Interviews and Reminiscences

About this Item

Title: Reminiscences of Walt Whitman: Memories, Letters, Etc.

Creator: William Sloane Kennedy

Date: 1896

Whitman Archive ID: med.00567

Source: Our transcription is based on William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman: With Extracts from His Letters and Remarks on His Writings (London: Alexander Gardner, 1896), 1–49. 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, Whitney Helms, Nic Swiercek, and Shea Montgomerey


"Publish my name and hang up my picture as that of the tenderest lover."—Leaves of Grass.

PHILADELPHIA, November 22, 1880.

—A delightful call on Walt Whitman last night. There is a kind of sweet and pathetic resignation in the tones of his voice; he seems patient and pain-chastened; has a proud but kindly, native-aristocratic temper and carriage. It appears that he has never dipped into the Greek language; said he had not. But I never knew anyone show profounder insight into the Greek al fresco spirit than he in the course of a few broken and hesitating sentences. (Walt Whitman's syntax is always much broken in conversation, until he warms up to this theme.) He said, "The Greeks tested everything by the open air." I can't tell how it was, but the large personality of the man so vivified the few words he spoke that all the majesty of Greece—especially her sculpturesque art-idea—seemed to loom up before me as never before in my life, although the study of Greek literature had been a specialty of my collegiate and post-collegiate years. Whitman dwelt enthusiastically on the remarkable perennial purity of the great St. Lawrence River, which eh had seen during the past summer. We both thought that this translucid purity would have deep influence upon the art and the ethical natures of the peoples who are to dwell along the St. Lawrence and the chain of the Great Lakes.

February 17, 1881.

—At the close of the evening Whitman spoke of the Adamitic element in his poetry, saying, "I know that other writers excel me in intellectual gifts, etc., but my contribution, that which I bring into literature for the first time, is the brawn and blood of the people, the basic animal element, virility, the pure sexuality, which is as indispensable to literature as its finer elements. Hitherto the blackguards have had this field to themselves."

He expressed himself as immensely pleased with Denver, Colorado; said he would rather live there than anywhere else in the world; New York City was his next choice, and had been his first in youth; but its feverish life was too much for him now, in his old age. He spoke with delight of the purling streams of water that he had seen flowing through the streets of Denver,— the pure melted snow of the mountains; said he used to get up in the morning, when there, and go out on purpose to see it.

I introduced a remark of John Burroughs about the low and degraded quality of American humour, which deals with its characters as if they were despicable inferiors, and not as do the great humourists,—with genial and generous sympathy. Whitman heartily agreed with Burroughs, and said, with warm indignation, that the men out in the mountains and mines and plains of the West were the equals of the Homeric heroes or the old gods, and are so treated by Joaquin Miller, and a few others; but our newspaper scribblers spy around to pick out small sources of ridicule and burlesque. He told me a little anecdote of Carlyle. Mrs. Lowell, of Boston, had loaned Carlyle the "Harvard Memorial Biographies" (of those who fell in the war). After reading in them, Carlyle said to Mrs. Lowell, "Well, I dinna ken but I have got on the wrang trace about your America." Whitman remarked that perhaps literature was not of much importance in itself, except as it helped us to look with more pleasure and profit on life,—its shows and duties.

As he sat there on the sofa (in the little parlour of the Stevens Street house in Camden), with his enormous, long-used hat on his head (the rim pushed up from the forehead to an almost perpendicular position, as is often his wont when at home—the same habit is noticeable in the portraits of Montaigne), I was impressed by his large personality,—the rich, supple-sweet fullness of flesh, delicacy on a basis of rugged strength.

February 22, 1881.

—Met Whitman strolling along the sunny side of market Street. When Gulliver was placed on his mistress's hand before the Brobdignagian looking-glass, he actually seemed to himself to have dwindled in size. So it is with me when I meet Walt Whitman,—partly on account of his imposing presence. But then, after one has talked with him for a while, he imparts his own stature (momentarily), and one goes off feeling seven feet high, like Bouchardon after reading the Iliad. Walt had on a huge ulster. In winter he always dresses warmly in thick gray clothes, which somehow seem to have a certain fullness, perfume, comfortable warmth, peculiar to him.

March 8, 1881.

—Had a delightful call with Mr. G. P. Lathrop on Whitman. Lathrop's ostensible errand was to get Walt to read his Death of Lincoln piece before the St. Botolph's Club of Boston. (Satisfactorily arranged; Walt Whitman went on and gave his reading gat the Hawthorne Rooms.)*

*Mr. Sylvester Baxter, in the New Englander for August, 1892, gives details of this visit. It was there and then that Osgood & Co. saw Whitman, and made overtures to publish Leaves of Grass. In August, 1881, he came on for a two months' stay to see the new edition through the press. Took room in Hotel Bulfinch; often rode down on horse-cars to the sea at City Point; passed an evening at Bartlett's studio, down on water-front—Joaquin Miller, Boyle O'Reilly, and others being present. It was at the Hotel Bulfinch he wrote his lines "The Sobbing of the Bells."
I was amused at Whitman's account of a talk he had years before with philosopher Alcott. He said: "Yes, he talked, and I listened; I talked a little; I liked his atmosphere." This struck me as droll, who knew so well the amiable weakness of my good old friend of Concord for monopolizing conversation.

BELMONT, Mass., January, 1885.

—Spent several hours of January 2 with Whitman (on my way home from New Orleans). A young son of Thomas Donaldson came in for a call, and on going away bashfully kissed the old poet. Walt Whitman read us his as yet immature "Fancies at Navesink," which appeared in the Nineteenth Century the next August.

PHILADELPHIA, June 3, 1886.

—Spent an hour or so with Walt Whitman at his little Mickle Street "shanty," as he calls his house (No. 328). He sits there "anchored" in his great chair by the front lower-floor window (scarcely able to get up and down stairs now, since his sunstroke a year ago), and holds what seems like a simple democratic court, receiving all who come to him,—bores and all,—only now and then having courteously to assert his right to some of his own time. Today I found a young artist present, who reverently asked (what was cheerfully granted) permission to come and sit quietly in the back part of the room, for a few hours, in order to record with the pencil, if he might be able, what even the photograph could not catch. Another acquaintance was (bad-manneredly) questioning Whitman, and taking notes of what he said before his very face.

Whitman said he was now grown quite lethargic, taking little live interest in anything. The morning papers, which he dozed over a couple of hours or more every day, occupied his mind without making any demand upon his intellectual or sympathetic nature. He had promised and promised, and "re-re-promised" to write for the Century a paper on the War Hospitals; but there the bundle of materials lay (at his feet the table), waiting until the inspiration should come—if it ever did. (The article was afterwards written for the Century.) As Whitman sat there talking, his gray suit and white hair and beard were outlined against a huge grizzly wolf-skin, thrown over the high-backed chair, and half surrounding the entire upper half of his body; his feet rested on a salmon-coloured rug; and here and there—on the window—sill, on the floor, and on the table—were bright-red roses and other flowers, the gifts of his lovers. After his wont, he greeted everybody who passed on the sidewalk, little children and all, with a "How d'y' do!" Through his friend, Mr. Edward Carpenter, of England, he had jut received a gift of £50, and at the close of my call his young friend "Warry" brought his horse and phaeton to the door, and drove him over to Philadelphia to bank the money. He spoke in the warmest terms of Mr. Carpenter, and of two English ladies, who, as I gathered, had made him (Carpenter) the medium of their tribute of admiration and gratitude to the poet. Walt Whitman spoke, indeed, with invariable kindness of everyone whose name came up during our talk,—Stedman, Symonds, Conway, and others. It is evident that he cherishes no ill-will (and never ahs cherished any) against either his half friends or no friends.

He had also just received from one of two charming young Quaker ladies—dear friends of his, to whom he had given a note of introduction to Tennyson—a letter giving account of their cordial reception by the Laureate and his family, who constrained them to stay to lunch, and showed them every attention. At Farringford, Tennyson's study, to which they mounted, is a sunny room at the top of a winding staircase, and commands, through green cedars of Lebanon, a lovely view of Freshwater Bay.

To pass suddenly from the poetical to the practical,—Whitman said that he was extremely annoyed by the habit the women of his neighbourhood had of coming out two or three times a day with their brooms and stirring up the water in the gutters. He thought it caused malaria. "If they would only leave it alone!" he said.

I learned accidentally, and from several sources, that Walt Whitman still keeps up his work of ministering to the sick and suffering. His housekeeper coming, as I sat there, informed him that Mrs. — was not expected to live; he received the news as would a physician a report from one of his patients, and yet with a deep compassion which few physicians genuinely feel. Calling again unexpectedly one day, I found by his side a bottle of cordial destined, he said, for a sick neighbour.

Whitman's friends know that he is extremely sensitive about receiving gifts, in cases where the thinks there has been no quid pro quo. I learned that, after his Lincoln reading in Philadelphia, in the spring of 1886,—a reading which was, in part, a complimentary benefit on the part of friends and disciples,—Mr. Whitman insisted on handing two dollars apiece all around to the attendants behind the curtain and in the lobbies of the Opera House where the entertainment was given.

Walt Whitman's friends rarely visit him without having a hearty laugh with him over something or other. This is for the benefit of those enemies of his who are so ignorant of his nature as to assert that he is destitute of humour. On the other hand, he has his stern as well as his sad moods; in the former there is a look of power in his face that almost makes one tremble. All his nerves are well covered: he never exhibits, facially, the least emotion on hearing important or startling news; composure is his most apparent and constant trait. This immobility of feature he clearly derives from his Dutch ancestry.

June 6, 1886.—Sunday Evening.

—Found Whitman sitting on his front stoop, talking with a negative-pugnacious reformer. The poet entertained his ideas without a trace of impatience or severity of judgment, and yet was capable of quietly chloroforming him if he became disagreeable. He reprehended any measures that might be taken to punish the expression of even the most violent anarchistic sentiments; for the right of free speech is inviolable.

