Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, July 13, 1888.

     This is the Symonds letter given me by W. yesterday:


Clifton Hill House,
Clifton, Bristol, Jan. 23, 1877.

My dear Sir,

 [See indexical note p458.5] I hardly know through what a malign series of crooked events—absence chiefly on my part in Italy and Switzerland, pressure of studious work, and miscarriage of

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letters—I should have failed to make earlier application to you for your new books. [See indexical note p459.1] I do so now, however, begging you to send me copies of Leaves of Grass and Two Rivulets, and enclosing a check on my bankers for five pounds. I see by Mr. Rossetti's circular that the price of each volume is one pound. If you will send me two copies of each, the other one pound will serve for postage. I shall then have copies for myself and copies to give to a friend.


May I ask that in one of the volumes at any rate your loved and revered autograph may be found?

Some time since, my friend Roden Noel gave me by token of comradeship one of two photographs signed with your own name, which you gave him. This is now framed and hangs in my bedroom. [See indexical note p459.2] I see it daily—opposite the similar signed photograph of Alfred Tennyson, from whom as a boy I learned much. To me as a man your poems—yourself in your poems—has been a constant teacher and loved companion.

I do not know whether you are likely to have heard that I make literature my daily work. I wait the time when I shall be able here in England to raise my voice with more authority than I yet have in bidding men to know you: for I feel that you have for us here in the old country a message no less valuable to us than to your own people. [See indexical note p459.3]

I seem to know you as a friend and father; and those who love me best, make me gifts recalling you—like Roden Noel's I have mentioned, and like that of a lady who some time since sent me a copy of Leaves of Grass Boston [Brooklyn] 1855. [See indexical note p459.4]

More than this I need not now write: unless it be to ask you whether, by way of remembrance, you would care to receive any works printed by me—echoes of my studies in the history of Greece and Italy for the most part?

I am with all love and reverence yours

John Addington Symonds.



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     W. noticed that Symonds said Boston instead of Brooklyn. "The personal quality of that letter attracts me most—I mean the emotional, affectional, quality—that something in me, in him, which brings us together as men. [See indexical note p460.1] I would a thousand times rather get near him as man than as author. Symonds must be a fellow of very lovable personal qualities. On the whole I do not regret that I never got to Europe, but occasionally it comes over me that Symonds is alive—that we have never met: then I want to drop everything and start at once." I said: "Would going to Europe help or hurt Leaves of Grass?" [See indexical note p460.2] "I don't know—I don't know: yet I think it is best as it is—the book worked out its entire fate on this side—it is a this-side book: I see no reason to feel sorry for myself or for the book."

     I did not get to W.'s this evening until towards eight. [See indexical note p460.3] Stayed more than an hour. W. sitting up. Very cheerful. Said the day had suffered a few variations but was on the whole easy. Complains of excessive weakness of the left leg. My sister, Tom's wife, sent him a spring chicken. [See indexical note p460.4] "I made two meals of it—at supper eating the last shred. It was a delicious morsel. She is a genius—your sister is a genius, Horace. She never fails in knowing just when to stop—just what to do to make the mark: her cooking is inevitable." Alluding to N.Y. Graphic writer whose writing about W. was full of mistakes: "That man is a Rip Van Winkle—not up to the time: is still hurrahing for King George! A certain kind of no that was addressed to me in the fifties is hardly in order any more." A letter from O'Connor. W. said of it: "There's nothing particular in it: it comes nearest to being a pot-boiler of all the notes I ever had from him. [See indexical note p460.5] O'Connor never forgave me the William piece—nor did Tucker. [See indexical note p460.6] They're anarchists—both of them: everything's anarchy with them: and if you don't say yes—God damn you! That's the way of it. I thought William knew me better. He thinks the Emperor is damned, any-

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way—a sort of blood's monarch. I am sure, however, that William will come to see it all right by and bye—will realize that my position is not what he now thinks—that he will then come round. [See indexical note p461.1] He's true, true—everlastingly true—and so's Tucker, too, for that matter: and I guess it is good to have these demurrers put in."

      [See indexical note p461.2] W. had been looking over Arnold's essay on Heine again. "I would read it if I was you, Horace. It's the only thing from Arnold that I have read with zest. Heine! Oh how great! The more you stop to look, to examine, the deeper seem the roots, the broader and higher the umbrage. And Heine was free—was one of the men who win by degrees. He was the master of a pregnant sarcasm: he brought down a hundred humbuggeries if he brought down two. [See indexical note p461.3] At times he plays with you with a deliberate, baffling sportiveness."

