Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, July 14, 1888.

      [See indexical note p464.1] Saturday. To W. at 7.45, evening. Almost gleeful. "I am almost strong tonight—this has been my best day in five weeks." Mitchell over today. W. said: "They still insist on dosing me. I had a quarrel with them today over that. I guess they were right but somehow I felt as if I had to make the fight." [See indexical note p464.2] There is to be a change of nurses tomorrow. Baker will go. A man named Musgrove will take his place—an older man. W. insists that he is losing his eyesight. Makes a good deal of it, but the evidence is not as strong as he thinks it is. [See indexical note p464.3] He wrote to Burroughs yesterday. "It was quite a good-sized note—written with pencil: saying nothing in particular however—rather aiming to give him something right from my own hand—that's all. Dear John!"

     W. read a little today. Bucke writes advising W. that he should sell his horse and carriage. [See indexical note p464.4] W. says: "Which means that in Doctor's opinion I am never to find much use for them again." Referred in this way to Sidney Morse: "Morse is a good deal like me: the spirit to write dies in him for days and weeks and months—then it revives and he is at it again like a steam plough!" [See indexical note p464.5] I asked him about the Reid note. What was it that was said in The Tribune? "I cannot just remember. It used to be the habit of some of the papers—some do it still when they want to fling themselves—to refer my illness back to my dissipations. This may have been a case of the kind. I do not recall the details of the incident. [See indexical note p464.6] Reid's letter was entirely friendly. O'Connor claimed that Reid was on our side—that he heard so from somebody or something of that sort." Advised me

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to "keep in constant touch with Kennedy, Burroughs and Bucke," adding: "I always feel comfortable for believing that what I cannot write them about myself you can and do write."

      [See indexical note p465.1] W. referred to the slip he gave me yesterday discussing the Revue piece, but said he could not remember its origin. "It came from Hugh Hastings' Commercial Advertiser and was written by De Hayes Janvier, then its editor but afterwards connected with the Public Building Commission in Philadelphia—a man who seemed well pleased with me and friendly, I could hardly tell why. [See indexical note p465.2] The French have wonderful knack in certain directions—for extreme finesse, often—why, it is so good sometimes it seems almost natural. Here is a thing from Joubert: 'Where there is no delicacy there is no literature.' How much there is in that! Don't you think so? Oh! how subtle! You feel it—it gets into you and spreads about!" [See indexical note p465.3] W. said again: "The French writer contradicts himself on several points. Here is another of his magnificent phrases: 'Virility is a fine thing but the ideal is finer.' I have long thought of literature by just such light as this man throws on it. The easy touch of French writers does not necessarily come from frivolity, insincerity: Arnold was wrong if he ever thought that. [See indexical note p465.4] There are incomparable things in Hugo—in some others of the French literateurs: immense, immortal things: things that belong to every day of all time. I have often pointed to—always adhered to—Millet. [See indexical note p465.5] Millet was a new world in himself: was long doubted, but finally came to his own. [See indexical note p465.6] O'Connor, who reads French, who is perfectly at home in its literature, stands by the French—insists upon French supremacy: and William, you know, of all my friends and supporters, seems to me the most scholarly—the best possessed in literary treasures—the love of books: and William has this added fact to his credit—that his bookishness, tremendous, even extreme as it may appear, has in no way affected, reduced, his individuality:

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he towers over all the books: he is always a vital living man. I often say of Emerson, that the personality of the man—the wonderful heart and soul of the man, present in all he writes, thinks, does, hopes—goes far towards justifying the whole literary business—the whole raft good and bad, the entire system. [See indexical note p466.1] You see, I find nothing in literature that is valuable simply for its professional quality: literature is only valuable in the measure of the passion—the blood and muscle—with which it is invested—which lies concealed and active in it."
 [See indexical note p466.2]

     I referred to a Western criticism in America (Chicago) copied in The Critic, signed E. J. M.: "Walt Whitman was the Jack Cade of American literature. [See indexical note p466.3] A sturdy rebel against conventions, a representative of the masses, he encamped before the citadel of tradition and proclaimed the war that was to bring about the democracy of song. His cause will perish with him, and his name stand like a pillar in a waste place—lonely, but imperishable." W. listened intently as I repeated this. Then he said: "Go over it again," which I did. "Was that in The Critic? I missed it. [See indexical note p466.4] I always read The Critic—it always contains things I feel I ought to know. Jack Cade? Even Jack Cade was something. I do not exactly connect one piece of E. J. M. with another—but that don't matter. All such things need to be said—should be yelled out in the loudest voice, spelled in the biggest letters."

