Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, June 18, 1888.

      Dropt in at W.'s early morning. [See indexical note p347.3] All well. W. asleep. W. on his bed in the evening when I arrived—7.45. Stayed until 9.30. He was very communicative. I put in few questions. Yet he talked on. No light—day gradually going: we sat by and bye in total darkness. W.'s mind very clear. "In that way," he said, "I am decidedly mended." Excused himself for his inability to attack the proofs. "There they are, untouched—God help me!"

     I referred to the Conway correspondence. [See indexical note p347.4] "Yes, it was quite a little tempest in a teapot: I suppose no one was finally hurt. I want to tell you about it some day—the whole story: Buchanan had a story, too: I am not equal to it now."

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Had he copies of the Rossetti printed slip spoken of by Conway? "Yes: I will come across the slip some day—will lay a copy aside for you."

     Ferguson is getting impatient—wants us to release his long primer. [See indexical note p348.1] We have tied him up completely. W. said: "That is too bad—it ought not to be"—stopping a minute— "I shall make an extra extra pull tomorrow—see if I can't get outside myself—above myself." Said he had new matter on page thirty-eight (verse)—but was not quite ready to close in thirty-seven. Discussed hurry. W. aware of the situation. "If I can't get at it for good tomorrow I'll resign the whole business into your hands." Added: "Hurry was never another name for Walt Whitman."

     W. questioned me concerning the Chicago convention. [See indexical note p348.2] "Is it to be Harrison?" "You don't say Blaine?" "No—with Blaine the funeral is ready." Was the Republican platform to reassert the tariff? "If they do that will end it—let them do it—their time is near. [See indexical note p348.3] I suppose the Republican party is about through with its job—something more efficient should now come along—take up the task where the Republican party left it."

     Had I written notes for him today? Yes, lots of them. To Bucke, Burroughs, Morse, Kennedy, others. "That's first rate," said W., "particularly the note to John. Did you write at length? And what did you tell him—and them? I had a long letter from Morse but laid it aside for another time: the first two pages floored me." Back to Burroughs. [See indexical note p348.4] "Burroughs is still what he was in the early days—true to Leaves of Grass and his original instincts. Of late years something has been added to him—sophistication, I may call it. He has mixed too much with the New York literary crowd—has been influenced by them, not always for good. Still, John is too deeply rooted—the soil in him is too firm—not to resist the pressure of that gang: he is too natural, too truly endowed. John's style has grown somewhat more

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refined—perhaps a little more literary, bookish—with time, but is still essentially rooted in the woods, the chipmunks, the trapperies—the first hand causes and effects. John was with the original Leaves of Grassers—in the first rank (the body guard)—has never wavered that I know of."

     After striking a light W. attempted to read Morse's letter aloud but had to surrender it to me. [See indexical note p349.1] Then opened and read me a letter from Dr. Bucke. B. at one point spoke of the circular for contributions for keeping a nurse in the house for W.—said he would send a proof of it to W. for such verbal suggestions as he might make. W. was hot. [See indexical note p349.2] Exclaimed: "I don't approve of it—I don't want money—I have enough for all I need!"—adding with the same fire: "My 'verbal' suggestion would be for him to stop the whole thing at once. I have not so far said anything about it but should have done so. Horace—we must stop this thing before it goes any further." Insisted on my taking Burroughs' Pepacton to read. [See indexical note p349.3] "It's not John's best book but shows his quality." Pete Doyle was in yesterday and brought some flowers. "It was Pete who gave me the cane," explained W., "the cane with a crook in it. [See indexical note p349.4] I always use Pete's cane: I like to think of it as having come from Pete—as being so useful to me in my lame aftermath. You have never met Pete? We must arrange it some way some time."

     Baker is very anxious. "Mr. Whitman is about cleared up mentally—in that way—but he seems to be getting physically weaker. [See indexical note p349.5] He is stronger in the head and weaker in the legs today than any day since I came." I can see good omens in the old man's refreshing candor about himself. He seems to know better than the doctors what is the matter with him. [See indexical note p349.6] He talks towards the ground but he is looking up. He always says to me, "Tell the fellows the worst," but does not hesitate to say afterwards: "The worst is not the worst."


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     W. has been receiving affectionate messages all around. Spoke of some of the fellows: "Give my love to Clifford—Clifford is a man-minister, not a minister-man." "There's Tucker, now—Benjamin: I love him: he is plucky to the bone: I don't know that I bank much on his anarchism or at all but on Tucker—well, he is a safe risk." "I suppose William [O'Connor] tops us all for vehemence and consecutiveness of life." [See indexical note p350.1] He said he thought Burroughs "shied some at O'Connor's directness but I don't admit that that's William's fault." "Stedman is always to me almost—an almost man: almost a genius, almost writing the best poems, what not: almost in everything but the affections: altogether affectionate." "I cannot be unfair to Dick Stoddard though he is always unfair to me. [See indexical note p350.2] Some of his early poems were superb—one in especial, treating of a woman on the town." "Maybe I have enemies because I have friends. My few friends are a great host—my many enemies are a few." "Tell Anne Montgomerie that if she don't come to see me soon I shall think she has gone back on me. [See indexical note p350.3] I know I have said I wouldn't see visitors: she is not a visitor—she is one of us." "I have said a good many things to you about William O'Connor—but there's Ellen, too—superb woman—without shams, brags: just a woman. [See indexical note p350.4] Ellen does not write: that gives her more time to get at the essentials of life." "In most of us I think writing gets to be a disease. We scribble, scribble, scribble—eternally scribble: God looks on—it turns his stomach: and while we scribble we neglect life." [See indexical note p350.5] Gave me an old O'Connor letter. "Sit up here by the light and read it: I will be quite still." Some passages of it I read aloud.


