Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, May 14, 1888.

     In with W. Harned already there. W. in excellent good humor, feeling much better than yesterday, his face ruddy again, his hand warm. [See indexical note p150.3] Sat by the window, in the parlor, in one of the armchairs. Chatted freely, with vigor and expressive gesture. Not out today—weather too uncertain. When he left Harned's yesterday afternoon he took Corning along for a drive. Then home. "At the end I was rather exhausted but I slept very well."

      [See indexical note p150.4] Discussed Stedman's Whitman. W. said: "One of Stedman's ideas seems to be that we need an expurgated Leaves. Well—perhaps we do: but who is the man to expurgate it?" "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone!" I said. W. laughed: "Yes, let him expurgate. [See indexical note p150.5] Well—I have heard nothing but expurgate, expurgate, expurgate, from the day I started. Everybody wants to expurgate something—this, that, the other thing. If I accepted all the suggestions there wouldn't be one leaf of the Leaves left—and if I accepted one why shouldn't I accept all? Expurgate, expurgate, expurgate! I've heard that till I'm deaf with it. Who didn't say expurgate? Rossetti

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said expurgate and I yielded. Rossetti was honest, I was honest—we both made a mistake. It is damnable and vulgar—the mere suggestion is an outrage. [See indexical note p151.1] Expurgation is apology—yes, surrender—yes, an admission that something or other was wrong. Emerson said expurgate—I said no, no. I have lived to regret my Rossetti yes—I have not lived to regret my Emerson no. Expurgate, expurgate, expurgate—apologize, apologize: get down on your knees."
"If you can't walk into popularity on your feet crawl in on your hands and marrows." "That's the point—that's just the point. Did the Rossetti book ever do me any good? [See indexical note p151.2] I am not sure of it: Rossetti's kindness did me good—but as for the rest, I am doubtful." Laughed. "Why, what do you think I personally, selfishly, got out of that edition? Why, just three copies on which I had three dollars duty to pay. I don't blame Rossetti for that—that is only one of the humors of the incident. I was talking of expurgation—of Stedman. Stedman got that—I will not say 'bee'—cockroach into his noddle years ago, years ago—and it stays everlastingly there, stubbornly there, in spite of his honest desire to do me justice. [See indexical note p151.3] I feel it right along that Stedman does wish to do me justice—to put me where I belong—to not set me too high or too low but just right: as a man, face to face, he shows this anxiety: as critic, too, he seems animated by the same instinct. But how much does a man succeed in setting me right, in arriving at my purpose, in getting my measure (yes, my motive) who wants to expurgate me?—to expurgate me? [See indexical note p151.4] Expurgation and justice do not seem to go together: no, they do not. Stedman's great objection to Leaves of Grass on the questioned passages is that it offends against nature—runs counter to the modesty of nature: that Walt Whitman professes to follow the method of nature yet does not observe her restraints. So I must expurgate, expurgate, pick up my skirts and run back to nature: beg nature's pardon and be good hereafter.

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The contention reminds me of an incident that occurred in a play in one of the New York theaters in my early days. They were reviving a whole series of old English plays: very good, staple plays: I saw a good many of them. [See indexical note p152.1] Harry Placide was one of the great actors of the time—Placide: spelled P-l-a-c-i-d-e: that's right. There was one play (I forget its name) in which Placide carried along a rather odd scene. A woman of exalted station was on the stage—an elegantly dressed daintily constituted woman. Something happened or was about to happen, I don't know what. Placide with peculiar finesse led her to one of the wings of the stage—his hands touching hers at the tips of the fingers only—so—he bowing with unmistakable respect—and said with a concerned air: 'Not that way, Madame—the cows have been there!' [See indexical note p152.2] It seemed so irresistible; it seemed, and seems, to so illustrate some things, I never forgot it. Now, when they are all crying expurgate, expurgate, expurgate, the story comes back to me: the ghost of Placide comes back—warns me—waves me off: 'Not that way, Walt Whitman—the cows have been there!'"

     W. was silent for a few minutes during which I said nothing. Then he exclaimed: "Horace, take my advice: never take advice!" [See indexical note p152.3] Breaking out into merry laughter: "That sounds like bull, Horace, but it's damned serious. No man who's got anything to do in the world can afford to take advice. Take my word for it—don't take advice!" Rabelais was somehow talked about. [See indexical note p152.4] W. put in: "Some people think I am someway, in some part, Rabelaisian. I do not know where it comes in—just what induces the belief. But after all, I know little of Rabelais—have looked at him, picked him up, but have never given him any close attention. William O'Connor's explanation of Rabelais was, that he became disgusted with the cant of intellect, scholarship, in his time, and went off to his characteristic work as a protest.  [See indexical note p152.5] But people do not agree: I remember another claim pressed upon me for Rabelais in Washington

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by somebody—who was it?—I don't think I could say: a higher claim—that his motive was spiritual; not of revolt alone, though that also, but affirmation. [See indexical note p153.1] I don't know where I stand—I suppose I don't take sides."

