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Rudolf Schmidt to Walt Whitman, 26 June 1874

 syr.00007.001_large.jpg Dear Walt Whitman,

1) The address of K. Elster1 is Mr. Kristian Elster Strandgade 38 Throndhjem Norway

2) I wrote in the midst of March a long letter to you in a large yellow enveloppe​ ;2—have you received it?

3) I should be glad, if John Burroughs3 would send me his photography; tell him that I like his book very much.

I received in March or April with an interval of eight days both the prayer of Columbus and The redwood Tree4 in Harper's Magazine.5 Of the redwood Tree I have had the greatest. It is your old great theme in a simple and powerful stile​ , embracing the holy and original nation of the far West.

5) I am very glad to be furnished with new materials concerning the American humor. In these waggish gasconades lies the em syr.00007.002_large.jpgbryon of a comical poet greater than any of the old world's in present and past. But you, your humourists of the day I don't like. Mark Twain6 has been translated into Danish this year. He is a detestable fool.

6) Clemens Petersen's7 letter has amused me very much. His force is the psychological critic, the analyzing power, which he can't use in America, where the words have too much to do to follow such subtle explorings. Therefore he has had to be poetical traveller; but his fancy is important and he has no great sum of observation. In Sweden he never has had his foot. Touching is what he speaks of "a letter from your mother". His mother, which he never shall see more, is the only beeing​ in the world, which he loves. I should be glad to have the continuation of his letters.

7) I have sent you all the criticisms on your book, slang, chatter and earnest critic—all the criticism in "Dags Telegrafen"8 is good, but the best is Elster's. I got the number of "Aftenbladet"9 here in Kopenhagen and sent it you for security's sake; probably it has also been sent you from Norway. It should interest me to know what impression also these varie syr.00007.003_large.jpggated opinions have made on you. Particularly I long to hear, if the criticism of Elster has been completely translated to you.

8) Has this translation of your book into Danish10 not been spoken of in the American papers?

May the line meet you in good health and joyfull​ . Do you understand my bad English?

Yours Rudolf Schmidt  syr.00007.004_large.jpg June 26 '74 | Rudolf Schmidt

The Danish writer Peter Carl Rudolf Schmidt (1836–1899) was the editor of the idealist journal For Idé og Virkelighed ("For Idea and Reality") and had translated Whitman's Democratic Vistas into Danish in 1874.


  • 1. 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]
  • 2. See Schmidt's letter to Whitman of March 20, 1874. [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. 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, 47:524–525. 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 New Monthly Magazine, see "Prayer of Columbus." [back]
  • 5. Harper's Monthly Magazine (sometimes Harper's New Monthly Magazine or simply Harper's) was established in 1850 by Henry J. Raymond and Fletcher Harper. The magazine became successful by reprinting British novels before eventually publishing American authors. Six of Whitman's poems were published there between 1874 and 1892. For more information on Whitman's relationship with Harper's, see Susan Belasco's Harper's Monthly Magazine. [back]
  • 6. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835–1910), better know by his pen name, Mark Twain, was an American humorist, novelist, lecturer, and publisher. Twain is best known for authoring such novels as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894). Twain attended Whitman's New York lecture on the death of Lincoln in April 1887. He also contributed to Thomas Donaldson's fund for the purchase of a horse and buggy for Whitman (see Whitman's September 22, 1885, letter to Herbert Gilcrist), as well as to the fund to build Whitman a private cottage (see Whitman's October 7, 1887, letter to Sylvester Baxter). Twain was reported in the Boston Herald of May 24, 1887 to have said: "What we want to do is to make the splendid old soul comfortable" (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs: Comrades [New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 268). [back]
  • 7. Clemens Petersen (1834–1918), for ten years a critic for the Danish magazine "Fædrelandet" (Fatherland), left Denmark in 1869 amid police accusations of homosexuality; accusations that Petersen was inappropriately involved with schoolchildren were never proven. Petersen remained in the U.S. until 1904, when he returned to Denmark. Petersen and Norwegian poet Björnstjerne Björnson (1832–1910) engaged in a long correspondence, suggesting a close friendship. Rudolf Schmidt pressed Walt Whitman for his opinion of Petersen, as in his February 28, 1874, letter: "I have asked you at least two times how you did like Clemens Petersen; you have not replied and most probably you wont speak of this matter. If that is the case, I shall repeat the question no more." See Who's Who in Gay & Lesbian History, ed. Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon (London: Psychology Press, 2000), 2:55, 343; see also Carl Roos, "Walt Whitman's Letters to a Danish Friend," Orbis Litterarum, 7 (1949), 43n. [back]
  • 8. Carl Roos notes that the Dags Telegrafen, a conservative Danish newspaper, criticized Democratic Vistas on May 20, 1874; see Orbis Litterarum, 7 (1949), 53n. [back]
  • 9. Aftenbladet was a daily Norwegian newspaper. Its final issue was published in 1881. [back]
  • 10. Rudolph Schmidt translated Whitman's Democratic Vistas into Danish in 1874. [back]
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