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





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.


Edward Carpenter, Farewell Message

While conducting research on Edward Carpenter, I stumbled upon a beautiful piece, Farewell Message left by Edward Carpenter to be Read over his Grave, written by Carpenter in 1910.

Carpenter had left a request for this to be read at his grave after his death, but unfortunately Carpenter’s wish was not fulfilled. This was not discovered until sometime after his death in 1929.

Carpenter’s Farewell Message is amazingly beautiful prose from an illuminated soul…


Farewell Message left by Edward Carpenter to be Read over his Grave

I SHOULD like these few words to be read over the grave when my body is placed in the earth, for though it is possible I may be present and conscious of what is going on, I shall not be able to communicate.

Too much, perhaps, is made of Death by us little mortals; and I think sometimes that we grieve too hardly over those that are gone. Of course, the parting from the daily sight and touch of dear friends is hard, very hard–but I doubt if after all this parting is so complete as we sometimes think. Who is there who has not felt the presence of one who has departed–as presence remaining still near him for weeks, months, and even years, and touch him so nearly that almost the voice could be heard and the form seen? Who is there who has not been conscious of strange intimations thus coming to him as from another world? Does it not seem, after all, that the friend is there, only speaking to our hearts more deeply, more intimately, more tenderly than in the ordinary life?

Nor need we be afraid of death, either for ourselves or for our friends, as if it were an evil or a harmful thing, lying ever in wait for us. On the contrary, it is surely a perfectly natural event, and part of the wholesome order of the world, as we see every day of our lives. Birth does not seem to us an evil thing, but rather a strange and wonderful passage from some other state of being into this present existence; and so death–which in many ways is the counterpart of birth–would seem to be just such a wonderful passage out of this world again; one perhaps out of many, many such passages which the far-journeying soul of man must make, under the wing of the ever-biding Presence.

Nor would one perhaps–even in the chance were offered–wish to escape dying. That would hardly be desirable. For since everyone has to die–and such countless millions have made that passage into the unknown–there would seem to be something mean and unfriendly in trying to avoid the common lot. Better to share it frankly with others, whatever it may be. Probably indeed the escaping of this change would turn out in the end to be considerable loss instead of a great gain. Fancy anyone being condemned to live, now, for ever–and to wear out all his old clothes, and his old body, and all his old ambitions and passions, and to go on repeating the same old jokes and stories till even his old friends were worn out as well! What a Fate! But from such an end kindly Death does indeed deliver us.

And whatever the region to which we pass, Love saves us there, as it does here. It creates a world in which the soul can live and expand in freedom. The ties which bind us together here are not going to be snapt so easily as some of you may think. For indeed, I believe that those who truly love are already joined together in a world far beyond and behind the visible;–and in that world, they are safe–and their love is safe–from the storms of time and misadventure.

Therefore do think too much of the dead husk of your friend, or mourn too much over it; but send your thoughts out towards the real soul or self which as escaped–to reach it. For so, surely, you will cast a light of gladness upon his onward journey, and contribute your part towards the building of that kingdom of love which links our earth to heaven.
December 30, 1910




Beith, Gilbert. (1931). Edward Carpenter: In Appreciation. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

 Click here for more posts on Edward Carpenter.



Walt Whitman & Sir William Osler

As I’ve said before, one of many things about Whitman that I love most is the enrichment of the mind born out of studying him, his life and the historic events and people around him in his time. And what a truly historic person I have to share today! But first, please join me in a huge round of applause to my dear friend Ed (a fellow collector of Whitman for some 20+ years!) for the gift of this book; Walt Whitman and Sir William Olser:  A Poet and His Physician, by Philip W. Leon.

For the epigraph of the book the author selects two crowning quotes; one from William Osler and the other from Walt Whitman.  In these quotes, we see the genius in each of these two men as they write about one another:

William Osler on Walt Whitman:

In his 65th year, Walt Whitman was a fine figure of a man who had aged beautifully, or more properly speaking, majestically…I knew nothing of Walt Whitman and had never read a line of his poems – a Scythian visitor at Delphi!

– William Osler, 1919


Walt Whitman on William Osler:

As for Olser:  he is a great man – one of the rare men.  I should be much surprised if he didn’t soar way, way up – get very famous at his trade – someday.  He has the air of something about him – of achievement.

– Walt Whitman, 26 December 1888

Many people, including myself, believe Whitman to be a prophet and this should not be surprising given how right he was about William Osler.

