The Gospel According
To Horace: Horace Traubel And The Walt Whitman Fellowship
Horace Traubel was determined to live until May 31, 1919. The year before, he had suffered a serious stroke, and for the first time since 1889, when he had organized a seventieth birthday party for the ailing poet, he had missed the annual Walt Whitman birthday celebration. This year, the hundredth anniversary of Whitman’s birth, Traubel would not be deterred. At the beginning of May, he moved in with friends in New York City so that if he had another stroke, or a heart attack hit him again—he’d had a few over the last five years—he would not be stuck in Camden as he had been a year ago. As it turned out, there was no need to worry. He was fine on the 31st, was able to walk into the Hotel Brevoort in Greenwich Village. He used a cane now, dragging his paralyzed left leg behind him, but that only emphasized his connection to Whitman, who had also used a cane after a mid-life stroke. Otherwise, there was little physical resemblance between the two men. Walt had been a big man, over six feet tall, whereas Traubel was barely five and a half feet, with noticeably short legs; he liked to joke that he was part dachshund. But he was a strikingly handsome man, with a moustache and a full head of long white hair; both women and men would follow him with their eyes when he walked down the street, dressed in stylishly bohemian fashion with a flowing tie and no overcoat, no matter what the weather.
More than two hundred people were gathered at the Brevoort for the Walt Whitman Fellowship dinner, many of them drawn there as much by Traubel as by Whitman. He had been known as Whitman’s errand-boy when Walt was alive, but now Horace Traubel was a figure in his own right, a poet and writer with three books to his credit and a large network of friends among cultural and political radicals. The artist John Sloan spoke at the Brevoort, and Emma Goldman and Eugene Debs would have sent greetings, as usual, had they not been in prison for their opposition to the World War. Helen Keller was there, invited by Traubel, with whom she had a long-standing epistolary friendship based on their mutual interest in socialist causes. When it was Keller’s turn to speak, she altered the course of the evening’s river of tributes. Others might praise Walt Whitman, but she would honor Horace Traubel. “The truth is, I love Horace Traubel,” Keller said. “We all love [him],” she continued, her effusive tribute climaxing in a comparison of Traubel to Christ: “Indeed, there is something of the Savior about his interest in human beings, and his sympathy with their struggles.” Keller was widely regarded as a secular saint for her brilliant achievements despite deafness and blindness, and she willingly assumed priestly authority to bless Traubel, a fellow radical. Emboldened by her example, another member of the audience suggested that everyone rise to their feet in honor of Horace Traubel. The older Whitmanites, those who had known the poet personally, looked on with dismay as Walt was forgotten and the two hundred men and women in the Breevort ballroom gave a standing ovation to Horace Traubel.
“He had a lot of fool friends that tried to make him believe that he was a greater man than Whitman,” wrote Traubel’s brother-in-law and fellow Whitman executor Thomas B. Harned, thinking no doubt of the annual Horace Traubel dinners organized by a band of socialists during the last few years of his life. Remembering how Traubel would print the fulsome tributes delivered at these dinners in his monthly journal The Conservator, Harned added, “As to Horace it was a case of ‘Barkis is willin’.” But no man deserves to have the final verdict on him delivered by his brother-in-law. And even Harned admitted that Traubel “was always true to Whitman.” Never truer than in the final months of his life, when he husbanded the scarce energy supplied by his fatally weakened heart to revisit, over and over, his relationship with Walt. For his entire adult life he had been a prodigiously productive writer, but now he wrote solely about the years with Whitman in Camden. “Dear Walt,” he wrote in one of his last poems, “I think myself back to my young days with you: / I’m overwhelmed by memories of an unforgettable past”. Traubel held on with all his dying strength to his memories of Whitman, his most precious possession: “they cant rob me of my past: it’s mine: all mine.”
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Horace Traubel’s unforgettable past began in 1873, when Walt Whitman moved from Washington, D.C. to Camden. The combination of a severe stroke and his mother’s death in the early months of that year left Whitman physically and emotionally devastated, and he gratefully accepted his brother George’s offer of a room in his Stevens Street home. Whitman asked for a two-month leave of absence from his Washington clerkship; he wound up living in Camden for the remainder of his life. Soon after he arrived, the fifty-four-year-old poet became friendly with one of the neighborhood boys: Horace Traubel, an energetic and outgoing teenager who enjoyed chatting with Whitman during time off from his job in a newspaper print shop. At fifteen, Traubel had already been out of school for three years when he met the poet, but he adored reading, and he would engage Whitman in lengthy, intense front stoop conversations about literature. Traubel’s father Maurice, a German-Jewish immigrant, was a commercial lithographer with artistic inclinations. Like his wife Katherine Grunder, who had been raised in a Protestant family in Philadelphia, Maurice Traubel was a freethinker who encouraged his son’s friendship with Whitman, despite some neighbors’ prejudices against the poet as a dangerous radical, the author of a nasty book. For his part, Whitman was delighted with his young friend. Severely depressed during his early years in Camden, he found that Horace acted as a tonic. “Horace, you were a mere boy [when] we met,” Whitman recalled years later. “Not so often as now—not so intimately: but I remember you so well: you were so slim, so upright, so sort of electrically buoyant. You were like medicine to me—better than medicine: don’t you recall those days? down on Stevens Street, out front there, under the trees? You would come along, I would be sitting there: we would have our chats”.
Whitman thus recalled his early friendship with Traubel fifteen years after they first met. As he indicated, their meetings had progressed from casual street corner encounters to regular, intimate conversations. At some point in his late twenties, while working as a factory paymaster and part-time journalist, Traubel began visiting Whitman daily. In March 1888, shortly before Whitman’s sixty-ninth birthday, he decided to keep an extensive record of their conversations. Traubel stuck to his project for the next four years until Whitman’s death, his notes eventually swelling to nearly two million words. Traubel was determined to publish every word, but he succeeded in issuing only three volumes before he died in 1919; after his death, six more volumes appeared. With Walt Whitman in Camden has been a gold mine for Whitman biographers, with its verbatim transcripts of the poet’s reminiscences about his recent and distant past, but it is also a moving record of an ever-deepening friendship between an ailing elderly artist and a young writer.
This friendship fulfilled important needs on both sides. Whitman, largely confined to his home by illness, needed a literary secretary who could help him with his ongoing project of publishing ever more complete and definitive editions of Leaves of Grass. Traubel, ambitious but unfocused, needed a direction for his life’s work. Each received exactly what he sought. However, their relationship should not be viewed simply as a friendship of convenience. Underlying Whitman’s relief at finding a literary assistant and Traubel’s pride in representing an acclaimed poet were deep reserves of love, respect, and what can only be termed reverence. Whitman occasionally expressed his gratitude for Traubel’s labors on behalf of Leaves of Grass and his other publications. “You have saved my books,” he told Traubel one evening. “I could not do these books without assistance. Of all the people I have known or know you are the most fitted to help me just now. You know books, writers, printing office customs—best of all you know me—my ways and what I need to be humored in”. Talking to his housekeeper Mary Davis, Whitman exclaimed, “I don’t know what I should have done if it hadn’t been for Horace’s stepping in as he did, lending a hand, helping me out: he is so kind, willing, able—he so well understands the job, understands me”. Just as often Whitman hinted at a spiritual dimension to their relationship. “Come, kiss me for good night,” he urged the young man one evening. He took Traubel’s hand and pressed it fervently. “I am in luck. Are you? I guess God just sent us for each other.” At times Whitman was even more fervent, as on the night when he held Horace’s hand, saying, “’I feel somehow as if you had consecrated yourself to me. That entails something on my part: I feel somehow as if I was consecrated to you. Well—we will work out the rest of my life-job together . . .’ He took my face between his hands and drew me to him and kissed me”. There is nothing to suggest that the relationship between Whitman and Traubel was ever a sexual one, yet there was clearly an erotic charge between the two men, just as there was in Whitman’s relationships with O’Connor, Burroughs, Bucke and his other close male friends. At the same time, Whitman’s kisses were also religious, a form of annointment, as his mention of consecration suggests. Traubel was the youngest member of the Whitman circle, the only one aside from the busy Tom Harned who lived nearby, and the sole person in the group committed to daily ministrations to the master. In response, Whitman acknowledged Horace Traubel’s status as first among his disciples. “There is a sort of apostolic succession in [our partnership],” he told Traubel, “a laying on of hands”. All of the disciples understood just what Walt meant.
“You are the ‘John’ of our band—the disciple whom Walt loved,”  J. W. Wallace wrote Traubel. William O’Connor was no less generous in his praise. On first meeting Traubel, he laughed in delight, then turned to his wife: “Here he is, Nellie! see him: he is the youth in our story—its poetry, its prophecy, made visible. . . . he is the wonderchild of our pilgrimage”. O’Connor then kissed him sacramentally—on lips and eyes and brow—and told him, “you are the next to come: you will bear on the tradition and recreate it . . . As Walt came after all the others so you may come after Walt.”
Joachim Wach might be speaking of Traubel in his comment that “one of the disciples is often singled out as the master’s intimate confidant and is specially intrusted with his personal wellbeing”. Wach’s remark is found in his classic study Sociology of Religion, which brilliantly traces the stages of new religious movements, beginning with the “circle of disciples,” the group of people in direct contact with the master. Walt Whitman’s circle had its origins in Washington after the Civil War when Whitman befriended William O’Connor and John Burroughs, but it reached its fullest form in Camden after Whitman moved into his own house on Mickle Street, where he was free to receive the disciples who came from afar—such as Bucke, Wallace and Dr. Johnston—as well as those nearby, principally Tom Harned and the intensely devoted Horace Traubel.
A religious circle’s existence depends upon the master, a charismatic figure who offers a powerful religious vision. Whitman’s personal charisma is attested to by all the disciples; William Sloane Kennedy wrote, “Whitman’s magnetic quality was peculiar. I never knew a person to meet him for the first time who did not come under its spell; most people going away in such a curious state of exaltation and excitement as to produce a partial wakefulness, the general feeling not wearing off for a fortnight.Yet, since most of the disciples, Kennedy included, lived at a distance from Camden, Whitman’s magnetism alone could not hold them together. If the circle was to survive, the members needed someone who would strengthen, on a regular basis, their connections to Whitman and to one another. Horace Traubel filled the role perfectly. Beginning in 1888, when Whitman suffered a series of strokes that everyone assumed would kill him, Traubel wrote almost daily to each of the principal disciples, as well as to a variety of more distant figures in the Whitman circle--between twenty and forty letters every day, a staggering output. He held the circle together until Whitman’s death in 1892, then in an intense burst of activity orchestrated the funeral and saw the body of the master laid in Camden’s Harleigh cemetery.
What happens to a circle of disciples when their charimastic master dies? Max Weber, Wach’s great predecessor in the study of religion, noted that charismatic authority is inherently unstable, and that the death of the master inevitably plunges the devout circle into a crisis. Individual disciples may possess considerable charisma themselves, and they may well have undergone ecstatic religious experiences similar to that of the master. Edward Carpenter, Wallace, and Traubel each gathered his own circle of devotees, and Bucke cited all three of them as lesser examples of the cosmic consciousness that Whitman possessed in full. But as Wach points out, the religious founder’s role cannot be repeated or imitated and, strictly speaking, he can have no successor, since a religious movement centered on a prophet—whether Buddha, Jesus, or Walt Whitman—has at its core the founder’s uniqueness, his distinct prophetic message. If a religious movement is to survive the master’s death, it must move from the circle of immediate disciples to the next stage—what Wach calls “the brotherhood,” which he defines as an intermediate stage for new religious movements on their way to institutionalization as an ecclesiastical body, or church.
Historians of early Christianity have studied in exhaustive detail the growth of the religion from a circle of disciples centered around Jesus of Nazareth to a Mediterranean brotherhood to a fully institutionalized church. The process was neither simple nor inevitable and was filled with intense struggles over beliefs and authority. The quarter century following Walt Whitman’s death was for his disciples as momentous and tumultuous as the years following the death of Jesus were to early Christians. In the early 1890s, with Walt Whitman newly dead and Christianity appearing to be fatally wounded by recent scientific theory, it seemed to the disciples that Whitmanism might well replace the earlier religion. “Let us keep up the comradeship bequeathed us by our chief,” J. W. Wallace wrote shortly after Whitman’s death, “till it grows and expands into an order which shall cover the whole earth in times to come and regenerate society, politics, art, life” . To realize these global ambitions, the disciples would have to transform themselves into apostles of Whitman’s “great and loving comradeship,” which, according to Wallace, “shall yet unite all peoples in the name of our great friend and redeemer”.
