Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, May 27, 1888.

     W. said today: "You will have to know something about Henry Clapp if you want to know all about me." [See indexical note p214.4] Clapp, New York. How was I to know Clapp? "I will tell you, sometime or other. We were very intimate at one time—back around the sixties: he edited the Saturday Press, in New York: was my staunch friend—did the honorable with me every time. [See indexical note p214.5] I am sure you will get a lot of good material out of Clapp's letters. I must have a lot of these letters here somewhere—I don't know where. My friends! Well—I've had good friends as well as good enemies: a man who has had the friends I have had can afford to forget that he has enemies."

      [See indexical note p214.6] W . spoke of something I had written: "You are steadying yourself—you have things to say: yes, I am sure of it: some day you will get them said—people will listen to you." About November Boughs: "I have the book in good shape

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for you to take. I am feeling pretty sick, sore, done up, these days. If I get through with this book I shall feel lucky: it will be my last. Even as it is I could not do it but for you. [See indexical note p215.1] You will have to be a very good boy until this book is out: then you can go on a big spree at my expense."
I asked: "How about the thirty-first? Do you feel equal to it?" "O yes! I shall buckle to for it—hold in my horses till then: we might 'celebrate' by getting the book started that day!" [See indexical note p215.2] Referring to Frank Williams: "Frank has written poetry—a good deal of it, I judge: some of it first rate, though all of the formal order. Frank deserves better recognition than he has achieved: lots of so-called big men, rhymesters, are less well equipped than Frank. The main thing about Frank is, he's a man—that's the main thing about anybody. A big man is nobody in particular, but a man—he's enough." [See indexical note p215.3] This of Lowell: "Lowell was not a grower—he was a builder. He built poems: he didn't put in the seed, and water the seed, and send down his sun—letting the rest take care of itself: he measured his poems—kept them within the formula." And yet? "I know what you mean to say. He was a man of great talent—I do not deny it: and skill, yes, skill—I do not deny that. But inspiration? I doubt it."

     I said to W.: "Corning was saying to someone the other day that he thought you were rather conservative on the labor question." W. demurred: "Mr. Corning does not know. [See indexical note p215.4] I am a radical of radicals—but I don't belong to any school: after I got done with it there wouldn't be much wealth left in private hands—that is, if my say was final. We are growing: this present mad rush for money—every man robbing from every man—cannot last. Our American people after all have enough sense to revise themselves when there is need for it." [See indexical note p215.5] Was the immediate outlook very encouraging? "Not very: but the seed is being planted—the harvest will come." I said: "You are quite a revolutionist."

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He exclaimed: "If that is a revolution I am a revolutionist! But the word hardly applies. [See indexical note p216.1] I don't expect an upset—I expect a growth: evolution." W. said: "I gave you some letters awhile ago from editors declining my pieces. Here is a letter of a more favorable character—it is from John Morley: he was editing the Fortnightly at the time. Put it into your pocket." [See indexical note p216.2] I did put it into my pocket. When I got home I found the Morley letter enclosed in a rough draft of a letter written to James T. Fields by W. Here is Morley:


3 Garden Court, Temple, E.C.: London, Jan. 5, 1869.

Dear Mr. Whitman:

 [See indexical note p216.3] I cannot find room for the poem which you have been so obliging as to send me, before the April number of the Review. If that be not too late for you, and if you can make suitable arrangements for a publisher in the United States so as not to interfere with us in a point of time, I shall be very glad. Perhaps you will let me know as early as you can.

With my kind regards—

Always yours sincerely,

John Morley.


     W. wrote on this: "Ans. Jan. 20, '69." The same day he wrote to Fields on a letter head of the Attorney General's Office, Washington."


Jan 20, 1869
James T. Fields,

Dear Sir:

 [See indexical note p216.4] The package of February Magazines sent on the 16th arrived safely yesterday. Accept my thanks. I am pleased with the typographical appearance and correctness of my piece.

I enclose a piece, Thou vast Rondure swimming in Space, of which I have to say to you as follows. [See indexical note p216.5] It is to appear in the April number of the London Fortnightly Review. Having just received a note from the editor of that Review, Mr.

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Morley, in which he intimates that he has no objection to its appearing simultaneously in America, I thought I would show it to you. [See indexical note p217.1] Very possibly you will not care to print a piece any how which is to appear elsewhere. Should that, however, be no objection, and should you consider the piece available for your purposes, the price is $20. Of course it would have to go in your number of April. I reserve the right of printing in future book.



     W. said: "I sometimes growl a little about the editors but after all they are a good lot—they do the best they can. [See indexical note p217.2] Besides, I am an incongruity to most of them—I make the sort of noise they don't like—I upset some things they do like: why should I expect to be received? The wonder is not that I am sometimes kicked out—the wonder is that anybody will receive me. I used to worry over it, just a little—resent it, too, just a little: I am past that now. The fact is, a few people are now listening to me—just a few: I am getting a foothold: I ought to be, I am, satisfied." [See indexical note p217.3]

     W. asked me how my father was. Then said: "Your father is a great man. He was here the other day—sat over where you are sitting now—spouted German poetry to me—Goethe, Schiller, Heine, Lessing. [See indexical note p217.4] I couldn't understand a word but I could understand everything else. Your father has the fire, enthusiasm of a boy: he would have made an actor—he has a noble baritone voice—moves me very much. [See indexical note p217.5] I was never so struck with the conviction that if everything else is present you do not need words. There he was, spouting away in a language strange to me—yet very much of it seemed as plain as if it was English. I can understand now why you like to go to see Salvini act and are not confused with his Italian." [See indexical note p217.6] I said: "What is mere words I miss, but so much of it is not mere words." "Exactly—exactly: that's what I said to your daddy. I suppose

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men will go on and on and on until they won't need words at all: a look and all will be said!—a sort of presto process!"

