Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, May 31, 1888.

     W.'s birthday. [See indexical note p238.2] Dropped in on Mickle street on my way to work in the morning. W. in bed but awake. Little talk. I kissed W. my congratulations. He was very fine about it. "Seventy years—seventy failures—seventy successes: which do you say?" "It amounts to success, whatever may have been the failures by the way." [See indexical note p238.3] "Good! Good!" I asked W.: "And don't every life amount to success?" He looked at me an instant, then said: "I see what you mean. Yes—every life amounts to success." I hurried off, W. calling after me: "I'll see you at Tom's: don't fail us at Tom's. In the meantime see Ferguson—bring me something from Ferguson: I am hungry for something from Ferguson."

     I did see Ferguson. [See indexical note p238.4] W. yesterday told me he had written to Ferguson formally with regard to printing matters, stating that his "friend, Horace Traubel," had no doubt made all the required arrangements. "I told Ferguson that my note was sent by way of clinching what you had done." F. showed me the note today. Was greatly amused by one sentence in which W. advises F. to put "two good men on it (no sloucher)." [See indexical note p238.5] W. pasted a "specimen brick" of one of F.'s samples in the body of the note. A Backward Glance o'er Travel'd Roads was completely put in type today. (W. had changed "glimpse" to "glance.") W. wished this proof entire, not in parts. F. tells me his printers found W.'s copy "peculiar but interesting, and always clear." [See indexical note p238.6]

     W.'s reception was to be at Harned's seven to ten in the evening. He arrived earlier for supper. These and some

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others were present in the evening: John Clifford, Mrs. Clifford, Edward Burleigh, Mrs. Burleigh, Frank Cauffman, Harrison Morris, William Sloane Kennedy, Harry Bonsall, George Gould, Mrs. Gould, Weda Cook, Katie Cook, my mother, Charles Bacon, Agnes Traubel, Anne Montgomerie, Mrs. Talcott Williams, Dwight Williams. [See indexical note p239.1] W. jollied me because I had not arrived in season for supper. "We missed you when we made the toasts—though I guess I did most of the toasting and most of the drinking."

     W. was very animated. Got off again on the Cryptogram. "While I am not yet ready to say Bacon I am decidedly unwilling to say Shaksper. I do not seem to have any patience with the Shaksper argument: it is all gone for me—all up the spout. The Shaksper case is about closed. [See indexical note p239.2] That's enough for me—I'm too tired to go any further." He was in a rather merry mood. Songs were sung. Weda Cook sang a My Captain song of her own composition. W. seemed to be much touched, exclaiming "Bravo!" several times as she went on and when she was through saying to me: "There's fine soil in that girl." Afterwards Weda and Katie Cook sang together. Cauffman also sang. Mrs. Burleigh played piano. W. very ready. Greeting everybody gaily. Often with inquiries. Nothing flatters like an inquiry.

     I gave Walt his first proofs there. [See indexical note p239.3] "I am surprised to receive so much—I did not expect so much. I see I must hurry up—the printers will get ahead of me—I must not keep them waiting." He laughed and added: "Think of me hurrying up, Horace," turning to Clifford and saying: "Horace is always quarrelling with my lame pace—he says I always come along the day after the fair." [See indexical note p239.4] I asked him if he could give me some more copy at once if I went down to Mickle street with him? "I will put it off to morning—I will send you some message to meet you at the ferry in Camden at noon tomorrow. Can you meet my messenger

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there?"
That was agreed. He pushed the roll of proofs into a side pocket. "It's more precious than gold," he exclaimed to some one who came and remarked what he was doing, "it's my baby book just born today—don't you see?. [See indexical note p240.1] I am celebrating two birthdays today." W. asked me quaintly: "How did the new printers like my old style?" "You mean—how did the old printers like your new style?" "Well—have it anyway you like—but what was their first impression of Walt Whitman?" "Ferguson said they thought you a trifle odd." "Well," jocularly, "I don't mind that as long as I have my own way—as long as they humor me. [See indexical note p240.2] Did you tell them what a fierce tyrant I am?"

