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his point of view. His theory of inclusiveness contained the best things said and thought in the world. He who, of all men of the century, embodies most the modern movement of expansion, could not be partial in his preparation. He included the scholar no less than the workingman, and his subtle psychology and profound metaphysics and delicate mysticism afford abundant exercise to the scholastic mind. A poem like Eidolons is unequivocal in asserting the supremacy of mind-images, “the entities of entities." Much as he pretended to contemn culture, he was himself its representative. Before 1855 he had read and pondered deeply the meaning of the Bible, Homer (which he knew almost by heart), Ossian, the ancient Hindu poems, Dante, the Greek dramatists, and Shakespeare. He had familiarized his spirit with theirs, and identified himself with their art. He affirms he sat studying long at the feet of the old masters, and this is literally true.
Speaking of Shakespeare, he once said, “If I had not stood before these poems with uncovered head fully aware of their colossal grandeur and beauty of form and spirit, I could not have written Leaves of Grass." The great literatures served as a challenge. They taught him the one thing they can teach an original mind,- selfrespect.
Dead poets, philosophs, priests,
wafted hither, I have perused it, own it is admirable, (moving awhile among it) Think nothing can ever be greater, nothing can ever deserve more
than it deserves, Regarding it all intently a long while, then dismissing it, I stand in my place with my own day here.
At two periods of his life he was much absorbed in reading. In New York, during the years preceding the first edition of his poems, he was an omnivorous reader, and brought himself fully in touch with the drift of thought at the time.
He read newspapers and magazines to keep closer to the people. He read in libraries; and, on the event of an outing to the woods or sea, he would carry a book to provoke thought. The enormous scrap-books he made up at this time, containing articles on every subject, with passages underscored and commented upon, disclose the range and careful
ness of his reading. One of these books contains his own abstract of the poem of the Cid and of the Nibelungen Lied and accounts of Dante and the Divine Comedy. A manuscript note indicates the reading of the Inferno in 1859. Among his memoranda appear directions to procure and read certain books,- as,
« Get Schiller's Complete Works.”
Later at Camden, in the quiet of his seclusion, he again brought himself abreast with the current thought. Concerning his occupation at Timber Creek in 1879, he wrote: “When I feel in the mood I read and filter some book or piece or page or author through my mind, amid these influences, in these surroundings. Queer how new and different the books and authors appear in the open air, with wind blowing and birds calling in the bushes and you on the banks of the negligent pond. I get some old edition of no pecuniary value, and then take portions in my pocket. In this way I have dislocated the principal American writers of my time
Emerson, Longfellow, Whittier, and the rest — with translations of the French Madame Dudevant (always good to me), the German metaphysician Hegel, and nearly all the current foreign poets.
The fruits of much reading and meditation are discoverable in his handling of scientific principles and philosophic formulas, in his penetrative literary criticism, and in the sweeping generalizations that illumine his prose writings. Among his lifelong companions were Scott's novels and Border Minstrelsy. He had known the Arabian Nights from boyhood. He had read Emerson but casually before 1855, but later came to know him intimately. George Sand and Tennyson were prime favorites. He was fond of reciting Ulysses, and he looked the character. A little poem of Mürger's on Death had especial attractiveness. Among the poems he liked to recite were Schiller's Diver, John Anderson, Mürger's Midnight Visitor, The Bridge of Sighs, The Raven, The Passions, and The Battle of Naseby. The sayings of Epictetus and Rousseau's Confessions were among his hand-books. In his
of the Tragedies of Euripides is the memorandum: “ Had this volume at Washington and thro' the war also at Camden altogether all of 20 years.” From Poe he adopted the theory that a poem should be short, the product of single emotions. In one important book he found many of his ideas corroborated. This was Felton's Ancient and Modern Greece, which he came upon at the beginning of the war, and read innumerable times till he knew it by heart. Once in conversation with Sidney Morse he quoted
from Felton the following passage : “ To the Greeks the natural man was not the savage running naked in the woods, but the man whose senses, imagination, and reason are unfolded in their highest reach ; whose bodily force and mental powers are in equipoise, and in full and beautiful action; who has the keenest eye, the surest hand, the truest ear, the richest voice, the loftiest and most rhythmical step; whose passions though strong are held in check, whose moral nature runs into no morbid perversions, and whose intellectual being is robustly developed; whose life moves on in rhythmical accord with God, nature, and man, with no discord except to break its monotony and to be resolved in the harmony of its peaceful and painless close. This is the ideal being, whose nature is unfolded without disease, imperfection, or sin, to perpetual happiness and joy.” No better description than this could be written of Whitman's ideal American. Many such passages might be gleaned from Whitman's scrap-books, which contain similar suggestive ideas. The chief fact, however, is the supremacy,
