Today is a great day indeed! Not only does today mark the First day of Summer, it is also the day I add a new and highly-prized gem to my Whitman book collection! I know, these are two totally unrelated events, but the fact that today is “the longest day of the year” means I have ‘more time’ to enjoy my new treasure!
The book is a first edition copy of Giordano Bruno: Philosopher and Martyr, published by David McKay in 1890. It consists of two addresses about Giordano Bruno, one delivery by Daniel Brinton and the other by Thomas Davidson. Walt Whitman wrote the short preface.
If you know anything about Whitman, you may know that he loved most the ‘radicals and rebels.’ Giordano Bruno certainly fit into those categories in his day. Bruno was an early philosopher and astronomer and in 1600 was burned at the stake for the charge of heresy. You can learn more about Giordano Bruno here.
This book is special not only because Whitman wrote the preface for it, but this particular book is more spectacular because it was handled by Whitman himself and autographed by him in blue pencil! It’s a remarkable treasure! It also contains the signature of Horace Traubel’s daughter, Gertrude Traubel. It likely came into Gertrude’s possession, along with all of the other books, letters, and memorabilia that Traubel had collected from Whitman, after her father died in 1919. Follow this link to the Mickle Street Review to learn more about Gertrude Traubel and her role in furthering the knowledge of Walt Whitman and her father, Horace Traubel.
There are numerous references of the Bruno book documented by Traubel in volume six of With Walt Whitman in Camden. There are a few references in particular that are interesting in relation to this book, on Monday, February 24, 1890, Whitman and Traubel discuss the preface Whitman is to write:
“(Traubel) received a letter from Brinton this morning, saying the Bruno matter would be in type the last of this week. Not having time to go down to W.’s I sent him a note by mail. The first thing now after shaking hands (he was in his room as usual, reading) he said: “I had your note this morning, and”—putting his hand into his inside vest pocket and drawing forth an envelope boldly addressed “Dr. Brinton”—”here is a word or two—probably 5 or 6 lines—impromptued today. They may do—may not: I can hardly say: you will know, I am sure. Send them to the Doctor if you think they will serve his purpose. I am sure I feel it an honor to be asked, and am glad to have my word go in there, for I feel it is in good company.” I met Davidson yesterday and he told me his own speech was to go along with Brinton’s. “And he tells me Walt Whitman is to write the preface.” I laughed at the idea of “preface,” though sure W. would write a few lines, as now he has done. At first he was going to sign simply “Walt Whitman”—but his final thought was to write—”Impromptu words of Walt Whitman”—and so it stands. “I must have proof,” he further said. I put in—”I’ll tell Brinton you want proof and plenty of copies!”—to which with laughter—”Yes, that is better still: that is a point we must not forget.”
On Thursday, April 3, 1890, Traubel writes: “I left with him a big bundle of Bruno books sent to me by Brinton. He smiled upon the bundle. “It is a liberal one, anyhow—no doubt a plenty; and we will try to do justice to it.”
Perhaps this book now in my possession was one in that stack that Traubel carried to Whitman’s home on April 3rd 1890!?!
In another even more remarkable passage – while visiting Whitman on Saturday, April 5, 1890, Traubel writes:
“Informed me he had “sent off a number of the Bruno books today. ” On the table a blue-pencilled memorandum that he had done so to Tennyson, Symonds, Rossetti, Dowden, Sarrazin and some others. He offered the mem. to me. “Suppose you give it to Dr. Brinton to show him how we are bestowing the books.” I suggested retaining till next week—he might have more to send: which he acquiesced in. One copy addressed to Dowden and endorsed, “Walt Whitman America,” he asked me to put in the P.O. as I passed.”
A reference to a blue pencil! Perhaps the very pencil that Whitman used to sign this book now in my collection!?! Marvelous! Here is the book: