Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, August 2, 1888.

      W. stayed on his bed this evening as we talked. Was free enough, and easy, but weak. "I have had one of the feeblest days of all—one of the very feeblest." Added: "But I do not growl—it might be worse: as long as better is not worse I can enjoy better even if it is not best." Has done little work. "Here are the proofs—but, Horace, do not rely upon my readings. Take the proofs along—scan them for yourself." Still refers every now and then to Eddy. "Poor Eddy! I wonder how he is getting on today?" Returned him Henley's poems. Told him I had read the book through. He exclaimed: "All through? Why, I had no idea anybody was capable of that. I read only the fore part of it—the hospital pieces—was peculiarly, intensely, interested in that—but as for the rest—" After a pause: "It struck me as extremely deliberate verse—verse written of malice prepense—all laid out, designed, on mathematical principles. Did you get that impression of it? Or did it carry you right along as if you could not help it?" Referring to Agnes Repplier: "She is a woman who tries for smartness at all hazards—that is her caliber, the most or the whole of it: and that is what they are all doing, all society, all professionalism, in books, poems, sermons—a strain to make an impression—everything loved that will dazzle the beholder, everything hated that will not." Why had he left his name off the title page of McKay's Leaves? "It was deliberate—not an accident. It would be sacrilege to

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put a name there—it would seem just like putting a name on the universe. It would be ridiculous to think of Leaves of Grass belonging to any one person: at the most I am only a mouthpiece. My name occurs inside the book—that is enough if not more than enough. I like the feeling of a general partnership—as if the Leaves was anybody's who chooses just as truly as mine." He said this: "I don't care which sea the ship comes on so it finally gets home—I don't care who brings the wheat or by what route it is brought so the wheat is good to the man who brings and the man who receives it."

      Speaking of his War pieces he said himself: "Their merit is not chiefly literary—if they have merit—it is chiefly human—it is a presence—statement reduced to its last simplicity—sometimes a mere recital of names, dates, incidents—no dress put on anywhere to complicate or beautify it. And by the way, talking of the War—have you seen what Conway has to say about that? It is Conway's opinion that the Rebellion was in great part a war that could have been avoided—a war of the politicians. I want Conway to say it all, of course—preach, write, argue, for his point of view—put in his negative in any form he chooses—but still I am forced to dissent. The War was the boil—that was all: not the root. The War was not the cause of the War: the cause lay deeper—could not have been shifted from its purposes. There are cute historical writers—very cute ones, the best of the whole group—who trace events in modern history back to the Crusades—establish a definite and conclusive connection. So it must be with our Rebellion: to try to consider it without considering what preceded it is only to dally with the truth. There is one thing I shall always regret for myself—always reproach myself for having neglected. I had some brief experience in the South—an intimate experience while it lasted—was convinced that the 'poor white' there, so-called, had never had justice done him in our histories, newspapers, official documents—in our war-talk and after war-talk. Everybody everywhere seems to be interested in crushing him down and keeping him crushed down. If I could I would even

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undertake the job yet—even yet make some record on its side to show how I hate the tyranny that has oppressed it—pay some tribute to a class so thoroughly, so universally, misunderstood. The horrible patois attributed to the 'poor white' there in the South (and not to them only—to Western and Northern classes also) I never found—never encountered. I discovered courtesy, chivalry, generosity, and by no means such external ugliness as is usually charged to them. In fact, all my experiences South—all my experiences in the hospitals, among the soldiers in the crowds of the cities, with the masses, in the great centers of population—allowing for all idiosyncrasies, idiocrasies, passions, what-not, the very worst—have only served to confirm my faith in man—in the average of men. Take the hospital drill I went through—take the mixtures of men there, men often supposed to be of contrary types—how impressive was the fact of their likeness, their uniformity of essential nature—the same basic traits in them all—in the Northern man, in the Southern man, in the Western man—all of one instinct, one color—addicted to the same vices, ennobled by the same virtues: the dignity, courtesy, open-handedness, radical in all, beautiful in all. When I first went to Washington I had a great dislike for the typical Yankee—had always had it, years back from the start—but in my very first contact with the human Yankee all my prejudices were put to flight."

      W. said: "In talking with you the other day about great editors I forgot to speak of one man who is maybe the greatest of all—and who is besides my dear friend. I mean Dana—Charles Dana. Dana's Sun has always stuck to it that Walt Whitman is some punkins no matter what the scorners said. Bryant once said to me that he supposed that Dana on the whole was the imperial master of the craft. I don't like to take sides with any greatest man of all—I don't say Dana is greatest of all—but I put in my vote for him as a tremendous force. Dana has a hissing, hating, side, that I don't like at all—it goes against my grain—but it is not the chief thing in the man, and when his total is made up cuts only a small figure." W. reached his hand under

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the pillow and drew out a letter which he handed to me. "Take it over to the light—turn the light up—read it to me." I looked at the signature—Dowden's. Then read.


