Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, May 15, 1888.

     Harned present. W., speaking of the Gilchrist-Eakins portraits, said they excited in him some remembrance of two Napoleonic pictures. [See indexical note p155.4] "An actor who had no faith in the real, the tangible, in life, portrayed by Napoleon crossing the Alps on a noble charger, uniformed, decorated, having altogether a hell of a time" (W. indicating its grandiose spirit by half rising from his chair and throwing up his right hand as though it held a sword). "Delaroche, not satisfied with such a conception, took the trouble to investigate the case—to get at the bottom facts. What did he find? Why, just this: that Napoleon rode on a mule—that

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the mule was led by an old peasant—that the journey was hard, the manner humble—that the formal-picturesque nowhere got into it. [See indexical note p156.1] This don't mean that it was less picturesque—it means that it was more—much more—picturesque: but the artists, many of them, won't have it that way. Well, Herbert painted me—you saw how: was it a success? Don't make me say what I think about that. I love Herbert too much. Then Tom Eakins came along and found Walt Whitman riding a mule led by a peasant."

      [See indexical note p156.2] Brinton had said to W.: "You give us no consistent philosophy." W. replied: "I guess I don't—I should not desire to do so." I put in: "Plenty of philosophy but not a philosophy." To which W. answered: "That's better—that's more the idea." W. again: "Stedman thinks I should be happy to have my Lincoln poem classed with Lowell's ode. [See indexical note p156.3] I am happy, of course—am bound to be happy—but not for the reason Stedman cites, I can assure you: and yet I do not myself consider the Lincoln poem the best of them." Brinton said: "Chanting the Square Deific is an immortal poem: I sometimes think it is the most subtle and profound thing you have written." [See indexical note p156.4] W. said as to that: "Many of my friends have agreed with you, Doctor, about that. It would be hard to give the idea mathematical expression: the idea of spiritual equity—of spiritual substance: the four-square entity—the north, south, east, west of the constituted universe (even the soul universe)—the four sides as sustaining the universe (the supernatural something): this is not the poem but the idea back of the poem or below the poem. I am lame enough trying to explain it in other words—the idea seems to fit its own words better than mine. You see, at the time the poem wrote itself: now I am trying to write it." [See indexical note p156.5] Referring to Passage to India: "There's more of me, the essential ultimate me, in that than in any of the poems. There is no philosophy, consistent or inconsistent, in that poem—there Brinton would be right—

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but the burden of it is evolution—the one thing escaping the other—the unfolding of cosmic purposes."

     W. has never read Buckle's History of Civilization. [See indexical note p157.1] Quizzed Harned. "Tell me what it is all about. It always seemed to me so formidable: I never seemed to have the courage to attack it." Laughing: "You see conscience makes some people cowards. I don't have much bother with my conscience. But books—well, books make a coward of me." [See indexical note p157.2] Again: "I have something of Shelley's distaste for history—so much of it is cruel, so much of it is lie. I am waiting for the historians who will tell the truth about the people—about the nobility of the people: the essential soundness of the common man. There are always—there have been always—a thousand good deeds that we say nothing about for every bad deed that we fuss over. [See indexical note p157.3] Think of the things in everyday life—we see them everywhere—that never are exploited in print. Nobody hunts them up—nobody puts them into a story. But let one base thing happen and all the reporters of all the papers are on the spot in a minute. That don't seem to give goodness a fair deal—though I don't know: maybe goodness don't need a fair deal—maybe goodness gets along on its own account without the historian." [See indexical note p157.4] Harned asked: "Have you ever had any experiences to shake your faith in humanity?" "Never! Never! I trust humanity: its instincts are in the main right: it goes false, it goes true, to its interests, but in the long run it makes advances. [See indexical note p157.5] Humanity always has to provide for the present moment as well as for the future: that is a tangle, however you look at it. Why wonder, then, that humanity falls down every now and then? [See indexical note p157.6] There's one thing we have to remember—that the race is not free (free of its own ignorance)—is hardly in a position to do the best for itself: when we get a real democracy, as we will by and bye, this humanity will have its chance—give a fuller report of itself."


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     W. spoke of Sidney Morse. "Sidney, so much of Sidney, is abortive—he don't get anywhere: he is a child of ennui: a child—true, sweet, persuasive—has a beautiful personality: is never discouraged: things go wrong: he falls and picks himself up again. [See indexical note p158.1] Sidney lacks altogether the world faculty—the power to turn the world to his uses. I don't feel sure—we shouldn't complain: perhaps it is better he should be as we find him. It is half tragic—the life he leads: the starts made—the ends that never come." Harned said: "You seem extra serious, Walt. You are not feeling sick?" "No, not at all. As to serious—perhaps I am: I get news some days—bad news, good news: news that sets me up, throws me down: I get only serious, however, never despondent." He did not specify. Stopped there. W. today gave me a Carpenter letter, saying of it: "It is beautiful, like a confession: it was one of Carpenter's first letters. [See indexical note p158.2] I seem to get very near to his heart and he to mine in that letter: it has a place in our personal history—an important place. Carpenter was never more thoroughly Carpenter than just there, in that tender mood of self-examination. Introspection! I am afraid of it, generally: just enough of it is good, too much of it is disease: most people don't stop with just enough. Carpenter is a thoroughly wholesome man—alive, clean, from head to foot." Carpenter's letter was addressed to W. at Washington and forwarded to Camden.


