Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, April 10, 1888.

      [See indexical note p023.3] Happening to mention John Swinton, W. said: "By the way—here's an old letter of John's that will interest you—it was written four years ago: yes, fully four years ago, and in one of his milder moods. John, you know, is stormy, tempestuous—raises a hell of a row over things—yet underneath all is nothing that is not noble, sweet, sane. This letter is almost like a love letter—it has sugar in it: I don't

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think America has ever realized, perhaps ever will realize, John's greatness—the significance of his work: his dynamic force. I don't suppose John has written anything that will live—yet something else of him will live—something better than things people write."
I sat down on a pile of books and read the letter.


134 East 38th St.,
New York, Jan. 23, 1884.

My beloved Walt—

I have read the sublime poem of the Universal once and again, and yet again—seeing it in the Graphic, Post, Mail, World, and many other papers.  [See indexical note p024.1] It is sublime. It raised my mind to its own sublimity. It seems to me the sublimest of all your poems. I cannot help reading it every once in a while. I return to it as a fountain of joy.

My beloved Walt. You know how I have worshipped you, without change or cessation, for twenty years. While my soul exists, that worship must be ever new.

 [See indexical note p024.2] It was perhaps the very day of the publication of the first edition of the Leaves of Grass that I saw a copy of it at a newspaper stand in Fulton street, Brooklyn. I got it, looked into it with wonder, and felt that here was something that touched the depths of my humanity. Since then you have grown before me, grown around me, and grown into me.

I expected certainly to go down to Camden last fall to see you. But something prevented. And, in time, I saw in the papers that you had recovered. The New Year took me into a new field of action among the miserables. Oh, what scenes of human horror were to be found in this city last winter. I cannot tell you how much I was engaged, or all I did for three months. I must wait till I see you to tell you about these things. [See indexical note p024.3] I have been going toward social radicalism of late years, and appeared here at the Academy of Music lately as President and orator of the Rochefort meeting. Now I would like to see you, in order to temper my heart, and expand my narrowness.


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How absurd it is to suppose that there is any ailment in the brain of a man who can generate the poem of the Universal. [See indexical note p025.1] I would parody Lincoln and say that such kind of ailment ought to spread.

My beloved Walt. Tell me if you would like me to come to see you, and perhaps I can do so within a few weeks.

Yours always,

John Swinton.


     I quoted W. that phrase from Swinton's letter: "I have been going toward social radicalism of late years." "Yes," said W., "I remember it. Are we not all going that way or already gone?"

     I picked up a stained piece of paper from under my heel and read it, looking at W. rather quizzically. [See indexical note p025.2] "What is it?" he asked. I handed it to him. He pushed his glasses down over his eyes and read it. "That's old and kind o' violent—don't you think—for me? Yet I don't know but it still holds good." I took it out of the hand with which he reached it back to me. "Put it among your curios" he said, "you'll have enough curios to start a Walt Whitman museum some day." The note is below:

      [See indexical note p025.3] "Go on, my dear Americans, whip your horses to the utmost—Excitement; money! politics!—open all your valves and let her go—going, whirl with the rest—you will soon get under such momentum you can't stop if you would. Only make provision betimes, old States and new States, for several thousand insane asylums. You are in a fair way to create a nation of lunatics."

     Some neighbor had sent W. a plate of doughnuts. [See indexical note p025.4] He put four of them in a paper bag and gave them to me for my mother. "Tell her they are not doughnuts—tell her they are love."


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