Wallace promised to take up the English branch. His mission, as he saw it, was to infuse the gospel of Whitman into British socialism. Bucke, tied to his post in Canada, would proselytize through his pen; he published his first essay on Whitman and cosmic consciousness the year after Whitman’s death. It would be up to Traubel, already near the center of the Whitman circle through his prolific letter-writing, to lead the North American movement. “You are the natural centre of our comradeship and succeed to Walt’s position,”Wallace wrote him a few weeks after Whitman’s death. Succeeding to Walt’s position was a heady prospect for the thirty-three-year-old Traubel, but one he was not unwilling to grasp. His 1894 poem “Succession” reveals his sense of his destiny:
The year after Whitman’s death, Traubel, who had previously written conventional rhymed poetry, abruptly shifted to a Whitmanesque style. As “Succession” reveals, the new manner sprang from what Traubel believed to be Whitman’s deathbed commission to him. That charge, as he saw it, involved much more than merely writing poetry in his dead comrade’s style; he was determined to found an organization that would spread Whitman’s gospel across the continent.
Horace Traubel was the perfect person to organize a Walt Whitman society. In a great age of American clubs, when two out of every five American men were members of a fraternal organization, he was the quintessential clubman, putting the average Elk or Mason to shame. At the time of Whitman’s death, when Traubel was working fulltime as a bank clerk in Philadelphia, keeping lengthy daily notes of his visits to Whitman and writing up to forty letters a day, he was also secretary-treasurer of the Contemporary Club of Philadelphia, which he had helped to found, an active member of Philadelphia’s Penn Club, and editor and publisher of The Conservator, a monthly journal. Only two months after Whitman’s death in March 1892, Traubel organized a Whitman birthday dinner and drew up a constitution for a Walt Whitman club.
As eager as he was to establish a Whitman organization, Traubel nevertheless recognized that Leaves of Grass seemed to be at odds with any Walt Whitman society. Like the other disciples, he knew by heart the lines from “Myself and Mine”: “I charge that there by no theory or school founded out of me, / I charge you to leave all free, as I have left all free.” Traubel wrestled mightily with the paradox of establishing an institution to spread Whitman’s gospel while still leaving all free. Immediately after the 1892 birthday dinner, he wrote to Daniel Brinton, a University of Pennsylvania professor and devoted Whitmanite, about further Whitman gatherings. “We must always adopt Walt, leaving all free as he left all free—but we must cohere and make the world see our brotherhood and the great soul and eternal principle, announced through him as in no other, for which we stand” . Traubel’s insistent underlinings emphasize the tension he felt between Whitmanesque freedom and organizational cohesion: how was he to honor both? He struggled with the question until his death a quarter century later. The central contradiction between Leaves of Grass and institutionalism was only one of many paradoxes that Traubel faced: He was an avid clubman and joiner who nevertheless recognized the intense individualism in Whitman’s poetry and himself had a strong individualistic streak; he was drawn to the socialist movement that flourished in early twentieth-century America, yet acknowledged that Whitman distrusted radical politics; he was committed to revolutionary change, but he imagined that the love of comrades was sufficient to transform the world; he supported women’s struggle for equality, but he blithely left all domestic arrangements to his wife and spent little time at home; he was angered by John Addington Symonds’ effort to enlist Whitman in the campaign to legalize sexual inversion, yet for many years he carried on a secret, physically passionate love affair with a male Whitmanite. Horace Traubel’s personal paradoxes reflected contradictions in the larger community of Whitman disciples and foreshadowed the movement’s difficult years to come.
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New religious movements are driven by the beliefs promulgated by a charismatic founder, but they cannot survive without rituals that bind together the community of believers. Horace Traubel intuitively understood the importance of ritual, and in the spring of 1889, a year after beginning the record of his daily visits to Whitman, he organized the first of an unbroken thirty-year string of Whitman birthday celebrations. His first effort at ritual was to prove atypical. The year 1889 brought Whitman’s seventieth birthday, and Traubel threw his efforts into demonstrating that this prophet was not without honor in his own country. Traubel put together a guest list of notable Camden residents—some of whom had never read a word of Leaves of Grass—and invited birthday greetings from every writer in the U.S. and Europe whom he thought might send a word favorable to Whitman. He then cajoled Whitman’s Philadelphia publisher into issuing the record of the affair as Camden’s Compliment to Walt Whitman, a volume that seems to be about a different, much more conventional poet. Traubel apparently considered the event a great success, although in his eulogistic introduction to Camden’s Compliment he acknowledges that a gathering of New Jersey burghers in evening wear might not fully capture the spirit animating Leaves of Grass. “The unconstraint and felicity of the event was from beginning to end as generous as the spirit of the man it was aimed to celebrate,” he writes, “except for the absence of women and of the distinctly mechanical classes”. The exceptions were large ones. After 1889 Traubel never again held an all-male Whitman event, and women were among the leaders of the Whitman Fellowship established after the poet’s death. However, the distinctly mechanical classes remained conspicuously absent. Traubel was no more successful in attracting working-class disciples than Whitman had been in gaining working-class readers. The Whitman Fellowship would spend much ink and countless hours discussing the mechanical classes in the years to come, but the members themselves were uniformly middle-class.
After the seventieth birthday dinner Traubel abandoned the effort to cast Whitman as a conventionally respectable literary figure, and subsequent celebrations were smaller, more bohemian affairs designed for the disciples themselves. In 1890 Robert G. Ingersoll, the celebrated orator known as the “Great Agnostic,” joined thirty disciples in a German beer hall in Philadelphia and lauded Whitman in an impromptu hour-long speech. Whitman’s seventy-second birthday party, which everyone present expected would be his last, was a somewhat more formal and plainly devotional affair. By May 1891 Whitman was too feeble to leave his house, and the seventy-second birthday took place in his Mickle Street parlor. For much of the evening, Daniel Brinton read aloud letters from absent disciples, including the excitable William Sloane Kennedy. With the fervor of a divinity school dropout, Kennedy praised Leaves of Grass as “the Bible of the Nineteenth Century”  and touted its superiority to the earlier scripture, predicting that Whitman’s “new gospel” would eventually supplant “effete” Christianity. Kennedy’s contribution was the most overtly religious, but the entire event was reverential. Bucke came down from Canada, Symonds wrote an effusive tribute, and Dr. Johnston sent his newly published account of his pilgrimage to Camden the previous year. All the principal disciples were represented, with the exception of John Burroughs. With the deaths of Anne Gilchrist and William O’Connor, Burroughs was the only one of the early disciples still living, and Whitman noted his old friend’s absence as soon as he came downstairs. “John Burroughs, of all men, should be here to-night,”  he said over and over. But Burroughs was suspicious of what seemed to him the overly reverential attitude of the Camden circle, and his birthday note to Whitman was curt and dismissive: “Walt, I keep your birthday pruning my vineyard and in reading an hour from your poems under my fig tree. I will let you eat your dinner in peace, as I shall want to do if I ever reach my 72d.” Whitman was well aware of the cause of Burroughs’ testiness. “The only trouble with John,” he told Traubel confidentially, is that “he has a bit of a suspicion of us all—thinks I must have fallen in bad company—the Colonel [Ingersoll] and you and Bucke.” Traubel was not entirely unhappy with Burroughs’ disaffection; it reinforced his sense of himself as Whitman’s chosen disciple. When called upon to speak, he demurred: “No, I must be excused. I feel myself in the midst of a battle of which I may some time have something to say. My turn has not come. When the battle is over, then I may write of it.” Ten months after his seventy-second birthday, Walt Whitman was dead, and a new phase of the battle was begun.
Traubel’s With Walt Whitman in Camden, so often trivial and banal, soars into moving eloquence in its account of Whitman’s death and funeral. After Whitman became severely ill late in 1891, Traubel increased his visits to Mickle Street to two or three a day; when the end came on March 26, 1891 he was at Walt’s bedside, holding his hand. As the last fluttering beats of the old man’s heart died away, Traubel wrote, “I laid his hand quietly down—something in my heart seemed to snap and that moment commenced my new life—a luminous conviction lifting me with him into the eternal” . The final pages of Traubel’s nine-volume record pulse with his conviction that he serves as witness to one of the most momentous events in centuries. Just before the funeral, when Robert Ingersoll hailed Whitman as “the most eminent citizen of this republic”  and Bucke placed him among “the supreme creative gods,” Traubel stood hand-in-hand with John Burroughs in a moment of reconciliation; Whitman’s oldest living disciple and his youngest gazed into the open coffin where the gaunt body of their master lay. “And as we stood there together, I heard the lid drop, the door closed, the face forever shut out, the new life begun”.
For Horace Traubel, unsurprisingly, the new life began by founding an organization. At the 1892 observance of Whitman’s birthday, two months after his death, Traubel established the Walt Whitman Reunion. Even at the moment he did so, he was keenly aware of the inherent contradiction of a Whitmanite church. “This is not to create a new institution,” he insisted as he created a new institution. “It is only for brotherliness and understanding. We will adopt Whitman as he said, Leave all free as I have left all free.” Distressed as he was by Walt’s death, Traubel at the same time was at his most optimistic in the spring of 1892. Like Edward Carpenter, whom he had never met but with whom he corresponded frequently on Whitman’s behalf, Traubel was convinced that the late nineteenth century was ushering in a millennial New Age, that human society was about to be transformed. “It is a great privilege to live in an age of hopeful struggle,”  he wrote shortly after Whitman’s death. “Everywhere the preliminaries of a voyage, everywhere men up and doing. . . . I see the moral sense of man everywhere preparing for larger occupancies. The old lords of the spirit are dethroned. . . . I greet with a deep joy the age and opportunities in which I participate.” Traubel’s paean to the future was printed in The Conservator, the journal he had established two years before. If the Walt Whitman Reunion was one pathway to the New Age, The Conservator would serve as the royal road.
When Traubel began The Conservator in 1890, at the age of thirty-one, he envisioned it as the spiritual voice of the New Age, the instrument for uniting the era’s liberal religious bodies. “To bring Unitarian, Hebrew, Quaker, Ethical, together—this is our purpose,”  he wrote in one of the first issues. The four sects he named were all affected by the liberalizing religious impulse of the late nineteenth century, the effort to reconcile premodern religions with science and democracy. Traubel was connected with Unitarianism through John H. Clifford, minister at the Germantown Unitarian church and a Whitman disciple who often quoted the poet in his sermons. By “Hebrew” he meant Reform Judaism, the modernizing branch of Judaism established in the early nineteenth century. Philadelphia’s Quakers by and large stayed apart from ecumenical efforts, but a minority recognized that their centuries-old doctrine of the Inner Light—the divine presence within every individual—was congruent with religious liberalism. As for “Ethical” religion, Traubel was referring to the Society for Ethical Culture, a new religious movement that consumed most of his energy not devoted to Whitman.
Traubel was a founding member of the Philadelphia Society for Ethical Culture, established in 1885. The Ethical Culture movement had begun a decade before when Felix Adler, a brilliant young rabbi and the heir apparent to New York City’s largest Reform synagogue, shocked his father’s congregation with a radical sermon that simultaneously terminated his rabbinical career and launched a new religious movement. Ethical Culture was part of the universalizing tendency of the late nineteenth century, when religious liberals rejected Judaism’s and Christianity’s claims to uniqueness and embraced all religions, arguing that they had a common core of immanentist theology and ethical moral code. Adler’s first series of lectures as head of the new Ethical religion was on “great religious emancipators” : he threw together Buddha, Jesus, Luther, and Spinoza. Ethical Culture originally attracted Reform Jews, but disaffected Unitarians quickly recognized the congeniality of Adler’s movement, which rejected all historical religions in favor of a religiously tinged ethical humanism. When an Adler protégé and former Unitarian came from New York to Philadelphia to found a chapter, Traubel—son of a nonpracticing Jew and a nonbelieving Christian—quickly found a home in Ethical Culture.
However, after five years the ambitious Traubel was restless within the confines of the Ethical Culture Society and founded The Conservator as a vehicle for what he imagined might be a Philadelphia area meta-church, a union of the various liberal religious bodies. Instead, readers of every denomination found something to object to in The Conservator and wrote in to cancel their subscriptions. Traubel printed a selection of their denunciations under the headline “A Few Friendly Withdrawals” —one each from a Jew, a Quaker, a Unitarian, an Ethical Culture member, and a self-described “Liberal”—implicitly suggesting that his offensiveness was perfectly democratic.
