Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, August 12, 1888.

     10:30 A. M. Went in to W. early to take him his N. Y. Herald containing Taps for Sheridan. He sat in his armchair reading

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the Press, but at once took the Herald out of my hands. "The poem amounts to nothing in itself: was the work of ten minutes or so the other day: but I was quite anxious to have it appear in the Herald, which has been so kind to me." Then he saw how conspicuously it had been placed, at the head of the long story describing the Sheridan obsequies: "They've gone and done it after all—the very worst thing—the thing I especially didn't want them to do. It was my desire to have it come into the personal column—to appear there casually as something swept along in the current and picked up and set into a place."

     Paul R. Cleveland refers to W. in the August Cosmopolitan as "a vagabond." I quoted this to W. "The sad fact about the story that I never made a living through literature is, that it is for the most part true. That has been made the staple complaint of numerous old and new accusers of Leaves of Grass. If I should care to make a guess I should say that Paul R. Cleveland is not an actual person—that the name is an assumed one. If the article was not poorly written, as you say, I should ascribe it to Stoddard: but Stoddard writes well. And yet I am sure that if Stoddard did not write he at least dictated it—is at least responsible for it—Stoddard or some one or several of that group. It is a sore thing to some of them that I got along at all—much worse, that I got along so well."

     Examined a rough proof of the Hicks and said: "It makes him look like a cross between an Injun and a Nigger, without a drop of white blood in his veins. There's one reason in particular why I want this picture to appear. With the damnable unreason of a sect the Quakers—too many of them—are fiercely opposed to pictures, music, in their houses. I want this head, therefore to flaunt itself right in the faces of the Quakers who see this book—who read November Boughs."

      "Horace," said W., suddenly, "I think the time has come for the American magazine—for a magazine designed to reflect America—its mechanics, its great labor masses—to give the smack of the heath—the native heath: to get its color from a

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life particularly American and offer the result to the world. Americana in the best sense—that we need. It's about time we had outgrown the Lord Adolphus Fitznoodle business—the Dobson, Lang, ballade, villanelle, business: the looking abroad for suggestions, for models, for ideals. Oh! I can see that such a venture would even pay for itself in money in time, not to speak of the other pay—not today, not to-morrow, but finally, after tussle, in the long run. We are so commercialized in this country that we will do nothing without the pay is in sight—nothing, nothing: the profits must be near enough to grab: we seem to lack that great faculty of wait, wait, wait, which distinguishes and accounts for the world-power of the English merchant. Yet there are signs of an awakening. We may soon have to revise our notions on this score. Some day we may rise to the standards of moral, spiritual, profit, letting all the baser standards fall into disuse. By and bye the American magazine will come as the gift of some far-sighted far-hearted individual, who is willing to throw away all the vulgar prizes of the market for the sake of a cause, a future."

     Advised me to meet Browning, the Herald's Philadelphia representative. "He is a fine, dark-browed, vital, affectionate sort of a man—a newspaper man made of the real stuff. The Herald people have always treated me as if I was what the boys call the real thing." W. laughed heartily when I told him Bucke said Walt Whitman never took advice: "In a way he is right: but again he is not. I do not object to advice but to having it made imperative. I claim the final privilege—claim the right to pass upon the advice that is passed up to me. I can honestly say that I like to hear all that is to be said in criticism of my work, my life: but you know well enough that it is impossible for a man to get down on his hands and knees before the advisers." W. thinks he has but two copies of Drum Taps left. "If there should be more I want you to have one—the first beyond the two that turns up shall be yours." The two he has are flung about different places in the room from day to day—on the round table, on the chairs, on the bed, on the floor. "As

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a Strong Bird I still possess in some quantity: you can take three or four or more of them any time you choose."

     Letter from Bucke to W. today. Bucke says: "I should like to hear that you are gaining strength. I do not hear that. How is it?" W. repeated: "How is it? I don't know. Do you? Tell Maurice we've given up guessing here: let him make a guess in Canada." We had a little talk over one of his War letters, the rough draft of which I turned up in trying to find a Camelot book for him. It was in sheets pinned together, without an envelope or any sign of an address attached. W. turned it over and over mystified: "I don't know for sure who it was written to—probably one of those Boston women—the Curtis people, it may be. Is it of any use to you?" He passed it over. I was eager for it at once. This excited his remark: "Did I ever know you to decline anything like that? I don't believe you know how to decline." I replied; "I don't—I don't." My vehemence amused him. "Well, you must pay the penalty: sit right down there under the light and read me the letter. That will be my good-bye to the letter. After all, for your purposes, I don't suppose it matters at all who it was meant for at the time—its history is just as good for whoever. I guessed a Massachusetts name because I notice I make a point of mentioning the Yankee boys." I read the letter, W. closing his eyes and listening, breaking in every now and then with monosyllabic ejaculations:




Dear Friend.