amid all the books, of Whitman's self. That which he read was taken for verification to his own consciousness. As Horace Traubel says, “ He was never cheated by books.' His knowledge never appeared as pedantry, but was dissolved in the intelligence. If the reading of books made literature or if culture made genius, there would be no lack of these things in the world. Louis James Block describes in a poem to Whitman what seems to me to be the genuine sources of Leaves of Grass :
God, who is Man at highest, and Nature that toils up to Man,
XIII « Publish my name,
” said the poet, “ and hang up my picture as that of the tenderest lover." Whitman had a passion for friends. Sympathy was his fundamental quality. The Calamus poems represent his “ frailest leaves,” yet his «s strongest lasting." He had the rare faculty of drawing all men to him. • Over and
above all ordinary greatness,” said Dr. Bucke, in his funeral address, “Whitman had in an eminent degree that crowning endowment, faculty, quality, or whatever it may be called, the possession of which causes a man to be picked out from the rest and set apart as an object of affection. In his own vivid language, · He has the pass-key of hearts, to him the response of the prying of hands on the knobs.'” Of this fact there are many testimonies. Dr. Bucke in 1877 first called upon the man whose poems he had read with delight and enthusiasm. Long after the interview he said of it: “ It would be nothing more than the simple truth to state that I was by it lifted to and set upon a higher plane of existence, upon which I have more or less continuously lived ever since ; that is, for a period of eighteen years. And my feeling toward the man, Walt Whitman, from that day to the present has been and is that of the deepest affection and reverence. The Rev. Moncure D. Conway visited Whitman on Long Island in 1865, and declared that after meeting him he went off to find himself almost sleepless with thinking of his new acquaintance. “ He had so magnetized me,” he said, “so charged me, as it were, with something indefinable, that for the time the only wise course of life seemed to be to put on a blue shirt and a blouse, and loaf about Mannahatta and Paumanok. And John Burroughs gives testimony: “To tell me that Whitman is not a large, fine, fresh, magnetic personality, making you love him and want always to be with him, were to tell me that whole
life is a deception and all the impression of my perceptions a fraud.” On Whitman's own part the love of men and women was a necessity of his nature.
He compelled devotion. He yearned for sympathy. Emerson once asked him what he found in common people, and Thoreau put the same question:
-- What is there in the people? Pshaw! what do you (a man who sees as well as anybody) find in all this cheating political corruption ?” The poet's answer is not recorded, but its substance may be found in his comment on Tennyson: Tennyson seems to me to be a superb fellow; only with a personality such as his, what a pity not to give himself to men.
A man cannot invest his capital better than in comradeship. Literary men and artists seem to shrink from companionship; to me it is exhilarating, affects me in the same way that the light or storm does.” He fed upon the people as bees
L. N. Fowler, the phrenologist, told him, “You are one of the friendliest men in the world, and your happiness is greatly dependent upon your social relations." Fortunately, his
realized identities were well-nigh universal. Alma Johnston relates an incident of a visit Whitman made to some Indian prisoners in Kansas before the Civil War, in company with the governor of the State and some other officials. Some thirty Indians, all of them chiefs, were grouped in the jail yard, where they sullenly squatted, with their blankets wrapped around them. The governor and the officers were introduced to them, but not a savage moved. Then Whitman in his flannel shirt and his broad-brimmed hat stepped forward, and held out his hand. The leading chiefs looked at him for a moment, grasped his proferred_hand with an emphatic « How!” and turned to the others. Thereupon the Indians rose and greeted him.
explained Whitman, “ they recognized the
me,- a comradeship to which their nature responded.” It would be indeed impossible to exaggerate the affection yielded him by multitudes of persons of every class. Many of the friends of his life are nameless, - men in prisons, hospitals, and workshops, engineers, street-car drivers and conductors, the “ help” on the ferries and pilot boats, omnibus drivers, and, above all, the soldiers of the war. The affection existing between him and these men can hardly be understood, much less described. Only one instance of his “manly attachment” is given permanent record in the letters to Peter Doyle, his « dear son,
is dear boy Pete.' These were men he attracted simply by his personality, who did not know he had ever written a line of poetry or who, if they knew, like Pete Doyle, - did not know what he was trying to get at. He entered into their employments with a cheery,
Come, boys, tell me all about it,” and by his yearning for experience and affection drew the thought out of their minds and the love out of their hearts. For all he would do many services. One winter in New York he drove an omnibus, taking the place of a sick driver in the hospital. It was his custom in Washington to present the street-car drivers with warm gloves for their winter work. He was friendly with all whom he met. Here in a poem is “ a glimpse through an interstice caught"
Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room around the
stove late of a winter night, and I unremark”d seated in a
corner, Of a youth who loves me and whom I love, silently approaching
and seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand, A long while amid the noises of coming and going, of drinking
and oath and smutty jest,