Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, June 2, 1888.

     Took W. the first six pages of O'er Travel'd Roads in page form. [See indexical note p247.1] Well pleased. "I have been thinking about the book today. After all, I hardly think it will make the one hundred and sixty pages. I was quite sure it would at first, but now the thing looks more than a little doubtful." Why shouldn't he include the long-postponed Hicks essay? [See indexical note p247.2] "It would not be out of place: but the Hicks must wait its time. I do not consider it sufficiently rounded up yet." Polished? "No—not polished: that is not the word: it lacks somehow that something or other in substance which will go to make it satisfactory to me at last." Why couldn't he give it that something or other at once and call it done? "Why? because I am a slow piece of machinery. [See indexical note p247.3] I do not seem able to muster myself for duty on call. I have to wait for the humor." Maybe the humor will come before the book is through? "You are stubborn. Maybe. If it does I will be only too glad. But I don't seem to have the power to strain at, to force, to compel, the issue." I read him a paragraph from today's Philadelphia Times—this:

     "Walt Whitman enters the Seventies.

      "Walt Whitman, the poet, who honors Camden by his residence there, entered on his seventieth year yesterday. [See indexical note p247.4] He is busily engaged in revising the proofs for his new book—November Boughs—which will include all his latest prose and poetic works. The book will probably be issued this fall. Although the good gray poet's bodily infirmities are increasing and he can scarcely move about the house without assistance, he maintains his kindly manner and good

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spirits, and his mental powers are as bright as ever. He works a little each day and in bright weather drives out with the horse and phaëton presented to him by his friends."

      [See indexical note p248.1] W. broke in: "He says fall, does he and 'probably'? That is rather tantalizing. I am anxious to get the book into plates—printed: the rest is not material. I don't want anything to happen to me in the midst of the job. No one knows better than I do that I may go to pot any minute—vamoose, as they say out West." Questioned me some concerning the compositors who were working on his book. [See indexical note p248.2] "So they wonder about my use of the apostrophe, do they? I use it before the d, in place of e, in the past tense of verbs, because it seems like reason to do so. The practice comes to me legitimately from the old dramatists—yes, and there is a reason nearer home. I have so accustomed myself to it in my verse that I extend it to my prose for uniformity's sake. Besides, the closening of words—'wisht' for 'wished' and such like—is not alone an old literary form but a wise one—in line today with current phonetic tendencies. How very redundant were spellings in the old times—very redundant: but where spellings have been overdone we are gradually pruning—except"—with a laugh— "in almost hopeless cases like that of the Evening Post, Bryant's paper, which still uses the o-u-r in the o-r endings of words—or did when I last saw it. [See indexical note p248.3] I believe in getting rid of all superfluities—penetrating to the root sense of the matter. My 'peculiarities,' as your printers call them, hardly go further than this. I make a few rude departures—not many: on the whole I am conservative, travel the usual road."

      [See indexical note p248.4] In speaking of the Shakespeare sonnets W. said: "Their origin was a thought-origin—that I feel, acknowledge: but they are often over-done—over-ornate—their elaboration is extreme, at times utterly obscuring the idea, which might

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be assumed to be of the first importance."
I said to W.: "I met Morris—Harrison Morris—today. [See indexical note p249.1] He was happy over the birthday affair. He calls his meetings with you 'epochs.'" W. took the praise merrily. "That'll do for Morris. Tell him his roses smell good but he mustn't be reckless with 'em!" Ingersoll's reply to Gladstone has appeared. [See indexical note p249.2] Extracts in today's Press. W. read them. "Then Tom was in, too—he had the magazine under his arm: I shall see the whole business tomorrow when I come. I can easily guess what the Colonel has done with Gladstone." [See indexical note p249.3] Said of Viele-Griffin: "I believe he was here once, though I am not certain. He came in one of several bevies at a time I was not well—I cannot remember him. On such occasions I let them turn the crank but am myself able to do nothing that is not purely mechanical—no thinking at all—after it, no memory either." [See indexical note p249.4] The decision has gone against Henry George in the Hutchins case. W. criticises it. "It is a great injustice but I hope George will say nothing about it himself—it will right itself."

     My sister Agnes asked W. whether he still felt satisfied with Morse's Hicks. "Yes—yes—yes: it stays, lasts, with me—that is the great test. I must have a thing by me a long while—must give it a chance to sink in—things never come fast with me, though, to be sure, when they come they come firm. [See indexical note p249.5] That is why I would not make a good journalist, preacher—least of all a doctor. My opinions are all, always, so hazy—so slow to come. I am no use in any situation which calls for instant decision." W. spoke of the birthday compliments. "I seem to have been particularly remembered by young women—in Camden, elsewhere. I got a card from Ryman, of Boston, containing photographs and a bit of four-leaved clover. [See indexical note p249.6] O'Connor didn't write. My friends do not in the main observe the conventions even in a matter like this. I have had a number of gifts—several gifts of money (small sums). The cake your sister

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put into my big pocket when I left I sent to a sick woman up on Arch Street. I have been treated fully up to my deserts and over."

