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Walt Whitman to Rudolf Schmidt, 11 June 1874

My dear Rudolf Schmidt1,

As you have rec'd my letter of April 25, you know that the copies of Demokratisk–Fremblik2 and of some six newspapers with criticisms, safely reached me here—& one or two more since—& now, yesterday, Dags Telegrafen3—all of which I treasure, & am to have carefully read to me.

I am still unwell enough to make me remain here, quite idle, but am encouraged to still keep up the expectation of getting quite well—& indeed am improving, though slowly—I enclose a piece of mine just written for Commencement Poem to a College near Boston city—the College is the headquarters of the Universalists—my piece is to be read by proxy—

I enclose you some pieces more on American humor, as you are interested in that subject—& a very amusing & 'cute letter by a lady about the darkeys down South—American humor, (like the old Greek, and now the best Italian, Spanish, French humor) is, in a sense the other side or opposite radiation of pensiveness, & even mystery & hypochondria—I think it more idiosyncratic & untranslatable than any I have mentioned, Greek, Italian, &c—It is entirely different from the English, or English–German4

We have been having one of our American hot–weather spells—real hell–blasts—here lately—four, five, six days. But I have stood them very well indeed. To–day as I sit here writing by the open window, there is a sufficiently cool breeze, & it is very agreeable & moderate, though just past noon. When you write mention whether you rec'd Redwood Tree5 and also Prayer of Columbus6, both sent March 4. (The address on the last papers & letters to me is exactly right, & is sure to reach me.) I intend to send Kristian Elster7 a copy of my poems, & my photograph—how shall I address him? John Burroughs has been to visit me here—he is settled on a little farm of his own on the Hudson river, 60 miles north of New York city. Your photo. sent in the letter of April 4 is before me as I write.

Walt Whitman


  • 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. Rudolph Schmidt translated Whitman's Democratic Vistas into Danish in 1874. [back]
  • 3. Roos notes that the conservative Dags Telegrafen criticized Democratic Vistas on May 20, 1874; see Orbis Litterarum, 7 (1949), 53n. [back]
  • 4. In acknowledging receipt of the poems and other items sent to him, Schmidt commented on June 26, 1874: "But your humorists of the day I don't like. Mark Twain has been translated into Danish this year. He is a detestable fool." [back]
  • 5. In a November 2, 1873, letter, Walt Whitman offered "Song of the Redwood-Tree" to Henry M. Alden, editor of Harper's Monthly Magazine. Of "Song of the Redwood-Tree" Rudolf Schmidt observed: "It is your old great theme in a simple and powerful stile, embracing the holy and original nation of the far West" (Syracuse University; Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [1906–1996], 4:464). For digital images of the poem as it appeared in Harper's Monthly Magazine, see "Song of the Redwood-Tree." [back]
  • 6. Having successfully submitted "Song of the Redwood-Tree" to Harper's New Monthly Magazine on November 2, 1873, Walt Whitman submitted a second poem, "Prayer of Columbus," later in November 1873, also for $60. Editor Henry Mills Alden (1836–1919) accepted the poem on December 1, 1873; it appeared in the March 1874 edition, 58 (1874), 524–525. In reprinting the poem on February 24, 1874, the New York Tribune commented that it "shows the brawny vigor, but not the reckless audacity, by which the name of that wild poet has become best known to the public." For digital images of the poem as it appeared in Harper's Monthly Magazine, see "Prayer of Columbus." [back]
  • 7. Kristian Elster (1841–1881) was a Norwegian novelist whose work focused on cultural conflict, as in his 1872 pamphlet, "On the contrast between the western and the eastern parts of Norway." According to Carl Roos, Elster was a friend of Björnstjerne Björnson (1832–1910), Norwegian poet, dramatist, and novelist; see Orbis Litterarum, 7 (1949), 51n. [back]
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