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Rudolf Schmidt to Walt Whitman, 20 March 1874

 loc.01910.005_large.jpg Dear Walt Whitman,

Your letter of the 4th1 I received this morning. The number of Harper's2 magazine and of the New York Tribune3 did not follow, but most probably they will reach me; printed matter is very often going an other way. If your "Prayer of Columbus"4 be not too long, I shall try to get a translation of it published in one of our papers.

Immediately after my return from Germany (28th February) I did write to you5 and sent you a long article of your book in the paper "Fædrelandet"6 (fatherland); the last monday I for mailed for you another article in the weekly paper "Nær og Fjern" (Near and Far).7 All these things have been sent to New Jersey. To the Treasury in Washington have been sent in all three copies of "Demokratiske Fremblik,"8 one in loose sheets (franked), one complete paper bound copy franked and an other unpaid (for greater safety, as unpaid letters and papers never fail their man). Some copies of "Illustreret Fædrelandet" (peoples illustrated magazine) with  loc.01910.006_large.jpg your portrait and some short biographical notices have also been sent to Washington.

With Clausen9 I sent you in the autumn 1872 a large portrait of mine, the only resembling one, that ever has been taken. Write to Mrs Clausen, if they have not forwarded it to you.

If you could, without troubling yourself too much, send me all the pieces of Clemens Petersen,10 that come to your eye-sight, I should be very glad. This singular man has a great charm to me, though I never liked him.

If my thoughts did not weaken and wither, when I try to give them expression in the English language, I should on some sheets give you a due description of our political and literary doings. Although the word of Hamlet: there is something rotten in the state of Denmark, still are true, I have the greatest belief of the vitality of my people and the other Scandinavian peoples. We have been living here in the outskirts of civilization; we have been endowed with its gifts, but we have have​ not been poisoned with its venom. Ours is the future in Europe, small as we are.

In no European country, and most probably also not in America, your personality, your mode of  loc.01910.007_large.jpg viewing the things shall be more sure to touch the chord of the native mind as here and in Norway. We are made of the true democratic stuff, we have not the venomous passions, but we have the high ideal aspiration. A peasant on Fijen (one of our fertile isles) wrote to me in the spring for two years ago to thank me for my article on you. Peasants are on the sundays holding the numbers of "for Ide og Virkelighed"11 in their hard fists and read every word, though the matters often are very difficult.

But on the political arena our democratic leaders are dull and narrowminded persons, to say nothing worse. None of them has named your book yet, most probably they won't name it at all. It is your (political) adversaries, who write criticisms on you. But your adversaries are mostly your friends, they have themselves a democratic mind and grant you much more than the editors of the American magazines. But your best friends are the women. A young Baroness Fraupe12 has read your books with true enthusiasm. The women have understood, that the ordinary criticisms can as easily be applied on a nature like yours as the process of hair cutting and shaving on a mountain forest.  loc.01910.008_large.jpg "It is nearly comical", writes a young married lady to me, "to see the critics cut and crisp the broad American till they have given him their own small figure."

Your early female friend Mrs Rorle13 lies deathly over in Roma—poor thing.

Professor Rasmus Nielsen14 has read your book with the greatest satisfaction. He is the only man, who could give a true criticism on it, but he is an old man and not very willing to write in the papers.

Hoping a speedy amelioration of your health15 I remain

Yours Rudolf Schmidt Rud. Schmidt March 20 '74

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. See Whitman's letter to Rudolf Schmidt of March 4, 1874. [back]
  • 2. Harper's Monthly Magazine (sometimes Harper's New Monthly Magazine or simply Harper's) was established in 1850 by Henry J. Raymond and Fletcher Harper. The magazine published several of Walt Whitman's poems, including "Song of the Redwood-Tree" and "Prayer of Columbus." In 1857, Fletcher Harper founded Harper's Weekly (subtitled "A Journal of Civilization"), which gained its fame for its coverage of the Civil War and its publication of cartoonist Thomas Nast's (1840–1902) work. For Whitman's relationship with these two publications, see "Harper's Monthly Magazine" and "Harper's Weekly Magazine." [back]
  • 3. Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune was one of the leading dailies of its era. The Weekly Tribune enjoyed widespread distribution, with a circulation of 200,000 in 1860. Greeley later ran against Ulysses S. Grant as the Liberal Republican Party's candidate for the presidency in 1872. [back]
  • 4. Having successfully submitted "Song of the Redwood-Tree" to Harper's New Monthly Magazine on November 2, 1873, Walt Whitman submitted a second poem, "Prayer of Columbus," later in November 1873, also for $60. Editor Henry Mills Alden (1836–1919) accepted the poem on December 1, 1873; it appeared in the March 1874 edition, 58 (1874), 524–525. In reprinting the poem on February 24, 1874, the New York Tribune commented that it "shows the brawny vigor, but not the reckless audacity, by which the name of that wild poet has become best known to the public." For digital images of the poem as it appeared in Harper's Monthly Magazine, see "Prayer of Columbus." [back]
  • 5. See Schmidt's letter to Whitman of February 28, 1874. [back]
  • 6. Possibly the Danish weekly (and later daily) newspaper, Fædrelandet. [back]
  • 7. Nær og fjern (Near and Far) was a Danish magazine. It was published from 1872 to 1880. [back]
  • 8. Rudolph Schmidt translated Whitman's Democratic Vistas into Danish in 1874. [back]
  • 9. Carl F. Clausen, termed in Schmidt's letter "my old friend and countryman," corresponded with Schmidt after he left Denmark in 1860; see 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]
  • 10. 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]
  • 11. For Idé og Virkelighed was a journal published from 1869 to 1873 by Schmidt, Rasmus Nielsen, and Björnstjerne Björnson. [back]
  • 12. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 13. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 14. Rasmus Nielsen (1809–1884) was a Danish Hegelian philosopher and contemporary of Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855). In 1870, Nielsen published his Philosophy of Religion, in which he argued (against the Hegelian model) that religious faith and scientific knowledge were not mutually exclusive categories, permitting faith in Christian dogma to exist simultaneously with scientific advances. [back]
  • 15. In January 1873, Whitman suffered a paralytic stroke that made walking difficult. He first reported it in his January 26, 1873, letter to his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873), and continued to provide regular notes on his condition. By mid-March Whitman was taking brief walks out to the street and began to hope that he could resume work in the office. See also his March 21, 1873, letter to his mother. [back]
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