In the late 1800’s, Dr. Osler was already a rising star at McGill University in Montreal and was quickly becoming a prominent Canadian physician. Dr. Osler moved from Montreal to Philadelphia in 1884 at the request of renowned physician Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, where he lived and worked for the next five years. At the urging of his friend and colleague Dr. Maurice Bucke[1]; Dr. Olser crossed the river from Philadelphia to Camden, NJ to offer his assessment of this ailing patient named Walt Whitman. After visiting Whitman, Dr. Osler reported to Dr. Bucke, “After a careful examination, [Dr. Bucke] seemed pleased that I was able to tell him, the machine was in fairly good condition considering the length of time it has been on the road.” (23). Dr. Osler tended to Whitman for the next five years before moving to Baltimore to found the medical school at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Osler is still studied and revered by the medical community, the world over, and is widely considered to be the “Father of Modern Medicine.” In fact, in 1919 as Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, Dr. Osler was the “most famous doctor in the world.” This same year 1919, Dr. Osler wrote his Reminiscences about his relationship with Walt Whitman some thirty years earlier. Unfortunately he died that same year and his manuscript was never published. This book by Philip W. Leon is the first intact publication of Dr. Osler’s Reminiscences, a full 76 years after it was written.

This book is an important historical document about two extraordinary people. I can’t help but to suggest an alternate title for this book:  Two Brilliant Men:  The Father of Modern Medicine meets The Father of Free Verse.

Leon writes:

While their backgrounds differ in significant respects, Whitman and Osler had common interests in literature and medicine. Whitman had a lifelong fascination with medicine, even serving as a wound dresser to injured soldiers on both sides of the conflict during the Civil War.  Osler read widely among the best classical poets, and amassed an impressive personal library of rare editions. Both men exuded personal warmth and attracted disciples who worshipped their masters not only for their accomplishments in their professions but also for themselves and the quality of their lives. Books and articles about both men proliferate, and each of them has achieved a measure of immortality through this scholarly attention, which has continued through to the present. There is a Walt Whitman Association and there are Osler societies worldwide; these groups keep alive the memories of their exemplars.


William Osler 1880-1884 during which time he was visiting the ailing Walt Whitman.

William Osler
1880-1884 during which time he was visiting the ailing Walt Whitman.

[1] Dr. Bucke of course we remember was one of Whitman’s three literary executors and author of Cosmic Consciousness.



Osler image, Wikipedia 

Leon, Philip W. (1995). Walt Whitman & Sir William Osler. Toronto:  ECW Press.




Happy 182nd Birthday to William D. O’Connor!


Not only is it a shiny new year; it’s also time to celebrate another very important person in Whitman’s intimate circle of friends. Today, January 2nd, is the 182nd birthday of William Douglas O’Connor (1832-1889). Whitman owes a great deal of his eventual success and recognition to the incredibly immense support William D. O’Connor bestowed upon him. O’Connor wrote the The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication (1866).


Here you can read a short bio on O’Connor and his relationship with Whitman at The WW Archive.


Someday in future posts, I’ll share more about this formidable yet tremendously-significant person in Whitman’s life, but what I want to share today is the highly emotional and quite curious first meeting of O’Connor and Horace Traubel. I say this meeting is curious because in my mind, it arouses some amount of suspicions about O’Connor’s sexuality.


In volume four of WWIC, Traubel, age 31, along with Dr. Bucke travel by train from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. to meet the very ill and weakened O’Connor, aged 57. The meeting takes place on March 2, 1889, just a few months before O’Connor dies.

Traubel writes:


Saturday, March 2, 1889

Hunting up Bucke at Dooner’s, according to appointment, we took together the 8.31 train from Broad Street. We had a comfortable ride. Talked of things in general. A great deal about Walt and O’Connor. Discussed things ahead—the way out of inevitable difficulties. It was a clouded day. There was no rain. Now and then the sun would break through. Past Wilmington. Past Baltimore. This was my initiation trip south of Wilmington. I shall never forget the first glimpse of Washington: the dome of the Capitol: white—half hid in the mist: elevated above the red brick of a building on the road.

Of course everything made me think of W. The buildings everywhere. The Capitol. The Treasury. Here O’C. worked, and W., and Burroughs. It was all W.’s stamping ground. It has been the environment of his daily life. Was in his books. In his memories as he talked to me from day to day. I felt all sorts of things as I went and looked about. Just as we had been saying: “This is America!” I found myself saying: “This is Walt: Walt is this!”

O’Connor’s little house. Two stories. Brick. The door was opened by Nellie. We were ushered into the little parlor. Talk. Quick questions and answers. Nellie said: “I am glad to see you both at last.” And she added: “William is impatient: he has been asking ever since Walt’s post came: when will they be here? when will they be here?” She went up to William. We looked at the pictures on the wall. Among them was one of Victor Hugo. Nellie called from upstairs: “Come up, Doctor.” B. started off saying: “You come too: she means both of us.” To the second floor. To William’s room.

