Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, June 14, 1888.

     No proofs for Ferguson today. Delivered Walt's dollar to the proof-taker. Wrote to Bucke. The book is practically held up. In to see W. at 7.45. [See indexical note p321.4] (Had stopped in the morning: W. then asleep, "not looking very well," Baker said.) He was sitting up but asked before long to be assisted across the room to his bed. Had examined but three pages of proofs today. "I did not feel like it till nightfall—then when I got to work my head gave out. I find my digestive apparatus still fitful—still unwilling to do its work smoothly. [See indexical note p321.5] First it fires up—raises hell—then it gets down so low we have to bust our lungs blowing it into flame again." Laughed. "You'll be nothing but a heap of ashes by and by." "That's so." Frank Williams and his wife were over today—also Osler—but there were no other visitors, except, of course, Harned, who came twice. W. wrote several notes and looked

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a little through the papers. Addressed Baker humorously: "Have I been a good patient today, Doctor?" [See indexical note p322.1] B. replied: "Pretty good." Thereat W. concluded: "You hear, Horace, he only says, pretty good: he still finds me a little rebellious."

     Had W. yet been able to read Frank Williams' American paper? "I have looked it through—that's all. I can't read with much comfort—I don't have any consecutive grip. But I see Frank is all right—I of course take Frank for granted: he knows what our claims are: I guess Frank would indorse my note anytime." [See indexical note p322.2] Yet for all in all he had been much better today. Harned once or twice addressed questions to W. about the will but W. had pushed them off. Baker says W. is really "very obedient"—adding: "After the kick when I first came I expected to have a lot of trouble with him. Mr. Whitman is a very amiable man." Catching him in the act of saying something petulant concerning women Baker cried: "I supposed from your books that you entertained quite other feelings about women." W. at once came down. [See indexical note p322.3] "So I do: the books are right—I am wrong: I don't believe any man ever lived who was more fortunate in the friendship of good women." Baker put in a question I did not catch. W. then said: "I don't mean respectable women, so-called—I mean good women."

      [See indexical note p322.4] I read W. two letters written by Edward Emerson to Sidney Morse about Morse's bust of Ralph Waldo. E. E. acknowledged the beauty of the bust but criticised the mouth. W. negatived E. "I think that Emerson's mouth: indeed, the whole of it, the whole, head, his: Sidney has hit home sure. A son, of course, is more sensitive to points we would not see or would dismiss. [See indexical note p322.5] How good the letters are!—and true, too—which is better. Sidney has caught the spirituality of the man—the parchment-like rarification of the face: a sort of worldless something that always distinguished Emerson: Emerson seemed some ways short of earth."


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     I said at one moment: "Ah! Walt—you know we all love you!" [See indexical note p323.1] He smiled: "It does me good to hear that—puts a little blood back in my body, Horace—and I think you all—all—for it." "And do you know, Walt, we thought Sunday that you were dying?" "So did I, Horace—and Bucke did, too, I know, for he took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, buckled to, saved me. I thought I was having my last little dance. I am fortunate in being so surrounded, cared for, sustained." Sent me over to the table to hunt for a book. [See indexical note p323.2] "I want you to take it to your father. I know an artist is interested in the pictures of other artists. Look for it: a red-covered Pall Mall extra containing the pictures of the year." I found it and handed it to him as he sat up on the edge of the bed. "Are you sure that's it?" he asked—answering his own question by saying: "No—that's not it." Handed it back to me. "Look on page 66—see if my picture is there—Herbert's." Yes, it was there. [See indexical note p323.3] "I was sure that was not the book: my mind nowadays plays me strange antics—confuses shapes, sizes, colors of things." After a quiet minute or two: "I seem to be mentally so sluggish—things come slow: not falsely, but slow." I had of course noticed this myself. Tonight we discussed several little matters having to do with the book. [See indexical note p323.4] He would say: "Repeat that, Horace," or, "Go over that again, Horace," or "I don't quite catch on," or "How's that?" finally saying of himself: "I seem to be developing into a damned dull scholar, Horace." In essentials, however, it would be difficult to detect any break. [See indexical note p323.5] "I know well enough that this indoor life is gradually sapping me of all vitality: I need the fresh air—I need activity."

