Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 121] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Saturday, August 11, 1888.

     W. still holding his own, though weak. Busy reading and writing. Took him a bundle of page proofs, up to 140. Page 118 contains the Hicks portrait. W. said: "I would not be surprised either way with the portrait—surprised for good, surprised for bad." Still debating whether he would write a preface for November Boughs. "Why should I?—the book itself explains all I wish explained: is personal, confessional: a variegated product, in fact—streaks of white and black, light and darkness, threads of evil and good running in and out and across and through achieving in the end some sort of unity. I have often, especially in recent years, asked myself whether in rounding up Leaves of Grass I should not add a prologue and an epilogue—some fore-cast and resumé reasserting the designed and achieved tempo—some closing transcript of the aspirations, intuitions, that went and go to the making of the book—the appreciation of its message. But why should I? The same question—the same answer: no, no: I feel the no without defining it—and no is best, is best."

     The Sheridan poem was not in today's Herald. "Not today? To-morrow then, or next day—or maybe not at all (why at all?)—which would be all right, too." Harned came in. Talk got on politics. W. said: "What about Blaine, Tom? Tell me the news about Blaine." He didn't wait for the news but went on: "Blaine has a wonderful intuition concerning current affairs and people—concerning the average thought, the everyday passions and prejudices of the street—yet the longer I live the more contemptible, the more utterly contemptible, seem his style and make—up, the instrument upon which he plays, the flagrant insincerity of his ambitions." Harned asked: "but hasn't he brains?" "Yes, brains—but of the superficial, sharp, evanescent kind. Take that matter of protection. After awhile it will strike the masses that protection does bring money

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 122] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
to somebody but not to them—that the benefit is all one way and not their way—and then the throne will fall. I give protection ten or twenty more robbing years—not more than twenty, nor less than ten. There is always the wave and the counterwave—the tide goes up the tide goes down—the storm arrives, the storm departs. Protection had to come and has to go. Protection talk comes with bad grace from a man like Blaine having his clean or dirty twenty thousand a year—from the easy, comfortable elite of our money world who clap their hands over their hearts and say: 'Don't disturb any of these things: we're having a good time of it—plenty to eat, drink, wear: palaces to live in, servants to flatter and fawn upon us—luxury, yachts, money in the bank: don't disturb things as they are—don't ask questions—don't riot within the sacred precincts of our success.'"
"They don't see the end," I said. "What is the end?" "Revolution." "Or evolution—which means the same thing in its results."

     Harned withdrew. He had the two children with him. W. called them "the darlings" and kissed them good night. Henry George said in a speech in New York the other night: "The republic should lead the world to freedom." W. reaffirmed: "It will lead the world to freedom or to hell—I prefer freedom." Asked me questions about Lew Wallace: "I had Ben Hur here once and started to read it but before I had got along far it disappeared—whether through being stolen or lost or given away I do not know. I thought it really interesting and well done. I don't know but in reading the best method is to simply let the mind caper about and do as it chooses—or as it don't choose, as it must. I never try to create interest for myself in a book: if the interest don't come of its own account I drop my experiment: I would no more force my reading than my writing. I read the papers in the forenoon, about ten: I sort of toy with them—amuse myself with them—dawdle with them."

     W. spoke doubtfully of Wagner's choice of Niebelungen themes for his operas: "I question the wisdom of selecting the Jack and the Beanstalk stories and putting them into this modern

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 123] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
medium. Without a doubt there are points here which I have not considered—which are not quite familiar table-talk to me—but my first impression, my original instinct, (I can only give that) is adverse, critical, though not, of course, absolutely negative."
This led him to ask me a question: "You speak of young Neumayer as a true bass. Is he that? pure, strong, without being coarse? Oh! the true bass is the most precious of all voices because the rarest of all. I have known so many yet so few—so few with the full equipment—one or two (not more than two) in all my experience." Allusion to the Leaves: "I am much less concerned to have them believed true than to have them true—much less concerned to have people recognize the good things than to have them there: and yet I like to have applause, too—like to hear the hurrahs that I don't have to go back and meet." I said to W.: "I've still got the Rossetti letter in my pocket." He said: "Yes—read it: I want to hear it once more before you take it away for good."


56 Euston Sq.
London, N. W., April 12, 1868.

Dear Walt Whitman,

I received with thanks, and read with much interest, the article by Mr. Hinton which you sent me. Besides Mr. Hinton's own share in the article, I was particularly glad to see in full Emerson's letter written on the first appearance of Leaves of Grass. Of this I had hitherto only seen an expression or two extracted.

Will you allow me to respond by sending two English notices of the selection. The one in the Academia I find is written by a Mr. Robertson whom I have met occasionally—a Scotchman of acute intellectual sympathies. The alterations noted in ink in his article are reproduced by me from the copy which he himself sent me: I infer that they are in confromity with the original Ms., but cut out by a less ardent editor. The Sunday Times is edited by a Mr. Knight, of whom also I have some slight personal knowledge. I think the review in that paper is very likely done by Mr. Knight himself. The Academia is a recently

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 124] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
started paper, chiefly scholastic, and I suppose of restricted circulation. The Sunday Times has no doubt a very large circulation, and a good standing among weekly newspapers—not being however a specially literary organ.


You will, I think, have seen through Mr. Conway the notice, also eulogistic, in the London Review. I am told of a hostile one in the Express (evening edition of the Daily News) but have not seen it: the Morning Star (the paper most closely connected with John Bright) had a very handsome notice about a week ago—but, like all literary reviews in that paper, a brief one. These are all the notices I know of at present. Perhaps I ought to apologize for saying so much to you about a matter which I know plays but the smallest part in your thought and interest as a poet.

As to the sale of the book I really know nothing as yet—not having once seen the publisher since the volume was issued.

A glance at the Sunday Times notice recalls to my attention a sentence therein which I should perhaps refer to—about your having given express sanction &c. Where the writer gets this from I know not—certainly not from me: indeed the P.S. to the selection asserts the exact contrary, and I have not so much as seen Mr. Knight for (I dare say) a couple of years.

With warmest regard and friendship, yours

W. M. Rossetti.


      "That was twenty years ago," said W., "and Rossetti is still serving under the flag—a pirate flag, somebody said: but it is hardly that: it is more like the red flag—the flag of revolution. The best of Rossetti is in the natural way he takes this whole Leaves of Grass business, without apologizing for, without glorifying, me."


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.