Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, July 12, 1888.

      [See indexical note p453.3] Evening, 7.45. W. lying down. A good day again. Mind clear. "I cannot reasonably expect complete physical rehabilitation: but I still hope to get my head cleared up. If I can make that much gain I may be able to do my work.

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After the work is done I shall be willing, even glad, to resign."
 [See indexical note p454.1] Read some today but wrote nothing—not even to Bucke. "A bit in the Bible. After you have got rid of all your dogmas then you can read the Bible—realize its immensity—not till then." [See indexical note p454.2] Read something in Cooper's Pathfinder. "I never forget Natty Bumppo—he is from everlasting to everlasting." "I can now read a little without the terrible sensation as of the ground sinking under my feet."

     Actually worked a bit on the Hicks today. "A few bold strokes—a very few: then I stopped. Why, Horace, the first thing you know I will actually be getting sassy again." [See indexical note p454.3] Said he took the work up as many as ten times the day through— "just for trial glimpses." His head "stood it quite handsomely." "But do not get anxious—I do not force anything—I let everything travel its natural course." Asked me: "You remember our talk about Lowell yesterday? Yes? Well—I have thought a lot of it since. The New England crowd has always seemed to be divided about me, with Emerson, Alcott, Longfellow on the one side—Lowell, Whittier and Holmes on the other. [See indexical note p454.4] Sometimes I seem to be divided about myself—don't quite get myself of one mind about myself. I understand that Lowell is in the habit of saying sore things about me—yes, very severe things—Holmes passes me off in a joke: but Whittier? Well—Whittier took me in dead earnest at the very start—my book was an evil book—he would shake his head—a sort of ah me!" The Whittier picture of horror amused W.

     Harned was in today. Also Dr. J. K. Mitchell. [See indexical note p454.5] "The young man Mitchell did not take me by storm—he did not impress me. I start off with a prejudice against doctors anyway. I know J. K.'s father somewhat—Weir: he is of the intellectual type—a scholar, writer, and all that: very good—an adept: very important in his sphere—a little bitter

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I should say—a little bitter—touched just a touch by the frosts of culture, society, worldliness—as how few are not! [See indexical note p455.1] Even John Burroughs—John is just a trifle impregnated—just a trifle—so little you don't dare speak of it. I am apt to judge a man by such indications—I am forced to give the matter more importance than I like to confess. [See indexical note p455.2] It is true Mitchell has written poems—a volume at least or two—I am moved to second you when you say they don't come to much (I guess they don't)—they are non-vital, are stiff at the knees, don't quite float along freely with the fundamental currents of life, passion. But then you know that in our time every fellow must write poems—a volume at least—and a novel or two—otherwise he can't qualify for society: he writes, he writes, then he gets over it all—recovers."
 [See indexical note p455.3]

     Our printer Mirick had been much interested in W.'s Bowery piece going into the book. "Whitman must have been one of the boys," said Mirick. "So I was," said W. "I spent much of my time in the theatres then—much of it—going everywhere, seeing everything, high, low, middling—absorbing theatres at every pore. That was a long, long time ago—seems back somewhere in another world. [See indexical note p455.4] In my boyhood—say from nineteen on to twenty-six or seven—New York was in its prime for theatricals—still possessed the fine old extra-efficient stock companies. In these days the stage is made up of giants and nobodies: back in that other time nobody was a nobody—there were reasons for the existence of everybody concerned in the production of a play. [See indexical note p455.5] I gradually found myself alienated from the stage: there was the best justification for my withdrawal, too. The reality that was has ceased to be. The true old comedies and tragedies have given way to lightness, frivolity, spectacle, dazzle: the expression of power—of mind, of body—of stately manners, of noble bearing—is no longer required, called for or approved if they appear." I spoke of Salvini.

