Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, May 25, 1888.

      [See indexical note p205.2] W. said: "McKay came over to see me yesterday—I forgot to mention it to you—and conceded a point or two. For instance, he said I might use the Specimen Days plates in the complete book. He wanted to renew his expired contract—asked for five years more: said that after that time he would sell me the Specimen Days plates at my own figure—one hundred and fifty dollars." [See indexical note p205.3] "What did you say to that? Yes?" "I made no concessions: I prefer to let the matter rest as it is." McKay advises us to get our plates made by Ferguson. He thought Ferguson would do them not only better but cheaper. I got an estimate from Sherman, who wants one dollar fifty-five cents per page, brevier. W. said: "That seems dear. After all Dave may be right—Ferguson may be our man." "I am quite possessed with the idea of getting the book out. It has hung fire here for two years or more. [See indexical note p205.4] All this time I have been getting physically weaker—less capable of the strain of producing the book. It may be a whim or a conceit—I believe in both whims and conceits: I must go on with the work. You are a godsend to me just now. Back of the whole business, of course, is a precedent fact—the world don't need the book anyhow. [See indexical note p205.5] But one man has the presidential bee in his bonnet—another has the book bee there: I have the book bee. I believe everybody I know writes books or something—everybody: some of them write everything—poetry, stories, essays, God knows what not. I believe if I met a man who had not written a book I should hug him—he

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would be a monumental exception—an honorable exception."

      [See indexical note p206.1] W. said: "I had a letter from Bucke today: he says he likes the sixty-nine poem. But then Bucke likes me. I wonder what the people who don't like me think of the poem?" I didn't put in an answer, so he said: "I guess I know—I guess you don't need to tell me." Talked some about Specimen Days. "It don't sell at all—only a copy here and there. Dave simply carries it because he carries the Leaves—it amounts to nothing as a selling article in itself. [See indexical note p206.2] He submits me reports now and then—I don't attempt to examine them: I can never understand them: I always take a publisher's royalty report for granted." Speaking of McKay: "Dave is shrewd, canny, but honest: crude, almost crusty sometimes—but sqare. I like Dave. I have offered him five hundred copies of November Boughs—a sort of lump proposition. If he takes them I will put his name on the title page."

     The foregoing are forenoon notes. I saw W. again in the evening. [See indexical note p206.3] In the meantime I had got November Boughs on the move. Went to see McKay first and then Ferguson, with such a result as made W. exlaim: "I guess we can conclude that Ferguson is our man: you had better leave word with Bennerman tomorrow to that effect." Ferguson will give us plates (long primer) for one dollar and thirty cents a page. W. wants, as he says, "copious proofs—three or four or five if necessary." [See indexical note p206.4] Then: "I want you to reach the workmen direct—treat with the craftsman without an intermediary—with the man who sets the type, the man who puts it into form, the man who runs the foundry: reach them, yes, with a dollar now and then. We will keep the troubled waters oiled. Bennerman would not permit this—he never wanted me to go up stairs into the composing room: but I am sure you can accomplish this point better than I did." I go to Ferguson's tomorrow for samples of type

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faces. W. did not "think much of American presswork—it seems to be slighted." "I know of no book printed on this side quite so beautiful in that respect as a book I have received from Dowden—his book on Shakespeare. [See indexical note p207.1] Some of the fellows have been at me to produce a folio of the Leaves as they are today. It is a favorite notion of Talcott Williams: to have a big broad page to save me as much as possible from breaking my long lines. [See indexical note p207.2] But that is only a pleasant dream—it is impossible: at present I must meet the case as I find it. The real case amounts to this: that it's all I can do to get the book out in any form."

     W. has an Epictetus volume (The Enchiridion)—the Rolleston rendering. He is very fond of it. I often surprise him reading it. [See indexical note p207.3] He quotes it often though never literally—always rather in substance. Rolleston sent the book to W. W. writes his name in the more serious books sent him and treasures them, in spite of what he says about books in general. [See indexical note p207.4] Told him Frank Williams had written a W. W. article which I expected to see in this week's American. W. said: "I must see it at once. I am in safe hands. Frank knows what I am about—is loyal to the bone. God bless Frank!"

