Commentary

Disciples


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Monday July 16, 1888.

     W.'s worst day for a week. Digestion poor and pulse low. Depressed. Change of nurses has something to do with this. Musgrove is a cloudy man. I asked how M. got on. W. evaded the question by some general remark. Baker came in and afterwards had dinner with me. When W. was offered medicine by Musgrove he asked what it was for &c. M. said he did not know. He is only a nurse—not a doctor. W. motioned the medicine away. Baker had always met such questions with answers. Have now reached the end of the reprint for the book. Hicks next in order, though not ready. "I take it up daily but no day so far have been able to stick to it. I want to get it into general view again—then give it final form. Give me a day or two more: I will do my best to be good. Considering the terrible fuss, hubbub, talk, I have made about this piece it would

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be pretty to have it go out too full of sins. A few sins won't hurt but we must not overload it with our imperfections. Horace, I feel that I am living for but one thing now—for one thing only: to finish this book—to make it what it should be—the little book: not to let it discredit us. Rather than have the Hicks too damned bad I'll close with the printers where I am and burn this up. I find it sadly out of joint—good enough, what there is of it, but crying for this or that right along—everywhere: something to weld the pieces into a total. Talk to the printers tomorrow. You know what to say. Tell them I am sick—oh! very sick—and sore: tell them I feel as if the whole ground had been swept from under my feet—as if I stood on nothing."
Later he said of his eyes: "I seem to be approaching a semi-blindness. I experience whole hours every day during which I can scarcely see anything: then I am fully recovered again."

     W. has received a copy of To-day (London) containing a paper by Reginald A. Beckett: Walt Whitman as a Socialist Poet. Says: "Yes, I read every word of it—not, however, because of its literary quality (though that is respectable enough) but just to see how I look to one who sees all things form the standpoint of the socialist. Of course I find I'm a good deal more of a socialist than I thought I was: maybe not technically, politically, so, but intrinsically, in my meanings." I asked W.: "Are you the last of your race?" "Neither the last nor the first" "Will there be more poets or less?" "More—more: and greater poets than have ever been." "What kind? Your kind?" "I don't know about that: some free kind, sure: they are bound to come—to come soon." After a silent minute or two: "I think I'll get there. The stylists object to me—but they lack just what Matthew Arnold lacks. They talk about form, rule, canons, and all the time forget the real point, which is the substance of poetry. I do not look for a vast audience—for great numbers of endorsers, absorbers—just now—perhaps not even after awhile. But here and there, every now and then, one, several, will raise the standard. Leaves of Grass will

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finally make its way. The book is like the flukes of a whale—if not graceful at least effective: never super-refined or ashamed of the animal energy that imparts power to expression."

     Kennedy returned me Harrison Morris' American piece with comments. I read them to W., who said: "They are bright—they have quite a sparkle. Take them over—show them to Morris." I seemed to hesitate. W. added: "Do so—do so: Morris will be glad to see them—they will do him good: he'll know how to take them. Then we must reflect that Kennedy may be wrong and Morris may be right. We must face all the objections—they require to be said. Even the other Morris—Charles—who damns me without reading me, we must not prohibit: let him come in—cheer his oration. What I object to are the sneakers—the men who hit from the rear. Criticism is a matter of course—often the best food: the right negative word spoken at the right time saves many a soul. Criticism is a necessary test—the passage of fire: we have got to meet it—there is no escape. I do say with regard to myself that I must be judged elementally—that the Arnolds, the disciples of books as books, the second and third hand men, the scholars pure and simple, the lovers of art for art's sake, cannot understand me—cannot take me in—I elude their circumscriptions. Even Goethe, in loving beauty, art, literature, for their own inherent significance, is not as close to nature as I conceive he should be. I say this with all due respect for Dr. Bucke, who reads Goethe in the German and declares to me that I have but very little conception of Goethe's real place in the spiritual history of the race. Well, maybe I have. I care less and less for books as books—more and more for people as people. When I go to my tailor I lay down a law to him: that among the prime requisites of a suit of clothes are pockets, buttons, thread—but the tailor always wants to make me up his own way anyhow. The objections to me are the objections made to all men who choose to go their own road—make their own choice of methods. I ought to be very readily understood by young men and women, but"—Here he stopped. I put in nothing. He resumed: "A few take

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it in—just a few—but to most of them I still seem ridiculous—perhaps even vicious."

     W. put Morris's address into his note book. Did he keep a diary? "No—not that—nothing as formidable as that: just a book for memoranda—statistics—memory things, so to speak: naked figures—the briefest entries." He always keeps the book about. Another book near by is very old—crammed with written notes, scraps of print-stuff, and so forth. Harned said to him today about it: "I'll bet that's a gold mine, Walt." W. responded: "You might look at it that way: the roots of Leaves of Grass are in that book."

     I read him letters received today from Kennedy and Morse, he, as usual, being much interested. He for his part produced an old letter, of which he said: "This is already a letter of long ago: this was Bucke's first appearance on the scene. You will notice, he comes in quite frankly, quite frankly, without flattering adjectives, yet also without impudence. To Bucke, to me, this document is historic. Read it aloud to me: I would like to hear it again before you take it away." I read:


Sarnia, December 19, 1870.

Walt Whitman,

Dear Sir;

Will you please send to the enclosed address, two copies of Leaves of Grass, one copy of Passage to India and one copy of Democratic Vistas. Enclosed you will find $7.25—$6.75 for the books and fifty cents for postage. I do not know exactly what this last item will be but I fancy fifty cents will be enough to pay for it. I am an old reader of your works, and a very great admirer of them. About two years ago I borrowed a copy of the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass and I have a great ambition to own a copy of this edition myself; would it be possible to get one? Before getting that the only thing I had ever seen of yours was Rossetti's selection. Lately I have got a copy of the 1867 edition of Leaves of Grass, and I have compared the Walt Whitman in that with the same poem in the 1855 edition, and I must say that I like the earlier edition best. I have an idea

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that I shall be in Washington in the course of 1871; if I am it would give me much pleasure to see you, if you would not object. I am afraid, however, that, like other celebrities, you have more people call upon you than you care about seeing; in that case I should not wish to annoy you. At all events believe me


Faithfully Yours,

R. M. Bucke.


     When I was through W. said: "Try to think what that innocent letter has led on to—what it was finally to mean to Maurice, what it has long meant, means today, to me—and to you, too, Horace, God help you: for we are all aboard the same ship—be it frail or strong, aboard the same ship." As I was about to leave W. said: "I also laid out a little Whittier letter for you but it seems to have got astray among the papers again. I guess it will last, I guess you will last, till to-morrow." He smiled on me. "I am always poking fun at your appetite, Horace, but, after all, I respect it." I asked W.: "Does Whittier commit himself to Leaves of Grass in that letter?" "Good heavens no! He has too much respect for himself, for his puritan conscience, to take such a leap." W. was playful. Then he concluded seriously: "But Whittier has a right to his conscience—God bless 'im!—and the letter—well, the letter was written in good faith—touched me."


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