We stayed about two hours and a half, all told—most of the time immediately with O’Connor. There were two communicating small rooms. In the front room were the beds and chairs. Two windows. In the back room were O’Connor’s books—what he called his “study.” Nellie, “knowing Walt’s fondness for details,” knowing, as she said, that he would ask us “all sorts of minute questions” when we got back, took us about into every nook and corner. Showed me O’Connor’s Donnelly manuscript, his collection of Bacon books, the place in which he did most of his work. He preferred this room. Nellie was very quiet, subdued, equable. She seemed well. O’Connor himself sat in the front room sidewise next the bed in a big arm chair. He looked mighty, but ill. No color in his face. His eye was lustreless—tired. He was stout, even thick—almost fat. When aroused, animated, the color would mount to his cheeks and his eyes would flash. Noble head, just stubbled with gray. He has a little cold, which made his voice a bit husky—but his voice was nevertheless very musical. Hands almost as beautiful as Walt’s. O’Connor greeted us with great cordiality. At once after our hellos he sort of gestured back to himself and said: “Well: here I am: or, rather, here are my remains!” He was in a jubilant mood. Nellie said: “You have stimulated him: I have not seen him so for two years.” William himself said: “You fellows are wine to me.” He looked me all over: “So you are Horace? so you are Horace?” Then he laughed, turning to Nellie: “Here he is, Nellie! see him: he is the youth in our story—its poetry, its prophecy, made visible.” To Bucke: “You know, Doctor, Horace is the romance of it all: with Walt, with us, in our notes, in our thoughts, it has been Horace, Horace, Horace: he is the wonderchild of our pilgrimage.”

Nellie sent for William’s Doctor, Hood. She wished Hood and Bucke to compare notes. Hood came in a few minutes. Bucke went downstairs to meet him. William turned again to Nellie. “Well—he’s here, Nellie: he’s Walt’s: he’s ours, too: how can he prevent himself from being ours, too?” Then to me: “Tell us about yourself first—then about Walt: yourself first: you have been a mystery figure to us: draw aside the curtain—bare yourself to us!” He laughed. “Oh Nellie! I’m glad he came before it was too late! It might have been too late!” Bucke called Nellie from the foot of the stairs. The instant Nellie had left the room William looking straight at me reached out both his arms. “Come!” he said. I went to him: he took both my hands: he drew me to himself—kissed my lips and eyes and brow: he pressed my body against his. His eyes filled with tears.

I went back to my seat. He said: “Now I’m happier!” and he added passionately: “Thank God you didn’t come too late! thank God! thank God!” And he also said: “When you get back to Walt tell him you are mine as well as his—tell him that in our brotherhood you don’t belong to one of us but to all of us!” He said: “I sit here all day, every day, and do nothing but think of Walt.” I said: “That’s what Walt does there all day thinking of you.” He nodded: “Yes: I have felt that it must be so: events have drawn us closer together than ever.” He talked of November Boughs. “I do not think Walt has said enough about the elder Booth: what he said he said with eloquence and has my approval: only, there was too little of it: there should have been more. I have wished to write to Walt about it but everything has stood in the way. I intended one letter for Booth alone: one letter, too, for the book as a whole.” Contrary to W.’s fear expressed to me William does like the book.

A sob burst from his throat. A smile broke out all over his face. He reached out: took my right hand between his right and left hands. “Horace: you must return as my delegate to Walt: take my body and take my soul, with you: set them down at his doorstep, under his feet, across his pillow: anywhere, so that he may know I have survived whole and entire and complete in the old faith: to this message I consecrate your journey back to Camden.” He dropped my hand. Sank back in the chair. Closed his eyes. I was all broken up. He said then looking at me again: “You are the next of your race, but not the last: God was good: I thought I was never to see you, but here you are, the child of our flock, talking to me, face to face, in a man’s voice: now I can die contentedly: my cup is full—my joy (though with sadness in it, too) is rounded and whole.” What could I have said to all this? “I have said to Nellie: ‘It will never happen,’ but she always said, ‘He will come.’ Even yesterday after Walt announced that you were preparing to take the trip I said, ‘It will never happen,’ and Nellie kept on saying, ‘He will come.’ This morning I felt half buoyant yet half doubtful still. I said, ‘Nellie, do you still think he will come?’ and she said, ‘William, I am sure of it: even now he must be on the way.’ And here you are! God was on my side after all. I run my pennants up up into the air and fill the skies with my cry: Victory is mine forever!” I was not prepared for such an incident. He shook me to my foundations.

