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Thomas W. H. Rolleston to Walt Whitman, 29 October 1882


'Specimen Days' safely arrived, a really beautiful book externally.1 Many, many thanks for the gift. I have been looking through it and find much that I had not seen anywhere before. I see you have put in your letter about the Russian translation, to Lee.2 Did I tell you—(or was it in the letter that went astray?) that Lee has got an appointment in England which will take up all his time except in vacations, for the present at any rate? I haven't heard from him now for months, though I wrote twice. I know he meant to go into Servia and Bosnia early this year & hope he hasn't got into any trouble there—he & a friend had a rather narrow escape for there lives in those parts year before last. He is a great enthusiast for Panslavism, but brigands wouldn't respect that. My translation I hope to get  loc_af.01036_large.jpgfinished by Spring. When it approaches completion I will lecture on it in the Literarischer Verein3 & see if I cannot induce any of the members of it to join me in preparing it for the press, revising, etc. Or do you know, by correspondence or otherwise, any competent German with whom you could put me in communication? Not yet however; it is best, I think, that I should have it all turned into literal effective German, the sense of leading words penetrated, etc. before we go at it together. It will much facilitate the work.

To find one who will really cooperate with energy in giving a faithful presentment of your book will be difficult, for German literature (and art and all mental products) of this day is cramped by formalities and proprieties to an inconceivable extent—far more so than in England. Art in all branches is thought of as a technique—anything like strong individuality is despised—or if it happens to escape that fate is overtaken by a still worse one, in being lauded as if it were a piece of correct conventionalism like everything else. ^—I have known this with the L of G. This is the tone among those who take the lead in aesthetic matters, but there is a silent mass in the background whom I reckon on.

Picture of you with the moth is the most perfect visible type of yr looks I could imagine.4

T W Rolleston.


  • 1. Thomas William Hazen Rolleston (1857–1920) was an Irish poet and journalist. After attending college in Dublin, he moved to Germany for a period of time. He wrote to Whitman frequently, beginning in 1880, and later produced with Karl Knortz the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry into German. In 1889, the collection Grashalme: Gedichte [Leaves of Grass: Poems] was published by Verlags-Magazin in Zurich, Switzerland. See Walter Grünzweig, Constructing the German Walt Whitman (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995). For more information on Rolleston, see Walter Grünzweig, "Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (1857–1920)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 2. John Fitzgerald Lee was a student at Trinity College, Dublin, and a friend of Thomas W. H. Rolleston. On November 28, 1881, Lee wrote to Whitman requesting permission to translate Leaves of Grass into Russian (see Whitman and Rolleston—A Correspondence, ed. Horst Frenz [Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1951], 48–50). Nothing came of Lee's projected translation. [back]
  • 3. Rolleston read a lecture on Whitman before the Literarischer Verein of Dresden on September 25, 1883. The lecture was published in Ueber Wordsworth und Walt Whitman; Zwei Vorträge von H. B. Cotterill und T. W. Rolleston (Dresden, 1883). Rolleston gave a humorous account of the Dresden society in "The Literarischer Verein of Augustusstadt," The Dublin University Review, 1 (April 1885), 50–52. The article, which is signed "T.W.R.," contains some interesting reflections on German poetry and criticism. Rolleston also commented on the lectures on Wordsworth and Whitman which he and Cotterill had given before the society and claimed that "Walt Whitman got, on the whole, a rather more encouraging reception, perhaps because he was treated from a more exlusively philosophical point of view." After the joint publication, in pamphlet form, of Ueber Wordsworth und Walt Whitman, a good part of it was translated into English by Horace Traubel and appeared in the Camden Post on Feburary 13, 1884. [back]
  • 4. Likely a reference to the photograph of Whitman taken around 1877 by Philadelphia photographers Henry C. Phillips and W. Curtis Taylor. [back]
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