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New-York tribune. [volume] (New York [N.Y.]) 1866-1924, June 18, 1922, Image 57

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^7pT vi KU.HT 1>A(*KS
3Nho gm* STrttame
SUNDAY, JUNE 18, I9l!2
aait Whitman's Xeglected and Misiutderstood Housekceper,
)lary Oakes Davis, Fittds a Champion in Mrs. Elizabeth Lea
0 Keller, Now Eighty-two Years Old, Who Nursed the Poet
?? His Last Days, and Who Writes a liook About Miekle Street
By ARTHUR CHAPMAN ? Portrait _y ROY williams
TWO women took care of Walt Whitman
ag his final illness at Camden in
jgp2 One of them was Mary Oake*
Pav.?. irbe for *even years had bern
.^-?ner nurse and friend" to the poet, as
. The other woman
Fliza ? '*? KeWt-r. one of the flrst
vtbii eeaatry'i jtraduate nurse<*. who had
^ joon-nned in her profess.ona! capaci';
# care fcr tb. |
Ir*. *********** who * ' ??"'vlwo ypar"
? ? g at Walt Whitman's
t^jpit in Camden the basis of an absorbing
?^?v fine and -.ist.r'y tribute to
T, .??-?.acr.nce and
.^ -ioubtedly did much toward
in'a last work aoesiMe, but who
i ?
^fr.,.. - ? part of the poet's biog-.
^.,,. learned t" _a_et
?n Daf i, who had sacrificed her health and
' , in caring for tho poet. a
_^v, by some and cruelly misun
;*itcd the little ******
? .cn famc ar.d prospcnty
? Whitman.
fiot c Flattering
Biegraphy. This
Mr$ v. . ? Whitman in Hl
- Mar- Oak.~ Da*
? Qniti aataraUy. in Um
. . lighta are eaal -
ll' P^t ** afra.
" bccame ki.own te
... i iat-natc
?ugh the daily rOBH
... ,., the .ord.d surroundint
i ?aw hica, -
. r blof-aaheri who found
? ired BMMBentS. lt \t
? Btely human.
herteH a remarkable woman.
,s publi-hed by M;tche!i Ken
... Was brouRht out on her
rthday. 5he had woAed on
rteea year*, rewrittaf lt and
? here and there through eor*
ar.d persnnal vi.itr. with tho
?tef Whitman's last
?ted hrr book it began u
ai ' W ?
? another." wai
.-? f the- mar
. . Bu< when il caaa to
Kennerley's har.ds he recogni.ed ll
among the many publications bear
1 rntman's ILfe. He published
ft a few months ago. and none can read the
?woyear-old author and
act bc Itruek by its cleamess of thought and
gyla ar.d the vividr.ess of the picture it draw*
uven years in Mickle Street which
ut^f. ?? f ohscurity and poverty.
haracter of Mary Davis eeems to have
t*%*x* in D-aaa Mrs. Keller which
tsMr.ot be shaken off. Every time the poet
? ^ken of, Mr?. Keller would
ahkof that quiet, self-sacrificing woman who
**i foar.d Whitman at her kitchen door?a
Poor, s.ck old man?and who had taken a
aoth*- - f him which undoubtedly long
?rtained his ailing body and enabled him to
****?-j_a_ work which was the culminating
i-taa*. of hia '.ife. Rather than see Mrs. Davis
Pa_ into obscurlty merely as "Walt Whit
***** hou-ekeeper," Mrs. Keller determined
-?iet down what she kr.ew of the woman and
I some way of preserving the record for
ftXtr ars _he made notes, based on
?*r own monthfl of nursing in Whitman's
***?*, aad, in order that she might have leisura
?ottrry o.t fo deMgn and complete her book.
?*?? ett-red an old ladiea' home ln her own
fy of B.fV.o?truly a remarkable example
**d?<a*-*a__atioa. With the e-avings of a life
??**? d -vided herself with a home.
'?*?*? aa Blgkt wrtta.
PxVpWith Whitman'*
Whimt, Which Were Many
^ Keller has been visiting Mrs. Jeasie L
??alBadar, of 703 Sterling Place, Brooklyn,
?*?*** **ra. Charles Gay, of 426 East Eighty
*T?ith Street. New York City, recently. She
*M ifterviewed at Mrs. Harkrader'a home,
?* _dke4 Uaajj 0< the experience*
write the book concerning
*'1 Divij ,-,* Wa.t whitman. She ex
****** H aa her firm helief that if tt had
not been for lln Da*/ia, muh of Whitman a
***** work wouM not hav.' b*Mfl WI
I'avis pave tho po-t Um uttee* ? whicli
the sick man demandod, and furthormore put
up with all his whims and eccentr.
would have been too mu. h f.ir any but the
:>atient of ?oul-< to bear.