I asked William: “What broke you up?” He answered at once: “Overwork.” I asked: “Is life hard in the Departments?” He said: “If you take it seriously, yes: I took it seriously.” I asked: “How did Walt manage not to break down?” “Oh! by not working hard. He would come in of a morning, sit down, work like a steam engine for an hour or so, then throw himself back in his chair, yawn, stretch himself, pick up his hat and go out.” Then O’Connor was grave. “But that was the making of him: don’t mistake that. If he had been any other sort of fellow we never should have had Leaves of Grass.” O’C. said again: “Two things in Walt we must always bear in mind: they explain so much: his prophetic nature and his masterly composure.” I said: “Yes: if it wasn’t for that masterly composure he’d be dead today.” O’C. said: “Undoubtedly—not dead today, dead long ago!” Smile. O’C. added: “I of all men should know what that signifies: if I had had that composure I would not be where I am today: but the Irish in me won’t do for me what the Dutch in Walt does for him.”

We had to leave at 3.30. William said: “I hate to have you go.” I said: “We hate to go.” Bucke too: “Yes, William: we hate to go.” I felt that we were going for good. I was sure I would never see him again.

William said: “Your visit has not been an invasion: it has been an illumination. Your departure will leave me in the darkness.” I said: “I’d rather you had felt like saying, ‘leave me in the light.'” He looked at me, all eyes: “You are a wise son of your father: it will be that: you’ll leave me in the light.” Bucke said: “We are hoping seeing us will help you as seeing you has helped us.” William said: “After the immediate shock of your leaving me is gone I have no doubt the rest will be a glad memory.” Nellie stood just outside the bedroom door watching us. She seemed habitually restrained and composed. Bucke and William and I were face to face. William looked up at us. He held one of Bucke’s hands and one of mine. Nellie moved off towards the stairway, choked. William said: “Well.” Bucke said: “William!” I said: “Love always!” No more. William reached his hand to Bucke’s face: “Bucke, you’re true blue!” And then he pulled my head down between his two palms and kissed me: “You are the pride of the flock!” Bucke and I edged off towards the door. Outside we waved back our salutations which he returned. Then I saw his head drop on his breast. Nellie was waiting for us at the foot of the stairs. “It has all been beautiful,” she said: “he will carry it with him into the next world.” So we left.


Here’s what I find most curious is in this passage above:

The instant Nellie had left the room William looking straight at me reached out both his arms. “Come!” he said. I went to him: he took both my hands: he drew me to himself—kissed my lips and eyes and brow: he pressed my body against his. His eyes filled with tears.”


Keep in mind the year was 1889 and the social norms of those times were dramatically different than those of present day, but what I question is why did O’Connor wait until his wife Nellie left the room to kiss Traubel on the lips and press his body to Traubel’s?

What do you think? Are my suspicions unfounded? Is this merely an emotional and dying man expressing his love and passing that love on to the next generation? Or is there something more to this?

Before you decide, let me mention the one other significant piece to this puzzle: the very fact that O’Connor offered unyielding support to Whitman from 1860-1889. Recall that Whitman was widely criticized in conservative Victorian America for his overtly sexual poems, particularly those in the homosexually-charged Calamus cluster of poems. And yet O’Connor risked his own employment, his own reputation, and stood in strong defense of Whitman against all the oppressors and naysayers.

I may be way off track on this, but my question: what would make O’Connor so impassioned to staunchly defend this dirty poet for nearly 30 unwavering years if he himself did not (at least on some occasions) possess some degree of homosexual feelings?

William D. O'Connor signature in the Dinner With Walt collection.

William D. O’Connor signature in the Dinner With Walt collection.


O’Connor image, Library of Congress

Traubel, Horace. (date). With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume 4 (January 21 to April 7, 1889).     Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 552-563.

O’Connor signature, Dinner With Walt collection






Happy 155th birthday to Horace Traubel! (Helen Keller Tribute)

Today, December 19th is the 155th birthday of Horace Traubel. I was initially uncertain what to write about this brilliant man, when by mere happenstance, I discovered the perfect gift! I’ve long known that Helen Keller was a great admirer of Horace Traubel. This shouldn’t be too surprising given the fact that Keller, like Traubel, was a “suffragist, a pacifist, a radical socialist and a birth control supporter.” “Keller was a member of the Socialist Party and actively campaigned and wrote in support of the working class from 1909-1921. She supported Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs in each of his campaigns for the presidency.” (Source: Wikipedia).

Keller, as well as Traubel and two hundred other supporters, were in attendance at the Whitman Centennial Dinner in New York on May 31st, 1919. Keller was called upon to offer remarks about Whitman, but changed the course of the program and instead talked about Traubel. Here’s what she said which brought the large crowd of attendees to a standing ovation:

Dear Comrades and Fellow-Admirers of Walt Whitman: I came here to listen, not to speak. But, since the Chairman has called upon me, being a woman, I avail myself of this opportunity to talk. There are so many here paying eloquent tributes to Walt Whitman, I want to say a word to the chiefest of his lovers, Horace Traubel.

