Commentary

Disciples

 
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Tuesday, May 29, 1888.

     Discussed Ferguson with W. Ferguson is willing to have W. make the payments according to his own custom. W.

 
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said: "I've got no money to speak of but I've got money enough to take care of that book." [See indexical note p227.1] W. said: "My brother Jeff, from St. Louis—civil engineer there: until nine months ago for some time in the Water Department—has been here today." [See indexical note p227.2] Remarked in this connection: "No one of my people—the people near to me—ever had any time for Leaves of Grass—thought it more than an ordinary piece of work, if that." Not even his mother? "No—I think not—even her: there is, as I say, no one in my immediate family who follows me out on that line. My dear mother had every general faith in me; that is where she stopped. She stood before Leaves of Grass mystified, defeated." [See indexical note p227.3] How was George? W. smiled. "You are waggish. You know that George believes in pipes, not in poems."

     W. said: "I picked up this old letter of Herbert Gilchrist's from the floor just now: it will interest you." [See indexical note p227.4] W. had written on the margin of the letter in red ink, at the time the letter was received: "isn't there something pretty consoling and deep in this letter?—deeper than Herbert knew when he wrote?" I read this aloud and asked W.: "Do you still stand by it?" "Yes: why not? Read the letter for yourself—see if I have written anything there that the letter don't deserve."


Griff, Warwickshire, August 16th, 1882


Dear Walt.

      [See indexical note p227.5] So glad to hear of your health and spirits being so good and that your book too has gone off so admirably in Phil. That Boston lawyer must be a curiously ignorant fellow or something much worse? However, all's well that ends well. [See indexical note p227.6] I and mother do not think very highly of O'Connor's blustering defence; we think that he is on the wrong tack when he justifies you by the classics and by what Emerson says as if that made any difference one way or the other; it makes some to Emerson but it doesn't substantiate anything one way or the other except to show that Emerson was what everyone already knows him to have

 
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been, a shrewd good man: as far as I can see. But people must find out for themselves, it's no use throwing big adjectives at their heads.

     I don't, dear Walt, think that you have improved upon your early poems either the titles or arrangement. [See indexical note p228.1] I can't see that they needed improvement of any kind. And I fear that people of the next generation will be sadly puzzled to know which is the edition? whether to adopt your early or your later readings? depend upon it William Blake's maxim is a sound one, "First thoughts in Art, second in other matters." And neither do I think that your last edition is as artistically printed or bound as those early volumes. (The English edition).

     I am staying down at George Eliot's native place and am seeing a good deal of her brother whom I like very much indeed. [See indexical note p228.2] Am sketching her house—Griff House—the house in which she lived so many years of her early life. The country here is flat but the land is fertile and the people are a fine stalwart race of men and women. Although I had not seen the Evans family before they are very hospitable and friendly. Wednesday afternoon I played the delightful game of lawn tennis with them and their friends and the following day I was asked to go and play tennis at the Rectory two miles off. Miss Nelly Evans, George Eliot's niece, has just returned from the Highlands: a fresh jolly natural lively candid cleverish woman without beauty is Miss Nelly.

     A Scotch mist this morning so I could not go on as usual with my out-door painting but the afternoon is going to be lovely. Expect to stay in the neighborhood another week, when I shall shift my diggings as my bedroom window will not open: a small cottage, otherwise to my mind.

      [See indexical note p228.3] I am wondering whether you are following our foreign policy as closely as I am: what a splendid fellow Gladstone is—I wish our Premier was thirty years old instead of seventy

 
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something! What a safety valve he is to English politics! and yet thousands of his countrymen hate him as though he had wrought them some personal injury. [See indexical note p229.1] I have just finished reading Democracy. I think that it is inimitable of its kind and quite a new kind to me. How ably the political shark is drawn and what a charming heroine!


Herbert H. Gilchrist.

