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Rudolf Schmidt to Walt Whitman, 25 April 1872

 loc.01906.005_large.jpg see notes June 7 1888 Dear Walt Whitman.

Just now received the "New York Commercial Advertiser",1 which was for some days ago preceded by your kind letter.2 When returned to Washington, Clausen,3 who has taken a strong and sincere attachment to you, most certainly will be willing to translate the whole article verbally to you. I should be glad, if after a throughout​ knowledge you still would be pleased with it. I have had very great pleasure in introducing you to the Scandinavian public and most probably in no European country you would find the questions of the mind so fa loc.01906.006_large.jpgvourable for the understanding of your poetry. Your books and portraits have in the last month circulated amongst the ladies of my acquaintance, for especially it is the women that are your friends. Bjornson4 writes of your article: "Walt Whitman makes me a joy as no new man in many years and in one respect the greatest I have ever had. Never had I thought in my days (during my life-time) to get a spirit (or ghost, none of the expressions signify exactly our stand) for my help—from America. But such and in no other shape of course it must come. I thank him and thee from my full heart. I went amazed during some days and still the great impressions are haunting me, as were I on the ocean looking on the driving  loc.01906.007_large.jpg ice-bergs, that are inaugurating the spring."

I am very curious to know how you did like Clemens Petersen.5 Of course you did not like him. But if you have not found him broken by sickness and bad humors you must have felt, that here is a mind with perhaps the finest nerves for beauty, you ever met.

Will you do me a service? I should like to write an article on "American Fancy" comparating​ the grotesque humor that is scattered with no pretension in your newspapers with the humor of Luther and Shakespeare. Our own papers are some times bringing such specimens of wit and humour extracted fra​ the American papers. Could you not find for me about a dozen  loc.01906.008_large.jpg jokes of this sort. That is all I want. For instance: I saw in "Harpers Weekly"6 one of your leading political men (whom as Cincinnatus7 by the plough bringing himself an address, the same person making (in two figures) compliments to himself. Another instance: A teacher explains to his pupils the meaning of a phenomenon. An apple tree is no phenomena; a cow is none. But if you were seeing a cow in an apple-tree plucking apples with the tail: that would be a phenomenon!

At present you will understand my meaning! Good by.

Yours Rudolf Schmidt

The Danish writer Peter Carl Rudolf Schmidt (1836–1899) was the editor of the idealist journal For Idé og Virkelighed ("For Idea and Reality") and had translated Whitman's Democratic Vistas into Danish in 1874.


  • 1. The New York Commercial Advertiser was an evening American newspaper. Whitman's poem "After All, Not to Create Only" appeared in the New York Commercial Advertiser on September 7, 1871. For more information on The New York Commercial Advertiser, see Susan Belasco, "New York Commercial Advertiser," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 2. See Whitman's letter to Rudolf Schmidt of April 4, 1872. [back]
  • 3. Carl F. Clausen, who Rudolf Schmidt called "my old friend and countryman," corresponded with Schmidt after he left Denmark in 1860. See Carl Roos, "Walt Whitman's Letters to a Danish Friend," Orbis Litterarum, 7 (1949), 34–39. The Directory in 1870 listed him as a draughtsman and in 1872 as a patent agent. He died of consumption in the middle 1870s. [back]
  • 4. Björnstjerne Björnson (1832–1910), Norwegian poet, dramatist, and novelist, was co-editor of Rudolf Schmidt's journal. In his January 5, 1872, letter, Rudolf Schmidt observed: "Hans Christian Andersen would perhaps not make you very great joy, if you did know him personally. Björnson would be your man" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, February 7, 1889, 103). Schmidt later altered his opinion of Björnson, writing at some length on February 28, 1874: "His poetry comes from the source that is throbbing in the people's own heart. He has been the spoiled darling of the whole Danish public. But he is a living test of the hideous and venomous serpent, that hides his ugly head among the flowers of the pantheistic poetry. You have in your 'vistas' spoken proud words of the flame of conscience, the moral force as the greatest lack of the present democracy. You have, without knowing it, named the lack of Björnson at the same time! Björnson owes Denmark gratitude. He has shown it in the form of deep and bloody offences, that make every honest Danish heart burn with rage and indignation." [back]
  • 5. Clemens Petersen (1834–1918), for ten years a critic for the Danish magazine "Fædrelandet" (Fatherland), left Denmark in 1869 amid police accusations of homosexuality; accusations that Petersen was inappropriately involved with schoolchildren were never proven. Petersen remained in the U.S. until 1904, when he returned to Denmark. Petersen and Norwegian poet Björnstjerne Björnson (1832–1910) engaged in a long correspondence, suggesting a close friendship. Rudolf Schmidt pressed Walt Whitman for his opinion of Petersen, as in his February 28, 1874, letter: "I have asked you at least two times how you did like Clemens Petersen; you have not replied and most probably you wont speak of this matter. If that is the case, I shall repeat the question no more." See Who's Who in Gay & Lesbian History, ed. Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon (London: Psychology Press, 2000), 2:55, 343; see also Carl Roos, "Walt Whitman's Letters to a Danish Friend," Orbis Litterarum, 7 (1949), 43n. [back]
  • 6. Harper's Weekly debuted in 1857. Harper's Weekly was notable for its Civil War coverage and began publishing American writers in the ensuing decades. Walt Whitman's poem "Beat! Beat! Drums!" appeared in the September 28, 1861 issue of the newspaper, and two poems by Whitman were first published in the periodical in the 1880s. For more information on Whitman and Harper's, see Susan Belasco, "Harper's Weekly Magazine," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was a Roman consul and later dictator who famously (and perhaps apocryphally) abandoned his plow in a field to lead a successful Roman battle before returning to his farm 15 days later. [back]
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