To stand up here and talk about Horace Traubel is like proclaiming the charms and the desirability of one’s sweetheart from the housetops. The truth is, I love Horace Traubel. To discuss him in this public fashion is, therefore, somewhat embarrassing, especially as this is our first meeting. But since we are all “comrades and lovers,” you will let me tell of my admiration and affection for one whom we all love.

There are two men in Horace Traubel. I suppose that is why we love him twice as well as we love other men. He is a mystic, and he is a realist. His heart is full of dreams and ardent sentiments, and yet he is a most profound observer of men and their actions. He has thought out a scheme of life for himself. His interpretation of the world we live in, while deeply poetical, is very practical and human. He loves the just and the unjust, the wicked and the good, the rich and the poor, because of the inclusiveness of his nature. These antitheses are revealed in his writings. He is angry with evil; he hates injustice and wickedness. But he holds out his kind hand to sinners and draws them to him with cords of human love. There is but one thing he asks of men and women—that they shall love one another. His kindness and magnanimity are inexhaustible. Indeed, there is something of the Savior about his interest in human beings, and his sympathy with their struggles. To him neither the individual nor the crowd is vile. He finds in each man and in the mass beautiful, common, elemental qualities of humanity. It is upon these qualities that Horace Traubel rests his hopes for the future. For him love, valor, self-sacrifice and the free spirit exist, and they are the only vital facts of life. They constitute the important and essential part of his scheme of a better world. Yet he penetrates far into the structure of our social order, and comprehends what is wrong with it. It is here that the mystic and the realist clasp hands. He is the great Optimist, and his work is wholesome and encouraging. His dream is persuasive and inspiring.

That is why we love Horace Traubel.


Now as for the gift I mentioned, here it is! It’s a rare 1930 video of Helen Keller along with Ann Sullivan, her tutor, teacher, mentor and lifelong companion, describing how this brilliant, amazing and triumphant woman learned to overcome the enormous challenges of her disabilities. It is a truly remarkable and touching story.



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

Happy birthday!



Schmidgall, Gary, ed. (2006). Conserving Walt Whitman’s Fame. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. pp.401-402.

Helen Keller on Wikipedia

Helen Keller on You Tube



A National Treasure Destroyed: The Story of Whitman’s Gold Watch

After suffering yet another paralytic stroke in June of 1888, in a severely weakened and fragile state of health, Whitman wrote a will at the urging of Dr. Bucke. In this lengthy Last Will and Testament, written in his own hand, he mentions his desire for who should have, among many other personal items, his gold pocket watch.  Whitman writesI give to Harry Stafford of Marlton New Jersey my gold watch. I give my friend Peter Doyle the silver watch.

Although many of those closest to Whitman in 1888 feared the worse for him and believed that he may pass at any time, Whitman lived for another four years. In January 1892 Whitman said to Traubel, “…it appears to me, Horace, my will is not yet right: it does too much in some directions, too little or nothing in some others.” Traubel agreed to summon (attorney and literary executor) Thomas B. Harned to oversee the requested changes. Traubel says to Whitman, “I shall go up to see him at once.” Whitman replies, “Yes, tell him there are some changes to make—that I am determined upon them.”

Later that same day, following lunch, Traubel and Harned returned together to Whitman’s home on Mickle Street. Harned asked Whitman if he wished to make changes to the will.  W. said:

“Yes, that was right. I want to make some changes in the will. It fails to satisfy me as it is. How can the changes be made? Will you have to rewrite the whole document?” “No, only add a codicil, which you will have to sign. Do you think you can sign it?” “Oh yes, I can—I must.” I passed into the next room and got H. a writing pad. He sat on edge of bed, pencil in hand. W. dictated several items, starting always, “I wish to leave”—$200 to Mrs. Van Nostrand instead of $1000, $200 to Walt Whitman Fritzinger, “to be invested for him,” he added, even stopping to spell this name, “a new baby—a dear little one—born a week ago, and named after me—yes, Harry’s boy.” Further changed the gold watch from Harry Stafford to H.L.T. and the silver watch from Pete Doyle to Harry Stafford and reduced Mrs. Stafford to $200, from $250 (though he contended it was $450), and then he asked, “And Mrs. George Whitman my executrix—eh? That is all fastened?” And after Harned’s “Yes,” “And Dr. Bucke, you Tom, and Horace, to have my papers—literary belongings of whatever character.” “That, too, is all down already, Walt.” “Well then you have the substance of my changes.”


Just two months later, on March 26th, 1892, Whitman died.  Upon his death as Whitman wished, Traubel received the gold watch.  (I seem to recall reading that Traubel wore that watch and showed it off at the annual Whitman Fellowship Dinners held on Whitman’s birthday. I’ll try to locate and share this missing piece of the story).


