Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, October 26, 1888.

     8 p. m. W. always reading. Laid his book down. "Howdy? Howdy?" As for himself: "It has been a miserable day: the day has looked down instead of up." Again: "I woke up doubtfully—did not get my good night's sleep: then I missed this morning's nap—the nap between eight and nine: I could not take it: it seems to be getting indispensable. Lately I have a persistent pain in the belly—a gnawing away at the stomach: a pain in the head also—perhaps the one hanging on the other." Said he had sent Mrs. Costelloe a copy of the book today. This suggested my remark: "Garland asked that you send an autograph copy to Howells." "Did he say that? I did not read it that way. However, I would not have done it even had I known."

     Brought him over half a dozen books in stiff covers. W. examined a copy intently. "I see that the cover is an improvement—from their standpoint decidedly an improvement"—then turning it over— "yes, rather stylish: gilt top—this"—putting his finger on McKay's monogram— "this especially so. It's not me, exactly—not me: is out of kelter with my other books: still, I see Dave's point—yes, see it. And anyhow, Oldach did all he could to make our cover look bad." Talked about the title page still. Liked the appearance of it as electrotyped. I asked: "Do you notice that your title page specifies no place of issue? Did you intend that?" He answered quickly: "Ah! is

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that so? that's the case, is it? I had not noticed it—was not aware of it. No—I did not intend to omit it—neither did I intend to insert it. I wrote down what came into my head at the time—what then seemed required."
I said: "Call it America: America is the place." He laughed in an approving way: "Yes, but that would sound egotistic—make too much of a spread: one has to be careful of that."

     I asked him now as he asked me a day or two ago: "Do you think the 'Walt Whitman' on the title page—the name—is too big?" He shook his head. "No—I had my doubts the other night but they were only momentary doubts. I see clearly that it is about right as we have it now. The book is anyhow greatly personal: there never was a more personal book, in fact: in that book Walt Whitman is everywhere and perpetually being brought to the fore. Besides, the book is large—makes a fair bulk—will stand the racket. My usual course has been to subordinate the title page to the contents of the book itself. My purpose has been, to put into the book a living personality—to give it verve, pulse, human fibre—whole, entire. My name there—at the worst it can do no harm: Walt Whitman is so positive a force in the book that this arrangement of the title seems well in accord with his general methods and principles. I am accused of egotism—of preaching egotism. Call it that if you choose—if that pleases you: I call it personal force: it is personal force that I respect—that I look for. It may be conceit, vanity, egotism—but it is also personal force: you can't get me to quarrel over the name. It is of the first necessity in my life that this personal prowess should be brought prominently forward—should be thrown unreservedly into our work. If I said 'I, Walt Whitman' in my poems and the text meant only what it literally said, then the situation would be sad indeed—would be very serious: but the Walt Whitman who belongs in the Leaves is not a circumscribed Walt Whitman but just as well a Horace Traubel as any one else—personalized moral, spiritual, force of whatever kind, for whatever day; it is force, force, personal force, we are after." He added very emphatically: "I am one with Kennedy's

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opinion, that a writer, to reflect life, nature—be true to himself, to his art (if we may say that)—must throw identity, overmastering identity, personality, verve, into his pages. Kennedy says it well: you have seen it there in the note—there in Bucke's book? I don't know if it has been elsewhere so well said. To throw a live man into the book: you, your friend, me, anybody else: that is the background, the heart-pulse, of Leaves of Grass."

     W. said he had tried to explain to himself how it was the Transcript (Boston) would receive Kennedy, when Kennedy came as the spokesman of Walt Whitman. "The Transcript is the properest, nicest sheet going: I read it: it has some interesting points: is well respected in Boston. My surprise is, how they can receive me? I have friends there, I guess: Chamberlain, for one, perhaps—perhaps others." Had finally decided that the cuts to go into the big book should be limited to four—title-page, steel of 1855, Linton engraving, November Boughs frontispiece. Till the title-page success was assured W. had not completely settled this point. Said: "Even the Linton cut has its place: has some relation to the text. You know it? All the pictures now have a significance which gives them their own justification. This is so, whether the fortunate (or unfortunate) reader sees it or fails to see it." W. in handing me letter from Bucke which came today, said: "He speaks there of a change of the nurse. Does he say anything more definite to you? He says he has written you. What does he say?" This was Bucke's letter to W.:


London, Oct. 24, '88

There is no doubt Dr. Osler thinks you are doing well or he would be over oftener. If he thought you failing or very ill he would not neglect you I am sure. He is an exceptionally able man, and we must admit (whatever we may think or feel) that he knows as much about your condition as any one does (including yourself). I do not hear good accounts of your present nurse (Musgrove) and I have just written to Horace about a young man whom I can fully recommend who is willing to go

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from here and take the place. His name is Edward Wilkins. I know you would like him. He is a real good, nice looking, young fellow. I have known him some years. He is as good as he looks. I expect to hear from Horace at once on this business. I hope you will approve of the change. I am sure you will be pleased with it when made.


