Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, May 8, 1888.

     W. asleep on the sofa when I got to the house. 7.30 evening. I sat there and read for awhile. When he was aroused we had a talk. [See indexical note p118.4] "I had a volume from France today—poems—Les Cygnes—written by Francis Viele-Griffin—accompanied with a letter from the author which I will get your father to translate for me." In the volume was this inscription: "To Walt Whitman—the homage and sym-

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pathetic admiration of the author, Francis Viele-Griffin."
This is a translation of the letter:


15 Quai de Bourbon.
Paris, April 26, 1888.

Sir and Dear Poet,

In admiration of some of your poems, which I read in an edition, ridiculously "expurgated," published by Chatto & Windus, in London, I feel constrained to have the Parisian people share the estimation in which I hold your high lyrical talent. [See indexical note p119.1]

Would it be too much to ask of you that you indicate the volume (the edition) which you would prefer having rendered in the French? My friend, Jules Laforgue (who died only too prematurely) has already given to the public two of your poems, and the reception they met with seems to presage a new victory for your works. [See indexical note p119.2]

In expectation of your kind reply, Sir and dear poet, permit me to assure you of my sympathy in art and of my profound admiration.

Francis Viele-Griffin.


     W. said: "I have never been translated into the French except in bits. It is an interesting mystery to me, how I would pass the ordeal of getting into another language. I shall never know, of course: I know no language but my own. [See indexical note p119.3] William used to say the Leaves would before their work was done make all tongues of the earth their tongue." W. added: "I had a good friend in Washington who translated for me viva voce from the French and did it well. Through him I got rather directly acquainted with some of the French master-craftsmen—with Hugo, for instance. My whole—not exactly that: my best—knowledge of Hugo was derived from that man."

     Referring to The Path (Theosophic) which he had on his lap: "Even the Theosophists claim me. [See indexical note p119.4] How much of me is going to be left for myself after all the claims of the radicals are satisfied?" N.Y. Herald today contains W.'s poem—

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The United States to Old World Critics. W. asked: "What did it mean to you?" I explained. He asked again: "Did that occur to you at once or with a struggle?" [See indexical note p120.1] "At once." "Good! then the poem is better than I believed." W. recalled a Robert Collyer incident. W. had said to him of preaching what he has so often said to us—that the day of the preacher is past. "Collyer turned the statement back upon the poets: 'Why write poetry any more? All the songs were long ago sung.' It quite embarrassed me on the instant—was an unexpected shot: I had no answer ready for it: indeed, I don't know that there is an answer. Collyer's not deep but he's damned cute—for the preacher class very damned cute: for, as you know, I don't as a rule expect anything of the preachers. [See indexical note p120.2] Occasionally one of them surprises me with a bit of well-borrowed wisdom. Collyer is a kind of reduced Beecher—a Beecher with much of the grace lopped off." W. again: "I notice that Morse in his recent writing drops his middle initial H. That is right. Rolleston has lately dropt one of his four initials: think of a man having four initials to contend with! It is asking too much. I used to be Walter—started that way: then I became Walt. [See indexical note p120.3] My father was Walter. He had a right to Walter. I had to be distinguished from him so I was made Walt. My friends kicked: Walter looked and sounded better: and so forth, and so forth. But Walt stuck."

     Mrs. Moulton wrote up an account of her visit to W. W. for the Boston Herald. Talcott Williams sent a clip of it over to W. with this message: "I know you will be interested in this, which comes both from the Boston Sunday Herald and Mrs. Moulton, and feel sure that you will not object to her reference to you, all written in the great love each and all of us feel for one who has made life better worth living and to none more than to yours loyally and gratefully." [See indexical note p120.4] "Well—were you interested?" "Not much." "Why?" "I don't know why. She is too effusive." "Then you would

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rather have people refrain from praising you?
"I don't say that: there's no harm in the praise: but we must praise right and blame right." [See indexical note p121.1]

