Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 171] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Friday, May 18, 1888.

     Mailed postal card for W. addressed to Mrs. Costelloe, London. Also package of papers for O'Connor and a McKay L. of G. to Griffin, France. W. gave me a letter of introduction to McKay. "Dave is not exactly your kind, but he is a kind you will like."


328 Mickle Street, Camden Ev'g May 17, '88

Dear D. Mck—

 [See indexical note p171.4] The bearer Horace Traubel is a valued young personal Camden friend of mine—American born, German stock—whom I wish to introduce to you with the best recommendations—He is of liberal tendencies and familiar with printing office matters and the run of books.

Walt Whitman.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 172] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     Talked of Pearsall Smith. Smith is about to go to London and insists that he has two rooms in his house there retained unoccupied for Walt. [See indexical note p172.1] "Of course this is all a dream,"says W., alluding to it— "one of Smith's dreams. But then dreams don't hurt." "Sometimes you can eat dreams when you can't eat food," I suggested. "How true that is, Horace," W. said: "How true! How true! How many's the time I've just lived for days and days practically on my affections alone—the sight of my friends, the sky: thinking life away from, outside, all appetites." [See indexical note p172.2] Then he went on to talk about Smith. "Pearsall was always very kind to me—very kind. I used to visit them in their Arch Street house: they always treated me with peculiar consideration—made the home so much mine, its servants so much at my beck and call if I had wished it. The house could not have been more mine if I had owned it—the overflowing table, which contained about everything but a tipple (you know the Smiths were opposed to all tippling)—yes, everything but the tipple, which, by the way, some of us would now and then slip out and get round the corner. [See indexical note p172.3] Mrs. Smith—Hannah—and I never hitched: she is very evangelical: she takes her doctrine, if she don't take her whiskey, very straight: the sort of get under my feet religion which gives hell out to the crowd and saves heaven for the few. [See indexical note p172.4] Well—I didn't agree very well with Hannah—still, there was no demonstration. Pearsall himself, though once a missionary or something or other of that useless sort, is now agnostic—a man more or less of the world—fond of horses, good living, believing in goods—yet seeing more, too, than that. It was Smith who helped me to New York last year—arranged for the reception at the Westminster—got a suite or parlors at what must have been great expense—making this splurge in the face of my protest: arranging everything, however, with a certain grace and generosity that touched me. [See indexical note p172.5] The reception, as you know, was a thing of which

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 173] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I didn't approve; first and last I opposed it—tried to beg off. Smith has two admirable daughters—I have a real affection for them—for their unusual qualities. [See indexical note p173.1] When they went to London I broke an iron rule of my life, not to give letters of introduction to foreigners. I wrote to Tennyson in their behalf: they went and delivered the letter and spent a precious afternoon with Tennyson as a result. [See indexical note p173.2] Well—I ought to like the Smiths even if they ought not to like me."

     W. spoke about prejudices against himself. "Sometimes they assume amusing forms. A few years ago the Association Hall Managers over in Philadelphia refused me the use of their public hall for a lecture on Elias Hicks on the ground that he did not believe in Atonement. [See indexical note p173.3] On the face of it that seems like bigotry: it may be bigotry, but it is also consistency. I do not blame them. [See indexical note p173.4] Such stuff as now passes for Christianity is liable to lead a man into any extreme of persecution—honestly lead him. I am against the whole business. I really think the Y.M.C.A. objection was not to Hicks but to me."

     Harned asked W. what he thought of the decision of Vice-Chancellor Bird on the George case. A man named Hutchings, of Camden County, left some money to George for the propagation of the idea of the Single Tax. [See indexical note p173.5] The family fought the will. Bird decided for the family on the ground that his social doctrines contravened the law of the land. W. said: "The decision is vile—at least from the moral, abstract, point of view. There may be some legal warrant for Bird's decision, though I doubt it: but if there is any law back of Bird the sooner we kick it pot and kettle overboard the better for us all, even for Bird. [See indexical note p173.6] Suppose we substitute Rabelais for George—would Rabelais meet with the same fate? I am always concerned over any interference with the expression of opinion: I want the utmost freedom—even the utmost license—rather than any censorship:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 174] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
censorship is always ignorant, always bad: whether the censor is a man of virtue or a hypocrite seems to make no difference: the evil is always evil. [See indexical note p174.1] Under any responsible social order decency will always take care of itself. I've suffered enough myself from the censors to know the facts at first hand."