Traubel soon gave up his idea of uniting Philadelphia’s liberal churches and in 1892 turned The Conservator into an unofficial voice of the national Ethical Culture movement. The magazine flourished under its new mission. It added a staff of four and expanded from eight to sixteen monthly pages, filled with reports from Ethical Culture branches across the country and essays by the movement’s prominent figures. Yet The Conservator’s relation to Ethical Culture was turbulent from the beginning. Traubel had a pugnacious streak—Tom Harned said that “Horace is apt to call a person a God Damn fool or worse, if something is said touching some of his vagaries” —and used his “Collect,” a lengthy monthly editorial printed on the magazine’s front page, to attack Ethical Culture leaders with whom he disagreed. Following a stormy public confrontation with the head of the Philadelphia branch in early 1894, Traubel resigned from the Society. His “Collect” the next month was an impassioned defense of individualism that reads as if he were channeling Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Everything flows from the individual. He is the reservoir. From him all streams are supplied. Back to him all streams pay tribute. . . . Denominations afflict the spirit. They pare down spontaneity and discourage rebellion. . . . I would preach to every man rebellion” . Yet at the same time that he preached to every man a radical self-reliance, Traubel seemed compelled to band together with the like-minded. In the weeks following his break with the Society for Ethical Culture, Traubel founded two new organizations: the Fellowship for Ethical Research (Horace Traubel, chairman) and the Walt Whitman Fellowship: International (Horace Traubel, secretary-treasurer).
The Fellowship for Ethical Research soon fizzled out, but the Walt Whitman Fellowship was another matter. Established at the 1894 Whitman birthday dinner, it was a more formal and vastly more ambitious version of the Whitman Reunion. Traubel drew up a constitution, convinced the widely respected Daniel Brinton to serve as president, named six distinguished Whitmanites—including Burroughs and Ingersoll—as vice-presidents, and appointed a ten-person council. The organization gained over a hundred members in its first year and soon established branches in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Knoxville, and Chicago. However, as the organization’s full title reveals, Traubel’s plans extended beyond the United States. Early in 1894, he commenced efforts to transform the Eagle Street College into the Bolton branch of the Walt Whitman Fellowship: International.
Remarkably, the omnipresent Traubel never met Dr. Johnston when the latter visited Camden in 1890. However, when J. W. Wallace made his pilgrimage the next year, Traubel arranged for the leader of the Bolton church to stay with him and his new bride Anne Montgomerie. The three young people struck up an intense friendship during Wallace’s weeks in Camden, and when he returned to England he became a daily recipient of Traubel epistles, letters that combined news of Whitman with effusive declarations of love. When the Traubels’ second child was born in 1893 they named him Wallace. Initially embarrassed by this tribute, Traubel’s friend soon began signing his letters “Uncle Wallace,” but he remained unable to match Traubel’s prodigious epistolary output. “What an ardent indefatigable fellow you are!” he wrote. “I simply cannot keep pace with you!” Nevertheless, in the two years following Whitman’s death, Wallace sent over two hundred letters to Traubel, filled with news of the Eagle Street College and professions of affection. Nothing clouded the two men’s deep friendship until early 1894, when Traubel began organizing the Whitman Fellowship.
Traubel first floated the idea at a Whitmanite dinner in January. The next day, he wrote Wallace an enthusiastic account of the event: “The dinner was moved by a beautiful spirit. . . . The world wears a new color. The tender atmosphere of that hour will remain to sweeten every future year. We thought of you all and toasted you” . However, the dinner was not all sentimental toasts; Traubel used the occasion to lay out his plans for an international organization and told Wallace, “We shall look to you to work up the English branches.” In the weeks following, Traubel burbled about the Fellowship in his daily letters, while Wallace politely ignored the subject. Finally, Traubel sent an uncharacteristically brief letter, devoid of his usual salutation to “Dearest Wallace”:
This clumsy, peremptory letter reveals an autocratic streak in Traubel. Wallace’s response was remarkably mild: “Our College is one thing—a definite Whitman Society to which all would be invited is another” .
For all their personal affection for one another and their mutual desire to spread the religion of Whitmanism, Traubel and Wallace had incompatible visions of the future. Traubel wanted to establish an international Whitmanite institution, with Camden as its Rome and himself as, if not Pope, certainly ranking archbishop. Wallace prized the Eagle Street College—the small group of friends meeting weekly for cocoa and conversation, their affection for Whitman deepening their bonds to one another. Over the next few months the two men maintained a cordial tone in their letters, largely because Wallace continued to ignore his friend’s frequent requests to organize English branches of the Fellowship, all the while assuring Traubel of his affection. In mid-summer, Traubel chided him: “We are all somewhat surprised here that no memberships for the Fellowship have so far come from Bolton. . . . Why do you not send on your [membership] cards?”. Traubel had only fifty-nine members at that point, wanted to reach one hundred, and was determined that Wallace should help him meet his goal. Wallace replied with a stern letter that revealed the steely side of this amiable Englishman; he told Traubel that the Fellowship’s two dollar dues requirement was unacceptable because it would bar from membership some of the Eagle Street College boys who were in modest circumstances. Traubel shot back that the provision as to the dues was unalterable.
Throughout this period, Traubel kept up his daily letters to Wallace, and in many ways the relationship seemed unimpaired. But Traubel’s mania for organizing and his imperious manner had driven a wedge between the two friends . Both protested that their love was unaltered, but within a year the frequency of letters on both sides dropped dramatically. Their correspondence continued, but it never completely regained the ardor of the two years following Whitman’s death. As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, the Eagle Street College and the Walt Whitman Fellowship took separate paths.
* * *
Despite organizational differences, at their core both the British and American gatherings of Whitman disciples represented a protest against industrial capitalist modernity. England industrialized earlier and more rapidly than the U.S., and the Bolton Whitmanites could draw on a decades-old tradition of antimodern protest, most stirringly expressed in Carlyle and Ruskin. However, the tremendous economic and social changes in post-Civil War America spawned a variety of native protest movements, and the Walt Whitman Fellowship had links to many of them: socialism, women’s rights, African-American liberation, Arts and Crafts, alternative religions—a remarkable array of political and cultural radicals found shelter, at least for a time, under the Fellowship’s capacious tent. Whitman, who at the beginning of his career envisioned himself as the poet of the American masses, was embraced after his death by middle-class radicals who read Leaves of Grass as a counter-cultural manifesto, a source of alternative models of politics, spirituality, sexuality, and gender identity.
These radical re-readings of Leaves of Grass began before Whitman’s death, and no revisionist interpreter was more avid than Traubel himself. By the age of thirty, when he began recording his conversations with Whitman, Traubel was absorbed by the left-wing politics of his era. Not that he was a member of a socialist party—during the 1880s socialism was associated with first-generation immigrants, and native-born Americans like Traubel were scarce in the movement. But he was fascinated by socialist ideas and was convinced that Whitman was, without knowing it, a proto-socialist. Repeatedly during the four years of his daily visits to Whitman, Traubel would attempt to lead the poet to endorse socialism. Whitman was always generous in acknowledging that Leaves of Grass had a life of its own, that others might find in his creation meanings he had not intended. After reading an article on “Walt Whitman as Socialist Poet” that Traubel brought to his attention, he willingly admitted, “I find I’m a good deal more of a socialist than I thought I was” . Yet when Traubel would press him about the socialists’ political program, Whitman always refused to commit himself: “Of that I’m not so sure,” he told Traubel. “I rather rebel. I am with them in the result—that’s about all I can say.” Born only ten years after the end of the Jefferson administration, to the end of his life Whitman held fast to the Jeffersonian ideal of the yeoman farmer, the notion that American democracy was to be ensured by broadly diffused ownership of land and property. When Traubel pressed him to define his economic goal, he finally offered, “I look forward to a world of small owners.” “Or maybe no owners at all,”  Traubel suggested. “Don’t you think that would be best?” “I don’t know: I haven’t thought it out,” Whitman admitted. “It sounds best: could it be best?” Traubel recognized Whitman’s deep-seated antipathy to what he called his young friend’s “fierce agitations” but never stopped pushing the old poet to declare himself a socialist. Gently chiding Traubel at one point, Whitman revealed his suspicion of all political activism: “It is queer, how the whole world is crazy with the notion that one book, one ism . . . is to save things. . . . I would not go across the room to change the course of the stream—not a step: in due time, under the right conditions, the stream will fix its own bed anew as it has in the past—no hand, yours or mine, being needed to force it” .
Traubel clearly enjoyed these irresolvable debates about politics, liked playing the young radical to Whitman’s aging Whig. Yet he shared Whitman’s doubts that one “ism” could save the world, doubts he articulated in his correspondence with Wallace, who by the early 1890s had moved beyond an interest in socialist ideas toward commitment to the socialist political program of Keir Hardie and the Independent Labour Party. Aware of his friend’s growing involvement, Traubel wrote Wallace in 1892, “I want you to tell me sometime how you look on the Socialistic movement” . As for himself, “I am an individualist. I would not make more of the state but less. There seems a need that we should go alone and have freedom first of all.” Freedom and individualism were Traubel’s bywords for most of the 1890s, and he told Wallace that he was more “anarchist than socialist”. Yet by the end of his life, Traubel was hailed as “the premier socialist of the day” and “the leading writer in this country, if not in the world, whose work is completely saturated with Socialism and, indeed, grows exclusively out of Socialism” . How was a man who expressed such scepticism about socialist politics transformed into one of the leading socialists of his era?
The answer lies partly in changes in Horace Traubel, even more in changes within American socialism . When Traubel was taunting Whitman in the 1880s, socialism was associated with European immigrants who had been born into a sharply stratified, immutable class system and reared on Karl Marx. Americans regarded socialism as a foreign import, at odds with America’s traditions and more flexible class structure. By the turn of the century, this perception had changed, and over the next two decades a hearty socialist movement and culture flourished in the U.S., reaching its zenith in 1912, when more than 1200 socialists were elected to public office in the U.S., the leading socialist magazine had 750,000 subscribers, and the Socialist Party candidate for President gained nearly one million votes, 6% of the total. Much of the movement’s success can be ascribed to its five-time Presidential candidate, Eugene Victor Debs—a charismatic Hoosier and close friend of Horace Traubel.
Born three years before Traubel, like him Debs left school at an early age—in Debs’s case, to work on the railroad. By the age of twenty, he had become a union official; before he was forty he was founding president of the American Railway Union and leader of the bitter 1894 Pullman strike. His role in the strike and his heroic reaction to the prison sentence he incurred made him a national figure, and when Debs announced his conversion to socialism in 1897, he brought thousands of Americans along with him. Horace Traubel was one of them.
The socialism championed by Debs and Traubel in the early twentieth century was very different from the closely reasoned dialectical materialism of Marx and Engels. Max Eastman, a generation younger than Debs and Traubel, called himself a “lyrical Socialist,” a label that fits the older men even better than Eastman. For Eastman made ritual nods towards the influence of Karl Marx, whereas Debs repeatedly cited as his models Jesus Christ, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Walt Whitman. The notion of a dictatorship of the proletariat was anathema to Debs; his ideal was a rose-colored version of the antebellum Terre Haute of his childhood, a classless, democratic small town. The Debs family were not churchgoers, but Gene Debs absorbed the evangelical Protestant fervor of his Midwestern youth, and Debsian socialism was a religious crusade. One of the keys to Debs’s success was that he enabled Americans disenchanted with traditional religion to transfer their millennial aspirations from individual salvation to the transformation of society. European socialism may have been linked to atheism, but Debs cited Jesus so often that his audiences might well have assumed that Christ had been a member of the Nazareth branch of the Socialist Party.
Debs’s references to Jesus were salted throughout speeches that frequently lasted one to two hours, deeply emotional addresses that brought his audiences to a wildly fevered state. Debs’s socialism was not only lyrical but sentimental, his talks and articles full of over-the-top rhetorical flourishes, as in this 1900 article: “The skies of the East are even now aglow with the dawn; its coming is heralded by the dispelling of shadows, of darkness and gloom. From the first tremulous scintillation that gilds the horizon to the sublime march to meridian splendor, the light increases till in mighty flood it pours upon the world” . A Debs biographer comments that this passage reveals how he “too often descended to depths of excessively flowery language and sloppy sentimentalism” . The criticism suggests that Debs was unaware of what he was doing, that if he had only reined in his purple prose the U.S. might now have a socialist government. But this attack misunderstands the nature of Debs’s appeal and imposes contemporary tastes on a different era. Horace Traubel would have applauded the fact that Debs so often ascended to the heights of flowery language and sublime sentimentalism, nowhere more so than in letters to his friends.
