Interviews and Reminiscences

About this Item

Title: Arnold and Whitman: The Author of "Light of Asia" Visits the American Poet

Creator: Anonymous

Date: September 15, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: med.00519

Source: The Times 15 September 1889: 4. Our transcription is based on a digital image of a microfilm copy of an original issue. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the interviews, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney, Nic Swiercek, and Shea Montgomerey

image 1







Kind Greetings Sent by Tennyson,
Browning and Rossetti to the
Good Gray Poet.


Walt Whitman, the old poet, was sitting in what he calls his "den," the north room, second story, of his pretty frame cottage, 328 Mickle street, Camden, on Friday afternoon.

"I am growing old," he said, "but old age hath its uses. I think the dinner my good friends gave me recently, at Morgan's Hall, gave me a new lease of life. I had been pounded, impounded, and had been, as Rabelais says, turned 'upside down and downside up,' for so many years by the critics in at least one hemisphere, our own, too, that I was not prepared for such generous, spontaneous and soul-satisfying testimony of affection as overwhelmed me at that dinner, and I am sure I 'renewed my youth like the eagle.'

"At least here I am surrounded by my books, and the roses you see my friends send me daily. And then, though I feel like an old wagon which can never jog across the woods to camp meeting again over corduroy roads, still I can get on over smooth roads, and some bright days I am wheeled down to the ferry and from a safe 'coign of vantage,' where no one can disturb me, I watch the crowds, as I used to in Broadway, New York, as they surge forward and backward, going to and coming from Philadelphia."


Surrounding the old poet was "proofs" and newspapers and magazines covering the floor, the accumulation of the ten years he has had his "den" in the second story of his pleasant little home. No profane hand dares to touch a manuscript or card, book or newspaper in this inner sanctuary and home of the good old poet's waking and sleeping hours. It is only on bright days he leaves this spot, and then to be wheeled out in the sunlight in his little coach, propelled by the strong arms of his Canadian nurse, to whom he has become much attached. Walt's voice is almost as strong as of old.

In spite of his paralysis he moved his chair across the room and reaching over his little table close to the window he dragged from an unassorted pile of unanswered letters one post-marked New York.


He read it, as follows:

"NEW YORK, September 12, 1889.


"Before I again move forward in my journey around the world I want to come to Camden with the sole purpose of seeing you. I come to bring you greeting from Tennyson, Browning, Rossetti, and many who love the divine light and fervor we find in so many of your poems.

"You know, perhaps, that I have translated your charming and musical ode beginning 'Come lovely and soothing death,' into several European and Asiatic tongues.

"If you are not appreciated to the fulness of your great power and merit by your own people in your great and generous America, it will come with the coming on of time.

"I bear with me many warm and tender messages of affection from your loving friends in England: from Tennyson and Browning all the way down. Yours sincerely,



There was a little tremulousness in the old man's voice as he read this generous letter from the author of "The Light of Asia."

At 4 P.M. there was a ring at the cottage bell, and Walt's comely housekeeper, Mrs. Mary Davis, came up with a card bearing the name of "Edwin Arnold." The old poet simply said:

"Mary! tell him to come up."

A middle-sized gentleman, at least five feet ten in height, dressed in a mixed gray suit, with nothing ostentatious or "English" about him, walked slowly into Walt's room. The old man's eyes brightened as he grasped the hand of Sir Edwin Arnold affectionately in both of his own, saying, "Mr. Arnold, you are right welcome to my home."

Both men gazed at each other without another word for a space, not embarrassing to either, and Mr. Whitman began the conversation by asking Mr. Arnold how he liked America. To this the editor of the London Telegraph replied: "I am not a stranger to Americans, though I never saw your great and prosperous and happy land till a few days since. I made the journey by railroad from Niagara to Washington. My second wife, you know, was an American lady, and that gives me a claim on your people. I spent many pleasant hours in your capital, and my interview with President Harrison was a memorable one. His greeting was frank, and I was charmed with the simplicity of his manners. I told him my children bore American names and that it pleased me to think and speak of Americans as transatlantic Englishmen. Mr. Harrison strikes me as a cautious statesman, without affectation; a man who will govern this country with a policy based on good sense and good faith.


"I told the President how much we liked Robert Lincoln because he was the son of that greatest and best of men, Abraham Lincoln. There was no ceremoniousness about my visit to the President, and as a journalist I liked my brief talk with Mr. Harrison all the better for that.

"But," continued Sir Edwin Arnold, drawing his chair closer to the good Gray Poet, "I want to talk about yourself. I bring with me the best wishes and most cordial greetings from Tennyson and Browning and all the poets of the British Isles. They have long hoped you would come to England that we may see you face to face, and Tennyson told me that he had hopes before your last sickness that you could be induced to come across the water and spend the summer at his country home."

To this old Walt sadly shook his head, saying: "There was a time I hoped to accept Alfred Tennyson's invitation, twice repeated, but as you see," pointing to his paralyzed limb, "the day is passed for all that, but your words of good cheer are none the less welcome to me here and now and I can only say to you, Comrade Edwin Arnold, what I said to the warm-hearted boys who gave me a great dinner here a short time ago, possibly my last public symposium.


"I am overwhelmed with these generous words, and even though I may not quite deserve them all, to an old man, battered and hammered at for over thirty years by critics big and little these words of affection sound good to me."

After a silence, which was eloquent, Walt said: "One of your poems, 'Good night; not good-bye,' has touched me," and he quoted as only he can, with resonant eloquence, these verses of Edwin Arnold's latest poem:

"I saw my lady die;
And he who ofttimes cruel is—dark death—
Was so deep sorrowful to stay her breath
He came all clemency.
"Good night, then, sweetheart! wife!
If this world be the dark time, and its morrow
Day Dawn of Paradise, dispelling sorrow,
Lighting our starless life,
Good-night, and not good-bye.
"For dying has grown dear
Now you are dead who turned all things tograce;
We see Death made pale slumber on yourface—
Good-night, and not good-bye."

There were tears in the eyes of the English poet. The visitor rose to go and left the bright, robust transatlantic poet standing reverently beside the chair of the kindly, blue-eyed, Homeric-looking Whitman as a tender child might stand wishing a fond farewell to a loving parent he never expected to meet save in the world beyond the stars.


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.