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Complete Prose Works by Walt Whitman

Part 13 out of 13

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"Of Abraham Lincoln, bearing testimony twenty-five years after his
death--and of that death--I am now my friends before you. Few realize
the days, the great historic and esthetic personalities, with him in
the centre, we pass'd through. Abraham Lincoln, familiar, our own, an
Illinoisian, modern, yet tallying ancient Moses, Joshua, Ulysses, or
later Cromwell, and grander in some respects than any of them; Abraham
Lincoln, that makes the like of Homer, Plutarch, Shakspere, eligible
our day or any day. My subject this evening for forty or fifty
minutes' talk is the death of this man, and how that death will really
filter into America. I am not going to tell you anything new; and it
is doubtless nearly altogether because I ardently wish to commemorate
the hour and martyrdom and name I am here. Oft as the rolling years
bring back this hour, let it again, however briefly, be dwelt upon.
For my own part I hope and intend till my own dying day, whenever the
14th and 15th of April comes, to annually gather a few friends and
hold its tragic reminiscence. 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 birthstock; there and 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?"

The most of the poet's address was devoted to the actual occurrences
and details of the murder. We believe the delivery on Tuesday was
Whitman's thirteenth of it. The old poet is now physically wreck'd.
But his voice and magnetism are the same. For the last month he has
been under a severe attack of the lately prevailing influenza, the
grip, in accumulation upon his previous ailments, and, above all, that
terrible paralysis, the bequest of secession war times. He was dress'd
last Tuesday night in an entire suit of French Canadian grey wool
cloth, with broad shirt collar, with no necktie; long white hair, red
face, full beard and moustache, and look'd as though he might weigh
two hundred pounds. He had to be help'd and led every step. In five
weeks more he will begin his seventy-second year. He is still writing
a little.


_From the Camden Post, N.J., June 2, 1890_ _He attends and makes a
speech at the celebration of Walt Whitman's birthday_.--Walt Whitman
is now in his seventy-second year. His younger friends, literary and
personal, men and women, gave him a complimentary supper last Saturday
night, to note the close of his seventy-first year, and the late
curious and unquestionable "boom" of the old man's wide-spreading
popularity, and that of his "Leaves of Grass." There were thirty-five
in the room, mostly young, but some old, or beginning to be. The great
feature was Ingersoll's utterance. It was probably, in its way, the
most admirable specimen of modern oratory hitherto delivered in the
English language, immense as such praise may sound. It was 40 to 50
minutes long, altogether without notes, in a good voice, low enough
and not too low, style easy, rather colloquial (over and over again
saying "you" to Whitman who sat opposite,) sometimes markedly
impassion'd, once or twice humorous--amid his whole speech, from
interior fires and volition, pulsating and swaying like a first-class
Andalusian dancer.

And such a critical dissection, and flattering summary! The
Whitmanites for the first time in their lives were fully satisfied;
and that is saying a good deal, for they have not put their claims
low, by a long shot. Indeed it was a tremendous talk! 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 mellow'd wine,
or a just ripe apple; to the artist-sense, too, looks at his best--not
merely like a bequeath'd Roman bust or fine smooth marble Cicero-head,
or even Greek Plato; for he is modern and vital and vein'd and
American, and (far more than the age knows,) justifies us all.

We cannot give a full report of this most remarkable talk and supper
(which was curiously conversational and Greek-like) but must add the
following significant bit of it.

After the speaking, and just before the close, Mr. Whitman reverted to
Colonel Ingersoll's tribute to his poems, pronouncing it the capsheaf
of all commendation that he had ever receiv'd. Then, his mind still
dwelling upon the Colonel's religious doubts, he went on to say that
what he himself had in his mind when he wrote "Leaves of Grass" was
not only to depict American life, as it existed, and to show the
triumphs of science, and the poetry in common things, and the full of
an individual democratic humanity, for the aggregate, but also to show
that there was behind all something which rounded and completed it.
"For what," he ask'd, "would this life be without immortality? It
would be as a locomotive, the greatest triumph of modern science,
with no train to draw after it. If the spiritual is not behind the
material, to what purpose is the material? What is this world without
a further Divine purpose in it all?"

Colonel Ingersoll repeated his former argument in reply.


_Friday, July 27, 1890_.--Feeling fairly these days, and even
jovial--sleep and appetite good enough to be thankful for--had a dish
of Maryland blackberries, some good rye bread and a cup of tea, for my
breakfast--relish' d all--fine weather--bright sun to-day--pleasant
northwest breeze blowing in the open window as I sit here in my big
rattan chair--two great fine roses (white and red, blooming, fragrant,
sent by mail by W. S. K. and wife, Mass.) are in a glass of water on
the table before me.

Am now in my 72d year.


It must have been in 1822 or '3 that I first came to live in Brooklyn.
Lived first in Front street, not far from what was then call'd "the
New Ferry," wending the river from the foot of Catharine (or Main)
street to New York city.

I was a little child (was born in 1819,) but tramp'd freely about
the neighborhood and town, even then; was often on the aforesaid New
Ferry; remember how I was petted and deadheaded by the gatekeepers and
deckhands (all such fellows are kind to little children,) and remember
the horses that seem'd to me so queer as they trudg'd around in the
central houses of the boats, making the water-power. (For it was just
on the eve of the steam-engine, which was soon after introduced on the
ferries.) Edward Copeland (afterward Mayor) had a grocery store then
at the corner of Front and Catharine streets.

