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Robert Buchanan to Walt Whitman, 18 April [1876]

 loc.03653.001_large.jpg Private My dear friend,

I have recd​ your postal handshake,1 and am glad to find that you appreciate my motives in writing to the English public on your behalf. Whatever comes of the appeal, nothing but good to you can come from this increased knowledge of you among general readers here; and that your apotheosis is at hand is abt​ as certain as that the sun shines and that great sun lives for ever. Every day widens your circle; every year sows your great seed deeper & deeper in the hearts of men.

You will have already have heard from William Rossetti2 how he has striven on your behalf. My second letter naturally turned the tide of contributions in his direction, as I desired, deeming him your very good friend, as indeed he seems to be. I am sending out, however, some £25 (particulars in other letter), including £5 from Tennyson,3 which came to me before I could answer Rossetti's letter. Since then Moncure Conway4 has denied authoritatively that you wanted money, & I have been  loc.03653.002_large.jpg waiting & wondering what to do. From your letters (which Rossetti has sent me for perusal) I pretty well perceive how matters stand, & how, though not in actual pinching want, you really need and ought to have more money. Owing to the contradictions afloat, I have delayed putting your case before personal friends, & the few pounds I send are simply stray tokens from the general public.

You must forgive me for my blunder abt​ the price of your books. The result proves that very many people who admire you here cant​ afford such a high price as 2 guineas, & you will therefore have to be content with a smaller circle of subscribers than you would otherwise get.

What I want you to tell me forthwith is how far the sum already gathered between Rossetti & myself—say £50 or so in all—will go to make you temporarily comfortable? There will doubtless be a heavy deduction in the cost of buying out your Beautiful Edition.5 But query, will the  loc.03653.003_large.jpg sum already gathered keep you going tolerably while other subscriptions are "dribbling" in? I wish I were a rich man—I am only an author living by his pen—and you should certainly never want anything your heart craved; but all I can do in my small way is to sing your praises wherever I can. (By the way, I enclose you a portion of the Gentleman's Magazine,6 with another letter of mine).

I can conceive you smiling superbly as you survey the gnats of American journalism now hovering round your head. Thanks for your papers. When people become abusive, they have been touched to the quick, & I am sure the commotion will do you good.

It is with true grief that I read of your sorry health. Will you believe it, I had never heard of your condition until I read these quotations from the New Jersey Paper? Had I known of it sooner, you would certainly have heard from me—or even seen me—long ago. A year or two ago I had some correspondence with E. C. Stedman7 concerning you; and as far as I can gather, he  loc.03653.004_large.jpg is most hostile to your poetic claims. I found argument in vain, & desisted. Stedman is a clever versewriter, without backbone or vice; & there are many like him here & even with you; but believe me, such men do not truly represent even the average intelligence of students, and your circle of readers is in the empyrean above their heads.

It is now a daily dream with me to see you & know you, for ever so short a time, in the flesh. Whether or not that honour & delight will be granted me, I shall never think of you but with love and honour, never speak or write of you without homage. Be happy, Whitman, in the serene certainty that you have fulfilled your life, & spoken—in tones no thunder can silence—the beautiful message you were fashioned to bring!

Ever yours Robert Buchanan Walt Whitman.

Write to me as soon as convenient, & let me know, in strictest & deepest confidence, exactly how far the present "little" will help you, & what will make you comfortable for the future—

Robert Buchanan (1841–1901), Scottish poet and critic, had lauded Whitman in the Broadway Annual in 1867, and in 1872 praised Whitman but attributed his poor reception in England to the sponsorship of William Michael Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne. See Harold Blodgett, Walt Whitman in England (1934), 79–80, and Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (1955), 445–446. Swinburne's recantation later in 1872 may be partly attributable to Buchanan's injudicious remarks. For more on Buchanan, see Philip W. Leon, "Buchanan, Robert (1841–1901)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. This postal card has not been located. [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. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Whitman wrote to Tennyson in 1871 or late 1870, probably shortly after the visit of Cyril Flower in December, 1870, but the letter is not extant (see Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: F. P. Harper, 1896], 223). Tennyson's first letter to Whitman is dated July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]
  • 4. Moncure Daniel Conway (1832–1907) was an American abolitionist, minister, and frequent correspondent with Walt Whitman. Conway often acted as Whitman's agent and occasional public relations man in England. For more on Conway, see Philip W. Leon, "Conway, Moncure Daniel (1832–1907)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. During America's centennial celebration in 1876, Whitman reissued the fifth edition of Leaves of Grass in the repackaged form of a "Centennial Edition" and "Author's Edition," with most copies personally signed by the poet. For more information, see Frances E. Keuling-Stout, "Leaves of Grass, 1876, Author's Edition," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. The Gentleman's Magazine was founded in London by the printer and editor Edward Cave (1691–1754), and the monthly periodical had an uninterrupted run of more than one hundred and ninety years from 1731 to 1922. The magazine published extracts from numerous publications as well as original works aimed at an educated readership. [back]
  • 7. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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