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John Addington Symonds to Walt Whitman, 13 June 1875

 loc_vm.00297_large.jpg My dear Sir

I was very much delighted some weeks ago to receive a copy of the New Republic with a little memorandum in your handwriting. Time does not diminish my reverential admiration for your work, nor do the unintelligent remarks of the English press deter me from giving expression to the same in print. I hope soon to have an opportunity of explaining at large, in a new series of critical studies of the Greek Poets, what I meant in the little note alluded to by the reviewer of the Quarterly, & to show how it is only by adopting an attitude of mind similar to yours that we can in this age be in true unity with whatever great & natural & human  loc_vm.00298_large.jpg has been handed to us from the past.—

I was the more pleased to have this communication from you, because I feared that the last time I wrote to you I might perhaps have spoken something amiss. I then—it was about three years ago, I think,—sent you a poem called "Callicrates"2 & asked you questions about "Calamus."3 Pray believe me that I only refer to this circumstance now in order to explain the reason why since that time I have kept silence from a fear I might have been importunate or ill-advised in what I wrote. There was really no reason why you should have noticed that communication; & it gives me great  loc_vm.00299_large.jpg satisfaction to feel that your friendly remembrance of me is not diminished.—

Now, though late, I may express the deep sorrow with which I heard of your illness.4 How Whitman must have borne such a trial, no one knows better than one who like myself has learned to have absolute faith in his manliness and vigour of Soul. Yet it is not the less sad to think that he who could enjoy life so fully, has met with this impediment.—

I look forward with a keen foretaste of delight to your new volume announced.5

Believe me ever gratefully and indebtedly yours John Addington Symonds.—T.O.  loc_vm.00300_large.jpg My permanent address is: Clifton Hill House Clifton, Bristol.

I should have written earlier had I not been moving rapidly from place to place during an Italian journey.

 loc_vm.00295_large.jpg see notes July 24 1888 J A Symonds  loc_tb.00676.jpg

John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Amérique | Walt Whitman | Camden | N: Jersey | U.S. It is postmarked: Gais | 13VI75; [illegible] | Jun 26 | NEW YORK. [back]
  • 2. Callicrates was an architect in ancient Greece, who lived in the fifth century B.C. and was involved in designing the Parthenon. [back]
  • 3. "Calamus" was first published in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. The poem cluster is known for its homoeroticism and celebration of "the manly love of comrades." See also John Addington Symonds's letter to Whitman of August 3, 1890, in which he asks Whitman for clarification of the poems, and Whitman's drafted response of August 19, 1890, in which he is cagey and tries to distance himself from homoerotic meanings in the poems. [back]
  • 4. Whitman suffered a stroke in 1873 that left him partially paralyzed and recovering for several years. [back]
  • 5. An unknown hand has bracketed the final two paragraphs through Symonds' signature and written "Reproduce" as a note. [back]
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