Presently we Whitmans all moved up to Tillary street, near Adams,
where my father, who was a carpenter, built a house for himself and us
all. It was from here I "assisted" the personal coming of Lafayette
in 1824-'5 to Brooklyn. He came over the Old Ferry, as the now Fulton
Ferry (partly navigated quite up to that day by "horse boats," though
the first steamer had begun to be used hereabouts) was then call'd,
and was receiv'd at the foot of Fulton street. It was on that occasion
that the corner-stone of the Apprentices' Library, at the corner
of Cranberry and Henry streets--since pull'd down--was laid by
Lafayette's own hands. Numerous children arrived on the grounds, of
whom I was one, and were assisted by several gentlemen to safe spots
to view the ceremony. Among others, Lafayette, also helping the
children, took me up--I was five years old, press'd me a moment to his
breast--gave me a kiss and set me down in a safe spot. Lafayette was
at that time between sixty-five and seventy years of age, with a manly
figure and a kind face.


An editor of (or in) a leading monthly magazine ("Harper's Monthly,"
July, 1890,) asks: "A hundred years from now will W.W. be popularly
rated a great poet--or will he be forgotten?" ... A mighty ticklish
question--which can only be left for a hundred years hence--perhaps
more than that. But whether W.W. has been mainly rejected by his own
times is an easier question to answer.

All along from 1860 to '91, many of the pieces in L. of G., and its
annexes, were first sent to publishers or magazine editors before
being printed in the L., and were peremptorily rejected by them, and
sent back to their author. The "Eidolons" was sent back by Dr. H., of
"Scribner's Monthly" with a lengthy, very insulting and contemptuous
letter. "To the Sun-Set Breeze," was rejected by the editor of
"Harper's Monthly" as being "an improvisation" only. "On, on ye jocund
twain" was rejected by the "Century" editor as being personal merely.
Several of the pieces went the rounds of all the monthlies, to be thus
summarily rejected.

_June, '90_.--The----rejects and sends back my little poem, so I am
now set out in the cold by every big magazine and publisher, and may
as well understand and admit it--which is just as well, for I find I
am palpably losing my sight and ratiocination.


_To a volume of essays and tales by Wm. D. O'Connor, pub'd
posthumously in 1891_

A hasty memorandum, not particularly for Preface to the following
tales, but to put on record my respect and affection for as
sane, beautiful, cute, tolerant, loving, candid and free and
fair-intention'd a nature as ever vivified our race.

In Boston, 1860, I first met William Douglas O'Connor.[48] As I saw
and knew him then, in his 29th year, and for twenty-five further
years along, he was a gallant, handsome, gay-hearted, fine-voiced,
glowing-eyed man; lithe-moving on his feet, of healthy and magnetic
atmosphere and presence, and the most welcome company in the world.
He was a thorough-going anti-slavery believer, speaker and writer,
(doctrinaire,) and though I took a fancy to him from the first,
.I remember I fear'd his ardent abolitionism--was afraid it would
probably keep us apart. (I was a decided and out-spoken anti-slavery
believer myself, then and always; but shy'd from the extremists, the
red-hot fellows of those times.) O'C. was then correcting the proofs
of _Harrington_, an eloquent and fiery novel he had written, and which
was printed just before the commencement of the secession war. He
was already married, the father of two fine little children, and was
personally and intellectually the most attractive man I had ever met.

Last of '62 I found myself led towards the war-field--went to
Washington city--(to become absorb'd in the armies, and in the big
hospitals, and to get work in one of the Departments,)--and there I
met and resumed friendship, and found warm hospitality from O'C. and
his noble New England wife. They had just lost by death their little
child-boy, Phillip; and O'C. was yet feeling serious about it. The
youngster had been vaccinated against the threatening of small-pox
which alarm'd the city; but somehow it led to worse results than it
was intended to ward off--or at any rate O'C. thought that proved the
cause of the boy's death. He had one child left, a fine bright little
daughter, and a great comfort to her parents. (Dear Jeannie! She grew
up a most accomplish'd and superior young woman--declined in health,
and died about 1881.)

On through for months and years to '73 I saw and talk'd with O'C.
almost daily. I had soon got employment, first for a short time in the
Indian Bureau (in the Interior Department,) and then for a long while
in the Attorney General's Office. The secession war, with its tide of
varying fortunes, excitements--President Lincoln and the daily sight
of him--the doings in Congress and at the State Capitols--the news
from the fields and campaigns, and from foreign governments--my visits
to the Army Hospitals, daily and nightly, soon absorbing everything
else,--with a hundred matters, occurrences, personalties,--(Greeley,
Wendell Phillips, the parties, the Abolitionists, &c.)--were the
subjects of our talk and discussion. I am not sure from what I heard
then, but O'C. was cut out for a first-class public speaker or
forensic advocate. No audience or jury could have stood out against
him. He had a strange charm of physiologic voice. He had a power and
sharp-cut faculty of statement and persuasiveness beyond any man's
else. I know it well, for I have felt it many a time. If not as
orator, his forte was as critic, newer, deeper than any: also, as
literary author. One of his traits was that while he knew all, and
welcom'd all sorts of great _genre_ literature, all lands and times,
from all writers and artists, and not only tolerated each,
and defended every attack'd literary person with a skill or
heart-catholicism that I never saw equal'd--invariably advocated and
excused them--he kept an idiosyncrasy and identity of his own very
mark'd, and without special tinge or undue color from any source. He
always applauded the freedom of the masters, whence and whoever. I
remember his special defences of Byron, Burns, Poe, Rabelais, Victor
Hugo, George Sand, and others. There was always a little touch of
pensive cadence in his superb voice; and I think there was something
of the same sadness in his temperament and nature. Perhaps, too,
in his literary structure. But he was a very buoyant, jovial,
good-natured companion.

