Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, June 7, 1888.

     It got cooler today. To W.'s at 7.30. His shutters were closed. Sitting by the window looking chilled and disturbed. In reply to my question he said: "I'm not violently afflicted, as I was the other day, but I am feeling miserable." [See indexical note p276.1] Mrs. Davis came to me and expressed herself as much concerned. W. had towards evening shown signs of untoward weakness. She feared another attack. However, he had rallied. W. talked readily and copiously about the book—its headlines, its arrangement. I gave him one set of proofs and he gave me another. "I have about concluded to put the Hicks in whether or no—letting it go in with all its sins upon its head." [See indexical note p276.2] "I am in a hurry—in a hurry: I want to see the book in plates: then I can die satisfied. We will attend to the presswork and binding when we come to it. The main thing is the plates—the plates. Horace, I am on the verge of a final collapse: I look on the future—even tomorrow, next day—with a feeling of the greatest uncertainty. I am anything but secure: let us make the book secure."

     Bucke not yet returned. "He has gone still further—across to New York: I have heard from him. He will be back here by Saturday night or Sunday morning." [See indexical note p276.3] W. gave me a Broadway picture of himself. "How do you like that for free and easy?" Laughing mildly. "Some of the fellows in Washington said no—they wouldn't have it on any terms: they said to me: 'you like to make yourself look tough.' One fellow said: 'You do all you can to encourage the people in their belief that you are a tough.' [See indexical note p276.4] Is that the picture of a tough? Maybe I am not sensitive—maybe I am a tough—maybe the people who don't like toughs, don't like me, are right." He called my attention to the dent in the hat. "Somebody once called it a sauce-pan—said I wore sauce-pan hats." He had also found me the promised picture of Rudolf Schmidt. "It is an old one by this time but then everything about me is growing old—everything

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is getting past. I, too, will soon be past."
Schmidt had autographed this picture and inscribed it "To Walt Whitman the poet of the American democracy."

      [See indexical note p277.1] W. talked of O'Connor and Bucke. "William, taking him for all in all, I should consider my most ardent friend: O'Connor, with his Keltic, bardic, prophetic blood—with his intensity—with his fervent conviction, his uncompromising, unfearing challenge. O'Connor was the earliest of my friends—the first of his race. Bucke has not the same gifts—the same charm—yet Bucke is not a man whose friendship is to be despised: quite the other way—a man of whom a fellow may be proud. Doctor is of English parentage—lives in Canada—is an exceptionally strong character: is a great complex of tradition and rebellion: I admire his eligibility to employ the conventions while in no way overvaluing them: he is very worldly—yet also very not-worldly—has great ability to make his way in the world, yet always has eye and ear for the higher considerations. [See indexical note p277.2] Bucke's spirits are unfailing. You know, he is a great cripple: he lost that one leg, has lost the toes of the other foot, out in the west, in the mountains: was 'froze out and starved out' as the niggers say: I guess he has told you the story: yet Bucke is a whole man: he has lived down his losses—is always the same free, simple, manly man. Bucke of course is not subject to the flights we learn to look for in O'Connor: the soarings, the brilliant sparkle of satire and wit—the Irish—in William is rich in color—is mad with irresistible, indestructible life."

      [See indexical note p277.3] Kennedy is to go camping with Burroughs. W. shakes his head over it. "Burroughs is an exceptional man, a denizen of the woods: it is natural, constitutional, with Burroughs to take hard beds, ill fare, as a matter of course, with entire serenity. Did you say they proposed to take Scovel? He would only be in the way—would not last. As for that, I doubt if Kennedy would last much longer. Kennedy has all the character necessary, all the brains, but with him it

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would be more a matter of giving up his chops in the morning—the fresh cup of coffee. I do not think Kennedy has that full out-door emotion which makes Burroughs at home in any environment. [See indexical note p278.1] Burroughs could not help but be what he is: the factor in him which provides for that sort of life is the primitive—the wild man, the woods man, the man of flint and skins, born over again into an age of more sophisticated ideals. Scovel said to Kennedy: 'Yes—I will join you. I will write the trip up for the New York Sun.' This disgusted Sloane."

     Scovel had been telling some ultra-intimate suspicions to Kennedy about W.'s private life. Harned had referred them to W., who was indignant. [See indexical note p278.2] W. put me on the stand and plied me with questions, some of which I could not answer. "The stuff all seems to me beyond everything else vile and slanderous. I was never on intimate terms with Scovel: Kennedy seems to have imbibed a false idea. I like Scovel's wife, his daughters—spent some of my happiest hours there—at dinners, suppers, about the fire: but there was no more to it. It must be that Jim has repeated to Kennedy some of the vile slanderous stories which have here and there been invented and told at my expense. What is your notion of it all, Horace? [See indexical note p278.3] What is the nature of the stories he repeated to Kennedy? I cannot understand. I have always thought Jim true—I know his peccadilloes—am not inclined to exaggerate them: I do not like to think he is faithless. See what happened to poor Tom Paine, who was unfortunate enough to excite the theological rancor of his time. A thousand things about him, all of them slanders—without the least doubt slanders—have been perpetuated: a thousand things of which he was entirely innocent. [See indexical note p278.4] Woe be to the man who invokes the antagonism of priests and property! But, Horace—how did Kennedy take Jim's talk—seriously?" I told him K. was "shocked." "Shocked? Did he believe the stories? Shocked at me? Shocked at Jim?"

