Dinner with Walt

all things Walt Whitman

Dinner with Walt - all things Walt Whitman

Happy 197th Birthday!

197 years old today!

Wow! Walt, you’re getting old! But fear not Old Poet, you’re not forgotten! Walt, you’re very much alive today!

In fact, just earlier this year a long-lost letter you wrote to the family of a Civil War soldier was discovered at the National Archives.

And just recently unveiled was another huge discovery, your 1858 news article series on “Manly Health and Training.”

Happy 197th Birthday Old Poet!
Walt Whitman

1878 Photo of Walt Whitman by Napoleon Sarony (Dinner with Walt Collection)

“We must not look back over the shoulders at the world: we should meet each day as it comes with the same assumption: we can make each new day the best of days if we get the habit.” With Walt Whitman in Camden, Vol. IV, p. 297.

Previous birthday posts:

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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

 

Credits:
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.

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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.

 

Credits:

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

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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.

 

Credits:

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.

 

 


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“? Insane Asylum”

In Whitman’s lifetime, he received many countless letters from people the World over.  Many of these people Whitman never met.  The varying content of the numerous letters covered everything on the spectrum from expresses of praise and love, and requests for autographs; to the far other side involving criticism and disgust towards the “dirty poet.”

In 1860, Whitman received a letter from a woman he had never met and after reading the letter, Whitman wrote on the envelope “? Insane asylum.” As Whitman passed the letter to Traubel, on March 8, 1889, for Traubel’s ever-growing collection of Whitman materials, Whitman asked Traubel to read it.

 

W. said: “It’s astonishing how many different sorts of reasons have been given by some people for liking and by many more people for not liking Leaves of Grass: then you’ll find one person liking in it what another person dislikes in it: it makes me dizzy trying to straighten out these extraordinary contradictions.” “Here goes for the other letter,” I said. “Yes,” said W., “read it: see what you can make of it: I have myself had various moods in the matter: I have not the right to determine percentages in a thing like this.” W. had repeated in ink on the end and across the face of the yellow envelope: Letter from Hartford.” He had written in pencil: “? insane asylum.” The envelope was not otherwise addressed or stamped. I asked him how it got into his hands. He said: “How?” and there stopped. Then he added: “Read it: you’ll find it raises more questions than you can answer.” “Did it raise more questions than you could answer?” He said “yes” and “read it” and didn’t seem to want to enlarge. So I let go.

                                                                              Hartford, July 11th, 1860.

     Know Walt Whitman that I am a woman! I am not beautiful, but I love you! I am thirty-two years old. I am one of the workers of the world. A friend carelessly lends me Leaves of Grass for a day. Stealing an hour from labor I take it out for a walk. I do not know what I carry in my arms pressed close to my side and bosom! I feel a strange new sympathy! a mysterious delicious thrill! what means it? It is the loving contact of an affinite soul blending harmoniously with mine. I begin to know Walt Whitman. I have not yet seen him. I feel that I must be alone. I turn my steps to “Zion’s Mill” a cemetery. The sun shines, the air is clear and fine, the birds trill songs, love songs, songs of praise for the boon of existence, or chirrup amorously to each other. They do not hesitate to tell their love: why should I? I seat myself under a tree and muse a moment. A lovely panorama is before me. Hartford and the surrounding country. I hear no human voice, see no human form. The ashes of the dead are spread around me. “Did I say the dead?” I am alone. “Am I alone?” I could sit thus forever with my newly-found soul. But somebody whispers, open your book! What care I for books now (though loved companions ever before). I have that which is better than books. The book opens itself. What do I behold! oh! blessed eyes! I see the image of the great beloved soul, which has already embraced encompassed me. Blessed be thy father and thy mother and the hour of thy conception. Oh! rich is America in her noble, manly, fearless son.

