Walt Whitmans Children, Indianapolis Journal (Article, September 1902)

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Walt Whitman's Children

He Acknowledged Six, Though Never "Formally Married."

The Book Lover,

The intimate personal relations of any man or woman are matters about which the outsider as a rule can known but little, and about which he instinctively feels he has no right to inquire. At the same time, remarks Edward Carpenter, the radical English poet and essayist, "one cannot help being conscious that a person's general relations to the subject of sex are an important part of his temperament, personality and mental outfit--so important that it is difficult or perhaps impossible to get a full understanding of his character without some knowledge on this side; and one feels, for instance, that a biography which ignores it is far from complete." Going on to speak of Walt Whitman, whom he knew personally, Edward Carpenter says (in the Reformer, London):

"In the case of Whitman, whose writings deal so much, both directly and indirectly, with the subject of sex. It seems all the more natural to wish to have some general outline of the author's personal and intimate relations, and to suppose that such outline, if rightly conceived, would be helpful toward a true understanding of the poet.

"There is, however, curiously little known in this respect about Whitman's life. Everyone is aware that he was never married-- that is, in any formal or acknowledged way. His life after the civil war was clouded by intermittent paralysis, bringing with it invalidism and infirmity; and of his history before his arrival in Washington, i.e., prior to the age of fort-four or so-- the period when he would be most likely to knit up such relations--only the barest outline is known.

" 'Leaves of Grass,' that extraordinary piece of self-revelation, gives us some mental attitude of the author. * * * It would not, of course, be reasonable to suppose that all the personal utterances, of acts done, of passions expressed, or experiences lived through or of individuals loved-- which are to be found in 'Leaves of Grass' are to be taken as literal records of things which actually happened to the author himself. They could hardly be gathered into a single lifetime. Yet one can see that they are to be taken as experiences, either actual or potential, for which his inner spirit was prepared, and as a record of things which he could freely accept, understand, and find places for."

At times, observes Mr. Carpenter, one can hardly avoid the conclusion in reading certain passages of Whitman's poetry that he is describing actual occurrences in his own life. "In a life so full and rich as Whitman's there must have been many intimate personal experiences, of which the world knows nothing, and will know nothing." He continues:

"He (Whitman) has himself told his friends that he had children--and in a letter to J. Addington Symonds (dated 10th August 1890) he mentioned that he had six. * * *

"On the other hand, it would be rash, and I thank a wrong, conclusion to suppose that because Whitman had several children (out of the bounds of formal marriage) he was therefore a dissolute and uncontrolled person, much given to casual liaisons with the opposite sex. We know nothing, as I have said, of the circumstances which led to these connections, nor have we the material for passing any judgment of the kind referred to--even if we were so disposed. We know, at at any rate, that in his later life Walt was singularly discreet, almost reserved, in his relations with women; and in that very interesting interview with Pete Doyle, which is given by Dr. Bucke in his edition of 'Calamus'--one of the best running accounts of Walt which we have--Pete says in one passage: 'I never knew a case of Walt's being bothered up by a woman. * * * Walt was too clean; he hated anything which was not clean. Not trace of any kind of dissipation in him. I ought to know about him those years--we were awful close together."

In conclusion Edward Carpenter remarks on Whitman's warm friendship for men, declaring that "in his poems we find his expressions of love toward men and toward women put practically on an equality." On this point he says:

"Whether this large attitude toward sex, this embrace which seems to reach equally to the male and the female, indicates a higher development of humanity than we are accustomed to--a type of super-virile, and so far above the ordinary man and woman that it looks upon both with equal eyes; or whether it merely indicates a personal peculiarity--this and many other questions collateral to the subject I have not touched upon. It has not yet been my object in making these remarks to enter into any vague speculations, but rather to limit myself to a few conclusions which seemed clear and obvious and fairly demonstrable."