Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 514] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Monday, October 22, 1888.

     8 p. m. W. not at first lively but melted out. Harned there. Asked me: "What do you know in our affairs?" The cut for the title not yet over from New York. Saw McKay and told him W. had sent Williams a book. Ordered an electro of the Linton to be done to-morrow or next day. Acknowledged receipt of cut to Mather and wrote Arthur Stedman as arranged for

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 515] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
yesterday. W. said: "That sounds fine—as if everything was rounding up in great style: you have a knack of doing just right, Horace." I laughed. "You don't always say so—sometimes you damn me." He was quite serious: "But if you count up the God-bless-yous on the other side the damns would make a poor showing." No word from Stedman, Morse or Burroughs, acknowledging the books. But W. says: "We've got to give a fellow time to make up his mind about our virtues." I am to get Myrick to experiment with a title page. W. gave me his original pencil design and a second design made on a copy of the rejected portrait.

     Opened and read to us notes from Rhys and Kennedy. Laughed quietly: "Their letters came in the same mail—they didn't fight: you remember, Horace, that the two fellows quarreled like the devil when Rhys was here? Rhys is still with the Walter Scott Company: there's a lot of gold back of it—a great heap—and David Gordon, I think David, is mate of the ship. Kennedy's letter is long, unusually long, and gushing—gushing: a sort of confession. Why shouldn't you take it along with you and bring it back to-morrow so I can answer his questions?" He had been reading a letter as I entered. I said: "Go on with it." He replied: "No—I don't need to: I have been worried for several days: one of my near relations is in trouble: so I opened that note with trembling. The first line settles it: I am relieved—there is improvement." I did not question him. He did not say who was sick. Called my attention to four memorandums he had made up for McKay. Harned looked them over: "They are a trifle irregular, Walt." "You mean legally?" "Yes." "To hell with that: they're morally straight—moreover, Tom, morally unmistakable." H. laughingly replied: "I guess they are Walt—and yet I've known many a case where a slight technical error made where the intent was obvious overthrew a good claim." Then W. said: "the more true that be the worse for the laws! The best part of the laws anyhow, Tom, don't help, are in the way of, justice." These were W.'s mems:


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 516] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I

328 Mickle St Camden New Jersey Oct: 22, 1888. David McKay Dr to Walt Whitman. Copies of November Boughs (1000 copies are furnished) 950 at 33 cts $313.50 Received payment



II

Mr Oldach,

give as he requests the "November Boughs" to Mr David McKay—and he will pay you the binding—except for 100 copies wh. I will pay you

Walt Whitman



III
Camden Monday Evn'g Oct. 22 '88

Dave

I don't see how I can make the books bill any less than 33 cts (and you to pay the binder)—they cost me more than that—and that was what—10 cts binding—I calculated from what Oldach sent specifically (though he now makes it more now)—I have to request you will sign the memorandum and send back to me by Horace—I send the order on Oldach.

Walt Whitman



IV
Philadelphia, Oct: 23 1888.

Memorandum

I have agreed with Walt Whitman to buy from him Nine Hundred and Fifty copies of "November Boughs" printed book, for Three Hundred and Thirteen dollars, fifty cents, ($313.50)—which I agree to pay said W W on January 10, 1889. I am to have the privilege of printing further copies of said "November Boughs" from W W's plates during the years 1888, 1889, and 1890, on giving him twelve (12) cents royalty a copy. Of the present batch I am to have fifty (50) copies free for editors' copies.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 517] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     W. said to me: "You'll have difficulties but I leave the matter all with you: fight it out in the best way you know how." I alluded to Fanny Wright's book, which I am now reading. W. asked: "Don't you find something of damn certainness in it? She got along beyond that after a time: she was young when she wrote that book—eighteen, I think. She went beyond Epicurus himself and he would have commended her for it. Epicurus, all the big fellows, the sages, then, now, always keep themselves free for new impressions—new lights. Look at Emerson saying: 'This is so and so—seems so and so to me to-day: what will happen to-morrow I cannot tell.' There was Darwin, too—I always put the two together: Emerson, Darwin: Darwin was sweetly, grandly non-opinionative." Spoke of F. W.'s style, W. saying: "She had got pretty well soaked with the teachings of Epicurus before she wrote the book else she could not so well have caught the trick of his style. And at the worst, at the best, I like the style—the style of all the greatest sages—Epicurus, Epictetus, Emerson, Darwin: the modesty—the readiness to yield, to see what they might have excuses for not seeing. All modern science is saturated with the same spirit, and in this exists its excuse for being."