So much for a hasty melanged reminiscence and note of William
O'Connor, my dear, dear friend, and staunch, (probably my staunchest)
literary believer and champion from the first, and throughout without
halt or demur, for twenty-five years. No better friend--none more
reliable through this life of one's ups and downs. On the occurrence
of the latter he would be sure to make his appearance on the scene,
eager, hopeful, full of fight like a perfect knight of chivalry. For
he was a born sample here in the 19th century of the flower and symbol
of olden time first-class knighthood. Thrice blessed be his memory! W.

Note: [48] Born Jan. 2d, 1832. When grown, lived several years in
Boston, and edited journals and magazines there--went about 1861 to
Washington, D. C., and became a U.S. clerk, first in the Light-House
Bureau, and then in the U.S. Life-Saving Service, in which branch he
was Assistant Superintendent for many years--sicken'd in 1887--died
there at Washington, May 9th, 1889.


_From the Engineering Record, New York, Dec. 13, 1890_

Thomas Jefferson Whitman was born July 18, 1833, in Brooklyn, N.
Y., from a father of English Stock, and mother (Louisa Van Velsor)
descended from Dutch (Holland) immigration. His early years were spent
on Long Island, either in the country or Brooklyn. As a lad he show'd
a tendency for surveying and civil engineering, and about at 19 went
with Chief Kirkwood, who was then prospecting and outlining for the
great city water-works. He remain'd at that construction throughout,
was a favorite and confidant of the Chief, and was successively
promoted. He continued also under Chief Moses Lane. He married in
1859, and not long after was invited by the Board of Public Works
of St. Louis, Missouri, to come there and plan and build a new and
fitting water-works for that great city. Whitman accepted the call,
and moved and settled there, and had been a resident of St. Louis ever
since. He plann'd and built the works, which were very successful, and
remain'd as super-intendent and chief for nearly 20 years.

Of the last six years he has been largely occupied as consulting
engineer (divested of his cares and position in St. Louis,) and has
engaged in public constructions, bridges, sewers, &c., West and
Southwest, and especially the Memphis, Tenn., city water-works.

Thomas J. Whitman was a theoretical and practical mechanic of superior
order, founded in the soundest personal and professional integrity. He
was a great favorite among the young engineers and students; not a few
of them yet remaining in Kings and Queens counties, and New York city,
will remember "Jeff," with old-time good-will and affection. He was
mostly self-taught, and was a hard student.

He had been troubled of late years from a bad throat and from gastric
affection, tending on typhoid, and had been rather seriously ill
with the last malady, but was getting over the worst of it, when he
succumb'd under a sudden and severe attack of the heart. He died at
St. Louis, November 25, 1890, in his 58th year. Of his family, the
wife died in 1873, and a daughter, Mannahatta, died two years ago.
Another daughter, Jessie Louisa, the only child left, is now living in
St. Louis.

[When Jeff was born I was in my 15th year, and had much care of him
for many years afterward, and he did not separate from me. He was a
very handsome, healthy, affectionate, smart child, and would sit on my
lap or hang on my neck half an hour at a time. As he grew a big boy he
liked outdoor and water sports, especially boating. We would often
go down summers to Peconic Bay, east end of Long Island, and over
to Shelter Island. I loved long rambles, and he carried his
fowling-piece. O, what happy times, weeks! Then in Brooklyn and New
York city he learn'd printing, and work'd awhile at it; but eventually
(with my approval) he went to employment at land surveying, and merged
in the studies and work of topographical engineer; this satisfied him,
and he continued at it. He was of noble nature from the first;
very good-natured, very plain, very friendly. O, how we loved each
other--how many jovial good times we had! Once we made a long trip
from New York city down over the Allegheny mountains (the National
Road) and via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, from Cairo to New

God's blessing on your name and memory, dear brother Jeff!

W. W.


_Flitting mention--(with much left out)_

Seems to me I ought acknowledge my debt to actors, singers, public
speakers, conventions, and the Stage in New York, my youthful
days, from 1835 onward--say to '60 or '61--and to plays and operas
generally. (Which nudges a pretty big disquisition: of course it
should be all elaborated and penetrated more deeply--but I will here
give only some flitting mentionings of my youth.) Seems to me now when
I look back, the Italian contralto Marietta Alboni (she is living yet,
in Paris, 1891, in good condition, good voice yet, considering) with
the then prominent histrions Booth, Edwin Forrest, and Fanny Kemble
and the Italian singer Bettini, have had the deepest and most lasting
effect upon me. I should like well if Madame Alboni and the old
composer Verdi, (and Bettini the tenor, if he is living) could know
how much noble pleasure and happiness they gave me, and how deeply I
always remember them and thank them to this day. For theatricals in
literature and doubtless upon me personally, including opera, have
been of course serious factors. (The experts and musicians of my
present friends claim that the new Wagner and his pieces belong far
more truly to me, and I to them, likely. But I was fed and bred under
the Italian dispensation, and absorb'd it, and doubtless show it.)

As a young fellow, when possible I always studied a play or libretto
quite carefully over, by myself, (sometimes twice through) before
seeing it on the stage; read it the day or two days before. Tried
both ways--not reading some beforehand; but I found I gain'd most by
getting that sort of mastery first, if the piece had depth. (Surface
effects and glitter were much less thought of, I am sure, those
times.) There were many fine old plays, neither tragedies nor
comedies--the names of them quite unknown to to-day's current
audiences. "All is not Gold that Glitters," in which Charlotte Cushman
had a superbly enacted part, was of that kind. C. C., who revel'd
in them, was great in such pieces; I think better than in the heavy
popular roles.