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W. had not seen him. "I am willing to admit the exceptions—all that I have heard of Salvini seems to confirm your view—I feel somehow as if he must be our man—a Leaves of Grass man: tell me more about him." [See indexical note p456.1] And after I had spent ten minutes obeying his injunction he added: "I feel that all you say is true: it sounds like correct criticism—discrimination. [See indexical note p456.2] Oh! I have seen just such combinations of power—of tremendous force—with delicacy, in the same persons. It is rare but it occurs. The elder Booth was an example. I do not regard Edwin as quite the same grade of man: he never moved me: I saw him often and often—but never—except in Richelieu, perhaps—have been much drawn to his work or excited in his presence. There are moments in the Richelieu—it is so great, so subtle, so fine—which incline me to regard it as Booth's most palpable hit. I always found that I respected Booth: he had the quality of good wine—it is clean, it is uplifting—but Edwin was never supreme—had for me no super-mundane moments—never unreservedly carried me away. [See indexical note p456.3] But as I said I am no longer a theatre-goer—perhaps I have lost the theatrical perspective—I have not seen plays for a long time. I mean this concerning Edwin: that he always left me about as you see me now—never made me forget everything else and follow him, as the greatest fellows, when they let themselves go, always do. Perhaps that was the one defect of Booth—that he did not let himself go. [See indexical note p456.4] I never met Forrest personally but of course saw him act—often saw him: and we had mutual friends: I watched his career with both my eyes." [See indexical note p456.5]

      [See indexical note p456.6] W. wished me to send a message to Burroughs for him: "Tell John that I find at last that I am getting physically cleared up again—that the bad weather seems to be gradually passing off: tell him I realize a sense of comfort—some ability to enjoy food, to do a bit of work, to look a little over the horizon into tomorrow: tell him that I have not got well

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but that I seem to be entering into the zone of health once more—my kind of health, which is nothing to brag of at the best: feel something strangely like health floating about and breathed in."
 [See indexical note p457.1]

     W. went over some of the proof-sheets today. Clifford wrote today: "My love to dear Walt Whitman. It has been an increasing good to have known him. Long life to him we need not cry. He has it already." Touched W. [See indexical note p457.2] He raised his head from the pillow: "My love to dear John Clifford! Whatever he says to me I say over again to him. Tell him that." Speaks of the tendency of his mind "to melt all things together—sometimes beyond separation, extrication. I often find myself misplacing names, things—find that I must go back and rectify my errors—retrace my steps—review my work." W. sent me to the table to get him a letter. "You will find it thrust under the inkpot." I found a letter in the place specified. "Who is it from?" he asked. I looked. "From Symonds." [See indexical note p457.3] "That's the letter: I want you to have it." In lifting the letter off the table I caught along with it a little slip of paper which dropt at my feet. I stooped to pick it up. W. saw what I was doing. "Did you lose something?" he asked. "I threw this off the table." Holding the slip in the air. "What is it?" There was little light over by the bed. I moved towards the lowered gas jet. Read the memorandum W. had preserved, a "for sale" advertisement from the Natchez Free Trader of May 11th, 1848. I read it aloud:

      [See indexical note p457.4] I have just arrived from Missouri with ten Negroes, which I will sell at a bargain for cash. I have several boys about 21 years of age that are very likely, strictly No. 1. One fine seamstress and house servant, very likely. Those who wish to purchase and will buy the lot I will most certainly give a great bargain.

     Asa L. Thomson.

     Forks Road, Natchez, May 2, 1848.


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     When I had finished W. at once spoke out: "I recognize it. [See indexical note p458.1] Don't you think it's a wonderful specimen case? Such a thing means enough to make you both laugh and cry. And all in the Free Trader, too! What a lot of nonsense has got current in the world with that word. It has been made to stand for both the most devilish and most divine of human instincts. The way Mr. Thomson expresses himself is very cute. [See indexical note p458.2] You might think he was handling a line of reduced goods in a department store: a bargain, so much off, for one day only. How would it sound to say: I have a couple of scribblers of doubtful ages that are very likely, strictly No. 1? Stand forth Walt Whitman and Horace Traubel! How would that sound? Horace, a thousand years of history have been lived in the forty years since Mr. Thomson advertised his bargains in human souls. [See indexical note p458.3] Tragedy and comedy—both have been lived. We still suffer slaveries of one sort or another—particularly industrial slaveries—but nothing quite so raw as this could be quoted in America today. It is a good thing to keep around as a reminder— yes, a warning."

     I asked W. again whether he intended me to keep the Symonds letter. "Yes," he replied— "it is in rather a mussed up condition: I found it on the floor under my feet. [See indexical note p458.4] It was one of Symonds' early letters to me—very sweet, already very affectionate. Take it along. And before you go, Horace, put the light down—I am tired—I won't do anything more today."


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