Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, June 6, 1888.

      [See indexical note p270.2] To W.'s at 7.15—he sitting in the parlor at the window in his big arm chair—improved, greatly, from Monday's prostration, but still weak, though serene. Dr. Bucke not in today—evidently not yet back from his trip. Mrs. Davis says she tried to have W. consent to a little drive but he objected—thought it safer to stay at home. [See indexical note p270.3] Spent a good part of today, like yesterday, up stairs— "in my big arm chair there—God bless my big arm chair!" "very quiet, untalkative all the time," Mrs. Davis remarked.

     W. up earlier than usual yesterday and today—by 8:30 instead of 10:30. "I do not seem to sleep," said he. We went over the Hicks matter again. He is anxious to complete it. "I should not be at all surprised now if it took its place in the volume though the doubts of it still remain.  [See indexical note p270.4] Horace, I am physically down almost flat on the ground. We must not let any grass grow under us. What we wish to do we must do at once. I am not going to be reliable from this time on: I can see how we will have to eke out our success through ups and downs." [See indexical note p270.5] Mrs. Davis said to me: "There seems to be something on Mr. Whitman's mind. Do you know what it is?" "I think it's only the book." I repeated this to W. He was serious. "Yes, it's only the book—but ain't the book enough? Everything tells us to conserve the book—conserve the book." "I think the

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proofs I am receiving from Ferguson are unprecedented in their accuracy and taste. I do not give the whole credit to the proof-reader—it is the whole atmosphere that is good—the work of the printer, foreman, prooftaker, reader—all are concerned: I don't exclude any one of them.  [See indexical note p271.1] These offices all have their swells—men who think they are more important than other men—but all the folks in the place are equally necessary—the boy who runs the errands as well as the man who bosses the shop."

     After November Boughs W. will annex the Sands at Seventy poems to the Leaves.  [See indexical note p271.2] He may annex the prose to Specimen Days. "I am not sure of this, however—I have not entirely made up my mind on this point." This led him to some reflections upon the character of these latest poems. "I often ask myself, is this expression of the life on an old man consonant with the fresher, earlier, delvings, faiths, hopes, stated in the original Leaves? I have my doubts—minor doubts—but somehow I decide the case finally on my own side. It belongs to the scheme of the book. As long as I live the Leaves must go on.  [See indexical note p271.3] Am I, as some think, losing grip?—taking in my horns? No—no—no: I am sure that could not be. I still wish to be, am, the radical of my stronger days—to be the same uncompromising oracle of democracy—to maintain undimmed the light of my deepest faith. I am sure I have not gone back on that—sure, sure. The Sands have to be taken as the utterances of an old man—a very old man. I desire that they may be interpreted as confirmations, not denials, of the work that has preceded. [See indexical note p271.4] Howells, James and some others appear to think I rest my philosophy, my democracy, upon braggadocio, noise, rough assertion, such integers. While I would not be afraid to assent to this as a part of the truth I still insist that I am on the whole to be thought of in other terms. I recognize, have always recognized, the importance of the lusty, strong-limbed, big-bodied Amer-

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ican of the Leaves: I do not abate one atom of that belief now, today. [See indexical note p272.1] But I hold to something more than that, too, and claim a full, not a partial, judgment upon my work—I am not to be known as a piece of something but as a totality."

     Harned's Boswell is still around. W. happened to pick one volume of it off the floor today. [See indexical note p272.2] "Here is Boswell. I thought I had given it back to Tom. I notice, by the way, that a good many of the things told by Boswell are contradicted by the notes of annotators, who intimate that this could not possibly have happened, or that, or the other, simply because the man was absent at the time, or dead, or unknown—or for reasons similar. [See indexical note p272.3] Dr. Johnson, it is plain, is not our man: he belongs to a past age: comes to us with the odor, the sound, the taste, the appearance, of great libraries, musty books, old manuscripts. My chief complaint against Johnson is that he lacks veracity: lacks the veracity which we have the right to exact from any man—most of all from the writer, the recorder, the poet. Johnson never cared as much to meet men—learn from men—as to drive them down roughshod—to crowd them out—to crush them against the wall. [See indexical note p272.4] He is a type of the smart man—a ponderous type: of the man who says the first thing that comes—who does anything to score a point—who is not concerned for truth but to make an impression."

