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Whitman's Farewell



GOOD-BYE, MY FANCY. An Annex to Leaves of Grass By Walt Whitman. 8vo, pp. 66. Philadelphia: David McKay.

A dreadful photograph resembling nothing so much as a death-mask serves as grim frontispiece to this ultimate publication by Walt Whitman. According to the practice of his later years the volume is written partly in prose and partly in Walt Whitman's peculiar idea of poetry. There is a melancholy flavor about the whole of it, though the old man tries very hard to be cheerful. More than once, however, he refers to the world's refusal to recognize him as a poet. All the great magazines, he declares, have declined to print his lucubrations, and apparently the general public have not fatigued his publisher with orders for his books. The so-called poetry in this volume is naturally of a valedictory character to a considerable extent, and though it is not less prosaic and unmelodious than the writer's earlier productions, the circumstances under which it was written impart a certain suggestion of pathos to it. Walt Whitman does not indeed face the Unknown with apprehensions and misgivings. If he does not appear to cherish Christian hopes and expectations, his Pantheism has not prevented him from maintaining a belief in another existence, and an existence not less adapted to and filled with activity and energy than the present one. Yet he does not speculate much upon the future. Rather does he seem to be chiefly interested in forecasting the ultimate destiny of "Leaves of Grass," which he does not like to think will be relegated to the limbo of unused or unreadable books.

This question is of course not one upon which those who like or who dislike Walt Whitman's writings can pass final judgment. Posterity often does surprising things and adopts queer views. Among its peculiarities is a tendency "parcere subjectis et debellare superbos" to spare the conquered and vanquish the proud ; and for all any one living knows this proclivity may be exercised on behalf of Walt Whitman. As regards his contemporaries, they certainly have not discovered in him the music of the future, and the reasons which have determined the prevailing judgment upon him do not appear weak or capricious. Walt Whitman himself retains a consolatory assurance of his own position, and it is not worth while to attempt to disturb his faith. In the concluding pages of the present volume he gives some autobiographic memoranda which will be found interesting and quaintly illustrative of character. As for the more pretentious papers—attempts at essay-writing and the like—perhaps the less said about them the better. For it is unfortunately the fact that when Walt Whitman tries to be profound he commonly becomes unintelligible, seeming to lose his footing in a bag of verbiage. His passion for stringing words together in catalogue-form recalls old Burton1 at times, though of course Whitman has nothing of Burton's erudition. Let us hope, however, that his last booklet may contribute somewhat to the comfort of his age and the assuagement of his infirmities.


1. to spare the conquered and vanquish the proud [back]

2. Robert Burton (1577-1640), author of Anatomy of Melancholy, wrote in a style notable for lists and catalogues. [back]

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