Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to Karl Knortz, 8 January 1889

Dear Sir

Y'r note & German paper rec'd—Thanks—I wrote you (same address as this) some ten weeks ago, that Rolleston,2 Ireland, had rec'd first proofs of the translation of L of G. from Switzerland, & wished you to see them—I wrote to you to write & confer with him (R)3—but have no word f'm you—Did you receive my letter? or have you heard from R or from the proofs, or printer?—I fancy the trans: must be out, printed, by this time—I have nothing from R. now for a long, long while (with that exception)—

I am laid up in my sick room—essentially the sixth recurrence of my war paralysis—& have been (two or three spells serious) for over seven months—but am now some easier & freer. I am sitting up days most of the time—diet on mutton-broth & milk & toast bread—am very feeble, cannot get across the room without assistance—have a nurse,4 a good, strong Canadian young man—my mentality ab't the same as hitherto—have mean time bro't out "November Boughs,"5 140 pages, & a big Vol. 900 pages, my "Complete Works,"6 every thing poems & prose—both Vols: at your service—Best wishes & thanks—(I believe you have my Mrs: Gilchrist7 book)8

Walt Whitman

Karl 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 13 (December 1946), 27–30. His first published criticism of Whitman appeared in the New York Staats-Zeitung Sonntagsblatt on December 17, 1882, and he worked with Thomas W. H. Rolleston on the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry, published as Grashalme in 1889. For more information about Knortz, see Walter Grünzweig, "Knortz, Karl (1841–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Dr Karl Knortz | 540 East 155th Street | New York City. It is postmarked: Camden (?) | Jan 8 (?) | 8(?) | 89. [back]
  • 2. Thomas William Hazen Rolleston (1857–1920) was an Irish poet and journalist. After attending college in Dublin, he moved to Germany for a period of time. He wrote to Whitman frequently, beginning in 1880, and later produced with Karl Knortz the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry into German. In 1889, the collection Grashalme: Gedichte [Leaves of Grass: Poems] was published by Verlags-Magazin in Zurich, Switzerland. See Walter Grünzweig, Constructing the German Walt Whitman (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995). For more information on Rolleston, see Walter Grünzweig, "Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (1857–1920)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of September 10, 1888 and his letter to Knortz of September 10, 1888. [back]
  • 4. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. Wilkins graduated on March 24, 1893, and then he returned to the United States to commence his practice in Alexandria, Indiana. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]
  • 5. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888)included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The nearly 900-page book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
  • 7. Anne Burrows Gilchrist (1828–1885) was the author of one of the first significant pieces of criticism on Leaves of Grass, titled "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman (From Late Letters by an English Lady to W. M. Rossetti)," The Radical 7 (May 1870), 345–59. Gilchrist's long correspondence with Whitman indicates that she had fallen in love with the poet after reading his work; when the pair met in 1876 when she moved to Philadelphia, Whitman never fully returned her affection, although their friendship deepened after that meeting. For more information on their relationship, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Anne Burrows (1828–1885)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings, edited by Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist, was published in 1887. [back]
Back to top