Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, May 10, 1888.

      "Dr. Brinton," said W., "seems to be always busy." [See indexical note p128.4] I reminded W. that B. was now absent in Florence pursuing studies in connection with his own work in American archaeology. I had just heard from B. W. continued: "His work is always true and of the right sort. Brinton is a master-man—stern, resolute, loyal—yes, what I like (in the best sense) to call adhesive: a good comrade, a ripe intellect. [See indexical note p128.5] You say he will do no pot-boiling?—pot-boiling? I agree with you on that point—it is best for a man to do his one certain thing and do it well—to stick to it though all the devils (and the gods, too) are at his heels: to beat his way clear, to get out into the open. That seems like asking too much of most men: Brinton, however, is not most men—he is Brinton. I think now is the time for archaeology to be exploited here anyhow—especially American archeaology. [See indexical note p128.6] I remember that when Lord Houghton, Moncton Milnes, called to see me years ago, the first thing he said to me was:

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'Your people don't think enough of themselves: are not in the good sense patriotic enough: they do not realize that they not only have a present but a past, the traces of which are rapidly slipping away from them.' [See indexical note p129.1] He referred to the slack interest we show in 'remains'. We have our schools and expeditions for Greek exploration: the people concerned are begging, begging, all the time for money—which is all right, as far as it goes. I would not put a straw in the way of this—not a straw: I wish it well: it is important work. But I say, why not give our own evidences a chance to show themselves, too? Why not open up our own past—exploit the American contribution to this important science? Brinton is doing just that—he is eminent: he insists upon the work and does his part."

     W. was looking for a paper for me but could not find it. [See indexical note p129.2] He went poking about the room with his cane. Finally he sat down and said: "I guess I'll stop right here—I will wait until we have daylight in this room—when I will come across it naturally: to try to hunt a thing in the dark in this confusion is out of the question—the more you stir things up the more you mix 'em." Gave me New York Herald containing Nineteenth Century Club's debate on "toleration" between Ingersoll, Coudert and Stewart Woodford. [See indexical note p129.3] "I am done with it: you will like to see it. Ingersoll uses them both up as a matter of course—does it easily, nonchalantly—sits back in his chair—I should imagine, this way—shuts his eyes: as easily as this sweeps them right and left with a movement of his arm."

     Longfellow was mentioned. W. recalled a visit from L. "He came with Childs, but I was not at home—had just started off for the ferry. They came after me, followed me, and inquired of one of the men at the wharf, who told them I was on one of the boats, for which they waited, but our talk was very short." [See indexical note p129.4] The man they questioned at the ferry was Ed Lindell. After they had gone, and as Walt

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came from the boat, Lindel asked him the name of the man with the gray beard. W. told him but was more inclined to talk of Childs than of Longfellow. I asked W. about L.'s port and manners. [See indexical note p130.1] W. said: "His manners were stately, conventional—all right but all careful." Was his conversation striking? "Not at all—he did not branch out or attract." Was he at all like Emerson? "Not a bit. [See indexical note p130.2] Emerson was as different as day from night—indeed, had the best manners of any man I ever met: by this I mean manners in the right sense: manners, words, thoughts, always right, yet never at any time suggesting preparation or design. Emerson always seemed to know what he wanted. If I was asked to put him into two words, I should give 'sincerity' first—always first—and—oh! I had a more apt word a minute ago, but now it is gone: I may call it 'definiteness': yes, sincerity and definiteness. Emerson never lost this quality: in his last days, when it was said his mind had failed, he remained of this aspect: in fact, it seemed to me to be emphasized. [See indexical note p130.3] Emerson only lost the outward, the superficial—the rest of him remained unharmed. I thought Alcott had really lost something. He came to see me in Brooklyn once just before Emerson. While Emerson was with me I asked him about this breakdown of memory or what-not in Alcott—but Emerson would not have it my way—he was gentle but firm—he opposed my observation. Emerson never lacked decision; he was indeed the firmest of men, never shaken from his place—unshockable—he never unhatted to any person or any power—any institution—never went out looking for things which did not come to him of their own accord. Alcott had a lot of queerities—freakishnesses: not vegetarianism—I do not count that—but transcendental mummeries—worst of all a most vociferous contempt for the body, which I, of course, opposed. [See indexical note p130.4] I spoke to Emerson about these things that day—but my comments made no impression: I saw that Emerson had his

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own opinion of Alcott and was not going to let me disturb it—though that was not my intention: underneath it all I had every sort of respect for Alcott myself."

     I described a walk in the country beyond Camden. [See indexical note p131.1] W.: "After all, it is the city man, often the book man, the scholar man, who best appreciates objective nature—sees nature in her large meanings, growths, evolutions: who enters most naturally, sympathetically, into the play of her phenomena, the divine physical processes." Again: "Ingersoll could not come to my reception in New York: was out of town or busy: but he sent a note containing excuses and some fine things (witty, beautiful things) better than excuses. The Colonel is always my friend—always on the spot with his good-will if not in person."

