Despite his protests, Anne Gilchrist, distinguished woman of letters, moved her entire household from London to Philadelphia in an effort to marry him. John Addington Symonds, historian and theorist of sexual inversion, sent him avid fan mail for twenty years. And volunteer assistant Horace Traubel kept a record of their daily conversations, producing a nine-volume compilation. Who could inspire so much devotion? Worshipping Walt is the first book on the Whitman disciples--the fascinating, eclectic group of nineteenth-century men and women who regarded Walt Whitman not simply as a poet but as a religious prophet.
Long before Whitman was established in the canon of American poetry, feminists, socialists, spiritual seekers, and supporters of same-sex passion saw him as an enlightened figure who fulfilled their religious, political, and erotic yearnings. To his disciples Whitman was variously an ideal husband, radical lover, socialist icon, or bohemian saint. In this transatlantic group biography, Michael Robertson explores the highly charged connections between Whitman and his followers, including Canadian psychiatrist R. M. Bucke, American nature writer John Burroughs, British activist Edward Carpenter, and the notorious Oscar Wilde. Despite their particular needs, they all viewed Whitman as the author of a new poetic scripture and prophet of a modern liberal spirituality.
Worshipping Walt presents a colorful portrait of an era of intense religious, political, and sexual passions, shedding new light on why Whitman's work continues to appeal to so many.
"For some devoted readers in the late nineteenth century, Walt Whitman was a 'man magnified to the dimensions of a god,' and Leaves of Grass a divinely inspired gospel. In a series of entertaining and acutely observed biographies of the 'Whitman disciples,' Robertson situates their fervor in a complex religions landscape."--New Yorker
"Michael Robertson's Worshipping Walt...introduces us to a handful of the 'hot little prophets' who made a cult of Whitman, and also reminds us of the religious purpose of his poetry--with Leaves of Grass as gospel."--Adam Begley, New York Observer
"Robertson's collection of reflective biographies brilliantly illuminates Whitman's life and the wider life of his poetry. It is a book of the physical, intellectual and spiritual adventures, and the author's own adventures with Whitman are not the least of its pleasures."--Michael Schmidt, Financial Times
"Robertson brings [Whitman's] devotees to life without the scorn that earlier critics placed on them, and the effect is like seeing a negative image of Whitman. Their lives take shape around his. Whitman's poetry shines brighter as a result. By studying these 'hot little prophets,' Robertson indirectly puts Leaves back into this original context, and by doing so he makes the poet easier to grasp."--Tom DePoto, Newark Star-Ledger
"...[t]he biographical chapters are fascinating portraits written in an accessible style. Robertson covers the historical, religious, sexual, and social movements in the United States and England during the 19th century in great detail, and he successfully illuminates not only Whitman's life but the lives of those whom he influenced."--Morris Hounion, Library Journal
Table of Contents:
Walt Whitman and His Principal Disciples xi
Chapter One: William O'Connor and John Burroughs: Reading Whitman's New Bible 14
Chapter Two: Anne Gilchrist: Infatuation and Discipleship 51
Chapter Three: R. M. Bucke: Whitman and Cosmic Consciousness 97
Chapter Four: John Addington Symonds, Edward Carpenter, Oscar Wilde: Whitman and Same-Sex Passion 139
Chapter Five: J. W. Wallace and the Eagle Street College: "Blazing More Fervidly Than Any" 198
Chapter Six: Horace Traubel and the Walt Whitman Fellowship: The Gospel according to Horace 232