Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, May 9, 1888.

     Took to Whitman, who came to the door himself, my father's translation of Griffin's letter. [See indexical note p124.2] W. read it and was pleased. He remembered the Laforgue renderings in the French. "I never could have known how they were done, of course, as I have absolutely no conversancy with the language. You ought to see the Laforgue poems—I want to hunt them up for you—I have them here. [See indexical note p124.3] I try to look at my face in a French glass but somehow it don't work very well. I shall advise Griffin to use one of the later editions—not to fool with the older books—yes, to use McKay's. I may get you to write to him for me. What could I do nowadays if it was not for your busy hands and feet? My wreck is way up the shore." I exclaimed: "The gospel is spreading!" "Yes—as fire once started in the grass." W. added: "It is a new experience to be successful: I always seem to know what to do with failure but success is a puzzle to me." Would Griffin likely publish an expurgated book? "Damn the expurgated books! [See indexical note p124.4] I say damn 'em! The dirtiest book in all the world is the expurgated book! Rossetti expurgated—avowed it in his preface: a sort of nod to Mrs. Grundy: and it was much the same with Rhys—Rhys does not wholly endorse me—is shy of me in a way—having dug so deep into the old English balladry he becomes convinced of the necessity of the lilt, the regular flow, the notation, the steady movement back and forth—hence his lingering distrust of the Leaves. [See indexical note p124.5] Rhys is coming along at a good pace but he has not yet come: he sort of feels his way—is resolved not to commit himself too far first lick." W. spoke

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of the Chatto & Windus Whitman as a steal. "I never got any money from it. But the Rhys book—the Walter Scott book—has a better record. They sent me fifty dollars. [See indexical note p125.1] They sold twenty thousand copies. You don't think fifty dollars much return on twenty thousand copies? Neither do I: but I am grateful for what I get: the little dribbles of favor are all I have ever got anyway: I am not a favorite of fortune—except perhaps a favorite victim." He laughed very good-naturedly. "Is this my little growl? Well—you must let me have the growl—listen patiently—my growl is worse than my spring." [See indexical note p125.2] W. liked Griffin's letter: "It is modest—it sounds well—I shall write him. The best part of Griffin's note is in what he refrains from saying: the best of us is never put into words."

     W. asked if I had read Mrs. Moulton's letter to the Boston Herald and described her as "an emotional, full-blooded, somewhat gushing woman." "But," he continued, "I always reflect that such characteristics carry with them their own excuse, being in their own way natural, as I prefer to say." [See indexical note p125.3] W. proceeded: "You often hear me object to gush: I like love, I like freedom, I like any honest emotional utterance—but I hate to have people come at me with malice—throw themselves into my arms—insist upon themselves, upon their affection. I shy at it. William O'Connor used to say this was rather a contradiction between my life and my philosophy. I don't know—perhaps it is—but it is a feeling I can never rid myself of."

     W. never met John Weiss and Samuel Johnson and has never read their books. "I know pratically nothing of that group at first hand—the secondary transcendental group. Outside of Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, I have not had any relations with the New England literati. [See indexical note p125.4] This is probably because I taboo religious books—books on religion—even the broad ones. I know I ought to know Weiss and Johnson—they are my men, I am their man—but I

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own up to my entire ignorance. Frothingham I have met: he has quoted me favorably—has written me. [See indexical note p126.1] You ought to sit down here sometime and tell me all about these fellows."
We did then and there go on for an hour in that strain, I doing most of the talking, in answer to his questions. It was like being in the witness box at court. When we were through W. remarked: "I feel as if I was getting acquainted with a new world—I feel guilty—I have neglected those remarkable men: but I hate theological, metaphysical, discussion so heartily that I run at the sight of a controversial book—always, of course, excepting Huxley and Ingersoll, as you know." [See indexical note p126.2]

      [See indexical note p126.3] Talked of translations of Homer. "I have had different opinions about Palmer's prose Homer—have liked it and not liked it and liked it again and so on—it comes and goes like indigestion. I think Buckley's translation the best extant—I read it many years ago: the impression it made upon me has proved to be indelible. Bryant's and Derby's are damnable—I don't know which is worse than the other—they are both so stiff, so bad, it hardly seems anything could be worse than either. [See indexical note p126.4] John Swinton sent me Derby's, for what reason I can't imagine. Pope was of course a machine—he wrote like a see-saw." Had never read Taylor's translation of Faust. [See indexical note p126.5] Suggested that I should try to get him "a cheap copy." "I have always meant to read it—it always seemed so formidable."

     Fiction was debated the other night at a meeting of the Congregational Club, New York.  [See indexical note p126.6] Gilder had referred to Cable as "perhaps the greatest artist since Hawthorne." W. said as to this: "The sense in which 'artist' is used there is to me as a bad smell to the nostrils. I refuse to consider literature in that light. [See indexical note p126.7] Gilder himself writes poetry—his poetry is considerably better than the average. I have friends who see a greal deal in Gilder's work. Yet after all it never escapes being average, only average—it partakes

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of the general character of the characterless poetry of the magazines—that of porcelain, fine china, dainty curtains, exquisite rugs—never a look of flowing rivers, waving trees, growing lilies, floating clouds."
 [See indexical note p127.1] W. had been looking over Lowell's Fable for Critics. What would have happened to W. if he had been contemporary? Would Lowell have scored him? "I rather doubt—it was the original policy of the critics, the professional literateurs, to ignore me—to freeze me out." "When they found they could not freeze you out they tried to burn you out." "Exactly—exactly: but neither heat nor cold has killed our bud: the Leaves have lasted, lasted, seasons in and out, hates in and out."

     W. has never met Whittier. [See indexical note p127.2] "I wrote him on his last birthday and had a short note in the winter from him—a note, however, that was purely formal." Was Whittier adverse to Leaves of Grass? "It is hard to say yes, it would be harder to say no. A correspondent went out to see him some time not long ago from Boston—they discussed literary matters together, my name being brought up with others—but he was very dextrous in evading any committal phrase pro or con. [See indexical note p127.3] I know, however, from Sanborn, I think—that Whittier years ago started to read the Leaves and when he came to what are called the indelicate passages threw the book into the fire."

     Something Joesph Cook has been saying about Paine aroused W. [See indexical note p127.4] "It is always so: the tree with the best apples gets the worst clubbing." I put in: "Because they are best able to stand it"—he repeating the phrase after me— "That's ever so true—ever so true—they are best able to stand it." This reference to Percy's Reliques: "It takes you in to the birth of man: it is always a young book." [See indexical note p127.5] The Book News contains a frontispiece portrait of Mrs. Moulton. W. says: "It shows the best of her." I asked: "When will they put your phiz in their gallery?" "Never! I don't believe in their gallery—the Louise Chandler Moulton,

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Matthew Arnold, George Cable gallery. Not a few people would say my phiz belongs only in the rogue's gallery!"

      [See indexical note p128.1] "Tom," said W., "has been in: sometimes he is like a blustering day. Well, a blustering day is part of a year, too: I like all kinds of days: Tom's kind the same's any other kind. Tom's chief trait to me, after his capacity for good will, is his honesty. Tom goes to a heap of trouble trying to hide his good traits at times—but he never fools me: I know him for what he is every time. [See indexical note p128.2] Bucke? O yes, Bucke! Someone was here the other day and complained that the Doctor was extreme. I suppose he is extreme—the sun's extreme too: and as for me, ain't I extreme? Ask my enemies if I ain't extreme. It seems to be the notion of some people that I should 'select' my friends—accept and reject and so forth. [See indexical note p128.3] Love, affection, never selects—just loves, is just affectionate.


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