Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, June 26, 1888.

      [See indexical note p382.5] In at 8.05, finding W. fumbling about room for match. To Mrs. Davis' inquiry as to "how he did" W. replied: "Weakly, weakly: weak as death, Mary." And to me on my entrance: "I have had a bad day but then nature seems always to have a way of her own of mending me. I have been very feeble—O my! very feeble: sick feeble—even to the point of not being able to stand on my pins—but now that the evening has come on I am improved

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—much improved. [See indexical note p383.1] I am not by any means inclined to give up. Osler was over today and said he was 'encouraged.' What does a careful doctor mean when he says that? I have eaten some—bread, rice pudding: some conservative things."

      [See indexical note p383.2] W. asked me if I "could make anything out of the Conway document" I had "taken away yesterday?" Said further of it himself: "I do not remember the incident with which it seems to belong. For one thing, it gives my idea of my own book: a man's idea of his own book—his serious idea—is not to be despised. [See indexical note p383.3] I do not lack in egotism, as you know—the sort of egotism that is willing to know itself as honestly as it is willing to know third or fourth parties. Why shouldn't a man be allowed to weigh himself? He can't do worse than go wrong: going wrong is no hurt." I might as well copy "the Conway document" right here.

      [See indexical note p383.4] "2. Critically, a significant, if not the most significant, fact about Leaves of Grass is, that the genesis and fashioning of them have evidently not had in view literary purposes merely or even mainly, and the poet has not, either in mass or in detail, tried his work as it progressed by the sine qua non of current literary or esthetic standards. The Book is a product, not of literature merely, but of the largest universal law and play of things, and of Kosmical beauty, of which literature, however important, is but a fraction. This is the clue to, the explanation of, the puzzle of the widely vexatious literary and esthetic questions involved in Leaves of Grass.

      [See indexical note p383.5] "3. The summed-up idea however which, in this man's contribution, compared even with the vast Biblical and Homeric poetry, looms and towers as athwart the giants of the Himalayas, the dim head of the more gigantic Kunchainjunga, rises over the rest: idea of Totality, of the All-perfect, All-successful final certainties of each individual

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Man, as well as of the world he inhabits. Joyousness, and certain ultimate triumph, only of new and unthought of descriptions, ringing through every verse. He alone holds the solution, the spell, giving full satisfaction; and his talisman is Ensemble. [See indexical note p384.1] This is the word that belongs to the book, turned with the word Modernness.

     "The foregoing points my dear Conway, I wish through you, to submit to Mr. Rossetti. I have mentioned to Mr. Whitman my intention of writing him through you, and he, W., has made no objection. [See indexical note p384.2] I would add, for myself, for Mr. Rossetti, that I hope he will not be deterred from giving fullest swing to what I am sure I have discovered in him, viz.: an admiration and appreciation of our Poet, by the present ostensibly timid attitude of the literary and reading world toward Leaves of Grass; but that he will strike at that larger, loftier, honestly enthusiastic range of minds, which, perhaps, by the time Mr. Hotten's volume gets well before the public, may be the genuine audience Mr. Whitman is quite certain of.

     "Again asking pardon of Mr. Rossetti for intruding these suggestions and placing them in any and every respect at his service should they be so fortunate as to strike him favorably.

      [See indexical note p384.3] "Not for literary purposes, and not under the domination nor tested by the sine qua non of literary standards.

     "Personally the author is a man of normal characteristics, and of moderate, healthy, following a regular employment, averse to any display.

     "The words which belong to the Book are the words Modernness and Ensemble."

      [See indexical note p384.4] W. picked up a book from the floor. "See this—it came today: the Walter Scott fellows have done it—done it well. A Backward Glance on My Own Road was the title I selected for that review of myself when I gave the copy to Rhys—but I am better pleased with our revision—A Backward

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Glance o'er Travel'd Roads: it is stronger, more musical. The English volume was rather unexpectedly put together—was, I think, a late thought."