     W. said, motioning towards Harned: "We have been discussing the cryptogram again." "Do you go in for it?" "Well—no, but I read about it with interest if not with pleasure." [See indexical note p153.2] "Are you still against Shaksper?" "Yes, still against Shaksper—at least that if not more." Discussed the proposed French translation. "Let them make it—I encourage it: let results take care of themselves: but I do not think the French will take hold of me—that I come within their orbit. [See indexical note p153.3] I am told that Madame Greville had very much the same opinion. She was not adverse to me—she was neither friend nor enemy—she was a cute critic. Another of the great critics there in France—a man—has discussed Leaves of Grass and said (as I thought, profoundly said): 'Without delicacy there can be no literature.' I have thought over that a great deal: it sounds right—I shouldn't wonder but I approved it. [See indexical note p153.4] Yet there is a deeper point involved: what is delicacy?—what constitutes the delicate?"

     W. gave me to mail in Philadelphia (I was about to go over the river) a letter he had written to O'Connor enclosing a Gilchrist note recieved from London today. G. writes describing the fate of his W. W. picture in London—the impression it made on the public and the feeling of artists for and against it. [See indexical note p153.5] W. in some measure amused and some ways evidently nettled. For instance: "Herbert says he is sure he would not like Eakins' picture: all Eakins' methods, he says, are tortuous. What do you take Herbert to mean by that? Tortuous? How?" [See indexical note p153.6] W. argued oppositely: "The Eakins portrait gets there—fulfills its purpose; sets me down in correct style, without feathers—without any fuss of any sort. I like the picture always—it never fades, never weakens. Now, Herbert is determined to

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make me the conventional, proper old man: his picture is very benevolent, to be sure: but the Walt Whitman of that picture lacks guts."
 [See indexical note p154.1] Harned said: "He gave you curls in your beard." "Yes, and more too: much more. You can see what Herbert made of me by the remarks of some of the visitors—two women—who were surprised to find that Walt Whitman was not after all a wild man but a rather tame man—almost a man of the world. But you see how it is. The world insists on having its own way: it don't want a man so much the way he looks as the way it is accustomed to having men look." After considerable conversation in this vein we discussed the question of the ownership of the Eakins picture (half of it Walt's, E. had said), W. remarking with a laugh: "But I'll kick the bucket some day—no doubt very soon now—and then some of these things will be of some value and be sought after." [See indexical note p154.2]

     I asked W. about his projected Hicks volume. Was it all ready for the printer? He responded: "An hour's work would make it so: I have it right here"—rummaging among the papers on the floor with his cane and pulling out a tied package, which he opened, exhibiting a collection of notes, newspaper clippings, completed manuscript pages, &c. He handed me a book. [See indexical note p154.3] "That is Hicks' Journal: it is a rare and precious book now." And said again: "I have here, as you see, about eighty pages of finished manuscript: it is about ready to be turned over to the printer—and this"—turning over some loose scraps— "I call Elias-Hicksiana." The Hicks matter is mostly written with pencil. I examined it. [See indexical note p154.4] "I've got a lot of notes ready for November Boughs—disjointed notes: you had better take them some day—but you are to be extra careful of them—I have no copy of them." Harned asked: Why don't you push November Boughs along? The book ought to get out. Besides, it would mean money to you, and you say you need money." W. threw himself back in his chair and laughed: "What do

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I want with money? I have enough."
But when I aksed: "Wouldn't it be safer to do the book?" W. grew serious at once and replied: "I know what you mean: you are right—it would be safer done than left straggled about this room—with me dead, maybe, some morning. [See indexical note p155.1] I do feel as if I wanted to get this book issued before I light out." Added after a pause: "The Lippincott fellows have said they would take a bit of the Hicks—a good sized bit if I choose." He then carefully tied up the package again and put it back on the floor.

      [See indexical note p155.2] There is all sorts of debris scattered about—bits of manuscript, letters, newspapers, books. Near by his elbow towards the window a washbasket filled with such stuff. Lady Mount Temple's waistcoat was thrown carelessly on the motley table—a Blake volume was used by him for a footstool: near by a copy of DeKay's poems given by Gilder to Rhys. Various other books. A Dickens under his elbow on the chair. He pushed the books here and there several times this evening in his hunt for particular papers. [See indexical note p155.3] "This," he said once, "is not so much a mess as it looks: you notice that I find most of the things I look for and without much trouble. The disorder is more suspected than real."


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