Montenotte, Cork,
Sept. 3, 1872.

My dear Mr. Whitman,

I can hardly understand how I have left your most welcome letter so long unanswered. In Paris two months ago I saw one morning in a newspaper that "the American Poet Walt Whitman would shortly visit England," and there and then I sat down and wrote part of a letter to you but the weariness of illness (I was ailing a good deal) caused it to remain unended and unsent. Now I have just heard from Mr. Burroughs that there is, or may be, a fair chance of your coming to us, and of your giving readings from your poems. As far as my own opinion goes, I would say that there is a certainty of success, a sufficient success at the least, and perhaps a complete one, in Dublin. Do come. You do not know how welcome you would be to many of us. [ "God bless 'em" exclaimed W. as I read]. I need not say that if you would come to our house in Dublin, my wife and I would be made abundantly happy, and would remember 1872 as a year good to think of.

There are several things for which I owe thanks—two copies of Democratic Vistas and newspapers from time to time. Each I assure you has been valued, (though my thanks are tardy); and your letter has been read or heard of by those who would care for its contents.

Mr. Burroughs tells me that you have been not as well as heretofore since the great summer heat. I trust that it is only a slight and temporary yielding of your health. You will be best able to feel yourself whether a run across the Atlantic, and the absorbing of new life and scenery in England and Ireland, would not be just the tonic you require. We at all events are interested in believing this, and think that you are just the communicator of vitality and joy that we require. I mean by this, besides its more direct personal meaning, that such influences

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as yours are precisely what our poetry in its latest development needs to make it sane and masculine. And I have not a doubt that your personal presence in England would do much towards bringing the time when the recognition of your power and soundness in art and literature must become general.


I have written to Mr. Burroughs anything about myself that I thought would interest him, and I will not write the same again to you. Also I have sent him two or three things I have written, and if he thinks you would care to see them he will give them to you.

I will write to you again before long. I hope you will continue to let me see or hear of such things of yours as otherwise I might miss. The Mystic Trumpeter I was very glad to have seen. But chiefly I hope to hear that you are coming, and coming to us.

My address is as before, 50, Wellington Road, Dublin.

This has been a year of comparative loss to me as regards physical health, but I am well again now; and in other respects it has been a year of gain and progress. But I don't in the least find that, with progress, I slip aside or away from your poems.

I am dear Mr. Whitman
Very sincerely yours,


Edward Dowden.


      "One of the interesting things about Dowden," said W., "is his simple acceptance of my work. He don't say maybe I ought to maybe I ought not—he is not forever weighing pros against cons—he takes me for granted and then stops. Even some of the men on this side who call themselves my friends seem to be looking about all the time to see whether their endorsement may not be a mistake. Dowden never made any fuss, never got excited about it, was just affirmative, just nodded yes and let it go at that. I don't mind the simple, straight-out negative—indeed, I like it: I don't mind the fellows who say without a tremor: 'Here, damn you, Walt Whitman, what do you mean by all this nonsense. To hell with you, Walt Whitman: to hell with you! to hell with you! That don't sound bad—on the contrary it

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sounds very good—it is tonic. But when a fellow comes along, convinced and not convinced, hungry for your society and afraid of your society, blowing hot and cold, with praise on his lips that had better be blame, you are at your wit's end to know how to meet him. As I say, Dowden didn't come along with a brass band—a flourish of flags. No, not that way: he just came along simply by himself, said how d'ye do, and stayed without a question. That's better than having an army on your side."

      As I was going W. said: "I'm nursing up a surprise for you." "Good or bad?" "We shall see—we shall see! In the meantime, brace up—it may break on you any day now." He reached under his pillow again and handed me a paper. "What's that?" he asked—"look at it—tell me." It was too dark where he was. Taking it to the light I answered: "It's your rough draft of a letter to Schmidt." "That's right—that's what I meant it to be: take it along with you. I was tearing up some useless odds and ends today—saved this out of the mess for you. I like you to know just how our crowd got along with each other—what we were saying to each other in those old days of battle. You had not then flashed on the scene—you were a youngster then—but you ought to be informed of all the whys and wherefores so that by and by when the right word needs to be said about us you will be in a position to say it." Put the Schmidt note in my pocket. W. said: "Come, kiss me for good night." He was still lying down. I reached over him and we kissed. He took my hand—pressed it fervently. "I am in luck. Are you? I guess God just sent us for each other."


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