We had some fine music those days. We had the English opera of
"Cinderella" (with Henry Placide as the pompous old father, an
unsurpassable bit of comedy and music.) We had Bombastes Furioso. Must
have been in 1844 (or '5) I saw Charles Kean and Mrs. Kean (Ellen
Tree)--saw them in the Park in Shakspere's "King John." He, of course,
was the chief character. She play'd _Queen Constance._ Tom Hamblin was
_Faulconbridge,_ and probably the best ever on the stage. It was an
immense show-piece, too; lots of grand set scenes and fine armor-suits
and all kinds of appointments imported from London (where it had been
first render'd.) The large brass bands--the three or four hundred
"supes"--the interviews between the French and English armies--the
talk with _Hubert_ (and the hot irons) the delicious acting of _Prince
Arthur_ (Mrs. Richardson, I think)--and all the fine blare and court
pomp--I remember to this hour. The death-scene of the King in the
orchard of Swinstead Abbey, was very effective. Kean rush'd in,
gray-pale and yellow, and threw himself on a lounge in the open. His
pangs were horribly realistic. (He must have taken lessons in some

Fanny Kemble play'd to wonderful effect in such pieces as "Fazio,
or the Italian wife." The turning-point was jealousy. It was a
rapid-running, yet heavy-timber'd, tremendous wrenching, passionate
play. Such old pieces always seem'd to me built like an ancient ship
of the line, solid and lock'd from keel up--oak and metal and knots.
One of the finest characters was a great court lady, _Aldabella_,
enacted by Mrs. Sharpe. O how it all entranced us, and knock'd us
about, as the scenes swept on like a cyclone!

Saw Hackett at the old Park many times, and remember him well. His
renderings were first-rate in everything. He inaugurated the true "Rip
Van Winkle," and look'd and acted and dialogued it to perfection (he
was of Dutch breed, and brought up among old Holland descendants in
Kings and Queens counties, Long Island.) The play and the acting of it
have been adjusted to please popular audiences since; but there was in
that original performance certainly something of a far higher order,
more art, more reality, more resemblance, a bit of fine pathos, a
lofty _brogue_, beyond anything afterward.

One of my big treats was the rendering at the old Park of Shakspere's
"Tempest" in musical version. There was a very fine instrumental band,
not numerous, but with a capital leader. Mrs. Austin was the _Ariel_,
and Peter Richings the _Caliban_; both excellent. The drunken song of
the latter has probably been never equal'd. The perfect actor Clarke
(old Clarke) was _Prospero_.

Yes; there were in New York and Brooklyn some fine non-technical
singing performances, concerts, such as the Hutchinson band, three
brothers, and the sister, the red-cheek'd New England carnation,
sweet Abby; sometimes plaintive and balladic--sometimes anti-slavery,
anti-calomel, and comic. There were concerts by Templeton, Russell,
Dempster, the old Alleghanian band, and many others. Then we had lots
of "negro minstrels," with capital character songs and voices. I often
saw Rice the original "Jim Crow" at the old Park Theatre filling
up the gap in some short bill--and the wild chants and dances were
admirable--probably ahead of anything since. Every theatre had some
superior voice, and it was common to give a favorite song between
the acts. "The Sea" at the bijou Olympic, (Broadway near Grand,) was
always welcome from a little Englishman named Edwin, a good balladist.
At the Bowery the loves of "Sweet William,"

"When on the Downs the fleet was moor'd,"

always bro't an encore, and sometimes a treble.

I remember Jenny Lind and heard her (1850 I think) several times.
She had the most brilliant, captivating, popular musical style and
expression of any one known; (the canary, and several other sweet
birds are wondrous fine--but there is something in song that goes
deeper--isn't there?)

The great "Egyptian Collection" was well up in Broadway, and I got
quite acquainted with Dr. Abbott, the proprietor--paid many visits
there, and had long talks with him, in connection with my readings of
many books and reports on Egypt--its antiquities, history, and how
things and the scenes really look, and what the old relics stand for,
as near as we can now get. (Dr. A. was an Englishman of say 54--had
been settled in Cairo as physician for 25 years, and all that time
was collecting these relics, and sparing no time or money seeking
and getting them. By advice and for a change of base for himself, he
brought the collection to America. But the whole enterprise was a
fearful disappointment, in the pay and commercial part.) As said, I
went to the Egyptian Museum many many times; sometimes had it all to
myself--delved at the formidable catalogue--and on several occasions
had the invaluable personal talk, correction, illustration and
guidance of Dr. A. himself. He was very kind and helpful to me in
those studies and examinations; once, by appointment, he appear'd in
full and exact Turkish (Cairo) costume, which long usage there had
made habitual to him.

One of the choice places of New York to me then was the "Phrenological
Cabinet" of Fowler & Wells, Nassau street near Beekman. Here were all
the busts, examples, curios and books of that study obtainable. I went
there often, and once for myself had a very elaborate and leisurely
examination and "chart of bumps" written out (I have it yet,) by
Nelson Fowler (or was it Sizer?) there.

And who remembers the renown'd New York "Tabernacle" of those days
"before the war"? It was on the east side of Broadway, near Pearl
street--was a great turtle-shaped hall, and you had to walk back from
the street entrance thro' a long wide corridor to get to it--was very
strong--had an immense gallery--altogether held three or four thousand
people. Here the huge annual conventions of the windy and cyclonic
"reformatory societies" of those times were held--especially the
tumultuous Anti-Slavery ones. I remember hearing Wendell Phillips,
Emerson, Cassius Clay, John P. Hale, Beecher, Fred Douglas, the
Burleighs, Garrison, and others. Sometimes the Hutchinsons would
sing--very fine. Sometimes there were angry rows. A chap named Isaiah
Rhynders, a fierce politician of those days, with a band of robust
supporters, would attempt to contradict the speakers and break up
the meetings. But the Anti-Slavery, and Quaker, and Temperance, and
Missionary and other conventicles and speakers were tough, tough, and
always maintained their ground, and carried out their programs fully.
I went frequently to these meetings, May after May--learn'd much
from them--was sure to be on hand when J. P. Hale or Cash Clay made

There were also the smaller and handsome halls of the Historical and
Athensum Societies up on Broadway. I very well remember W.C. Bryant
lecturing on Homoeopathy in one of them, and attending two or three
addresses by R.W. Emerson in the other.

