Dinner with Walt

all things Walt Whitman

Dinner with Walt - all things Walt Whitman

Giving Thanks for Friends!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I have something special to share today!

After a busy and stressful year, this Thanksgiving–more than any other– I am thankful for the love and support of dear family and friends!
Whitman of course had many dear friends during his life, and Robert G. Ingersoll was no exception, he was a grand and important friend in Whitman’s life.

So to celebrate the love of friendships, I would like to share this piece a dear friend of mine wrote about Ingersoll. (Thanks Gerrie for this beautiful tribute to Ingersoll!).

Robert G. Ingersoll

(11 August, 1833 ~ 21 July, 1899)

A Tribute to Robert G. Ingersoll
by Gerrie Paino – 8 February, 2015

“The man who does not do his own thinking is a slave
and is a traitor to himself and to his fellow men.”
~ Robert G. Ingersoll

Long before the so-called “new atheists” raised their voices in a call for the end of superstition, religious orthodoxy and intellectual suppression, Colonel Robert Green Ingersoll took his place on history’s stage as America’s voicepiece for reason and liberty. A modern day Prometheus, he fought to bring enlightenment to minds enslaved by dogma and to spirits encumbered by fear. So large was this man’s presence, so immense his influence that, among supporters and detractors alike, his name, philosophy and views became commonplace subjects for discussion in households across the United States.

Ingersoll gained respect for his service in the Civil War and for his brilliance as an attorney; however, it was his unequaled gift as an orator that propelled him to fame, and, some might say, infamy. In a time before television, radio, or motion pictures, more people heard Ingersoll speak than anyone before in history. Crisscrossing the country on more than a dozen lecture tours between 1865 and his death at age 65 in 1899, he drew crowds that numbered in the thousands, speaking in every state in America with the exception of Oklahoma, Mississippi and North Carolina.

Bathed in the glow of the footlights, Ingersoll addressed his audiences for up to three hours, delivering his lectures from memory as his enthralled listeners savoured every word. When he’d finished speaking, they clamoured for still more. No wonder, when Mark Twain proclaimed after hearing Ingersoll speak: “I doubt if America has ever seen anything quite equal to it; I am well satisfied I shall not live to see its equal again… Bob Ingersoll’s music will sing through my memory always as the divinest that ever enchanted my ears. What an organ is human speech when it is employed by a master!”

The undisputed Prince of Orators, this giant of the Gilded Age numbered among his ardent admirers such luminaries as Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Thomas Edison, Clara Barton, Frederick Douglass and Andrew Carnegie. Yet Ingersoll was not merely the friend of the wealthy, powerful and influential. Indeed, he considered his self-imposed mission of working to liberate the oppressed and downtrodden a sacred trust. An outspoken champion of the rights and equality of Blacks, women, and children, he was also an anti-vivisectionist and proponent of birth control, science and evolution.

Well aware that many who agreed with his thoughts would suffer persecution, loss of livelihood and other hardships for daring to speak the truths they held in their hearts, Ingersoll stated: “I will do your talking for you. The church cannot touch, cannot crush, cannot starve, cannot stop or stay me; I will express your thoughts for you.” This dedication won him the love and respect of the common people as well as the social reformers of his day. Needless to say, his lambasting of orthodox religion also gained him no small number of detractors and adversaries. Undaunted, Ingersoll proclaimed: “I have made up my mind to say my say.” And so he did, fearlessly yet with kindness towards even his enemies who he often reflected were merely products of their conditions.

In light of his renown in the 19th century, it seems a curiosity that the name of Robert Green Ingersoll is so little-known today. This owes, in part, to the squelching of his voice by his religious opponents who, in defense of their beliefs, campaigned mightily against the man deemed, among other often-amusing epithets, “The Great Agnostic,” “Robert Injuresoul,” “The American Infidel,” “The Champion Blasphemer of America,” and even “The Plenipotentiary of his Satanic Majesty to the United States.”

