Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, August 1, 1888.

      W. lay on the bed, this evening throughout our talk but seemed at ease and was communicative and rather more cheerful than yesterday and day before. The staple of our talk was the book, but he wandered off from time to time into general matters, and I did not try to stop him. My method all along has been to not trespass and not to ply him too closely with questions necessary or unnecessary. When a lull occurs I sometimes get him going again by making a remark that is not a question. Other times we sit together for long seances of silence, neither saying anything. One evening during which we had not done much more than sit together, he on his chair, I on his bed, he said: "We have had a beautiful talk—a beautiful talk." I called it "a Quaker talk." He smiled quietly: "That will describe it! But oh! how precious!" Spoke of his 1881 trip to Boston: "I was there four or five weeks—went about in leisurely fashion—seeing what was to be seen—people, places—doing my work and having my jaunts together. I could get about then, a few blocks, anyway, which is more than I can do now. The Leaves if Grass we made then was very vigilantly proof-read—I gave it more than my usual attention: examined it, word for word, with the copy in my hand, which is an unusual caution for me."

     Replying to a question: "I am curious to know the result of the Burroughs-Kennedy camping out venture—what will come if it, especially for Kennedy. There is a good deal in what Rhys told us here about Kennedy's irritability: Kennedy has nerves (damn nerves!): I do not know how his nerves would succeed with Burroughs, who is such a different sort of person—who is so calm, so poised, so much at home with himself, so much a familiar spirit of the forests." "How would you feel about it if I was to go in Kennedy's place?" "Oh, perfectly safe: I would not feel in the least uncertain about you." W. said further: "I see John—Burroughs—breaks out again in the August Century: but he is not at his best there, nor has he been recently. Some subtle change seems to have come over John—he manifests less of his

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old buoyancy, joyousness."
"Do you mean a permanent change—or a mood?" "A mood, rather—a difference of mood, perhaps. John has a reputation to keep up and sometimes a hundred dollars to earn (I don't mean that in any evil sense)—therefore, he cannot always be at his best. He keeps on writing, mostly for the periodicals, his books bringing him in so little of themselves. I can see where John's charm should be for a young fellow of your years and tastes: he is a big man just calculated to do a peculiar work. He is a child of the woods, fields, hills—native to them in a rare sense (in a sense almost of miracle). My own favorite loafing places have always been the rivers, the wharves, the boats—I like sailors, stevedores. I have never lived away from a big river."

     Took up Brinton's suggestion that W.'s philosophy "lacks in definiteness." "Well, it is true, I guess—indeed, true without the shadow of a doubt: the more I turn it over the more convinced am I. Of all things, I imagine I am most lacking in what is called definiteness, in so far as that applies to special theories of life and death. As I grow older I am more firmly than ever fixed in my belief that all things tend to good, that no bad is forever bad, that the universe has its own ends to subserve and will subserve them well. Beyond that, when it comes to launching out into mathematics—tying philosophy to the multiplication table—I am lost—lost utterly. Let them all whack away—I am satisfied: if they can explain, let them explain: if they can explain they can do more than I can do. I am not Anarchist, not Methodist, not anything you can name. Yet I see why all the ists and isms and haters and dogmatists exist—can see why they must exist and why I must include all."

      Referring to the Encheiridion sent W. by Rolleston: "Epictetus is the one of all my old cronies who has lasted to this day without cutting a diminished figure in my perspective. He belongs with the best—the best of great teachers—is a universe in himself. He sets me free in a flood of light—of life, of vista. Even the preface of that little book is good—Rolleston's little book." Was Epictetus a youthful favorite? "Yes, quite so—

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I think even at sixteen. I do not remember when I first read the book. It was far, far back. I first discovered my book-self in the second hand book stores of Brooklyn and New York: I was familiar with them all—searched them through and through. One day or other I found an Epictetus—I know it was at that period: found an Epictetus. It was like being born again." His Epictetus has been all underscored with purple pencillings. He has inscribed it: "Walt Whitman (sent me by my friend the translator T. W. H. Rolleston, from Dresden Saxony,) 1881." There is another memorandum below: "March 1886—T. W. R. is now in Ireland (Delgany, County Wicklow)—and edits the Dublin University Review."