He is very much annoyed by the pestiferous brood of autograph-hungers, and by weak-headed poetlings who send him manuscripts for his kind judgment. The manuscripts he almost always throws into the waste-basket, which is indeed capacious enough in all conscience, being nothing less than one of the great wicker-work clothes-baskets employed by housekeepers on wash-days.*

*I suppose there is no doubt that the following whimsical stanzas refer to Walt Whitman, and that the Philadelphia bard, their author, has had verses of his consigned to that vast and terrible waste-basket, although he says in the preface to his volume of "Poetry" that he can "confidently state that these poems are original"!:—
I saw a poet with a shaggy maneAnd features leonine;
I strove to deem him great, and fainWould love a thing divine.
But, lo! he won no mortal soul,And loafed within his own;
His sullen mien, his eyeball's roll,Were of the sad and lone.
The poet seems to carry on his small mailing and publisher's business downstairs now, in the little parlour where he sits. By his side, amid a litter of paper, is to be seen a pile of copies of the two-volume centennial issue of his works.

A peculiar feature of Walt Whitman's personal rooms—those, I mean, which his housekeeper is not allowed to "put in order"—is the chaos of confusion in which his papers are coiled. The bump of order does not appear to exist in his cranium. He has a huge book of addresses of Whitmanites and book customers (probably several hundred names), but the entries in that plethoric and much-thumbed old volume are not indexed at all, nor are they in alphabetical order! The disorder of the dear old fellow's in-door dens (they have been to him in past years little more than sleeping places; his real study, the sky-domed vault of the earth) is, of course, apt commentary upon the loose arrangement of the prose and poetry of his books. But the habit of getting things into confusion about their rooms is one into which many old bachelor-authors fall (especially invalids), and is by no means necessarily typical of any looseness or vagueness of the logical faculties.

Whitman said he considered "Drum Taps" as an attempt to express the emotional element of the Civil War.

He said he considered that his study of the trades, and the facts of practical life, had served to give proportion, or balance, to his writings, redeeming them from the too common fault of literary work,—namely, bookishness. He emphatically denied that his efforts in poetry were the outcome of culture, or the result of wide reading of books.

He said that, among Mr. E. C. Stedman's mistakes about him, was that which he made when he asserted of him that he did not include within the range of his sympathies the wealthy, or so-called higher classes. He has since created enemies among anarchists by his sympathetic little poems on the old Emperor William and Queen Victoria.

He spoke of the late Mrs. Anne Gilchrist as one in conversation with whom you did not have to abate the wing of your thought downward at all, in deference to any feminine narrowness of mind. Her articles on Whitman are proof enough of this, which is also strikingly evident from her letters to the poet, which I had the pleasure of reading one July day in John Burrough's summer-house overlooking the Hudson.

I visited Walt Whitman's Timber Creek haunt, rendered famous by his descriptions in Specimen Days. It is a dairy region, a well-cultivated, heavy-timbered, rolling, vista'd landscape; something vast and oceanic in the wide prospects; on every side beautiful green meadows are glimpsed amongst the timber, and in one direction is seen far off a range of azure hills Extensive beds of marl are worked for fertilizing purposes; the soil is deep and rich, and life is passed by the farmers in an easy-going way and on an opulent scale. They had no terrible struggle with the rocks, as did their brothers on the granite hills of New England.

The deep-clovered meadows were blooming with bumble-bees (in Walt's old lane the black-abdomened kind were darting fiercely to and fro, just as he describes them), the air was loaded with the fragrance of the clover and the grape, and people were emerging from the woods with great bouquets of the magnolia blossom in their hands; the old grassy lanes were carpeted with peppermint, and bordered with ancestral sycamores, chestnuts, and oaks; wild strawberries, blackberries, elderberries, and mountain laurel were everywhere in abundance.

The Stafford farm—Whitman's favourite summer resort—is far from the main roads, and is reached by an old grassy side road, such as I have just described. His haunt on Timber Creek is one of the loveliest spots imaginable, no element lacking to make it an ideal reverie-ground for a poet or study-place for a lover of nature. A quiet, soundless, sunken amphitheatre far from all source of annoyance; a half-mile of beautiful natural park; cedars and beeches here and there clumping the greensward; the always-winding placid creek, or pond, deeply shaded by huge and graceful trees of all varieties; the water clear-opaque and deep,—red willow roots floating lengthily and languidly in the dark liquor, and the borders fringed with drooping plants and vines. The banks that rise high around this Plato's garden are breast flowing with sweetest spring water, water that evidently comes right out of the gravel underlying the marl. I took a long pull at Walt's wonderful big spring,—gushing forth there arm-thick, and running over moss and mints on its way to the pond. Whitman told me that among his devices, or experiments, when he was here regaining his health, was that of rolling naked in the marly ooze made by the big spring below its source, and then lying at full length in the path of the central stream to let the pure water wash the body white again. This brought to memory a person of whom it was told me that he went through all or many of the Territories of the Great west, digging furrows in the ground, and lying down in them naked to let the earth-virtue draw out the disease, whatever it was, from his body. One is also reminded of the mud baths of Buda-Pesth.

While walking about this little park, it flashed across my mind that it would be a capital thing for Walt Whitman to have a summer "shanty" there. I cautiously sounded him on the subject, and learned by his eager response ("Oh, how often I have thought of it!") that it was one of the dearest wishes of his heart to have a house somewhere, either by the sea or in the country, where he could breathe pure air, and come daily face to face with nature. Conversation with friends in Philadelphia seemed to indicate that it was not just then feasible to raise a "Walt Whitman Cottage Fund." But the idea was clearly a good one; and, later on, in Boston, was taken up with energy and quiet enthusiasm by Mr. Sylvester Baxter, who was assisted very materially by Mrs. Elizabeth Fairchild, John Boyle O'Reilly, and Dr. William Wesselhoeft. The result of two months' generous work by Mr. Baxter (in the intervals of his journalistic and political business) was that a fund of $800 was raised and forwarded to the poet, who wrote us his "joyfullest thanks" and "God bless you's." An architect had contributed a plan; Low, of Boston, gave tiles for fireplace, and Montgomery Safford the site for cottage. But Walt never got around to building, and used the money, by cheerful permission of the contributors, for other purposes.

To my reminiscences of the poet in his later years, and my description of his homes and haunts, let me at this point add some notes of others:—

Says Colonel James M. Scovel*

*It must be said here, once for all, that many of Colonel Scovel's newspaper utterances about Walt Whitman are unauthentic and misleading. He colours them with his own atmosphere, and attributes sayings to Whitman which he never did say as they appear. My own feeling about this is corroborated by Walt Whitman's friends in Camden and Philadelphia. The papers of Scovel, however, which are included in this volume are authenticated by Whitman himself.
in the Critic (1885):—

"Walt Whitman's present domicile is a little old-fashioned frame house, situated about gun-shot from the Delaware River, on a clean, quite, democratic street. This 'shanty,' as he calls it, was purchased by the poet a couple of years ago for $2000—two-thirds cash, the rest he owes. In it he occupies the second floor. I began by likening his home to that of a ship, and the compassion might go further. Though larger than any ship's cabin, Walt Whitman's room at 328 Mickle Street, Camden, has all the rudeness, simplicity, and free-and-easy character of the quarters of some old sailor. In the good-sized three-windowed apartment—20 by 20 feet, or over—there are a wood stove, a bare board floor of narrow planks, a comfortable bed, divers big and little boxes, a good gas-lamp, two big tables, a few old uncushioned seats, and lots of pegs and hooks and shelves. Hung or tacked on the wall are pictures,—those of his father, mother, and sisters holding the place of honour,—a portrait of a sweetheart of long ago, a large print of Osceola, the Seminole chief (given to Whitman many years since by the maker of it from life, Catlin the artist), some rare old engravings by Strange, and 'Banditti Regaling' by Mortimer. Heaps of books, manuscripts, memoranda, scissorings, proof-sheets, pamphlets, newspapers, old and new magazines, mysterious-looking literary bundles, tied up with stout strings, lie about he floor here and there. Off against the back wall looms a mighty trunk, having double locks and bands of iron-such a receptacle as comes over sea with foreign emigrants, and you in New York may have seen hoisted by powerful tackle from the hold of some Hamburg ship. On the main table more books, some of them evidently old-timers, a Bible, several Shakspeares, a book devoted to translations of Homer and Æschylus and the other Greek poets, with Fleton's and Symonds's books on Greece; a collection of the works of Fauriel and Ellis on mediæval poetry, a well-thumbed volume (his companion, off and on, for fifty years) of Walter Scott's ' Border Minstrelsy,' Tennyson, Ossian, Burns, Omar Khayyàm—all miscellaneously together. Whitman's stalwart form itself luxuriates in a curious, great cane-seat chair, with posts and rungs like ship's spars, altogether the most imposing heavy-timbered, broad-armed, and broad-bottomed edifice of the kind possible. It was the Christmas gift of the young son and daughter of Thomas Donaldson of Philadelphia, and was specially made for the poet."

In another paper the same authority says:—

"Gifted with a clear and resonant voice, the poet often gratifies his friends, as he sits by a blazing wood fire (which is his delight), in singing old-fashioned songs. He often sings 'The Wearing of the Green' con amore. After a good supper and a generous bottle of old Falernian, or some wine of more modern vintage, Walt has been known to recite some of his own poems (notably 'My Captain' and the 'Mystic Trumpeter'*

*[And both with the power and pathos of a Scott-Siddons or an Edmund Kean. The deeply felt emotion with which "My Captain" is read invariably brings tears to the eyes of hearers.]
) or Henry Murger's 'Midnight Visitor.'..

"He does not change his dress if he goes out to a 'swell' dinner, and his simple suit of gray is his only wear."

