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Thomas W. H. Rolleston to Walt Whitman, 10 June [1882]

 loc_af.01025_large.jpg 1882 My dear Whitman1

I learn to day to my great surprise that the Philistines are down on you again about the Children of Adam.2 What purblind asses! But there's no use in irritating oneself with thinking about it—only somehow every new instance of human folly and cant strikes one as something unexpected and bewildering; as if one hadn't had plenty of occasion to get accustomed to anything or everything in that line. I am sure it will do you more good than harm in the end. I am, sometime soon, to read something on the Leaves of Grass before a German audience, a 'Literary Club,' in Dresden.3 This will perhaps  loc_af.01026_large.jpglead to my finding a collaborateur for the translation—said translation owing to press of other business has not been very rigorously pursued lately, but after this month I shall take off my coat to it again. You received some M.S.? A great event has lately happened in our home. I have become the father of a vigorous boy—our first-born; now some ten days old.4 "Ay, madam—it is common" but nevertheless it seems particular to me, naturally; and is altogether an enlivening and wonderful fact to us.

What fearful doings in Ireland lately!5 I have a recantation to make to you on that subject. I remember once writing to you that Home Rule, or Separation, was in my  loc_af.01027_large.jpgopinion a chimerical & undesirable scheme for Ireland. Yet then, and always, that was the cause that had my affection & interest—only I saw such obstacles in the way, & foresaw such dangers to liberty if it were realized, that I could not go with it. Now all that has changed itself in my mind. I recognize now the deepseated expression of a national will in the movement. I see that the English can never govern us, & do worst when they mean best. And I see that the conflicts and miseries which I still believe to be inevitable on the fulfilment of the idea, will only be the (necessary) preludes towards a grander liberty and nationality than is at all within our reach now. I always abominated the English, and it is  loc_af.01028_large.jpga great relief to me to find that I can support, with the feeling that I am doing right, the cause that I always sympathized with in my heart.—One thing is certain—these wretched outrages will cease instantly when Ireland has a government of her own. And that she will surely have, and I believe before long. If we only had arms we'd have a try when England gets into difficulties about this Egyptian business. (So unspeakably shameful to her, and more so to France).6 But I expect it will be "constitutional" measures for some time yet. Nothing perhaps does us more harm than your dynamite party in America.7

I hope you are well & strong now, & that you'll be well defended in your own country against this last outrage.

Yours always 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. The 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass, published in Boston, was banned by the Society for the Supression of Vice. In May 1882, James R. Osgood & Co. ceased publication of the edition, and Rees Welsh and Company reprinted it in the same year. In addition to Leaves of Grass, Rees Welsh and Company published Specimen Days and Collect (Philadelphia, 1882–83). It is this latter book to which Rolleston refers here and the receipt of which he acknowledges in his letter to Whitman of October 29, 1882. [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 has given 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 comments on the lectures on Wordsworth and Whitman which he and Cotterill had given before the society and claims that "Walt Whitman got, on the whole, a rather more encouraging reception, perhaps because he was treated from a more exclusively 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, Feburary 13, 1884. [back]
  • 4. Hugh Charles Rolleston died in 1921 after serving with the Australian Expeditionary Force during the first World War. [back]
  • 5. The agitation for Home Rule and disturbances over agrarian outrages resulted on May 6, 1882, in the Phoenix Park murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish, the Chief Secretary of Ireland, and Thomas Burke, the permanent Under-Secretary. [back]
  • 6. When Egypt's hazardous financial situation required European intervention, England and France established dual control in 1876. An antiforeign uprising was crushed in May 1882 by the British Forces. [back]
  • 7. Philip H. Bagenal, in his book The American Irish (London, 1882), 220–221, discusses the schism among the various Irish leaders in America after the Irish agitation of 1879–1881. The schism produced three parties—one headed by the editor of the Irish World; another headed by the President of the Land League organization in America and the editor of the Pilot; and a third represented by the proprietor of the Irish Nation. Bagenal also writes that, "Besides these, there is yet another party, which may be called the Dynamite faction, but even to name the leaders is to confer a distinction which they do not deserve. They have not politics at heart. They can find no one to trust them. Even the most serious revolutionists avoid them, and so they content themselves by making war upon society in general, and inciting dupes to commit crimes which they would never have thought of themselves!" [back]
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