Next time I saw Whitman was in May 1888, a few days before my departure for England.

Sadakichi: “Have you done anything with your ‘November Boughs*?’” 

Whitman: “Here they are!” (pointing down at a bundle of ragged manuscripts, tied together, which he used as a footrest.) 

Sadakichi: “Would you present me with a piece of original manuscript?”

Whitman (without answering, got up, untied a bundle of manuscript and handed me “Roaming in Thought*” (I 216) written on the back of a creditor’s letter): “This will do.”

Sadakichi: What do you think about St. Gaudens’* [sic] Lincoln?

Whitman: “—I really don’t know what I think about it.”

Whitman like most of our American writers was not well posted on foreign literature, in particular on foreign contemporary literature. [Friedrich] Nietzsche, [Henrik] Ibsen, the Verists, the Symbolists, etc. etc. he had not heard of or they had made no impression on him.

Sadakichi: “You read Tolstoi [sic]?”

Whitman: “Not much. In translation—I don’t think he has written anything more powerful than his King Lear of the Steppes*. It has some of the quality of King Lear, not merely a resemblance to the plot. I read War and Peace. I couldn’t make much out of it. The translation seems to be very superficial, poor.—A good book should be like Roman cement, the older it grows, the better it sticks.” 


*The four poems that comprised the series “November Boughs” were first published in Lippincott’s Magazine and reprinted in the “Sands at Seventy” annex to the 1888 version of Leaves of Grass.

*“Roaming in Thought (After reading Hegel)” is a four-line poem that was included in the 1881–82 version of Leaves of Grass

*Augustus Saint-Gaudens, often regarded as the most important sculptor of the nineteenth century, created the standing statue Abraham Lincoln: The Man, which was dedicated to Lincoln Park in Chicago on October 22, 1887.

*Verismo was an Italian literary movement that encouraged realism. The movement arose after the French Revolution and was largely inspired by the works of French writers Honoré de Balzac and Émile Zola. The movement became less popular in the 1920s but reemerged after the Second World War as Neorealism. 

*“A Lear of the Steppes,” often translated as “King Lear of the Steppes” was a short story adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear that was actually written by Russian writer Ivan Turgenev and published in 1870.



From Conversations with Walt Whitman (E. P. Coby & Co., Publishers, 1895) by Sadakichi Hartmann.
This book is in the public domain.