Writing in 1885, the same acquaintance says:—"Whitman gets out of doors regularly in fair weather, much enjoys the Delaware River, is a great frequenter of the Camden and Philadelphia Ferry, and may occasionally be seen sauntering along chestnut or Market Street in the latter city. He has a curious sort of public sociability, talking with black and white, high and low, male and female, old and young, of all grades. He gives a word or two of friendly recognition, or a nod or smile, to each. Yet he is by no means a marked talker or logician anywhere. I know an old book-stand man who always speaks of him as Socrates. But in one respect the likeness is entirely deficient. Whitman never argues, disputes, or holds or invites a cross-questioning bout with any human being."

The Cleveland Leader, June, 1885, contained an account of an authentic interview with Walt Whitman by Mr. W. H. Ballou. A few extracts follow:—

"It having been announced that Walt Whitman was about to go abroad to visit Lord Tennyson, I hastened from New York to Camden, New Jersey, to solicit an interview. Camden is the alleged Brooklyn of Philadelphia. The corner grocery-man pointed out a low, two-story frame house... The window sills, bordered with white, were mounted with old-fashioned green blinds." The left hand lower window was Mr. Whitman's favourite seat. A white curtain was hung across the lower part of the widow inside, and, in summer, flowers were to be seen in a tumbler or vase on the sill.

"As I passed one of the parlour windows to mount the doorsteps [continues the reporter], I saw a small picture of Victor Hugo, framed and bordered with mourning, hanging in a pane of glass. Then I thought of the numerous obituary accounts of Hugo throughout the English-speaking world which had interwoven the two names together as the exponents of the most advanced literature of the two hemispheres. A young woman came to the door. She ushered me into a little parlour, and, without taking my name, went up stairs to announce to the poet the arrival of a guest.

"While waiting, I glanced around the room. The furniture was of the plainest old-fashioned type. A canary sang with all his might, and a kitten played to and fro. Piles of papers and magazines were stacked in chairs and on the floor, and several [three] oil paintings were pendent from the walls,—one of these being a portrait of the father of the poet, and another that of his mother. [The third oil painting represents a maternal (Dutch) ancestor of Walt Whitman, and is probably some two hundred years old, having been brought to this country from Holland. Whitman is very well pleased to find in his far-off ancestor marks of a rich, solid, and hearty physical nature; and, in truth, the man has a noble and cavalier-like air, as of a soldier in the times of Captain Dalgetty,—which like enough he was.]

"I was interrupted in my investigation by the sound of heavy footsteps descending the narrow stairs. A tall form appeared at the doorway, straight as an arrow, and my hand was cordially grasped. The poet's hair and beard were fleecy, shining, white, and long; his clothing was of the simplest type,—a sack coat of tweed, and trousers of the same material, hand-knit hose, and low calf shoes of granger type."

The conversation that followed, although authentically reported, was not liked by Walt Whitman. We all converse at times when we are not at our best, and feel we have not expressed ourselves as we should have liked.

Several times a year it was Walt Whitman's custom to go down from Camden to the seashore, either to have a good dinner with friends or to absorb the sea-spell alone.

"By the sea waves he was strong;
He heard their medicinal song,
Asked no physician but the wave,
No palace but his sea-beat cave."
Then every year "Billy Thompson"—a popular caterer of Gloucester on the Delaware, just below Philadelphia and Camden—opened the season with a dinner of "planked shad" and champagne in honour of Walt Whitman and a few invited friends. Whitman had a head for wine like that of Socrates, or old Osbaldistone in Scott's novel, and never had any difficulty in disposing comfortably of his two bottles of champagne after dinner. Billy is called "the Statesman" by some of his patrons. The planking of the shadfortheWhitmansymposium of 1887 is jovially described by Colonel Scovel:—

"The Statesman insisted on taking the Poet to the kitchen to see the process. The veteran slowly limped into the kitchen on Billy's arm, with the aid of a stout cane. There he saw an oak board two feet square, clean as a bright diamond, hot as Erebus. A monster shad, eight pounds in weight, was laid tenderly on the hot side of the plank, and two silver nails fastened it down securely. Then it was placed at an angle of forty-five degrees in front of a red-hot coal fire, while Scipio basted the savoury fish with butter which was caught in a dripping-pan beneath.

"'The very sight whets one's appetite,' said Whitman, rubbing his hands together, and standing like old Homer before the fire."

Colonel Scovel gives us quite an interesting glimpse into Whitman's finances (Springfield Republican, June 5, 1885):—

"Whitman doesn't make much money. When the brief sway of the Osgood edition (some three or four months) was brought to an end by District Attorney Stevens's threat of prosecution, J. R. Osgood & Co. owed him about $500 cash for royalties. In payment of this the author agreed to accept the electrotype plates of the Leaves, which were turned over to him, being shipped to Philadelphia; and fro them David McKay, publisher, of the latter city, issued in the latter part of the 1882 two editions Whitman received from them nearly $1300. For 1883 his royalties amounted to $300. For 1884 they sank to less than $200.

"He gets an occasional gift from the periodicals: Harpers have paid him pretty well,—$100 fro 'Song of the Redwood Tree;' $50 for the 22-line piece, 'With Husky-haughty Lips, O Sea;' $30 for the nine-line piece, 'Of that Blithe Throat of Thine;' and the same sum for the late little piece, 'As One by One withdraw the Lofty Actors.' The Critic also accepts and pays for all he sends them. These, however, it must be confessed, are the exceptions which prove the rule. It is a curious fact that Leaves of Grass, while known and discussed in the literary circles of all lands, has yet obtained no first-class publisher (with the exception of Osgood), but has gone from pillar to post even to this day. Some of the past negotiations bout its publication would yield interesting items. At the instance of a personal friend, years ago, Ticknor & fields came very near publishing it; and, after seriously entertaining the idea, only decided adversely because 'it would militate against their other issues, poetry, etc.' the senior of the firm said to this friend, 'I have thought seriously of the subject; there is money in the book as well as genius, but upon the whole, situated as we are, it will not do for us to take hold of it.' The friend alluded to (J. T. Trwobridge) also talked with Lee & Shepard of Boston, who thought it over. Mr. Lee finally said frankly: 'From mere considerations of policy, I wouldn't to-day put our names to a first edition of Bryon, or even of the Bible. When Walt Whitman has become a standard book like them, as I suppose he will, any firm will be glad to publish him."*

*[Mr. Trowbridge tells me he discovered a seller of antique books in Boston who consented to put his imprint on a small edition of Leaves of Grass. But Walt Whitman wrote me that he knew of no such edition.]

I must here memorandize a very pleasant incident in Mr. Whitman's life. The effect of a sunstroke which he experienced in July, 1885, was seriously to lower his fund of vital strength, weaken the spring of his constitution, and almost wholly destroy his walking power. For such a lover of nature not to be able to get out doors was a calamity than which no greater could be imagined. His friend, Mr. Thomas Donaldson, solved the difficulty by putting it in the way of a circle of his intimate friends and lovers to surprise him with the gift of a horse and phaeton. One day in mid-September, 1885, a pretty phaeton, drawn by a sorrel horse, drew up before the door at 328 Mickle Street, in Camden. The poet was sitting by the open window of the ground-floor room talking with a visitor, when a chubby, round-faced boy—the driver of the phaeton—placed a big white envelope in his hand. "What's all this?" he said, in a tone of perplexity, as he glanced at the contents of the envelope. The paper read as follows: "To Walt Whitman, with the compliments of his friends."† "As Whitman read," says the Boston Herald (in its half-column dispatch, September 15, 1885, giving an account of the matter), "he occasionally stopped, looked thoughtfully at the paper, made some remark of personal esteem for the name he had read, and then went on. When he had finished, he was silent for several minutes. Then he gave a start, as though he had just begun to realize what had happened. 'Well, I must look at my gift,' he said. (He had not before looked at the horse and phaeton, both of which glistened in the sunshine.)... 'Coming in this concrete way, in the shape of a horse and carriage and this list of names, it's altogether the most penetrating thing I've had happen to me. It's all pleasant enough to hear friends say they admire Leaves of Grass; but, when their friendship takes the form of a horse and carriage, it's quite effective.' For a half-hour Whitman talked of other and impersonal matters. Then his housekeeper, Mrs. Davis, having come in, he was assisted to the curb and into the phaeton. The lad who had driven it to the door mounted beside him to be carried to the ferry. Several of the poet's neighbours gazed with wonder as he grasped the reins and drove away.

"'I am delighted,' said Whitman to a friend last evening. 'The gift is delicate, welcome, and an honour.'"

The horse and phaeton were sold in 1889, when the wheeled chair took their place, this being the only form of out-door exercise he could take after that date.

One day in the spring of 1887 Walt Whitman was surprised and pleased by a visit from a Southern admirer,—Mr. John Newton Johnson, a cotton planter,—"dressed in true Southern planter style,—broad-brimmed hat, short jacket, and knickerbockers (knee breeches) and boots." He had travelled over seven hundred miles, from Mid, [curious name!] Marshall County, Alabama, on purpose to see his poet. Said Mr. Whitman:*

*To a reporter of the Camden Courier, May 19, 1887.
"He was a veritable diamond, a diamond in the rough. He can accurately be described by that phrase. He is also a natural philosopher, and I feel highly complimented at his exhibition of devotion in travelling such a long distance to see me. I was surprised to find that he had memorized nearly all my poems. He undoubtedly knows more about my poetry, and more of it, than any man living. It surprised me very much. He wanted to talk in extenso regarding them, and to offer criticisms upon them, but I am always loath to speak much on that subject." It appears, further, that Mr. Johnson was a "Rebel" soldier in the Civil War, has a family of ten children, and has for many years made it his pleasure to repeat the grand passages of Leaves of Grass at Southern Sunday schools, concerts, church meetings, and other gatherings. In brief, the book has been his Bible, and he a kind of Walt Whitman missionary (the forerunner of ten thousand others, I believe).

