt Whitman's agent in England, was not able to sell the poem to an English journal. John Burroughs observed in the second edition of his Notes on Walt Whitman as a Poet and Person (1871), 123: "The manuscript of Passage to India was refused by the monthly magazines successively in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and London." The poem was eventually included in the final three editions of Leaves of Grass, published in 1871, 1881, and 1891. For more information on "Passage to India," see John B. Mason, "'Passage to India' (1871)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. William Michael Rossetti edited the series Moxon's Popular Poets from 1870 to 1875. The volume of American poems to which he refers was to be the seventeenth volume in the series and was dedicated to Walt Whitman; it was published in 1872. [back]
  • 5. According to Horace Traubel, Walt Whitman (apparently more than once) mistakenly used the title "A Voice out of the Sea" for the poem actually called "A Word out of the Sea," which was published as "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" in the 1871 edition of Leaves of Grass. See Intimate with Walt: Selections from Whitman's Conversations with Horace Traubel, 1888–1892, ed. Gary Schmidgall, The Iowa Whitman Series (Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2001), 29. [back]
  • 6. Anne Gilchrist's "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman" appeared in the May 1870 issue of the Boston Radical, 7 (1870), 345–359, reprinted in In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), ed. by Horace L. Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned, 41–55, and The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman, ed. Thomas B. Harned [New York: Doubleday, Page, 1918], 3–22. Gilchrist is only vaguely referred to as "The Lady" by William Michael Rossetti on October 8, 1871, and "the English lady" by Rudolf Schmidt on February 5, 1872, making it unclear whether her authorship of the article was known by Whitman's friends. [back]
  • 7. Edward Dowden (1843–1913), professor of English literature at the University of Dublin, was one of the first to critically appreciate Whitman's poetry, particularly abroad, and was primarily responsible for Whitman's popularity among students in Dublin. In July 1871, Dowden penned a glowing review of Whitman's work in the Westminster Review entitled "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," in which Dowden described Whitman as "a man unlike any of his predecessors. . . . Bard of America, and Bard of democracy." In 1888, Whitman observed to Traubel: "Dowden is a book-man: but he is also and more particularly a man-man: I guess that is where we connect" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 10, 1888, 299). For more, see Philip W. Leon, "Dowden, Edward (1843–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. The Westminster Review had been published in London at least since the 1820s. Whitman had been sent a favorable anonymous review in 1871, and Rossetti indicated that the reviewer was Edward Dowden. (For this review, see "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman.") [back]
  • 9. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 10. Burroughs traveled a great deal due to his job as a bank examiner. He wrote effusively to Whitman from London on October 3–4, 1871, after he had visited St. Paul's: "I saw for the first time what power & imagination could be put in form & design—I felt for a moment what great genius was in this field.…I had to leave there & sit down.…My brain is too sensitive. I am not strong enough to confront these things all at once…It is like the grandest organ music put into form." [back]
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