     W. was very affectionate in his manner tonight. "Come here, Horace," he said. I went over. He took my hand. "I feel somehow as if you had consecrated yourself to me. [See indexical note p207.5] That entails something on my part: I feel somehow as if I was consecrated to you. Well—we will work out the rest of my life-job together: it won't be for long: anyway, we'll work it out together, for short or long, eh?" He took my face between his hands and drew me to him and kissed me. Nothing more was then said. [See indexical note p207.6] I went back to my chair and we sat in silence for some time. Then he quietly remarked: "I've got a real fillip for you tonight—a Lanier letter, written in the seventies, while he thought better instead of worse of me." "Why do you think Lanier's notion about you has changed?" "Things have been repeated to me: there

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seems to be no doubt about it. He finds me too strong meat—yes, meat on the turn. [See indexical note p208.1] There was a time—but read the letter for yourself."
I waited to hear more but he added nothing. Then I read:


33 Denmead St., Baltimore, MD. May 5, 1878.

My dear Sir:

 [See indexical note p208.2] A short time ago while on a visit to New York I happened one evening to find your Leaves of Grass in Mr. Bayard Taylor's library; and taking it with me to my room at the hotel I spent a night of glory and delight upon it. [See indexical note p208.3] How it happened that I had never read this book before . . is a story not worth the telling; but, in sending the enclosed bill to purchase a copy (which please mail to the above address) I cannot resist the temptation to render you also my grateful thanks for such large and substantial thoughts uttered in a time when there are, as you say in another connection, so many "little plentiful mannikins skipping about in collars and tailed coats." Although I entirely disagree with you in all points connected with artistic form, and in so much of the outcome of your doctrine as is involved in those poetic exposures of the person which your pages so unreservedly make, yet I feel sure that I understand you therein, and my dissent in these particulars becomes a very insignificant consideration in the presence of that unbounded delight which I take in all the bigness and bravery of all your ways and thoughts. [See indexical note p208.4] It is not known to me where I can find another modern song at once so large and so naïve; and the time needs to be told few things so much as the absolute personality of the person, the sufficiency of the man's manhood to the man, which you have propounded in such strong and beautiful rhythms. [See indexical note p208.5] I beg you to count me among your most earnest lovers, and to believe that it would make me very happy to be of the least humble service to you at any time.

Sidney Lanier.



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     Part of this I read aloud. W. argued: "He first tells me he disagrees with me in all points connected with artistic form and then speaks of me as the master of strong and beautiful rhythms. [See indexical note p209.1] That hardly seems to gee: I don't say I am one or t'other but I know I ain't both." [See indexical note p209.2] He chuckled a little and went on: "Lanier was a beautiful spirit: he had his work to do: did his work: I can see how the Leaves may at first blush have carried him by storm—then how, analyzing his feeling, he became less sure of his enthusiasm. [See indexical note p209.3] It was after all rather a rough dish for so delicate a palate. The young fellows seem rather bowled over by me: then they get respectable or something and I will no longer do. I do not attempt to explain it. [See indexical note p209.4] Bayard Taylor is quoted as saying unkind things about me: I do not say he is not right—perhaps he is: but I had letters from Taylor, long ago—letters, several of them—in which he expressed quite other views: I do not know where the letters are—I will find them for you some day. [See indexical note p209.5] There was Gosse, too: he was originally on my side—very warm (almost effervescent)—he, too, they tell me, though so new, has weakened just a bit." W. paused for an instant and added merrily: "I suppose I don't wear well—that's what's the matter: I fool 'em for a time, when they're in their teens, but when they grow up they can no longer be deceived—they take my true measure—set me down for what I am. [See indexical note p209.6] As some fellow said to some other fellow back in the fifties when a few people got a good deal excited about me: 'If this Walt Whitman ain't a damned humbug—then what is he?' That's so: what is he? Some people are still asking that question. Lanier thought he knew and said so but I am not sure that upon reconsideration he was so sure he knew. The vitiating fact is—the bother of it all is—that men of the Matthew Arnold type dominating contemporary literature judge all men (not literary men alone but all men) by bookish standards." [See indexical note p209.7] W. said: "Keep on with the book. November Boughs will be my good bye."


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