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Walt Whitman to Karl Knortz, 10 September [1885]

 loc.03573.004b.jpg Dear Sir:

I send Rolleston's last letter to me—Please look at the part marked in blue—Did you get a note from me ab't two months ago?1

Walt Whitman
 loc.03573.001_large.jpg My Dear Walt.

Its a long time now since I've written to you, & I owe you thanks for the many papers, &c. you have sent me, containing verse & other matter connected with you. I asked you the last time I wrote to let me have one small poem which I felt especially stirred by, in your own handwriting. I don't think I've heard from you since then.2 Will you remember this now, if it doesn't trouble you too much? I don't possess a single line of your verse in your own handwriting, & I should think it a very precious possession. The poem I meant is that on the Arctic snowbird.3

I send you herewith a magazine of which  loc.03573.002_large.jpg I have been made Editor. The article signed 'H. Rowlandson' is mine. It (i.e. the Review) emanates from Trinity College Dublin and aims at introducing Nationalist thought among the upper classes in Ireland.4 We have to go forward very cautiously in this enterprise, political questions here are so fiercely debated, & at present we can only reconcile the landed interest & conservative element by opening our columns to both sides alike. To get Nationalists admitted at all to an audience in Trinity College is a great step. We publish an article by Michael Davitt in September.5 I have been getting acquainted with him and other prominent members of the National party here since I came back. The best man I have met in Ireland is John O'Leary,6 formerly editor of the 'Irish People', imprisoned in 1865 for Fenianism.7 He has been living in Paris ever since; let out after 5 years  loc.03573.003_large.jpg on condition of remaining abroad till his sentence (20 years) was out. This expired in Jan/1885 & he is to the fore again now. A grand looking old man—long white beard, aquiline features, keen eyes—spare, sinewy frame, full of restrained passion and energy.

What about Dr Knortz? I have heard nothing from him at all about that translation of the L. of G. which he should have had revised & ready long ago. I think of writing to him about it. I fully expected it would have appeared before May.8

We have gone into a house of our own now, at least one we have rented for several years, & we are pretty well fixtures now. All of us well—especially my two little boys, who enjoy the country life very much. We have a good garden & a little land which I work myself. On the whole, like this sort of life very much. We are about ¾ of an hour by train from Dublin, so have easy access to libraries, fr. there.

I hope you are well & hearty. I am sorry to hear the sale of the L. of G. has not been so good lately. Wish we had fairly opened it in Germany. Will you send a line to Knortz? I was to give him 20 dollars for the work—am only waiting to hear that it is complete to send it, but don't like sending till I know that he is going in for the thing, as I havn't yet even heard that he had begun it.

Cover of our Review in old Celtic design.

Yours always T. W. Rolleston.

Karl Knortz (1841–1918) was born in Prussia and came to the U.S. in 1863. He was the author of many books and articles on German-American affairs and was superintendent of German instruction in Evansville, Ind., from 1892 to 1905. See The American-German Review 13 (December 1946), 27–30. His first published criticism of Whitman appeared in the New York Staats-Zeitung Sonntagsblatt on December 17, 1882, and he worked with Thomas W. H. Rolleston on the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry, published as Grashalme in 1889. For more information about Knortz, see Walter Grünzweig, "Knortz, Karl (1841–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. Whitman wrote this note on the last page of Rolleston's letter of August 4, and marked with a blue crayon those passages referring to Knortz's failure to revise Rolleston's translations. Whitman's last known communication in 1885 with Knortz was written on April 27. [back]
  • 2. Rolleston's last letter to Whitman was sent on February 11, 1885. [back]
  • 3. He is referring to "Of That Blithe Throat of Thine," a piece Rolleston called "poetry at its greatest" in his prior letter. [back]
  • 4. Rolleston's editorship of the Dublin University Review only lasted from May to December of 1885. [back]
  • 5. Michael Davitt (1846–1906) was an Irish nationalist, social reformer, and Home Rule politician. He was likely an inspiration to Mahatma Gandhi. [back]
  • 6. John O'Leary (1830–1907) was an Irish separatist who had been involved in the 1848 Young Ireland uprising in the village of Ballingarry, South Tipperary, and was exiled in 1871. W. B. Yeats famously memorialized him with the line "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone; it's with O'Leary in the grave" ("September 1913"). [back]
  • 7. Fenianism was the term used in the nineteenth century for the movement to establish an independent Irish Republic. [back]
  • 8. Whitman had already contacted Knortz on April 27, 1885. After receiving this letter from Rolleston, Whitman marked the end of the last paragraph in blue, added a note to the last page, and forwarded the letter to Knortz, dated September 10. Knortz replied in September, 1885, and again in late September or early October, 1885, assuring Whitman his translation was about to come out. Whitman forwarded Knortz's later letter to Rolleston on October 9, 1885. [back]
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