“Way down here on the rim of the Pacific your message reached me,” Debs wrote Traubel on a trip to California, “and it is sweeter to me than the fragrance of the orange blossoms. Well do I know that I can never get beyond the bounds of your love—a love as broad and bounteous as the azure skies above—and in that love I’m rich beyond all earthly riches”. The passage seems as if it could have been penned by a Victorian maiden, but it is typical of the middle-aged Debs’s letters to Traubel. “My heart opens to receive your message as the rosebud opens to receive the sunshine and flowers,” he wrote in one letter; another begins, “Sweet as the fragrance of violets is your message of devotion to me and my heart turns to you as the flower does to greet the sunrise.” Traubel was only one of many recipients of letters from Debs filled with flowers and love. As biographer Nick Salvatore has pointed out, one of Debs’s central goals was to redefine American manhood and dethrone the self-made independent businessman as the paragon of manliness . His rhetoric offered an alternative model of masculinity, one based on love and mutually dependent comradeship—themes perfectly congruent with Walt Whitman’s poetry.
It is not clear exactly when Debs and Traubel first met, but by 1901 they were corresponding, and Debs was sending greetings to the Whitman Fellowship’s annual birthday dinner. His 1905 greeting is typical: “When the . . . Whitman Fellowship assembles, though far away, I shall be there in heart and soul, and share with you in all the delights of the joyous occasion. ‘The dear love of comrades’ will pervade the gathering and make it holy, and the hands of dear old Walt will be raised above it in benediction” . The brief greeting combines all the central themes of early twentieth-century socialism: comradeship, sentiment, and religion. From the turn of the century until his death, Traubel blended Debs and Whitman in a political program that was simultaneously eccentric and powerfully appealing to large numbers of Americans.
Horace Traubel may have been hailed as one of the great socialists of his era, but he had remarkably little to do with socialist politics in the conventional sense of the term. Debs founded the Socialist Party in 1901 and turned it into one of the most successful third parties in American history, but there is no evidence that Traubel had any involvement in the party beyond voting for his friend Gene Debs every four years. Traubel’s socialism was intellectual and emotional rather than politically activist, and his interest was in winning souls, not elections. Traubel functioned as a propagandist—or, more accurately, an evangelist—using The Conservator to spread the gospel of comrades.
After Traubel’s break with the Society for Ethical Culture in 1894, The Conservator functioned for a time as a Whitmanite journal, with reports on the Walt Whitman Fellowship, reprints of newspaper and magazine discussions of Whitman, and poems by Traubel and others in the Whitman style. At the turn into the new century, the journal’s tone began to change. Without losing its emphasis on Whitman-related matters, The Conservator began to give more attention to economics. Traubel’s “Collect,” printed on the magazine’s first page, had originally been a miscellany of news and observations about Ethical Culture, liberal religion, and Walt Whitman. By 1901, it had become a lengthy essay that was frequently devoted to attacking some prominent capitalist: in successive issues early that year he excoriated Andrew Carnegie and J. Pierpoint Morgan. The next year he devoted a “Collect” to George Baer, a more obscure but, for Traubel, much more significant target. Baer, president of the Reading Coal & Iron Company, was also a director of the Farmers and Mechanics Bank of Philadelphia, where Traubel had managed to hold onto his job as a clerk for thirteen years despite conducting much of his voluminous correspondence on company time. The bank’s remarkably tolerant managers did not fire Traubel for his attack on Baer, but they invoked a hitherto ignored regulation stipulating that employees could not conduct an outside business. Traubel could keep his position, but he would have to give up The Conservator. He quit his job instead, and from 1902 until his death earned a precarious living from his pen.
No longer concerned about what his employers might think, Traubel was now free to take aim at any and all capitalists. Instead, his writing took a different turn. After leaving the bank, Traubel began contributing to the socialist weekly The Worker in addition to editing The Conservator and quickly developed the eccentric style and subject matter that would distinguish his work for the remainder of his career. He abandoned attacks on individualist capitalists and for the next two decades focused almost entirely on the twin themes of love and the people, repeating the two terms in endless variations throughout hundreds of poems and essays.
Yet in Traubel’s case it is misleading to talk of “poems” and “essays” as separate genres. Traubel’s writing after 1902 is all one massive prose-poem. Chants Communal was his first effort to win a wider audience for his new style. Published in 1904, Chants Communal collected forty of his pieces for The Worker. “And the Heart of the Matter Is Heart” is typical. Its final paragraph begins:
Traubel’s lyrical socialist style was emotional, abstract, and repetitious. It was also invitingly easy to parody, and critics responded to the publication of Chants Communal with numerous take-offs. “Time was when Traubel sounded the note individualistic,” one wrote. “Vaguely, perhaps. With the air of mysticism. For Traubel is a mystic. He has said so. From mysticism to sentimentalism. The road is short. It is soon traveled. Traubel has traveled it” . Ernest Crosby, an occasional contributor to The Conservator, wrote, “Traubel chants. Traubel trebles and warbles. Traubel sings a lone song. Traubel plays a lone hand. Traubel takes your best and goes it alone. Traubel is a monopolist in chants. Traubel needs competition. Compete! Learn to chant like Traubel. Let Traubel learn what it feels like to listen to his chants. Rub it in. Hard. Let us all learn to warble and traubel”.
Yet if some found Traubel’s writing laughable, others regarded him as a valiant radical voice. “Every page of [Chants Communal] is up to a high water mark of inspiration,” Debs wrote. “It is a book that sheds light and radiance and ought to have a million circulation” . The book had far less than a million circulation, but it went into a second edition and was praised by Clarence Darrow, Jack London, and scores of less prominent socialists. Emma Goldman subscribed to The Conservator and wrote Traubel, “I can say without flattery of all the papers in the English language I read, I enjoy the Conservator most” . Goldman would have found in The Conservator poems by Traubel with titles such as “I Love to Go among My Dear Comrades the People” and “The People Are the Masters of Life.” The latter begins:
The style of this poem is recognizably Whitmanesque, but as many reviewers of Traubel’s collection of poems Optimos noted, his poetry is uniformly exhortatory in tone and relentlessly abstract. H. L. Mencken called the poems “dishwatery imitations of Walt Whitman” and closed his review with a command: “Away with such stuff!”  However, a significant number of socialist readers argued that Traubel was not Whitman’s imitator but a successor who had surpassed his master. The generous Gene Debs led the way. “Although a loyal disciple and devotee of Walt Whitman, from whom he undoubtedly caught his earliest and deepest inspiration, he goes far beyond his revered master,” Debs wrote of Traubel. “He not only brings the old Prophet of Democracy up to date but he traverses untrodden fields and explores new realms in quest of the truth” . Three prominent socialists wrote books about Traubel, and all suggested that he would ultimately be regarded as a more complete poet than Whitman because his work “contains the spiritual force augmented by the economic fact,” as one said.
The comment may seem strange, since “economic fact”—not to mention political fact or any concrete reference to contemporary events—is conspicuously missing from Traubel’s later writing. What it offers instead is abundant and prolix pronouncements about love, as Traubel acknowledged in a poem that begins, “I’m just talking all the time about love.” He continues, “I try sometimes to talk of other things but I come back to love: / To my simple love for men and women, to my love for you, to my love for life: / Not caring at all what may be said of me because of it, coming back to love” . Not unjustly, one reviewer of Optimos dubbed Traubel “the platitudinarian” . That his work was taken seriously by so many socialists shows the millennial strain in the movement, the eagerness to envision a utopia brought about by the power of love. What may seem the worst feature of Traubel’s writing, its repetitiveness, may well have been responsible for its success among socialists: his incantatory chants about love and the people perhaps served to numb the anger and anxieties of early twentieth-century middle-class leftists—their anger at social injustice in the heyday of laissez-faire capitalism and their anxieties at the class violence associated with the labor and anarchist movements.
One historian has called the decades following the end of Reconstruction “America’s forgotten civil war,” an era of such violence between capital and labor that it pushed even mainstream figures like novelist William Dean Howells toward socialism. Howells’s radicalism was sparked by the Haymarket affair of 1886, when a bomb was thrown at a Chicago labor rally, killing seven policeman and injuring sixty-seven others; in response, authorities arrested eight anarchists, some of whom had not even been present at the rally, and executed four of them. The Haymarket affair was only one among many bloody clashes between capital and labor near the turn of the century, such as the Homestead strike of 1892, when the U.S. Steel company hired Pinkerton thugs to attack striking workers; the Pullman strike of 1894, which was broken by federal troops with drawn bayonets; and the attempted assassination of businessman Henry Clay Frick by Emma Goldman’s lover Alexander Berkman. It seemed to many Americans of the era that the nation was on the verge of a bloody class war. While the government responded with judicial and military repression, leftist intellectuals such as Howells sought to sidestep conflict by imagining utopian alternatives. Howells wrote a series of earnest utopian novels that were overshadowed by Edward Bellamy’s hugely popular Looking Backward, a portrait of a socialist future that spawned a short-lived political movement. Debsian socialists rejected Howells’s and Bellamy’s authoritarian models, but they embraced the democratic, if vague, utopianism offered by Horace Traubel.
Middle-class socialists’ eagerness for nonviolent democratic alternatives to the current brutalities of capitalist repression and the potential violence of Marxist revolution explains their attraction to both Traubel and Whitman. After the turn of the century the Walt Whitman Fellowship’s annual birthday dinners became a haven for socialists, leading to bitter struggles within the organization. Tom Harned complained that the Fellowship had become dominated by “socialists, anarchists, [and] cranks” and that “Traubel has worked the socialistic racket, much to my exclusion and disgust”. Harned, a successful lawyer, preferred the religious emphasis of the Fellowship’s early years. However, despite his brother-in-law’s claims, Traubel never turned the Walt Whitman Fellowship into a purely political gathering. Throughout its existence, the Fellowship mixed political and religious perspectives on Whitman. Its eclecticism is nicely illustrated in the program for its eighteenth annual meeting in 1911, which included speeches on both “What Walt Whitman Means to a Revolutionist” and “The Spiritual and Religious Significance of Whitman”.
For many in the Whitman Fellowship, the poet’s spiritual and religious significance was his role as alternative to traditional religions on the one side and atheistic scientific rationalism on the other. Tom Harned spoke for this view: “Those who have realized that the old theologies do not satisfy, and who also fail to receive comfort in the prevalent agnosticism, can find in ‘Leaves of Grass’ a religion to live by and to die by. Every hope and aspiration can here be answered and every fear calmed. That this was Whitman’s life purpose there can be no doubt, and he must be accepted as a religious teacher or not at all”. For all his differences with Harned, Traubel never deviated from this belief, and his work on behalf of Whitman during the quarter century following the poet’s death can best be understood as the acts of an apostle. Traubel articulated this apostolic perspective in letters to Wallace written after negative reviews of In Re Walt Whitman, the 1893 memorial volume Traubel edited with Bucke and Harned, started rolling in. “There is hardly room for the hope that the average reviewer, even of the highest type, will understand a volume whose claims are neither first nor last literary,” he wrote to Wallace. “They do not understand me and . . . fail to grasp the immense proportions of Walt’s personality as they spread out in cosmic grandeur” . He expanded on his claims in a later letter: “It is true that if Walt is only another literary gentleman our claims are absurd. But if he is great elementally, as Buddha and Jesus were great, then our attitude is one which becomes us and belongs to him”.
This conviction of Walt’s elemental greatness explains why Traubel persisted in attempting to publish in full the two million words of With Walt Whitman in Camden, even after it became clear that he could not expect to issue all nine volumes in his lifetime. Virtually every one of Traubel’s correspondents criticized his decision, suggesting that the volumes would be more readable, more artistic, more widely accepted if only he would condense and shape his material. But Traubel took his cue from Bucke, who wrote him in 1895: “Consider if some one had put on record such details of the life and death of Guatama [sic], of Jesus, of Dante, of ‘Shakespeare,’ of Paul and they had come down the ages safely? . . . How would the world at large thank the men?” . When Traubel began publishing With Walt Whitman the next decade, he stuck to Bucke’s vision. From 1906, when the first volume appeared, until today, Traubel has often been referred to as Whitman’s “Boswell”; however, the comparison is misleading. Boswell was, above all, a literary artist writing about a man he regarded as the supreme literary artist of the age. Traubel didn’t give a damn for literary artistry. He shared Bucke’s sentiments: What would we give now if a disciple of Buddha or Jesus had written down in detail his master’s words and actions, no matter how seemingly trivial. Traubel would be that disciple. However, he balked at becoming a priest, and his refusal of the priestly role reveals much about the failure of the Walt Whitman Fellowship to spread more widely.
The transition from a circle of disciples to a fully institutionalized church depends on priests—individuals whose authority is based not on charisma but on their place in a hierarchy. Priests transmit doctrine established by the religious founder and conduct rituals that draw together the body of believers and mark significant transitional events in their lives. Horace Traubel had a front seat at the spectacle of Ethical Culture’s transition from circle to church. During his ten years in the movement he helped one of Felix Adler’s disciples establish a Philadephia branch, witnessed an orderly transfer of authority as the disciple was replaced by another man, and participated in the creation of Ethical rituals to mark marriages, births, and deaths. Yet his fondness for organizations was in conflict with his intense individualism and resistance to authority. These dual tendencies clashed in 1894, when within a period of a few weeks Traubel resigned from the Society for Ethical Culture rather than submit to its leadership, then wrote Wallace bullying letters demanding that the Bolton Whitmanites follow his orders and join the Whitman Fellowship.