In a litter from Mr. Johnson to me, written (with permission to publish) directly after his return home, he states that one of his objects in going on to Camden was to scold his poet face to face for the changes he had made from his fifth and sixth editions in getting out the centennial and Osgood editions. Mr. Johnson thinks that the later editions show a "toning down of refreshing savagery and grim laconicism." He says that Whitman admitted that a few things were left out of the last edition by accident. The poet did not, however permit him to say to him more than he "boldly and intrusively thrust upon him on this subject." Mr. Johnson regrets, for example, certain brief omissions in "Outlines for a Tomb," "Vocalism," "Leaf of voices," and "Carol of Harvest." This is the old question of contest between an author's early readers and himself regarding his right to alter and amend. For my part, I find that, when Whitman uses the file, he does so for good and sufficient reasons. His excisions are almost, if not quite, invariably the excision of either crudities or superfluities. (I would, however, myself except the amended introductory lines of "Starting from Paumanok.") Mr. Johnson, in his letter, continues as follows:—

"Mr. Whitman seemed to take it in more willingly when I suggested that his poems or pieces ought to be printed in small 'parts,' and circulated in that way, so that his friends (who know the excellence of the whole) could give to the masses successive 'tastes.' As the very voluminousness of the Jewish and Christian Bibles mystifies, and unavoidably thereby, sectarianizes their believers, so Leaves of Grass is too big a book to do best with the stomachs which are soon filled so as to 'loathe even the honeycomb.' Mr. Whitman kindly accepted my suggestion that it would be well if the whole work were so arranged and paged that unbound copies could be taken to pieces for distribution to supply beginners with those 'tastes.' Yet he did not talk much with me anyway in time of probably twelve or fifteen visits in thirty-nine days. I think he acted under his physician's instructions to avoid much excitement-and very justly, in accordance with the law of self-preservation, which we know [that] all, and now he in particular, ought to keep constantly in mind. Yet I confess that, most of the thirty-nine days I was near him, I feared I would, as a strictly candid and (methodically and on principle) unreserved man, be compelled to go off and say he did not seem to be the warm-hearted, unselfish, 'altruistic' character indicated by his writings. I therefore exposed myself to being thought 'a bore' by lingering around there, and making more frequent visits, perhaps, than I would if he had been more 'friendly and flowing.' (I had read a statement that Lincoln, after worshipping Clay at a distance, at last visited him and was disenchanted). I did not care one bit to be able to bag of what or how he esteemed or treated me; but I did very much wish to be able to say, as others have, that the man is better and greater than the book. It was fair that he should fear the uncultured and impulsive farmer might get into some escapade that might bring discredit or trouble. And yet the much I had before written to him during thirteen years ought to have assured him, past all fears, that his man was remarkably strong (I think)."

As the experience of our naïve and self-confident friend, Johnson, has been that of some others, suppose we dwell for a moment on it. In the first place, it is very evident that Mr. Johnson made a mistake in attempting to call his friend to account and make him explain,—a thing which all poets detest, and he above all (as he has repeatedly said). Then it must be remembered that the tremendous firmness of Walt Whitman's nature grew more inflexible with advancing years. Thirdly, I happen to know, incidentally, from his letters and postal-cards to me at the time of Mr. Johnson's visit (that aggravating transition period from spring to summer) that he was not only favoured with a constant influx of visitors,—not a day to himself for six weeks,—but was suffering deeply from unusually poor health,—congested brain and lethargy of the whole body,—so much so that he did "not feel like either thinking, talking, or writing" (his words to me). Yet there were grim and repellant traits in Walt Whitman. He was as naked of manners and suave apologies as the scarred crag of the Matterhorn of verdure. He took it always for granted that explanations, as between friends, were needless, and should be needless with strong natures.

As the years went by, the interest in Walt Whitman cumulatively increased. In 1887, among letters received by him was one from Lord Tennyson (many were the messages back and forth between them) thanking him for his comments in the New York Critic on "Locksley Hall: Sixty Years After." Some of our Scottish cousins are a little "off" in their utterances about Whitman. Robert Buchanan, for instance, in a right strong and manly eulogy of his friend, (see his "Look Round Literature") remarks (apropos of a call on the poet which he made some years ago, in Camden) that "pie is the main pabulum of Whitman's life." This will be, I fancy, quite amusing to Whitman's friends. In looking over my own letters and postal-cards received from him during the past eleven years, I find numerous references to meals of stewed oysters, graham-bread toast, custard, coffee, stewed rabbit, and "a rousing shad and champagne dinner down on the coast;" and I myself ate a bit of steak with him at his own table in his Mickle Street home. It is true, however, that he ate little heavy meat during his later years, as a general thing; and he suffered much from stomachic troubles (though scarcely ever mentioning the fact). Only one thing seemed to have the power of forcing from him an occasional lament, and that was prolonged stormy weather, when bad health kept him in doors for days or weeks. And it was at such times that he was especially grateful for letters from friends. On these occasions, let but the sun shine out for an hour or so, and his blithe canary strike up a winsome gay song, ("flooding the house with trills," as he wrote), and the heart of the old man was cheered, and ten to one but he would seize the moment to write a card to some friend, never forgetting to mention the singing of the bird and the shining of the sun.

In December, 1886, another fiery-hearted Scotch friend, more enthusiastic than judicious, got up a great bugaboo scare about Whitman being in a starving condition. It was an unwarranted (and to Whitman quite annoying) statement; but the newspaper discussion that followed turned out to be useful, netting the poet the sum, it is stated, of about a hundred and twenty-five pounds or so, obtained through the agency of the Pall Mall Gazette. When Whitman's attention was called to the matter by a newspaper man in Camden, he said:—

"I always have enough to supply my daily wants, thanks to my kind friends at home and abroad; and am in no immediate danger of perishing. My friends in Great Britain are very kind, and have on several occasions recollected me in little acts of pecuniary attention for which I am very grateful. About a year ago a testimonial of this sort from friends in England was sent me. It was very acceptable. Though, as I before stated, I have no knowledge of such a circular as the one you describe, yet if such a paper is being circulated and accomplishes its evident purpose, I will not decline the gift whether it be money or what not, and will thank the generous donors for their benefactions. Regarding the insinuation of my being in want of necessaries of life, I will state that I make it a rule never to affirm or deny stories the design of which is to malign or injure me. You can see for yourself my present condition. Yes, I will say I am not in want. My health is reasonably good."

At the close of 1886 one or two Boston friends of Whitman started a movement for securing him a pension. Mr. Sylvester Baxter mentioned the matter to the Member of Congress from his district, Mr. H. B. Lovering, and on February 1, 1887, Report No. 3856, entitled "Walt Whitman," was submitted to the House and ordered to be printed. The report covers three pages, and is largely composed of extracts from Dr. Bucke's "Walt Whitman" relating to the hospital work of the poet: "The risks he took in dressing sickening fetid wounds, many times brought in crawling with corruption, eventually broke him down. His splendid physique, his peculiarly sensitive and sympathetic nature, was sapped by labor, watchings, dreads, deaths, and anxieties of three long years, before it finally succumbed to disease," culminating in a paralytic stroke in 1873.

On this matter of the pension, Whitman is reported by the Philadelphia Press of January 20, 1887, to have spoken as follows:—

"Mr. Baxter, of Boston, wrote to me about five weeks ago, saying that my Boston friends wished and proposed to push a Pension Bill for me through Congress, by the aid of Mr. Lovering, of the committee on pensions, who was favourable to the project, and asking my consent. I immediately wrote to Boston, in answer to the letter, peremptorily refusing. When I saw, in the Press, the announcement of the proposed pension, I though of writing a declination, but upon further thought I have decided to let the proposition take its course.

"I shall not be disappointed," he continued, "if it fails to pass; but if it does pass I will gladly accept it. I am not in actual want; but when persons of wealth and kind inclinations, either at home or abroad, offer to aid me, I appreciate and accept their kindness and good will. I have been aided by gifts from men and women of distinction abroad, especially in Great Britain, during the past winter. I received a handsome New Year's present of £80 from Sir Edward Malet (British ambassador at Berlin), Lord Ronald Gower, and A. Gerstenberg, the latter a wealthy Hebrew in the British army."

This pension movement came to naught.

In 1887 Whitman imparted to a young friend (Harrison S. Morris) some idea of his method of collecting material for a poem. The following is a transcript of Mr. Morris's notes:—

"He said an idea would strike him which, after a mature thought, he would consider fit to be the 'special theme' of a 'piece.' This he would revolve in his mind in all its phases, and finally adopt, setting it down crudely on a bit of paper,—the back of an envelope or any scrap,—which he would place in an envelope. Then he would lie in wait for any other material which might bear upon or lean toward that idea, and, as it came into his mind, he would put it on paper and place it in the same envelope. After he had quite exhausted the supply of suggestions, or had a sufficient number to interpret the idea withal, he would interweave them in a 'piece,' as he called it. I asked him about the arrangement or succession of the slips, and he said, 'They always fall properly into place.'"

It thus appears that Walt Whitman's method of composition resembled that of Emerson, his envelopes answering to Emerson's commonplace-books.

