Date 1868-04-25
Publication Examiner
Topic Refute criticism of WMR editorial work on Whitman
AP display
RA display
Subject literature
Keywords refute
  ↳ defend
  ↳ correct
Standards accuracy
  ↳ clarification
  ↳ facts
Notes Multiple Letters/Reminiscences refs included

Annotation details

68 April 25 The Examiner


refute criticism of WMR's ed. Work on Whitman's collection.


Rossetti, William M. "Walt Whitman's Poems." The Examiner, April 25, 1868: 264. Web. 21 September 2011.


This short letter to The Examiner rebuts their criticism of Rossetti's editorial work on the British edition of a Walt Whitman collection. At issue is The Examiner's criticism of Rossetti for allegedly "tacking on" titles for several poems as well as arranging a chronology that differs from that of the original American edition.

Rossetti denies both points, explaining that several poems had no titles and that the original chronology was destroyed by the exclusion of several in the original grouping published in America, as well as by the edition of a half dozen more in the British edition. Therefore, Rossetti contends, his editorial emendations were solely for the sake of clarity and organization given the loss of the original grouping and the lack of titles on some in the altered thematic groupings that organized the original edition. In a letter to Swinburne written prior to the publication of the collection, Rossetti laments, "My complete edition of Whitman has had to be ruthlessly cut up for the Selection . . ."

Rossetti was selected as editor due to favorable notes he had published about the poetry of Whitman the year prior in The Chronicle, which Rossetti refers to in a letter to Swinburne as "a short and (let us hope) seasonable word on Whitman in the British ear" (Letters 177). Hotten believed Rossetti could prepare the edition in a way that would invoke a positive reception in Britain (Reminiscences 2:402). Rossetti exchanged no less than twenty-four letters with Whitman, often discussing the requirements for successful reception of Whitman's poetry in England (Letters 184). Most of the controversy over Rossetti's edition stems from issues of selection and emendation, but Rossetti does not mention that Whitman had authorized him to make "such verbal changes as may appear to be indispensible to meet requirements" in England (Letters183). Further, Rossetti took great pains in choosing works for the collection, and as importantly, excluding certain poems that "put certain matters with a downrightness and crudity or even a coarseness of expression which is rightly resented on the grounds not only of decorum and delicacy but also of literary art (Reminiscences 2:403).

He consulted Swinburne and William Bell-Scott multiple times during the year prior to the publication, and Swinburne is implicitly referred to in the forward to the edition (Letters 180). Rossetti explained the changes he'd made and the selection of poems to Whitman in a letter dated 8 December 1867 (Letters 184). The primary factor in Rossetti's editing decisions resides in his desire to have the work accepted, and not misunderstood by the British readership. There is an expression of remorse from Rossetti to Whitman over the misunderstanding regarding Whitman's assent to a republishing of his complete works, but ultimately, the works were not reproduced in their entirety in the Rossetti edition (Letters 184).

Peattie notes Rossetti's eventual tiring of what he calls "Whitmania," citing an 1897 letter in which Rossetti said, "I scarcely ever see anything written about him in what appears to be a right tone. Frothy and flaring laudation abounds: but to express in reasonable terms the reasonable, solid, and lofty homage to which his writings are entitled seems a very rare accomplishment" (Letters fn 184).




two points, misapprehended, grouping, titles

Standards of Judgment:

facts, clarification


Whitman first edition



Writing technique/tone:

concise, matter-of-fact, informative


". . . I would be somewhat misapprehended to my disadvantage by readers of your critique . . ."

Works Cited

Rossetti, William Michael. Selected Letters of William Michael Rossetti. Ed. Roger Peattie. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1990. Print.

---. Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti. Vol. 2. New York: Charles Scribner, 1906. Print.