The clash with Wallace seems to have shaken Traubel—in the years following he lamented the loss of their earlier intimacy—and as he matured he increasingly favored individualism over institutions. In 1896 he amended the Fellowship’s constitution, eliminating the dues and establishing a membership card that read simply, “I announce myself to be a member of the Walt Whitman Fellowship International” . A few years later he began printing at the top of the Fellowship’s official stationery these lines from Whitman’s “Myself and Mine”:
Traubel’s change of heart may have been congruent with Whitman’s message, but it was fatal for the growth of the Whitman Fellowship. Meetings fell off from several a year in each of several cities to an annual Whitman birthday celebration in New York and one in Chicago. The elimination of dues left the Fellowhip chronically underfunded. Traubel published fifteen issues of the Walt Whitman Fellowship Papers in its first year, but by 1899 the Fellowship Papers had been reduced to three thin issues a year: a list of the officers, a report of the annual meeting in New York, and an announcement of the upcoming meeting.
By the end of his life, Traubel was claiming the Fellowship’s institutional failure as a sign of its Whitmanesque success. For the 1919 Whitman centenary he wrote a long article for the Philadelphia Press that focused on Whitman’s resistance to being commemorated and included such sentiments from Walt as, “I hope to God there’ll never be Walt Whitman societies. Societies are a disease”. Rather proudly, Traubel noted that the annual birthday dinner in New York was all that was left of formerly active branches in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. “We’ve always regarded Walt’s prohibitions, the same as if he were here and able to defend himself. . . . We’ve never violated them.” Traubel was in effect rewriting the Fellowship’s early history and erasing his own early ambitions for it, as evidenced in an 1894 letter: “I look to see [the Whitman Fellowship] become a big thing—extending the globe across” .
Traubel’s early global ambitions seem more plausible when we remember that he participated in the rise of Ethical Culture and observed from a distance the spectacular success of two religious movements founded in nineteenth-century America, Mormonism and Christian Science. Each originally began as a small circle of disciples around a charismatic prophet who produced a scripture as eccentric and powerful in its way as Leaves of Grass. However, there were key differences between Mormonism and Christian Science on the one hand and Whitmanism on the other that suggest the Fellowship’s failure did not come solely from Horace Traubel’s resistance to taking on a priestly role. Both Mormonism and Christian Science are what sociologists call absolutist religious movements, their absolutism expressed in both cognitive and institutional terms . That is, the sacred books of both movements claim to offer unique theologies, while membership in the group demands conformity to church doctrine in matters ranging from dress and diet to family structure and medical decisions. The Whitman Fellowship’s failure to thrive reflects both the rejection of absolutism in Leaves of Grass (“You shall no longer take things at second or third hand,” Whitman writes in “Song of Myself,” “You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, / You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self” ) and the disciples’ democratic values.
If Whitman’s emphasis on individual autonomy and the disciples’ suspicion of authority lessened organizational cohesion, these qualities also attracted to the Fellowship a remarkable variety of cultural radicals. The self-educated Traubel possessed a curious mind and wide interests, and like Edward Carpenter in England he had a finger in virtually every radical movement of his era. Among the most passionate of his causes was the transformation of society through a return to pre-capitalist modes of production. Shortly after quitting his job at the bank, he helped to found Rose Valley, a utopian Arts and Crafts community near Philadelphia.
The American Arts and Crafts movement took its lead from William Morris, the English artist and social visionary . Today Morris is remembered primarily as an interior designer, a nineteenth-century Ralph Lauren whose fabric and wallpaper designs are still marketed in upscale retail outlets. However, Morris saw his design work as part of his socialist politics. Influenced by John Ruskin’s studies of medievalism, Morris believed that among the most pernicious of modern capitalism’s effects was its focus on mass production and the accompanying dismissal of traditional craftsmanship. He raged against the machine, establishing workshops where craftsmen could discover the joys of unalienated labor through centuries-old production techniques.
In the United States Morris’s Arts and Crafts ideology was frequently depoliticized. Traditional crafts such as pot throwing or furniture making that Morris saw as the basis for a regenerated society became pastimes for middle-class hobbyists, and Arts and Crafts products were seen as one more commodity in the marketplace. However, a limited number of Americans recognized the political dimensions of Arts and Crafts, and Horace Traubel was among their leaders. Traubel came to the Arts and Crafts movement in 1903, when Philadelphia architect Will Price enlisted him in a plan to purchase an abandoned mill village on Ridley Creek outside Philadelphia and turn it into an Arts and Crafts community. Price and his business partner Hawley McLanahan recognized that propaganda was as vital to their project as wood lathes and potter’s wheels, and they convinced Traubel to edit The Artsman, printed by hand at the site. McLanahan’s article in the journal’s first issue was pure William Morris: “In entering upon this work Rose Valley unites with various other societies throughout the world in a general protest against the often vulgar product of the modern machine and against the consequent degradation and ruin of the craftsman. The minute division of labor that has come about in our almost automatic industry seems indeed not only to destroy the craftsman but to threaten the man” . Traubel’s distinctive contribution was to unite Morris-derived politics with Whitman-inspired spirituality. At Rose Valley, Traubel predicted in The Artsman, shops would be temples and labor would be worship. In language that might have been lifted from Whitman’s poem “A Song for Occupations” he wrote, “I can see God in the honest joint of a chair. I can see God woven in tapestries and beaten in brasses and bound in the covers of books” . Traubel featured in every issue of The Artsman what he called “Rose Valley Scriptures,” quotations from writers he considered the spiritual forebears of the Arts and Crafts movement—Walt Whitman, of course, prominent among them.
Whitman might have been surprised at finding himself in such company, since one of the central features of his poetry is its celebration of material progress. His “Song of the Exposition,” written to commemorate a New York industrial trade show, claims that his muse is undismayed “by thud of machinery and shrill steam-whistle” . He says further of her, “Bluff’d not a bit by drain-pipe, gasometers, artificial fertilizers, / Smiling and pleas’d with palpable intent to stay, / She’s here, install’d among the kitchen ware!” Traubel excluded “Song of the Exposition” from the Rose Valley Scriptures and focused on passages from Leaves of Grass more in keeping with Arts and Crafts ideals. He succeeded in establishing Whitman as a patron saint of Arts and Crafts, but he and the other Rose Valley founders were less successful in keeping their venture afloat. Rose Valley folded in 1907, four years after it began. Traubel was left with a handsome new Arts and Crafts design for The Conservator and an undiminished enthusiasm for other progressive causes.
Among the many campaigns he supported was black Americans’ struggle for civil rights. His Conservator reviews of books by African Americans reveal someone unusually willing to condemn white racism and question white privilege. “If you are a white American you grow grave when you think of the serious negro problem that you have on your hands,” he wrote in a review of W. E. B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk. “But if you happen to be a negro or half negro or colored anyhow you are grave because you have a white problem on your hands”. When Traubel visited Atlanta in 1899 and expressed his wish to meet DuBois, his hosts advised him to wait until the last day of his two-week visit so as not to alienate white Atlantans; Traubel pointedly ignored their advice and immediately sought out DuBois. He also befriended novelist Charles W. Chesnutt, who wrote him in 1903, “If present tendencies continue much longer, the colored people of this nation are likely to need friends and it is quite clear that they can count you among them” . Moreover, the Walt Whitman Fellowship was integrated almost from its beginning. Traubel invited Kelly Miller, an African American dean at Howard University, to address the Fellowship’s second annual meeting and later appointed him a Fellowship director.
Traubel’s anti-racism can arguably be seen as an extension of his master’s doctrines. Racial equality is at the center of Whitman’s poetic project: grass grows “among black folks as among white,”  he writes in the opening pages of his pre-Civil War first edition, and he goes on to describe the beauty of black as well as white bodies and to narrate a powerful (invented) tale of aiding a runaway slave. However, a decade before the first Leaves of Grass the young Walter Whitman wrote newspaper editorials that employ the defense of white labor as the primary objection to slavery, while the old poet in Camden talked about the “nigger question” in terms to gladden the heart of any white supremacist. Kelly Miller may have heard rumors about Walt Whitman’s attitudes to blacks, since he asked rhetorically in his 1895 Fellowship address, “What did [Whitman] do practically in his lifetime for the negro?” He answered his own question: “Beyond the fact that he imbibed the anti-slavery sentiment of his environments, and that this sentiment distills throughout ‘Leaves of Grass,’ I do not know. Nor does it matter in the least”. Miller was more interested in how Whitman rejected the virtually universal portrayals of blacks as either buffoons or victims and invited them, along with all humankind, to celebrate the beauty of their bodies and the dignity of the self.
Given Traubel’s defenses of black dignity in The Conservator, Miller may have decided that the disciple’s contradictory attitudes toward race mattered as little as the master’s. Like many white socialists in the early twentieth century, Traubel supported racial equality but insisted that the civil rights movement had to take a back seat to socialism. In his generally sympathetic review of The Souls of Black Folk, he chided DuBois for not recognizing that the key to solving the race problem was to embrace “the economic radicalisms that are becoming increasingly prevalent in the north”. Traubel was echoing his friend Debs, who insisted that the Socialist Party must “receive the Negro and all other races upon absolutely equal terms” but also believed that there was “no ‘Negro problem’ apart from the general labor problem”.
The Whitman Fellowship’s record on the “woman question” was as contradictory as its stance toward the “Negro problem.” In many ways, the Fellowship served as a model of gender equality at the turn of the century. Following the all-male 1889 Camden birthday tribute to Whitman, when the poet himself complained about the exclusion of women, Traubel worked conscientiously to include women in the Whitman circle. Thirty percent of the original Fellowship members were women, and women were always represented among its leadership. When Traubel helped to establish a Boston branch in 1894, he asked Elisabeth Fairchild to serve as president; when she turned him down, he asked another woman, explaining, “I want to see a woman in that place” . Traubel had to work to ensure that women served as leaders in the Fellowship, but the high proportion of female members seems the result of a spontaneous response to Whitman’s poetry among turn-of-the-century feminists.
Anne Gilchrist was only the first of many women to respond passionately to Leaves of Grass. Thirty years after Gilchrist’s “A Woman’s Estimate of Walt Whitman,” Helena Born, an Englishwoman who immigrated to the U.S. and joined the Boston branch of the Whitman Fellowship, wrote “Whitman’s Ideal Democracy,”  a rousing celebration of the poet’s commitment to women’s equality. Mabel MacCoy Irwin , a New York City Fellowship member, published a longer, even more extravagant tribute, Whitman: The Poet-Liberator of Woman, which has chapters on “Whitman’s All-Inclusive Love,” “Woman’s Sex Freedom,” and “Woman’s Indebtedness to Walt Whitman.” Radical feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman regularly attended the Whitman Fellowship meetings along with Emma Goldman. All responded both to Whitman’s political claims on women’s behalf (“I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man” ) and his positive depiction of women’s sexuality (“Without shame the woman I like knows and avows [the deliciousness of her sex]” ).
At the same time, other women in the Whitman Fellowship felt it important to point out the poet’s limitations. In a powerful feminist analysis, Helen Abbot Michael, a member of the Boston Fellowship, concluded that “after all Whitman has said on woman there remains a feeling of dissatisfaction. Woman in many characters accompanies the poet, but there comes a moment in the life of his poems when his path seems to diverge from her. He goes on his way to heights and out-reaching vistas alone” . Michael’s essay appeared in Poet-Lore, a journal edited by Charlotte Porter and Helen A. Clarke. At Traubel’s urging, Porter had agreed to serve as president of the Boston Whitman Fellowship, but the same year she assumed the office, she and Clarke, who lived together, published an essay pointing out that “in all [Whitman’s] singing of comradeship and friendship he makes no direct reference to comradeship between women, which is fast becoming one of the most marked characteristics of modern civilization” . Porter and Clarke refused to ignore Whitman’s shortcomings as an advocate of gender equality, and they were equally demanding of Traubel. When he failed to invite any women to present papers at the 1897 Fellowship meeting, Clarke wrote a letter chastising him for the omission and also for expecting her and Porter to share a single ballot in the election of the Fellowship’s officers. “Why is it that when women are in charge they always give [men] such a fair representation, but if men are in charge they overlook women if they possibly can?”  she asked Traubel. Later, she acknowledged that he was “among the few men whose attitude toward women” was generally “just and true” and even supplied an excuse for his lapses: they were “not so much intentional as the result of a carelessness men sometimes manifest through an unconscious inherited bias”.
