Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, May 21, 1888.

     W. in somewhat depressed mood. [See indexical note p187.4] Physically depressed. He says: "I never get entirely down in the mouth—I do not seem to have any scare in me—but I am wide awake to the fact of my gathering physical disabilities. It don't take an expert weather prophet to see some storms coming." In rather humorous mood, too. For he said: "I have another letter from an adviser today. It's queer how the advisers

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spring up everywhere like mushrooms. I used to think God was everywhere. I was wrong: the adviser is everywhere!"
 [See indexical note p188.1] "I suppose the best thing for you to do would be to throw the Leaves all away and make a new start. You might call your advisers together in a sort of parliament: they could instruct you by resolution: then we could have a new Leaves according to order." W. laughed for him a big laugh. He is a quiet laugher as a rule. "That's a striking idea—I can see the solemn assemblage—the big crowd of delegates. [See indexical note p188.2] Call Walt Whitman to the bar! Here you, Walt Whitman—Know you by this resolution, and so forth, and so forth!" He stopped here and seemed to enjoy the contemplation of the fancy we had mutually conjured. Then he resumed: "That seems like fool talk, on the surface, for both of us—yet underneath it all is the best logic: for fool talk could never be as foolish as the fool adviser who undertakes to shift a serious man out of his determined course of life. Advice! Advice! Advice! It is a confusion of tongues!"

      [See indexical note p188.3] Referring to Stedman W. said: "He is in a sense our most generous man of letters, distinctly so called: he is always helping somebody to something—always: I rarely hear of Stedman but I hear about his good deeds: sometimes I am cross about him—about the writer, Stedman: about the man Stedman I have never had a doubt. I find it hard to say what I think about the fellows without seeming to be extreme or harsh—yet I do not want to be either. My little quarrel with Stedman is not about anything he does but because of something I think he could do, does not do: Stedman never seems to ultimate himself, I may say, if that conveys any meaning to you." He paused. [See indexical note p188.4] Then added: "Yes, I may say I love Stedman—love him: he has certain nervousnesses, he subjects me to certain irritations, which I find it difficult to bear patiently—but after all that is the small part of any man: a very small part: in a man like

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Stedman, so sterling in the trunk, they count for practically nothing whatever."

     W. gave me a letter from Carpenter. [See indexical note p189.1] "It is an old letter, written in 1877. The best of Carpenter is in his humanity: he manages to stay with people: he was a university man, yet managed to save himself in time: plucked himself from the burning. I don't know of another living literary man of like standing who could write a letter like this. So many of them are good fellows—rather sympathize with the struggles of the people—but they are for the most part way off—remote: they only see the battle from afar. [See indexical note p189.2] Carpenter manages to stay in the midst of it." Carpenter's letter was dated December 19th. I said: "That is my birthday." W. smiled and replied: "That coincidence won't hurt the letter or hurt you: the two things are worthy of each other."


Cobden Road, Chesterfield, England, 19 Dec. 77.

Dear Friend,

I have (yesterday) sent a P.O. O. for £2 for your two vols. [See indexical note p189.3] They are ordered by Edward T. Wilkinson, 13 Micklegate, York—to whom please send them. He is a haberdasher in a large way of business—a very straight and true man. I hear from Vines that your books have arrived. He and Thompson (to whom you sent before) are lecturers at Cambridge, Haweis is a popular London preacher, Templeton is working music in London—organizing cheap concerts &c.—and Teall is teaching science at Nottingham. [See indexical note p189.4] Your other two vols. went to Carlile, a solicitor at Hull. So you see the kind of audience you have.

I want to say how splendid I think your Children of Adam. I was reading those pieces again the other day, and of course they came back upon me, as your things always do, with new meaning. [See indexical note p189.5] The freedom, the large spaces you make all around one, fill me with continual delight. I begin to see more clearly the bearing of it all on Democracy: that thought surges up more and more as the end and direction of all

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your writings. I don't know whether it is so. But this immense change that is taking place is absorbing to me now, and your writings seem the only ones that come close to the great heart of it and make it a living thing to one with all its fierce passions and contradictions and oceanic sort of life. [See indexical note p190.1] I wish I could say what I mean. But it is to thank you. There is one thing that I never doubt for a moment—and that is your deepest relation to it all.


I am very well and happy. My term's work is over and I am going away for a month, to Cambridge and Brighton. [See indexical note p190.2] I should like to describe to you the life of these great manufacturing towns like Sheffield. I think you would be surprised to see the squalor and raggedness of them. Sheffield is finely situated, magnificent hill country all round about, and on the hills for miles and miles (on one side of the town) elegant villa residences—and in the valley below one enduring cloud of smoke, and a pale-faced teeming population, and tall chimneys and ash heaps covered with squalid children picking them over, and dirty alleys, and courts and houses half roofless, and a river running black through the midst of them. [See indexical note p190.3] It is a strange and wonderful sight. There is a great deal of distress just now—so many now being out of work—and it is impossible to pass through the streets without seeing it obvious in some form or other. (A man burst into floods of tears the other day when I gave him a bit of silver.) [See indexical note p190.4] But each individual is such a mere unit in a great crowd, and they go and hide their misery away—easily enough.

Good-bye. With much love dear friend,

Edward Carpenter.


     I found a memorandum from W. on this letter: "Splendid letter from E. Carpenter Dec 19, '77." [See indexical note p190.5] I read all the letter to myself except the phase, "they go and hide their misery away—easily enough." This I read aloud. It moved W. greatly.

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He said: "That is a wonderful tribute paid to the common man. How cheap, vulgar, nasty, such heroism makes the heroisms that are most fussed about in histories! [See indexical note p191.1] 'They go and hide their misery away—easily enough.' It's wonderful—wonderful! It's that sort of thing in men which makes the race safe—which will finally see, assert, demand, produce, the new state, church—the new social compact. I never have any doubts of the future when I look at the common man."

     I asked W. about November Boughs. He shook his finger at me. "I was sure you would ask, of course. Well, it's nearly ready—only I play a little for time—I am fencing for another day or two. Don't you remember, I told you I was very slow. I have to be true to my reputation." [See indexical note p191.2] W. just as I was going remarked: "I hear from Bucke right along—I rarely hear from Burroughs. I don't know about John—he stands aloof so much of the time: I have asked myself whether this betokens any change of feeling: I suppose it don't. When John writes things, has occasion to mention me, he seems to be of the old spirit—I can see no signs of retreat or compromise. [See indexical note p191.3] But he don't come round much—he seems to avoid visiting me—which must have its good reasons too. On the simply convivial, social side—at the table, face to face, in the jolly hours when all the fences are down—John is not our sort, anyhow. I miss him a lot."


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