In hf*r book .Mrs. Kl f th* wom.in
to whom Whitman was ii for so much
of motherly care:
"Mr?. Di from the cradit *o tho
jrrave was one of seif-<
h hlmd old woman to whom I
a*i*/aa a home. ln tpeaking of th:
*I narer bad a childli 1. nor I I ?? ? at that
I had a right to pla*/ |jkc other children, f'-r
in of agt
c?pecial eharg*. On arakins ln tho ma
my tirst thoucri I I and then I
I must no* . another minute. !
quickljr, made my own toilet, and I.
the promiso that bt
Would not tell tho
Knta-ingers until his re
turn from the trip h?*
was on the e\e of tak
Ifl u few days he
niden. Hi
was wrecked off the
coast of .Maine and he
was buned vh<
rt. Hii
haaty man
vented him fro:
irift the ir<
^ ir.i'in for hi^ wife, and.
as she shrank from on)
COnt**rai family,
?11 that was left to her
were hil namo ?v
cherishcd memory of
Mrs. Elizabeth Leavitt Keller, whose book, "Walt Whit?
man in Mickle Street," sheds new light on the poets life
her.' She ront:nued with a detailed account
r.f the attt-fnttorj daily *tr*t*m * ;: Vjntie,'
how ?-he put on her stocking? and sho
handed her each articie of c^othinc: as
needod; how she brought f.'-sh water for her
ablutiors. combed her hair and made h? i
sentable for the table; how at ill mtal
sat by her sjde to wait upon her, and how,
after helping her mother with tha di.-hes, she
? d up and down the lidawalk until i
tJJJM tO ttr.-e 'Aunt ?
being repeatcd when Mhool a
"When M
Auntie' died. Then came two moi'
schooling, after which the girl volu I
sumed another burden?th<- care of a melan
choly, sellish inralid, a distant relative living
in the coun'ry. With her she *.*a.
years. being in turn nurso, companion, I
keeper or general yervant. Bl need req ?
Life work of Mrs. Davis
Was "Mothering"
At tho aa*,* of twanty,
!>>nj- period of rr.remitting care an.l
abnegation, aht summor.ed up rrs'-lut:
leave. She paid a Tllit to a dear l
Mrs. Fritzingcr. wife of ., . tain m
Camden. N. J. Sho found her friend il! ar.d
remaint-d to nurte her. 1
ende.i "V
Fritaingaf r-av.- bar two youns
,;ir.. and from thi ti n they calied her
. ? 1- ritzingi
and hi ? *** ** *****
Ulnan. ,}ii;>'- The taPu*in
appointed Mai; ***** *n(i
divided his property M|Oally BflMmg
Captain I'avi--, a frieiAi cf the Fritzinger*.
proposed marria.ro to Mnry. He was aeeepted
on condition tb;.* ling r-houM r.ot take
place until her frit-nds had no further need
of her.
-But Ua by! ?? ma:-' h"
Davi* thought their natd of bar wotald i
meeting her in Phiiadelph.a one
morning. he insisted upon U
minister's and becoming man and *.*?
thu* forcefully pressed, tonsentaed, but exacted
CnpUin Fri'.zir.Kfr
was blind nine ycars,
: during that I
Mary toofc unrenn'
ef him. The boy?,
Soconiing fourteen
aad abrteea. n
??.-4. and 0:1
thoir return found t
They re
arked for longer
v <>> ...
I, an "Id
shipmatv and friead
Captala Fritsiai
who wa* in poor health
?emcly croch
| f>en
board and for com:
? I ?
?" Sdelity ard
con'tant ll -ay*
. r.ipmate went
the way of the oti
But even now the long
tricd woman wa* not left **r
. ?
I ? I had been int. g I I' wa.*
. uiy her de.uiny to find fall ao '
? ?If-sacrifice ?o early imt
?o neisistently called upon. . .
h was the woman who antered ao i
into Walt Whitman'.- life durir.j; the
ycars ipeat in ?' 1,ort'
to him than he wa_ pcrhap? awar
.ortainly, than he ever tared te nd::
was incapable of measur.nj* the fui
?able to measurc th
f ben. B.it he was glan I
Mr-. l?a'lia1 bl BM ? .ens Str"
whuh -treet Walt Whitman had liv.
