Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 411] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Monday, July 2, 1888.

     To W's at eight o'clock. Frank Harned present for awhile. He had his own photos of the Morse W. W. bust and of the Hicks. W. discussed them. Wants to put them in the book. W. in bed when I got in. We helped him to a chair. Pretty feeble. Frank withdrew in a little while. We continued to talk. W. spoke of himself. [See indexical note p411.2] "I'm turned clean over—off my keel—am badly shaken. I seem to see things all right with my mind but my body won't see things at all!" Mildly laughed. "There's the book—the dear book—forever waiting—and I seem to be more feeble than ever. [See indexical note p411.3] But"—and he raised himself a bit in the chair— "there's no use dying now when there's still a job of work to do." W. handed me a newspaper reprint of Stedman's The Discoverer. "I never read that poem," said W., "but it powerfully affects me. Why do you suppose that is?" Had had a short note from Bucke— "a whiff of fresh air from the north," he described it. I read him a letter I had from Burroughs today. But he would not listen at all to B.'s suggestion that W. should go off to the shore. "John is fine, fine, about all that, but he does not quite take in the situation here. All my good friends suggest different cures, places, diets—changes of geography: one sort and all sorts of revolutions: but I am bound after all to keep to my own path. [See indexical note p411.4] The best place for me is just where I am—here, retired, in quiet, alone, to wait and see what results. For the present everything else must be held in abeyance. I am

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 412] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
touched with John's solicitude—I do not want to seem ungrateful—I push his idea aside, but gently, gently."

     I had to hunt up some proofs for W. They had been mislaid on his table. [See indexical note p412.1] He laughed about it. "This room is full of lost and found." Then laughed again. "Mary thinks it an utterly indecent place—disorder added to disorder. But then you remember what some one said writing about the Leaves: 'This book is a confused book—that's its main trouble: the author got mixed up at the start and was never put to order again.' That explains this room." Said again: "Pearsall Smith has got abroad, into England, to his new home, safely: a letter arrived today—says the voyage did him good—I am glad—he had been ill."

      [See indexical note p412.2] I quoted a note from Morse in which Morse said: "I put up a big fight for Walt at a meeting the other night. I was interrupted in a speech by a man who accused Walt of want of sympathy for other authors." W. asked half in rumination: "Did Sidney say that?" Pausing for a minute or so. "I wonder if I have seemed to be amenable to such an accusation?" I said nothing, whereat he went on; "It may be true—I don't know: I don't intend it to be true, God knows! [See indexical note p412.3] Who can tell? William O'Connor used to say: 'Be careful, Walt, that in your revolt you do not go to the other extreme.' I was talking the other day with Tom, mentioning Stedman. Tom asked me: 'Walt, do you think you are quite fair to Stedman? Ain't he a good deal of a fellow in spite of your doubts?' [See indexical note p412.4] I think I have always conceded that he is a good deal of a fellow—a good deal: if I have expressed any doubts it must be because he has not been quite the good deal of a fellow his own work led me to expect him to be. And the same of many others—of many others: I have felt they have not let go—have not been willing to let their demon work out its fate—have not believed enough in themselves. Is this unfair to them? If it's true it's not unfair to them—if it's not true no one's hurt but

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 413] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
your daddy. Of course nothing I say of their work applies to them in the personal sense—they are fine fellows—often the best—Stedman, Gilder, the others: and as to their place—well, they have a place, they are filling a place. [See indexical note p413.1] They may after all be the kings of all the people and I may be only—only Walt Whitman. I talk out in meeting, sometimes—and sometimes out of meeting: I particularly talk when you are around. If I talk wrong, then I talk wrong—but I talk honest, or always mean to: maybe that is the chief thing, to talk honest."
When he stopped I said: "That gives a pretty good notion of the stand you take. Did you say all that to Harned?" [See indexical note p413.2] "I don't remember—maybe not—but I might have said it all: I don't like to be thought querulous—I like to give the biggest meanings to people, things, events, that I can."

     I was still poking about looking for the proofs. I turned up numerous odds and ends in the search. One sheet of paper ( Dept. of Justice stationery of the seventies) all pencilled over—interlined—studied out—I asked W. if I might have. [See indexical note p413.3] He looked at it and said "Yes," adding: "It is not new—I think I have used it somewhere in my prose." Suddenly called to me: "Horace! Horace! I must get to my bed: my head reels: I feel as though a minute more on my feet—on my feet—here—would finish me—be my last." I sprang to his side. His head fell forward—he seemed about to faint. He reached out, took my hand. "My cane! My cane!" I put the cane in his hand. [See indexical note p413.4] He could say nothing. Tried to get up. He rested his great weight on my shoulder. We made our way to the bed. He fell back on the pillow, exhausted, closing his eyes. "Keep on your hunt, Horace—take what you need: when you are done turn the light down." "Shall I go for Dr. Baker?" He spoke up: "No! No! I need no doctor! I will be all right in a minute: the doctor could do nothing for me." He kept my hand for some time. Then be said more calmly:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 414] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Now I am easier—easier—much easier." I returned to the search. He was dead still. He did not seem to sleep. [See indexical note p414.1] Now and then he would ask: "Have you found it?" "Any luck yet?" "Haven't you got it yet?" Finally the papers turned up. He laughed slightly. "We lose but we also gain," he said.

     W. gave me a message for John Burroughs. Also Bucke. "Doctor is the kingpin." [See indexical note p414.2] He was to have had a check for Ferguson today. Not ready. Would autograph the two medallions I brought and make out the check tomorrow. His last words to me were these: "Good bye! Good bye or good night! I believe you prefer good night!" I had said to him: "Good bye means for all time—good night means for a little while." I will copy here the sheet of pencilled paper. It had had a headline—"The question of form"—which was marked out.

      [See indexical note p414.3] "The want for something finished, completed, and technically beautiful will certainly not be supplied by this writer, as it is by existing esthetic works. For the best poems both the old ones and later ones now accepted as first class are polished, rhymed regular, with all the elegance of fine conceits, carefully elaborated, showing under all the restraints of art, language and phrase chosen after very much has been rejected, and only the best admitted, and then all joined and cemented together, and finally presenting the beauty of some architectural temple—some palace, proudly rising in proportions of marble, entered from superb porticos and adorned with statuary satisfying the art sense and that of form, fulfilling beauty and inviting criticism. [See indexical note p414.4] Not so his poetry. Its likeness is not the solid stately palace, nor the sculpture that adorns it, nor the paintings on its walls. Its analogy is the Ocean. Its verses are the liquid, billowy waves, ever rising and falling, perhaps sunny and smooth, perhaps wild with storm, always moving, always alike

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 415] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
in their nature as rolling waves, but hardly any two exactly alike in size or measure (meter), never having the sense of something finished and fixed, always suggesting something beyond." [See indexical note p415.1]


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.