David Karsner’s bio on Horace Traubel, 1919


Many years later, in 1919, David Karsner, a longtime personal friend to Horace Traubel, completed a biography on Traubel; just months prior to Traubel’s own death. Karsner writes,

 “Traubel left no will. He had often said that he wanted his Whitman collection to go to the Library of Congress. The large gold watch which Walt Whitman had given to him in his will, he in turn requested that that be given to Malcolm Aalholm, his infant grand-son.  All other personal matters and effects come into the possession of Anne Montgomerie Traubel.”


The Destruction of the Watch

     In the article “Recollections of Charles Feinberg[1] by C. Carroll Hollis, we learn of the awful destruction of Whitman’s watch. Hollis writes:

 “Sometimes [Feinberg’s] generous enthusiasm for the Whitman cause had funny-sad consequences, as in the strange episode of Whitman’s watch. Some months after I met Charles, he asked me to come home with him for there was something he wanted to show me. On the way there he explained that in the mass of items he had received from Annie Traubel there was Whitman’s watch that he had willed to Horace. Horace’s son had died as a child, but there was a grandson (Gertrude’s son Malcolm) who had run away years before and had never kept in touch with the family. Even so, Charles reasoned, the watch really belonged to this boy (by then, of course, a grown man), so he hired a detective to track down the address (somewhere in Iowa, I believe).When the address was found, Charles carefully packaged the watch in a neat square box with plenty of padding, enclosed a little note explaining the background of the gift, congratulated the new owner on his unusual inheritance, and invited a reply about his Whitman interests and memories.

By that time we had reached Charles’s home, and as we entered he pointed to the hall table and said, “It just came back.” There was the unwrapped square package, opened to reveal the remains of the watch – the crystal shattered, the face crushed, with the hands awry, the spring unsprung and twisted around to make a little nest. No one looking at the now-shattered watch could miss what had happened: the grandson’s anger at his mailing address being discovered, the growing frustrated rage as he read Charles’s innocent letter, the renewed rejection of all that Whitman worship, and finally going to his work-table, seizing the hammer, and giving Walt Whitman’s Waltham Watch one well-aimed blow. One can even imagine the grim satisfaction in wrapping it up again and sending back this emphatic rejection. I may not remember everything about the incident, but I’ll never forget Charles’s honest distress, “What did I do wrong?” And to such an upright, decent man, it was a deep shock, I’m sure. I think I repeated the well-known truism that children of literary parents often reject their parents’ enthusiasms. Perhaps young Malcolm had had an overdose of the Whitman reverence that dominated the Traubel household.

So Charles’s well-meant gift may not have been seen that way at all but as a ploy to get him back into a family situation he could not stand. I doubt my attempts to explain away the occasion of Charles’s deep hurt were very helpful, but as we talked he seemed to get back his usual cheerful composure. Finally, I asked what he was going to do with it – try to get in touch with Malcolm again? repair the watch? throw it away? He replied, in a return to his normal bright manner, “Oh, I can’t throw it out! It’s still Walt’s watch, you know, so I’ll just keep it.”

I often wonder if Charles ever told Gertrude about the watch … and, indeed, to this day I don’t know what finally did happen to it. But certainly none of his other many benefactions was ever rejected.”


What may be the last interesting footnote in this story, Malcolm Wallace Aalholm, (born April 8, 1918 to Horace’s daughter Gertrude Traubel and NY architect Albert Clement Aalholm) died just this year, May 23, 2013 at age 95 in Parsippany, NJ.

As far as I have been able to tell, no one has ever been able to ascertain why Aalholm smashed Whitman’s watch. Obviously he possessed some deeply-rooted negative feelings of Whitman because he impulsively smashed the watch before considering the possibility that it could have some monetary value from which he possibly might gain by selling it. Whatever the motivation may have been for this unfortunate turn of events may never be known.


Ah yes!  You might wonder, what’s the story on the silver watch given to Harry Stafford after Whitman’s death!?!  That’s another story for another day…


[1] Feinberg, owner of Marathon Oil Co., amassed a massive collection of Whitman materials in his lifetime and donated all (well most of it, he sent many Whitman books, papers and materials to libraries across the US who otherwise had no Whitman materials to encourage and further the study of Whitman) the majority of the collection was sent to the Library of Congress. Feinberg died in 1988.



Traubel, Horace. (1906). With Walt Whitman in Camden (March 28 – July 14, 1888). Boston: Small, Maynard & Company. pp.306-312.

Traubel, Horace. (1996). With Walt Whitman in Camden (October 1, 1891 – April 3, 1892). California:  Oregon House. p. 289.