     The Courier today had printed some alarmist reports about W., originating in the telegram sent to Osler and in something of a depressing nature that Harned had been heard to say. [See indexical note p323.6] Baker says W. is always more or less confused when first up in the morning. W. is in his chair every

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day part of the time but has not yet been able to give any connected attention to his work. Has not yet been out of the room. I met Brinton in Philadelphia today. W. heard me say so and asked: "Did he question you about me?" [See indexical note p324.1] "Yes, at once, and very affectionately." "'Thank you Brinton—that's what I should have expected.' Brinton is a brick, Horace. Brinton has been translating some native Indian poetry: I do not forget that he promised to come over with you some day and read me some of his versions. I like the first things of peoples—the child things." [See indexical note p324.2] W. said again: "There was a German band out on the street today—not too near: they played a couple of songs—O they were very good songs: folksongs, perhaps: anyway, excellent. I hated to have the band go: it helped my head. I do not think I could have stood it close by. After a drum and fife corps had gone through the street yesterday I felt as if my head had been thumped with a thousand vicious fists!"

      [See indexical note p324.3] W. asked me: "You know about the American Institute poem, don't you? "Know about it? Know what? I have read the poem often enough." "I don't mean that—I mean its history—genesis? I tied up in a string for you these several letters—the correspondence—invitation—my answer—such things—you will find the packet on the table. You have got it? Yes? Yes—I meant it for you. [See indexical note p324.4] After All not to Create Only, it was called at the time: Roberts Brothers put it into a booklet: now I use it under another title—Song of the Exposition. Did I ever tell you that I knew Garfield in Washington? He had read this poem—liked it. When he saw me coming along Pennsylvania Avenue he wouldn't salute me by name but would raise his right arm and chant that line, 'after all not to create only,' and then laugh, as I did, and Pete, too, when we were out together and met Garfield, as happened several times. [See indexical note p324.5] It rather staggered me at the time to receive the invitation to make this poem: I was everywhere, practically everywhere,

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disavowed—hated, ridiculed, lampooned, parodied; rejected by the notables everywhere. Then this invitation came. [See indexical note p325.1] Of course my inviters were criticised for inviting, I was criticised for being invited—for accepting—all kinds of impolite things were said, mostly for my benefit: I even got a few anonymous letters from people who wanted to tell me 'the plain truth,' as one of them said. But the thing went off—went off all right—yes: was its own kind of success. I've only had a few such occasions to take care of. William told Eldridge or somebody that I should have had the poem for the Centennial—that Bayard Taylor was unfit—that no one but Walt Whitman could have proved equal to the exigency: but William found few to take his view of the matter. [See indexical note p325.2] I do not seem to belong to great show events—I am more like nobody than like somebody, as some funny man says—I was more used to being kicked out than asked in: I always went to the big pow wows with the crowd, to look on, not with the nabobs, to perform."

     I said to W.: "In one of the Dowden letters you gave me Abraham Stoker is mentioned. Is that Bram Stoker, Irving's man?" [See indexical note p325.3] "Yes, that's the man—Bram for short, for better. I have heard from him direct—letters (some of them long ago)—he has personally been here—has given every evidence of being staunchly on my side."

      [See indexical note p325.4] We talked no more. W. said: "If I don't let up, Baker there"—Baker was not in the room at the moment— "will set up a growl. Besides—I ought not to talk any more. Go to Ferguson tomorrow again—tell Ferguson I am better today, will be better still tomorrow—that our machine will soon be going again full speed." Kissed W. goodnight. As I left he said: "Do not fail to write Bucke right along—write Burroughs—write to William O'Connor. [See indexical note p325.5] Take that little bunch of letters off the table—the bunch in the rubber band—they are mostly from people I do not know—loving messages—look into them—answer for me to any of them that

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seem in your judgement to require some recognition."
I took these letters home with me and spent two hours examining them. Wrote a dozen replies. Sometimes W.'s correspondence gets voluminous and keeps me working steadily until daybreak. [See indexical note p326.1] He will occasionally dictate a little note which I will take down in longhand. Laughing once he said: "We ought to have a firm signature." And on another occasion he remarked: "I will have to give you a power of attorney so that our business need not come to a standstill when I get in the dumps."

     Examining the American Institute papers I find the invitation, the acceptance, a letter to Robert Brothers and a New York Globe Editorial.

     I.


American Institute, New York, Aug. 1, 1871.
Walt Whitman Esq.

Dear Sir:

 [See indexical note p326.2] Aware of the kindly and generous interest you take in the welfare and progress of the American Institute, the Board of Managers of the fortieth National Industrial Exhibition have instructed us to solicit of you the honor of a poem on the occasion of its opening, Sept. 7, 1871—with the privilege of furnishing proofs of the same to the Metropolitan Press for publication with the other proceedings.

With profound respect,

George Peyton

Chas. E. Burd

James B. Young

Com. on Invitations.
We shall be most happy, of course, to pay travelling expenses and entertain you hospitably, and pay $100 in addition, if agreeable to you, so as in some sort to make amends for your trouble.



