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William Michael Rossetti to Walt Whitman, 17 December 1877

 loc.03602.001.jpg Dear Whitman,

Your letter of 11 Oct.​ has been with me some little while, during wh.​ my leisure has been of the scantiest.2 It is so still, & may make me cut this shorter than I shd.​ like.

You say: "I suppose you got my postals on sending the books to J.A. Rose."3 To the best of my recollection I never did get these: I am aware however that as a matter of fact Rose is in possession of your books, but have not seen him since he received them.

I feel ashamed for my  loc.03602.002.jpg colleagues the English men of the press that the Editor of the Examiner shd.​ have failed to pay you his just debt,4 especially after the 2 or 3 times that I raised the question with him, & he once of his own accord with me. He is a man I seldom meet: but I do meet him sometimes, &, whenever this may happen next, I shall (if opportunity allows) remind him of his obligation, & I trust he may yet attend to it.

I posted to the Editor of the Secularist the letter to him wh​ you enclosed: & herewith I forward his reply. This is all I know of the matter. I know a little of the Editor Mr. Foote5 himself, & shd.​ be very  loc.03602.003.jpg slow to suppose that he was personally in fault. The deep black border of his letter marks the recent death of his wife—a Miss Heimann, daughter of old friends of ours. Within the last 2 or 3 years she had shown mental excitability of a morbid kind: she married Foote 8 or 9 mos.​ ago I suppose, & recently, say towards end of Septr.​ , "took an overdose of chloral," or in other words committed suicide. I mention these matters, not as being relevant to your concerns with Foote, but because I know that whatever calls for sympathy finds it in you.

Your statement that Mrs. Gilchrist6 had undergone a surgical operation distressed us. You spoke of the trouble as just over however, &  loc.03602.004.jpg we heartily hope that so it is. Please to give her our affectionate regards & greetings.

I did receive Burroughs's7 new book. Read carefully , with much pleasure, all that he says about you: the rest of the book I have had to leave unread as yet, in the press of my many occupations.

All prosperity to you & the Gilchrists in the coming year. I am glad to read what you say of Herbert & Beatrice, & fully credit your praises of them.

Always yours, W.M. Rossetti  loc.03602.011.jpg  loc.03602.012.jpg


  • 1. The envelope for this letter is endorsed (by Whitman): W M Rossetti | Dec 17 '77. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. James Anderson Rose (1819–1890) was a solicitor and collector. William Michael Rosetti wrote to Lucy Rossetti on February 26, 1886: "Rose talked to me a goodish deal about his books. It seems he has a library of some 10,000 volumes, and has just had them catalogued at a cost of £100 or so...Rose says he is solicitor to the Globe and Morning Post, as well as the Standard (of which last I knew), and has even had something to do for the Daily News lately: he must I think have well-filled pockets" (James Perrin Warren, Walt Whitman's Language Experiment, [College Station, PA: Penn State Press, 1990], 130 n4). [back]
  • 4. Whitman's article "The American War" appeared in the London Examiner on March 18, 1876. In his June 26, 1876 letter to William Michael Rossetti, Whitman indicated that he had not yet been paid for the piece. [back]
  • 5. George William Foote (1850–1915), a British freethinker and secularist, was the author of many pamphlets attacking Christianity. Foote did not forward £3 to Whitman. Rossetti mentioned on August 17, 1877, that he had called the failure to pay to Foote's attention. In his Commonplace Book on February 12, 1878, Whitman cited a letter from Foote, who promised to send the sum, which he alleged had been stolen by an employee (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). After the entry the poet later wrote "fraud." [back]
  • 6. Anne Burrows Gilchrist (1828–1885) was the author of one of the first significant pieces of criticism on Leaves of Grass, titled "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman (From Late Letters by an English Lady to W. M. Rossetti)," The Radical 7 (May 1870), 345–59. Gilchrist's long correspondence with Whitman indicates that she had fallen in love with the poet after reading his work; when the pair met in 1876 when she moved to Philadelphia, Whitman never fully returned her affection, although their friendship deepened after that meeting. For more information on their relationship, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Anne Burrows (1828–1885)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. 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]
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