     W. addressed Weda Cook: "My dear—who taught you to sing?" She did not answer—only looked at him smilingly; whereat he added: "Just taught yourself—eh? That's the best way after all." [See indexical note p240.3] To me: "If we've got the stuff in us, if we're dead in earnest about it, it'll find its own way of getting out." To Anne Montgomerie: "I suppose Horace has told you of his big contract?—of our partnership?"

     Some aggressive person broke loose on Bacon again, W. at once taking up the challenge:  [See indexical note p240.4] "The orthodox Shakespeareans are as horrified at our heresy as the preachers when we say we don't believe in hell—and their opposition has about as much, as little, significance—not a bit more. I do not so much require definite proofs against the Shaksperean authorship as the witness of my own soul that it is not in the nature of things possible." [See indexical note p240.5] Kennedy came along and put in a demurrer, W. resuming: "The Shakespeare plays are essentially the plays of an aristocracy: they are in fact not as nearly in touch with the spirit of our modern democracy as the plays of the Greeks—as the Homeric stories in particular. [See indexical note p240.6] Look at the Homeric disregard for power, place: notice the freedom of the Greeks—their frank criticism of their nabobs, rulers, the elect. You find the

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Greeks speaking of 'the divine hog-keeper,' 'keeper of the hogs'—saying things like that—very convincing things—which prove that they had some recognition of the dignity of the common people—of the dignity of labor—of the honor that resides in the average life of the race. [See indexical note p241.1] Do you find such things in the Shakespeare plays? I do not—no, nothing of the kind: on the contrary everything possible is done in the Shakespeare plays to make the common people seem common—very common indeed. Although, as I say, I do not admit Bacon, this is an argument which may go to the Bacon side."
I remember that W. spoke the other day of O'Connor as "a fierce agonizer for Bacon."

     W. said to me: "It seems very much all right to have Sloane Kennedy here with us today. [See indexical note p241.2] Now, if Dr. Bucke was here too, and if William O'Connor was here—especially William—our love-feast would be complete. You must write to them both, Horace, tell them all about the affair—who were here, how we frolicked, how silly Walt Whitman was—how happy, too: things like that." W. was very warm towards Harned and his wife, my sister. "This has been a calendar day for me—it has justified itself throughout—chiefly by your courtesy, consideration, love. [See indexical note p241.3] You have been good to me all day. Now I am going: now be good to yourselves—go to bed, get a rest." With Kennedy on one side and with me on the other W. was helped to his carriage. I asked W.: "Well—do you think now that the seventy years were worth while, Walt?" He replied meditatively: "Who knows? I don't know—I suppose so." The last thing before he drove off he called back a rememberer to me: "This side—the ferry—tomorrow—twelve o'clock sharp." And finally: "Good night all—good night all: God bless you!"

     Two or three things I caught from W. on the fly, as I busied about the room. [See indexical note p241.4] While Cauffman was singing: "He has a voice like a Niebelungen god!" I asked: "What do

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you like best in singing—rather, in singers?"
"What best? Let me see." Paused. "I guess I like strength in a woman—woman's strength." [See indexical note p242.1] "Then what do you like in a man?" "I guess I like strength in a man, too—man's strength." W. said of Clifford: "It puts a stop to your negations to find a preacher who is a man." Clifford is in the Unitarian pulpit at Germantown. W. to me: "My love is anybody's love today."

     Day before yesterday W. handed me an old yellow sheet of paper (the stationery of the Attorney General's office) and said: [See indexical note p242.2] "There's a fillip for you: a bit of ancient history." It got side-tracked among my records. It is written in W.'s own hand. I give it here.

      "Memo. The Saturday Review (London) of Sept 21, 1867, (p 383) distinctly endorses Walt Whitman as the only American poet—complains of all the other writers of verse in the United States, are mere imitators, without exception. [See indexical note p242.3] Tinsley's Magazine, for Oct. '67."

      "A thing like that, breaking through clouds of abuse, was apt to set a fellow up some. [See indexical note p242.4] I do not mean set him up in the great man way—set him up in the class of the elect: I mean something quite different from that. A hand reaches to you out of the clouds—a warm hand—reality itself: love. It sets you up. That's what I am trying to say."


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