On April 6, 1887, Whitman read his Lincoln lecture at the Unitarian church in Camden, "holding the rapt attention of the large audience for over an hour." On April 12 he was "convoyed on" (to use his own phrase) to New York City by his Quaker friend, Mr. R. Pearsall Smith,*

*Mr. Smith, as is known, is a wealthy and cultured glass manufacturer of Philadelphia, now resident in England much of the time, friend of Gladstone's, etc. He and his daughters—Miss Alys Smith and Mrs. Costelloe, wife of the member of the London Council—have been for years stanchest friends of Walt Whitman. The same is true of Mr. J. A. Johnston of New York, through whose interest and labour (chiefly) the 1887 reading in New York was brought about. Mr. Johnston is "a wide-awake diamond merchant, with Dundreary whiskers, and face aglow with good nature." A scholarly and genial, unassuming gentleman he seemed to me at Walt Whitman's funeral.
for the purpose of reading the same lecture there on April 14, the anniversary of the death of Lincoln. "I don't make much account of the New York Lecture," he wrote to me under date of April 11, "the best is to be borne in mind (and warmly borne in mind) by a few New York friends." It is clear that he had no suspicion of the brilliancy of the reception that was awaiting him. After it was all over, and he was back in Camden, he wrote: "Stood it very well in New York It was a good break from my monotonous days here, but if I had stayed long I should have been killed with kindness and attention."

On the afternoon of the 14th, at four o'clock, the audience being assembled, the poet walked slowly out from the right upon the stage, which was rather showily decorated to represent a drawing-room. He leaned as he walked upon the arm of his young friend, William Duckett, of Camden. "In the hearty applause that greeted him there was a fervour of affection that called the colour to his cheek and the moisture to his eyes. While the applause continued, his hand nervously pushed back the long white hair from his face, and wandered aimlessly down the snowy beard that sweeps his broad chest." His voice some thought not to be quite firm at first, but this was evidently due to emotion, and he soon recovered his usual positive and hearty tone. The lecturer was dressed in a dark sack coat, with dark-gray waistcoat and trousers, low shoes, and gray woolen socks. The spotless linen of his ample cuffs and rolling collar was trimmed with a narrow band of edging, and the cuffs were turned up over the ends of the coat sleeves. (I quote here from the Critic's excellent report.) On the back of a chair, on the left of the stage, hung a handsome laurel wreath, with red, white, and blue satin streamers dependent therefrom, on which Mr. Wilson Barrett, the English actor, had inscribed various cordial sentiments, such as these: "How like a winter hath thy absence been," "So long! Walt Whitman." When he had acknowledged the greeting of the audience, Whitman sat down beside a stand upholstered in blue plush, laid his old-fashioned curl-top't cane on the carpeted floor, put on a pair of eye-glasses, leaned one elbow on the stand, and proceeded to read his lecture from a little book upon whose pages the manuscript and printed fragments were pasted. His high, slightly nasal, though pleasant voice, was not raised above a conversational pitch, and yet was distinctly audible in all parts of the theatre. "As he told the story slowly and clearly, the effect was peculiar. He made no gestures; but, as his words touched any part of the theatre [he was describing an event which occurred in a theatre], he would look up at it in a way that was better than any gesture, and was impressive in the extreme." James Russell Lowell, John Burroughs, and Professor Charles Eliot Norton, occupied the box at the poet's right. Mr. E. C. Stedman and his family were seated in the opposite box. Others present were Samuel L. Clemens, H. C. Bunner, Frank Stockton, Moncure D. Conway, Joel Benton, Colonel John Hay, Edward Eggleston, Andrew Carnegie, Augustus St. Gaudens, Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett, Richard Watson Gilder, Mrs. Mary Mapes Dodge, President Gilman of John Hopkins' University, Professor James A. Harrison, Mrs. M. G. Van Rensselaer, and Miss Jeanette Gilder.

An old-time friend of Whitman's who was present wrote afterwards that the whole event, with its peculiar setting and dramatic incidents, suggested to him a sort of coronation. Old theatre-goers said they never before saw just such an audience. An actor said that in a certain royalty of pose and appearance the poet reminded him of Lear all the while he was on the stage. To another his manner and pose were those of a venerable patriarch in his study, talking to his friends who had gathered round him. The lecture was occasionally interrupted by applause. At the close, by way of delicate allusion to Whitman's great theme on Lincoln, a little girl—Laura Stedman, the five-years old grand-daughter of the banker-poet—walked out upon the stage and presented the reader with a basket of lilac blossoms,—a little episode thus prettily described in the next morning's New York Times:—

"Forth on the stage came a beautiful basket of lilac blossoms, and behind it was a little bit of a maiden in a white Normandy cap, and a little suit of Quaker gray, her eyes beaming, and her face deeply impressed with the gravity of the occasion. She walked to where he sat, and held out her gift without a word. He stared, took them, and then took her. It was December frost and May-time blossom at their prettiest contrast as the little pink cheek shone against the snow-white beard, for the old man told his appreciation mutely by kissing her, and kissing her again," the audience meanwhile applauding sympathetically. Whitman then recited his poem, "Oh Captain!" and the curtain fell amid warm applause. There was immediately an inroad of ladies and gentlemen behind the scenes to meet him: some of his lady friends made quite a point of kissing the venerable bachelor,—arch hero-worshippers that they are. In the evening at least 250 admirers called upon him in the parlours of the Westminster Hotel,—the rooms that were occupied by Charles Dickens when he was on his last visit to the United States. The poet sat in an easy-chair of dark crimson velvet in the centre of the rear parlour to receive his guests. Among the first to enter was John Burroughs. Robert Collyer soon came in, and was warmly greeted by Whitman. "A fine study for an artist was the good, but no longer gray, poet, as he reclined on his cushioned seat, with his ruddy complexion heightened by the excitement of the moment, his silver hair falling like sunlit snowdrifts over his brow and breast and shoulders, and his bright eye growing brighter as he gave ready answers to the questions showered upon him by some youthful visitors, whose endeavour to draw out the lion of the occasion seemed rather too persistent, considering the age and feebleness of their too willing subject.*

*For a more detailed account of the evening reception, see Appendix.

On the following morning a few friends breakfasted with him at the house of his admirer, Mr. R. W. Gilder, after which he drove to Cox's to be photographed. One who saw him in front of the camera said: "He must have had twenty pictures taken, yet he never posed for a moment. He simply sat in the big revolving chair and swung himself to the right or to the left, as Mr. Cox directed, or took his hat off or put it on again, his expression and attitude remaining so natural that no one would have supposed he was sitting for a photograph." Still later in the day he was driven to the studio of Miss Dora Wheeler, to whom he had promised a sitting. He returned to Camden in the afternoon, and in a few days, at the urgent request of his friend, R. P. Smith, went over to some quarters prepared for him in Arch Street, Philadelphia, where he sat for his bust to the sculptor, St. Gaudens. He was besieged in his Camden home by at least one other sculptor, Mr. Sydney H. Morse, of Boston, and by two portrait-makers: he patiently allowed and enjoyed all.

The net proceeds of the New York lecture were $600. Of this sum, $350 was paid, as box fee, by Mr. Andrew Carnegie, author of "Triumphant Democracy." In the letter to a friend of Whitman's enclosing the cheque, he wrote: "When the Pall Mall Gazette raised a subscription for Mr. Whitman, I felt triumphant democracy disgraced. Whitman is the great poet of America so far."

In August, a few months after this New York experience, Burroughs visited his old friend in Camden. He found Whitman supremely indifferent to a malodorous attack of Swinburne, although I myself was told by a friend that, in conversation with him on the subject, he flamed out with, "Swinburne is the d—dst simulacrum!" Burroughs and Whitman took a twenty-mile drive together on this occasion, Walt, as usual, saluting everyone he met, after the old Long Island custom of his people.

In the last days of May, 1888, I again saw the poet in Camden. He had the old dignity and kindness of manner, though grown considerably more lethargic and slow in his mental powers. You learn by seeing his man in his home that a great poet may be as perfect and sweet-mannered a gentleman in the humblest house in a humble neighbourhood of a prosaic suburb (possessed of little wealth but his mind) as any rich and titled poet or scholar of Boston, Cambridge, Concord, London, or Paris.

As I entered the room, on my first call, he was talking with his brother "Jeff," the civil engineer of St. Louis, for many years connected with the Water Board of that city,—a fine, manly, hearty fellow of the practical type. He had brought his brother a potted tea-rose (which bloomed the next day), and exchanged with him at parting an affectionate comradely kiss. Whitman remarked that he suffered somewhat from want of persons to cheer and rouse him up: most visitors came to him to disburden themselves of their own sorrows and confessions.

On my calling the next day with his young friend Horace Traubel and another, we all fell to discussing the authorship of the Shakspere plays, (a copy of Donelly's "Great Cryptogram" lay on the floor), Whitman admitted that the telling way in which Donelly had marshaled the old facts (giving them the force of a projectile), had not only shaken his belief in the Shaksperean authorship of the plays, but had firmly convinced him that Shakspere of Stratford could not be the author,—although he could not agree that Bacon was the man, and thinks the cipher nonsense. (Later he seems to have accepted even the cipher. See his little stanza on the subject). He maintained his new view with his customary good-natured stubbornness.

He was just receiving the first proofs of his new book of poems, "November Boughs," (many of the poems had been printed with some aggravating errors,—in the New York Herald).

A new oil portrait of Whitman (by Thomas Eakins, a pupil of Gerôme), hung on the wall, and was liked by Whitman. It is a work of fine technical merit, has power in it beyond a doubt; but the expression and pose are not liked by many. To me it has something of the look of a jovial and somewhat dissipated old Dutch toper,—such as Rubens or Teniers might have painted.

The accumulation of literary litter in the room had grown to portentous proportions. The table groaned under a load which threatened momentarily to topple over on the floor. As to the floor itself, navigation was rendered highly precarious by the thick sand-bars of books, newspapers, manuscripts, and magazines which crossed the room in every direction. In one corner,under the canary-bird's cage, stood Morse's bust of Elias Hicks, in plaster, (with a newspaper over his pate to keep off the dust, and giving good Elias something the look of an old man who was afraid of taking cold in his bald head). In another corners was Morse's little clay statuette (seated figure) of Whitman. As I took off the clinging wrappages I found I had taken the roof away from a nest of little brown ants that had got in at the window, and were busily engaged in rearing their young in the lap of the figure.