     W. said: "I had a letter of advice, advice, from Bucke today. I love Bucke enough, God knows, but I am as afraid of Bucke's advice as anybody's. [See indexical note p174.2] And you, Horace: listen to this: Take one more piece of advice and then stop." "What piece?" "Never take advice!" W. laughed heartily. "I am pursued, pursued, by advisers—advisers. They love me, they hate me—but they advise, advise! What would become of me if I listened to them? I am deaf to them all—deaf—deaf. The more they yell, the deafer I become. [See indexical note p174.3] Why, I never move a step, write a word, that somebody don't object to: the thing that one likes another don't—the thing another likes one don't: it is God bless you for this or that, or God damn you for this or that. A fellow might easily be lost in the confusion: he's got no business to hear any of it: he's to hear only himself—that's his whole conern."

      [See indexical note p174.4] Discussed good and bad men. Harned seemed to be in a sceptical mood. W. protested: "He's got it all, Tom—not only the cruel, beastly, hoggish, cheating, bedbug qualities, but also the spiritual—the noble—the high-born." Harned said: "Democracy, while abstractly right, is a hard doctrine to practise." W. shook his head: "I do not find it so." H.: "But you are rather an exceptional man." [See indexical note p174.5] W. would not have that. "That is not the explanation, Tom. Democracy is the thing for us—for America: that's what we're here for—individuals, all of us: yes, and these States. America will not dare to be false to its promised democracy. We're heaping up money here in a few hands at a great rate—but our men? What's becoming of our

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 175] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
men in the meantime? We can lose all the money and start again—but if we lose the men? Well, that would be disaster. But I have no fears. [See indexical note p175.1] We will have our troubles getting on, but the end, the victory, is sure. I should feel like warning the moneyed powers in America that threaten to stand in the way: history will deal in a very drastic fashion with opposition like that should it become too stubborn."
I related a couple of recent night experiences on the street. W. said: "That all goes to corroborate my argument—it confirms my own experiences—my own excursions everywhere among what we call the common people, even in rather notoriously criminal circles. You have heard what Horace says, Tom? [See indexical note p175.2] He goes everywhere—he has never had any sort of encounter with anybody. That was exactly my case. It is the respect men pay to a young man who goes quietly about without the spirit of bravado observing, sharing, absorbing, the general life. I must insist upon the masses, Tom—they are our best, they are preservative: I insist upon their integrity as whole—not, of course, denying or excusing what is bad. Arnold is all wrong on that point: it is good, not bad, that is common. The older I grow the more I am confirmed in what I have done— in my earliest faith—the more I am confirmed in my optimism, my democracy."

     Harned made some allusion to Seward. W. took the name up. [See indexical note p175.3] "I once heard a great speech from Seward—one of the greatest speeches, if not the greatest speech, I have ever heard. It was in Washington, in a negro case—a brutal, degraded specimen, with no more sense than a horse, or not as much. Seward made the case a race case: his appeal was a masterpiece in itself—yes, successful, too—though the man was undoubtedly guilty." [See indexical note p175.4]

     W. spoke of editions of Leaves of Grass. "The book no longer contains errors worth talking about—a few in spellings or words, but none that are damaging. I had three sets of

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 176] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
proofs of the Osgood edition, and still a number of mistakes crept, or stayed, in. Books are like men—the best of them have flaws. [See indexical note p176.1] Thank God for the flaws!"
I said: "If it wasn't for the flaws love would be impossible!" W. looked at me a spell. Then he said: "That sounds startling. Say it again." I repeated it. W. was slow to speak. Then he pushed his fingers down upon the arm of his chair: "Horace, you are right. The idea scared me first. You are right. Tom, Corning, ain't he right?" W. again: "Awhile ago we were talking of Pearsall Smith. [See indexical note p176.2] Pearsall, too, has his contradictions. For all his radicalism he likes the English life—likes to be near the big fellows there—likes to be served—obsequiously served—to get among people who don't consider themselves as good as he is—or a good deal better. But that whole serving business is a stench: it is offensive to me: besides, I believe people who serve you without love get even behind your back." [See indexical note p176.3] W. addressed a question to Harned. "Horace contends that half of Shakespeare's greatness is in his reader—half at least—or Homer's—or any man's who writes or sings or what not. That is a favorite idea of his and it's a striking one, if not absolutely, literally, true—or perhaps it is even that. But what do you think of it, Tom? And you, Corning?" Corning said something to W. about the hospitality of the Harneds, W. assenting. "Yes indeed, they spoil me: it has come to be with me an essential point: I get to expecting it. I am greedy—never satisfied: their house is an oasis in my domestic desert." [See indexical note p176.4] Harned broke in: "Don't put it on too thick, Walt." W. laughed. "Don't get conceited, Tom: that's not meant for you—that's meant for Mrs. and the children and the cook!"


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.