It may be helpful to read this previous post first, but today while researching another topic over at the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, I stumbled upon an article that convincingly settles my mind on whether or not Horace Traubel did in fact, turn his back on Warren Fitzinger.
You might recall that Warren had agreed to stay-on and care for Whitman in the last remaining years of Whitman’s life. According to Whitman’s last nurse, Elizabeth L. Keller, author of the book Walt Whitman in Mickle Street; Whitman executors Thomas Harned, Horace Traubel and Dr. Bucke feared that Whitman might pass at any time and urged Warren to stay and assist with Whitman’s care with the promise, according to Keller, that “should he remain to Whitman’s demise, they would stand by him and see him placed in some good way of earning a livelihood.” (121).
What I found to be most unsettling in Keller’s book was the slanderous charge where she alleges after Whitman’s death, Warren sought out the assistance for employment from the three executors who “turned their back on him” and offered no support.
What I found today at the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review is an article written in 1994, by Joann P. Kreig, “Letters from Warrie” which offers convincing evidence to contradict the story of the broken promise as Keller alleges.
Kreig states that Traubel wrote a letter to his close acquaintance, J.W. Wallace in Bolton, England on August 16, 1893. In the letter, Traubel writes, “Harned got Warren a good job in Camden which he forfeited by misbehavior. Say nothing of this.” Kreig goes on to speculate that the natural assumption here is that this was never told to Keller, perhaps to save embarrassment to Warren for whatever the misbehavior may have been that led to his termination of employment. Further along in this article, Kreig offers another passage written by Traubel to Wallace as supportive evidence. On August 12, 1893, Traubel writes, “Harned got Warry a place in the Camden Safe Deposit Company’s building as a watchman but he acted rather unreputably [sic] and they would not keep him. I tell you this frankly because you have always unduly coddled him. And yet I wish no other but Johnston to see what I have written here.”
Further research will be required to determine what, if anything is known about the ‘misbehavior’ that Warren exhibited. But what is convincingly evidenced here is that Traubel, Harned and Bucke did follow through on their word and did not, in fact, turn their backs on Warren when he requested their assistance.
And regarding the issue of Mary Davis and the lawsuit against the Whitman estate for unpaid services (in which she successfully won a settlement), Kreig references another letter by Traubel to Wallace, from January 18, 1894. In the days before the trial began, Traubel writes, “[If she would have simply] brought the bill to me and Harned, we would not have paid but would have advised George [Whitman] to meet her and make some amicable arrangement.”
In the footnote, Kreig writes, “Trauble and Harned evidently forgave Mary Davis, for she was invited to the International Whitman Fellowship birthday dinner on May 31, 1895, and attended. (Letter of Traubel to J.W. Wallace, June 2, 1895).”
So there we have it, rest a little easier my friends. While Elizabeth Keller was present in Whitman’s home and had the opportunity to observe Whitman and his close acquaintances, her book is merely a worthy biography on Mary Davis. Much of what Keller alleges as slanderous truths against Whitman and his close acquaintances have been refuted.
Keller, Elizabeth Leavitt. Walt Whitman in Mickle Street. New York: J. J. Little and Ives Company, 1921.
Kreig, Joann. (Spring, 1994). Letters from Warrie. Walt Whitman Quarterly Review. http://ir.uiowa.edu/wwqr/vol11/iss4/2/
Walt Whitman Archive. http://whitmanarchive.org/criticism/disciples/traubel/WWWiC/8/whole.html