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spiritual experience. By virtue of that experience his greatness is recognized and his power acknowledged. He is to-day the minister of a religion whose service is admitted by palpable live disciples. Not to perceive the sacer vates aspect of his life is to miss the reason for his extraordinary influence and to remain ignorant of the essential fact of his biography.


Leaves of Grass is Whitman's personal record. It is a subtle and profound autobiography. He himself composes the epic of the senses, the passions, the ideas, the spiritual aspirations the book displays. Whether speaking of men, animals, or things, he has reference to himself, through whom the whole creation moves as in an endless procession. The universe that he describes is the one he has personalized in his own consciousness. This quality of the book is emphasized by the presence in every edition of something marked, as it were, "personal," an autograph, a portrait, a special note or poem. The portrait facing the Song of Myself is, as Whitman said to his publisher, involved as part of the poem, an inherent part of his message to the world.

This characterization needs, however, some modification. The poem is not in a narrow sense autobiographic. While its first impression is that of a personality, the succeeding and dominant feeling is that of impersonality. His "I" has an infinite range of meaning. He stands as the type, the microcosmos, a man embracing all experiences natural to men and women. His joys and sorrows, virtues and vices, are as often vicarious as personal. "If you become degraded, criminal, ill, then I become so for your sake." His experience furnishes a most remarkable proof of the possibility of identifying the individual with the universal man, and raises the question whether the true self is not in very fact the Spirit of the Universe. His own soul in its growth took on impersonality. He learned to speak of himself in an objective manner, the words "Walt Whitman" standing to him as a sign of the universal man. "What am I," he once said, "but an idea, spirit- a new language for civilization? In the last editions of his poems, passages referring to himself as the lines in the Song of the Broad-axe descriptive of his own shape were omitted. During later years the perception grew that his work was especially representative. In the note at the end of the 1889 edition of the Complete Works he queries: The fancy rises whether the 33 years of life from 1855 to 1888, with their aggregate of


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our New World doings and people, created and formulated the works-coming actually from the direct urge and developments of those years, and not from any individual epic or lyrical attempts whatever, or from my pen or voice, or anybody's special voice, therefore considered as an autochthonic record and experience of the soul and evolution of America and of the world." It is better perhaps to conceive of Whitman not so much as a separate person as the representative of a cosmic instinct and tendency.


Nevertheless, the incarnated form and soul have to be considered, with their particular growths and experiences from the time of birth to death.

Walter was the second of a family of nine children,— seven boys and two girls. The Whitmans are English stock, the line in New England being directly traceable to the Rev. Zechariah Whitman (born 1595), who came from England in 1635, and settled at Milford, Connecticut. The Whitmans were men of considerable prominence in the colonial days. The Rev. Zechariah Whitman of Hull, Massachusetts, the nephew of the Milford Whitman, was a Harvard graduate (1668), and is described in the Dorchester records as "Vir pius, humilis, orthodoxus, utilisimus." Joseph Whitman, of the Milford family, moved to Huntington, Long Island, about 1660, purchasing the farm at West Hills, which was occupied in turn by Whitman's great-grandfather, grandfather, and father. The family burying-ground, on the home farm, contains perhaps fifty stones, uninscribed as was the Quaker custom. The Whitman line is described as a long-lived race, large of stature, slow of movement, sturdy and friendly of nature. They appear to have been of democratic and heretical tendencies. In the Revolution several of the family were soldiers and officers of rank under Washington. Many members of the family have maintained the New England academic traditions, twelve of the name having graduated from Harvard, five at Yale, and nine at other Eastern colleges. There have been ministers and teachers beyond number. The great-grandmother on the paternal side is known to have been a large, swarthy woman, rather rude in disposition. The immediate grandmother, Hannah Brush, was a woman of superior type. With memories of the Revolution, she instilled into her grandson the spirit of independence. Walter Whitman, the poet's father (born 1789, died 1855), was a farmer and carpenter. He is pictured as a large, quiet, serious

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Her name, Naomi Williams, suggests a Welsh or Celtic ancestry. The poet's mother, Louise, daughter of Cornelius Van Velsor, exhibits the best traits of the Holland woman, whose sign is a noble and perfect maternity. She was distinguished by sweetness of temper, sympathy, a genial optimism, and genuine spirituality of character. She was a hard worker, enjoyed splendid health, living to the age of eighty. Between her and Walt existed a strong and exceptional attachment. The poet always spoke of her as dear, dear mother "; and of her and his sister Martha he said at the time of their death, in 1873, "They were the two best and sweetest women I have ever seen or known, or ever exvaspect to see." It was undoubtedly from the mother that Whitman derived his essential nature. His due to her is acknowledged in his poem, As at thy Portals also Death:



man, very kind to children and animals, good-natured, a good citizen, neighbor, and parent. His carpentry was solid and conscientious. His religious affinities were with the Quakers. The strong points of his character were resolution, love of freedom and independence.

