Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, August 7, 1888.

      Harned come in to see me after dinner and we went down to W.'s together at 8. W. a trifle easier than yesterday but still, as he says, "silly weak." Then he said: "Mary Davis and I agree in one thing—that, all the drawbacks considered, I am getting along well—as well as could be expected—yes, even improving, I may say. Yet, such are the drains of the heat on my small treasure of strength, that the vim I had (Lord knows it was little enough!) threatens to go—to go completely—so that if this weather continues I guess I won't." "I have been reading for a couple of hours this afternoon Gabriel Harrison's Life of John Howard Paine. I have had the book a couple of years (Gabriel sent it to me himself: he is my personal friend) but have never until now taken it up in a right mood of appreciation. It appeals to me greatly—even the sadness of it, the pathos of it, which element is very considerably interwoven with its texture."

      W.'s Sheridan not in The Herald today. His first question was about it. "Well, well, it's all right if it appears to-morrow, all right if it does not appear at all." Harned asked: "What have you been doing to The Herald?" W. replied: "Now I can

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tell you nothing about that: I doubt if I would recognize it myself if I saw it again. It was eked out the last thing, in the last ten minutes, before darkness set in: without weighing, testing, changing it, I mailed it off, to let what would come come."
This led him to speak about Sheridan: "He was in essentials a genius: he had almost phenomenal directness, and genius is almost a hundred per cent directness—nothing more. He was characterized by a rough candor which always meant what it appeared to mean. Of all the major men developed by the War he was closest to the top. The War brought out a lot of ability of its own kind. There was Hancock: Hancock was not as distinctly individual as Sheridan but was nevertheless a splendid soldier—a soldier born, rarely bettered upon. Grant, I suppose, take him for all and all, was our most comprehensive man—took in most, was composed and potent. Grant was just spared being too considerate: McClellan was not—was therefore a failure."

     Reference being made to Ireland W. remarked: "A search for the cause of the misery of Ireland would be like a search for the cause of the weather: a history of the one would be a history of the other." "Well, but you must see that there are economic and political ingredients to the problem." "No doubt—but what are they? Do you know?" I looked at him without answering: "I have no doubt you radicals have a theory about it that would settle the whole trouble by daybreak." "You talk like an Irish landlord, Walt." "Well, I don't feel like one—I feel more like an Irish pauper. And as for all that I may say, that though I haven't any theory in the matter you can't hit a landlord too often, Irish or American, and if you hit and don't hear my amen that's because I didn't see what you were about." Harned raised his hand in mock horror: "Walt, you are a bloody Fenian!" W. seriously: "There were the Fenians, yes: God knows they didn't come too soon or without a reason."

      W. does not acquiesce in the recent revival of Bewick and William Blake. "It is as if a fellow started out of a morning and said to himself: 'I've lots of money but I don't like the railroad

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and so I will betake myself to a coach or go afoot'—though the distance be a thousand miles. Our friend Blake in Chicago—the Unitarian preacher there—objects to the present current style of writing, that it has ceased to be archaic or classic and has become journalistic. I do not think we will ever go back to Chaucer or Shakespeare—nor back to Dryden or that ilk—nor back at all."
Harned suggested sending up a stenographer to help W. through with some of his work. W. replied: "It's decent of you, Tom, to propose that, but it would not do—I could not make it work: your dog here is too old to learn any new tricks: to stop at the door of the tomb and study a new a b c." W. replied to Harned anent November Boughs: "I must see to it, rather that I am suited than that the public suited. I don't know if a fellow ought to say it, but if it might be allowed I would say: so I please myself I don't care a damn what the public thinks of me." Spielman writes:


London, July 24, 1888.

Walt Whitman, Esq.,

Dear Sir, After some months' delay I publish in this month's Magazine of Art (which will be next month's in America) your poem of "twenty years;" and I should be glad to hear from you if you think the drawing in any way adequately expresses your feelings.

In the hope that your health has improved, I remain,

Faithfully yours,

M. H. Spielman.


      W. said: "I hope he will have the good grace to send me a copy or two when it appears." I told him I took the Magazine. "Ah well—that will do: keep a sharp look-out for the poem." Gave him messages from Kennedy and Burroughs. No letter from Bucke. Put the photo for the frontispiece in my hands: "I leave it all to you fellows to do right with: if you do wrong, God help you! Though slow I am fierce in anger." Brown sent thanks back for the book. W. said: "Isn't it in Shakespeare,

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in one of the comedies, where some one speaks of 'poor things, poor things! but mine own, mine own'?"
Harned left. I picked a bit of W's manuscript off the floor and reading it laughed. "Now what's up?" asked W. "Nothing much. This is a place where you have put yourself under a magnifier." "Let me see—let me see. No it's dark over here—read it to me." He had got back on the bed. I read.

"It is not when matched with other verse and tested by the ordinary intellectual or esthetic lineaments they compare favorably with that verse; probably by those tests indeed they do not equal the best poems. But the impalpable atmosphere which every page of Leaves of Grass has sprung from, and which it exhales forever, makes a spell, a fascination, to one capable of appreciating it, that certainly belongs to no other poet, no other poem, ever yet known."

      W. laughed heartily about this: "That's where I lift myself by my suspenders and put myself on a pedestal of my own make." I waited to see if he would say more, which he did, this time in an entirely serious vein: "It is a kind of self analysis which may amount to much or little according to whose perspective it gets into. You know I have said from the first that Leaves of Grass was not to achieve a negative recognition—was bound to be either a howling success or a stupendous failure. When I wrote that paragraph I must have felt prosperous." Gravely humorous. I left soon after. Found a little picture of Emerson on the floor. Recognized it as a waif from Morse's collection worked with when he was here. Smeared with clay. W. said I "might as well have it as consign it again to the floor, where it seems destined to remain," explaining: "I picked it up a dozen times and put it on the table here but it always seems to get back to the floor. It is a noble little bit of portraiture—shows Emerson at his best: radiant, clean, with that far-in-the-future look which seemed to posses him in the best hours. Emerson's face always seemed to me so clean—as if God had just washed

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it off. When you looked at Emerson it never occurred to you that there could be any villainies in the world."


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