There was a series of plays and dramatic _genre_ characters by a
gentleman bill'd as Ranger--very fine, better than merely technical,
full of exquisite shades, like the light touches of the violin in the
hands of a master. There was the actor Anderson, who brought us Gerald
Griffin's "Gysippus," and play'd it to admiration. Among the actors of
those times I recall: Cooper, Wallack, Tom Hamblin, Adams (several),
Old Gates, Scott, Wm. Sefton, John Sefton, Geo. Jones, Mitchell,
Seguin, Old Clarke, Richings, Fisher, H. Placide, T. Placide, Thorne,
Ingersoll, Gale (Mazeppa) Edwin, Horncastle. Some of the women hastily
remember'd were: Mrs. Vernon, Mrs. Pritchard, Mrs. McClure, Mary
Taylor, Clara Fisher, Mrs. Richardson, Mrs. Flynn. Then the singers,
English, Italian and other: Mrs. Wood, Mrs. Seguin, Mrs. Austin,
Grisi, La Grange, Steffanone, Bosio, Truffi, Parodi, Vestvali,
Bertucca, Jenny Lind, Gazzaniga, Laborde. And the opera men: Bettini,
Badiali, Marini, Mario, Brignoli, Amodio, Beneventano, and many, many
others whose names I do not at this moment recall.

In another paper I have described the elder Booth, and the Bowery
Theatre of those times. Afterward there was the Chatham. The elder
Thorne, Mrs. Thorne, William and John Sefton, Kirby, Brougham, and
sometimes Edwin Forrest himself play'd there. I remember them all, and
many more, and especially the fine theatre on Broadway near Pearl, in
1855 and '6.

There were very good circus performances, or horsemanship, in New York
and Brooklyn. Every winter in the first-named city, a regular place
in the Bowery, nearly opposite the old theatre; fine animals and fine
riding, which I often witness'd. (Remember seeing near here, a young,
fierce, splendid lion, presented by an African Barbary Sultan to
President Andrew Jackson. The gift comprised also a lot of jewels, a
fine steel sword, and an Arab stallion; and the lion was made over to
a show-man.)

If it is worth while I might add that there was a small but
well-appointed amateur-theatre up Broadway, with the usual stage,
orchestra, pit, boxes, &c., and that I was myself a member for some
time, and acted parts in it several times--"second parts" as they were
call'd. Perhaps it too was a lesson, or help'd that way; at any rate
it was full of fun and enjoyment.

And so let us turn off the gas. Out in the brilliancy of the
foot-lights--filling the attention of perhaps a crowded audience, and
making many a breath and pulse swell and rise--O so much passion and
imparted life!--over and over again, the season through--walking,
gesticulating, singing, reciting his or her part--But then sooner or
later inevitably wending to the flies or exit door--vanishing to
sight and ear--and never materializing on this earth's stage again!


Anything like unmitigated acceptance of my "Leaves of Grass" book, and
heart-felt response to it, in a popular however faint degree, bubbled
forth as a fresh spring from the ground in England in 1876. The time
was a critical and turning point in my personal and literary life. Let
me revert to my memorandum book, Camden, New Jersey, that year, fill'd
with addresses, receipts, purchases, &c., of the two volumes pub'd
then by myself--the "Leaves," and the "Two Rivulets"--some home
customers, for them, but mostly from the British Islands. I was
seriously paralyzed from the Secession war, poor, in debt, was
expecting death, (the doctors put four chances out of five against
me,)--and I had the books printed during the lingering interim to
occupy the tediousness of glum days and nights. Curiously, the sale
abroad proved prompt, and what one might call copious: the names came
in lists and the money with them, by foreign mail. The price was $10 a
set. Both the cash and the emotional cheer were deep medicines; many
paid double or treble price, (Tennyson and Ruskin did,) and many
sent kind and eulogistic letters; ladies, clergymen, social leaders,
persons of rank, and high officials. Those blessed gales from the
British Islands probably (certainly) saved me. Here are some of the
names, for I w'd like to preserve them: Wm. M. and D.G. Rossetti, Lord
Houghton, Edwd. Dowden, Mrs. Anne Gilchrist, Keningale Cook, Edwd.
Carpenter, Therese Simpson, Rob't Buchanan, Alfred Tennyson, John
Ruskin, C.G. Gates, E.T. Wilkinson, T.L. Warren, C.W. Reynell, W.B.
Scott, A.G. Dew Smith, E.W. Gosse, T.W. Rolleston, Geo. Wallis, Rafe
Leicester, Thos. Dixon, N. MacColl, Mrs. Matthews, R. Hannah, Geo.
Saintsbury, R.S. Watson, Godfrey and Vernon Lushington, G.H. Lewes,
G.H. Boughton, Geo. Fraser, W.T. Arnold, A. Ireland, Mrs. M. Taylor,
M.D. Conway, Benj. Eyre, E. Dannreather, Rev. T.E. Brown, C.W.
Sheppard, E.J.A. Balfour, P.B. Marston, A.C. De Burgh, J.H. McCarthy,
J.H. Ingram, Rev. R.P. Graves, Lady Mount-temple, F.S. Ellis, W.
Brockie, Rev. A.B. Grosart, Lady Hardy, Hubert Herkomer, Francis
Hueffer, H.G. Dakyns, R.L. Nettleship, W.J. Stillman, Miss Blind,
Madox Brown, H.R. Ricardo, Messrs. O'Grady and Tyrrel; and many, many