     Know Walt Whitman that thou hast a child for me! A noble beautiful perfect manchild. I charge you my love not to give it to another woman. The world demands it! It is not for you and me, is our child, but for the world. My womb is clean and pure. It is ready for thy child my love. Angels guard the vestibule until thou comest to deposit our and the world’s precious treasure. Then oh! how tenderly, oh! how lovingly will I cherish and guard it, our child my love. Thine the pleasure my love. Mine the sweet burden and pain. Mine the sacrifice. Mine to have the stinging rebuke, the shame. I am willing. My motives are pure and holy. Our boy my love! Do you not already love him? He must be begotten on a mountain top, in the open air. Not in lust, not in mere gratification of sensual passion, but in holy ennobling pure strong deep glorious passionate broad universal love. I charge you to prepare my love.

                                                I love you, I love you, come, come. Write.

                                                                                Susan Garnet Smith
                                                                                Hartford, Connecticut

 

     I said to W.: “Why did you write ‘? insane asylum’ there?” He asked: “Isn’t it crazy?” “No: it’s Leaves of Grass.” “What do you mean?” “Why—it sounds like somebody who’s taking you at your word.” He said: “I’ve had more than one notion of the letter: I suppose the fact that certain things are unexpected, unusual, makes it hard to get them in their proper perspective: the process of adjustment is a severe one.” I said: “You should have been the last man in the world to write ‘insane’ on that envelope.” Then I added: “But the question mark saves you.” W. said: “I thought the letter would mystify you: but no—you seem to have a defined theory concerning it.” I denied this. But I said: “You might as well write ‘insane’ across Children of Adam and the Song of Myself.” He said: “Many people do.” “Yes,” I replied: “they do—but you don’t.” He assented by a nod of the head: “I suppose you are right.” I said: “We will go far ahead some day: do you think the marriage system will remain where it is now?” “That’s impossible.” I asked: “Then what will it lead on to?” He said: “To something in which the law will have little or nothing to say—in which fatherhood and motherhood will have everything to say.” I said: “When you say that, Walt, you practically proclaim this woman sane, don’t you?” He said: “That’s the way it looks to you, does it?” I said: “I don’t know who she was, good or bad, wise or foolish: her letter itself is extraordinary in what it offers, in what it imposes.” W. smiled. “You are eloquent: yes, convincing: you are perhaps putting my felt and not said things into words.” I asked him: “Haven’t you many such things in Leaves of Grass? things felt, atmospheric, not said? This woman has applied you.” W. said: “I don’t know how much validity your argument would possess in a court of law but it has extraordinary force here, now, in this room, as we talk together man to man, without quibbles on either side.” I said to W.: “A woman I knew once asked a man to give her a child: she was greatly in love with him: it was not done: he did not care that much for her: he said to her, ‘all children should be love children’: then he thought she might repent if the thing was done: after his refusal she said: ‘Now I suppose you despise me.’ He said: ‘Despise you? no: I respect you: I feel that you have conferred the highest honor on me.’ Years after, he met her again. She was married—had children. But she said to him: ‘I still love my dream-child best.'” Walt beamed upon me, half in tears, half choked: “Oh Horace! how beautiful, wonderful, final, that is! some things go way beyond anything else—entail incalculable, inestimable, suppositions. I’m glad you told me the story: it’s so unexampled—so like nothing but itself.” Then he paused. “And the moral of it is—”: he said that and stopped as if for me to fill it in. “That the Hartford woman honored herself and honored you.” He said then earnestly: “Yes: no doubt that’s the only conclusion that is justified.”

 

After Whitman’s death, Horace Traubel went on to write and achieved some amount of notability on his own.  However some scholars argue that without Walt Whitman, there would be no Horace Traubel. Many of those same scholars contend that Traubel’s written poems in Optimos were merely mirrored versions of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.  But what I find unique in this passage is the illustration that Traubel influenced Whitman as much as Whitman influenced Traubel. 

 

Oh yea, what do you think about this lady’s letter to Whitman…?  Was she insane? I can’t help but wonder, if instead a young man had written this or a similar sort of letter to Whitman expressing praise and new-found love in the poet, would he have believed the letter writer to be insane!?! 

 

Credits:

Traubel, Horace & Ann M.  (1953). With Walt Whitman in Camden (January 21 to April 7, 1889). Philadelphia. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 312-314.

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