<*r George. who says. "Walt was ah* I
trying person to live with." But when Gt
Whitman and his wife, for whern Wait Wh.t
The little house in Mickle St eet, Camden, where
Walt Whitman ditd
man ? *i tne -???*"
?:-e* i.nd lli
able existonre which cou! . ;i1?,fl
rinMaatataedhMll Hewa
?na of
.which. ac >.nald
mself usually paid i
M old man. w.th hia bar,. ratare
rumden and Philadelphia. had long
_ fami'iar aight. U
f comfor ***** ""
Bal at thii time his life had M
.t deaire?that - I
?Leaves of Grass,' and living lo iee it put be
"The Good Gray Poet"
n a full. improvcd and complete
"Whitman was cxtrcmely poor in Camden
after bll brother moved away and up to about
' says Thomas Donaldson. "His change
of laek began about then. He had previously,
e a sailor's phrasc, been 'scudding under
bare poles.' Hc had -everal runs of luck after
ln His Neighbor's Judgment,
Whitman Wat "a Bit Off"
Whitma: l "run of luck" about this
time seem >>en his acquaintance with
the mothcrly Maiy Davis. Mr*. Keller writes:
(fall Whitman and Mrs. Davis were not
-.crxonally acquaintcd. To be surc. he had seen
her innumerablo times leading Captain Frit
_mgcr past his brother's house, but he had
r.-vt-r ipoken to ber. As for her, the poor old
man had long been a secret pensioner upon her
tender heart. drawing a full bounty of pity
"Their first interview took place on one cold,
;. morning. when, in decpest dejection, he
came a suppliant to her door. Surprised as
. t'.nd him there. she invited him in.
and a fOOd breakfast soon followed the kind re?
?With his mritiai ? totally unac
quainted, and she natural'.y shared the univcr
r-al opinion of her neighbors that he was 'a lit?
tle off.' Netertheleea, when from the gratcful
warmth and gor-d cheer he grew loquacious and
dilatci upon his work and aired his lofty hopes,
<he liateaed attentively, that he might not aus
ped that to her all this scemed but an empty
dream and delusion.
"She talked encouragingly, and on his ris
mf. t .illy invited him to repeat hi*
visit. Hn did **o, and thenceforth thia com
passionato wonian's homely kitchen became
his on..- haven of rest. Ho knew that a hot
meal and many thoughtful attentions always
awaited him then*; attention* such a* laemg
aaahiag and mending his clothing
and not infrequently auperintending a refresh
mg foot bath.\s the fall advanced and
the weather became more sevcre. his bachclor
quartera became more and more unsuitable
and he was indced fortunate in the compan
ion*hip he had so auspiciouily foimed. He
dereleped late a dai'.y visitor, and each morn?
ing might have been seen scuffing along in his
unclasped arctic*. cano in hand, and hia long
white hair and beard blowing in the wind.
Mrs. Dav:s said that the very sight of those
ungainly old arctics always brought tears to
her e; ?
Mrs. Keller tells how Whitman, in the win?
ter of 18S.'S:>. ?hrough the generoaity of
fleorge W. t hilds and the aale of his book.
wa* able to arrange for a payment upon a
small houie. He secured the property at 328
Mickle Street. "a coop at boat," as Donaldson
ealled it. his arrangement being to board with
the tenants. But they left and Whitman was
aoliury, hia household goods conaisting of "a
BCaataily furnished beditead, a home-mada
table, a rirkety chair and a large pa.
The table served as a w
packing box as kitchen and dining Ub!< Ipon
it was a small oil itove, where ho would cook
a bite at the ri*k of his life," say* Donaldaon.
Mr*. K.'Ili-r says his daily viv' Havit
were resum'-d. "Her back door would .
upen, and rte, would appear, aaymg in -x
pathetic voico: 'Pity tho sorrows of a poor
old man, whose tromblini? limbs have brought
him to your door.' "
Mrs. Davis did h<-r beat to make Whi'man't
house habitahle, At that time, according to
Donaldnon, ihe wt* "a strong, rosy-ch
Jersey woman." She found the back door
held opm by iro. resultinjr from a br
water pipe. This ice she chopped away.
rarpeted hij sleeping room, gave him a
-ird hedding ar.d in many other waya
? make his u*****m romfortthle. Mn.