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The Van Velsors, the mother's family, were farmers and sailors of Holland-Dutch descent, having a homestead on Long Island at Cold Spring Harbor, some three miles distant from West Hills. The Van Velsors were generally warm-hearted, sympathetic, spiritual people. Major Cornelius was a jovial, freehearted Americanized Netherlander, with his family passion for fine horses. The maternal grandmother was a woman of exceptional spiritual character. She was a member of the Society of Friends, and was deeply intuitive and of a kindly charitable disposition. Whitman draws her portrait in his poem on Faces:

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Behold a woman!

She looks out from her quaker cap, her face is clearer and more
beautiful than the sky.

She sits in an armchair under the shaded porch of the farmhouse,
The sun just shines on her old white head.

Her ample gown is of cream-hued linen,

Her grandsons raised the flax, and her grand-daughters spun it with the distaff and the wheel.

The melodious character of the earth,

The finish beyond which philosophy cannot go and does not wish to go,


The justified mother of men.

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As at thy portals also death,

Entering thy sovereign, dim, illimitable grounds,

To memories of my mother, to the divine blending, maternity,
To her, buried and gone, yet buried not, gone not from me,
(I see again the calm benignant face fresh and beautiful still,
I sit by the form in the coffin,

I kiss and kiss convulsively again the sweet old lips, the cheeks,
the closed eyes in the coffin;)

To her, the ideal woman, practical, spiritual, of all of earth,
life, love, to me the best,

I grave a monumental line, before I go, amid these songs,
And set a tombstone here.

The Quaker traditions were strongly imposed upon his character. He had Quaker habits, such as wearing the hat and dressing in plain gray clothes. He had a dislike of ostentation or sensationalism. He wrote to Osgood, his publisher, to make his book "plain and simple even to Quakerism-no sensationalism about it—no luxury. a book for honest wear and use. Quaker traits appear in his silence, plainness, placidity, sincerity, self-respect, dislike of debate, strife, and war. They are evidenced in his friendliness, benevolence, his deep religiousness, and in his trust in the "Inner Light." The spirit both of the grand


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"As to loving and disinterested parents, "Whitman has said, "no
boy or man ever had more cause to bless and thank them than I."
Of this inheritance of blood the Dutch ancestry is the most
noticeable in Whitman's composition. He represents the Dutch-
American type.
He had the splendid health of the Netherland-
ers, their blond face, tinged with rose, gentle eyes, and flaxen
hair, which turned to white at thirty. As evidences of Dutch
origin, William Sloane Kennedy points to Whitman's endurance,
practicality, sanity, thrift, excessive neatness and purity of person,
and the preponderance of the simple and serious over the humorous
and refined in his phrenology. The forms of his art are Dutch,—
its realism, its glorification of the commonplace, its transcenden-
talism and mysticism. His independence is Dutch. In the vistas
of his democratic ideas is discernible the struggle of the Nether-
lands for liberty, free thought, and free institutions. There is
evidence of the mingling somewhere of French Protestant blood
with the Dutch stock,- a common occurrence in early New York.
The French terms in his writings appear to be home words
rather than learned from books.

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mother and mother descended upon him, directing his mind from childhood into spiritual channels. In the family and in the Long Island neighborhood the influence of Elias Hicks was strong and pervasive. The biography of Hicks that Whitman wrote in later life-loving and reverencing the great Quaker-is, as to spiritual matters, a transcript of the poet's own experiences. No one ever put greater trust in the authority of his own soul and interior revelation than he who defined the doctrine of the Quakers in these terms: 66 The great matter is to reveal and outpour the Godlike suggestions pressing for birth in the soul." In the least thing or in the greatest Whitman waited for the promptings of the spirit, what he termed his "calls" or summons." As a Quaker, he could not take part in internecine strife; but he felt "called " to go to the field to do what he could for the suffering sick and wounded of whatever army. To his friends assembled in 1889 to do him honor he said: "Following the impulse of the spirit (for I am at least half of Quaker stock) I have obeyed the command to come and look at you for a minute and show myself face to face; which is probably the best I can do. But I have felt no command to make a speech; and shall not therefore attempt any."

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Up to the age of twenty Whitman's environment was largely constituted by Long Island. Though his parents resided during most of this period at Brooklyn, yet the boy paid frequent visits to his relations at West Hills, taught school at sixteen in different parts of the island, "boarding round," and for a year or two edited at Huntington a newspaper, whose copies he distributed himself, walking or riding over the island.

Long Island was settled chiefly by the Dutch and English early in the seventeenth century. Their descendants, with some native Indians and a few negro slaves, constituted the population in Whitman's boyhood. Farming, ship-building, and fishing were the leading occupations. The island is about 120 miles long and 12 to 20 miles wide, in shape like a fish. Through the centre runs an irregular range of low hills, affording every variety of scenery. The coast line is indented with harbors. These and the salt marshes at the upper reaches of the inlets give characteristic touches to an island home. The hills are fully wooded with trees of oak, hickory, pine, chestnut, and locust. The farm-houses are generally low frame structures, covered roof and sides with

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