((Digitized by Google Books. Thanks Google! Edited by Mitchell Santine Gould, curator, LeavesOfGrass.


Thomas B. Harned, "Walt Whitman and War," The Fra: For Philistines and Roycrofters, edited by Elbert Hubbard, Felix Shay. (East Aurora: Elbert Hubbard, 1916), vol 17, April 1916, 96.

Walt Whitman and War Thomas B. Harned, Literary Executor of Walt Whitman
THE greatest war in the history of mankind is now being enacted in Europe. It is needless to discuss the causes of this war or what nation or nations are responsible for it. There is some diversity of opinion on that subject. We can all agree that such a holocaust is a disgrace to civilization. That there have been cruel, barbarous and infamous outrages committed, there can be no doubt. A weak and unoffending nation has been ruthlessly trodden upon, by a violation of a solemn compact. Undefended cities have been assaulted with bombs—killing inoffensive inhabitants. Passenger-ships with thousands of passengers have been torpedoed without notice, and wholesale murders perpetrated. History will stamp with eternal infamy any nation or nations guilty of such savage and unnecessary acts.

WALT WHITMAN has said, in his somewhat coarse but effective way, that '' War is ninety-nine per cent diarrhea and one per cent glory. " This may be an extravagant statement, but it suggests these most important questions: How can war and all its horrors be avoided? Is a policy of blood and iron necessary for the advancement of civilization? When will there be such a federation of the world that all international disputes can be settled without resort to force? Is it necessary for every nation to be armed to the teeth in order to be "prepared" to resist attack or take the offensive when deemed desirable?

WALT WHITMAN was one-half Quaker by birth, and a Hicksite Quaker in much of his belief. This did not prevent him from presenting himself as a soldier at the outbreak of the Rebellion. [--Whitmam's Quakerism probably *did* prevent him. --Mitch Gould] He was not too old, but his gray beard made him appear much too old for service. His brother

George was a soldier and was wounded in one of the early battles of the war. Walt immediately went to the front to render assistance. He did not realize at the time that this signalized his permanent removal from New York and Brooklyn, and yet it is a fact that he never again returned to either city except to pay an occasional visit. He wintered partly with the Army of the Potomac. It was thus he began his historic service in the hospitals. Out of so innocent a beginning so much resulted. He did not go South intending to do what eventually his tranquil spirit spontaneously got him into the habit of doing. The work fell to him in the drift of events. He loyally accepted its responsibility. With more than martial heroism he nurtured ceaselessly the sick and wounded without discrimination as to whether they were from the North or the South. Try to conceive of Whitman as an impromptu nurse in the crowded hospitals where thousands lay sick, wounded, dying. It has been estimated that he contributed in some way to the comfort of at least 100,000 of these victims of the war. He served where service was needed. He never looked for men who had merits, but for men who had wounds. He wrote letters home for these men. He read to them. He ran their errands. In his knapsack he carried paper, postage-stamps, oranges and miscellaneous articles of comfort. From many he received the final message, and to many he imparted the last word and caress. The memoranda of this period published in The Wound Dresser, edited by the late Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke, contain the best story of the war extant. These memorabilia present war in aspects never before quite so graphically apprehended, without containing specific argument against war; his account constitutes the most powerful arraignment of war in our literature, and perhaps in any literature. Whitman's service in the hospitals was without pay. For years he lived in a garret on two meals a day, that he would have more to contribute to those who needed his help. And this service broke him down. Doctors called it " Hospital Malaria, " but it ran deeper than that. It was heartbreak. His splendid physique was sapped by labor and watching, but it was still more affected by the lavish emotional outlay involved.

HIS ministrations did not end with the war. There were many sick and wounded left in the Washington hospitals. As one of his literary executors I have in my possession the letters he wrote to his mother after the war. I will take up a few of them at random and give some extracts verbatim. He writes: "There have been several died in the hospital, that I was with a good deal since I last wrote, one of consumption, one of abscess of the liver, very bad. I was down there Sunday afternoon, carried a great big twelvepound cake for the men's supper; there was a piece for all and very acceptable, as the supper consisted of plain bread and a thin wash they called tea and some miserable apple-sauce—that was all. I carry a big cake often of Sunday afternoons. I have it made for me by an old mulatto woman cook that keeps a stand in the market; it is a sort of molasses pound-cake—common but good. I have