Trinity Hall, Cambridge, England, 12 July, 1874.

My dear friend

—It is just dawn, but there is light enough to write by, and the birds in their old sweet fashion are chirping in the little College garden outside. [See indexical note p158.3] My first knowledge of you is all entangled with that little garden. But that was six years ago; so you must not mind me writing to you now because you understand, as I understand, that I am not drunk with new wine.

My chief reason for writing (so I put it to myself) is that

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I can't help wishing you should know that there are many here in England to whom your writings have been as the waking up to a new day. [See indexical note p159.1] I dare say you do not care, particularly, how your writings, as such, are accepted; but I know that you do care that those thoughts you weary not to proclaim should be seized upon by others over the world and become the central point of their lives, and that something even transcending all thought should knit together us in England and you in America by ties closer than thought and life itself. When I say 'many' of course I do not mean a multitude (I wish I did) but many individuals—each, himself (or herself, for they are mostly women—fluid, courageous and tender) the centre of a new influence. [See indexical note p159.2] All that you have said, the thoughts that you have given us, are vital—they will grow—that is certain. You cannot know anything better than that you have spoken the word which is on the lips of God today. And here, though dimly, I think I see the new, open, life which is to come; the spirit moving backwards and forwards beneath the old forms—strengthening and reshaping the foundations before it alters the superstructure: the growth is organic too here I believe, but the flower is very very far and we do not dare to think even what it will be like. There is no hope, almost none, from English respectability. Money eats into it, to the core. The Church is effete. At school the sin which cannot be forgiven is a false quantity. [See indexical note p159.3] The men are blindly material; even—to the most intellecutal—Art and the desire for something like religion are only known as an emotional sense of pain. Yet the women will save us. I wish I could tell you what is being done by them—everywhere—in private and in public. The artisans too are shaping themselves. [See indexical note p159.4] While Society is capering and grimacing over their heads they are slowly coming to know their minds; and exactly as they come to know their minds they come to the sense of power to fulfil them: and sweet will the day be when the toys are

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wrested from the hands of children and they too have to become men.


You hardly know, I think, in America (where the life, though as yet material, is so intense) what the relief is here to turn from the languid inanity of the well-fed to the clean hard lines of the workman's face. [See indexical note p160.1] Yesterday there came (to mend my door) a young workman with the old divine light in his eyes—even I call it old though I am not thirty—and perhaps, more than all, he has made me write to you.

Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart. (—And others thank you though they do not say so.) For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature. Women are beautiful; but, to some, there is that which passes the love of women.

 [See indexical note p160.2] It is enough to live wherever the divine beauty of love may flash on men; but indeed its real and enduring light seems infinitely far from us in this our day. Between the splendid dawn of Greek civilization and the high universal noon of Democracy there is a strange horror of darkness on us. We look face to face upon each other, but we do not know. At the last, it is enough to know that the longed-for realization is possible—will be, has been, is even now somewhere—even though we find it not. The pain of disappointment is, somewhere, the joy of fruition. Perhaps it will be, in time, with you in the New as with us in the Old world. [See indexical note p160.3] Slowly—I think—the fetters are falling from men's feet, the cramps and crazes of the old superstitions are relaxing, the idiotic ignorance of the class contempt is dissipating. If men shall learn to accept one another simply and without complaint, if they shall cease to regard themselves because the emptiness of vanity is filled up with love, and yet shall honor the free, immeasurable gift of their own personality, delight in it and bask in it without false shames and affectations—then your work will be accomplished: and men

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for the first time will know of what happiness they are capable.


Dear friend, you are older and wiser than me and can accept all that I have said, with a smile perhaps, but without any ill will. It is a pleasure to me to write to you, for there are many things which I find it hard to say to any one here. And for my sake you must not mind reading what I have written.

As to myself, I was in orders; but I have given that up—utterly. [See indexical note p161.1] It was no good. Nor does the University do: there is nothing vital in it. Now I am going away to lecture to working men and women in the North. They at least desire to lay hold of something with a real grasp. And I can give something of mathematics and science. It may be of no use, but I shall see.

You I suppose I shall not see. Yet if anyone should come from your side to England—this address will always find me. There are many who, if their pens were here, would send greetings to you across the sea.

Farewell: wherever the most common desires and dreams of daily life are—wherever the beloved apposition is, of hand to hand, of soul to soul—I sometimes think to meet you.

I have finished this at night. All is silent again; and as at first I am yours

Edward Carpenter.



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