Skip to main content

Rudolf Schmidt to Walt Whitman, 4 April 1874

 loc.01911.005_large.jpg Rud. Schmidt April 4, '74 My dear Walt Whitman,

Coming home from our "Athenaeum"—a great reading union with a large number of papers and periodicals from all countries of the earth—and having there with great pleasure read in the Norwegian "Aftenbladet"1 (Evening Paper) for April 1 the the first real criticism of your book, I found on my table your kind letter of March 19,2 in reply to which I immediately write these lines to let you know the fact.  loc.01911.006_large.jpg The author is a young man in my years; his name is Kristian Elster,3 he is living at present in Throndhjeim (English: Drontheim). I received a letter from him this morning of March 28 announcing that he had written the criticism but expressing a great fear that the editor (in Christiania) would not print it. In the war, on the roaring sea the Norwegians are a people of heroes; but in their civil and literary life they are a race of cowards. Either the author or the editor will forward a copy of the number to you. I will beg you to let it be carefully translated to you. Elster speaks of a certain affinity between the author and his translator, others have made  loc.01911.007_large.jpg the same remark.

In the whole I have sent you 1) Fædrelandet 2) Nær og fjern.4 3) Dagbladet5 4) Folkets Avis.6 The last paper (people's paper) is slang and the editor is the clown of the basest Copenhagen public.

All the other critics have been in the same case with you as during many years our critics have been with Grundtvig:7 when the objections against the books are exhausted, the man is standing there invulnerable against all the darted arrows and imposing the critic himself!

And therefore your adversaries here are at the bottom your friends. But your proper friends are among  loc.01911.008_large.jpg the peasantry and the teachers of the village schools and the very few, to whom culture has been no poison (among these especially the women.)

I am very glad to hear that your brother and sister8 are with you in your lonesomeness.

I should be glad to know some thing about John Burroughs;9 his book has made his individuality dear to me.

Here follows a photography10 that gives a true idea of my stature;—the face is not good.

Yours— Rudolph 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. As yet we have no information about this publication. [back]
  • 2. See Whitman's letter to Schmidt from March 19, 1874. [back]
  • 3. Kristian Elster (1841–1881) was a Norwegian novelist whose work focused on cultural conflict, as in his 1872 pamphlet, "On the contrast between the western and the eastern parts of Norway." According to Carl Roos, Elster was a friend of Björnstjerne Björnson (1832–1910), Norwegian poet, dramatist, and novelist; see Orbis Litterarum, 7 (1949), 51n. [back]
  • 4. Nær og fjern (Near and Far) was a Danish magazine. It was published from 1872 to 1880. [back]
  • 5. Dagbladet is a Norwegian newspaper; it was founded in 1869 by Gunnar Larsen. [back]
  • 6. Folkets Avis was a Danish newspaper. [back]
  • 7. Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783–1872) was a Danish minister, author, and philosopher who is credited with founding the folk high school concept of popular education, as well as influencing modern understandings of the church and state in Denmark. [back]
  • 8. Whitman's brother, George Washington Whitman (1829–1901), and his wife Louisa Orr Haslam (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou." For more information on George, see Martin G. Murray "Whitman, George Washington," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on Louisa, see Karen Wolfe, "Whitman, Louisa Orr Haslam (Mrs. George) (1842–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [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. This enclosure has not been located. [back]
Back to top