Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 557] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Wednesday, October 31, 1888.

     7.30, evening. Reading a paper. When he looked up he saw I had a bundle in my hand. "Here again! How the days pass! How are you?" Talk very long and free. Told him I had written to Burroughs saying he was better than in the summer. He shook his finger at me: "Be careful what you say—don't be too sure about me: some day when you come you will find that I have slipped cable and am gone." Opened my bundle and showed him what I had. Three printed impressions of the Linton and one hundred of the title page portraits—also proof of complete title page. He put on his glasses and got right down to

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 558] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
business. "They are all satisfactory. You find me a great skeptic—don't you? I am very conservative: I don't say I have won until there is no doubt of the victory. Many disappointments have taught me not to be boastful: I have no peacock feathers to exploit. The Linton cut comes up here as it never has before: the paper seems just right, the ink seems just right: the picture is a revelation—is a new birth." His comments on the title page were equally earnest. "This ought to please my friends, but I am not sure it will: there's Bucke, as whimsical and kinky as hell: and Burroughs is about as bad. Doctor will be coming along in a few days so we can keep this to surprise him with. I want you to thank the printers for this work: they did it—we owe our chief debt to them." Then he started to quiz himself and me about the lettering at the foot of the page. "Is it too large? Can it be too large?" I shook my head. Then he asked: "Does it betray eccentricity?" Finally taking his glasses off and looking at me: "For this book I guess the name is not too large: I have looked at it again and again with considerable anxiety—asked myself: does it seem like affectation, display?" Then he added: "I have suffered all my life from the misjudgments of people who looked with suspicion upon all I do. I am not concerned to please them, but I am anxious to come to conclusions satisfactory to my own soul. My ways are very methodical: I have been much criticised for that: but my ways are mine and are necessary to me. I need to isolate myself—to work along very undemonstrative lines: I can never rush: I must proceed in a leisurely manner as if I have all the time there is."

     W. said again: "We received Tom's letter to-day"—he said "we" with a twinkle in his eye— "the letter to Mr. Musgrove, telling him of the change that has been decided upon. I saw the letter—the Doctor brought it up to me: he don't like it much—he calls it getting the bounce." W. is eager for the change. Yet he hates to have Musgrove's feelings hurt. "He has been most kind to me—tried to serve me, tried to anticipate my wishes: I feel personally grateful to him." W. received a long letter

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 559] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
from Bucke to-day talking about the change in nurses. Gave it to me to read. "I will answer it to-morrow: I must look carefully into it." He said later: "Doctor is what the boys call boss for details: he goes in for care in the minutest particulars: I suppose that belongs to his scientific training." Musgrove came in with a letter. It was from Burlington, Vermont—news about W.'s sister. He read it at once, saying: "Excuse me," and then smiling with the remark: "The news is good news—thank God for that! It is from my sister—I have been worried about her. She has never been here: she is frail, delicate—gets about but little." Talked of what he called "family physiology." "The race has mainly been a powerful one: sickness at minimum: fortunate, blessed. Look at my own great strength. Jeff is quite as large as I am I suppose: stronger—twelve years younger: is in perfect health. We went on the New Orleans trip together: I shall never lose the immediate memory of that. Jeff was with me: he did not thoroughly enjoy it—enter into it: was much sick—on the Mississippi was subject to dysentery: what is worse than dysentery to a traveller? But I myself kept in perfect health—enjoyed perfect physical nonchalance, in fact: was moved by nothing: was absolutely season and climate proof: up to my fifty-third year: proof against all material, digestive disturbances. After that came the Washington earthquake: they called it inflammation of the veins induced by handling a more than ordinarily gangrenous wound: a sort of malarial trouble followed. Then I achieved a recovery again, or what I thought recovery: by and bye the '73 almost total collapse. Up to this fifty-third year I had lived immune. I feel even now that the long-arriving effects of my last June trouble are not clearly defined. I have no confidence in a rally. The time is past for that. The only question is, when will come the final effect?"

     He alluded to friends "who come pleased and go angry" for his not seeing them. "I think this has particularly happened to the South Jersey folks: they return home hurt—only half-believing." Some get mad when I advise them not to come. He said:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 560] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"I know of no better thing to say than this—that the doctor vehemently, positively, prohibits—won't hear to my having—visitors: and as far as we can we must observe this advice." I said I thought Morris was a little hurt at not being received on a recent call. W. said: "I am sorry. He had something to tell me—somebody's opinions or what not—opinions of my pieces? hadn't he? You know—probably he will know—that I care nothing about such stuff—would not even under other circumstances encourage anybody to come as the bearer of such news. Yet if I was well I would invite Morris to come—to come often: he is clever, bright, active, quick, interested in all things—and most kindly, besides. When you see him again give him my love—tell him this for me."

     W. was very earnest as he said: "By the way Horace, I have been reading the book you left last night—the George Eliot book. It is wonderfully interesting—I have read two or three of the pieces—read them almost verbatim: the Heine, the piece on Young. There were things revealed to me which I never realized in George Eliot before—for one thing a subtlety of surpassing greatness. It was with a good deal of pleasure that I read the piece on Young. Young deserved it all. I never knew George Eliot could let herself out so: it was something to learn that if there was nothing else to be gained by it: yet there was more—oh so much more. She is profound, masterful: her analysis is perfect: she chases her game without tremor to the very limit of its endurance. It is all a wonderful specimen of dialectics—excites my most thoroughgoing admiration. Her paper on Heine has likewise thrown out hints of things or things not known to me before."