Despite these sensational sobriquets aimed at painting Ingersoll in the blackest of lights, he led such an exemplary life that his opponents, despite prodigious efforts, became exasperated at finding him blameless and so stooped to fabricating lies. Among these, one religious paper reported: “We are told, on good authority, that Colonel Ingersoll’s only son was so addicted to cheap novel reading that his mind became affected thereby; that he was quietly removed to a private asylum, where he shortly afterward died.” Ingersoll, who rarely dignified these slanders with a reply, sent the following rejoinder to an inquirer who sent him the article in the mail:
1. My only son was not a great novel reader;
2. He did not go insane;
3. He was not sent to an asylum;
4. He did not die;
5. I never had a son!

Despite efforts by his detractors to defame Ingersoll and silence his voice, today’s freethinkers are rediscovering the Colonel and finding that his message is as potent and pertinent now as it was over a century ago. The twelve-volume Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, along with a wealth of other information, is easily accessed on the Internet. Discovering the man beneath the public persona requires a bit more effort; however, when unearthed, these peeks into Ingersoll’s private life bring our view of the man down from Mount Olympus and seat him even more firmly within our hearts.

Above all else, Ingersoll relished the comforts of hearth and home. His beloved wife, Eva, along with his daughters, Maude and Eva, were the cause of his being. “They are my Holy Trinity, comprising the only Deity I worship,” he wrote in a letter dated 1870.
Ingersoll’s home was a joyful place, bustling with activity and visitors from morning till late at night. The rooms were filled with paintings, photographs, engravings, sculptures and books, the principle of which was an enormous volume of Shakespeare that Ingersoll referred to as his Bible and within whose pages were inscribed the dates of family marriages, births and deaths as other families would commonly record the same in their family Bibles. The second floor contained his study from which it was said Ingersoll never excluded anyone, saying he worked more easily with his family and visitors around him. An article of the Colonel’s day described the family home in Washington D.C. as follows:
“This prince of pagans occupies a handsome residence on Lafayette Square. On Sunday evenings the Ingersoll home is open to their friends, and these Sabbath symposiums are the most enjoyable of all the weekly round of social affairs that any season can offer. Ease and hospitality liven the air from the square tiled hall into which the vestibule opens to the remotest sanctum. Before the church bells have ceased tolling the faithful to the evening service people begin dropping into this charming home and the smooth face and round head of the host appears to the visitor in the hall with unhackneyed and cordial greetings. Adding to his own social attractiveness Colonel Ingersoll has a delightful family to make it more inviting to his guests…. For wit, eloquence and repartee Colonel Ingersoll finds no superior, and with a room full of friends about him his bon mots and epigrams are incessant.” (Washington Gossip column)

In addition to his pleasure in hosting guests, Ingersoll enjoyed literature, art, music, theatre, swimming, billiards, cigars, fine wine and good food, the later being amply demonstrated by his portly profile. Despite the urgings of his family to care for his health and lose weight, Ingersoll and exercise were barely on speaking terms, a fact the Colonel himself was not beyond turning into a matter of good humour.

Notwithstanding the abundance of happiness and mirth that often surrounded him, Ingersoll also possessed a depth of compassion that caused him to share the sadness and pain of others deeply. Mr. Isaac Newton Baker, Ingersoll’s secretary for nearly fourteen years, wrote of his esteemed employer: “He bore the burdens of others. His sympathies were so deep and wide and strong that while he ‘laughed with those who laughed’ he ‘wept with those who wept,’ and often have I seen him touched to tears at the tales of woe freely poured into his listening ears.”

Ingersoll’s compassion was equaled by his extraordinary generosity. “So large is his charity, so rich his tenderness, that intimately to know him means an incessant stimulus. One can almost literally warm one’s hands at him,” said the writer Edgar Fawcett.