A neighbour at whose hospitable home Whitman was often found (he dined there every Sunday, I believe, for some time), is Mr. Thomas B. Harned, a young lawyer of Camden, who is strongly attached to Whitman as a man, and to his books as literature. A pleasant affair was the evening reception and supper given to the poet on his sixty-ninth birthday by Mr. and Mrs. Harned. The supper-table was richly coloured with flowers, and the Pomery Sec was delicious. Whitman during the evening sang a stave or two of "Home, Sweet Home," as an attempt to illustrate the triumphant, exultant manner in which the song was rendered fifty years ago in the days when he himself knew its author, John Howard Payne. A young lady, Miss Weda Cook, with a voice of rare volume and sweetness, sang to music of her own composing, "O Captain, My Captain," (encouraged by a gentle-kindly ejaculation of "Bravo, bravo!" from the poet). At half-past nine we helped the old poet to his carriage, and he drove off into the darkness, erect as a soldier, and holding in his hand a wreath of snowy spiraea woven doublets by the hands of the hostess or of demure little Anna, the daughter, his child-friend.

Four days afterwards Whitman again experienced an incipient attack of paralysis, or rather three of them, brought on, it is thought, by "an unspeakable hour," as he described it, passed by him alone by the Delaware, (June 2nd, Sunday afternoon), whither he had driven alone in his phaeton, in contemplation of the sunset.*

*New England Magazine, May 1, 1891.
Says Mr. Thos. B. Harned, in a letter to me dated June 6th, "Dr. Bucke was in Philadelphia, and I wired him and also Dr. Osler. They say it might have been fatal. Walt is much better now, but very weak. We may expect his death at almost any time. During his last attack his speech was temporarily affected. It was very affecting, his whole frame shook, and as I stood over him, he muttered, 'It will pass over soon, and, if it doesn't, it will be all right.'"

Mr. Horace Tranbel wrote me from Camden, under date of October 10, 1888, of the few additional down-lines of his face, a heavier cast to the expression, and his frequent paleness, as resultants of this stroke of June 4. Recovery from it was never complete.

May 31, 1889, Walt Whitman's birthday was celebrated in Camden by a group of friends and an account of the affair published in book form.†

†"Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman," edited by Horace L. Traubel. Philadelphia: David M'Kay, 1889.

Thomas B. Harned, the poet's neighbour and friend, spoke, among other things, of his innumerable charities to the poor and the neglected and the forgotten in Camden, of his always confining his own expenses within meagre limits, that he might have more to spend for others.

Herbert H. Gilchrist told of Whitman's victories in Great Britain, alike in the antique and moss-grown walls of Oxford and Cambridge, and among the toilers at Sheffield, Newcastle, and Glasgow, including all of Scotland and Ireland. "Our guest," said he, "can picture in his mind's eye the sagacious good-natured glance which shines upon him to-day from beneath soot-begrimed brows and smirched faces of brawny colliers, powerful smiths, and mechanics."

Mr. Henry L. Bonsall noted (as showing the absence of conventional manners and attitudes in Whitman) that the coloured cook was the first to rush out to greet him when he appeared at the supper in his wheeled chair!

Gabriel Sarrazin, of Paris, wrote, "Walt Whitman is, in my opinion, one of the only two living beings—the other is Count Léon Tolstoï—to whom is applicable the name of Apostle. And, if I could permit myself to make a comparisons between two men equally great, I should not hesitate to place Whitman one degree above Tolstoï... He is the only man who has absolutely known that Man is an indivisible fragment of the universal Divinity." Hence, loving one's fellows, one loves God. Whitman has been in this era, says Sarrazin, the practical apostle of this view, which is destined to renovate the world.

Mrs. Mary Whitall Costelloe wrote from London, "Tell Mr. Whitman that a day never passes without our talking of him and wishing for his presence."

Rudolf Schmidt, of Copenhagen, wrote,—

"To me 'Democratic Vistas' is the far-shining pinnacle of all that Walt Whitman has done. These few sheets represent a whole literature; they range their author among the great seers of all times. These Northern Scandinavian countries are perhaps the best field for such broad democratic views. Recently a rector of a school in Slesorg wrote me that he had read my translation of 'Democratic Vistas' again and again, he did not know how many times. 'Nordslesorgsk Sondagsblad,' the valiant champion of the Danish language, as against the systematical Germanization of an old Danish province, published in May a whole series of articles on Walt Whitman. The sturdy Slesvic peasants know him very well."

F. B. Sanborn contributed strong lines by his Concord friend, Ellery Channing:—

"Brave by they heart, O sailor of the world!
Erect they vision, strong and resolute.
Let disappointments strike, and leaden days
Visit thee like a snowdrift across flowers;
Even in a little this rude voyage is done;
Then heave the time-stained anchor, trim thy sails,
And o'er the bosom of the untrammelled deep
Ride in the heavenly boat and touch near stars."

George William Curtis wished "to join in the tribute to a man who has bravely and quietly walked by his inner light, and who has never quitted his belief, whenever it was his belief, as Emerson says, 'that a pop-gun is a pop-gun, though the ancient and honourable of the earth affirm it to be the crack of doom.'"

John Addington Symonds wrote: "Leaves of Grass, which I first read at the age of twenty-five, influenced me more perhaps than any other book has done, except the Bible; more than Plato, more than Goethe." Helped him in religion, also to fraternize with all classes, and sweetened and brightened his whole life.

There accrued to Walt Whitman from this dinner celebration a canvas bag of coin to the amount of $125.45. When the committee handed him the bag, he said: "Why, this is like a play. The fellow receiving the purse ought to go off into some flourishes. But [waving his hands] we'll omit them." He added that a lady friend of his thought the dinner celebration the "best Quaker racket" she had ever known.

In October, 1889, I had a talk on Whitman with Mrs. Wm. D. O'Connor, on Boston Common. She said that when Whitman was living with them in Washington, at the time of his hospital ministrations, he and O'Connor used to have terrific disputes over the war question. Whitman would come back from his hospital visits and the harrowing scenes of them, and say, "This war must stop!""But," said O'Connor, "the issues are not settled yet; slavery is not abolished.""I don't care for the niggers," said Whitman, "in comparison with all this suffering and the dismemberment of the Union."*

*So, in a note on Carlyle's "Shooting Niagara," in his "Democratic Vistas," Whitman admits that he had more than once been in Carlyle's scornful mood, and understood perfectly his love of the strong and his assertions of the right of the best to rule.
This was in the heat of argument, it must be remembered. Whitman's prose and his poetry, and his daily life, show that no one had a greater sympathy for the black man than he. Still, it is possible that his sympathy was gradually developed by the war and its lessons. His attitude and that of Lincoln were identical. And his own grandfather had owned slaves on Long Island.

Tuesday night, April 15, 1890, Whitman rose from a sick-bed, crying,—

"Dangers retreat when boldly they're confronted,"

and went over, hoarse and half blind, to read his "Death of Lincoln" lecture before a gay and crowded audience at the Art Club Rooms, 220 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, under the auspices of the Contemporary Club. He had to be helped and led every step, but his intellectual force, it was noted, was not in the least abated. "The celebration of Lincoln's death," said he, "is no narrow or sectional reminiscence. It belongs to these States in their entirety—not the North only, but the South—perhaps belongs most tenderly and devoutly to the South, of all; for there really this man's birth-stock; there are then his antecedent stamp. Why should I not say that thence his manliest traits, his universality, his canny, easy ways and words upon the surface—his inflexible determination at heart? Have you ever realized it, my friends, that Lincoln, though grafted on the West, is essentially in personnel and character a Southern contribution?"

Whitman's seventy-first birthday was observed on May 31, 1890, evening, by a group of some fifty or sixty friends, mostly young men (one or more ladies), but a dinner at Reisser's, in Philadelphia. Col. Robert G. Ingersoll made the chief speech, ore rotundo and impassioned—conversational, lasting about forty minutes. He stood opposite the poet, frequently addressing himself directly to him, and ending each period with "I thank you for that." Whitman himself occasionally interposed a word. The recognition was ample and great, and of astonishing breadth and faith. Walt took occasion to say during the conversation that followed that there were subtler qualities and deeper deeps of intention in Leaves of Grass than were generally perceived. The close of all was a cross-talk on immortality between Ingersoll and Whitman,—the latter learning to hope or absolute certainty, and Ingersoll to doubt and uncertainty. Whitman, in a little talk on this celebration in the Camden Post (June 2), said:—

"Physically and mentally, Ingersoll (he had been working all day in New York, talking in court and in his office) is now at his best, like mellowed wine or a just ripe apple; to the artist sense, too, looks at his best, not merely like a bequeathed Roman bust or fine smooth marble Cicero-head, or even Greek Plato; for he is modern, and vital, and veined, and American, and (far more than the age knows) justifies us all."

Dr. J. Johnston, of Bolton, England, visited Whitman in the summer of 1890. His pamphlet, printed for private circulation, is naïve and joyously Greek in tone. In his first meeting he found Whitman upstairs, seated and dressed for hot weather, snowy shirt, with collar turned back, exposing his hirsute chest, and his presence breathing the to us familiar affluence of sanity, purity, and magnetism,—magnetism that astonished the Englishman beyond measure. The second interview with Whitman was by the Delaware. He was wheeled there in his chair in the cool of the long July evening, and the doctor met him en route.

"As we approached the wharf, he exclaimed, 'How delicious the air is!' On the wharf he allowed me to photograph himself and Warren (it was almost dusk, and the light unfavourable), after which I sat down on a log of wood beside him, and he talked in the most free and friendly manner for a full hour, facing the golden sunset, with the cool evening breeze blowing around us, and the summer lightning playing on our faces, and the ferry-boats crossing and recrossing the Delaware.

