Interviews and Reminiscences

About this Item

Title: Sir Edwin Arnold and Whitman

Creator: Anonymous

Date: November 7, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: med.00734

Source: The Springfield Republican 7 November 1891: 9. 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

image 1

Sir Edwin Arnold and Whitman.


The Englishman Surprises the American
Poet at His Home.

An interesting incident of Sir Edwin Arnold's stay in Philadelphia was his call on Walt Whitman. With John Russell Young and Maj James B. Pond, Sir Edwin left the Lafayette hotel in a cab Monday noon and took the ferry to Camden. The visit was planned Sunday night to be a surprise, and Walt Whitman did not receive the slightest intimation of the coming of the trio. The aged poet sat in his bedroom. He was wrapped in a big blanket, upon which his gray beard, that of a typical sage, flowed. The floor was littered with books and papers almost blocking the approach to the great American singer. Sir Edwin Arnold managed to wade through the literary debris and stood in the full light of the window before his host. An inexpressible flood of delight passed over the face of the American poet as he beheld his great English confrere. Sir Edwin rushed toward him and exclaimed, "My dear friend, I am delighted to see you." "Arnold, I did not expect you; how kind and considerate!" was the surprised exclamation of the aged poet as he held forth his hand. But there was more than the usual handshaking. The greeting was a literal embrace, for the two poets love each other in the strictest literary sense. Sir Edwin has always been infatuated with Walt Whitman's poetry and the American bard finds equal delight in the productions of the former. It was the second time that the two had met. Sir Edwin Arnold's visit to this country two years ago was made expressly to see Walt Whitman.

After the two poets had disembraced, Walt Whitman received John Russell Young and Maj Pond with an effusive greeting. For the next hour and a half the talk ran fast and without intermission. The American poet had lots to tell, and so had Sir Edwin, and the two indulged in a literary feast. Sir Edwin was very sorry that his friend was not in the best of health. "If I had hold of you," said Sir Edwin, pointing his finger affectionately, "I'd soon get you well. You are not sick; why, if I could only have you, I wager that I could make you young again. Seventy-three years—that's not much. You're certainly good for 15 years more, and during that time you can keep me delighted with books of new verse."

"Oh, what beautiful things you say of me," responded the aged poet, "and Arnold, how can I repay you for that splendid little tribute to me at the Lotos club. You don't know how it pleased me. It stirs the cockle of my blood to read the nice things you say of me."

The two sat alongside of each other and began talking about American and English poetry. "Arnold, we're a lively, hustling people," said the American bard, "and we're too practical yet to appreciate the full sentiment of our verse. What a wealth has been written! Yet we have not the high poetical spirit of the Japanese in this country. Over there in Japan there is so much sentiment—so much that is ideal." Sir Edwin said he hoped that the day would not be far distant when the people of America would have a very soft poetical glow to their temperament. "Americans," said he, "are a great people, of remarkable intellect. What a future they will have."

Sir Edwin and his host next fell to musing over the great men of the country. They talked about Washington, Lincoln and Grant, whose characters and deeds Sir Edwin avowed he was always fond of reading about. Then the pair had a literary treat by talking of Emerson, Longfellow and other American poets. Each quoted many selections. Sir Edwin then asked his "dear friend Whitman" if he could not recite from memory some of the latter's gems. "Have you some of my poetry in your memory?" exclaimed the aged poet. "Well, I will guarantee to be able to recite at least half of what you have written," replied Sir Edwin playfully. "Now let me try you." Sir Edwin then ssood up when he was asked to recite a portion of Walt Whitman's verse on the death of Lincoln. The famous English bard's eyes twinkled and he began:—

Come early and soothing Death,
Undulate round the world severely arriving, arriving
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later, delicate death.
Sir Edwin kept on reciting until tears filled the eyes of the American poet and he reached forth his hand thankfully. Sir Edwin recited several more selections and then his host repeated many lines from Sir Edwin's works.

Before the party arose to take their departure, Walt Whitman had three volumes brought to him by a servant. Each volume was very large and contained all of his productions in verse and prose. He jotted down his autograph on each, and as he handed them to his guests he spoke like a playmate to his companions: "I won't say that I will write to you fellows; it's all inside the book." "God bless you and keep you safe and well," responded Sir Edwin, and the visit came to an end. Sir Edwin spoke thus of Walt Whitman: "Great, good poet that he is; he stands next to Emerson."


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