      [See indexical note p385.1] I read W. a postal I received from Burroughs today. What did he wish to say in reply? This: "Tell him, Horace, that last night—that is, tonight—you found me here and we had this good talk together. Tell him I have felt the duty upon me to write him from time to time but could not do it—was not up to it—conscious as I was of my neglect. Tell him I have many hopes of my getting about again—no expectation of being altogether physically what I was, but still of being in the main myself once more. [See indexical note p385.2] Tell him also, I am quite sure—oh! I am quite sure!—Dr. Bucke this time saved my life: that if he had not been here to roll up his sleeves and stay and work and watch it would have been a final call. Tell him you read me the postal—that I accept it and understand it." W. dictated this to me. He asked: "Have you got all that down?"

      [See indexical note p385.3] W. showed me a bunch of roses that came from Kennedy today, saying of them: "They are surpassingly sweet, true, helpful." Reminiscently said: "I am what the boys call a stayer—I am very cautious: my caution has kept me out of many scrapes: has saved me from this death scrape. [See indexical note p385.4] Thirty years ago or more a circle of celebres in phrenology gave my head a public dissection in a hall—for one point, marked my caution very high—seven and over. Their seven was backed by my experience with myself. [See indexical note p385.5] I live even today most conservatively—avoiding things that would be sure to be fatal to me. [See indexical note p385.6] I know what Holmes said about phrenology—that you might as easily tell how much money is in a safe feeling the knob on the door as tell how much brain a man has by feeling the bumps on his head: and I guess most of my friends distrust it—but then you see I am very old fashioned—I probably have not got by the phrenology stage yet."


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     W. subsequently talked on politics. "I have been considering the convention today—taken a pretty thorough look at it—am not at all so certain as I was of Cleveland's election. Has it struck you that the nomination of Morton was a keen move? [See indexical note p386.1] I am finding myself inclined towards Harrison—on looking closer, closer, rather prefer him (if I must prefer either): prefer his personality to Cleveland's—am not, as it may have seemed, altogether given up to Cleveland. They say, scratch a Russian and you'll find a Tartar, and when I am scratched I am afraid the old Republican shows up again. This don't suit you—you are too radical for me: you want the old regime all upset—but no matter—my politics don't hang heavy even on me. If you see any Republicans tell them I lean just a trifle, a mere trifle, towards Harrison. [See indexical note p386.2] I can't enthuse any more over politics—the issues do not provoke me to enthusiasm—but I have the old itching—am not yet prepared to scuttle the old ship. But tell them not to make their protectionism too malignant—keep a little slow with it—not too malignant—then there may be a chance ahead. [See indexical note p386.3] It looks as if Blaine would come home in a couple of months—then Ingersoll will chime in, too—chime in after the disappointment is over: Achilles sulking in his tent and then coming forth again renewed: and then the tide may be taken at the full. I think of the important states—Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania: those and perhaps New York and Virginia: the belt line of strength. [See indexical note p386.4] But there is no predicting what will happen. After all, how contemptible is the enthusiasm of the average voter—his sad, sickening, distressing talk of 'my man,' 'my man,' 'my man.' Our politics need a big lift to some higher plane—a big lift: probably will not get it until some more important issues make the lift worth while. [See indexical note p386.5] I see you think of the labor question. Well, yes—maybe that: that certainly is big enough, serious enough. I am always for free trade and everybody hereabouts says the

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time has not come for free trade. Whose time? What time? But then, let it be Harrison or Cleveland, the country will equally go on its way—fulfil its destiny: I have no fears."

      [See indexical note p387.1] At the moment of my going W. called me to him to examine three portraits of himself from which I was to choose one. The first was "the laughing philosopher," the Cox N.Y. picture of 1887— "the best of the several he took on that occasion," W. said. The second was a Washington (Gardner) picture of 1863. The third was a large hatted W. W. "between the other two in date," W. explained. I at once chose the Washington picture, whereupon he quickly remarked: "You have chosen wisely—chosen best, Horace. [See indexical note p387.2] Tom Eakins thinks that the best picture of them all: you shall have it and gladly—gladly. Yes, I will write my name with yours across the face of the card: you will probably find it ready tomorrow when you come."


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