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In Appreciation of Whitman's Leaves of Grass

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In Appreciation of Whitman's Leaves of Grass
« on: August 12, 2020, 10:00:07 AM »
TO WILLIAM BELL SCOTT.
DEAR SCOTT,—Among various gifts which I have received from you, tangible and intangible, was a copy of the original quarto edition of Whitman's Leaves of Grass, which you presented to me soon after its first appearance in 1855. At a time when few people on this side of the Atlantic had looked into the book, and still fewer had found in it anything save matter for ridicule, you had appraised it, and seen that its value was real and great. A true poet and a strong thinker like yourself was indeed likely to see that. I read the book eagerly, and perceived that its substantiality and power were still ahead of any eulogium with which it might have come commended to me—and, in fact, ahead of most attempts that could be made at verbal definition of them.

Some years afterwards, getting to know our friend Swinburne, I found with much satisfaction that he also was an ardent (not of course a blind) admirer of Whitman. Satisfaction, and a degree almost of surprise; for his intense sense of poetic refinement of form in his own works and his exacting acuteness as a critic might have seemed likely to carry him away from Whitman in sympathy at least, if not in actual latitude of perception. Those who find the American poet "utterly formless," "intolerably rough and floundering," "destitute of the A B C of art," and the like, might not unprofitably ponder this very different estimate of him by the author of Atalanta in Calydon.

May we hope that now, twelve years after the first appearance of Leaves of Grass, the English reading public may be prepared for a selection of Whitman's poems, and soon hereafter for a complete edition of them? I trust this may prove to be the case. At any rate, it has been a great gratification to me to be concerned in the experiment; and this is enhanced by my being enabled to associate with it your name, as that of an early and well-qualified appreciator of Whitman, and no less as that of a dear friend.

Yours affectionately,
W. M. ROSSETTI.
October 1867.

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