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Walt Whitman to Rudolf Schmidt, 25 January 1874

My dear Rudolf Schmidt1,

Your letter of Jan. 22 has just reached me here. I am always glad to get word from you. Write oftener. I have been very ill—now just a year—from paralysis & cerebral anæmia. I have been at death's door myself—& during the year have lost my dear mother3 & a dear sister4 by death.

I sent you a newspaper, with account, five months since, but as you do not allude to it I suppose you did not receive it. I send another by this mail. (I have sent you several papers & magazines the past year.) I am not in bed but up & dressed, & go out a little every day, & shall probably get well again—But I remain paralyzed yet—walk with difficulty & very little—have bad spells in my head—& ameliorate very slowly—Still I write & publish a little—Mental faculties not affected.

I have at present no thought of visiting England.5 In a letter two years since Tennyson kindly invited me to come to his house6—which aroused some thought & wish for a time—but it has passed away.

What have I heard about some great German University, proposing for one of its prizes, for some annual or bi-annual literary fête, the question, Has America really produced any real poet? Have you heard any thing of such a discussion?

What about Bjornson? Is he coming to America? If so, give him my address, & tell him to come & see me. (It is almost a part of Philadelphia, where I now live—on the opposite side of the Delaware river.)

When you write, or send me (the Danish) Democratic Vistas, direct here. Write me from Germany, Walt Whitman 431 Stevens street, Camden, N. Jersey. U. S. America

(I have not given up my place in the Solicitor's office, Washington—but keep up communication—& if I get well, expect to go back there)—I want to hear all about Bjornson—


  • 1. Rudolf Schmidt, a Dane and editor of For Idé og Virkelighed, is credited with introducing Walt Whitman to Scandinavia by quoting translated passages from Leaves of Grass in an 1872 essay in his magazine. He wrote to Walt Whitman on October 19, 1871: "I intend to write an article about yourself and your writings in the above named periodical which is very much read in all the Scandinavian countries. ... I therefore take the liberty to ask you, if you should not be willing to afford some new communications of yourself and your poetry to this purpose" (The Library of Congress). [back]
  • 2. In his January 2, 1874 letter, Schmidt reported that the first part of his translation of Democratic Vistas had gone to the printers: "It is a devilish hard task to translate your prose, and our ordinary translators most surely would break the neck in trying it." [back]
  • 3. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. The close relationship between Louisa and her son Walt contributed to his liberal view of gender representation and his sense of comradeship. For more information on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, see Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. Martha Mitchell Whitman (d. 1873) known as "Mattie," was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa. In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to St. Louis to join Jeff, who had moved there in 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. Mattie experienced a throat ailment that would lead to her death in 1873. For more information on Mattie, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Martha ("Mattie") Mitchell (1836–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. Schmidt had been told by "an American gentleman" that Walt Whitman was going to England. [back]
  • 6. Tennyson had extended this invitation in his July 12, 1871 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]
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