Commentary

Interviews and Reminiscences

About this Item

Title: Whitman's Natal Day

Creator: Anonymous

Date: June 1, 1889

Publication information: The North American 1 June 1889: 1.

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

Whitman Archive ID: med.00793

Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney




image 1

WHITMAN'S NATAL DAY

———

Camden Citizens Tender a Banquet to
the Good Gray Poet.


———

SEVENTY YEARS OLD YESTERDAY


———

The Celebration of the Occasion Brought
Together Many Men of Note from
Both Far and Near.


———

Three-score and ten years ago yesterday there came into the world Walt Whitman the "good gray poet," to whom a testimonial banquet was tendered in Morgan's Hall, Camden, last evening, in commemoration of his seventieth birthday. The occasion was all that could have been expected, barring, perhaps, the absence of a few distinguished people who were invited to be present. The poet himself, though feeble, was there, and distinguished literary lights, authors, clergymen, lawyers, bankers and merchants were also present to do him honor. Two long tables were arranged the whole length of the big room on the second floor, and covers were spread for about two hundred guests. The walls were decorated with flags of all nations, the stars and tri-colors predominating. Music was provided by an orchestra, which was located on the stage.

Seated at the head of the table which joined the two longer ones was pleasant-faced Samuel H. Grey, one of New Jersey's brightest lawyers, who presided at the banquet. At his right was seated Herbert H. Gilchrist, a prominent English artist of Keat's Corner, Well road, Hampstead, London, and who is now in the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts. Next to Professor Gilchrist was Richard Watson Gilder, editor of the Century magine, whom everybody desired to meet and whom Thomas B. Harned desired everybody should meet. A gentleman who never feels lost, over in Jersey is E. C. Knight, whose kindly face beamed across from the end of the table. At Mr. Grey's left Hamlin Garland, of Boston, and a professor in the New England Conservatory, occupied a seat, and talked literature and science with Julian Hawthorne, of New York, son of the great Nathaniel Hawthorne. The youthful-looking but brilliant Supreme Court Justice Charles P. Garrison sat next, and around at the end of the table was John H. Clifford, of Germantown.

———

Scattered about the tables were other men of prominence in nearly every walk of life. Cyrus H. K. Curtis, of the Ladies' Home Journal, talked with H. L. Bonsall, when the latter could stop long enough. Ex-Superintendent of Public Instruction J. A. M. Passmore, who is still obliged to carry a staff, sat alongside of Professor Wiliam H. Samuel, of this city, and Benjamin F. Lee, Clerk of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, was located near Congressman Christopher A. Bergen. School Principal Geoffrey Buckwalter had his hands full, both literally and metaphorically; ditto Comptroller Louis T. Derousse. The portly figure of Thomas Donaldson, politician, adorned the end of one of the tables, and that of Colonel James Matlack Scovel, politician, the other.

Recorder of Deeds George G. Pierie, who went over with Mr. Knight, felt himself at home, as did also David McKay, Lincoln L. Eyre, John Foster Kirk, John J. Boyle and other Philadelphians who were present. Francis B. Lee, one of Trenton's bright young men, who has just finished a course at the Pennsylvania University, enjoyed the speeches.

———

The little neck clams had disappeared and boiled rock a la Holladaise, accompanied by the collicky cucumber, was just coming on, when Poet Walt Whitman was wheeled into the banquet-hall in his big roomy arm-chair. His appearance was the signal for an outburst of applause. Then somebody proposed "Three cheers for Walt Whitman," which were given with a will. He was conveyed around to the head of the table to a place at Mr. Grey's right. The aged poet was clad in that antique garb that, as Editor Gilder said, "no one has been able to imitate."

About seven o'clock the speech-making began. Chairman Grey delivered the address of welcome, to which the poet responded briefly as follows:

"My friends, though announced to give an address, there is no such intention. Following the impulses of the spirit (for I am at least half of Quaker stock), I have obeyed the command to come and look at you for a minute and show myself face to face, which is probably the best I can do. But I have felt no command to make a speeech, and I shall not, therefore, attempt any. All I have felt the imperative conviction to say I have already printed in my books of poems or prose, to which I refer any who may be curious. And so, hail and farewell. Deeply acknowledging this deep compliment with my best respects and love to you personally—to Camden—to New Jersey, and to all represented here—you must excuse me from any word further."

———

Lawyer Thomas B. Harned, one of Poet Whitman's warmest friends, responded to the toast "Our Fellow Citizen," and Herbert H. Gilchrist to the toast "Friends Across the Sea." Francis Howard Williams, of this city, in words of eloquence, treated "The Past and Present." In response to the toast "Prophet and Bard," John H. Clifford delivered an address, and to the "State of New Jersey" Judge E. Ambler Armstrong responded. One of the best speeches of the evening was Judge Charles G. Garrison's response to the toast "Law, Natural and Conventional." Richard Watson Gilder and others also delivered addresses. Throughout the speech-making Poet Whitman reclined in his easy chair sniffing at a big white rose, and every time the name of a prominent literary character was mentioned he vigorously tapped the table with an apollonaris bottle.

A pleasing event of the evening was the presentation to the poet of a handsome plush-covered box, contaning a silver-lined comb and brush, by John H. Johnston, a New York admirer.

———

A telegram was read from Col. Robert G. Ingersoll, from New York, couched in these words: "I am confined to the house from illness, and regret I cannot be with you today. Give more than my regards to Walt Whitman, who has won such a splendid victory over the granitic pudding-heads of the world. He is a genuine continental American."

Letters of regret for their inability to be present, and containing many nice words in praise of the author of "Leaves of Grass," were received from the poet John G. Whittier, Amesbury, Mass.; from Mark Twain, Hartford; Horace Howard Furness, Wallingford; George H. Boker, Philadelphia; Jeanette L. Gilder, New York; W. D. Howells, Boston, and other people distinguished in literature.

The committee that arranged the testimonial banquet to Walt Whitman comprised H. L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, Thomas B. Harned, ex-Senator Alexander G. Cattell, Comptroller Louis T. Derousse, Judge E. A. Armstrong, Cyrus H. K. Curtis and Wilbur F. Rose. The menu cards contained an excellent portrait of Mr. Whitman, with a poem written by Henry L. Bonsall, and dedicated to the poet.

———

Among the guests present were: Peter V. Voorhees, W. N. Bannard, Isaac C. Martindale, Howard M. Cooper, ex-Judge D. J. Pancoast, Dr. W. H. Iszard, General G. W. Gile, Frank Burdsall, Samuel Iszard, Joseph M. Engard, W. A. Howard, Rev. W. P. C. Strickland, Rev. J. L. Corning, B. D. Shreve, Edward Furlong, Surrogate George S. West, Register of Deeds Robert F. S. Heath, Carrol Reeves, Howard Carrow, F. S. Simmons, Dr. Dowling Benjamin, Dr. E. L. B. Godfrey, ex-Judge J. W. Wescott, F. W. Tussey, Bartram L. Bonsall, John Campbell, Jr., John H. McMurray, George E. Frey, C. S. Magrath, Sinnickson Chew, J. R. Eastlack, ex-Comptroller Samuel T. Hufty, Prof. A. P. Brown, A. A. Moss, Maurice Traubel, Lindley M. Garrison, Harrison L. Ferris, D. Somers Risley, Wilson Eyre, J. J. Burleigh, W. H. Fox and many others.

Amid three hearty cheers, followed by the singing of "Auld Lang Syne," the venerable bard was conveyed to his home at 328 Mickle street, where he received a few of his friends.

———

It was a great night for Camden.


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