Skip to main content

William Michael Rossetti to Walt Whitman, 9 July 1871

 loc.01893.001.jpg Dear Mr. Whitman,

I was much obliged to you for the kind thought of sending me your fine verses on the Parisian catastrophes.2 My own sympathy (far unlike that of most Englishmen) was very strongly with the Commune—i.e. with extreme, democratic, & progressive republicanism, against a semi–republicanism wh.​ may at any moment  loc.01893.002.jpg (& will, if the ultras don't make the attempt too dangerous) degenerate into some form of monarchy exhibiting more or less of the accustomed cretinism.

I fancy that, unless some one sends it you from here, you may probably not see an article on your position as a poet lately published in the Westminster Review.3 I therefore take the liberty of posting this article to you. I don't know who has written it: but incline to think the writer must be Edward Dowden,4 Professor of English Literature in Trinity College,  loc.01893.003.jpg Dublin—a young man who no doubt has a good literary career before him. He is at any rate, I know, one of your most earnest admirers. Lately he delivered at the College a lecture on your poems, with much applause, I am told: & the same week some one else in Dublin delivered another like lecture. There are various highly respectful references also to your poetry in a work of some repute recently published here, "Our Living Poets,"5 by Forman6 (dealing directly with English poets only).

You may perhaps be aware  loc.01893.004.jpg that the Westminster Review is a quarterly, founded by Jeremy Bentham,7 & to this day continuing to be the most advanced of the English reviews as regards liberal politics & speculation.

I trust Mr. O'Connor8 is well: wd.​ you please to remember me to him if opportunity offers.9

Believe me with reverence & gratitude

Your friend, W. M. Rossetti  loc.01893.005.jpg Rossetti July 9 '71 see notes May 10 1888  loc.01893.006.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[worn-away] | 1 | JY 10 | 71; CARRIER | JUL | 24 | 7 PM. [back]
  • 2. After France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, discontented workers in Paris who had formed a "National Guard," a kind of citizens' militia, led a rebellion against the Parisian government and formed the Paris Commune. The Commune governed the city from March 18 to May 28, 1871, at which time the French army retook the city and prosecuted those who had supported the Commune. [back]
  • 3. The Westminster Review had been published in London at least since the 1820s. A favorable anonymous review in 1871 sent Whitman inquiring after its writer; Rossetti indicated it was Edward Dowden. (For this review, see "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman.") [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. On July 9, 1871, Rossetti had called attention to the "highly respectful references" to Whitman in Harry Buxton Forman's Our Living Poets (1871). These references included two prefatory quotations from Whitman, even though according to Rossetti, the book dealt "directly with English poets only." [back]
  • 6. Henry Buxton Forman (1842–1917), also known as Harry Buxton Forman, was most notably the biographer and editor of Percy Shelley and John Keats. On February 21, 1872, Buxton sent a copy of R. H. Horne's The Great Peace-Maker: A Sub-marine Dialogue (London, 1872) to Whitman. This poetic account of the laying of the Atlantic cable has a foreword written by Forman. After his death, Forman's reputation declined primarily because, in 1934, booksellers Graham Pollard and John Carter published An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, which exposed Forman as a forger of many first "private" editions of poetry. [back]
  • 7. Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) was an English utilitarian philosopher who, with Scottish philosopher James Mill (1773–1836), founded the Westminster Review in 1823. [back]
  • 8. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 9. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913), who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the Washington years. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. She had a close personal relationship with Whitman and helped to nurse him after his January 1873 stroke. The correspondence between Walt and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)." [back]
Back to top