Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, August 8, 1888.

      Stormy when I went to W. this evening. W. sat by the window, a fan in his hand, and talked cheerfully of the fallen temperature and his immediate physical response to it. The lightning flashed. W.'s head stood out against the northern sky. The rain fell in torrents. For the first time in a week the air was fresh and inspiring. "How sweet it is, boy!" exclaimed W. "My body is a splendid barometer." Gave him today's Herald containing the Sheridan piece. "I don't know too much about Sheridan, personally: we met, met several times, but that is all. You know I don't enthuse over him or over any military man—simply military man—any more than over a sword, a cannon, a bombshell. Sheridan had Napoleonic dash, nerve—as a soldier was a good one. He was psychically an uncommon character—had military philosophy as well as military ardor—was always cool in action, never lost his head, always knew what to do when the unexpected turned up."

      Still reading Carlyle. "Today I struck upon the chapter on Coleridge—was intensely interested. It mainly hits the nail on the head—is just as true as it is enjoyable. I do not find anything in Carlyle's style to criticise. I never found any difficulties in it—or in the thought either, for that matter. It seems to me Carlyle's style is the expression of the man—natural, strong, right, for him. I know what is everywhere being said about his style, but I do not see what the objectors want. Do they mean that Carlyle should have turned about face just on their say-so? It is too much to ask of a man. Carlyle was not an accident—he was law, design."

      "For years and years," said W., gravely, "I have argued with myself whether to write a prefatory note for Leaves of Grass. I never wrote one, never even got it laid out, but never forgot my intention. Should I make some such statement of my original purpose as would in the end account for all the mysteries of my

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book? I always decided against it—always came round to one conclusion—always planted my heel on the temptation at last: no, no, nothing there; if there's a thing to be said say it in your prose—don't trespass on the integrity of the Leaves—don't! don't! I was once driven down a steep hill by a friend of mine: he hurried the horses along at a breakneck pace, I protesting. 'Ain't you afraid to go so fast?' I asked. 'No—not a bit of it' he answered: 'I'm afraid to go slow. That's the only way I can overcome the difficulties of the road.' So it is with the Leaves—it must drive on, drive on, without protest, without explanations, without hesitations, on and on—no apologies, no dickers, no compromises—just drive on and on, no matter how rough, how dangerous, the road may be."
W. said he had never dedicated a book. "I do not know why—probably there was no why. Dedications have gone out of vogue—are no longer regarded as necessary."

      Referring to Notes and Queries: "Hunter has gone to work on it: God save him! I see no place for a paper of the sort. A literary class in America always strikes me with a laugh or with nausea: it is a forced product—does not belong here. We should not have professional art in a republic: it seems anti to the people—a threat offered our dearest ideals." W. wrote postals to Bucke and Mrs. Heyde. "She is afraid I am going to die—is always anxious and trembling." No letters today. "No mail at all, in fact, but Tucker's Liberty. I read his defense of Cortland Palmer—that though he was a man of great wealth he was profoundly concerned over the economic problems. The best of that statement is its truth—it is every word true. Palmer was a man of vista: he saw far ahead of all the commonplaces of the day." If Brown does well with the W. W. portrait W. will have him try the Eakins. Looked over a photo-engraving catalogue. "It is beautiful stuff. Art will be democratized. The people will yet some day get a look in on the best art of the world: the castes will have to get out of the way of the crowd." November Boughs complete ran to page 139—end of the Fox paper. W. thought it should go over to page 140, so prepared an additional

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"note" to go in with the Hicks—part of it written many years ago, part of it today. Likewise re-arranged page 118. From the first W. has been displeased with page 118—that A Backward Glance ending there fills the page. "I shall alter the plates—get a little blank at the foot of the page." To get that blank he today sacrificed this bit of text:

"I hope to go on record for something different—something better, if I may dare to say so. If I rested 'Leaves of Grass' on the usual claims—if I did not feel that the deepest moral, social, political purposes of America are the underlying endeavors at least of my pages: that the geography and hydrography of this continent, the Prairies, the St. Lawrence, Ohio, the Carolinas, Texas, Missouri are their real veins and current concrete—I should not dare to have them put in type, and printed, and offer'd for sale."

      W. added explanatorily: "We want to do our best with the book. I want it mechanically so well done, so carefully thought out, that we may show the English printers that we, too, can do creditable work—that we, too, can make conclusive books." I said to W.: "It is interesting about Shillaber that though he was so broken up by his sympathies when he visited the hospital to see Babbitt for you he was real game when he was sick himself. When Morse and I visited him in Chelsea he was all gone to pieces, roomfast, waiting to die, but he was full of reminiscence, fun, even of a certain kind of hope." This interested W. "I see what it all means—it is in accord with my own experience with me: a man of heart often suffers more pain seeing sickness than being sick." At the time I went with Morse to see Shillaber Morse was making a bust of the old man. W. suddenly said: "It's rather odd you should have referred to Shillaber and Babbitt again as it reminds me of a letter I have laid out on the table for you. Look for it over there yourself—on the other side: yes, that's it: the yellow envelope. It's from Trowbridge—also

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about Babbitt."
I opened the letter and started to read it to myself. W. said: "Let me hear it again, too—read it aloud."


Boston, Dec. 21, 1863.

Dear Walt,

I am here at the bedside of your friend Babbitt in the Mason Hospital. I read him your letter; and he wishes me to say to you that he would be glad to answer your letters to him if he was able. He is in about the same condition he has been in for three months. He wishes to go home to his friends in Barre, and could get his discharge, but Dr. Bliss, of the Armory Square Hospital, neglects to send on his descriptive list, although the surgeon here has written to him for it. No doubt you can see to having it sent. Mr. Babbitt's father, who has been out with the 53rd, is going out again, and he is anxious to get his son home before he leaves. The descriptive list is the only thing necessary now to procure his discharge. Your friend wishes you to see Dr. Bliss, and write to him what he says about it. I shall come and see him whenever I come to town. What he needs is sympathizing friends around him. He is very lonesome lying here with no Walt Whitman to cheer him up.

I have been to see about getting together a package of books for you, but the booksellers are so busy it will be several days before I can get them packed and sent.

Let me hear from you. I write in haste with numb fingers—it is bitter cold here today.

Yours,

J. T. Trowbridge.


      The letter was addressed to W. at Washington care of Major Hapgood. I said to W.: "I know one sentence in the letter that pleased you." "I do too." "'He is very lonesome——'" "That's it," said W., delighted: "You are a firstrate guesser: you keep a little ahead of me every time." Said again to W.: "I am still waiting for that surprise." "Why, so you are—I had almost forgotten. A day or two more and you may come to your own." W. called my attention to a little

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slip of paper which he had endorsed in red ink: "from O'Connor from Washington Nov: '82." This is what O'Connor had written:

"That was a mighty good thing the President said about Tobey after his visit recently: 'Is that the damned old fool that threw Whitman's book out of the mails?' So like Arthur too—the urban Arthur—the gentleman and man-of-the-word Arthur."


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