Mr. Baker, the Colonel’s long-time secretary, wrote:

A hundred dollar bill was a frequent gift from his open hand, to say not a word of the thousands scattered in larger and smaller sums. He gave his advice freely to hundreds, — especially to the widow, the poor and defenseless, and tried many a case to a happy conclusion, not only without a fee, but himself paying all costs and disbursements… His office books were filled with accounts never collected, with charges never paid, and yet this did not check the flow of his extravagant generosity. He loved to give. He was princely in giving.

In one case where a thirty-thousand dollar fee came to him he instantly gave half of it to a young assistant to whom two or three thousand dollars would have been an ample and satisfactory return for the service rendered. In another case, on receiving a fee of fifteen thousand dollars, he immediately wrote a check for one third of the amount to the friend who had simply urged his selection as the best lawyer for the case. The unexpected gift enabled this friend to lift a mortgage that had long encumbered her home. (Robert G. Ingersoll: An Intimate View – Isaac Newton Baker)

Among his other gifts, Ingersoll possessed a quick wit and intelligent sense of humour with which he often delighted others. Whether arguing a case before the courts, entertaining guests in his home, or speaking from the stage to standing room only crowds, he easily provoked laughter from his listeners. He took particular pleasure in pointing out the absurdities of religion, but did so in a manner that made it nearly impossible for even the believers present to stifle their amusement.

Some, however, were not so charmed. Scores of ministers tried to dissuade their congregants from going to hear Ingersoll speak and Bibles and religious tracts were often on offer outside the auditoriums when the Colonel lectured. Ingersoll further provoked his religious adversaries by frequently scheduling his talks decrying religion on Sundays. It was not uncommon for theatres to bar “the blasphemer” from speaking, thus necessitating alternate venues be secured. Nonetheless, the theatres and halls were always filled to capacity, some attendees having travelled great distances to hear the great orator speak.

Ingersoll saw religion as the enemy of freedom, reason and science and relished his role in liberating minds from the slavery of orthodoxy. No religious teaching, however, incensed him more than the doctrine of Hell. “While I have life, as long as I have breath, I shall deny with all my strength, and hate with every drop of my blood, this infinite lie,” he proclaimed. “If there is a God who will damn his children forever, I would rather go to hell than go to heaven and keep the society of such an infamous tyrant. I make my choice now. I despise that doctrine.”

Ingersoll’s views on religion were so strong and his commitment to upholding his beliefs so unbending that he sacrificed what could have been an astonishing political career rather than stifle or deny what he held to be true. Although his speeches and campaigning helped secure office for many notable political figures, and despite his being the confidante of Presidents Garfield and Hayes, Ingersoll was repeatedly denied political appointments for fear any connection to “the infidel” and his anti-religious rhetoric would alienate those in office from their constituents.

A reporter for the Chicago Tribune, referring to the Colonel in the week following his death, wrote: “Splendidly endowed as he was, he could have won great distinction in the field of politics had he so chosen, but he was determined to enlighten the world concerning the Mistakes of Moses. That threw him out of the race.”

When faced with the choice of silencing his voice in order to win the Republican nomination for Governor of Illinois, Ingersoll refused, boldly stating:

“Goodbye, gentlemen! I am not asking to be Governor of Illinois … I have in my composition that which I have declared to the world as my views upon religion. My position I would not, under any circumstances, not even for my life, seem to renounce. I would rather refuse to be President of the United States than to do so. My religious belief is my own. It belongs to me, not to the State of Illinois. I would not smother one sentiment of my heart to be the Emperor of the round world.” (Ingersoll the Magnificent – Joseph Lewis)

Ingersoll died peacefully in the presence of his beloved wife, Eva, at Walston, the beautiful home of his daughter and son-in-law in Dobbs Ferry, New York. News of his death filled the Ingersoll home with literally thousands of messages of sorrow, consolation and praise for the man who had captured the hearts and minds of so many, from the common people to the rich and powerful.

“No other loss, outside of my own family, could have filled me with such sorrow. The future historian will rank him as one of the heroes of the nineteenth century,” exclaimed women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Her sentiments were echoed by Mark Twain who wrote: “Except for my daughters, I have not grieved for any death as I have grieved for his. His was a great and beautiful spirit.”