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     II.


Department of Justice,
Washington, Aug. 5, 1871.
Messrs. George Peyton, Chas. E. Burd and James B. Young, Committee on Invitations

Dear Sirs:

 [See indexical note p327.1] I have received your letter of 1st instant containing your invitation to deliver an appropriate original poem at the opening of the 40th Annual Exhibition of the American Institute, Sept. 7, and stating terms, &c. I accept with pleasure, and shall be ready without fail to deliver the poem at the time specified.

Address me here if anything further


     III.


Department of Justice.
Sent Sept. 17, 1871.
Washington.

 [See indexical note p327.2] I send herewith the copy of my American Institute Poem. It will be plain sailing, if you have a careful printer and proof-reader. I think an ordinary twelve mo would be best, and send you a sample, my idea of size of page, and sort of pamphlet-volume to be made. As to size of type for the poem—If English solid would not be too large, I would like to have that. If you think it too large take the next smaller size. In binding let the edges remain uncut and bind in the kind of paper according to sample. See sample of title and cover. Send the revised proofs to me, by mail, directed to this city, and I will promptly return them.

My per centage &c. I leave to you. I should expect two or three dozen copies. I reserve the copyright myself.

That the papers have freely printed and criticized the piece willl much help, as it awakes interest and curiosity, and many will want to have it in good form to keep. The

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demand will grow. I have no authority to speak for them, but I think the American Institute will want several hundred copies, and that the pamphlet will have a sale at all their public Exhibitions and Fairs. They always have book stands at them.


It ought to be put in hand immediately, and out soon.


     IV.

     [Globe editorial, Thursday evening, September 7, 1871, under this headline: Our great Poet.]

      [See indexical note p328.1] America has one man who is recognized in the Old World as a great poet. Swinburne places him by the side of Victor Hugo, whom he counts as the first of living poets, and recently Tennyson has invited him to his residence as a guest. Long ago our own Emerson wrote in terms of highest commendation of him, and when his first book appeared he desired to leave his daily work, and personally congratulate the new poet. This evening this poet, who is regarded with indifference by most of the American poetry-reading people, will deliver a poem at the American Institute Fair upon the occasion of its opening. [See indexical note p328.2] The reader by this time understands that we refer to Walt Whitman, the author of Leaves of Grass, Drum Taps, etc. What other American poet has ever been honored like this? A few years ago Charles G. Halpine was invited to read a poem upon a similar occasion, but owing to a habit of which he was a victim, he was unable to appear when the time arrived. There is something very very appropriate in asking Walt Whitman to read a poem before an organization of which Horace Greeley is one of the prominant members. If the tradition about Mr. Greeley's personal appearance is correct, Whitman resembles him in dress. [See indexical note p328.3] He wears baggy pants, his coat is too long for him, his hair and beard are long and white, he wears a slouched hat, and keeps his

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shirt open, displaying a naked breast. He carries his hat in his hand as often as on his head; he often walks up and down Pennsylvania Avenue in his shirt sleeves; sometimes he sits down on the curbstone and reads his mail, and he always delights in being seen, and having people know who he is. [See indexical note p329.1] In all this he has a striking resemblance to Horace Greeley, and there are those who say his Leaves of Grass contain as much poetry as What I know of Farming.

     Such a poet as this, who will sing of mowing machines, steam engines, soap, soda water, and potatoes, ought to fill the Skating Rink this evening to overflowing. We should honor him for the reputation he has abroad. It would astonish Longfellow and Lowell to travel in England, and learn how highly Walt Whitman is regarded. His poetical works have been republished in England, W. M. Rossetti editing one edition of them. [See indexical note p329.2] Lord Strangford has reviewed them in the Pall Mall Gazette, the Broadway; and the Fortnightly Review, the Saturday Review, and other publications, have noticed him, nearly every line which has been printed being favorable.

     Mr. Whitman was born at West Hills in 1819, in this State. He has an official position in Washington, which yields him a small salary, too small, we learn, to allow him to accept Tennyson's invitation. During the war he was a frequent visitor at the hospitals in and around Washington, bringing cheer and comfort to many a poor soldier. During this time he worked for the government for one hundred dollars a month, he slept in a garret, ate frugally, wore mean clothes, and spent seventy dollars a month for the sick soldiers. [See indexical note p329.3] Whether his poetry is popular or not in this country, he is a whole-souled fellow, and as such will be worthy of a hearing this evening. He is the best man we know of to open the American Institute Exposition.


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