Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, May 2, 1888.

      [See indexical note p091.1] Returned to W. the Marston volume containing Garden Secrets and the memoir from Mrs. Moulton, who had written on one of the fly-leaves: "To Walt Whitman, Poet, These poems, by an English poet who delighted to do him honor. Louise Chandler Moulton, April 23, 1888." W. not well, had been feeling out of sorts again since Sunday. This is Wednesday. Same symptoms—the insistent headache, congestion, &c. Lay on sofa in parlor in some exhaustion. The Marston book I had noticed was not cut throughout. W. smiled. "No—I did not read the book; I looked into it: the bit I read did not lead me on: I dropped the trail—or lost it, perhaps." How about the lecture trip to England? Would he take it? [See indexical note p091.2] "No. It was tempting up to a certain point. But I would rather finish, as I have grown up, here. I could not stand the excitement of travelling and meeting people—of being lionized and denounced. This is a safer place for me—this little town, this little room, my own bed and chair." Said he had been reading Gladstone's reply to Ingersoll— "It is a great weariness—but I stuck to it, thinking it probably my fault. [See indexical note p091.3] Its protestations seem to me a sort of Captain Cuttle business—the 'yes I do,' 'no I don't,' 'perhaps,' 'Oh no': Gladstone is neither here nor there: he is longwinded and indefinite—he doesn't make his mark clear and then drive to it: he goes all over the country looking for his game. Ingersoll is everyway different—knows exactly what he wants and gets it at once."

     Had W. ever heard directly from Carlyle? "No—never directly. [See indexical note p091.4] I once heard a report that Carlyle had made some foul allusion to the Leaves, but we had reason afterward for believing that he was not responsible for the nasty

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rumor. Yet Carlyle could never have understood me—could never have comprehended the Leaves, which are outside his spiritual latitude and longitude altogether. Carlyle was not an apt student of the modern, of literary rebellion—he was raised, imbedded, in older routines. [See indexical note p092.1] He did not understand humanity—had no faith in humanity, in fact—more than that, he lacked unction: don't you think that's the word to describe it?—he had no religious faith—I am sure he lacked conviction in the triumph of the good. I do not intend to say Carlyle did not contribute—did not do this and that for which humanity will be eternally richer and grateful. What I am trying to say is that he had no avenue of approach to the people; he lost his way in the jungle: the people were not a beautiful abstraction—they were an ugly fact: he shrank from the people. [See indexical note p092.2] Carlyle was a good deal of a democrat in spite of himself. Carlyle was incapable of seeing men generously, even his friends. One thing Carlyle did understand—the incessant caterwauling of radicals—their unceasing complaints against everything—their inability to appreciate the importance of conservatism, of restraint, even of persecution."
I never knew W. to quote Ruskin. [See indexical note p092.3] This evening I said so. He responded: "I don't quote him—I don't care for him, don't read him—don't find he appeals to me. I've tried Ruskin on every way but he don't fit."

     W. spoke about the first edition of the Leaves: "It is tragic—the fate of those books. [See indexical note p092.4] None of them were sold—practically none—perhaps one or two, perhaps not even that many. We had only one object—to get rid of the books—to get them out someway even if they had to be given away. You have asked me questions about the manuscript of the first edition. It was burned. Rome kept it several years, but one day, by accident, it got away from us entirely—was used to kindle the fire or to feed the rag man."


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     W. said about Franklin Evans: "I doubt if there is a copy in existence: I have none and have not had one for years; it was a pamphlet. Parke Godwin and another somebody (who was it?) came to see me about writing it. Their offer of cash payment was so tempting—I was so hard up at the time—that I set to work at once ardently on it (with the help of a bottle of port or what not). [See indexical note p093.1] In three days of constant work I finished the book. Finished the book? Finished myself. It was damned rot—rot of the worst sort—not insincere, perhaps, but rot, nevertheless: it was not the business for me to be up to. I stopped right there: I never cut a chip off that kind of timber again."

     As I was about to leave W. rose painfully from the sofa, saying: "A minute—yes, wait: there is a little thing I am going to ask you to do for me. [See indexical note p093.2] I have received word that someone in England—a lady—a very great lady—indeed, no less a person than Lady Mount Temple, daughter of Lord Palmerston—has sent me a scarf or waistcoat. This letter speaks of it and I am going to have you see what we need to do to get possession of the dainty gift." W. handed me the letter:


Phila. Apr. 28, '88.

Mr. W. Whitman, Camden, N.J. Dear Sir:—

We will receive your acct by the "Br. Prince," now due from Liverpool, consigned to us for your acct., one package containing apparel valued at £1. [See indexical note p093.3] We would thank you for your invoice covering same as early as possible in order to clear through customs on arrival. The package will come to us through the medium of Messrs. G. W. Wheatley & Co. If the apparel contained therein is worn at all, kindly say so when replying to the above; and oblige

Yours truly

O. G. Hempstead & Son.



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     W. wrote to Hempstead on the face of an envelope: "Please treat with the bearer of this, Mr. Horace Traubel, a personal friend of mine, the same as you would with me, and consider him as my fully authorized agent in the matter." [See indexical note p094.1] To me W. said: "I have no word from Lady Mount Temple direct but from Wheatley, as in Hempstead's letter. I suppose this means the usual rigmarole and expense: by the time we get the thing in our hands we will have paid out more than it is physically worth. Of course the gift is the gift—we appreciate that: we will not lose sight of the gift in our struggle to rescue it from customs.  [See indexical note p094.2] This whole tariff business is an insult to our good sense besides being a palpable impertinence and invasion. But we'll get the waistcoat if it takes our last cent—at least you'll get it: I am no good anymore, that way speaking: I am tied down here fast to my infirmities."


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