Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, April 2, 1888.
[See indexical note p008.2]

     Mousing among some old papers on his table today, looking for something else, W. spilled out a letter which he first scanned himself and then passed over to me, saying: "If ever a fighter lived, Boyle O'Reilly is that fighter: he writes me fiery letters, he tells me fiery stories. Have you never met him? No? I shall never forget the first time he spoke to me about his prison life. He was all alive with the most vivid indignation—he was a great storm out somewhere, a great sea pushing up the shore. Read this letter. It is mild for him. Then read the letter he enclosed."


The Pilot Editorial Rooms,
Boston, Feb. 11, 1885.

Dear Mr. Whitman,
 [See indexical note p008.3]
I have received the enclosed letter today from one of the ablest men I have ever known; and I send it to you as another little proof that Irishmen understand and honor you. I hope you are well. Somebody told me lately that you had been in Boston within a month; but I could not believe that you would have gone away without letting me have the pleasure of seeing you.

 [See indexical note p008.4] Bartlett is happy, and busy; but he has no more money than he had two years ago. His son is now with him, and they are finishing two portrait busts of rich men.


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Mrs. Fairchild, whom you will remember, is never done preaching you and your work. [See indexical note p009.1]

Good-bye.

Faithfully yours,

Boyle O'Reilly


     The enclosed letter follows:


39 Bowdoin Street [Boston]
10, 2, '85.

My Dear Boy,

I am very grateful to you for inducing me to read Walt Whitman. He is to me that which he claims to be to all his readers, a Revelation and a Revealer. He has marshaled facts and sentiments before my mind's eye which have been floating, vaguely and transiently, through my consciousness since I commenced to be untrammeled in thought: he has given me views which help to render my 'dark days' endurable and my nights teem with companions. [See indexical note p009.2] When I read Walt Whitman nature speaks to me: when I read nature Walt Whitman speaks to me. He travels with me and he points out the goodness of men and things and he intensifies my pleasures by his presence and sympathy. Leaves of Grass! so like "the handkerchief of the Lord"! covering the face of creation with love and pity and admiration for "man and bird and beast" and thing! How sad that for a few 'bare' expressions it should be kept out of the hands of the multitude and the women and the children!

I thought I knew the greatest American in my dear friend Henry George, but no! [See indexical note p009.3] Walt Whitman (whom he admires) is still greater, as a philanthropist, a democrat and a philosopher. He also excels your greatest theologians, naturalists, scientists and poets. He is an intellectual colossus or individuality, which admits of no comparison. He is not a poet and still he is greater than any—no dramatist and yet his characters breathe and strive and even smite you at his will: he knows little of the names of plants and animals,

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but he makes nature a domestic panorama: he can hardly be termed a religious man, yet he overflows with Faith and Hope and Love: he has no rank as a politician, yet his principles, if grasped, would revolutionize the world. [See indexical note p010.1] Thus, he is everything and yet—nothing but Walt Whitman, a distinction which should satisfy the most craving ambition.


I am your friend and debtor

I. G. Kelly.


     W. had pencilled this on the note: "Sent me by Boyle O'Reilly Feb. 85." [See indexical note p010.2] When he saw I had got through with the second letter he asked: "What do you think of that for a broad summing up? Barring any extreme statement, he seems to hit several real proper nails on their heads—gets pretty close to my ribs. The man with eyes to see that substance in my work must first of all have had it all in himself: we know that so well, so indubitably, so without disposition to quarrel or doubt, that it saves us from vanity. That man Kelly must be of the most real kind of real stuff. I like especially what he says about religion. [See indexical note p010.3] I claim everything for religion: after the claims of my religion are satisfied nothing is left for anything else: yet I have been called irreligious—an infidel (God help me!): as if I could have written a word of the Leaves without its religious root-ground. I am not traditionally religious—I know it: but even traditionally I am not anti: I take all the old forms and faiths and remake them in conformity with the modern spirit, not rejecting a single item of the earlier programs."


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