Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 3] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Thursday, March 29, 1888.

      "I have been making a few notes to-day," said W., "on the subject of my removal from the Interior Department. As you know, Secretary Harlan took the Leaves even more seriously than Munger: he abstracted the book from my desk drawer at night after I had gone, put it back again, and discharged me next day. [See indexical note p003.3] I suppose I felt harder about the affair at the time than I do now: it is easy to be unjust to a man like Harlan. He was of the sincere fanatic type, given to provincial views, ignorant of literature, in many ways that I consider essential ignorant of life. To Iowa as Iowa Walt Whitman as Walt Whitman was not

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 4] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
easily digestible: so Whitman as the author of an indecent book had to go. Harlan was so dead in earnest that when his action was disputed by influential people he simply declared that he would resign his folio rather than reinstate me: which was all right for Harlan and all right for his kind of Iowa. I was taken care of by being given a desk in the Attorney-general's office. [See indexical note p004.1] The more or less anonymous young writers and journalists of Washington were greatly incensed—made my cause their own—wrote almost violently about it: but the papers generally as well as literary people either ignored the incident altogether or made light of it. This was the hour for O'Connor: O'Connor was the man for this hour: and from that time on the 'good gray,' William's other name for me, has stuck—stuck. I was told by a man then very close to Lincoln that this obtuseness in Harlan had gone a great way towards nullifying his ambitions for the Vice-Presidency: that the opposition underground from the press and even from the more tactical politicians had cut the foundations from under his feet. Not that this quarrel  [See indexical note p004.2] with me could have had such an effect alone but because it was symptomatic—had simply served to accentuate certain unfortunate traits of character in the man. Long after Harlan acknowledged to one of the newspaper fellows in St. Louis: 'The removal of Whitman was the mistake of my life.'"

      [See indexical note p004.3] In speaking on the subject today W. said to me that "the radical element in Lincoln was sadness bordering on melancholy, touched by a philosophy, and that philosophy touched again by a humor, which saved him from the logical wreck of his powers."


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.