Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, April 8, 1888.

      "We are having our troubles in getting out that book," W. reflected, speaking of the German Whitman: "though as for that matter I do not know any edition with which we didn't have enough trouble and trouble running over." [See indexical note p017.3] We had got upon this subject because of an old letter from Rolleston which Walt had given me to read. "There's a

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lot in that letter describing the way the book is coming about: it is typical history—especially that possible encounter with the German police.  [See indexical note p018.1] The Leaves have had several set-tos with the state, none of them serious, all of them serving to advance the book—Harlan's, to begin with, then Stevens', in Massachusetts, then that fool postmaster Tobey's. The funny underground in all this was the warning I got now and then from good attorneys general and their heirs and assigns that if I didn't modify my literary manners something would happen to me. Something has happened—but not just the something that was conveyed by their warnings."
This is Rolleston's letter:


Glasshouse, Shinrone, Ireland,
September 9, 1884.

My dear Walt—

I got your second letter yesterday, forwarded here from Dresden. [See indexical note p018.2] Don't be uneasy about the English text in translation. I fully see the advantages of it and have mentioned it in my Preface. Only, as I had had no opinion on the subject from anyone in the publishing line I didn't know what they might not have to advance, so did not like to speak so decisively about it. I should not have given you to understand that a publisher's mere opinion would weigh with me, for it would not.

Now, as to progress made. I have met with difficulties more serious than I expected. The work is ready, and could go to the printer any day. But the printer is not equally ready for the work. [See indexical note p018.3] I offered it to four publishers before I left Germany, agreeing to pay all expenses myself, and all refused to take it up. I sent with my MS. a copy of Freiligrath's article, and did all I could to secure a favorable hearing, but in vain. I am told there would probably be difficulties with the police, who in Germany exercise a most despotic power. Then other publishers I thought of trying are, I have been informed, rogues; and others again are

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dependent in various ways on court or official patronage—others wouldn't touch it with the end of a poker. I finally came to a resolution a good deal confirmed by what you said of the probable circle of readers of the first edn—namely, to let the work appear in America, and thence make its way into German circulation. [See indexical note p019.1] Once in print and fairly before the public it will of course weather every storm, but the thing is to get it fairly started. Had I been living in Germany longer I should have tried selling the book myself—but that I can't do from here. Now in America, where your position is assured, I suppose some German publisher would take it up readily enough. [See indexical note p019.2] I am going then to ask you to take what steps can be taken towards finding a willing publisher with some German connection. No doubt Dr. Karl Knortz would be a useful person to apply to. (If you know him, and could get him to glance through my proofsheets, I don't doubt that the work would be considerably improved.)


As to terms, of course if any enterprising publisher would give me one hundred dollars or so for the book I would let him have it (it being understood that you and I should have our way about the form of the book, English version, &c.). [See indexical note p019.3] But I would be willing also to bear the expenses and keep the copyright, if the former were not out of the way large. I suppose it would cost a good deal more in America than in Germany, where everything is very cheap, and I have not much ready money to spare now. But I think I can rely on my father's helping me to the extent needed. If the book is printed in America you will be able to oversee technical matters connected with the printing to your own satisfaction.

So the upshot of this is that I will send you my MS. as soon as it reaches me (it is coming in a box which was sent after me via Hamburg with other heavy luggage), and you can do as you think well with it. [See indexical note p019.4] Let me say again that I should greatly like the proofsheets, before coming here, to

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pass through the hands of some German scholar who knows the L of G. I should be grateful for any annotations he might wish to make.


I have grieved to hear of your increased illness. It is very hard to be persecuted by such things when you ought to have peace and freedom. But I know how you are "armed with patience." Silence is a great comforter.

 [See indexical note p020.1] We are now back in our own country for good and are greatly delighted to be so. The people are much more congenial to me than Germans, though these latter are more so than English. I was born in this town and know every field and nearly every tree since my childhood. It is wonderfully beautiful to me—a rich, undulating, wooded land—deep grass and crops—blue mountains of Slieve Bloom on the horizon, and the stateliest trees, mostly ash and beech, I ever saw. I have a great love for ash trees—such sinewy strength, and a free powerful method of branching, showing through the light foliage. What a country this is! or would be but for savage misgovernment, and Protestant bigotry. The Orangemen in the North are a source of much evil, and will be of more, unless some miracle should turn them into human sympathetic Irishmen. There was a time when I thought that Ireland could never be set free from English rule because the Catholic Church would instantly become dominant and inaugurate a system of religious tyranny which would crush liberties more important than national liberties. Now I begin to see that this would not be so for long. [See indexical note p020.2] The Irish are much less Catholic than they were—dogmatic religion is loosening its hold upon them in a very remarkable way, and hatred for Protestant England as Ireland's ruler is a most potent cause at present in supporting the Catholic religion here. This is felt even by the more cultivated and far-seeing of the clergy, who consequently oppose the national movement as far as they dare. I have no doubt that in a free Ireland the Church would

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persecute as naturally as a wasp stings, but I am equally certain that a revulsion of feeling would come which (though attended perhaps with terrible struggles) would mark a real moral and intellectual advance such as seems out of our reach at present. The people about us here are very poor, reckless, friendly, "full of reminiscences" both of good and evil. My father is greatly loved far and wide because when County Court Judge of Tipperary he protected the tenants as far as the laws allowed against the rapacity of the landlord class. [See indexical note p021.1] He is a man you would like to see. He is over seventy now, more than average height even for our family, where men grow very tall (about six feet four inches), and still sturdy. At present he is suffering from a strain got a few days ago while riding a restive horse. They tell me that a few days before I came there was a storm, and a fine sycamore he was fond of was being blown down. They saw the roots heaving through the loosened earth—and my father sat down upon them until heavy weights could be brought to keep them down till the storm blew out, a device which was perfectly successful. He and my mother are greatly delighted with the two grandchildren we have brought them home. I'll send you a photograph of them soon, which has been done in Dresden just before we left.


I will have the poems arranged in the order I find best, but you of course may wish to alter my arrangement, in which case I shall have nothing to object. I couldn't make out what 'teffwheat' is (Salut au Monde)—is there a German equivalent? I have written Teff-Weizen.

Yours,

T. W. R.


      "Rolleston," said W., "has proved to be one of my staunchest friends. [See indexical note p021.2] He is a man without extravagance or excuse: he never says I am the only man that ever was, he never says I need to be apologized for." [The translations that

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form the chief subject matter of the letter did finally come out (1889) from Zürich, under the imprint of J. Schabelitz, with the names of both Knortz and Rolleston on the title page as translators. Harned happening in while we were in the midst of this talk W. explained: "We are canvassing the yeas and noes on the Rolleston book: it will come out but it is having the usual amount of stops, starts, stumbles."


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