     W. alluded to Kennedy's letter in the current Critic dealing with the Worthington reissues of the Thayer & Eldridge volume. [See indexical note p250.1] "I would like to rehearse the whole story—it has elements all its own. It is a long story, too. Worthington—'Holy Dick' they call him—bought the plates—has done as he pleased with them ever since—never consulting me. [See indexical note p250.2] To hell with Walt Whitman! Walt Whitman be damned! Dick wouldn't use such vile phrases but that's what it all comes to. He might easily use vile phrases and be a better man. He is a pious Presbyterian—seems to be a publisherial freebooter (making no bones about it either). Jim Scovel once went to New York and frightened him into making a payment of fifty dollars, that fifty dollars being turned over to me. I think there was another twenty-five dollars paid at another time—I don't know when. I acknowledged both, on account, as royalty. Worthington wrote to me, at St. Louis, while I was with Jeff, years ago, proposing that I should make a five-years' contract with him—he wanted a new edition, containing new matter (I should say this was about 1877)—which proposal I turned down quick and sharp, telling him that three later editions or more had made the old plates worthless—except, I might have added, for trouble. [See indexical note p250.3] I again prohibited his printing and selling of the old book but he went on, no doubt thinking me a 'soft,' as in fact I have been. [See indexical note p250.4] Kennedy does not know about the royalty I accepted. There may be some construction of the law which would interpret my acceptance of any royalty as a consideration—I do not know. You know how Thayer & Eldridge busted during the war—how they were sold out. Worthington got the plates by purchase. He at first pretended that he had bought a big mess of loose sheets—was only using them—but that was

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a tale out of the whole cloth: I know the printer through whom Worthington bought the plates and he said Worthington was treating me to a fish tale.  [See indexical note p251.1] I am averse to litigation—find I must not trouble or worry myself over such matters—make myself subject to the beck and call of courts. I like your suggestion that Ingersoll should be asked to look a little after Holy Dick. I was for a long time willing to stomach it all, but Worthington has acted so hoggishly, so impertinently, I feel as though I should now shake him up. He is easily frightened, as the Scovel incident shows. [See indexical note p251.2] Nothing would please Dave McKay better than to have me go at Worthington hammer and tongs—and Dave's feeling in the matter is not mercenary, but simply righteous anger. If the royalty acceptance should be considered as nullifying my case I should submit to the inevitable processes of the universe."

     W. was very merry with me over a Carpenter letter with an enclosure than he produced. He said of it between laughs: "We are not always patted on the back—sometime we are kicked on the behind: and who knows but the kicks do as much good as the pats? [See indexical note p251.3] You will find in Carpenter's letter what was I imagine his first reference to Towards Democracy—his first reference to it made to me. His correspondent must be an interesting man—a man with very vehement opinions: rather oldish—out of date, with at least one eye set in the back of his head—yet very interesting, too, as dead or dying things may be now and then. Carpenter guessed right when he sent the letter on to me—I always find myself refreshed in a vigorous antipathy: I would rather have a whole than a half enemy. [See indexical note p251.4] I am afraid of the man who apologizes for his opposition. Can you make out the name at the foot of the letter? I never could quite do so—today, when I reread the letter, the signature seemed less legible than ever." I will first give Carpenter's letter and let passages from the enclosure follow.


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Bradway Near Sheffield, 16 Mar. '82.

Dear Old Walt—

 [See indexical note p252.1] I should like a line from you. I have not had time exactly to write to you lately—or rather I have written so many letters, business affairs mostly, connected with my brothers and sisters, that I have not wanted to write any more."

I enclose you a letter I am sure you will like to read—which I got the other day from a friend. He is a clever fellow, with flashes of genius—classical minded—but you are too much for him!

I have about finished what I am writing at present. It is in paragraphs, some short, (half a line or so), some long, in the ordinary prose form, tho poetical in character. It is a good deal made up of previous writings of the last five or six years squeezed out—a drop or two here and there. I have thought for some time of calling it Towards Democracy and I do not see any reason for altering the title—though the word Democracy does not often occur in it. [See indexical note p252.2]

Your friend

Edward Carpenter.


     Following are passages from the letter mentioned:

     My thanks for the Leaves of Grass. [See indexical note p252.3] Why not "Blades"? I have run through some of it; a barbaric work it is. Surely you must be poking fun at us!—What point of contact is there between E. Carpenter—learned and accomplished in an extraordinary degree, austere, ascetic and idealist,—and Whitman,—"turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding" (pg. 48)—waiting for the wand of Circe. . . . [See indexical note p252.4]

     Whitman is the poet of anarchy, confusion, lawlessness, disorder, "anomia," chaos—if such things are compatible with poetry. He is the logical outcome of Protestantism, the natural revulsion from Puritanism, Priapism. Prot-

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estantism abandons all reverence for the past, all respect for authority, tramples on all poetry and mystery: at last the individual, however rotten, is the only rule and law to himself. . . . [See indexical note p253.1] Nothing is vile, if only one has the courage to "brazen it out." These may not be Whitman's exact words, but he says as much again and again.

     I don't dislike him as a man (p. 273)—provided he is in earnest, which I doubt—but his philosophy—he has none.

     Nothing can be done without a system, nor will things work themselves out of their own accord and result in something better. [See indexical note p253.2] Our present society is but the concrete thought of some few great minds. The society of the future will be either the same as this, one stage more corrupt, or else nature, fertilized by the great thoughts of some philosopher, will breed something better.

     There are thoughts which cannot be stated in downright language and yet they may be passed from mind to mind by Poetry and Parables. And if no thought can be extracted from the Poem, then damn the Poem! [See indexical note p253.3] —Thought need not be definite, but there must be thought. I find none in Whitman. Also he is not cosmopolitan.

      "Have you read it all through?" asked W. [See indexical note p253.4] "What do you think of that blast? Is there a shred of me left? He don't slip into any half-way mood about me: 'Walt Whitman is maybe all right, but—.' No—that's not his style. He simply says Walt Whitman is not—and that's the end of it all. I kind o' take to the man: he tumbles me clean over as a matter of conscience—I respect him for it." [See indexical note p253.5] W. had written on the envelope in red ink: "from E. Carpenter enclosing sharp letter on L of G." W. then proceeded good-humoredly: "The next time anybody asks you about me tell them you have found me out at last—that there's a man in England who has shaken all my timber down."


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