A Washington correspondent said of Ingersoll “It is hard to write about the Colonel and not indulge in what would seem to strangers to be extravagant praise.” Indeed, it seems impossible to make the acquaintance of this giant of freethought even now and not come to love, respect and admire the indomitable spirit of a man so brilliant yet also so warm and approachable.

Walt Whitman stated, “America doesn’t know today how proud she ought to be of her Ingersoll.” Those words ring as true now as they did when Whitman first expressed them over a century ago.

No doubt, Ingersoll would be pleased to know his voice has not been silenced and that the torch he carried has been taken up by new hands, anxious to spread the light of liberty and reason to an America perhaps in more need of that message today than it was in Ingersoll’s lifetime.
“Nothing is greater than to break the chains from the bodies of men –
nothing nobler than to destroy the phantoms of the soul.”
~ Robert G. Ingersoll
Liberty, Reason





123rd Anniversary of Whitman’s Death

Today, dear readers, marks the 123rd anniversary of Whitman’s death. A dear friend of mine, a wonderful Robert G. Ingersoll enthusiast, shared the letter below that Ingersoll wrote Whitman in December, 1891. It is as meaningful today as it was 122 years ago. Thanks Gerrie!


December 29, 1891

My dear Whitman,

I am glad that you have lived long enough to know that your Leaves of Grass will live forever—long enough to know that your life has been a success—that you have sown with brave and generous hands the seeds of liberty and love. This is enough—and this is a radiance that even the darkness cannot extinguish.

Maybe the end of the journey is the best of all, and maybe the end of this life is the beginning of another, and maybe the beginning of that is better than the ending of this.

But however and whatever the fact may be, you have lightened the journey here, for millions of your fellow-men. In the great desert you have dug wells and planted palms. As long as water and shade are welcome to the faint and weary, your memory will live.

Wishing you many, many days of health and happiness, and with a heart full of love,

I remain,

Yours always,

R. G. Ingersoll


One last farewell letter arrived to Whitman from Ingersoll, just two days before Whitman died:

New York, N.Y.

March 24, 1892

My dear friend,

I am pained to know that you are suffering more and more, but was glad to know that your brave spirit has never been bowed–and that in all your agony your heart keeps sweet and strong.

I think of you a thousand times a day–and of the great good you have done the world. You have written such brave, free, and winged words–words that have thrilled and ennobled the hearts and lives of millions–that my admiration has deepened to obligation.

Again I thank you for your courage, and again I lovingly say farewell–and yet I hope to see you soon.

Yours always,

R. G. Ingersoll


Links to previous posts on Whitman’s death:





Horace Traubel Birthday!

Today, December 19, 2014, marks the 156th birthday of the close personal friend and Whitman biographer, Horace Traubel. I would like to share a poem befitting of this occasion, written by Traubel himself on the dedication page to his 1904 book, Chants Communal.

Worn with the burdens of rebellious years,
Across the sea’s scan matching birth with death,
Like ships sky-sailed that earthward come no more,
Love’s dreams must vanish down the edge of sight,
All spent ahead where life will follow-on:
Celestial children, soon beyond my reach,
Entering the unseen port to wait for me.


In Whitman’s own words, here’s a birthday greeting that Whitman wished to Traubel on December 19, 1888:

“I don’t congratulate you—I congratulate myself, others: if you were as lucky as I was in your birth then you must feel rich indeed! Here’s love for all the rest of your birthdays!”


In remembrance of Horace Traubel and with sincere gratitude for his enormous contributions to further the love and legacy of Walt Whitman –
Happy Birthday!


Links to previous articles on Horace Traubel:

Horace Traubel
Handwritten Letter from Horace Traubel
David Karsner’s Biography on Horace Traubel
A December 19th Birthday
Happy 155th Birthday to Horace Traubel: A Helen Keller Tribute
Horace Traubel Grave


Traubel Portrait: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Traubel, Horace. (1904). Chants Communal. New York: Albert and Charles Boni.
Traubel, Horace. (1914). With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume Three. (p. 332). New York: Mitchell Kennerley.


