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or four reasons:--
"1. That it is difficult to reconcile the letter itself (with its
strong tone of disapprobation) with the general 'atmosphere' of
_Leaves of Grass_, the tenor of which is to leave everything open
"2. That the letter is in hopeless conflict with the 'Calamus'
section of poems. For, whatever moral lines Whitman may have
drawn at the time of writing these poems, it seems to me quite
incredible that the possibility of certain inferences, morbid or
other, was undreamed of.
"3. That the letter was written only a few months before his last
illness and death, and is the only expression of the kind that he
appears to have given utterance to.
"4. That Symonds's letter, to which this was a reply, is not
forth coming; and we consequently do not know what rash
expressions it may have contained--leading Whitman (with his
extreme caution) to hedge his name from possible use to justify
I may add that I endeavored to obtain Symonds's letter, but he
was unable to produce it, nor has any copy of it been found among
It should be said that Whitman's attitude toward Symonds was
marked by high regard and admiration. "A wonderful man is
Addington Symonds," he remarked shortly before his own death;
"some ways the most indicative and penetrating and significant
man of our time. Symonds is a curious fellow; I love him dearly.
He is of college breed and education, horribly literary and
suspicious, and enjoys things. A great fellow for delving into
persons and into the concrete, and even into the physiological
and the gastric, and wonderfully cute." But on this occasion he
delved in vain.
The foregoing remarks (substantially contained in the previous
editions of this book) were based mainly on the information
received from J.A. Symonds's side. But of more recent years
interesting light has been thrown on this remarkable letter from
Walt Whitman's side. The Boswellian patience, enthusiasm, and
skill which Horace Traubel has brought to his full and elaborate
work, now in course of publication, _With Walt Whitman in
Camden_, clearly reveal, in the course of various conversations,
Whitman's attitude to Symonds's question and the state of mind
which led up to this letter.
Whitman talked to Traubel much about Symonds from the
twenty-seventh of April, 1888 (very soon after the date when
Traubel's work begins), onward. Symonds had written to him
repeatedly, it seems, concerning the "passional relations of men
with men," as Whitman expressed it. "He is always driving at me
about that: is that what Calamus means?--because of me or in
spite of me, is that what it means? I have said no, but no does
not satisfy him. [There is, however, no record from Symonds's
side of any letter by Whitman to Symonds in this sense up to this
date.] But read this letter--read the whole of it: it is very
shrewd, very cute, in deadliest earnest: it drives me hard,
almost compels me--it is urgent, persistent: he sort of stands in
the road and says 'I won't move till you answer my question.' You
see, this is an old letter--sixteen years old--and he is still
asking the question: he refers to it in one of his latest notes.
He is surely a wonderful man--a rare, cleaned-up man--a
white-souled, heroic character.... You will be writing something
about Calamus some day," said W. [to Traubel], "and this letter,
and what I say, may help to clear your ideas. Calamus needs clear
ideas; it may be easily, innocently distorted from its natural,
its motive, body of doctrine."
The letter, dated Feb. 7, 1872, of some length, is then
reproduced. It tells how much _Leaves of Grass_, and especially
the Calamus section, had helped the writer. "What the love of man
for man has been in the past," Symonds wrote, "I think I know.
What it is here now, I know also--alas! What you say it can and
should be I dimly discern in your Poems. But this hardly
satisfies me--so desirous am I of learning what you teach. Some
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