     W. talked of portraits. [See indexical note p131.2] He affects "the unceremonious—the unflattered. Of all portraits of me made by artists I like Eakins' best: it is not perfect but it comes nearest being me. [See indexical note p131.3] I find I often like the photographs better than the oils—they are perhaps mechanical, but they are honest. The artists add and deduct: the artists fool with nature—reform it, revise it, to make it fit their preconceived notion of what it should be. [See indexical note p131.4] We need a Millet in portraiture—a man who sees the spirit but does not make too much of it—one who sees the flesh but does not make a man all flesh—all of him body. Eakins almost achieves this balance—almost—not quite: Eakins errs just a little, just a little—a little—in the direction of the flesh. I am always subjected to the painters: they come here and paint, paint, paint, everlastingly paint. I give them all the aid and comfort I can—I put myself out to make it possible for them to have their fling: hoping all the time that now the right man has come, now the thing will be done completely once and for all and hereafter I can hood my face. [See indexical note p131.5] Take Gilchrist's—Herbert's: it missed the most of me, went all astray. Sometimes I think I like the best photographs best. They are called

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mechanical—Herbert used to say they were not art: maybe they are not art, maybe they are only portraits—and if a fellow wants a portrait then they are just what he wants. [See indexical note p132.1] Alexander was here for some time working up some studies for The Century: this was last year: but whatever the outcome it has not yet appeared in the magazine. I liked to have Alexander here—he is the right stuff for a man though I am not sure he is the right stuff for a painter. He told me some good stories of Ingersoll—of his generosity, of his Shakespearean scholarship: Alexander is, or was, his next door neighbor."

      [See indexical note p132.2] W. gave me two letters—one from William Rossetti and one from Edward Dowden—and said of them: "They are far back letters—1871: they belong together. Rossetti gives in his a rather apt sketch of Dowden—has some interesting things to say about the Commune: Dowden writes a little more about his own faith in the Leaves—makes a confession, hits off in a sketchy way some other fellows over there who are interested in my work. [See indexical note p132.3] The main thing is not in what is said about the Leaves but the affection that is back of it all. I had no idea Rossetti could feel so radically about the Commune or about such things: I don't know why I should have expected him to be so conservative but I did. [See indexical note p132.4] Well—I have been lucky in my friends whatever may be said about my enemies. I get more and more to feel that the Leaves do not express only a personal life—they do that first of all—but that they in the end express the corporate life—the universal life: the Leaves being in the wind-up just as much Rossetti's book or Dowden's book or your book as my book."


56 Euston Square, London, N.W., 9 July, '71.

Dear Mr. Whitman,

 [See indexical note p132.5] I was much obliged to you for the kind thought of sending me your fine verses on the Parisian catastrophes. My own sympathy (far unlike that of most

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Englishmen) was very strongly with the Commune—i.e., with extreme, democratic, and progressive republicanism against a semi-republicanism wh. may at any moment (and will, if the ultras don't make the attempt too dangerous) degenerate into some form of monarchy exhibiting more or less of the accustomed cretinism. [See indexical note p133.1]


I fancy that unless some one sends it to you from here, you may probably not see an article on your position as a poet lately published in the Westminster Review. I therefore take the liberty of posting this article to you. I don't know who has written it; but incline to think the writer must be Edward Dowden, Professor of English Literature in Trinity College, Dublin—a young man who no doubt has a good literary career before him. [See indexical note p133.2] He is at any rate, I know, one of your most earnest admirers. Lately he delivered at the College a lecture on your poems, with much applause, I am told: and the same week some one else in Dublin delivered another like lecture. There are various highly respecful references also to your poetry in a work of some repute recently published here—Our living Poets, by Forman (dealing directly with English poets only). [See indexical note p133.3]

You may perhaps be aware that the Westminster Review is a quarterly, founded by Jeremy Bentham, and to this day continuing to be the most advanced of the English reviews as regards liberal politics and speculation.

I trust Mr. O'Connor is well: will you please to rememember me to him if opportunity offers.

Believe me with reverence and gratitude.

Your friend,

W. M. Rossetti.



Montenotte, Cork, Ireland, July 23, 1871.

My dear Sir,

 [See indexical note p133.4] I wished to send you a copy of the July No. of the Westminster Review containing an article by me which attempts a study of one side of your work in literature.

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I wrote to Mr. W. M. Rossetti to inquire for your address and he tells me that he has already forwarded a copy to you. [See indexical note p134.1] But I will not be defrauded by Mr. Rossetti of the pleasure I had promised myself, and therefore you must accept a second copy of the Review (which I post with this letter) and do what you like with it.


I ought to say that the article expresses very partially the impression which your writings have made on me. It keeps, as is obvious, at a single point of view and regards only what becomes visible from that point. [See indexical note p134.2] But also I wrote more coolly than I feel because I wanted those, who being ignorant of your writings are perhaps prejudiced against them, to say: "Here is a cool judicious impartial critic who finds a great deal in Whitman—perhaps after all we are mistaken." Perhaps this will be unsatisfactory to you, and you would prefer that your critic should let the full force of your writings appear in his criticisms and attract those who are to be attracted and repel those who are to be repelled, and you may value the power of repulsion as well as that of attraction. But so many persons capable of loving your work, by some mischance or miscarriage or by some ignorance or removable error fail in their approach to you, or do not approach at all, that I think I am justified in my attempt.

You have many readers in Ireland, and those who read do not feel a qualified delight in your poems—do not love them by degree, but with an absolute, a personal love. We none of us question that yours is the clearest, and sweetest, and fullest American voice. We grant as true all that you claim for yourself. And you gain steadily among us new readers and lovers. [See indexical note p134.3]

If you care at all for what I have written it would certainly be a pleasure to hear this from yourself. If you do not care for it you will know that I wished to do better than I did. My fixed residence is 50 Wellington Road, Dublin, Ireland.

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My work there is that of Professor of English Literature in the University of Dublin. We have lately had a good public lecture in Dublin from a Fellow of Trinity College on your poems—R. Y. Tyrrell, a man who knows Greek poetry very well, and who finds it does not interfere with his regard for yours. [See indexical note p135.1] If the lecture should at any time be published, I shall send you a copy.


I am, dear sir,

Very truly yours

Edward Dowden.


     W. said of the Dowden article: "It was written with restraint—it advanced, retired, gave, took back—finally came out with a balance on my side. That is the method of the literary historian—he is determined that no steam shall be wasted. [See indexical note p135.2] The literary critic says: Keep your fires hot but don't keep them so hot they will burn you."


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