received a letter from old uncle Otis Parker, the old man that I got pardoned, down at Cape Cod, Mass. He is very grateful." On May 14,1866, he writes: "I spent yesterday afternoon at the Quartermaster's Hospital. It is the old dregs and leavings of the war—old, wounded, broken-down, sick, discharged soldiers who have no place to go. It is a shame that the Government has provided no place for such cases of the volunteer army—they are just taken here, to prevent their dying in the street. Others go to the poorhouse. A good many break down after discharge and have no pensions—and what is eight dollars a month these days anyhow?" He had been preparing a Christmas feast for the soldiers in the hospital. On December 24, 1866, he writes to his mother: "I got Jeff's letter sending me money towards the soldiers' dinner—it was more than I asked for, and was very good of them all. I have not had any trouble myself worth mentioning. The dinner has been got up at my instigation. I have contributed handsomely, but they (the hospital stewards, etc.) have done the work. Well, dear mother, this is Christmas-Eve, and I am writing in the office by gaslight so it will be ready to go tomorrow." And then on January 1st, 1867, he writes to his mother: "The dinner at the hospital was a complete success. There was plenty, and good, too— turkey and four or five vegetables and mince-pie, etc. Then I purchased a large quantity of navy plug, and smoking-tobacco, and pipes, and after dinner everybody that wanted to had a good smoke. Then I read some amusing pieces to them for three-quarters of an hour for a change and sat down by those who were worst off, etc. Nobody else came in that day. They have a chaplain, but he is a miserable coot like the rest of his tribe." In another letter he writes: "I have been down to the hospital a great deal lately. A friend of mine that I have known over three years, a Maine soldier named Radcliffe, was very low, bleeding at the lungs. He died Sunday morning. It was a great relief, because he suffered much." And again he writes: "I went to the hospital yesterday afternoon—took a lot of tobacco, etc. I wrote several letters. There are quite a good many: some with sickness, some with old wounds, two or three in the last stages of consumption, etc. I go every Sunday, and sometimes Wednesday also. There are many of the patients very young men, country boys, several from the Southern States, whose parents and homes and families have been broken up, and they have enlisted in the regular army. Then they get down with fever or something and are sent to the hospital. I find most of them can't read or write. There are many of these homeless Southern men now enlisted in the regular. They have no other recourse."

These are only specimens. These men showed much gratitude, and frequently wrote to him when they had reached home. I will quote from one more letter to his mother: "Within a week I have had two invitations—one from a young fellow named Alfred Pratt. I knew him in one of the hospitals two years ago and more. His folks are farming people, out in Northwestern New York near the shores of Lake Erie. He writes half the letter, and his father and mother write the other half, inviting me to come there and pay them a visit. The parents say they will do everything they can to make a country visit agreeable. The letter is very old-fashioned, but very good. Then I had another invitation from a Michigan boy. He has got married and has a small farm not far from Detroit. Do you remember Lewis Brown, the Maryland boy who had such a time with his leg and had it amputated at last in the Army Square Hospital? He is quite well otherwise, and has got a place in the Treasury Department." I REMEMBER one of the evenings at his little Mickle Street shack in Camden, N. J. Sidney Morse, the sculptor (a friend of Emerson), had been spending some weeks in Camden making a bust of Whitman. He was about to leave the following day, and it was a farewell visit. Whitman was unusually pensive, and with his cane was trying to rescue something from the Utter of papers which covered the room. He failed to find it. Walt said: "It is of no consequence, Sidney, but I wish very much, if you ever come to think well of it yourself, that you would first make a bas-relief of my hospital days. Just a suggestion—a cot with just a soldier boy limp and listless on it, and perhaps me there by his side. I tried with pencil this morning to indicate my feeling as to what it should be, but it got spirited away. I'd like that, it seems to me, more than anything else—and to have you do it. They were the precious hours of my life—my mother's love and the love of those dear fellows, Secesh or Union. It was awful, or would have been had it not been so grand. They took it all in the most matter-of-fact way—no complaining —the fate of war. One Rebel boy quoted Emerson (he had been to Harvard): 'Whoever fights, whoever falls, Justice conquers evermore.' It seemed to me all the while, not that I was out nursing strangers, but right at home with my own flesh and blood. No ties could be stronger. My heart bled hour by hour as for its own. I don't know why I go talking to you on a subject I usually keep sacred, but I must show you the little notebooks with the blood smudges. I tried to edit them for the printer, but it was like plucking the heart out of me.— I wish I could find it, and if I do I will send it to you.

"A special verse for you—a flash of

beauty long neglected— Your mystic role strangely gathered here, Each name recalled by me from out the darkness and death's ashes, Henceforth to be, deep, deep within my heart—recording for many a future year, Your mystic roll entire of unknown names or North or South Embalmed with love in this twilight- song.''

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