     We have often talked together about Anne Gilchrist and A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman, made up by William Rossetti from letters written to him by her. [See indexical note p218.1] W. played with some sheets of paper on his table and recurred to the subject today, finally handing me the paper with these remarks: "This is a draft of a letter I wrote Rossetti while Mrs. Gilchrist was still a mystery to me. [See indexical note p218.2] You can imagine what such a thing as her Estimate meant to me at that time. Almost everybody was against me—the papers, the preachers, the literary gentlemen—nearly everybody with only here and there a dissenting voice—when it looked on the surface as if my enterprise was bound to fail—bound to fail. Then this letter—these letters: this wonderful woman. [See indexical note p218.3] Such things stagger a man—leave him without words to say. I had to recognize her in some way at once—did so: you will see how I did so. There was some unaccountable element in it at the time: I had got so used to being ignored or denounced that the appearance of a friend was always accompanied with a sort of shock." "But you survived the shock." "Yes—there are shocks and shocks—shocks that knock you up, shocks that knock you down. [See indexical note p218.4] Mrs. Gilchrist never wavered from her first decision. I have that sort of feeling about her which cannot easily be spoken of—put into words—indeed, the sort of feeling that words will not fit: love (strong personal love, too), reverence, respect—you see, it won't go into words: all the words are weak and formal." I asked W.: "Do you mean me to keep this letter?" [See indexical note p218.5] "If you say so, yes. It is an index to my emotions at the time: it is a part of that history: it will inform you. I always assume in giving you such things that you will know finally what use to put them to. If you keep getting closer, closer, to Leaves of Grass, it will after a while get to be 'I, Horace Traubel, a cosmos, of Camden a son' and so

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forth."
W. laughed at his notion and added: "That's what the Leaves amount to anyhow—that's what I mean them to amount to: there is a certain point in their evolution where they cease to be my creation, possession." [See indexical note p219.1]

     Referring again to my own writings W. said: "I am always telling you not to take advice. I mean it—every word of it: but that don't mean that you are not to advise yourself or take your own advice." [See indexical note p219.2] "Do you mean that a man who systematically takes other people's advice is bound to be a failure and that a man who cannot take his own advice is bound to be a failure?" "You've said it for me: that's the substance of my philosophy. I wouldn't make it a stiffnecked rule—I would only make it a rule."

     W. spoke last thing about the book. "You will see Ferguson tomorrow. Make the best terms you can with him. [See indexical note p219.3] Above all, insist upon having direct relations with the men who do the work: tell him we don't want to operate through the clerks."

     I add the letter to Rossetti:


Washington December 9, 1869.

Dear Mr. Rossetti.

 [See indexical note p219.4] Your letter of last summer to William O'Connor with the passages transcribed from a lady's correspondence, has been shown me by him, and copy lately furnished me, which I have just been rereading. I am deeply touched by these sympathies and convictions, coming from a woman and from England, and am sure that if the lady knew how much comfort it has been to me to get them, she would not only pardon you for transmitting them to Mr. O'Connor but approve of that action. [See indexical note p219.5] I realize indeed of this emphatic and smiling well done from the heart and conscience of a true wife and mother, and one too whose sense of the poetic, as I glean from your letter, after flowing through the heart and conscience, must also move through and satisfy science as much as the esthetic, that I had hitherto received no eulogium so magnificent.


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I send by same mail with this, same address as this letter, two photographs, taken within a few months. One is intended for the lady (if I may be permitted to send it her)—and will you please accept the other, with my respects and love? [See indexical note p220.1] The picture is by some criticised very severely indeed, but I hope you will not dislike it, for I confess to myself a perhaps capricious fondness for it, as my own portrait, over some scores that have been made or taken at one time or another.

I am still employed in the Attorney General's office. [See indexical note p220.2] My p. o. address remains the same. I am quite well and hearty. My new editions, considerably expanded, with what suggestions &c I have to offer, presented I hope in more definite form, will probably get printed the coming spring. I shall forward you early copies. I send my love to Moncure Conway, if you see him. I wish he would write to me. If the pictures don't come, or get injured on the way, I will try again by express. I want you to loan this letter to the lady, or, if she wishes it, give it to her to keep.


      [See indexical note p220.3] [Memo. 1904. In Rossetti Papers, 1903, compiled by William Michael Rossetti, I find this diary reference to the Whitman letter: "Received an interesting letter from Whitman, relative to the extracts I sent over in the summer from Mrs. G.'s letters, which he regards as, under all the conditions, the most 'magnificent eulogium' he has yet received. The letter must have been written before the complete papers which I posted towards the end of November had been seen by Whitman. Two copies of the last photograph taken for him are to reach me." [See indexical note p220.4] A letter from Anne Gilchrist is quoted in the same volume in which she says: "Will you please tell Mr. Whitman that he could not have devised for me a more welcome pleasure than this letter of his to you (now mine, thanks to you and him), and the picture; and that I feel grateful to you for having sent the extracts, since they have

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been a comfort to him."
O'Connor described W.'s sensations at the moment in a letter which Rossetti includes in the same narrative.]


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