     We discussed book culture. W. laughed. [See indexical note p466.5] "They all tell me I know nothing about culture—nothing about the uses of formal literature—that my revolt is the revolt of ignorance. Well—let it go at that." One of the points I advanced in the matter was this: "I always claim that a man has a right to as much culture as he can carry, but that when he gets more than he can assimilate, when the culture turns around to carry him, culture has exceeded its office." W. heard this and had me say it over again. Then acquiesced: "That is

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a daring and a noble thing to say—and it is true, all true. I think O'Connor would like to hear you say that. You want to put that down somewhere when you write—it is worth keeping close at hand."

      [See indexical note p467.1] I reminded W. that today was in France a day of days. He looked at me inquiringly—then his whole face lighted up. "Yes, now I remember—so it is. What America did for the Fourth France did for the Fourteenth: both acts were of the same stock. Horace, there's nothing here to drink it with but we'll drink a toast anyway: Here's thanks to the old revolution and death to all new Bastiles!" [See indexical note p467.2] Very earnest and vehement. I picked up a sheet of W.'s writing—old fools'-cap and very yellow, mussed, tramped on. W. smiled as I held it in view for him to see: "It has a sort of before-the-flood-look." I handed it to him. "It is earlier work," he said, "as you can see by the handwriting. I don't know what it belongs to: the substance of it (not the actual words probably) is no doubt in Specimen Days or the Leaves somewhere. [See indexical note p467.3] There's very little of such work that finally got left out. You remember I was at that period full of designs for things that were never executed: lectures, songs, poems, aphorisms, plays—why, even stories: I was going to write stories, too, God help me! [See indexical note p467.4] It took me some time to get down, or up, to my proper measure—to take my own measure—that is, a long time to really get started—though I think that after I had made up my mind and got going I kept up a pretty steady pace in that one direction." At his suggestion I read the thing aloud.

     "Come, let us not be more indulgent with theolo [blank here and a?] than we are with the circulating medium. [See indexical note p467.5] Shinplasters and paper from the Bank of Possum Creek may pass current in that swampy settlement of fine log houses and an unpiped steamboat, but for the journey of the globe we need coinage of gold.


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     "Yes, more still we demand. [See indexical note p468.1] In these noble days we say of laws of physical philosophy that we must try them and examine them for ourselves; they shall be exhibited to us. Nothing carries the day now but the clearly authenticated narrative and the solid, touchable, weighable, seeable, demonstrable substance and its action, and the plain reasons and proofs how and why. No mandamus or writ of court can be served here. Men wait not for the conge-delire of the king; and a hundred popes' bulls would get less respect than an inch or an ounce of the cabin-boy's or the dung-pitcher's word who testified that he saw."

      [See indexical note p468.2] "But can you get rid of mystery?" I asked. "No—nor get rid of reason: the two belong together—each is necessary to the other." I quoted this from something I had myself just written: "Emerson says that one with God is a majority. I say so too. And I also say that mystery with God is the highest wisdom." W. said: "That is good enough to hear again: say it once more." I did so. [See indexical note p468.3] Then his voice was very fervent as he concluded: "I think I see all you mean and I think I meant the same thing in that piece of ramble. Mystery is not the denial of reason but its honest confirmation: reason, indeed, leads inevitably to mystery—but, as you know, mystery is not superstition: mystery and reality are the two halves of the same sphere." I had said in writing recently about W.: "Leaves of Grass is not all flat on the ground. Some of it is on wings way up in the air." I quoted this to W. He responded: "So it ought to be—so I hope it is: there would be no excuse for the book if it trailed and lost its banners in the mud."


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