"Soon a small crowd of boys collected on the wharf-edge to fish and talk, which elicited the remark from him that 'that miserable wretch, the mayor of this town, has forbidden the boys to bathe in the river. He thinks there is something objectionable in their stripping off their clothes and jumping into the water.'" Speaking of the war and its scenes, he said, "The memories of the American people are very evanescent." "No man can become truly heroic who is really poor: he must have food, clothing, and shelter, and," he added significantly, "a little money in the bank, too, I think.""Our leading men are not of much account, and never have been, but the average of the people is immense, beyond all history." In the war "my sympathies were aroused to their utmost pitch, and I found that mine were equaled by the doctors'. Oh, how they did work and wrestle with death!" referring to his nurse, "Warry," as his sailor boy, he said that he had been of great service to him when he was at a loss about the names, etc., of the different parts of a ship. In one edition of Leaves of Grass he had written, "where the sea-whale swims with her calves;" but, on reading the line to an old whaler, he was told that it was a very exceptional thing for a whale to have more than one calf, so he altered the line in next edition. He had once been under the impression that the Canadian raftsmen used a bugle, but, when he was touring in Canada in company with Dr. Bucke, he found out his mistake, and altered a line in his Leaves. "I am very fond of a well-printed book. Your William Blackwood & sons, of Edinburgh, produce some splendidly printed works. I think I was intended for an artist; I cannot help stopping to look at the 'how it's done' of any piece of work, be it picture, speech, music, or what not. Ingersoll is a good illustration of what I mean. Form my point of view, the main question about his matter is, 'What does it amount to?' But I cannot but admire his manner of giving it utterance,—it is so thoroughly natural and spontaneous, just like a stream of pure water, issuing we know not whence, and flowing along we care not how, only conscious of the fact that it is beautiful all the time." Referring to the wrath which his beautiful lines on the old German Emperor William caused,—

"To-day with bending head and eyes, thou, too, Columbia,
Less for the mighty crown laid low in sorrow—less for the Emperor,
Thy true condolence breathest, sendest out o'er many a salt sea mile,
Mourning a good old man—a faithful shepherd, patriot,"—
he said, "You know I include kings, queens, emperors, nobles, barons, and the aristocracy generally in my net—excluding nobody and nothing human—and this does not seem to be relished by these narrow-minded folks."

Dr. Johnston afterwards visited John Burroughs. Burroughs told him that he was at one time a member of a "Society of Authors" in New York City, and that they had actually black-balled Whitman! "I've never been inside the doors since that. They would have done themselves infinite honour, had they elected him. I didn't propose him, but they showed themselves contemptible little fools by refusing him."

On Oct. 21, 1890, in the Horticultural Hall in Philadelphia (the Broad Street Academy Hall having been scornfully refused on account of Ingersoll's philosophical views), Col. Robert G. Ingersoll delivered to an audience of two thousand persons an elaborate oration on Walt Whitman as man and author. It was a testimonial, and netted the poet some $870. From the eloquent peroration these lines are chosen:—

"As you read the marvelous book, or the person, called Leaves of Grass, you feel the freedom of the antique world; you hear the voices of the morning, of the first great singers,— voices elemental as those of sea and storm. The horizon enlarges, the heavens grow ample, limitations are forgotten,—the realization of the will, the accomplishment of the ideal, seem to be within your power... In this one book, in these wondrous Leaves of Grass, you find hints and suggestions, touches and fragments, of all there is of life, that lies between the babe, whose rounded cheeks dimple beneath his mother's laughing, loving eyes, and the old man, snow-crowned, who, with a smile, extends his hand to death."

Whitman was present, and said a few words of greeting to the audience at the close.

On Nov. 8, 1890, Whitman sent to us at the Transcript office, in Boston, for use in the paper, a "jotting" memorandum, anent the then recent sweeping Democratic victory in many States of the Union, which was considered a rebuke of the McKinley Tariff and pension enormities:—

"Walt Whitman likes the result of the late election, and wants more of it. Though an old Republican, he calls the party in power 'the banditti combine,' and says, if it were not for American elections as safety-valves, we should likely have a French Revolution here and Reign of Terror."

About the same time, too, he sent us another jotting:—

"The Epictetus saying, as given by Walt Whitman in his now quite utterly dilapidated physical case—and Whitman is particular about verbalism and even commas [he refers to a fragmentary wording of the sentiment printed shortly before in the same paper]— is 'a little spark of soul dragging a great lummox of corpse body clumsily to and fro around.'"

This pleased him so much that, as a standing notice to his correspondents, he had it printed sidewise on the margin of the squarish fragments of buff paper on which (for his failing eyes' sake, probably) he latterly wrote all his letters.

Christmas Day of 1890 was spent by Walt Whitman in giving himself and all his family a Christmas present for eternity. He went out to Harleigh Cemetery, suburbs of Camden, to select a site for a tomb; chose a place on a woody, laurelled hillside, bird-haunted, with living water near by. There the tomb stands to-day, Etruscan-like in its granite simplicity, with the words WALT WHITMAN carved on the pediment. His father and mother, and brothers and sisters, will sleep beside him. When asked why he chose this spot, he said, "I would rather go in the woods."

"Walt Whitman got out in the mid-April sun and warmth of yesterday, propelled in his wheel-chair, the first time after four months of imprisonment in his sick-room."—Camden Post, April 16, 1891.

Whitman's seventy-second birthday (and his last) was celebrated by a few friends who met (May 31, 1891, evening) at his own board in Camden.

Walt opened the talk by drinking, in a glass of champagne, a "reverent memory" to the "mighty comrades that have not long ago passed away,—Bryant, Emerson, Longfellow;" also to Tennyson and Whittier, "a noble old man." (The quoted words are Whitman's, taken from the verbatim report of this little Phaedo-like symposium published in Lippincott's, August, '91.) More words of his follow:—

"[John Addington] Symonds is a curious fellow. I have never seen him, of course. He has written me many times. 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, the gastric—and wonderfully cute. About every three months he writes me, oh! the most beautiful splendid letters (I dare not show them to anyone hardly)—they are so like those tête-à-tête interviews with your chum, your mate, your comrade. (Warry, go up and get the picture from my mantelpiece.) He has sent me a good picture, taken in Switzerland, and I want to show you what kind of a person he is."

Some one asked Whitman, during the evening (point-blank almost), why he had never married. His labyrinthine, mystifying reply is very humorous: "The whole thing, my friend, like the Nibelungen, or somebody's cat, has an immensely long, long, long tail to it. And the not being married, and the not, and the not, and the not, and the this, and the this, and the this, have a great many explications. At the first view it may not be so creditable to the fellow; but go on, explicate still more, and still more, and still more behind all that—and after a while you see why it must be so in the nature of things. And that is a splendid explication of Robert Burns. You go behind all, and you realize that no matter what the blame may be to Robert Burns, somehow or other you feel like excusing, and saying that that is the reason why, and that is the reason why, and that is the reason why. See?"

Whitman expressed with feeling and emphasis his belief in the "solidarity of the common people, of all peoples and all races." This idea dwelt much with him even in his last sickness. In one of his last letters, a printed fac-simile of which is before me (the letter was sent to Dr. Johnston, of Bolton, England), he wrote in a trembling hand, "More and more it comes to the fore that the only theory worthy our modern times for great literature, politics, and sociology, must combine all the bulk people of all lands, the women not forgotten." We are "like fellows in a ship," said he at the supper; what "jeopardizes one jeopardizes all... The attempt at what they call 'protection,' and all that goes to boost up and wall up and wall out and protect out,... is wrong, and one feeling for all, extreme reciprocity and openness and free-trade-ism, is the policy for me."

Tennyson and Lowell both telegraphed their good wishes for the occasion. A few weeks later Lowell died, and Whitman sent to the Boston Herald (August 13) a note about him:—

CAMDEN, N.J., Aug. 13, 1891.

Let me send my little word, too, to J.R. Lowell's memory. His was the true American's and humanity's heart, in the light of his own convictions; and he wrought it out faithfully. His written pages preserve a certain altitude everywhere. As Emerson says, we are at any rate all beholden to kings and eminences for their grand standard of atmosphere and manners, or suggestion of them.


The latter part of May appeared the last booklet issued by Walt Whitman,—"Good-bye my Fancy." As he says, and as he wrote to me, "The clef is here changed to its lowest, and the little book is a lot of tremolos about old age, death, faith. They physical just lingers, but almost vanishes. The book is garrulous, irascible (like old Lear), and has various breaks and tricks to avoid monotony."

In May, 1891, also appeared some good memoranda on Whitman in the New England Magazine (Boston) by Horace Traubel.

Traubel's recollections date back to '73, when Walt came to Camden to live. His chamber and study were in the third story front of the Stevens Street house, facing the south. "In very hot weather he might have been observed on his way, without coat, vest, or suspenders, distinguished from afar by the glimpse of a spotless white shirt, open always at the throat." Whitman's "prostration arose [as he himself described it] from a poisoned wound in the right hand, received while assisting at the amputation of the gangrened limb of a Virginia Union soldier, to whom he was much attached. Hand and arm inflamed and swelled, the vessels under the skin showing like red snakes running up to the shoulder."

"Whitman," continues Traubel, "likes a handsome page;" always had a noble line or verse ready for a printer's emergency; was patient with the printers and binders, and, when they pleased him, liked to send them little gifts; made all his typographical and literary decisions and plans very leisurely. He often gave his own farewell; if weary, would extend his hand, saying, "Well, good-bye, I am glad you came; when you get back to New York, give my love to the boys," the dismissal accomplished in such a way as not to offend in the least. He used this defence as frankly with distinguished men as with obscure.

In Lippincott's for May, '92, Mr. W. H. Garrison gives a few glimpses of Whitman. The poet said to him that the first time he ever had a desire to write anything enduring was when he saw a ship under full sail. He tried to describe it exactly, and failed; had often since studied ships in the vain hope of getting the whole beautiful story in words, but had never been able to do so. He had, however, he thought, put the idea of the locomotive into words to which he could add nothing further.

