Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 34] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Saturday, April 14, 1888.

      [See indexical note p034.1] W. is not insensible to professional applause, but he is emotionally most moved by the accessions of obscure persons who have no axes to grind and are not bothered by the pros and cons with which culture is apt to wear itself out. He spoke of this today and as illustrating his notion gave me a letter from his table and called my attention to a note he had made on the envelope: "from a lady—a stranger—Washington—1870 (a letter to comfort a fellow and brace him up)." He waited while I read.


June 14th, 1870.

To Walt Whitman, Gentleman.
Sir.


 [See indexical note p034.2] You have had many tributes from the learned and great of Europe and America, yet you will not despise that of a simple, honest woman who writes to thank you, in all sincerity, for those Leaves of Grass from which her soul has drawn such health, freshness, and aroma. I visited Washington for the first time this May, the guest of Mrs. Schwartz (who one night in passing off the platform of a car gave you a rose). I was compelled to [take] many car rides in my transit to "the city." On car No. 14 I encountered you more than once. Your face, which I chose to think a fac simile of the grand old patriarch's, Abraham, attracted me. Through Mr. Devlin, from Mr. Doyle, I was allowed to read your—I prefer saying—I was permitted a long look into the wonderful mirror of your creation, where I saw the reflex of your soul, and felt the influence of your divining power. [See indexical note p034.3] Mr. O'Connor's manly, eloquent, but most unnecessary vindication of your purity was also given me.

Only themselves understand themselves and the like of themselves,
As souls only understand souls.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 35] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I needed no one to translate for me the language of yours, written so plainy in every line and furrow of your face, and revealed to the world in the many gracious deeds of love to your kind.

I closed your book revelation, a wiser and more thoughtful woman than when from idle curiousity I first opened it at the very stanza, Perfections, which I have just quoted. [See indexical note p035.1] Life held grander possibilities to me from that hour, and the mission of a soul born into this world to love, influence, and suffer, was invested with profounder responsibilities.

 [See indexical note p035.2] To whoever is granted the power to make another long for Truth for its own beautiful sake; love the lowly and opressed for the sake of the divinity spark which is in each human body and see in Nature the heart of the great Mother-God who concieved and gave it birth—to such an one there is a debt due of allegiance and profound gratitude.

I thank you Sir, with all my heart, and pray for you the abiding Presence and hourly comfort of the divine Pure in Heart whom you worship.

I need make no apology for this note. You will not misunderstand it. I go to my home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, tomorrow. I may never again chance to see you, but you will believe, nevertheless, that I will wish for you—and teach others to do the same—a long earth life of usefulness, and an eternity of appreciation and renown.

Reverently yours

Mrs. Nellie Eyster.


     When I was through he asked: "What do you think of that? Would a thousand dollar bill do you as much good as that? [See indexical note p035.3] I think I never got a letter that went straighter to what it was aimed for: it's better than getting medals from a king or pensions from Congress."

     W. had been burning some old manuscripts today. A piece had dribbled at the foot of the stove. I picked it up.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 36] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Shall I take it?" "If you choose—but what's the use." He laughed.

      [See indexical note p036.1] "Eighty millions of Tartars may shave the top of the head from Comparison to Self-Esteem, and so on down to the ears; and this may be done for thirty centuries, and be one of the institutions of the Empire.—But if a man appears at the end of that time in whose eyes the custom is unnatural and therefore ungraceful, this man will be none the less right because he is denied by a hundred generations, whose coronal fronts were well scraped, and whose pig tails hung down behind."

     Above this note, which was of an old period, probably the fifties (the ink was much faded) W. had written in pencil: "Japanese women (mothers) shave their eyebrows."


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.