     Suddenly W. asked: "Did I tell you fellows that I had a letter from The Critic the other day?" Then: "No—I guess not. They wanted to ask a question. Their question was to this effect: Has America produced a poet now living worthy to be added to the galaxy of the great English writers—the writers whose position is unquestioned—universally, everywhere, admitted?" I said: "That is Gosse's question." W. repeating: "Yes, it is." We asked what his verdict was—if he had given any? Yes—a sort of one: I don't know if they will think it one." He then added: "I regret that I sent the letter to Bucke: you should have seen it." We still insisted: "What did you tell them?" He laughed quietly: "I won't tell you: I might say, it will be in print next Saturday—see it there." Who were the "assured" writers? W. replied: "Thirteen: let me see if I can name them. There were Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden,

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 518] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Pope, Gray, Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth, Keats: does that make thirteen? At any rate, they were named."
After this he broke through his mock reserve: "I answered them—I kept no copy of my answer. What I said amounts to this: I believe we have: believe that Emerson (Emerson without a doubt) with Bryant, Whittier, Longfellow—perhaps also some of the Southern writers—writers of single poems—deserved to be ranked high—deserved to go along with the list of great English stars: except, it may be, as affecting the case of Shakespeare: Shakespeare, exceptional beyond all others—unprecedented: himself an age, an epoch: the Shakespeare-Bacon creations."

     This led to some discussion of Gosse, W. saying: "Yes—Gosse: ready to pronounce on all subjects, yet himself—what is he? He is not even second or third or even fourth rate." I asked: "As a critic?" W. replied: "As anything"—adding: "What has he to give him authority in any direction?" Harned asked: "Has Gosse been here?" W. saying: "Yes—once: and strange to say, we made almost an afternoon of it, and it was a good afternoon, too. I inquired of him about London matters—of the dudes, dandies, there—the literary guild, books, places. I rather liked him: he was agreeable, gentle, lymphatic: so lymphatic the lymph stuck out of every inch of his body, top to toe: a creature of finesse, the very aroma of drawing-rooms, hangings, conventionalisms, good-breeding." Gosse had remarked Poe's great influence upon English writers. W. said: "He means in technique—of all things, metrical niceties! Gosse's applause of Poe is like admiration for a shop window crowded with delicacies: is like a polite Episcopal preacher's estimate, analysis, of a Catholic priest. Gosse is like the typical English clergyman—polite, oily, sweet—oh! so sweet, so very sweet and inoffensive: like an English clergyman, a clergyman of the state church, a man who trembles before a vulgar word—for whom to go into the market, hear an oath, come into contact with the roughs of the street, is hell itself—hell enough!" Had Gosse any personal interest in L. of G.? W. said: "I don't know—not much, I guess: yet his allusions to me have been

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 519] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
kind—I can say kind: he goes to see the Costelloes in London—likes them, they him, I believe: indeed, I like him myself. He assumes the same position towards me that Stedman does here in America."
W. modified this immediately: "I mean—as Stedman did occupy: for Stedman is showing more and more consideration—has shifted his affection my way greatly in recent years." W. described a London Quarterly reviewer who had a couple of years ago "handled Gosse without gloves." "I thought it rich—of its kind the finest thing I know in the English language." Who had written it? He did not know. "I did once know—someone from over there told me: but I have lost the name: the thing was printed anonymously, I believe. It was much like Ingersoll—full of resource, life, fire: I say like Ingersoll—but only partly: this was bitter—Ingersoll is always suave, suave—good-tempered, open-armed: this man acid-like." It had struck W. as "a wonderful exposure," and he concluded: "Gosse can never fully recover from that attack."

     Spoke of lack of excitement over the election: "I read things about it here and there but it is all of the hell-take-the-other-side order and I make nothing worth while out of it." Harned asked: "Do you read Blaine's speeches?" W. replied quickly: "No indeed—I've got too much respect for the clock." Then he added gravely: "It's coming about that we need a new politics—something of the human to supplant the political order: and it will come, too—maybe not soon, maybe not for some time: but it will come—it must come: without it our democracy will go to the devil—nothing can save it." He announced: "We have a new inhabitant in this room." We looked at him inquiringly. "It's a mouse—the first of his race." Asked me about the Trowbridge letter—said: "I'll have quite a dribble more documents of that period to turn over to you from time to time: so get ready." Then added mischievously: "But I forgot—you're always ready!"


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.