Sadakichi: “I attended the seance of a medium a few nights ago.”

Whitman: “Oy!”

Sadakichi: “She told me a few truisms about myself besides a great deal of nonsensical stuff. I believe these mediums are merely clever women who have a motley knowledge of society and life, of physiognomy, and pathognomy, and above all else the gift of gab, though in rare cases they may be capable of clairvoyance.”

Whitman (absent minded)“There are so many other miracles in this world just like them, that can’t be explained.”

This opening brought us to religion. 

Whitman: “There is no worse devil than man.”

Sadakichi: “But what do you think of churches, where heaven and hell theories are continually expounded?”

Whitman: “If the common consent of people think churches a necessity, they ought to be.”

Then, referring to an East Indian native who was trying to introduce Brahminism into America, he said, in a slow, fault finding tone: “I don’t think he is right.”

Sadakichi: “Do you consider the Christian religion superior to others?”

Whitman: “No religions—”

Sadakichi: “I as an artistic nature, always felt drawn towards the Catholic religion. Of course only on account of its picturesqueness and mysticism.”

Whitman: “Men should do as they please. Nobody has the right to interfere with another man’s business, religion, or habits. That’s what I have told to Ingersoll*.”

Referring to church music, Whitman branched off on music in general. He spoke of a German street band that now and then played in the neighborhood, “very well.” He was only superficially acquainted with [Richard] Wagner and the new school.

Whitman: [Giuseppe] Verdi I think is one of the best musicians; he is a storm with the intention of being a real storm. [Felix] Mendelssohn is my favorite. I always like to hear him. Music is the only art where we get something.”

Painting and sculpture was never mentioned in our conversations; of course Whitman admired [François] Millet, but the fact that he, who was so anxious to leave to posterity a correct description of his personality, never induced a first-class painter or sculptor to portray him, shows that he was not intimate with contemporary art. His figure as well as face were a wonderful subject for the chisel or brush of a great artist. The opportunity is lost, and photographs are all we have. 

Sadakichi: “I am sailing next week.”

Whitman: “Sailing to Europe, eh? Well, if you meet young men in Germany—artists—poets—tell them that the liberty and equality of which Freiligrath* and other classics sung, have been quacked over enough. Here in America we do the thing they talk of.“

Sadakichi: “Well, I think I must go. Good bye.”

Whitman: “Good bye, never forget to study the old, grand poets—but do not imitate them. We want something which pays reverence to our time.”


*Robert “Bob” Green Ingersoll (1833–1899), a friend of Whitman’s, was also a Civil War veteran and an orator during the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. He gave the eulogy at Whitman’s funeral. The eulogy received great acclaim and was later included in The Book of Eulogies (Simon & Schuster, 1997), edited by Phyllis Theroux. 

*Ferdinand Freiligrath, a German poet and translator who enjoyed popularity during the nineteenth century, particularly for his radical politics, which infused his work. Freiligrath translated the socially and politically charged poetry of William Wordsworth, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Walt Whitman, Robert Burns, Victor Hugo, and Molière.


From Conversations with Walt Whitman (E. P. Coby & Co., Publishers, 1895) by Sadakichi Hartmann.
This book is in the public domain.