Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, May 4, 1888.

     Down to W. Found him sitting up in the parlor reading. "I am not much better, only a little more resolute. I have

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to give in."
He exhibited a customs bill for three dollars and fifteen cents for the waistcoat. He quite tartly denounced the tariff. "The waistcoat (aside from the sentiment attached) is probably not worth in itself ten cents to me—indeed, I have a dozen vests which I cannot even give away. [See indexical note p099.1] And now comes another, which I am hardly likely ever to wear. The spirit of the tariff is malevolent: it flies in the face of all American ideals: I hate it root and branch: it helps a few rich men to get rich, it helps the great mass of poor men to get poorer: what else does it do? Nothing that I can see. If America is not for freedom I do not see what it is for. We ought to invite the world through an open door—all men—yes, even the criminals—giving to everyone a chance—a new outlook. My God! are men always to go on clawing each other—always to go on taxing, stealing, warring, having a class to exclude and a class excluded—always to go on having favorite races, favorite castes—a few people with money here and there—all the rest without anything everywhere? [See indexical note p099.2] That is what the tariff—the spirit of the tariff—means. Chatto & Windus printed Leaves of Grass in England—pirated it—never even sent me a copy of the book until Rossetti suggested they should do so. The book came—the books—and I was taxed for duties. Yes, three dollars and a half. One day I recieved a mail package on which sixty cents was levied by the tariff. [See indexical note p099.3] Some fellow in England had sent me a copy of his useless Introduction to the Study of Browning. So it goes. It is a robber age: the maxim of the law is, rob or be robbed. Of all robbers I think the tariff is the meanest robber. It has such sneaky, sneaking ways: it hits you in the back—hits you when you ain't lookin': gives you no sort of chance to protect yourself."

     In touching upon some Washington episodes W. said: "I never had any desire to hunt up, even to see, the great men—indeed, avoided the magnates. [See indexical note p099.4] I was quite contented to be

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with plain people—to keep close to the ground. I didn't do much with pedestals. Forney often expressed his regret to me that we had failed to meet in Washington. [See indexical note p100.1] I first met him after my sickness, on coming north. He was full-blooded, large, splendid—a real human being—full of unction—a man after my own heart: much more of a democrat than he realized himself. He knew everyobdy, was on intimate terms with politicians, actors, doctors, literary men: who didn't he know? Have you read his book of Anecdotes of Public Men? [See indexical note p100.2] It overflows with pithy description. I often went to Forney's office. There was a fine big chair in the bay-window on Seventh Street—much like this—I would sit there—Forney would walk up and down: we would have a running chat. Forney liked drink, eating, society, better than he knew—better than was good for him: and the women came to see him—very often, many women; and no wonder: he was handsome, magnetic, big—oh, very satisfying magnetically."

      [See indexical note p100.3] W. spoke of newspapers: "I suppose the news in newspapers gets better every year. But as the news gets better the rest of the paper gets worse. I read editorials from force of habit, now and then: what else could excuse such a waste of time?" He called my attention to a remark of a Methodist minister at a recent conference: "I propose to discuss this subject from a minister's point of view." "What in hell's name is a minister's point of view? [See indexical note p100.4] He does not approach life as a man or as an American or as a lover or even as a hater but from a minister's point of view. Emasculated—yes, sexless; yes, with no power to produce, reproduce—a sterile sort of affair altogether. He's just like schools of art—the French school, the German school, the English school. [See indexical note p100.5] What do I care for a school? any school? There's only one school, after everything's said and done—only one school: I don't know what to name it: I belong to that school, whatever its name: the human school, the man

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and woman school, the heart school: it is not professional, a class affair: a thing for priests to closet for themselves."

     W. had seen Ingersoll's endorsement of Gresham for President. [See indexical note p101.1] "Yes," said W., "I am for Gresham too if he has all them virtues. But has he? The political class is too slippery for me—even its best examples: I seem to be reaching for a new politics—for a new economy: I don't know quite what, but for something." Touching E. L. Youmans, whom he had met several times, he said: "I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess." [See indexical note p101.2] W. in rather happier mood than for some days. "I've got a little memorandum here for your archives," he said: "take it along with you: tell me tomorrow what you think of it: that Emerson matter sometimes seems to have two sides." He handed me an envelope bearing the printed legend: "Attorney General's office, official business" with W.'s script added to this effect: "J. T. Trowbridge's anecdote (Sept. 6, 1865) of Rich. Moncton Milnes' letter." [See indexical note p101.3] I went off without reading it, simply saying good night, kissing W. as I left. Inside the envelope, still on the stationery of the Department of the Attorney General at Washington—Sep 6, 1865—W. had set down this brief narrative:

     "J. T. Trowbridge has called on me today, stopt an hour. Told me, on authority of Mr. Emerson, the following. An English gentleman who came to America, and among the Boston literati, not long since, was the bearer of a letter to me from Lord Houghton (Richard Moncton Milnes, the poet)—a friendly and generous letter about Leaves of Grass and also intended as a letter of introduction for the gentleman bearing it. [See indexical note p101.4] But the Boston literati talked severely and

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warmly about the author of Leaves, dwelt on the manner in which he treated Mr. Emerson, and, in short, made such a story that the gentleman changed his plan of visiting W. W. and never delivered the letter sent him. [See indexical note p102.1]

     "J. T. T. told me of Mr. Emerson's lectures—one in which he said, speaking of the very few who wrote English greatly—'there is also Walt Whitman, but he belongs yet to the fire clubs, and has not got into the parlors.'

     "By J. T. T.'s account it is plain that Mr. E has quite thoroughly shifted his position from that taken in the letter of 1855, and makes the largest qualifications."


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