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Walt Whitman to William Michael Rossetti, 26 January 1876

 pri.00014.001_large.jpg Walt Whitman to William Rossetti My dear friend,

I send you the enclosed piece (printed in a paper here, with my consent,)1—quite willing you should have it put, if convenient, in the Academy,2 or any other literary gazette, your way, if thought proper. My theory is that the plain truth of the situation here is best stated. It is even worse than described in the article.

With me, things are going on as for a year or two past—am no worse—work a little—still remain in Camden. I rec'd​ your letter—have seen of late months Joaquin Miller,3 M. D. Conway,4 Lord Houghton,5 &c6 I have lately heard from, but not seen, Marvin,7 my Boston friend. John Burroughs8 was here with me last week. He is well. I have about got ready my two Volumes9—"Leaves of Grass" remains about the same, (a few new bits)  pri.00014.002_large.jpg "Two Rivulets," the other Vol. has some new stuff—will write further to you soon anent of the books.

Was interested & pleased with your letter about the dinner10—sent it to Marvin to read. I have seen Peter Bayne's piece11—have also seen the friendly & glowing article of Arthur Clive12 in the Gentleman's Magazine.13 Who is A. C.?—When you write tell me something about him.

Walt Whitman

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).


  • 1. "Walt Whitman's Actual American Position," which appeared in the West Jersey Press on January 26, was Whitman's anonymous reply to the article in the Springfield Republican of January 18, which attacked the "loose talk" of Joaquin Miller and others that Whitman was "a neglected martyr," and averred that Whitman was "not yet in want, though three years of illness and enforced idleness have used up his savings." In the West Jersey Press, Whitman protested his neglect by American readers, publishers, and poets. He had recently printed, he declared, a two-volume edition of his complete writings "'to keep the wolf from the door' in old age." See Clifton Joseph Furness, Walt Whitman's Workshop (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928), 245–246. Rossetti printed excerpts from the article in The Athenaeum on March 11, and also quoted the last two sentences of the first paragraph of this letter. According to Rossetti's letter on February 28, 1876, the editor of The Academy had shown no interest in publishing the account. [back]
  • 2. Founded by the scholar and entrepreneur Charles Appleton (1841–1879), The Academy was a literature review published monthly in London at its inception in 1869 and, later, published as a weekly until 1902, when it merged with another periodical, entitled Literature. [back]
  • 3. Joaquin Miller was the pen name of Cincinnatus Heine Miller (1837–1913), an American poet nicknamed "Byron of the Rockies" and "Poet of the Sierras." In 1871, the Westminster Review described Miller as "leaving out the coarseness which marked Walt Whitman's poetry." Miller had visited Whitman in June, 1875; see the letter from Whitman to William James Linton of June 9, 1875. [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. Richard Monckton Milnes (1809–1885), Lord Houghton, was an intimate of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) and William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–1863), as well as a poet. He was a collector of famous people; in Dictionary of National Biography he is characterized as "eminently a dilettante." Houghton wrote to Joaquin Miller on September 1, 1875, from Chicago: "Please give my best regards to Mr Whitman." On September 5, 1875, Miller informed Whitman that he was trying to arrange a meeting with Lord Houghton. Houghton himself wrote to Whitman on September 27, 1875, and proposed a visit at the end of October or early in November, and on November 3, 1875, he asked whether November 6 would be convenient. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906–1996), Thursday, June 21, 1888, 364, and Wednesday, September 12th, 1888, 310; In Re Walt Whitman (1893), ed. Horace L. Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned, 36; and Harold Blodgett, Walt Whitman in England (1934), 141–143. [back]
  • 6. For mentions of the visits of Conway and Houghton, see the letter from Whitman to John Burroughs of December 17, 1875. [back]
  • 7. Joseph B. Marvin, a friend and an admirer of Whitman's poetry, was from 1866 to 1867 the co-editor of the Radical. He was then appointed as a clerk in the Treasury Department in Washington, on behalf of which he took a trip to London in the late fall of 1875. On October 19, 1875, Whitman wrote a letter to William Michael Rossetti to announce a visit from Marvin. Rossetti gave a dinner for Marvin, which was attended by the following "good Whitmanites": Anne Gilchrist; Joseph Knight, editor of the London Sunday Times; Justin McCarthy, a novelist and writer for the London Daily News; Edmund Gosse; and Rossetti's father-in-law, Ford Madox Brown. [back]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. During the centennial celebration of the U.S. 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. Two Rivulets was published as a companion volume to the book. Notable for its experimentations in form, typography, and printing convention, Whitman's two-volume set marks an important departure from previous publications of Leaves of Grass. For more information, see Frances E. Keuling-Stout, " Leaves of Grass, 1876, Author's Edition," "Two Rivulets, Author's Edition [1876]," and "Preface to Two Rivulets [1876]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 10. In his letter of December 23, 1875, Rossetti had described a dinner given in honor of Joseph Marvin, who had visited England in 1875; see the letter from Whitman to Anne Gilchrist of October 19, 1875. [back]
  • 11. Peter Bayne (1830–1896), a Scottish journalist, in The Contemporary Review 28 (December 1875), 49–69, attacked Whitman's English admirers, Rossetti, Dowden, and Buchanan, as well as Leaves of Grass: "While reading Whitman, . . . I realized with bitter painfulness how deadly is the peril that our literature may pass into conditions of horrible disease, the raging flame of fever taking the place of natural heat, the ravings of delirium superseding the enthusiasm of poetical imagination, the distortions of tetanic spasm caricaturing the movements, dance-like and music-measured, of harmonious strength." Bayne's diatribe was reprinted in The Living Age 128 (8 January 1876), 91–102. See also The Nation 22 (13 January 1876), 28–29. In the West Jersey Press Whitman referred to "the scolding and cheap abuse of Peter Bayne" (Clifton Joseph Furness, Walt Whitman's Workshop [1928], 246). See also Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (1931), 121 and 126. [back]
  • 12. Standish James O'Grady (1846–1928), a lawyer and later a celebrated Irish poet, published (under the pseudonym Arthur Clive) "Walt Whitman: the Poet of Joy," the Gentleman's Magazine, 15 (December 1875), 704–716, in which he concluded that Walt Whitman "is the noblest literary product of modern times, and his influence is invigorating and refining beyond expression." See Harold Blodgett, Walt Whitman in England (Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1934), 180–182, and Hugh Art O'Grady, Standish James O'Grady—The Man & the Writer (Dublin: Talbot Press, 1929). See also Joann P. Krieg, chapter 8, "Dublin," Walt Whitman and the Irish (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000), 190–231. [back]
  • 13. "Walt Whitman: the Poet of Joy," by the Irish poet Standish James O'Grady, appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine 15 (1875), 704–716. See the letters from Whitman to Edward Dowden of January 18, 1872 and of March 4, 1876; see also Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, June 29, 1888. [back]
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