      Spoke of Moncure Conway: "He is very brilliant, and, I think, if not favorable, at least not averse, to me. I have met him, know him: at one time I wondered whether he really knew me at all—knew Leaves of Grass—what I stood for, what I stood against, if I may say it in that partial way. But however that was settled, he has been kind to me. Conway's fault is that he lacks the scientific spirit—has had a glimpse of it, now and then makes use of it, but lacks it as a characteristic. He is the advocate, the debater—more anxious to have his case or his man proved true than to be true. There is in him a strong vein of the sensational—he likes to take odd views because they are odd." "How do you know his motive in taking odd views?" "That's so—how do I know? I don't know—I only feel—it. You mustn't think I object to odd views when they come natural to a man—are part of a man. I only object to them when they are put on for effect. As I said, Moncure is brilliant—he shines—he is used to having his eminent lustre admired."

      W. jokingly remarked: "I was quite a hero today—I took a bath—I washed myself all over with my own hands: now what have you got to say?" Finally had a little talk with W. about the Redpath letters which he gave me last Sunday. He said of them: "They are a choice bit of our history." Then he had me take them up, the first date first and so on, and read them all to him. "I seem to get a mighty sight better idea of some things

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when I let you be my better eyes to read for me while I concentrate on what is being said." The correspondence follows.


Willard's Hotel,
Washington, June 30, '85.

Dear Walt Whitman:

I intended to call over and see you yesterday when I was in Philadelphia, but I was unexpectedly detained by one man and forced to go to Washington so as to reach here last night.

I will call on you on my way back to New York.

But I write now to tell you why, because my visit will be on business.

I believe you have never met Mr. Rice, proprietor of the North American Review, altho' nominally he may have corresponded with you—that is, his office editor may have written to you in his name, as he always does, even when Mr. Rice is in Europe. It is at Mr. Rice's instance that I will call on you.

He has conceived the plan of procuring a collection of papers that, united in one volume, will be a permanent memorial of Lincoln. He has set about to secure the reminiscences of all eminent Americans who came into personal relations with him—each man to tell his story, whether it shall be short or long.

That's what he calls his Lincoln Series. Some of these papers he may publish in the North American Review, and others in the North American Review Syndicate: a group of influential papers which he supplies and that publish simultaneously articles from famous men whom ordinarily newspapers cannot reach—nor afford to pay separately even if they did reach them. All the articles that you see marked "Copyright" in the New York Tribune or Philadelphia Times (Sunday editions) are supplied by Mr. Rice.

Next: he intends to secure a series of papers giving the civil history of the Civil War—legislation, &c.

He wants me to see you and ask you to write a paper on your experiences of the Civil War—the hospital life, and other phases that you witnessed and have not yet described.


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Could you write an article giving your recollections of Lincoln and also your memories of the War? Short or long it will be gladly accepted and liberally paid for. He will take it, whether it is a page or a hundred pages.

I shall be here a week. I suppose I shall have no difficulty in finding the good grey poet in Camden.

Ever truly yours,

James Redpath.


      The second letter was endorsed in this way by W.: "from James Redpath abt articles on Lincoln and on War incidents—both articles sent accepted and paid for." The letter above was all written in Redpath's own hand. The two letters that follow were dictated to a stenographer and signed by Redpath.


North American Review,
New York, July 16, 1885.

