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Walt Whitman to Karl Knortz(?), 31 May 1882

From to-day I enter upon my 64th year. The paralysis that first affected me nearly ten years ago, has since remain'd, with varying course—seems to have settled quietly down, and will probably continue. I easily tire, am very clumsy, cannot walk far; but my spirits are first-rate. I go around in public almost every day—now and then take long trips, by railroad or boat, hundreds of miles—live largely in the open air—am sunburnt and stout, (weigh 190)—keep up my activity and interest in life, people, progress, and the questions of the day. About two-thirds of the time I am quite comfortable. What mentality I ever had remains entirely unaffected; though physically I am a half-paralytic; and likely to be so, long as I live. But the principal object of my life seems to have been accomplish'd—I have the most devoted and ardent of friends, and affectionate relatives—and of enemies I really make no account.2


  • 1. No entry in Whitman's Commonplace Book (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.) provides a clue to the identification of this person whom Whitman called in Specimen Days "a German Friend." However, in his letter of November 15, 1882, Whitman called the letter to Knortz's attention. Knortz (1841–1918) was born in Prussia and came to the U. S. in 1863. He was the author of many books and articles on German-American affairs and was superintendent of German instruction in Evansville, Ind., from 1892 to 1905. See The American-German Review, 8 (December, 1946), 27–30. Knortz's first published criticism of Whitman appeared in the New York Staats-Zeitung Sonntagsblatt on December 17, 1882. In 1883, Knortz was living in New York City. In his letters to Whitman that year Knortz frequently included "German renderings" of poems in Leaves of Grass. Later he assisted Thomas W. H. Rolleston in Grashalme (Zurich, 1889), which "marks the real beginning of Whitman's influence" in Germany (Walt Whitman Abroad, ed. Gay Wilson Allen [Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1955], 17). [back]
  • 2. Whitman could never resist the pose of the benign poet indifferent to his enemies. His publicity campaign after the banning of the Osgood edition hardly confirms the pose. [back]
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