Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, March 28, 1888.

     At Walt's this evening. Called my attention to an old letter in the Philadelphia Press describing a visit to Emerson with Louisa Alcott, and Emerson's senility. [See indexical note p001.1] "The fact is pitiful enough but the narrative is more so: the letter is so uselessly literal, so much mathematical: has to tell it all and let it run over." He had himself seen Emerson "after the shadow." And he "saw nothing tragic or startling" in Emerson's condition. "The senile Emerson is the old Emerson in all that goes to make Emerson notable: this shadow is a part of him—a necessary feature of his nearly rounded life: it gives him a statuesqueness—throws him, so it seems to me, impressively as a definite figure in a background of mist."

     W. handed me a leaf from The Christian Union containing an article by Munger on Personal Purity, in which this is said:  [See indexical note p001.2] "Do not suffer yourself to be caught by the Walt Whitman fallacy that all nature and all processes of nature are sacred and may therefore be talked about. Walt Whitman is not a true poet in this respect, or he would have scanned nature more accurately. Nature is silent and shy where he is loud and bold." "Now," W. quietly remarked, "Munger is all right, but he is also all wrong. If Munger had written Leaves of Grass that's what nature would have written through Munger. But nature was writing through Walt Whitman. And that is where

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nature got herself into trouble."
And after a quiet little laugh he pushed his forefinger among some papers on the table and pulled out a black-ribbed envelope which he reached to me: "Read this. You will see by it how that point staggers my friends as well as my enemies. We have got in the habit of thinking Buchanan is not afraid of anything—is a sort of medieval knight militant going heedlessly about doing good. [See indexical note p002.1] But Buchanan, who is not afraid of anything, is afraid of Children of Adam."


16 Up. Gloucester Place, Dorset Square,
London, Jan. 8, 1877.

Dear Walt Whitman:

Pray forgive my long silence. [See indexical note p002.2] I have been deep in troubles of my own. All the books have arrived and been safely transmitted. Many thanks.

You have doubtless heard about affairs in England. The tone adopted by certain of your friends here became so unpleasant that I requested all subscriptions etc. to be paid over to Rossetti, and received no more myself. During a certain lawsuit against the Examiner, your admirers—notably Mr. Swinburne—pleaded against me that I had praised you, cited your words against me in court etc. [See indexical note p002.3] I never was so shocked and astonished, for I would not have believed human beings capable of such iniquity.

As I think I told you before, I shall ever regret the insertion of certain passages in your books (Children of Adam etc). [See indexical note p002.4] I do not believe them necessary or defensible. These passages are quoted as being the work of an immoral writer, and, altho' I tried to show they were part of a system of philosophy, it would not do. I know the purity and righteousness of your meaning, but that does not alter my regret.

I think your reputation is growing here, and I am sure it deserves to grow. [See indexical note p002.5] But your fatal obstacle to general influence is the obnoxious passages. I wish you would make up your mind to excise them with your own hand.


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God bless you!—May your trouble lift, and may happy days be in store for you!—Let me know about your affairs. I may soon be in a position to help you more definitely.

Yours ever,

Robt. Buchanan.


     W. watched me as I read the letter and when he saw I was through resumed: "Children of Adam stumps the worst and the best: I have even tried hard to see if it might not as I grow older or experience new moods stump me: I have even almost deliberately tried to retreat.  [See indexical note p003.1] But it would not do. When I tried to take those pieces out of the scheme the whole scheme came down about my ears. I turned Buchanan's letter up today in a heap of nothings and somethings. I guess Buchanan and Munger would not agree about lots of the subsidiary things but here the preacher and the radical come together: though as for that there is a difference between them even in this thing: for while Munger talks of the 'fallacy' as though it was fundamental to Buchanan I am only guilty of a lack of taste.  [See indexical note p003.2] Well—there are the pieces, to sink or swim with the book: and here is Walt Whitman to sink or swim likewise."


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