Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, April 23, 1888.

     To see W. He said: "I gave you some notes from editors the other day—notes declining the poems. I have found you another to add to the collection. This is from Alden: it is more recent than one or two of the others. You see, I have been declined everywhere more or less. Alden is friendly. I never quarrel with the editors. [See indexical note p060.3] Besides, it's best not to have a royal road—it stiffens a fellow up to be told all around that he is not wanted, that his room is better than his company, that he has a good heart—that he can nurse soldiers but can't write poetry. But read Alden's little note: it's all in his own hand, polite but rigid: rigid? yes, almost frigid."


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Harper & Brothers' Editorial Rooms,
Franklin Square, New York, May 12, 1885.

My dear Whitman,

I have your kind favor of the 11th with the enclosed poem—or series of poems, rather. [See indexical note p061.1] It does not seem to me that Fancies at the Navesink will make a favorable impression upon our readers—though they might upon a select few. I must therefore return them.

With thanks, Sincerely yours,

H. M. Alden.


      [See indexical note p061.2] W. got talking of Emerson again: "The world does not know what our relations really were—they think of our friendship always as a literary friendship: it was a bit that but it was mostly something else—it was certainly more than that—for I loved Emerson for his personality and I always felt that he loved me for something I brought him from the rush of the big cities and the mass of men. We used to walk together, dine together, argue, even, in a sort of a way, though neither one of us was much of an arguer. We were not much for repartee or sallies or what people ordinarily call humor, but we got along together beautifully—the atmosphere was always sweet, I don't mind saying it, both on Emerson's side and mine: we had no friction—there was no kind of fight in us for each other—we were like two Quakers together. Dear Emerson! [See indexical note p061.3] I doubt if the literary classes which have taken to coddling him have any right to their god. He belonged to us—yes, to us—rather than to them." Then after a pause: "I suppose to all as well as to us—perhaps to no clique whatever."

     W. wandered into some side remarks on what he calls "the New York crowd of scrawlers." Winter, for instance. "There's little Willie Winter— miserable cuss!" [See indexical note p061.4] Of Stedman: "Stedman's judgment sometimes has a grandmotherly tinge." Of Stoddard: "I allow for Stoddard what he will not allow for me—that he has written good things. He

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wrote a fine Lincoln poem. Then he wrote a poem called On the Town, I think—about a girl: a superb poem."
 [See indexical note p062.1] Of Ripley, now dead: "He was a noble scholar: I read him at one time with great assiduity. He never struck anything off with his own fire but he knew what to do with the fire of other men." He summarized on New York in this way: "It is life to the letter but death to the spirit. It is a good market for the harvest but a bad place for farming."

     W. spoke of Washington as "a big man after all." I said: "But I think Lincoln was a bigger man after all." [See indexical note p062.2] W. laughed and replied at once: "I know you are right—Lincoln was more likely as a Walt Whitman Horace Traubel man: Washington belonged to another period, to another social era: and Washington is too big to be trifled with. I allow him his full measure. But Lincoln? Well, we are very near Lincoln. He is like somebody that lives in our own house." [See indexical note p062.3] Described Kennedy's conversion: "It was slow, gradual—won out of an actual radical antipathy. Kennedy is the mixed fruit of the Puritan consciousness. Think of Walt Whitman and Plymouth Rock getting somehow together. It is hard to think out. Kennedy could not think it out at first: it was the most difficult problem he ever tackled: but finally the snarl was escaped. Kennedy came out of it on our side." [See indexical note p062.4] W. further: "Tom was in today—brought some kind of a preacher along: I don't even remember his name—a clever fellow but preachery all over, like a man in a lather. It did my eyes good to look away from him towards Tom—Tom, who is a normal man, gruff, honest, direct, simple, strong."


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