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Reminiscences of Whitman



The Hon. John G. Schumaker, of Brooklyn, talking with a reporter for the New York Tribune, said:

"I knew Whitman very well when he edited the Brooklyn Eagle, and other Brooklyn papers. I never knew him to have a personal enemy. No one who knew him personally can speak ill of him. He gave me an autograph copy of his first 'Leaves of Grass,' but a prominent lady school-teacher borrowed it and never returned it.

"When Walt was in Washington and I was in Congress I saw a great deal of him. He had got to be a Republican and was in the Attorney General's office. Secretary Harland had discharged him from the place given him in the Department of the Interior after he was told that he had written the 'Leaves of Grass.'

"One day in the summer we were riding in the horsecars about Washington, and General Garfield came in the car. Garfield saluted me very cordially, but did not seem to know Whitman. 'Walt,' said I, 'don't you know General Garfield?' 'No,' he replied. Whereupon General Garfield exclaimed, 'Why, is this Walt Whitman?' He came over to our side of the car and talked with him until he reached his hotel. After the General left us I asked Whitman if he had not met the General before. He said not to speak to him, or to be made acquainted. No more was said; but I thought I heard Garfield apologize to Whitman about not doing something he had been asked to do. The moment Garfield came over to our side of the car, I gave him my seat and I took his. They talked in an undertone, but I heard enough to satisfy me that there was something to be explained by the General to Whitman. I never asked what it was, but when Garfield was shot, George W. Childs, of the Philadelphia Ledger, offered a dozen poets (Whitman among the rest) each $100 to write some verses on Garfield. Whitman was asked why he had not accepted the offer. He said he could not do it. He wrote the most admired verses on the death of Lincoln, but he could not get his muse to work off anything for poor Garfield.

After the death of Lincoln—I think I met him the very day at the Fulton Ferry, New York—I was coming to New York and he was going to Brooklyn. I can see him now, all excitement, with his slouch black hat on the back of his head. He had on a short black tailor jacket—no vest, wide turn-over collar, white shirt, broad sailor black pants. He said: 'It is a type of the rebellion. They tried to kill the Nation, but could not. Now they have killed the head of it.' I answered that the whole South should not be blamed for the act of one villain. He shrugged his shoulders, and repeated: 'It is a type of their whole conduct.' He went to his home, I afterward learned, and wrote the poem on the death of Lincoln."

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