Interviews and Reminiscences

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman: Notes of a Conversation with the Good Gray Poet by a German Poet and Traveller

Creator: C. Sadakichi Hartmann

Date: April 14, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: med.00560

Source: New York Herald 14 April 1889: 10. 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

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Notes of a Conversation with the Good
Gray Poet by a German
Poet and Traveller.




The Ideas Expressed in Whitman's Books—
Criticism of Bryant, Emerson, Holmes,
Hawthorne, Lowell, Stedman, Poe
and Byron—Bismarck, Wash-
ington and Lincoln—
Thoughts on Women
and on Gov-


One cannot say much about women. The best ones study Greek or criticise Byron—they are no women.

The Greek nation is the most remarkable one, after all.

I excuse a great deal of tyranny, even cruelty in the government of a nation.

There is a certain idea in my works—to glorify industry, nature and pure intstict.

The American nation is not much at present, but will be some day the most glorious one on earth. We are now tuning the instruments, afterward comes the music.

The old countries have also their destiny; there is no such thing as decay.

There is no worse devil than man.

Choice literature, I think, is emprical.

Taine's English Literature is one of the productions of our age.

Man is like a star, every one standing for himself.

I always remember that my ancestors were Dutch.

Sensuality I have done with, I have thrown it out, but it is natural, even a necessity.

I can hardly say that I had ever the idea to better mankind. I grew like a tree and the poems like fruit.


Bryant! He is our greatest poet. He has a smack of Americanism, American individuality, a smack of outdoor life, the wash of the sea, the mountains, forests and animals. But he is too melancholy for a great representative of American poetry.

Emerson's deficiency is that he doubts everything. He is a deep thinker, though he had hardly any influence on me; but people say so, may be, without any knowledge. He has much of the Persians and Oriental people. He is only the offspring of other suns tumbling through the universe.

Men should do as they please. Nobody has the right to interfere with another man's business, religion or habit. This I have said to Ingersoll.

Our time? We must settle a little more. But there seems to be a demand for this hurly burly time.

Poe has a tendency for the gloomy side of life.

About Hawthorne I have nothing particular to say. The multitude likes him. I have read his novels. In my opinion they do not amount to much. His works are languid, melancholy, morbid. He likes to dwell on crimes, on the sufferings of the human heart, which he analyzes by far too much.

Byron became bitter through the ups and downs of his career, his life—specially the downs. A desperate fierceness is predominant in his works. But I like something more free—Homer, Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Emerson.


Bismarck's work of life is to make Germany strong and powerful.

It doesn't matter much who is there in Washington. Certainly, they must have one and I think Harrison tries to do his best. He is sufficient.

Lincoln was our greatest man. I sometimes ask myself what would have become of us if he hadn't been President during those terrible years 1862-65.

The theory of our government is to give to every man the freedom of his activity—to work, study, electrify.

Our literature will come! The newspapers indicate it, miserable as they are. Miserable and grand, too, as they are.

If the common consent of people think churches a necessity, then they ought to be.

Everybody who reads novels not for mere pleasure will admire Walter Scott. He had a Shakespearian variety of subjects. He did not analyze and anatomize his characters.

George Washington had the power of organization, the ability to identify the power of the State. He was an Englishman, an English Franklin, wealthy, well educated, with high morals.

To write the life of a human being takes many a book, and after all the story is not told.


O. W. Holmes! Very witty, very smart, not first rank and not second rank; man of fine culture, who knows how to move in society; he takes the same place in modern society as the court singer and troubadours in the Middle Ages, who had a taste for castles, ladies, festivals, &c., who knew exactly how to move among kings and princes, but something was failing, that very thing that had made him a poet.

J. R. Lowell, cute, elegant, well dressed; somewhat of a Yankee; student, college.

Paul Hayne, I don't know much about him; quite a poet, genteel, &c; nothing dazzling.

Some persons think they are poets if they have a feeling for jewels, paste gems, feathers, birds, flowers, perfume, &c. In a barbaric country among uncivilized people they would deserve some praise, but not in our time, when everybody can imagine these things.

Whittier was a strong poet, the favorite of Horace Greeley—as good and powerful in his old days as in his young. Much earnestness and fierceness bends all his Quaker peace.

Stoddard is fair, but many are like him.

In Denver I would like to live.

Never forget to study the old, grand poets, but do not imitate them. We want something which pays reverence to our time.

In New York, Boston, &c., they eat their bread and beef and digest it for the Western world, but in the Valley of the Mississippi is quite another life.

I am no worshipper of beauty. I think there is not such a thing as abstract beauty.

Stedman is, after all, nothing but a sophisticated dancing master. If Hercules or Apollo himself would make their appearance he would look at them only from the standpoint of a dancing master.

If anything has a destiny the English language has a destiny. In my books, in my prose as well as my poetry, are many knots to untie.

"Leaves of Grass" are the reflections of American life and ideas which reflect again.

Rousseau I have never read, of Voltaire now and then a quotation.

I don't know why some men compare my book with the Bible.

Verdi, I think, is one of the best musicians; he is a storm with the intention of being a real storm. Mendelssohn is my favorite. I always like to hear him. Music is the only art where we get something.

I live very economically, but you don't know what support I get of my friends; besides I write for the magazines and get well paid. The state of my affairs is at present very bright. Why should I trouble myself. I have only a few years more to live.



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