In March 1888 Horace Traubel, Whitman's loyal and hardworking assistant, began to record his almost daily conversations with the most famous resident of Camden. The result: more than 1,900,000 words that were eventually published between 1906 and 1996 in nine volumes. Titled With Walt Whitman in Camden, these volumes contain much that is mundane and repetitive, but they also include many passages crucial for a full and humane understanding of America's first great national poet.
In Intimate with Walt Gary Schmidgall has condensed Traubel's nearly 5,000 pages into one manageable volume featuring the many self-revealing, humorous, nostalgic, and often curmudgeonly words of the Good Gray Poet. The book is divided into five sections, each consisting of several chapters: the first, presenting Walt on himself, his family, and his daily life and visitors at the only home he ever owned; the second, on his artistic credos, the literary life, and a large array of comments on the writing, publication of, and critical reaction to Leaves of Grass; the third, focusing on his friends, admirers, idols, and lovers; the fourth and longest, presenting his no-holds-barred views on a variety of topics, including the American scene, race, religion, music, and even alcohol; and finally, a gathering of passages revealing Whitman's struggles with his infirmities, his poignant final days, and Traubel's observations on Whitman's deathbed scene and burial rites.
Whitman was the great poet of autobiography, and with this volume we gain entry into a most remarkable life in his own words. Whimsical and highly entertaining, poignant and moving, illuminating and candid, Intimate with Walt makes accessible the most amazing oral history project in all of American letters.