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The Magnificent Idler, the story of Walt Whitman

Rogers, Cameron. The Magnificent Idler, the story of Walt Whitman. New York: Garden City, Doubleday, Page and Co., 1926. 312 p.
novel, biography

This biographical novel about Walt Whitman includes a chapter about Pfaff's during its heyday in the early 1860s right as the Civil War began (chapter 15, pages 197-210) and a brief mention of Whitman's post-war return to Pfaff's in the 1880s (295-6). Rogers's ability to intersperse historical fact with fictionalized dialogue makes for interesting (if not always reliable) reading.

People Mentioned in this Work

Clapp, Henry [pages:199-200,204-06,296]

Clapp, who is identified as "a young newspaperman, with a journal of his own," is described as someone "whose ideas grow proportionately more shining with the recession of the dark tide [of liquor] in the bottle before him" (199).

Rogers says that Clapp "breaks a spear in [Whitman's] defense daily" (200). Rogers writes of a trip to the opera that Clapp and Whitman take on the evening of April 13, 1861, in which Clapp attempts to call Whitman's attention to a beautiful actress on the stage only to have Whitman respond cooly ("'Look Walt, ain't she a beauty? Why, she smiled right at you.' But Walt was granite" [205].)

Howells, William [pages:199]

While Howells only visited Pfaff's once, Rogers implies that he is a regular.

O'Brien, Fitz-James [pages:198-99,204,208-09,296]

Identified as a regular at Pfaff's and as the author of "The Diamond Lens," "The Lost Room," "The Wonder Smith," and "A Gentleman from Ireland" (a play written for Mr. Wallack). O'Brien's decision to enlist in the Union Army is recounted, as is his death in 1862 (208).

Pfaff, Charles [pages:197-98,204,209,295-7]

Pfaff is praised for his collection of wines and spirits, supposedly one of the best in the city.

Swinton, John [pages:199-200,203-04,296]

Connected to the Times, Swinton is said to be "forceful with an edged tongue and trenchant habit of debate" (199). John is identified as a staunch defender of Whitman. A fictionalized conversation with Whitman is also given (203-04).

Whitman, Walt [pages:197-210,295-7]

The entire book is about Whitman, but chapter 15 (pages 197-210) deal with Pfaff's. There is a fanciful description of Whitman quoting Shakespeare at Pfaff's after spending a day tending to sick and disabled stage-coach drivers (200-01).