Life-Saving, Feb. 20, 1883.

Dear Walt:

 [See indexical note p350.6] I have sent you the MS. of my letter to Bucke. It goes this day by Adams Express, addressed to you.

I sent you a card this morning just before your letter came. There is not the least bit of "pestering" in the

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matter, and of course I appreciate the necessity for despatch. I only got the MS. from R. M. B. on Saturday, and set to work revising it the next day. I am so driven with work, and so weary and worn, that I cannot always be as quick as I would like to in these offices. [See indexical note p351.1] The collection of my anti-Comstock letters has been positively prevented up to date, by simple lack of time. I shall soon have some let up. We have had a horrid fight with the navy, and flaxed them awfully—rousing Congress and the Seaboard upon them. I send you a pamphlet, which has some of the shrapnel we swept their decks with. The paper on Life-Saving transfer is mine—some touches in the others. I was thinking of you when I wrote the first and third of my three reasons against transfer.


I am rejoiced that G. G. P. still seems good in your eyes. [See indexical note p351.2] I should be glad to leave out some sentences in the last page, and originally intended to, but thinking it over, could not see my way clear, inasmuch as the whole publication is a matter of history, and ought to stand, follies and all, and several of my abusive critics at the time quoted the very passages I want to omit, for animadversion, which makes it more difficult now to withdraw them. Do you see my dilemma? The sentences sending the pamphlet to a number of persons named on the last page, are an absurdity, yet I don't see very well how I can honorably back out of it now, and escape twitting. How does this view strike you?

It was Bucke's wish that I should write the prefatory letter I send, and I accepted the chance of supplementing the pamphlet with a few remarks upon the Harlan transaction; of paying my respects to some of your recent critics, teaching them that there are blows to take as well as to give; and of putting you, where you properly belong, in the line of succession from Shakespeare, which will make some of our literati howl. [See indexical note p351.3] I hope you will think it good, and effective. Like everything I write, it has been done in a hurry,

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and without those leisures of the soul which are requisite to satisfactory work.


I trust it will be in good type. Where is it to go? The pamphlet, of course, belongs to the appendix. Let me have proof of all, which I will return promptly.

The MS. on copying press paper is my little tilt with Lanman, and should come on after the pamphlet in the appendix. [See indexical note p352.1] Bucke wanted it at first, but in his last letter thinks it best to omit it, although he leaves it to me. Now I think it ought to go in as it finishes the Harlan affair handsomely. But do as you think best. [See indexical note p352.2] It is a rather crushing rejoinder to Lanman, and a punishment to Stoddard, who is awfully mean, and it has a good effect of tone after the fiery pamphlet.

I hope Bucke's book will be a success. It comes in good time. He has a rare chance. I aimed, also, in my contributions to the volume, to add to its interest and attractiveness.

I see by the extracts in Sunday's Tribune that you are in the Carlyle and Emerson letters. Did you see it? I shall want to see the volume. [See indexical note p352.3] The letter, as printed, is very characteristic of Emerson—his reserve, his shrinking, like a woman's, because of the rebuff; his deceptive concessions to the enemy, in a vein of pleasantry, almost like irony, almost like a sneer, when he says the book "wanted good morals so much" that he did not send it. Of course, some people will take a different view. But I think I understand Emerson's real feeling, which is in his first letter to you, and there is no denying it.

I am suspicious of Professor Norton as an editor of this correspondence. [See indexical note p352.4] I hope he would not suppress things favorable to you, but have little faith in him since I read a sketch of his lecture on Greek art, in which he held that the later Greek sculpture began to be indecent with nudity—the great or earlier Greek being always draped, as in the

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work of Phidias; which precious assertion made me think of the Parthenaic frieze of Phidias where a row of soldiers charges, all naked, and the phallus in each man not only bare, but erected—stiff with valor—which is good for Professor Norton! Selah! I must close. More anon.


W. D. O'C.


     When W. saw I was through reading he said amusedly: "Well—how does that strike you—especially the tilt there with Norton? [See indexical note p353.1] He throws Norton clean off his horse into the mud. Norton is the type of scholar who is bound to distrust a man like me." W. did not think Emerson "showed up strong" in that reference to him to Carlyle. "Emerson should have said yes or no—not yes-no." I referred to O'Connor's Good Gray Poet. [See indexical note p353.2] "William is right—I do not cease or reduce my admiration: I have often had the idea of getting out an edition of the Leaves with the Good Gray Poet as the preface." O'C. in this letter is discussing Bucke's life of W. W., then in course of preparation, W. being an active factor in its production. [See indexical note p353.3] It begins to look as if W. was going to pull through. While he is not superficially optimistic he is fundamentally resolute.


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