     W. called my attention to a pamphlet of sixteen pages of doggerel inscribed: "To Walt Whitman (America's Great Poet)" written, as he says, "by a woman who evidently thinks I am in danger and wants to save me from hell fire. There are eleven poems in the book preceded by a Prologue, all directed to show that the religion of Jesus is superior to the religion of Walt Whitman. [See indexical note p121.2] I always thought they came to about the same thing, but this woman evidently thinks they do not." W. much amused. "I ought to be saved in the end. I should say fifty or a hundred people are busy all the time trying to convert Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass. Something ought to come of it all." Referring to Sylvester Baxter: "He is one of my cordial, truest friends—an out and out assenter to the Leaves: radical, progressive, with lots of look ahead. Baxter has gone off into Theosophy: all our rebels go off somewhere." [See indexical note p121.3] Corning said to W.: "The Greeks still make excellent wines." W. replied: "Then you see they are not altogether degenerate!" My sister had sent W. some cakes. "I was up, it was near midnight: I felt a gnawing something here—a void"—indicating his stomach and laughing— "so I took some of the cakes and ate them alone, in the dark, in the dead silence. [See indexical note p121.4] How much (perhaps all) the value of a thing—your joy, satisfaction, with it—consists in having it just at the right time: it may be a trifle but it is opportune. That's the way it was with the cakes. A little something at the right time is better than much and running over at the wrong time." Bucke likes Morse's first Whitman better than the second. [See indexical note p121.5] I prefer the second. W. said: "You are right—Bucke is wrong. The second is decidedly the best—I would admit nothing the other way. The second has my vote." Referred curiously to the skyscrapers. "Are they building them to

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stand?"
Spoke of Charles Lamb: "A dear fellow and a hero, too." [See indexical note p122.1] W. gave me a Dowden letter and talked a little about Dowden. "This letter will give you a little notion of his private regard for me as well as of the reasons he is willing to give for his public espousal of my work. Dowden does not melt himself and melt me, as Symonds does: he is more stiffly literary: but he comes dangerously near to our standard. [See indexical note p122.2] That talk that he winds up with about the pension is impossible talk, as you know. I have sat down on all attempts, new and old. I have no reasons against the pension. All my feeling is against it. My feeling decides the day."


Winstead, Temple Road Rathmines,
Dublin, March 16, 1876.

My dear Mr. Whitman.

Yesterday your post-card and your very welcome books reached me. [See indexical note p122.3] I spent a good part of the day over Two Rivulets, the Preface, and the Memoranda of the War, and was not far from you, I think, in feeling, however separated in place. I seem to see some gains from the illness which has grieved us. Tones and tints have passed from it into your writings which add to their comprehensiveness and their truth and tenderness. At the same time I hold to L of G and accept it,—taking it as a whole,—with entire satisfaction. [See indexical note p122.4] It seems to me more for the soul, and for things beyond physiology, than you, contrasting it with your projected songs more specially for the soul, quite recognize. The non-moral parts of it, such parts as simply are the "tally" of nature, are taken up into other portions of L. of G. and are spiritualized, and each part belongs to the other. In L. of G. I find a complete man, not body alone, or chiefly, but body and soul. That its direct tendency (and not alone its indirect) is to invigorate and reinforce the soul I feel assured. But in contrast to the pride and buoyancy, and resonant tones, of L. and G., the

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tenderer, more penetrating, more mystic and withdrawn tones of Passage to India, and of the recent poems and prose, seem to me to be again as serving the same, and not other, purposes, but for other moments, other moods and natures—and I think many of your future readers may gain an entrance to your earlier writings through your latter and that for some persons this will be the fittest way. [See indexical note p123.1]


 [See indexical note p123.2] At present I have little doubt you ought not to set yourself to any brain work, but at the same time you ought not to think of ceasing to write, for every now and again the mood will come and you will write something as admirable as anything you have written heretofore. Your friends here want to think of you as free from all pressure to write, and anxieties about material well-being, with your spirit open to all pleasant and good influences the Earth and the Season and your own thoughts bring to you. The Newspaper paragraph you sent Rossetti and me has made us fear it may not be so with you, and we remain in suspense as to whether we might not make some move which would relieve us from some of this dissatisfied feeling on your behalf. [See indexical note p123.3] Ought it not to be a duty, too, of—not the American public to recognize your gift to America as a writer, but—the American Government to recognize your services, as of one who saved the lives, and lightened the sufferings, of many American citizens? It would be honorable to the government and to you. I write knowing little of the actual probability of this, but I believe in England we would be careful of such a voluntary public servant.

We are all well, my wife and children and I.

Always affectionately yours

Edward Dowden.


     W. added: "I hear every now and then from Dowden back there. He has not kept his ardor up, quite, I think.

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He hasn't beat a retreat—he is still my friend—acquiesces in me. Symonds is a persistent fire: he never quails or lowers his colors. [See indexical note p124.1] Don't construe me too literally on all this: I am only nebulous about it: it would not do for me to give this opinion out for good and all."


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