     W. talked about the French people. "I never had the common Puritan ideas about France: I have long considered the French in some ways the top of the heap. We too generally lack the elemental affinities to judge the Latin races with anything like justice. Did I hear you say that things you saw in Emerson's journal were very favorable to the French? I should not have thought it—it was hardly to be expected: Emerson was so soaked in and in with English currents of ancestry. [See indexical note p461.4] I love Emerson—I do not need to say that—but he was somewhat thin on the physiological side. There are things in the French which I do not criticise but which I believe must have been very offensive to Emerson."

     W. had a note from Bucke: "He never saw Slang in America before—wrote that he thought it the best thing I had ever done in prose—or something which comes to about that in the end. [See indexical note p461.5] I do not agree with the Doctor: on the contrary I think the piece quite insignificant—not important from any point of view—nothing, the most you can make of it, to warrant Bucke's enthusiasm. The North American

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Review fellows wrote: They must have a piece—anything—anything—must—must—a piece and at once. I had nothing but this in stock—was in no humor for writing—so this went through—was paid for—and that's all I know about it. [See indexical note p462.1] As to the slang itself—you know I was an industrious collector: slang was one of my specialties. I originally had no intention of putting this material together as I have done now."

     A statement is made in Current Literature that all the magazines fought shy of W. W. except Harper's. "That exception seems very funny. Harper's is the great shyer. [See indexical note p462.2] I have no doubt there is a standing order in the office: Don't touch Walt Whitman: leave him alone. I think the Weekly is a little better disposed towards me, but the iron rules cannot be broken. It printed my Grant piece." [See indexical note p462.3] Speaking of antagonisms he said: "Stoddard, I think, made against me, once the filthiest fling I have ever encountered. Stoddard is not a bad fellow, but is disappointed, soured, gray, old—not sweetened with the reassurances of life—a man who started out promising much—wrote a few good things—then slowed up, got out of the race."

      [See indexical note p462.4] Signed medallions for me tonight—Morse's. "I like it better and better," he said. He handed me his copy of Epictetus. "What do you think of that? I have been thinking of putting November Boughs into such a cover." Epictetus is flexible cloth. "Ah! you like it! I'm glad to hear you say that. All my own tastes are towards books you can easily handle—put into your pocket. I once argued this point out with Mrs. Gilchrist—she was vehement the other way—was so keen I yielded—going on year by year violating my first idea of what is proper. [See indexical note p462.5] What you say almost wins me back. Early thoughts are so often best thoughts after all. I have carried this Epictetus with me for years—it has been kicked, cuffed, slammed about—been on the floor—is still not broken—is intact—rubbed some,

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that is all. If we put November Boughs into that shape, using fine white paper, giving the pages a good margin, the book may do us some credit."
 [See indexical note p463.1] He at first intended placing the two introductory pieces to the English editions of Specimen Days in November Boughs as separate pieces but has changed his mind. They will go in with the prefatory note which went along with the Walter Scott edition of Democratic Vistas under the one general headline: Notes to Late English Books. "The arrangement of these things I leave to you. [See indexical note p463.2] I have no definite notion of what I want but when you get what I want I will yell straight out and stop you right there." Asked me if The American was liable to fire off at him again this week? Gave me a message to his bookbinder.

     When I arrived this evening W. had lying there in front of him an old envelope with the "Walt Whitman" marked out and "Horace Traubel, personally" substituted across the face of it. It contained a galley slip—a French Opinion of Walt Whitman from Revue des Deux Mondes, and an old Whitelaw Reid letter. I did not stop to read them. [See indexical note p463.3] W. said they were "things you should have to put away in your storehouse." Said this was "a good Canada season." "You should see the barley fields, Horace—they are so beautiful, so beautiful. Canada is a miracle this season of the year: I want you to take a trip to Bucke some year just about this time." I did not read the Reid letter until I got home. It was written on the stationery of The Tribune. I will copy it here before I stop.


New York, Dec. 22, 1874.

Dear Mr. Whitman:

 [See indexical note p463.4] I was sorry the article about the Camden school seemed to you unkind in its reference to your health. I shall have a paragraph within a day or two which will, I think, relieve you of the idea that we had any such intention.


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I sincerely hope you are getting better, and will soon be out of the woods.

Very truly yours,

Whitelaw Reid.



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