New Whitman Poem Discovered!

Gerry, my pal – one hundred ‘thank you’s’ for passing this my way!

This lovely lady, Dr. Wendy Katz, discovered a new WW poem from 1842!

This lovely lady, Dr. Wendy Katz, discovered a new WW poem from 1842!

How about this for a truly remarkable (hopefully-more-than-once-in-a-lifetime) discovery!

Wendy Katz, associate professor of art history at University of Nebraska-Lincoln uncovered a missing gem from the Whitman ephemera. The newly discovered Whitman poem is titled, To Bryant, the Poet of Nature.

You should read the full article in the Journal Star News.

P.s. Dr. Katz has a very special connection to another very remarkable Whitman scholar! How fantastic. Keep searching friends, I’m certain there are many more Whitman hidden treasures to be discovered.



The Democracy of Oaks, A Play by Adrian Drew

Gary Richardson as Walt Whitman; Andrew Squires as Edward Carpenter

Gary Richards as Walt Whitman; Andrew Squires as Edward Carpenter. Photo by Adrian Drew.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to write, busy times indeed, but if you caught the previous post on this site about the Walt Whitman and Edward Carpenter play, The Democracy of Oaks, by Adrian Drew, I have a few lively and delightful things to share about it.

I was quite fortunate enough to be able to make the trek-over to London to see the play, and W-O-W! It is brilliant, fantastic and a truly authentic work based upon the lives of these two extraordinary men. Drew’s play is a magnificent piece of wit and wisdom and I hope to see it someday in a full-scale stage production. I’m certain even those in an audience unfamiliar with Whitman and Carpenter would find the experience enjoyable, engaging and highly rewarding!

About a year and half ago, Adrian contacted me from the website shortly after he had written the play and asked if I would like to read it. I have had the very fortunate pleasure to be in contact with Adrian Drew since then and it has been extremely rewarding for me to follow his progress with this play, but to be able to see it in person and afterwards meet the cast, was a truly magnificent experience.

I recall thinking to myself after initially reading the play, how might an actor be able to convincingly portray either of these two dynamic men? I am delighted to share that Mr. Andrew Squires is a brilliant actor who offered a stunning and mesmerizing portrayal of Edward Carpenter. Bravo Andrew for such a captivating and inspiring portrayal of this remarkable and influential man!

As for the part of the American bard, due to accepting a part in an upcoming film, Nigel Barber was not able to play the part of Whitman. Fear not dear fans, Adrian Drew was able to secure another great actor, Gary Richards to play the part of Whitman. Richards delivered a fantastic portrayal of Whitman, having had only a couple weeks prior to the performance to rehearse the deep and dynamic role.

I have to say, I was rather caught by surprise of the feeling of the play, both actors delivered an intensely emotional performance and to—see it and feel it—as it came to life off the written page was extraordinary!

Many thanks to Adrian Drew for allowing me to follow this production from its early days on paper to the big debut—it was an experience I will always treasure!

Andrew Squires, Scott, Adrian Drew

Andrew Squires, Scott, Adrian Drew


The Democracy of Oaks, A Play by Adrian Drew

I am thrilled to announce the exciting new project by playwright Adrian Drew, The Democracy of Oaks. The play highlights the extraordinary lives of two of my favorite men, Walt Whitman and Edward Carpenter.

Edward Carpenter, Andrew Squires

Edward Carpenter, Andrew Squires

Walt Whitman, Nigel Barber

Walt Whitman, Nigel Barber













The Democracy of Oaks

A gala showcase production of a new play
by Adrian Drew.

‘Be curious – not judgmental!” – Walt Whitman.