Karsner, David. Horace Traubel, His Life and Work. New York:  Egmont Arens. 1919.

Recollections of Charles Feinberg


Ten Notebooks and a Cardboard Butterfly Missing from the Walt Whitman Papers

Ten Notebooks and a Cardboard Butterfly Missing from the Walt Whitman Papers. 1954 Library of Congress publication

Ironically and appropriately enough for today’s date, December 7th, the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, what I present to you today is a 1954 publication by the Library of Congress, authorized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ten Notebooks and a Cardboard Butterfly Missing from the Walt Whitman Papers.

This thirty-eight page bound document prepared by the Acting Librarian of Congress details the temporary transfer and the loss of several items of the Thomas B. Harned Whitman Collection from the Library of Congress. As the threat of World War II loomed upon the US in the early 1940’s, the entire Whitman collection was moved from Washington D.C. to an unnamed “Mid-Western library”[1] as a means of protecting it, should D.C. become under attack from enemy forces.

The intro page of this document written by the Acting Librarian reads:


Ten Notebooks and a Cardboard Butterfly Missing from the Walt Whitman Papers

Thomas B. Harned of Philadelphia was one of the three literary executors of Walt Whitman among whom the poet’s manuscripts were divided at his death in 1892. In 1917-1918, Mr. Harned presented his share of the papers, which included a group of 25 notebooks, to the Library of Congress, where they are designated as the Walt Whitman Papers. The notebook collection was made available for general consultation in 1921, and from 1925 on was used extensively by students of American Literature.

In 1942, the Walt Whitman Papers, in sealed packing cases, were evacuated from Washington for war-time security, and were kept in a separate and continuously guarded area of a Mid-Western library until their return to the Library of Congress, with seals unbroken, in early October 1944. When the collection was unpacked it was discovered that 11 items – 10 notebooks and the cardboard butterfly – were missing.

Searches were immediately instituted. It was at first supposed that the missing pieces had been misplaced, despite precautions, during the procedures of evacuation. These searches proved fruitless. It therefore soon became necessary to face the possibility that the missing items had been deliberately removed at some time prior to the evacuation of 1942. Studies were made to collect every scrap of evidence regarding the use and users of the Papers from 1925 on and the assistance of the investigative agencies of the Federal Government was enlisted. For the want of a periodic piece-by-piece inventory of the very miscellaneous contents of the Papers, it is not possible to state the latest date at which they were intact. There is, however, evidence from records of use of individual pieces that the group of notebooks was intact as late as April 1941.

The purpose of the present circular (prepared on advice of the Federal Bureau of Investigation) is, in Part I, to identify and describe the missing pieces. Because the Library had made for itself no copies of these pieces, the descriptions are based upon extracts and other data contained in published books, and particularly in The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman, edited by Emory Holloway (New York, Doubleday, Doran, 1921), vol. 2, p. 62-97, and upon Photostats made from the originals before their disappearance for two Whitman scholars, Prof. William L. Finkel and Prof. Ernest E. Leisy, and now by them made again available for the Library’s use. It is thus possible to reproduce here portions of all the missing items.

It is urgently requested that any person who has any knowledge or well-founded supposition of the whereabouts of the missing times, at present or any time since they were separated from the Whitman Papers, will not fail to communicate such information to the Chief of the Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress, Washington 25, D.C. All information received will be treated as confidential and will be acted upon with caution and tact. The only object in soliciting this cooperation is to restore the integrity of this important collection.

In Part II, the manuscripts in the Library of Congress relating to Walt Whitman are described.

Verner W. Clapp

Acting Librarian of Congress

Washington 25, D.C.


April 1954


Forty-one years passed without a trace of the missing notebooks. Then in January of 1995, a *BIG* discovery, four of the ten missing notebooks and the cardboard butterfly were discovered and have been returned to the Library of Congress. Follow the link below to discover how the missing items were located, confirmed to be the missing originals and returned to the Library.


Missing Whitman Notebooks Returned to Library of Congress


1995 article from the Library of Congress “Civilization Magazine” announcing the return of four of the missing notebooks and the cardboard butterfly.


Sadly, still to this day, some sixty years later, there are still six Whitman notebooks that remain missing. How many more years will pass before they are discovered!?! Will they ever be discovered!?!


[1] An interesting (maybe only to me) footnote in this story, the “continuously guarded Mid-Western library” where the Whitman Papers were temporarily relocated in 1942 just happened to be Denision University in Granville, OH, just a few miles from my own home!