Severely scann'd, it was perhaps no very great or vehement success;
but the tide had palpably shifted at any rate, and the sluices were
turn'd into my own veins and pockets. That emotional, audacious,
open-handed, friendly-mouth'd just-opportune English action, I say,
pluck'd me like a brand from the burning, and gave me life again, to
finish my book, since ab't completed. I do not forget it, and shall
not; and if I ever have a biographer I charge him to put it in the
narrative. I have had the noblest friends and backers in America; Wm.
O'Connor, Dr. R.M. Bucke, John Burroughs, Geo.W. Childs, good ones
in Boston, and Carnegie and R.G. Ingersoll in New York; and yet
perhaps the tenderest and gratefulest breath of my heart has gone, and
ever goes, over the sea-gales across the big pond.

About myself at present. I will soon enter upon my 73d year, if I
live--have pass'd an active life, as country school-teacher, gardener,
printer, carpenter, author and journalist, domicil'd in nearly all the
United States and principal cities, North and South--went to the front
(moving about and occupied as army nurse and missionary) during the
secession war, 1861 to '65, and in the Virginia hospitals and after
the battles of that time, tending the Northern and Southern wounded
alike--work'd down South and in Washington city arduously three
years--contracted the paralysis which I have suffer'd ever since--and
now live in a little cottage of my own, near the Delaware in New
Jersey. My chief book, unrhym'd and unmetrical (it has taken thirty
years, peace and war, "a borning") has its aim, as once said, "to
utter the same old human _critter_--but now in Democratic American
modern and scientific conditions." Then I have publish'd two prose
works, "Specimen Days," and a late one, "November Boughs." (A little
volume, "Good-Bye my Fancy," is soon to be out, wh' will finish the
matter.) I do not propose here to enter the much-fought field of the
literary criticism of any of those works.

But for a few portraiture or descriptive bits. To-day in the upper
story of a little wooden house of two stories near the Delaware river,
east shore, sixty miles up from the sea, is a rather large 20-by-20
low ceiling'd room something like a big old ship's cabin. The floor,
three quarters of it with an ingrain carpet, is half cover'd by a deep
litter of books, papers, magazines, thrown-down letters and circulars,
rejected manuscripts, memoranda, bits of light or strong twine, a
bundle to be "express'd," and two or three venerable scrap books. In
the room stand two large tables (one of ancient St. Domingo mahogany
with immense leaves) cover'd by a jumble of more papers, a varied and
copious array of writing materials, several glass and china vessels
or jars, some with cologne-water, others with real honey, granulated
sugar, a large bunch of beautiful fresh yellow chrysanthemums,
some letters and envelopt papers ready for the post office, many
photographs, and a hundred indescribable things besides. There are all
around many books, some quite handsome editions, some half cover'd by
dust, some within reach, evidently used, (good-sized print, no type
less than long primer,) some maps, the Bible, (the strong cheap
edition of the English crown,) Homer, Shakspere, Walter Scott,
Emerson, Ticknor's "Spanish Literature," John Carlyle's Dante,
Felton's "Greece," George Sand's "Consuelo," avery choice little
Epictetus, some novels, the latest foreign and American monthlies,
quarterlies, and so on. There being quite a strew of printer's proofs
and slips, and the daily papers, the place with its quaint old
fashion'd calmness has also a smack of something alert and of current
work. There are several trunks and depositaries back' d up at the
walls; (one well-bound and big box came by express lately from
Washington city, after storage there for nearly twenty years.) Indeed
the whole room is a sort of result and storage collection of my own
past life. I have here various editions of my own writings, and sell
them upon request; one is a big volume of complete poems and prose,
1000 pages, autograph, essays, speeches, portraits from life, &c.
Another is a little "Leaves of Grass," latest date, six portraits,
morocco bound, in pocket-book form.

Fortunately the apartment is quite roomy. There are three windows in
front. At one side is the stove, with a cheerful fire of oak wood,
near by a good supply of fresh sticks, whose faint aroma is plain.
On another side is the bed with white coverlid and woollen blankets.
Toward the windows is a huge arm-chair, (a Christmas present from
Thomas Donaldson's young daughter and son, Philadelphia) timber'd as
by some stout ship's spars, yellow polish'd, ample, with rattan-woven
seat and back, and over the latter a great wide wolf-skin of hairy
black and silver, spread to guard against cold and draught. A
time-worn look and scent of old oak attach both to the chair and the
person occupying it.

But probably (even at the charge of parrot talk) I can give no more
authentic brief sketch than "from an old remembrance copy," where I
have lately put myself on record as follows: Was born May 31, 1819,
in my father's farm-house, at West Hills, L.I., New York State. My
parents' folks mostly farmers and sailors--on my father's side, of
English--on my mother's (Van Velsor's), from Hollandic immigration.
There was, first and last, a large family of children; (I was the
second.) We moved to Brooklyn while I was still a little one in
frocks--and there in B. I grew up out of frocks--then as child and boy
went to the public schools--then to work in a printing office. When
only sixteen or seventeen years old, and for three years afterward, I
went to teaching country schools down in Queens and Suffolk counties,
Long Island, and "boarded round." Then, returning to New York, work'd
as printer and writer, (with an occasional shy at "poetry.")