Affectionately,

R. M. Bucke.


     W. then remarked: "Well, I assume that you fellows know. I wrote the Doctor that I left it with you and with him to decide." I questioned him a little about Musgrove, but he would only say: "I am not indisposed to a change: I judge from what Doctor says that Edward Wilkins is my man. I like the air that Doctor gives him." This was decided enough. I knew his habitual reserve and consideration: how unwilling he is to say a harsh word in such a situation. It settled with me at once what I had been in some little doubt about at the time of the arrival of Doctor B.'s first letter on the subject. W. was not willing to make a special complaint against M. "If he is somewhat rough, it is out of the kindness of his heart I have no doubt." Here W. handed me a letter from Stedman. "Take it," he said: "you will like to hear what he has to say." Then, following that thought of S. up: "He writes a warm note: the book came—it was his birthday—conquered him—he likes it—likes it all: shape, contents, air. Stedman grows more and more affectionate: is coming up: steadily forward, the last few years, notably. And you should see him, Horace: he is a man you would like: his regard is a thing to put value upon."


44 East 26th st.
New York, Oct. 25, '88.

Dear Walt,

Your seasons outlast mine. Your book, always to be handed down and transferred by my clan, reached me on my fifty-fifth birthday, and made me wonder that your November

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Boughs still hang so rich with color while my October Leaves are already pale and wilted. I am very grateful for your remembrance, and touched by it withal. In many respects this collection (so strikingly and fittingly put up) is one of the most significant—as it is the most various—of your enduring works. Rest tranquil, as you ever are, in the ripeness of your harvest and fame—well assured that, whether your pilgrimage is still to be long or brief, you "shall not wholly die." I am always more and more your reader, and


Your attached friend,

Edmund C. Stedman.


     Speaking of "the reasons for Hugo's being what he was," W. remarked: "I might say of him what I have often said of Millet: he did what he found right at hand. Millet had the peasants at his doors—Hugo the varied, often loathsome, criminal life of the cities." W. referred to "O'Connor's short note" sent on to Bucke with the Costelloe letter and forwarded by B. to Camden. "Bucke is exceedingly despondent: has the darkest fears—no confidence whatever. But then Bucke does not take sufficiently into account O'Connor's remarkable physiological qualifications. O'Connor is better calculated than I am to stand shock—this, another: is built a little taller than your father, but much like him otherwise: has resistance—power to get up and up and go on! Bucke don't allow for O'Connor's overflowing measure of vitality. O'Connor is deeply, broadly based in the soil: has roots like the roots of a great tree, casting out immense arms underground around rocks, into crevices. It is this positive physiological property, rootedness, for which Doctor fails to account."

     Reference being again made to the Springfield Republican review W. said: "There's too much of the battered old veteran business—who could have expected this or that?—and such stuff. If I should give my friends who write any counsel on this point (and I shall not: you know that) I would say, say nothing

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about it! Of course it would do no good to protest—the scribblers will have their way. Kennedy's screed in the Transcript seemed right enough because Kennedy spoke as one who was near and personal. The general comment on the book is of the pity-the-old man order. It is good discipline for a man in the face of such an abuse of criticism to sit down and keep cool. I would rather be damned than be saved by pity."
W. expressed a wish to see Sheridan's Sedan piece in Scribner's. "I am sure it will appeal to me—parts of it, at least." Some one writing of Sheridan's later portraits remarked that "his face has become more intellectual." W. shook his head: "No—never intellect: that's hardly the word. Sheridan never expressed intellect. Physical heroism was common during the war: indeed, was notable on both sides, in all classes—men and officers, poor and rich, all. This was so rich a quantity that the time came when they needed to be held in, reined—not only the men but the officers, too—officers worse than men, if anything. In all this, brains did not rule—none of it, in fact. As I have often said of the land in America, it is indefinite, infinite—you can call for as much as you want. In true greatness as an accepter of things, Grant, of all men in the War, all leaders, I am inclined to credit most: his composure, adaptedness. For war simply in the concrete—except as it expressed some spiritual fact—my aversion always amounted, amounts to, abhorrence."

     Clifford had written me—date 25th: "Walt might be amused to know how when I showed Hilda his picture, she kept crying: 'Dear old gentleman—want to kiss him!' And she did again and again." W. said: "Yes—I remember—it was her beautiful pictures you brought me back in the summer! We commence life all over again and again with the darling children." Clifford had also written: "The more I read and think of Walt the more I revere and love him." W. replied also to this: "Tell Clifford his words are sweet to me more because they come from him than because they seem to make much of my work: I would rather have such a man send me his love than put a crown on my head."


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