1869 Letter to Whitman from Dr. William A. Hawley

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Whitman received countless letters from people the world over. In Traubel’s Volume 4 of With Walt Whitman in Camden,  there’s a very poignant letter to Whitman from a Dr. William A. Hawley, from Syracuse, NY. The letter is dated, August 10, 1869 and was sent to Whitman while he was still in Washington D.C. at the Attorney General’s Office. *

Of course we know that Whitman very rarely discarded anything. Twenty years after the date of the letter, on Saturday, March 16, 1889, Whitman passes this on to Horace Traubel for his ever-growing collection of Whitman materials. Whitman says of the letter, “It’s from one of the unknowns—or the less knowns: he’s a doctor of the homeopathic stripe: he sends his picture: there’s something tender and beautiful to me in his few words: he does not pile it on—is simple, says a little, does not overdo it.”

After reading this touching letter, I felt a personal connection to what Dr. Hawley had to say to Whitman. I did a bit of Google-sleuthing and found some interesting information on Dr. Hawley that I will share after the letter below. Here’s the letter:









It’s a rather disappointing tale in what happens next between Whitman and Dr. Hawley. If we fast-forward seven months to Thursday, October 31, 1889, we learn Dr. Hawley paid a personal visit to Whitman at his home in Camden. Whitman tells Traubel in Vol. 6 of WWIC:

     “I had another visitor today—a man, Hawley—from Syracuse or Rochester—a doctor, medical doctor. He bought 2 copies L. of G.: one for himself, one for a friend in the city—Kent, was his name, I think. He says he told Kent he was going to devote this afternoon to this visit, and then Kent, who knew nothing about me, gave him money for the book—probably from a curiosity to know how the wild beast looked at close quarters. O yes! Hawley was a medical doctor—a homeopathist. He even started to talk about me—discuss me physically—but I would have none of it—told him I was not open to discussion at that point.”

Recall I earlier described this visit as rather disappointing; surely Dr. Hawley was delighted to finally meet Whitman in the flesh, some twenty years after his touching letter to Whitman. But as we see by Whitman’s account above, W. almost seems annoyed at Dr. Hawley’s presence, as least as it is retold to Traubel.

Whitman was understandably at this time in his life in a very weakened and fragile state of health, in fact, he told Traubel earlier this very same day, “My head has been in a queer chaotic condition—as though in a whirl of phlegm. I was not in my best condition…”

It does seem possible that Whitman in his cloudy-headed state had not made the connection of his present visit by Dr. Hawley as the same man who wrote the 1869 “tender and beautiful letter…“. Surely and sadly, this had to be a disappointment to Dr. Hawley to meet Whitman with some amount of disapproval on Whitman’s part.

So just who is this Dr. Hawley you ask? Well, as a result of a little Google-sleuthing, William A. Hawley was born August 28, 1820 and died May 16, 1891. As Whitman mentioned, Dr. Hawley was a homeopathic doctor who was very highly regarded both in terms of his interpersonal relations to those around him and in his career field. I found an obituary which provides further background information and reveals his significance to the homeopathic field of early medicine.


Dr. Hawley is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse, NY.


* As background info, it is interesting to note, that in 1869, the date of Dr. Hawley’s letter, Whitman was working on his fifth printing of Leaves of Grass. While Whitman at this time was gaining some bit of prominence with his English audience, he was still mostly frowned upon with the US audience and still widely regarded with disgust and disdain. As such, it should not be difficult for one to imagine Whitman’s delight in receiving this very touching letter in 1869.



Traubel, Horace. (date). With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume 4 (January 21 to April 7, 1889).     Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 365.

Traubel, Horace & Traubel, Gertrude ed. 1982. With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume 6 (September     15, 1889-July 6, 1890). Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern IL University. pp. 103.

Allen, Henry C., M. D., ed. 1891. The Medical Advance: A Monthly Magazine of Homeopathic Medicine.     Chicago, John Rice Miner.




The Contralto

So with apologies, I’ve been absent from the site a bit, but I can assure you, I have not been absent of Whitman! With much thanks to Whitman, I’ve discovered the contralto voice! This is a giant step for me, having never been interested in anything with the opera, whatsoever.  But I am happy to discover a new infatuation with the opera, in particular the contralto voice.

In Whitman’s time, Marietta Alboni was the contralto.  In fact, she is widely considered to be the best contralto ever.  You can be certain I’ll share more about Marietta Alboni in future posts. In Whitman’s own words, “Alboni had a big influence on me, on Leaves of Grass, without her, there would be no Leaves of Grass.”

Unfortunately, no recordings survive of Marietta Alboni’s voice.  But one great modern day contralto I have discovered (ok, two great modern day contralto’s) are Ewa Podles and Marijana Mijanovic.

There is a definite and distinct difference in their vocal range.  Ewa has a deeper and more mature sound than Marijana.  But I have come to realize a deep appreciation for them both!

Take a listen…

Ewa Podles


Marijana Mijanovic