Commentary

Interviews and Reminiscences

About this Item

Title: A Talk with Walt Whitman

Creator: J. Alfred Stoddart

Date: March 19, 1891

Publication information: Truth 19 March 1891: 10.

Source: Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue.

Whitman Archive ID: med.00675

Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney




image 1

A TALK WITH WALT WHITMAN.

WALT WHITMAN is one of the handsomest men I ever saw. Although carefully wrapped and arranged in his arm-chair to avoid danger from draughts, one can see that his form still retains much vigor of outline and the hand which he extends to you so cordially is large and firm.

"Yes," he said, in answer to my apologies for disturbing him, "I am feeling badly, but in that respect I am getting to be like the eel that was skinned. I have been ill so much, I am getting used to it."

"There is nothing for me to tell, save that I am still here—still at it—happy in my work and in the possession of my friends. I feel that I am near the end of my rope, but I am still writing and will shortly bring out another book, probably my last. It is called 'Good-bye, My Fancy,' and is now in the press.

"I suffer, of course, from my paralysis and lately from catarrh in the head; perhaps, when the weather settles and I can get down to the river and out in the air, I may improve. I hope so. I feel near the end, however."

Whitman looks upon the approach of death in such a cheerful and unregretful manner, that one hardly dares to reassure him, although his healthful color, his firm voice and, above all, the vigor of his intellect would seem to indicate many years still in store for him.

"As to my poetry," he continued, "you know I am a Democrat. Democracy and freedom are the keynotes—the theme to which I have always tuned my lyre. Above all I am an American, and my love has always been with this great republic of ours and its people. I have mixed with them and lived with them high and low, and always found them lovable and noble.

"My 'Leaves of Grass' was the growth which arose from just this democratic life. Type-setting, carpentering, editing, army nursing, all these resulted in my love for humanity and sympathy in their joys and sorrows; and so 'Leaves of Grass' grew, and when at last I came to write it was only to gather up the thoughts and record them by means of pen and ink."

"The book made more of a stir than I had expected, although most of the criticism was unfavorable. But apart from the host who criticized my work and called me bad names, there were many friends who thought with me and encouraged me in my theories. Emerson bravely came to the front, as did Thoreau, in my behalf. Tennyson has always been friendly.

Strangely enough, I have been more appreciated in England than in democratic America. The two volumes, 'Leaves of Grass,' and 'Two Rivulets,' published in '76, were sold mainly on the other side, and I received from there many kind letters regarding them; this early recognition I shall never forget. I do not complain, however, of neglect here. I have many friends now on this side of the water, and have never regretted my independent course.

"Since 'Leaves of Grass,' I have published several other volumes—some of them additions to the 'Leaves'—all of them endeavoring to express my love and admiration for the men and women of this great country. My aim, as expressed recently in Lippincott's Magazine, has been to combine in poetic expression the forty-four States in one identity—fused, equal and independent!"

I dared trespass upon the time of the sufferer no longer and arose to go. I expressed the hope of seeing him again and in better health, but the good gray poet shook his head.

"I have had many attacks before this," he said, "but none so protracted and gloomy as this one. Good-bye. Give my regards to all my friends, and particularly to the press fellows, for I never forget that I was one of them."

J. ALFRED STODDART

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