Traubel’s mixture of pro-feminist sentiment and male arrogance was evident in his relationship with his wife. Horace Traubel and Anne Montgomerie met in the late 1880s at a Philadelphia factory where he was paymaster and she a supervisor. Their courtship was conducted under the approving gaze of Walt Whitman, who was immensely fond of Montgomerie and delighted in playing the role of grizzled Cupid. When Whitman proved too ill to leave the house on their wedding day, the entire party crammed into his bedroom. John H. Clifford, Unitarian minister and Whitman disciple, conducted the service as the old poet sat propped up in bed, occasionally interjecting comments as Clifford read poems by Whitman and Emerson. The newlyweds delayed their departure from Camden in order to attend Whitman’s seventy-second birthday celebration, then spent their honeymoon with Dr. Bucke in Canada. The wedding was a Whitmanite affair from start to finish, which seems to have suited Anne as well as Horace. Throughout their twenty-eight year marriage, Anne Traubel demonstrated her devotion to the Whitman cause. An intelligent woman and a strong writer, she served as associate editor of the Conservator for most of its history. Her marriage was a Whitman-sanctioned union, and by all accounts she was completely devoted to Walt Whitman and Horace Traubel. “In truth,” said a close friend, “she lived to see her husband’s life work on Whitman recognized by the world” .
Tom Harned affirmed Anne’s devotion to Horace, but he professed to be mystified by their relationship. “Just why Horace went to Canada and Altoona for weeks and months at a time, spending near than half [sic] his time out of the city or country I could never understand. It was very hard on [Anne] to be alone in Camden after the marriage of [their daughter]. . . . And then Horace never came home except about 2 a.m. getting up about ten and eating a slight breakfast, and going over to his office. He took his meals at a certain restaurant where he could hold forth to congenial friends. . . . His family ties were very slender”. Harned’s marriage to Traubel’s sister Augusta seems to have been very happy and completely conventional, a model nineteenth-century union in which he earned a prosperous living at his office while his wife looked after their children, the servants, and a beautiful home. He and Horace were about the same age, but the Traubels’ marriage prefigured the relationships of twentieth-century Greenwich Village bohemians. Horace Traubel’s marriage, like his friendships and politics and writing, was woven into the culturally radical fabric of his life.
Harned thought the life Horace had chosen was hard on Anne. Certainly Traubel’s schedule after 1892, when he quit his job at the bank, played havoc with domestic regularity. As Harned said, he would rise at ten in the morning, then take the ferry to Philadelphia, where he generally stayed for the next fourteen hours. Traubel worked very hard—he slept only four to five hours a night—but he was also an immensely sociable man. He presided over an informal group of writers and artists known as the “Pepper Pot Club” who met for long, talkative dinners at a cheap Philadelphia restaurant. Casual customers would stare at the group of eight to a dozen men and women, yelling and thumping on the table as they discussed “Christian Science, anarchism, vaccination and vivisection, literature, drama, art, labor and capital, prohibition and women’s suffrage,”  among other topics. When not knocking back chicken sandwiches and bad coffee, Traubel was a familiar figure at plays, concerts, baseball games and prize fights in Philadelphia. He attended virtually every Philadelphia Symphony concert—over 4600 concerts, he claimed—saw his favorite actor Edwin Booth in more than three hundred plays, and was a regular in the Philadephia Athletics’ bleachers, renowned for his “bellowing pair of leather lungs” . On Sundays he held open house in Camden. While guests played the piano, sang, talked and argued, “the hours flew fast,” a regular visitor recalled. “Presently Mrs. Traubel was missed, and we knew that she had gone to superintend the preparation of supper for which every one hoped he would be bidden to remain. Bidden or unbidden, every one stayed as a matter of course, and Mrs. Traubel’s larder always appeared to have the best qualities of the widow’s cruse, though the poor lady could never be sure in advance whether four or fourteen would sit down to supper. Hospitality of the best sort was Horace Traubel’s sole dissipation”.
Some of the most powerful moments in Leaves of Grass feature the poet alone in nature, but it is difficult to imagine Horace Traubel in solitude. “He could not endure loneliness,”  said a close friend, nor could he endure the shared solitude of marriage. For all his talk about love in his poetry and prose, Traubel never put together the noun “love” with the adjective “free.” Like Whitman, he would not be drawn into the sex vortex. But his Conservator writings subtly supported the free love ideology of early twentieth-century sex radicals. “Is love an affair you can settle with the marriage bed?” he asked rhetorically in one of his Conservator essays. “Love cannot be honest and be confined. Love is always an overflow. No enfranchised man could contain his love. Or bestow it all upon any other individual”. Anne Traubel, associate editor of the Conservator, must have read this essay. Did she know upon whom her husband bestowed his overflowing love? If she did, she never gave any indication. It was not until long after her death that scholars found the letters documenting Horace Traubel’s long, passionate love affair with a fellow Whitman disciple.
Gustave Percival Wiksell was a Boston dentist who joined the local branch of the Walt Whitman Fellowship soon after it was founded. He quickly became a stalwart of the Boston group and an officer in the national organization; by 1903 he was president of the Whitman Fellowship, an office he held for the rest of the Fellowship’s existence. Traubel and Wiksell became acquainted in 1894; within a few years they were lovers.
Of course, one has to be careful about asserting that men of a century ago were lovers in our sense of the term, particularly men involved in the Whitman Fellowship. One of the attractions of Whitmanism in both England and the U.S. was that it provided a culturally safe space for men to declare their love for one another. “Be you my lover,” Traubel wrote Wallace near the beginning of their friendship, and his correspondence with Debs was full of passionate declarations of love on both sides: “It would be impossible for one human being to love another more than I love you,” Debs wrote Traubel in 1910. Ward Edwards, one of the participants in the Horace Traubel birthday dinners, described how he had “had many letters from Horace, and all of them love letters,” adding that these were “the only kind worth the postage”. It is highly unlikely that Traubel ever had a physical love affair with Wallace, Debs, or Edwards; rather, these men were immersed in a Whitman-sanctioned discourse of male love that, even during the decades following the Oscar Wilde trials, allowed them to express their affection for one another without sexual implications.
However, Traubel’s letters to Wiksell move beyond comradeship into physically explicit expressions of desire. “I dream of . . . the little bed in your paradise and the two arms of a brother that accept me in their divine partnership,” Traubel wrote shortly before traveling to Boston. After his visit, he wrote longingly, “I sit here and write you a letter. It is not a pen that is writing. It is the lips that you have kissed. It is the body that you have traversed over and over with your consecrating palm. Do you not feel that body? Do you not feel the return?”  These and other letters leave little doubt that the two men had a sexual love affair, an affair that seems to have been remarkably guilt-free. Wiksell’s letters to Traubel refer to his own wife and child and mix heavy-breathing passion with cheery greetings to “Annie and Gertrude,”  Traubel’s wife and daughter.
The complete lack of furtiveness or shame in the Traubel-Wiksell correspondence is particularly striking given Traubel’s angry response to John Addington Symonds’ suggestions that “Calamus” encouraged “ardent and physical intimacies”  between men. After Whitman’s death, Symonds began querying other Whitmanites for confirmation of his theories, including J. W. Wallace. The genial Wallace told Traubel all about Symonds’ inquiry and his response, remarking how “curious” it was “that it should fall to my lot to explain to him what ‘the drift’ of Calamus is and to show how ungrounded are the fears which he entertains of one direction of its possible influence. Is it not a striking illustration of the sophistication and stunting effect of what is called ‘literary culture’ that Symonds . . . should be so much at sea in dealing with the fresh natural emotions expressed in ‘Calamus’ and well enough known to simple and unlettered people?” Traubel replied vehemently, “Homosexuality is disease—it is muck and rot—it is decay and muck—and Walt uttered the master-cries of health, of salvation, and purity, of growth and beauty” . Traubel’s response has an edge of hysterical defensiveness, though at the time he was newly married and years away from his affair with Wiksell. By the time the affair began, he had put any defensiveness aside, and his correspondence with Wiksell reveals how both men found a sanction for their passion in a heavily religious discourse that combined Walt Whitman, Christianity, and Eastern religion.
The Traubel letters already quoted, with their talk of a “divine” partnership and a “consecrating” palm, reveal how the two men mingled the erotic and the religious, interpreting their love affair in spiritual terms. The Christmas season seemed to bring their eroticized spirituality to its height. “Oh darling my brother I hold your hands in mine,” Wiksell wrote in December 1901. “I kiss you and thank God for you. You are one of God’s ties to hold me to the holy things of love”. Traubel wrote on Christmas day 1903, “When it is Christmas and I think of Christ I find it natural and easy to think of you. When Christ is present to me you also are present to me. You have done the work of Christ, and that is better than to wear his name. . . . I send you a kiss for this sacred day. This sacred day like all other days sacred to the loyalties of the soul”. Neither Traubel nor Wiksell identified himself as Christian—that is, they did not “wear [Christ’s] name”—but they borrowed Christian terminology as a sanction for their affair.
They also borrowed from the language of Theosophy. There was an overlap in membership between the Walt Whitman Fellowship and the Theosophical Society, and although Wiksell and Traubel were no more formally Theosophist than they were Christian, they were influenced by Theosophy’s eclectic appropriations of Eastern religion. Wiksell wrote Traubel after a visit, “When I left you on the train . . . I had no feeling of loss as we often feel when one we love goes away. I did not have any feeling of separation. Your visit was a bodily one—spiritually we are never separated. ‘Kill out all sense of separateness’ is one of the laws of yoga. This will be the real heaven when all men have become one and there are no separate persons in the world. My lips to yours dear one” . Wiksell and Traubel interpreted their lovemaking as a physical demonstration of mystical human union.
However, Theosophical interpretations of their love were much less frequent than their invocations of Walt Whitman. After 1903 the two men nearly always inscribed their love letters on official stationery of the Walt Whitman Fellowship, which listed their names below Whitman’s: Wiksell as president and Traubel as secretary-treasurer. Walt Whitman literally enclosed their relationship, and they referred constantly to Whitman and Leaves of Grass. For example, each worked variations on Whitman’s reference to a “son of responding kisses”  in one of his Civil War poems: “Brother of responding kisses. I often feel your two arms about me,” Traubel wrote, and Wiksell replied, “Oh brother of sweet touches and responding kisses I remain in your arms forever” . Traubel’s connection to Whitman was important for Wiksell, who had never met Whitman personally. “In you I find alive so much of our dear friend Walt,” he wrote Traubel early in their relationship. When the first volume of With Walt Whitman in Camden appeared years later, Wiksell’s indirect connection to Whitman seemed to intensify enormously: “I feel now as though I know as much about him as you yourself and have kissed his bearded lips. Through you I arrive at kinship with the divine compassionate man”. The “divine” Whitman’s poetry provided a spiritualized sanction for their love affair. At the same time, they reinterpreted his life. Bucke had published Whitman’s letters to Peter Doyle as proof of Whitman’s sexual purity, but Traubel and Wiksell saw the Whitman-Doyle relationship as a model for their own, and they sat for photographs in poses that imitated photos of Walt and Pete together.
It is not clear how long their physical affair lasted, but Wiksell and Traubel remained close friends until the latter’s death. The last piece in the final issue of The Conservator is a Wiksell prose-poem that asserts Whitman’s religious significance: “If all the theologies . . . were to sink in the quicksands . . . 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 . . . Leaves of Grass—biography of a man—is the biography of God”. Whitmanism offered Wiksell and Traubel a way to sanctify their love during the opening years of the twentieth century, the decades when same-sex passion was being turned into the supposedly deviant sexual category of homosexuality. Their identities as members of the Whitman Fellowship enabled them to turn their backs on the emerging psychiatric/legal understanding of male love and locate their passion within a religious framework that borrowed terms from Christianity, Theosophy and, above all, Leaves of Grass.
* * *
In the final months of his life, weakened by one heart attack after another, Traubel saw little of Wiksell. The social circle of this formerly vibrant, gregarious man contracted to a few intimates, including his wife Anne, David Karsner, editor of a socialist newspaper, and Canadian Whitmanites Mildred and Frank Bain and Flora MacDonald Denison. Traubel died at the home of Denison, a well-known figure in Ontario radical circles. At Bon Echo, Denison’s country retreat, political and religious tendencies present in the Walt Whitman Fellowship since its beginning came to a head in Horace Traubel’s strange and glorious final days.
