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Frederick York Powell to Walt Whitman, 8 January 1889


I am just writing this after reading your November Boughs.1 I want to tell you that I was glad of the Book. It comes to me in a time of trouble for me and it is a help—I think you will not be sorry to know this. If I were face to face with you there are many things in your last poems and writings I should like to talk over with you, but it is all too long for a letter and we cannot, save with difficulty, talk on paper.


Your sketch of Elias Hicks2 is very pleasant to see, as like yourself I am proud of having Friends among my forebears, and their early history is a noble one, surely. You record some folks opinion that Elias was ambitious, but I don't see it in his face nor in the tone of the words you quote, nor in your [illegible] impressions and I [illegible] against it. You did a service before in showing people the truth about Old Tom Paine, Blake's friend, and I think many will be thankful for your work on Elias Hicks.


I am going to send you a pamphlet which has in it a sketch of William Grimm3 by my best friend and fellow-worker Gudbrand Vigfusson.4 I hope and think you will like it. He that wrote it is I fear now seriously ill, but he is patient and cheery as your soldier-lads and he has waged a good fight too.

You have many friends here and we do not doubt the success of your sortie you have told the truth and you know there are and must be a great-many people that don't like it and don't want to hear it, and feel it unpleasant, and hate the light because they and their ways are of darkness.


I don't suppose Dante's Commedia was popular with those he judged, but the next generation did not sympathize much with them, and I am sure that the next generation in your new land (where the little silly imitators and make-believers are gonewith their lengthy foolish croaking and chattering that [illegible] such folks go)—will be listening to your truths.

If I could I would cross the water this summer for I should like to see you in the flesh, but that is in the hands of the powers, I do not know how my ways may lie these six months hence.

But anyhow you will know that  loc.03512.005.jpg your last book has been a help for which I am grateful to you as I am for the former ones and their influence. I only feel that I do not do you justice as with the performance too often lags behind understanding and the spirit is weak too often also.

But I have no right to trouble you with myself or my concerns and I will stop here wishing you the best you can wish for yourself for this year and loc.03512.006.jpg those to follow

I am faithfully yours Frederick York Powell

If you see Dr Bucke5 I should be glad to be remembered to him and his niece.


There are a number of young men I know that read your books—not merely men of mid-age who follow Gilchrist6 and Rossetti7. You will like to know this.


Frederick York Powell (1850–1904) was an English historian and professor at the University of Oxford.


  • 1. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 2. Elias Hicks (1748–1830) was a Quaker from Long Island whose controversial teachings led to a split in the Religious Society of Friends in 1827, a division that was not resolved until 1955. Hicks had been a friend of Whitman's father and grandfather, and Whitman himself was a supporter and proponent of Hicks's teachings, writing about him in Specimen Days (see "Reminiscence of Elias Hicks") and November Boughs (see "Elias Hicks, Notes (such as they are)"). For more on Hicks and his influence on Whitman, see David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Knopf, 1995), 37–39. [back]
  • 3. Wilhelm Carl Grimm (1786–1859) was (with Jakob) one of the Grimm Brothers, who published an influential collection of fairy tales in 1812. [back]
  • 4. Gudbrand Vigfusson (1827–1889) was born in Iceland and educated at Copenhagen University. He became a respected Scandinavian scholar and moved to Oxford. He would later hold the position of Reader in Scandinanvian at Oxford until his death. [back]
  • 5. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868, Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to Frederick S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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