      [See indexical note p229.2] I read the O'Connor passage aloud, asking W.: "Do you endorse that?" "Yes and no: I don't think O'Connor's note was indispensable—or the Emerson letter—or anything, for that matter: so far Herbert was right. But we could just as well say that the storm is not indispensable—or that peace is not indispensable: it is a doctrine that works both ways. The fact is that they are all elements going to complete an episode. Somewhere in the Leaves I say: 'Everything in its place is equally great with everything else in its place.' Apply that doctrine here and you have the truth." "What, then, was the 'consolation' of the letter?" "Its genial feeling—its calm: its insistence all through that the Leaves are competent to take care of themselves. [See indexical note p229.3] Yes, that is very true. If they do not take care of themselves I am afraid they will not be taken care of." "But where does that leave O'Connor?" W. laughed. "I am not to be confused, defeated. What shall we say to it if the Leaves choose to take care of themselves, for one way, through O'Connor?" "But where does that leave Gilchrist?" W. laughed again, heartily. [See indexical note p229.4] "See here now: I'm not here to prove things but to say things!" "What do you say to his kick against your later editions?" "Nothing. William O'Connor seems to feel the same way about it—Bucke too: perhaps even Burroughs." "But you—what do you believe?" "I don't believe—I work: I make the changes when they seem to be necessary and that's an end of it." One other thing I asked W. "You do not have any strong

 
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feeling of admiration for Gladstone?" "I'm afraid I do not: I am sure not. My feeling about him is not condemnatory—only indifferent." [See indexical note p230.1] I told W. Rhys had happened back in Camden today, unexpectedly, and appeared at Harned's, W. expressing surprise that R. had not stopped in on him. But R. is to get in to see W. in the morning.

     W. remarked to me: "I have seen a statement attributed to Matthew Arnold—the statement, that goodness is not common—and feel inclined to quarrel with it. [See indexical note p230.2] In masses of men, as I have always observed, the trend seems to me to be towards the light—towards life, growth: yes, I may even say decorum. You have told me some things in your own personal experience lately that go a long way to confirm me. [See indexical note p230.3] That, after all, is my message—what I am here for—what I am to testify. I am not a witness for saviors—exceptional men: for the nobility—no: I am a witness for the average man, the whole. That is where I quarrel with Arnold—that is why we stand in a sense for different things." W. had never read Mill's autobiography. I had it with me. [See indexical note p230.4] He said: "I should like to read it—must read it. Is it a big volume? I should like to borrow it. I ought to know more about Mill than I do." Reverted to Arnold: "Perhaps it is the literary habit, which grows on all the fellows, and sets them far apart from men, from life, from sympathy, by and bye. [See indexical note p230.5] Arnold is a critic—a critic. Do you know a more dangerous business? A critic writes about a book—says yes to it, or no: blesses it, curses it. How does he come to his result? When he takes up a book he is himself uncertain—what he finally decides to say about it depends upon his mood—perhaps upon the condition of his stomach, the liver. [See indexical note p230.6] I know this don't apply to Arnold's pet doctrine of the saving remnant—that, I am aware, was no accidental judgment passed in some moment of stomachic disturbance. With Arnold such a negative humor is constitutional. He does not know the people: how, then, could he have faith in

 
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them? Look at Thoreau. Even his love of nature seems of the intellectual order—the bookish, library, fireside—rather than smacking of out of doors. [See indexical note p231.1] This is not the general view: it is my view. With Burroughs it is different: Burroughs has told me of his youth, spent in one of the still more or less crude counties of New York State, among trees, the corn, the wild flowers. Outdoors taught Burroughs gentle things about men—it had no such effect on Thoreau. [See indexical note p231.2] After all I suppose outdoors had nothing to do with that difference. The contrast just shows what sort of men Thoreau and Burroughs were to start with. I only mean to say that while I have no distrust of Thoreau I often find myself catching a literary scent off his phrases."

     Ferguson today sent a signed contract to W. but asked for no contract in return. We are to get our first proofs day after tomorrow, W.'s birthday. [See indexical note p231.3] W. said tonight as he in substance has said to me before: "My relations with William Rossetti have always been the friendliest—the most reassuring: but I am never quite sure I did right to permit any sort of qualification of the Leaves in the Hotten edition produced under his editorship. No doubt Rossetti was right to propose it: his logic was good enough—Like Emerson's, on Boston Common, irrefutable. [See indexical note p231.4] No doubt, too, I was right to assent. But I have often asked myself since whether I would not have been righter if I had said no. However, the course we pursued seemed at the time to be the only one. That is our excuse. We had considerable correspondence about it—Rossetti, Conway. If I ever turn any of those letters up they will provide a nice milky cocoanut for your literary feast. There's Conway—I have not wavered in my faith in him, notwithstanding the irritations to which he at certain times subjected me." [See indexical note p231.5] "What irritations?" "I'll tell you about all that some other day. It's too long a story to begin on just as you are about to go home."


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