Whitman was connected with many important and influential people throughout his life, but for Whitman biographers, perhaps none other was more important than Horace Traubel. Traubel’s name is often found in all studies of Whitman, for Traubel made it his own life work to document all he could about the “Good Gray Poet.”
Traubel met Whitman at the age of 15, Whitman was 54. Their friendship caused a bit of a stir because of their difference in age. However, they remained close friends and allies for the remainder of Whitman’s life. Starting in 1888 and to the end of Whitman’s life in 1892, Traubel made daily visits to Whitman’s home on 328 Minkle Street and kept meticulous notes about their conversations. Traubel documented all the conversations; everything from the interesting to the mundane. Traubel had accumulated massive amounts of his own transcribed notes of their discussions; collected letters written to and by Whitman; and stockpiled photos and documents given to him by Whitman himself. This documentation has proved invaluable to Whitman historians.
There’s a humorous exchange between Whitman and Traubel in volume 1 of With Walt Whitman on page 210. After reading a letter Whitman had handed him, Traubel asks:
“Is this letter of any use to you any more?” Whitman responds, “None whatever – is it any use to you?” Traubel “didn’t say a word.” Whitman looked at him, stated, “I see you want me to say, take it. Well – I say it. You are the victim of a disease I should not encourage – but then we’ve agreed to work together – you’re my partner – there’s no use quarreling over trifles. Take the letter – and the devil be with you.”
Whitman knew that Traubel intended to write a biography, but what Whitman did not know is that Traubel would publish a work of Whitman as thoroughly and completely as he did. It was Traubel’s intention to publish all of his notes in a series called, With Walt Whitman in Camden. Traubel accomplished in completing the first three editions of the series before his own death in 1919. Since then, six other editions have been completed, with the final ninth edition of Traubel’s notes published as recently as 1996.
Traubel’s death in 1919 is interesting to note as well. From the Walt Whitman Archive:
“Traubel attended one last centenary event—the August dedication of a huge granite cliff at the Bon Echo estate in Canada, to be named “Old Walt” and inscribed with Whitman’s words in giant letters. On 28 August Traubel, while sitting in a tower room where he could look out on Old Walt, shouted that Whitman had just appeared above the granite cliff “in a golden glory.” “He reassured me, beckoned to me, and spoke to me. I heard his voice but did not understand all he said, only ‘Come on'” (qtd. in Denison 196). Traubel died at Bon Echo on 3 September and was buried in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, close to Whitman’s tomb.
Thanks to Wikipedia, here’s a photo from the dedication at Bon Echo. Horace Traubel is not in the photo, presumably due to his ill health. But what is most remarkable is that Traubel lived to see this event, as he had wished, but sadly his life ended shortly after this dedication. Here’s the photo taken at the dedication, August 1919:
Traubel Image: Walt Whitman Archive. http://www.whitmanarchive.org/criticism/disciples/tei/anc.00249.html
Traubel, Horace. (1906). With Walt Whitman in Camden (March 28 – July 14, 1888). Boston: Small, Maynard & Company. pp. 210.
Folsom, Ed. (1998). “Horace L. Traubel.” The Walt Whitman Archive. http://www.whitmanarchive.org/criticism/disciples/tei/anc.00249.html
Bon Echo image: Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bon_Echo_-_Old_Walt.png