Mr. Garrison is mistaken as to Whitman's knowledge of French. It was only fragmentary, for he had to apply to Dr. Bucke and myself to translate for him a magazine article by Gabriel Sarrazin.

"I have known Whitman," says Mr. Garrison, "to sit at a dinner-table for the best part of an evening without opening his lips, and suddenly to warm into a theme on which he spoke fluently and without interruption for a half-hour or more." This is the experience of others also who have been with him on these occasions.

In Camden it was his custom occasionally to get his little bits of newspaper contributions set up in "a quaint old printing establishment" in the town, and then send out this corrected and revised printed copy to its destination.

His nickname, "Walt," he told Mr. Garrison, he received from the old Broadway 'bus drivers of New York City, whom he knew well, and liked. The 'bus drivers, however, were not the first to so call him; for his brother George tells us that he was so called at home when a boy. Says George, "Walt as called 'Walt' probably because father was Walter. It was a way we had of separating them. He liked 'Walt' and stuck to it."*

*In Re Walt Whitman, p. 35

About Dec. 20, 1891, Walt Whitman was taken very seriously ill, and it was telegraphed over the country and abroad that he was dying. So he was; but the end was not to come until March 26, nearly four months later. In December his physicians, Doctors Longacre and McAllister, found his right lung entirely gone, as well as two-thirds of the left. The heart was the strongest organ. He knew that he was dying, but never a murmur escaped him. Visitors were strictly excluded, even his own brother George, who called to see him. On Christmas Day he was told he could not outlive the night. "We will fool these doctors yet," was his cheery response. Dr. Bucke, his close Canadian friend, had been on to see him, but went back on the 28th of December, on which day Walt Whitman was feeling better, and had eaten a small mutton chop. He once said he was tired waiting. Afterwards a few visitors were admitted to see him. The New York Evening Telegram got up a fund, the object of which was to furnish, daily, fresh flowers for his sick-room. January 14 he was sending out a few gift copies of his latest, '92, complete edition of Leaves of Grass, in rustic manilla covers, with pretty buff label. Thus the brave and defiant little flag of poetry, inscribed with the gospel of humanity, which had been run up "on Atlantica's rim" thirty-seven years before, still floated over the old bard's dying couch. January 18 he was sitting up in bed, reading one of the magazines. February 6 he wrote to English friends, "Deadly weak yet, but the spark seems to glimmer." March 4 Horace Traubel wrote me that he was suffering deeply, but a beautiful spirit shining through all, "he content that things should be as they are." They had rigged up a call-bell for him, the cord hanging just over his hand; toward the end transferred him to a water-bed, which gave him considerable relief. His writing materials (blue and other coloured pencils, etc.) were within reach of his hand all through his last illness.

The grip and pneumonia were the indirect cause of his death, though the doctors, about the middle of January, pronounced him cured of the latter. Yet his strength did not return. He partook at times of milk punch, toast, eggs, oysters, champagne, and occasionally bits of meat. For three days before his death, however, he would take no nourishment beyond a sip now and then of milk punch. On the day he died, Saturday, March 26, 1892, he said to his housekeeper, "Leave me alone, Mary, I cannot eat." At 4.30 in the afternoon he began to fail; Dr. McAllister arrived at 5.45, and saw that he was dying. When he asked him if he suffered pain, he faintly whispered, "No." Present were Thos. B. Harned, Horace Traubel, Mrs. Davis, and the nurses. About twenty minutes before his death he whispered to his nurse, "Warry, shift," the pain in his side leading him to wish to be turned over. Suddenly, as he reached for his handkerchief, respiration ceased, although the heart, a very strong organ with him, beat for ten minutes thereafter.

His end was such as he had prayed for:—

"At the last, tenderly,
From the walls of the powerful fortress'd house,
From the clasp of the knitted locks, from the keep of the well-closed doors,
Let me be wafted."

The news of his death was cabled to his friends, Tennyson, Dr. Bucke, and others. On the following day a plaster cast of his face was taken. The post-mortem revealed that the lungs and all the important organs were infested with tubercles. Less than one-eighth of the lung tissue was available for breathing purposes. A large gall-stone was found (it had caused him great agony), and in the vermiform appendage were two small calculi. As a result of a sunstroke, the membrane of the brain was found adhering to the skull for a small space at top of cranium. "The brain, however, was normal, and this had not affected its functions."

Editorials on the poet appeared in all the great dailies of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, London, and Edinburgh. Indeed, his friends were surprised at the deep affection revealed by these profuse voices of praise and sorrow.

Thus died Walt Whitman, noble to the end. And these words in the quaint German tongue kept ringing in my ears:—

"Eine Freiheitsharfe ist verklungen,
Die einst stürmisch an die Herzen drang,
Denn der donnergleich zu ihr gesungen,
Ach, der Barde hat das Ziel errungen,
Nur als Nachhall tönt sein Sturmgesang!"

Whitman's burial was that of a philosopher, and was nobly arranged. The Methodist funeral that relatives had planned, his friends luckily had power to prevent. Not a shred of superstition nor of conventional funeral exercises, nor of lugubrious mummery, marred the event. The only exercises were orations by friends in a great palm-decorated tent at the tomb, and the reading there of a few selections from the Bibles of the world, including Leaves of Grass.

Over three thousand people filed through the little parlour where, in its oaken coffin, dressed in gray-brown clothes (white turned-up cuffs and snowy open collar) lay the mask of Walt Whitman. The little room was half filed with wreaths, palm branches, etc., sent from different cities. Scholars and writers, such as Brinton, Burroughs, Conway, and Furness, jostled big burly policemen and little children of the humble classes. All loved him well; to all his life had been an inspiration. As we lifted the coffin into the death-waggon, I noticed that the street, for half a block each side, was filled with a great multitude of people. At the cemetery hundreds of people were wedged in two compact and struggling lines at the entrance to the tomb, filing in and out to see the very spot (the inner crypt) where the body was to lie, and thousands sat on the hillside about the tomb, and made no attempt to hear Col. Robert G. Ingersoll deliver his beautiful poem-oration in the tent: they came out of love of Walt, their brother. And so perhaps did the first blue-bird of spring, that alighted on the tiptop spray of the tree above the tomb, and uttered his plaintive-sweet warble. This little unbidden musician's fresh, delicious notes—a trembling prelude and hint of springing life and immortality—formed the only music, but ideally fitting music, for Walt Whitman's death. There was a strange feeling of exultation, almost joy, in the hearts of all these people (mingled with grief). They felt as Dr. Bucke said on meeting Col. Ingersoll, "We are at the summit,"—at the summit of a good man's life—his triumphant death. For my part, I felt as if I had been at the entombment of Christ, and that I could never again receive and honour greater than that of having been one of six acting pall-bearers at Walt Whitman's funeral. His death was a kind of triumph, apotheosis, ovation. And one was scarcely surprised to hear that some days after the interment the hill was found almost denuded of plants, vines, and branches of laurel by his passionate lovers.

Listen to a few words of Ingersoll's funeral oration, uttered with voice choked with emotion (as was also that of Dr. Bucke in his beautifully simple oration):—

"A great man, a great American, the most eminent citizen of this Republic, lies dead before us, and we have met to pay a tribute to his greatness and his worth.

"He came into our generation a free, untrammeled spirit, with sympathy for all. His arm was beneath the form of the sick. He sympathized with the imprisoned and despised, and even on the brow of crime he was great enough to place the kiss of human sympathy.

"One of the greatest lines in our literature is his, and the line is great enough to do honour to the greatest genius that has ever lived. He said, speaking of an outcast, 'Not till the sun excludes you do I exclude you.'

"His charity was as wide as the sky, and wherever there was human suffering, human misfortune, the sympathy of Whitman bent above it as the firmament bends above the earth...

"He has lived, he has died, and death is less terrible than it was before. Thousands and millions will walk down into the 'dark valley of the shadow' holding Walt Whitman by the hand. Long after we are dead the brave words he has spoken will sound like trumpets to the dying.

"And so I lay this little wreath upon this great man's tomb. I loved him living, and I love him still."

By his will, Walt Whitman left his property—some $5,000, not counting his copyrights—to his two sisters and his brother, Edward L. Whitman, a helpless and mentally incapacitated member of the family. The full text of the will is given in an appendix. For, although it deals with the private family life, it is of literary value, and throws curious side-lights on the poet's character. He had a tremendous practicality and love of property, inherited form his Dutch-English ancestors; yet, what he saved, he saved to do good with. What he received from his admirers was but a paltry proportion of the debt they owed him. If Tennyson and Longfellow found literature the source of fortune, a fortiori ought Walt Whitman so to have found it. If he had died worth a hundred thousand or three hundred thousand dollars, it would have been justly his. No money can pay the debt lovers of Whitman feel for the man who has so ennobled their souls.

Whitman's birthday was celebrated both in Philadelphia and Boston about two months after he died. It came on May 31, and on that day a few Boston friends of the poet came out to my house in Belmont for an open-air walk and talk—Mr. F. B. Sanborn, Judge Mellen Chamberlain, Mrs. Charles Fairchild, Miss Elizabeth Porter Gould, Sylvester Baxter, Joseph E. Chamberlain of the Boston Transcript, and others. Morse's bust of Whitman crowned with myrtle stood inside the door. We sat on the veranda overlooking the distant city, and had a good talk. Mr. Sanborn said that in 1860, when he was before Justice Shaw in the Old Court House in Boston (to show cause why he refused to be kidnapped by the central government for participation in the John Brown raid), he noticed a distinguished-looking man, in peculiar dress, near the door. This he learned was Walt Whitman, who afterwards told him that he had come to see that justice was done him in case the court should not decide right; for in that case a plan had been formed to rescue Sanborn.


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.