In the spring of 1919 Traubel left Camden for what he probably sensed would be the last time to go to New York City, where he could see his new grandson and be on hand for the Whitman centennial celebration in May. He and Anne moved into the home of their friend David Karsner, who occupied two floors of a brownstone on the East River with his wife Rose and daughter Walta Whitman. Karsner, Eugene Debs’s first biographer, arranged for Traubel to work at the table Debs had used in prison following the Pullman strike. The table was at a window overlooking the East River, and as Traubel gazed at the water he thought about Walt. For most of his career following the brief, heady period in the mid-1850s when Ralph Waldo Emerson had endorsed Leaves of Grass, Whitman had emphasized his personal poverty and the general neglect of his work. Traubel continued the martyrdom theme in The Conservator, devoting substantial portions of many issues to reprinting attacks on Leaves of Grass and the Whitman Fellowship. But as Whitman’s one hundredth birthday approached, he was inclined to declare victory. “I say, Walt, dear Walt,” he wrote in his final poem:
“Walt, I could go on all day in this style,”  he writes near the poem’s end, striking fear into readers’ hearts—not even the most devoted Whitmanite could wish this prosy, repetitious poem to be any longer. “Traubel was born with every gift except the blue pencil,” a reviewer of one of his books wrote; he would not have disputed the judgment. Unlike Whitman, who obsessively worked over his poems, frequently trying out multiple variations of a single phrase, Traubel never revised. He was a believer in what spiritualists called “automatic writing.” Early in his career as editor of The Conservator, he bragged that he had composed a fifty-page essay on “Beauty and Morality” in only two hours: “Thinking comes easy. I dip my pen in the ink and let the rest take care of itself. There is a self back of one’s formal self which uses the external agents as media only. It is a mediumistic trait. I seem to have it in abundance and it quickly facilitates my labor” .
Traubel’s dual interests in mediumistic traits and Walt Whitman were shared by many in his circle, but by no one more fervently than Flora MacDonald Denison . Traubel met her on one of his many trips to Toronto, where he visited his old friends Mildred and Frank Bain, wealthy socialists and Whitmanites who had started a Toronto branch of the Whitman Fellowship. Denison, nine years younger than Traubel, had discovered Whitman as a young woman and integrated Leaves of Grass into the eccentric, powerful political and religious program that absorbed her energies as an adult. Denison was best known in Canada as a founder of the nation’s foremost women’s suffrage organization and its leader from 1911 to 1914. During those years she wrote a weekly column for a Toronto newspaper with the Whitmanesque title “The Open Road Towards Democracy.” Her devotion to Whitman, democracy, and women’s suffrage was matched by her passion for other causes, including socialism, spiritualism, and Theosophy. Karl Marx and ouija boards may seem an unlikely combination, but in the later nineteenth century, when Denison came to adulthood, spiritualism was at the center of North American reform movements.
American spiritualism began in 1848 in upstate New York when two young sisters, Maggie and Kate Fox, heard noises that they were convinced came from the spirit world . The rappings at the Fox home caused a national sensation, and within a few years thousands of Americans were holding séances to communicate with the spirits of the dead. The era’s high death rate meant that most adults lost a child or spouse prematurely; many seized on the notion that their dead loved ones were present in immaterial form and could communicate through such means as rapping, ouija boards, and automatic writing. Yet the death rate had been high throughout human history—why did spiritualism take hold in North America in the mid nineteenth century?
The movement’s appeal came in part because it blended science and religion at a time when these two strains seemed irreconcilable. At the moment when scientific method in biology and geology shattered Judaeo-Christian accounts of creation, spiritualism promoted itself as an empirically verifiable religion that used scientifically rigorous methods to prove the existence of spirits. And at a time when traditional scientific research, once the domain of self-educated amateurs, was being taken over by university-trained professionals, spiritualism welcomed women as spirit researchers. Frowned on by the political and religious establishment, spiritualism appealed to people at the margins—including the half of the population marginalized because of their gender. From the Fox sisters on, women took leading roles in the spiritualist movement, and it is not surprising that these strong, independent-minded women soon forged links with the growing women’s rights movement. After the Civil War, spiritualists became associated not only with women’s rights but with virtually every other reform movement of the era: prison reform, abolition of capital punishment, sex reform, Native American rights, higher wages for workers, and the right of labor to organize.
The spiritualist movement lost strength after 1875, when many adherents split off to join the newly established Theosophical Society, which united elements of spiritualism with Buddhism, yoga, and Hinduism . Theosophy was founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a Russian immigrant, and Henry Steele Olcott, a former Union army officer and prominent New York lawyer. The core of their society’s doctrines was found in Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, two massive books that Blavatsky claimed had been dictated to her by Eastern masters while she was in a mediumistic trance. Blavatsky and Olcott were not social reformers, but their movement attracted adherents familiar with spiritualism’s blend of metaphysics and social reform. Denison was a perfect representative. This politically active suffragist organized a Social Reconstruction Group within the Toronto Theosophical Society and served as its delegate to the founding convention of the Ontario section of the Canadian Labour Party.
In 1916 Denison took time from her feminist and socialist political activities to attend to a property she had bought some years before: Bon Echo, a rambling lodge on the shores of Lake Mazinaw in Ontario. She determined to turn it into a combination summer hotel and spiritual community dedicated to the ideals of Walt Whitman, and she began publishing The Sunset of Bon Echo, a sporadically appearing journal with contributions from eminent Whitmanites such as Harned, Traubel, and her close friend and fellow spiritualist-suffragist Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
Early in 1919, Denison attended a Toronto séance at which the medium Dr. Albert Durrant summoned the spirit of Walt Whitman. Whitman communicated with the group via a form of ouija board, and Denison printed his lengthy address in Sunset of Bon Echo. Whitman had evidently been reading his friend Dr. Bucke’s book in the spirit world, since most of his message dealt with Cosmic Consciousness, a subject he had resolutely avoided while alive. The session confirmed Denison’s decision to dedicate a massive granite outcropping on Lake Mazinaw—two miles long and nearly four hundred feet high—to Whitman. When she told Traubel about her plans, he decided to travel to Canada for the dedication, although it was clear to everyone that he was dying. His friend Frank Bain came to New York to escort him and Anne to Ontario after doctors told Anne that Horace might not survive the trip but at least would not die on the train. Just before they reached Montreal, Traubel had another heart attack. They paused briefly, then pushed on to Bon Echo.
At Bon Echo, Traubel was surrounded by friends who had come for the Canadian Whitman Fellowship’s centennial celebration. He seemed to rally in their presence, and three weeks after his arrival decided he was strong enough to make the trip by boat to dedicate “Old Walt,” as Denison had dubbed the rock. On August 25 two men carried Traubel’s wheelchair onto the dock, where a party of fifteen embarked across the lake in canoes and rowboats. Once they reached the rock, they maneuvered the rowboat carrying Traubel and Denison into position so that the two Whitmanites could perform the simple dedication ceremony: simultaneously, they placed their hands on the granite and uttered the words “Old Walt.” Immediately both Horace and Anne broke into sobs, while the others respectfully observed the affecting scene.
Three days later, Horace began having visions. With his mind running on his days with Whitman ever since the birthday celebration in New York, his emotions heightened by the dedication ceremony, and his receptiveness quickened by his association with Denison and her spiritualist friends, it is unsurprising that Traubel started to see Walt Whitman in the Canadian wilderness. Three days after the dedication, as he sat at sunset gazing at “Old Walt” across the lake, he rapped his cane on the floor to summon Flora Denison. She came running, fearing the worst, and found him radiant. “Look, look, Flora; quick, quick, he is going.” “What, where, Horace, I do not see anyone.” “Why just over the Rock Walt appeared, head and shoulders and hat on, in a golden glory—brilliant and splendid. He reassured me, beckoned to me, and spoke to me. I heard his voice but did not understand all he said, only ‘Come on’” . Traubel would live only eleven more days. During that time, Anne bustled about him, loving and attentive, feeding her husband’s insatiable ego: “You’re triumphant, Horace, you’ve affected the ages, no regrets, Horace, no regrets” . Walt was present to Horace as well. “Come on, come on,” he told his disciple.
On September 8, 1919, Traubel came on. His funeral three days later was scheduled to take place at a Unitarian church in New York. As the mourners started to assemble and the hearse carrying Traubel’s remains turned onto the street in front of the church, the chancel suddenly burst into flames, and the crowd fled through dense smoke. No one was injured, and on the spot it was decided to move the ceremony to People’s House, a nearby socialist club. “He burned the church down before he’d be taken into it,” one of the mourners remarked. “The church burned down before it would have him in it,” his companion replied. Percival Wiksell led the services for his old friend, quoting poems by Whitman and Traubel.
Following the ceremony, the hearse made its way to Camden. The next day, a small group gathered in Harleigh Cemetery, not far from Whitman’s tomb. As he requested, Horace Traubel was buried close to Walt. At the end, all the “isms” seemed less important to him than the simple fact of the years of friendship with the old man he loved. “Oh! those blessed old times, Walt!” Traubel wrote in his last poem. “They’re sacreder to me than the scriptures of races: / They’re the scriptures of our two personal souls made one in a single supreme vision” . As Wallace said, Horace had been the John of the band, the disciple whom Walt loved. Now, in his final mystic visions, he and Walt would be one, inseparable, as eternal as leaves of grass.
Frequently Cited Sources
Bolton Bolton (England) Central Library
Corr The Correspondence of Walt Whitman, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: NYU P, 1961-1977)
CP Walt Whitman, Complete Poetry and Collected Prose (New York: Library of America, 1982)
In Re In Re Walt Whitman, ed. Horace L. Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke and Thomas B. Harned (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893)
Rylands John Rylands University Library, Manchester, England
TC Horace and Anne Montgomerie Traubel Collection, Library of Congress
WC G. Percival Wiksell Collection, Library of Congress
WWC Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, 9 vols. (various publishers, 1906-1996)
WWQR Walt Whitman Quarterly Review
A Note on Citations from Leaves of Grass
Leaves of Grass has a complicated textual history, with six or seven—or even more--editions in Whitman’s lifetime, depending on what one counts as an edition. Whenever possible, I have taken quotations from the widely available Library of America edition of Complete Poetry and Collected Prose (1982), which includes both the 1855 first edition and the 1891-92 “deathbed” edition and is cited as CP. Generally, I quote from the deathbed edition. When it is important to quote a poem as one of the disciples would have first encountered it, I use the abbreviations LG 1860 or LG 1867 to indicate that citations are taken from these editions of Leaves of Grass.
I call to the world: Whitman, “Myself and Mine,” CP 380.
Horace Traubel was determined: This account of the 1919 Whitman Fellowship dinner is largely drawn from David Karsner, Horace Traubel: His Life and Work (New York: Egmont Arens, 1919), 21-27. Aside from Karsner, the principal biographical source is Donald Richard Stoddard, “Horace Traubel: A Critical Biography” (Ph.D. diss., U of Pennsylvania, 1970).
“The truth is”: Helen Keller, “Horace Traubel,” Conservator 30 (May 1919): 45.
“He had a lot of fool friends”: Thomas B. Harned to J. W. Wallace, 28 Aug. 1920, Bolton.
“Horace, you were a mere boy”: WWC 3:407.
“You have saved my books”: WWC 1:187.
“I don’t know”: WWC 1:409.
“Come, kiss me for good night”: WWC 2:82.
“I feel somehow”: WWC 1:207.
There is nothing to suggest that the relationship . . . was ever a sexual one: See Gary Schmidgall’s discussions of the Whitman-Traubel relationship in Walt Whitman: A Gay Life (New York: Dutton, 1997), 225-50; and in his introduction to Intimate with Walt (Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2001), a volume of selections from With Walt Whitman in Camden.
“There is a sort of apostolic succession”: WWC 4:394.
“You are the ‘John’ of our band”: Wallace to Traubel, 30 June 1893, TC.
“Here he is, Nellie!”: WWC 4:254, 256.
“one of the disciples”: Joachim Wach, Sociology of Religion (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1944), 135.
“Whitman’s magnetic quality”: William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (London: Alexander Gardner, 1896), 109.
 Max Weber . . . noted that charismatic authority: Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion (1922; Boston: Beacon, 1963), 46-79.
 “Let us keep up the comradeship”: Wallace to Traubel, 5 May 1892, TC.
 “great and loving comradeship”: Wallace to Traubel, 16 May 1892, TC.
“You are the natural centre”: Wallace to Traubel, 26 April 1892, TC.
“O my dead comrade”: Horace Traubel, “Succession,” Conservator 5 (June 1894): 57.
two out of every five American men: Mark C. Carnes and Clyde Griffen, Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1990), 221.
“We must always adopt Walt”: Traubel to Wallace, 14 June 1892, Rylands.
 “The unconstraint and felicity”: Horace L. Traubel, Camden’s Compliment to Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1889), 16.
