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Conserving Walt Whitman's Fame

Selections from Horace Traubel's Conservator, 1890-1919

Schmidgall, Gary

Publication Year: 2006

It is now difficult to imagine that, in the years before Whitman's death in 1892, there was real doubt in the minds of Whitman and his literary circle whether Leaves of Grass would achieve lasting fame. Much of the critical commentary in the first decade after his burial in Camden was as negative as that in Boston's Christian Register, which spoke of Whitman as someone who “succeeded in writing a mass of trash without form, rhythm, or vitality.”That the balance finally tipped toward admiration, culminating in Whitman's acceptance into the literary canon, was due substantially to the unflagging labor of Horace Traubel, famous for his nine volumes of Whitman conversations but less well known for his provocative monthly journal of socialist politics and avant-garde culture, the Conservator.Conserving Walt Whitman's Fame offers a generous selection from the enormous trove of Whitman-related materials that Traubel included in the 352 issues of the Conservator. Among the revelatory, perceptive, and often entertaining items presented here are the most illuminating of the Conservator's more than 150 topical essays on Whitman and memoirs by many of his friends and literary cohorts that shed new light on the poet, his work, and his critical reception. Also important is the richer understanding these pages afford of Horace Traubel's own sophisticated, deeply humane, and feisty views of America.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Note on the Text

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

This project sparked to life one summer day several years ago when, by happenstance, I came upon a perfect run of Horace Traubel’s Conservator in an open-stack basement of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. That serendipitous moment offers the perfect occasion to register my considerable debt of gratitude to the Huntington Library. A few well handled...

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Tonic Emanation: Walt Whitman in the Conservator

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pp. xvii-lviii

On Saturday, March 15, 1890, Horace Logo Traubel headed to Mickle Street in Camden, New Jersey, for one of his daily visits with Walt Whitman. A very special request must have been on his mind, for this was the official natal day of a new monthly journal he had decided to publish. Its chief intention would be “to give a voice to the voiceless” and “to Liberalism as variously...

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1. Horace Traubel’s Editorial Style, Credos, and Worldview

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pp. 1-35

In perhaps the most revealing and poignant article reproduced in this volume, “Lincoln and Herndon,” Horace Traubel explained his pride in being a “background man” to the spectacularly front-stage center Walt Whitman. In spite of the three early twentieth-century biographies by Mildred Bain, William English Walling, and David Fulton Karsner, Traubel has remained...

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2. Memoirs of Walt, Leaves of Grass, and the Whitman Circle

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pp. 36-104

In 1896 Laurens Maynard began his appreciation of William Sloane Kennedy’s just-published Reminiscences of Walt Whitman with this assertion: “It is, I presume, an admitted fact that the time is not yet when the definitive life of Walt Whitman can be written. At present the best service that can be performed to Whitman’s cause must consist in putting on record the...

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3. Topical Articles on Whitman

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pp. 105-192

Nearly 150 substantial articles on Whitman, defined as more than about 750 words, appeared in the Conservator (any item shorter is considered a filler). Most of these ran between three and six columns in length, or about 1,500 to 3,000 words; perhaps a dozen or so reached 5,000 words. Not surprisingly, prominent among the authors of these articles were members of the Whitman...

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4. Publisherial: Reviews and Notices of Whitman Editions

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pp. 193-220

Its editor being a literary coexecutor of Whitman’s estate, the Conservator was bound to give considerable attention—and substantial free advertising space—to editions of the poet’s works and words. Executorial projects were, of course, treated well, and hateful “semi demi Whitmans” purporting to be the complete Leaves of Grass were regularly damned. In the early years, the stock of...

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5. The Whitman Wars: Rejecters, Defenders, Reception

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pp. 221-320

Walt looked back on his career in early 1889 and told Horace, “I expected hell: I got it: nothing that has occurred to me was a surprise.” Then he added, “there probably is still more to come” (W3: 515). He was right. The etiquette of not speaking ill of the dead was not observed in his case. Hell kept a-coming, but loyal hell-fighters were usually ready to come to the...

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6. Sex Morality

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pp. 321-346

In his review of a 1910 book on Whitman, Traubel had occasion to make this telling contrast: “{Carleton} Noyes goes to Walt through the great libraries. I go to him through the great streets. . . . Maybe I make more of Calamus and Children of Adam. Make more of revolt. More of sex, surely” (226). Traubel was being quite accurate: his journal made more of sex than all...

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7. Fillers and Squibs: A Whitman and Traubel Potpourri

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pp. 347-379

In the June 1900 Conservator appeared a curious filler, taking up a third of a column, which consisted simply of a short Whitman letter written to Charles Warren Stoddard in San Francisco on April 23, 1870. In it the poet thanks Stoddard for his “affectionate” letter describing apparently homoerotic experiences in the western Pacific, what Whitman calls “your beautiful &...

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8. The Whitman Centennial Issue,May 1919

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pp. 380-402

I know you can tell me how old Walt Whitman is this year. But how old are you? That’s more important.Howmany years old or young are you? How many years sensible or senseless? How many years merciful or malignant? Howmany years illuminated or blind? It dont matter so much whether he served or not. Have you served? Are you serving? Can you really tell your...

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pp. 403-404

If all the theologies (guesses about God) were to sink in the quicksands of the word war. If all Greek and Hebrew originals were lost. Out of Leaves of Grass would come the flowers of worship satisfying the soul, and forms and ceremonies to meet the use of temples and groves in the religious expression of vital events, as marriage and burial ceremonies. “Whispers of Heavenly...

Appendix 1. Topical Articles on Whitman in the Conservator

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pp. 405-408

Appendix 2. Libraries Holding the Conservator

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pp. 409-410


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pp. 411-418

E-ISBN-13: 9781609380021
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877459729

Publication Year: 2006