     Kennedy has written W. that he likes The Graphic pictures. "I do, too, except for the slovenly printing, which it is hard to forgive." [See indexical note p272.5] Speaks of Ingersoll's reply to Gladstone: "I have not read it seriatim, but nearly all of it—most of it several times, attentively. It is a work of genius and as against Gladstone conclusive. I find that Ingersoll is not altogether my man: does not say all my say for me: that is, is right in his place, for others, but not wholly representative for me. But I am not the only one to be pleased

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—indeed, not even the chief one—the paper was not after all written for me. [See indexical note p273.1] His reply to Gladstone is the lawyer's reply—a complete irrefutable statment. Ingersoll is not just my man in that sort of work because all such controversy—over the atonement, the Mosaic account, the church—seems to me utterly superfluous. I always feel that to one in the swim—in the swim of modern science, democracy, freedom—the atonement, the Mosaic records, are not worth the dignity of consideration, of a reply."
"But is not Gladstone in the swim?" "It might be supposed so, but when we come to look it up, not. My friends tell me, for instance, that he cuts a rather thin figure in literature—that is Homeric studies, for instance, are bad in the extreme—as, indeed, they must be, if we may judge them by the standards which apply to his theological acquirements. [See indexical note p273.2] Of course the Colonel's skill goes without saying: his vitality, spirit: it is magnificent—nothing can stand up against its terrible onslaught."

     My sister Agnes came in and told W. Cleveland had been nominated for the Presidency. "And Thurman?" asked W. at once: "He has been named for the Vice-Presidency?" [See indexical note p273.3] adding as to Thurman: "He is a bourbon—during the war was a copperhead—one of the earlier hateful examples of that tribe." W. is for Cleveland—says he "may vote for Cleveland," but shies at Thurman. "I never met Thurman—no: never met Blaine—have always avoided men of the purely political class: I seem to distrust them." W. gave me a copy of the 1882 edition of the Leaves. I am to show something in it to the printers. W. had written as title page: "Imperfect—pp 85 to 88 gone (two leaves gone)." [See indexical note p273.4] On page 84 was the subjoined memorandum, also in his hand, W. calling my attention to it: "Next pp 85, '6, '7, and '8 gone (who can have torn them out?)" The missing pages contained part of I Sing the Body Electric and all but the concluding stanzas of A Woman waits for Me.

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W. had often spoken to me of Rudolf Schmidt, at Copenhagen, and tonight produced an old Schmidt letter in which Bjornson is quoted, saying to me of it: "One of the best things I know about Leaves of Grass is the fact that it seems to hit the first-hand men. [See indexical note p274.1] Bjornson is a first-hand man. Leaves of Grass is supposed to be a first-hand product: it would fail as anything else." Schmidt wrote in English.


Copenhagen, 25 April, 1872.

Dear Walt Whitman.

 [See indexical note p274.2] Just now recieved the New York Commercial Advertiser, which was for some days ago preceded by your kind letter. When returned to Washington, Clausen, who has taken a strong and sincere attachment to you, most certainly will be able to translate the whole article verbally to you. I should be glad if after a thorough knowledge you still would be pleased with it. I have had very great pleasure in introducing you to the Scandinavian public, and most probably in no European country would you find the conditions of the mind so favorable for the understanding of your poetry. [See indexical note p274.3] Your books and portraits have in the last month circulated amongst the ladies of my acquaintance, for especially it is the women who are your friends. [See indexical note p274.4] Bjornson writes of your article: "Walt Whitman makes me a joy as no new man in many years and in one respect the greatest I have ever had. Never had I thought in my days (during my lifetime) to get a spirit (or ghost, none of the expressions signify exactly our stand) for my help from America. But such and in no other shape of course it must come. I thank him and thee from my full heart. I went amazed during some days and still the great impressions are haunting me, as were I on the ocean looking on the driving ice-bergs that are inaugurating the spring."

I am very curious to know how you did like Clemens Peterson. Of course you did not like him. But if you have not found him broken by sickness and bad humors

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you must have felt that here is a mind with perhaps the finest nerves for beauty you ever met.


 [See indexical note p275.1] Will you do me a service? I should like to write an article on "American fancy" comparing the grotesque humor that is scattered with no pretension in your newspapers with the humor of Luther and Shakespeare. Our own newspapers are sometimes bringing such specimens of wit and humor extracted from the American papers. Could you not find for me about a dozen jokes of this sort? That is all I want. [See indexical note p275.2] For instance: I saw in Harper's Weekly one of your leading political men (whom?) as Cincinnatus by the plough bringing himself an address, the same person making (in two figures) compliments to himself. Another instance: A teacher explains to his pupils the meaning of a phenomenon. An apple tree is no phenomenon; a cow is none. But if you were seeing a cow in an apple tree plucking apples with his tail: that would be a phenomenon!

At present you will understand my meaning! Good bye.

Yours

Rudolf Schmidt.


      [See indexical note p275.3] W. had something more to say as to his relations with Schmidt: "Schmidt has translated a lot of me—done it well, I am told. He seems in his own country to be regarded as a man of great ability. What I like best about him is not his scholarship. He is a human being—is fresh, unspoiled by books. The best man in the world is the man who has absorbed books—great books—made the most of them—yet remains unspoiled—remains a man. It is marvellous what capacity books have for destroying as well as making a man. [See indexical note p275.4] I have some portraits of Schmidt here somewhere—I want to give you one. I can't put my hands on them just now. He is a beautiful character—has had his awful sorrows—domestic sorrows: I find myself much attached to him."


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