1848-'9.--About this time--after ten or twelve years of experiences
and work and lots of fun in New York and Brooklyn--went off on a
leisurely journey and working expedition (my brother Jeff with me)
through all the Middle States, and down the Ohio and Mississippi
rivers. Lived a while in New Orleans, and work'd there. (Have lived
quite a good deal in the Southern States.) After a time, plodded back
northward, up the Mississippi, the Missouri, &c., and around to, and
by way of, the great lakes, Michigan, Huron and Erie, to Niagara Falls
and Lower Canada--finally returning through Central New York, and down
the Hudson. 1852-'54--Occupied in house-building in Brooklyn. (For a
little while of the first part of that time in printing a daily and
weekly paper.)

1855.--Lost my dear father this year by death.... Commenced putting
"Leaves of Grass" to press, for good--after many MSS. doings and
undoings--(I had great trouble in leaving out the stock "poetical"
touches--but succeeded at last.) The book has since had some eight
hitches or stages of growth, with one annex, (and another to come out
in 1891, which will complete it.)

1862.--In December of this year went down to the field of war
in Virginia. My brother George reported badly wounded in the
Fredericksburg fight. (For 1863 and '64, see "Specimen Days.") 1865 to
'71--Had a place as clerk (till well on in '73) in the Attorney.

General's Office, Washington. (New York and Brooklyn seem more like
_home_, as I was born near, and brought up in them, and lived, man
and boy, for 30 years. But I lived some years in Washington, and have
visited, and partially lived, in most of the Western and Eastern

1873.--This year lost, by death, my dear dear mother--and, just
before, my sister Martha--the two best and sweetest women I have ever
seen or known, or ever expect to see. Same year, February, a sudden
climax and prostration from paralysis. Had been simmering inside for
several years; broke out during those times temporarily, and then
went over. But now a serious attack, beyond cure. Dr. Drinkard, my
Washington physician, (and a first-rate one,) said it was the result
of too extreme bodily and emotional strain continued at Washington and
"down in front," in 1863, '4 and '5. I doubt if a heartier, stronger,
healthier physique, more balanced upon itself, or more unconscious,
more sound, ever lived, from 1835 to '72. My greatest call (Quaker) to
go around and do what I could there in those war-scenes where I had
fallen, among the sick and wounded, was, that I seem'd to be _so
strong and well_. (I consider'd myself invulnerable.) But this last
attack shatter'd me completely. Quit work at Washington, and moved to
Camden, New Jersey--where I have lived since, receiving many buffets
and some precious caresses--and now write these lines. Since then,
(1874-'91) a long stretch of illness, or half-illness, with occasional
lulls. During these latter, have revised and printed over all my
books--bro't out "November Boughs"--and at intervals leisurely and
exploringly travel'd to the Prairie States, the Rocky Mountains,
Canada, to New York, to my birthplace in Long Island, and to Boston.
But physical disability and the war-paralysis above alluded to to
have settled upon me more and more the last year or so. Am now (1891)
domicil'd, and have been for some years, in this little old cottage
and lot in Mickle street, Camden, with a house-keeper and man nurse.
Bodily I am completely disabled, but still write for publication. I
keep generally buoyant spirits, write often as there comes any lull in
physical sufferings, get in the sun and down to the river whenever I
can, retain fair appetite, assimilation and digestion, sensibilities
acute as ever, the strength and volition of my right arm good,
eyesight dimming, but brain normal, and retain my heart's and soul's
unmitigated faith not only in their own original literary plans, but
in the essential bulk of American humanity east and west, north and
south, city and country, through thick and thin, to the last. Nor must
I forget, in conclusion, a special, prayerful, thankful God's blessing
to my dear firm friends and personal helpers, men and women, home and
foreign, old and young.


_From the Camden Post, April 16, '91_.

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. He has had the worst winter yet, mainly
from grippe and gastric troubles, and threaten'd blindness; but keeps
good spirits, and has a new little forthcoming book in the printer's


If I were ask'd _persona_ to specify the one point of America's people
on which I mainly rely, I should say the final average or bulk quality
of the whole.

Happy indeed w'd I consider myself to give a fair reflection and
representation of even a portion of shows, questions, humanity,
events, unfoldings, thoughts, &c. &c., my age in these States.

The great social, political, historic function of my time has been of
course the attempted secession war.

And was there not something grand, and an inside proof of perennial
grandeur, in that war! We talk of our age's and the States'
materialism--and it is too true. But how amid the whole
sordidness--the entire devotion of America, at any price, to pecuniary
success, merchandise--disregarding all but business and profit--this
war for a bare idea and abstraction--a mere, at bottom, heroic dream
and reminiscence--burst forth in its great devouring flame and
conflagration quickly and fiercely spreading and raging, and
enveloping all, defining in two conflicting ideas--first the Union
cause--second _the other_, a strange deadly interrogation point, hard
to define--Can we not now safely confess it?--with magnificent
rays, streaks of noblest heroism, fortitude, perseverance, and even
conscientiousness, through its pervadingly malignant darkness. What an
area and rounded field, upon the whole--the spirit, arrogance, grim
tenacity of the South--the long stretches of murky gloom--the general
National Will below and behind and comprehending all--not once really
wavering, not a day, not an hour--What could be, or even can be,

As in that war, its four years--as through the whole history and
development of the New World--these States through all trials,
processes, eruptions, deepest dilemmas, (often straining, tugging at
society's heart-strings, as if some divine curiosity would find out
how much this democracy could stand,) have so far finally and for more
than a century best justified themselves by the average impalpable
quality and personality of the bulk, the People _en masse_.... I am
not sure but my main and chief however indefinite claim for any page
of mine w'd be its derivation, or seeking to derive itself, f'm that
average quality of the American bulk, the people, and getting back to
it again.