     W. remarked that he "often cudgelled with" himself to know "if the final summing up—the last conclusive message—has yet been delivered with respect to Heine." He found his own admiration of Heine "a constantly growing one": "I look on him as a genuinely great soul—not yet justly measured: hot, turbulent, but gifted highly—perhaps as highly as any modern man." He respected Heine as "combining in himself the distinguishing elements

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 561] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
both of Burns and Byron—and then powers clearly superadded. Both those influences seem to stream into Heine: yet he was great in learning, culture: knowing in all things—literature, science: was Hellenist—full of fact, circumstance: as packed with it as Goethe, Carlyle. Yet Heine was always warm, pulsing—his style pure, lofty, sweeping, in its wild strength. Heine knew more than Burns. It becomes a familiar reproach to speak of Heine's 'mockery.' It does not disturb me: I never find myself shocked, repelled, by it. They call it 'mockery': I think there should be another word for it—that there is, though I can't recall it now: for Heine deserves a better word. They may call it a trick with Heine: a trick: but whatever it be called it is very effective. It seems to belong honestly to Heine—is quite in its place in him: is not an importation. I remember one of his stories—it is in point (maybe I am not any too clear about its details any more): its purport, spirit, is sharp, strong, as a knife-cut—a master-stroke of incisive symbolism. It is all in a picture: it is a quiet night: I am alone: overhead are the stars: afar off I can see the moon-lit horizon—a fort, strange dark shrubberies between: along the parapet of the fort the dim figure of a sentry on duty: oh that the sentry would shoot me!"

     It was wonderful, the simple sweet feeling W. put into the recital—his voice deep, his finger pointing into space, his eye animated. He asked me: "Do you remember it" Then: "At any rate it illustrates Heine—the 'mockery' as they call it." He went on to explain: "I knew in my early days in New York a couple of young fellows, writers, who practiced the same art. No doubt it was upon a suggestion from Heine: two or three verses pathetic, serious—then the break-off: 'oh that the sentry would shoot me!' I did not know at the time that the idea was borrowed. When I did come to know it took from their work the value I might have—had in fact—attached to it. I then realized in them the weakness that always inheres to what is not first, initial, original. What you said yesterday about Heine's culture was very cute, Horace: if it don't hit the nail on the head it at least shows where the head can be found. I find

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 562] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
in Heine a superb fusion of culture and native elemental genius. I consider it the bane of the universities, colleges, that they withhold, withdraw, men from direct, drastic contact with life. The best gift to our age so far is what we have come to know as the scientific spirit: it is just in this thing that the universities must fill out if they are to be centers of rising influence. Whether it all came from Bacon—from the work attributed to Bacon—as some are disposed to claim, or whether it is the result of painful slow evolution, of long accumulation, I don't know—I am not knowing enough to settle: but that it is here, that we have got a hold on it, that I know full well. It is the crowning glory of our time that this new evangel has appeared. There is no salvation if not in that: it is an appeal to nature, an appeal to final meanings—to facts, to the sun itself: it is an absolute surrender to the truth: it never asks us: Do you want this thing to be true? or, Is it ugly, hateful? but, Is it true, and if it is true that settles it. That's all there is to it—that's all there needs to be to it: that's enough. Here science and literature are one, as they everywhere and always should be one in fact, and it is here, in such a noble equipment, that Heine lustrously shines. Brilliants, gems, crystallizations, in the requisites of a writer—bright epigrams, splendid learning, eloquent roundings-off of phrase—all these, I can see, have an importance, too, though second-rate, third-rate, at the best. But in all imaginative work, all pure poetic work, there must especially come in a primal quality, not be mentioned, named, described, but always felt when present: the direct off-throwing of nature, parting the ways between formal, conventional, borrowed expression and the fervor of genuine spirit. Heine had it—so do all the big fellows have it. More than any other agent, science has been furthering it."
Was it not also in Leaves of Grass? W. exclaimed fervidly: "Oh! I hope so, I believe so: it has been in the air: I have sucked it in as the breath of life: unconsciously, not by determination, but with full recognition now of its great value, of its wonderful significance. Yes, Leaves of Grass would lose much if it lost that.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 563] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
that is the ground underlying all: the fact, the fact: that alone: the fact devotedly espoused, sacred, uplifting! The whole mass of people are being leavened by this spirit of scientific worship—this noblest of religions coming after all the religions that came before. After culture has said its last say we find that the best things yet remain to be said: that the heart is still listening to have heart things said to it—the brain still listening to have brain things said to it—the faith, the spirit, the soul of man waiting to have such things of faith, spirit, the soul, said to it. Books won't say what we must have said: try all that books may they can't say it. The utmost pride goes with the utmost resignation: science says to us—be ready to say yes whatever happens, whatever don't happen: yes, yes, yes. That's where science becomes religion—where the new spirit utters the highest truth—makes the last demonstration of faith: looks the universe full in the face—its bad in the face, its good—and says yes to it."

     I gazed at W. His face shone—he regarded me with great love. I kissed him good night and withdrew. "Good-night!" he called after me: "Good-night! Good-night!"


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.