Dear Walt Whitman:

I got your letter when I was in Washington and fully expected to stay over and see you on my return, but I was kept so much longer than I thought I would be kept and so much more work was thrown on me that I was compelled to hurry back to New York by night. It is possible that I may be in Philadelphia this week—indeed it is probable—and in that case I shall certainly cross the ferry; but in the meantime why should you be idle? I shall not presume to give you any hints as to how to write; I think you know what I want:

1st, Lincoln: Mr. Rice has got the ambition of editing a work that can never be superseded. He proposes to get every man of note now living who ever met Lincoln to write down in plain words and as accurately as the human memory will record, just what Lincoln did; just how Lincoln looked; just what impression Lincoln made on him. However, he does not want the last clause (that is to say, the impression) recorded by anybody but only by men whose names will go down into history. Like Gradgrind, "what he wants is facts." You, of course, are among the favored few whose impressions will be acceptable;

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so you see, if you will write down an account of every interview you ever had with Lincoln, that will complete what I ask of you in his name on that subject.


2nd, Memories of the War. He would like from you an account of some phase of the Civil War which you witnessed. But I will see you before you have time, probably, to write the second article, and, possibly, I may be able to suggest the best topic from his point of view to begin with.

Now, my dear Walt Whitman, won't you go to work at once because Rice is chained lightning in a dress suit and damned impatient.

Yours Ever,

James Redpath.



North American Review.
New York, August 11, 1885.

Dear Walt Whitman:

I wrote you several days ago asking you to tell me whether one hundred dollars was your lowest price. I think I said also that if you charged lower than that price I could sell a great many more articles for you than I could at these rates. I enclose a check for sixty dollars, which is payment for the article according to your own estimate of three thousand words, at the rate of twenty dollars a thousand, which is the very highest rate they pay. I had to decide within ten minutes whether I would accept it or not, as Mr. Ferris, who is in charge of the syndicate, was just about to start for Mount McGregor. I told him, however, that if you refused to sell the article for less I should consider myself responsible for the balance and expect payment for it either from him or from Mr. Rice.

So my dear old friend I have protected your interests to the best of my judgment and if you want me to follow orders and break owners in the future let me know and I shall do it. The great problem that the universe is asking you this moment is whether I am to regard this check as payment in full or payment on account. I would also like you to answer my letters. I

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have no interest whatever in the syndicate to which I sold the manuscript.


Ever yours truly,

James Redpath.


      This was W.'s reply and receipt sent in answer to the last letter:


sent James Redpath
August 12, 1885.

All right my dear J. R.—$60 for the Booth article will do, in full—(I reserve the right of printing it in future collections of my writings—this is indispensable) I have been and am lingering under the miserable inertia following my sunstroke—otherwise should have sent you one or two articles—have them on the stocks—Am very slowly gaining the tally of my previous strength—had none to spare before.

Thank you, dear friend, for your services and affectionate good will.



Aug: '85

Received from Allen Thorndike Rice—by Mr. Ferris attorney and through James Redpath—Sixty Dollars for article Booth and the Old Bowery—of which article I reserve the right to include and print in future collections of my writings.


      I read all the letters aloud to W., who interrupted me now and then to say, "let me hear that sentence once more," or to say, "yes, yes," or, "I was not sure but I yielded," winding up with this remark: "There you have the psychology of some of my pieces and the psychology of dear Jim Redpath, who was a friend among friends. Redpath said to me once when he was here: 'Walt if you have any money scrapes I want to help you out of 'em.' This he did—did it again and again. Redpath was one of your radical crowd—he was way out and beyond in all his ideas—stalwart, searching—a sort of pioneer, going on and on, always in the advance. Some men stay in the rear with

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the beef and beans but that was not Redpath's style. Didn't you tell me that Redpath and Ingersoll were great friends? I shouldn't wonder—they have much in common."
I said to W.: "You said, 'your crowd.' Why didn't you say 'our crowd.' Don't you belong with us?" He laughed gently: " Yes, yes I do—but not in whole and part. Sometimes I think some of you fellows have outstripped even me—have gone on even beyond me flaunting your red flag of revolt." "Do you mean that for a rebuke or a blessing?" He replied without hesitation: "For a blessing to be sure: God bless the red flag of revolt!"


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