Kelbr >ays:
"In ipeakmg of this time she aaid: *H
the poor old man was not in sight, hf was SO
much upon my mind I i P*m one
fal hour.'
Poet Had a Canny Eye
For His Own Comfort
n-r. bavt con idered him a cunnmg man;
all ajjr'f* that h<> was a rcmarkahle judge of
chara'-ter. I"nder?tanding this woman ?
as he must have done?had he rosolved.
to have her iir-\ ?' to him? The i
tion can MVtf be truthfully >
whethrr with premedita'
tainly gained a great influence over her."
Whitman proposed finally that -Mr>. l,*r*3
bt his hnunckr-eper. He said: "I havc a houie,
while you pay ront; you have furniture, while
my rooms are bare; I propose that you
and live with me. brinj-ing your furniture for
tho u H
until finally Mrs. Davis .-.
"TJ ral all on the poet's side,"
aays Mrs. Keller, "as he must hav.
'."events had raised his hopes and he
made promise.s of adequate and more than adt
for all that ha ?
miirht bc done for him.
his money wts 'only in sight,' to uw
his own words, all th<* expenses a*.
were paid ! f Ml I'.v. ??: at ba was disabled,
.-?rk and worry v><re hera as Wellj
tinajly all was accomphihcd, her good* wer*>
transferrod te hil hou.-.e ind put in thiir raw
placcs, and the seven years of their d< ?
life togethei ln this way did tha
'good Rray poet' retiro with I I a*
..r.t' to the little framo cottage,
Mickle .Street."
There were biographers and commcntat/irS
in plenty comir.g te th* little house, in Mickle
? | in laler years. when Whitman'-- famc
pread and when monetary rowarda
U) the poet. But these ?
: they had the man's viewpoint of
. Man hke, they did not understand tho
tremendous burden of work and worry that
had been assumed by Whitman's "single at
tendant." Kot did they know of many other
things roncerning tho poet which were brought
n talks whiefa Mrs. Davis held
Ki !lcr. and wh;ch in all proba;
WhitmaV.'s motherly guardian never ????
h:ive told to anybody but a woman, becauao
only a woman could have underst
Mrs. Davis even accompanied Whitma
the walks he loved to take, particularly to tha
. He was a heavy man, and, owing to h:a
crippled condition, ho "clung to her arm with a
i"-:p of iron." On her suggestion sufficient
fund*- wtrrt sccured by aubscription from V
man's friends to buy a pony and carriaga.
The poet was delighted, and drove tho pony n
much and so fast that its knees wero aoon
>.prung, and he sold it and bought a fast hor?e.
He usod to invite youths in the neighborhood t->
drive him, but. according to Mrs. keller, "a1.
thouKh Mra, Davis was the usutl messonjrer ti
and from the stablc. although she jrot her chargt
ready for his drives, assisted him to the car
I and almost liftcd him in and out of lt,
neithcr he nor any one else ever proposed that
ihe ahould have tht plcasure al a drive."
\< Whitman's fame increasod, visitors be
i.ime more frequent. This meant much ad
ditional work for Mrs. Davis. Whitman ll
friends to a meal at any time. His own meals
v-r-re very irregular. Ho rapped on tho floor
whefl ho wanted to get up, his breakfast hour
being at any time in the forenoon. Whitman,
tsuffering from the effect of his first paralytic
stroke, required much assistam-e in dressing.
All the water for his baths had to be carrifd
lin until later a bathtub wts put in?at
Ml . Davis's expense. Says Mrs. Kelltx:
Consideration for Houteheeper
Not "a Good Cray" Specialty
? iKcasionally, to suit her own convenu nce,
she would have his breakfast prepared; hut
if she mentioned this faet while helping Tiini
te dress, he would invariably aay, 'Ah, I will
not eat anything for a while.' Whon tho di?hrs
had been set aside to be kept warm and Mary
was again busily engaged?the wash ptrhapi
partly hung on the line or her deft hands in
the dough?the peremptory aignal would come,
and on being helped d<>wn and aeated at tht
table he would coolly demand aomething er*.
tircly different from what ahe had provided."
He would keep company at tht table for/
hours; he refused to ltt hia room bo swept, al
he "detested a broom"; and the litter of
papers, twine and printera' proofs in his room
and the front room threatened to spread to
the rest of the house. Mrs. Davis, ao Mrs.
Keller points out. was often blamed for tht
had condition of Whitman's home, whereaj the
fault was not hers.
(Contintled on page fivt) J

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