“the Bible of the Nineteenth Century”: Horace L. Traubel, “Round Table with Walt Whitman,” In Re 309-10.
“John Burroughs, of all men”: Traubel, “Round Table,” In Re 320; see also 299, 305, 322. Subsequent quotations in this paragraph are from pages 304-05 and 321.
“I laid his hand quietly down”: WWC 9:600.
“the most eminent citizen”: Horace L. Traubel, “At the Graveside of Walt Whitman,” In Re 449, 448.
 “And as we stood there together”: WWC 9:622.
“This is not to create”: Horace Traubel, “Walt Whitman’s Birthday, May 31st,” Conservator 3 (July 1892): 35.
“It is a great privilege”: Horace Traubel, “Collect,” Conservator 3 (May 1892): 17.
“To bring Unitarian”: Horace Traubel, “Collect,” Conservator 1 (Feb. 1891): 89.
“great religious emancipators”: Horace L. Freiss, Felix Adler and Ethical Culture (New York: Columbia UP, 1981), 52. The other principal history of Ethical Culture is Howard B. Radest, Toward Common Ground: The Story of the Ethical Societies in the United States (New York: Ungar, 1969).
“A Few Friendly Withdrawals”: Conservator 2 (May 1891): 19.
“Horace is apt”: Harned to Wallace, n.d., Bolton.
 “Everything flows”: Horace Traubel, “Collect,” Conservator 5 (April 1894): 17-19.
“What an ardent”: Wallace to Traubel, 16 May 1892, TC.
“The dinner was moved”: Traubel to Wallace, 28 Jan. 1894, Bolton.
“Consider well this”: Traubel to Wallace, 1 March 1894, Bolton.
“Our College is one thing”: Wallace to Traubel, 15 March 1894, TC.
“We are all”: Traubel to Wallace, 14 July 1894, Bolton.
Traubel’s mania for organizing: For an alternative interpretation of the Traubel-Wallace relationship, see Joann P. Krieg, “Without Walt Whitman in Camden,” WWQR 14 (1996-97): 85-112.
“I find I’m a good deal more”: WWC 2:4.
“Of that I’m not so sure”: WWC 1:222.
“I look forward”: WWC 3:315.
“fierce agitations”: WWC 3:481.
“It is queer”: WWC 4:429.
“I want you”: Traubel to Wallace, 19 Nov. 1892, Bolton.
“anarchist than socialist”: Traubel to Wallace, 5 April 1893, Bolton.
“the premier socialist”: Eugene V. Debs, “Whitman and Traubel,” Conservator 28 (July 1917): 77; William English Walling, Whitman and Traubel (New York: Albert & Charles Boni, 1916), 40.
changes within American socialism: On American socialism during Traubel’s lifetime see Paul Buhle, Marxism in the United States, rev. ed. (London: Verso, 1991), 1-120; Robert J. Fitrakis, The Idea of Democratic Socialism in America and the Decline of the Socialist Party (New York: Garland, 1993), 3-131; and Irving Howe, Socialism and America (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985), 3-48. On Debs see Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1982). Bryan K. Garman analyzes the relationships among Debs, Traubel, Whitman and socialism in A Race of Singers: Whitman’s Working-Class Hero from Guthrie to Springsteen (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2000), 1-78.
“lyrical Socialist”: John Patrick Diggins, The Rise and Fall of the American Left (New York: Norton, 1992), 94.
“The skies of the East”: Debs quoted in Harold W. Currie, Eugene V. Debs (Boston: Twayne, 1976), 54.
“too often descended”: Currie, Eugene V. Debs, 54.
“Way down here”: Debs to Traubel, 27 Nov. 1909, TC.
“My heart opens”: Debs to Traubel, 6 Dec. 1909 and 25 April 1910, TC.
Nick Salvatore has pointed out: Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs, 63-64, 88-89.
“When the . . . Whitman Fellowship”: Eugene V. Debs, Conservator 16 (June 1905): 56.
“I repeat myself?”: Horace Traubel, Chants Communal (1904; New York: Albert & Charles Boni, 1914), 95.
“Time was”: Clarence Swartz, “Chants Communal,” Conservator 15 (Feb. 1905), 189.
“Traubel chants”: Ernest Crosby, “Chants Communal,” Conservator 16 (April 1905): 29.
“Every page”: Eugene V. Debs, “Chants Communal,” Conservator 16 (April 1905): 29.
“I can say”: Emma Goldman to Traubel, 19 Feb. 1902, TC.
“The People Are the Masters of Life”: Horace Traubel, Optimos (New York: B. W. Huebsch, 1910), 281.
“dishwatery imitations”: H. L. Mencken, “Optimos,” Conservator 22 (Aug. 1911): 87.
“Although a loyal disciple”: Debs in Walling, Whitman and Traubel, foreword.
“contains the spiritual”: Karsner, Horace Traubel, 108. The same opinion is advanced by Mildred Bain, Horace Traubel (New York: Albert & Charles Boni, 1913) and by Walling, Whitman and Traubel.
“I’m just talking all the time about love”: Traubel, Optimos, 232.
“the platitudinarian”: Willard Wright, “Whitman Imitations,” Conservator 22 (Nov. 1911): 136.
“America’s forgotten civil war”: Adam Shatz, “The Prophet of Terre Haute,” New York Times Book Review, 26 Sept. 1999: 22.
“socialists, anarchists, [and] cranks”: Harned to Wallace, n.d., Bolton.
“Traubel has worked”: Harned in Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs, Comrades (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931), 360.
“What Walt Whitman Means”: “Program for the Seventeenth Annual Meeting at the Hotel Brevoort, New York, May 31, 1911,” Walt Whitman Fellowship Papers.
“Those who have realized”: Thomas B. Harned, “Whitman and the Future,” Conservator 6 (June 1895): 54.
“There is hardly room”: Traubel to Wallace, 30 Nov. 1893, Bolton.
“It is true”: Traubel to Wallace, 29 May 1894, Bolton.
“Consider if some one”: R. M. Bucke to Traubel, 25 Dec. 1895, TC.
“I announce myself”: Horace Traubel, “What Walt Whitman Thought of Whitman Celebrations,” Philadelphia Press Sunday Magazine, 4 May 1919: 6.
“I hope to God”: Traubel, “What Whitman Thought of Whitman Celebrations,” 6.
“I look to see”: Traubel to Wallace, 12 Feb. 1894, Bolton.
absolutist religious movements: James Davison Hunter, “The New Religions: Demodernization and the Protest Against Modernity,” Cults in Context: Readings in the Study of New Religious Movements, ed. Lorne L. Dawson (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1998), 105-18.
“You shall no longer”: Whitman, “Song of Myself,” CP 189-90.
The American Arts and Crafts movement: Wendy Kaplan, “The Art that Is Life”: The Arts and Crafts Movement in America, 1875-1920 (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1987) offers a through introduction. Eileen Boris, Art and Labor: Ruskin, Morris, and the Craftsman Ideal in America (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1986) and T. J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920 (New York: Pantheon, 1981) discuss Rose Valley in the course of interpretations of the movement.
“In entering upon this work”: Hawley McLanahan, “Rose Valley in Particular,” Artsman 1 (Oct. 1903): 13.
“I can see God”: Horace Traubel, “Rose Valley in General,” Artsman 1 (Oct. 1903): 25.
“by thud of machinery”: Whitman, “Song of the Exposition,” CP 343.
“If you are a white American”: Horace Traubel, “The Souls of Black Folk,” Conservator 14 (May 1903): 43.
“If present tendencies”: Charles W. Chesnutt to Traubel, 3 July 1903, TC.
“among black folks”: Whitman, “Song of Myself,” CP 31.
“nigger question”: WWC 6:323.
“What did [Whitman] do”: Kelly Miller, “What Walt Whitman Means to the Negro,” Conservator 6 (July 1895): 72.
“the economic radicalisms”: Traubel, “The Souls of Black Folk,” 44.
“receive the Negro”: Debs quoted in Fitrakis, Idea of Democratic Socialism, 82.
“no ‘Negro problem’”: Debs quoted in Howe, Socialism and America, 21.
“I want to see a woman”: Traubel to Wallace, 6 Sept. 1894, Bolton.
“Whitman’s Ideal Democracy”: Helena Born, Whitman’s Ideal Democracy and Other Writings (Boston: Everett Press,
Mabel MacCoy Irwin: Irwin, Whitman: The Poet-Liberator of Woman (New York, 1905).
“I say it is as great”: Whitman, “Song of Myself,” CP 207.
“Without shame”: Whitman, “A Woman Waits for Me,” CP 259.
“after all Whitman has said”: Helen Abbot Michael, “Woman and Freedom in Whitman,” Poet-Lore 9 (1897): 235.
“in all [Whitman’s] singing”: Helen Clarke and Charlotte Endymion Porter, “A Short Reading Course in Whitman,” Poet-Lore 6 (1894): 645.
“Why is it”: Helen Clarke to Traubel, 5 May 1897, TC.
“among the few men”: Clarke to Traubel, August 1897, TC.
“In truth”: William T. Innes quoted in Stoddard, “Horace Traubel,” 39.
“Just why Horace”: Harned to Wallace, 28 August 1920, Bolton.
“Christian Science”: Karsner, Horace Traubel, 91.
“bellowing pair”: Stoddard, “Horace Traubel,” 105.
“the hours flew fast”: Frederick S. Bigelow quoted in Stoddard, “Horace Traubel,” 109-10.
“He could not endure loneliness”: Karsner, Horace Traubel, 14.
“Is love an affair”: Traubel, “Collect,” Conservator 15 (April 1904): 19.
“Be you my lover”: Traubel to Wallace, 19 Jan. 1893, Bolton.
“It would be impossible”: Debs to Traubel, 12 April 1910, TC.
“had many letters”: Ward Edwards, “I’m So Glad Horace Traubel Was Born,” Conservator 29 (Jan. 1919): 171.
“I dream of”: Traubel to Wiksell, 3 Jan. 1904, WC.
“I sit here”: Traubel to Wiksell, 12 May 1904, WC.
“Annie and Gertrude”: Wiksell to Traubel, 30 Dec. 1901, TC.
“ardent and physical intimacies”: The Letters of John Addington Symonds, ed. Herbert M. Schueller and Robert L. Peters (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1969), 3:483.
“curious”: Wallace to Traubel, 1 Jan. 1893, TC.
“Homosexuality is disease”: Traubel to Wallace, 10 Jan. 1893, Bolton.
“Oh darling my brother”: Wiksell to Traubel, 30 Dec. 1901, TC.
“When it is Christmas”: Traubel to Wiksell, 25 Dec. 1903, WC.
“When I left you”: Wiksell to Traubel, 28 Dec. 1903, TC.
“son of responding kisses”: Whitman, “Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night,” CP 438.
“Brother of responding kisses”: Traubel to Wiksell, 18 June 1904, WC.
“Oh brother of sweet touches”: Wiksell to Traubel, 21 July 1904, TC.
“In you I find”: Wiksell to Traubel, 27 June 1897, TC.
“I feel now”: Wiksell to Traubel, , TC.
“If all the theologies”: Percival Wiksell, “If All,” Conservator 30 (June 1919): 61.
“I say, Walt, dear Walt”: Horace Traubel, “Walt at Bon Echo,” Walt Whitman’s Canada, ed. Cyril Greenland and John Robert Colombo (Willowdale, ON: Hounslow Press, 1992), 194-95.
“Traubel was born”: Ernest Crosby, “With Walt Whitman in Camden,” Conservator 19 (Sept. 1908): 105.
“Thinking comes easy”: Traubel to Wallace, 19 July 1893, Bolton.
Flora MacDonald Denison: The most complete biography of Denison is Deborah Gorham, “Flora MacDonald Denison: Canadian Feminist,” A Not Unreasonable Claim: Women and Reform in Canada, 1880s-1920s, ed. Linda Kealey (Toronto: Women’s Press, 1979), 47-70.
American spiritualism: On the history of spiritualism and its connections to reform see Ann Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America, 2nd ed. (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2001); and R. Laurence Moore, In Search of White Crows: Spiritualism, Parapsychology, and American Culture (New York: Oxford UP, 1977).
Theosophical Society: On the history of Theosophy see Moore, In Search of White Crows; and Bruce F. Campbell, Ancient Wisdom Revived: A History of the Theosophical Movement (Berkeley: U of California P, 1980).
“Look, look, Flora”: Flora McDonald Denison, “Horace Traubel,” Walt Whitman’s Canada, 198.
“You’re triumphant, Horace”: Denison, “Horace Traubel,” 199.
“He burned the church”: Stoddard, “Horace Traubel,” 396.
“Oh! those blessed old times, Walt!”: Traubel, “Walt at Bon Echo,” 195-96.