_I'm a vast batch left to oblivion_.

In its highest aspect, and striking its grandest average, essential
Poetry expresses and goes along with essential Religion--has been and
is more the adjunct, and more serviceable to that true religion (for
of course there is a false one and plenty of it) than all the priests
and creeds and churches that now exist or have ever existed--even
while the temporary prevalent theory and practice of poetry is merely
one-side and ornamental and dainty--a love-sigh, a bit of jewelry, a
feudal conceit, an ingenious tale or intellectual _finesse_, adjusted
to the low taste and calibre that will always sufficiently generally
prevail--(ranges of stairs necessary to ascend the higher.)

The sectarian, church and doctrinal, follies, crimes, fanaticisms,
aggregate and individual, so rife all thro' history, are proofs of
the radicalness and universality of the indestructible element of
humanity's Religion, just as much as any, and are the other side of
it. Just as disease proves health, and is the other side of it....
The philosophy of Greece taught normality and the beauty of life.
Christianity teaches how to endure illness and death. I have wonder'd
whether a third philosophy fusing both, and doing full justice to
both, might not be outlined.

It will not be enough to say that no Nation ever achiev'd
materialistic, political and money-making successes, with general
physical comfort, as fully as the United States of America are to-day
achieving them. I know very well that those are the indispensable
foundations--the _sine qua non_ of moral and heroic (poetic) fruitions
to come. For if those pre-successes were all--if they ended at
that--if nothing more were yielded than so far appears--a gross
materialistic prosperity only--America, tried by subtlest tests, were
a failure--has not advanced the standard of humanity a bit further
than other nations. Or, in plain terms, has but inherited and enjoy'd
the results of ordinary claims and preceding ages.

Nature seem'd to use me a long while--myself all well, able, strong
and happy--to portray power, freedom, health. But after a while she
seems to fancy, may-be I can see and understand it all better by being
deprived of most of those.

How difficult it is to add anything more to literature--and how
unsatisfactory for any earnest spirit to serve merely the amusement of
the multitude! (It even seems to me, said H. Heine, more invigorating
to accomplish something bad than something empty.)

The Highest said: Don't let us begin so low--isn't our range too
coarse--too gross?... The Soul answer'd: No, not when we consider what
it is all for--the end involved in Time and Space,

Essentially my own printed records, all my volumes, are doubtless but
off-hand utterances f'm Personality spontaneous, following implicitly
the inscrutable command, dominated by that Personality, vaguely even
if decidedly, and with little or nothing of plan, art, erudition, &c.
If I have chosen to hold the reins, the mastery, it has mainly been to
give the way, the power, the road, to the invisible steeds. (I wanted
to see how a Person of America, the last half of the 19th century, w'd
appear, but quite freely and fairly in honest type.)

Haven't I given specimen clues, if no more? At any rate I have written
enough to weary myself--and I will dispatch it to the printers,
and cease. But how much--how many topics, of the greatest pointand
cogency, I am leaving untouch'd!


_Good-Bye my Fancy_.--concluding Annex to _Leaves of Grass_.

"The Highest said: Don't let us begin so low--isn't our range too
coarse--too gross?... The Soul answer'd: No, not when we consider what
it is all for--the end involved in Time and Space."--_An item from
last page of "Good-Bye."_

H. Heine's first principle of criticising a book was, What motive is
the author trying to carry out, or express or accomplish? and the
second, Has he achiev'd it?

The theory of my _Leaves of Grass_ as a composition of verses has been
from first to last, (if I am to give impromptu a hint of the spinal
marrow of the business, and sign it with my name,) to thoroughly
possess the mind, memory, cognizance of the author himself, with
everything beforehand--a full armory of concrete actualities,
observations, humanity, past poems, ballads, facts, technique, war and
peace, politics, North and South, East and West, nothing too large or
too small, the sciences as far as possible--and above all America and
the present--after and out of which the subject of the poem, long
or short, has been invariably turned over to his Emotionality, even
Personality, to be shaped thence; and emerges strictly therefrom, with
all its merits and demerits on its head. Every page of my poetic or
attempt at poetic utterance therefore smacks of the living physical
identity, date, environment, individuality, probably beyond anything
known, and in style often offensive to the conventions.

This new last cluster, _Good-By my Fancy_ follows suit, and yet with
a difference. The clef is here changed to its lowest, and the little
book is a lot of tremolos about old age, death, and faith. The
physical just lingers, but almost vanishes. The book is garrulous,
irascible (like old Lear) and has various breaks and even tricks to
avoid monotony. It will have to be ciphered and ciphered out long--and
is probably in some respects the most curious part of its author's
baffling works.

_Walt Whitman_.


[49] Published in _Lippincott's Magazine_, August, 1891, with the
following note added by the editor of the magazine: "With _Good-Bye my
Fancy_, Walt Whitman has rounded out his life-work. This book is his
last message, and of course a great deal will be said about it by
critics all over the world, both in praise and dispraise; but probably
nothing that the critics will say will be as interesting as this
characteristic utterance upon the book by the poet himself. It is the
subjective view as opposed to the objective views of the critics.
Briefly, Whitman gives, as he puts it, 'a hint of the spinal marrow
of the business,' not only of _Good-Bye my Fancy_, but also of the
_Leaves of Grass_

"It was only after considerable persuasion on the editor's part that
Mr. Whitman consented to write the above. As a concise explanation
of the poet's life-work it must have great value to his readers and
admirers. After the critics 'have ciphered and ciphered out long,'
they will probably have nothing better to say."

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