Theatrically compelling. Professor M. Wynn Thomas. Author – The Lunar Light of Whitman’s Poetry.
Fascinating Stuff. A clever piece for two great actors!” Rony Robinson – Writer & Presenter.
A beautifully written moving insight into the lives of two remarkable men.” Dolores Long – Educationalist.

In 1877 young Edward Carpenter from Britain, visited his idol, the legendary poet Walt Whitman at his home in Camden, New Jersey. The outcome was far-reaching indeed for both men – and history too.

Adrian Drew’s memorable theatrical tour de force – showcased tonight for the first time – has recently been published to acclaim. It deals with two fascinating individuals and the complexities of Art and Life, revealing, on route, facts about such contemporaries as Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde, that may surprise many!

The play stars Andrew Squires, (whose work ranges from TV’s Emmerdale to the lead in the feature film The Heretic) as the complex Carpenter, and well-known American actor Nigel Barber (whose many performances on stage & screen from Baywatch and Magnum PI to the new feature film Firequake, have received widespread recognition) as the great Whitman himself.

The Democracy of Oaks is directed by its author Adrian Drew who has written over 20 plays that have been staged on the London fringe and whose festival production of Cocteau’s The Human Voice, and his plays Where Poppies Bloom (about the impact of The Great War on a small Norfolk village), Ellen (about the actress Ellen Terry), The Laws of Shadows ( about ghost story writer M.R. James), and his musical Torch Song, will all be produced over the coming months.

Admission to the Fan Museum for this gala event is £12 and includes wine and light refreshments. This semi-staged rehearsed reading should last approximately 2½ hours including intermission and is only suitable for people over the age of 18.

Friday October 10th 2014
7.30 pm 

 The Fan Museum

12 Crooms Hill. Greenwich,
London SE10 8ER

Theatrical productions at the Museum sell out well in advance so early booking is absolutely essential.

For more information and to make bookings, please call The Fan Museum on 020 8305 1441
or email info@fanmuseum.org.uk


NPR Arcticle on Whitman and “Leaves of Grass,” July 4, 2014

Etch of Walt Whitman, copper printing plate. Circa 1890. Dinner withWalt collection.

Etching of Walt Whitman on copper printing plate. Circa 1890.  In the Dinner with Walt collection.

Although Whitman was selling copies of Leaves of Grass earlier, he being the  ‘poet of democracy’, officially released the very first edition of Leaves of Grass on July 4, 1855.

To celebrate this far-reaching momentous big bang in American literature, NPR published a vibrant article by Rowan Ricardo Phillips, On July 4, A Celebration of Walt Whitman’s Irreverent Hymnal.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the granddaddy of American poetry; the gray ghost; the big thumper; the barbarian’s text with its barbaric yawp; the nation’s first truly great mega biblion; the Kosmos; the Civil War witness; the seaside songbook; the irreverent hymnal; the book of the lover; the book of the loafer; the peacemaker; Leaves of Grass.


I highly encourage you to read the rest of the dazzling  article here.


1855 Leaves of Grass!

I had an opportunity to visit the Library Company of Philadelphia in May. Among their many wonderful first-rate collections they own two copies of Whitman’s first edition of Leaves of Grass from 1855! This was my very first up close and personal view of this very special work of art!

1855 Leaves of Grass. Library Company of Philadelphia. May, 2014

1855 Leaves of Grass. Library Company of Philadelphia. May, 2014

But wait! If this isn’t awesome enough, it gets better! Just last week Christie’s sold an original 1855 Leaves of Grass. The pre-sale estimate was $100-150,000.  You might be surprised to learn what the record-setting final sale price was for this Holiest-of-Holy piece of art!?!

From the June 19, 2014 press release:

He may not be topping the best-seller list, but the great American poet and humanist Walt Whitman set a sales record Wednesday at Christie’s.

A first edition of “Leaves of Grass,” printed for the author, sold for $305,000. That was more than twice Christie’s estimate of $100,000 to $150,000, and it marked a world auction record for Whitman.


You can read the entire article about the Christie’s sale here.