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"Shocked," I said— "just shocked." I added that Harned was indignant when K. first told him. W. exclaimed: "Indignant? Ah! of course! And still you do not know what it was that Kennedy heard?" I said to W.: "I advised Kennedy to use any material he got from Jim very conservatively." "That was right," put in W., "damned conservatively."

      [See indexical note p279.1] W. still looking into the Nicolay-Hay Lincoln now running in The Century. "It is not very important as a literary production—it is chiefly important for the material it supplies for the use of others, who will come along by and by and do the literature of that period. It adds sidelight, color, facts—statistics: and odds and ends of stuff here and there contributing to the general effect. What a fund of such data is not being revealed! I hope to see it go on—go on from all sides—from South as well as North—from the disloyal and the loyal. I often say that even Jefferson Davis should put his story down—put himself on record—give the world the benefit of any peculiar light he may enjoy from his personal post of observation. [See indexical note p279.2] Even Jefferson Davis, did I say? I should have said 'Jefferson Davis' without the 'even.' Do you say that Davis has already published something as to all that? That is news to me—good news. The Century Company has done very creditable work in this direction: its impartial war recitals, drawn from all sources, all sorts of men, on our side as well as the other, is of inestimable value. No matter about the contradictions—let them be: they were inevitable: the future will judge between fact and error."

     I offered to copy the Hicks if it was necessary. W. smiled pleasantly: "Thanks, boy, thanks! I should not be at all surprised to have to call on you—take you at your word." [See indexical note p279.3] Mrs. Davis conversed with me freely about W.'s troubles since Saturday last. She noticed Sunday morning that he seemed weak and colorless. As to what occurred Sunday evening

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she knows no more than the rest of us. W. sleeps with his door locked—does so even now despite her protests. Monday morning W. came to breakfast looking horribly the worse for wear. He afterwards went into the parlor and looked over his papers, sitting, as usual, at the east front window. [See indexical note p280.1] When he suffered his first attack he still had strength left to rap for Mrs. Davis, who arrived just in time to catch him and save him from falling to the floor. Mrs. Davis called Warren, and together they got W. to the sofa. When he had recovered somewhat she asked if she should stay with him. He said no. "Leave the door open—go to your work—come back from time to time and take a wink at me"—as she did, asking once: "Does it annoy you to have me come so often?" and he replying: "Oh no! Not at all: come." [See indexical note p280.2] When I got in Monday at noon he was just rallying from his second attack. His speech this time was gravely affected. When Mrs. Davis first spoke to him at this juncture he could say nothing—simply drew his eyebrows frowningly together. She asked him: "Why did you not call me last night?" He only repeated the "Why?" and did not explain—could not, probably—for what occured there that night in the isolation of his bedroom will probably never be known to him or to us. [See indexical note p280.3] Mrs. Davis speaks of his self-helpfulness. He asks little of her—will, indeed, accept but little assistance. He dresses, bathes, meets all the personal necessities single-handed.

     People often criticise Mrs. Davis because of the confusion apparent in the parlor and W.'s bedroom. The fact is W. does not encourage any interference even by her with his papers. She has been cleaning some this week, W. being rather disposed to joke about it. "I hate to see things after they are 'fixed.' You get everything out of place and call it order." [See indexical note p280.4] We often talk of the different editions of Leaves of Grass. W. says: "They all count—I like all—I don't know that I like one better than any other." Tonight I happened to mention the Rossetti volume, whereupon W.,

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reaching forward and taking a folded sheet of paper from under some books on the table said: "That reminds me—here is another Hotten memorandum: I have already given you something or other of Hotten's. [See indexical note p281.1] You will be interested because our own little job here together involves similar points. How good that English crowd has always been to me—the whole crowd: I want it to be forever recognized. When the time comes for you to tell your own story—give your own version—you must be careful to do those English fellows justice." W.'s memorandum was a draft of a letter, his to Hotten:


March 9, '68.

Mr. Hotten.

 [See indexical note p281.2] I thank you for the copy of my poems sent by you. It has just reached me. I consider it a beautiful volume. The portrait given in it is, however, a marked blemish. I was thinking, if you wish to have a portrait, you might like to own the original plate of 1855 which I believe I can procure in good order—and from which you can print something much better—as per impression enclosed. [See indexical note p281.3] If so, send me word immediately. The price of the plate would probably be forty dollars gold—or eight pounds. It would suit just such a volume, and would perfectly coincide with the text as it now stands in note and preface. If I receive your favorable response, I will, if possible, procure the plate and send it you by express—on receipt of which, and not till then, you can send me the money.

 [See indexical note p281.4] I will thank you to convey to Mr. Swinburne my heartiest thanks for the copy of William Blake sent me, and also for his kind and generous mention of me in it.


      [See indexical note p281.5] "Talking of those English fellows," added W., "reminds me particularly of Rossetti. Rossetti—William—was one of the first of my friends over there—has been one of the staunchest—right along: has never qualified his allegiance. There is another kind of a friend—the I'd rather I'd rather

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not kind: Rossetti does not belong in that class."
"Was he on the whole satisfied with the Hotten book?" "On the whole—yes. [See indexical note p282.1] Yet any volume of extracts must misrepresent the Leaves—any volume—the best. The whole theory of the book is against gems, abstracts, extracts: the book needs each of its parts to keep its perfect unity. Above everything else it stands for unity. Take it to pieces—even with a gentle hand—and it is no longer the same product."


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