I am going to write to you to ask any friends you may be in communication with for aid for my soldiers. I remain here in Washington still occupied among the hospitals—I have now been engaged in this over seven months. As time passes on it seems as if sad cases of old and lingering wounded accumulate, regularly recruited with new ones every week—I have been most of this day in Armory Square Hospital Seventh st. I seldom miss a day or evening. Out of the six or seven hundred in this Hospital I try to give a word or a trifle to every one without exception, making regular rounds among

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them all. I give all kinds of sustenance, blackberries, peaches, lemons and sugar, wines, all kinds of preserves, pickles, brandy, milk, shirts and all articles of underclothing, tobacco, tea, handkerchiefs, &c &c &c. I always give paper, envelopes, stamps &c. I want a supply for this purpose. To many I give (when I have it) small sums of money—half of the soldiers in hospital have not a cent. There are many returned prisoners sick, lost all—and every day squads of men from the front, cavalry or infantry—brought in wounded or sick, generally without a cent of money. I select the most needy cases and devote my time and services much to them. I find it tells best—some are mere lads, 17, 18, 19, or 20—some are silent, sick, heavy-hearted, (things, attentions, &c. are very rude in the army and hospitals, nothing but the mere hard routine, no time for tenderness or extras)—so I go round, —some of my boys die, some get well.


O what a sweet unwonted love (those good American boys of good stock, decent, clean, well-raised boys, so near to me)—what an attachment grows up between us, started from hospital cots, where pale young faces lie and wounded or sick bodies. My brave young American soldiers—now for so many months I have gone around among them, where they lie. I have long discarded all stiff conventions (they and I are too near to each other, there is no time to lose, and death and anguish dissipate ceremony here between my lads and me)—I pet them, some of them it does so much good, they are so faint and lonesome—at parting at night sometimes I kiss them right and left—The doctors tell me I supply the patients with a medicine which all their drugs and bottles and powders are helpless to yield.

I wish you would ask anybody you know who is likely to contribute—It is a good holy cause, surely nothing nobler—I desire you if possible could raise for me, forthwith, for application to these wounded and sick here, (they are from Massachusetts and all the New England states, there is not a day but I am with some Yankee boys, and doing some trifle for them)—

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a sum—if possible fifty dollars—if not then less—thirty dollars—or indeed any amount—


I am at present curiously almost alone here as visitor and consolator to Hospitals—the work of the different Reliefs and Commissions is nearly all off in the field—and as to private visitors, there are few or none—I wish you or some of your friends could just make a round with me, for an hour or so, at some of my hospitals or camps—I go among all our own dear soldiers, hospital camps and any, our teamsters' hospitals, among sick and dying, the rebels, the contrabands, &c &c. What I reach is necessarily but a drop in the bucket but it is done in good faith, and with now some experience and I hope with good heart.


     When I started to go W. asked: "Going, Horace? Where are you going?" And when I answered, "To Harned's for dinner," he seemed reminded of something and commenced to rummage among his papers. "Is there something to go?" I asked. "Nothing I have particularly looked for: I was only trying to get my hands on something to send Tom"—then, as his eyes fell upon the table: "Ah! yes! this!" picking up Symonds' Wine, Women and Song and handing it to me: "This: Symonds sent it to me: I have read a great deal of it: take it to Tom." "For him to read?" "Yes—to read and to keep: and for you to read, too. It is a little loose, but not much so: not bad: not out of place with those French books at Tom's—the beautiful books from that Parisian publisher." I reminded W, that I was losing sleep and meals in my anxiety over the "surprise" that he still held back. "Still harping on my daughter" he exclaimed and said no more.

     Evening, 7:30. Harned with W., who was in vigorous talking humor. Went on for an hour. The death of Dick Spofford everywhere spoken of in today's papers aroused W. to some affectionate reminiscence: "Dick was bright—had a mind like a star, so clear was its radiance. His body was very frail—you could break it almost like a pipe-stem: yet his brain was so

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active, effective, you never remarked his bodily defects. Dick was a Walt-Whitmaniac in the common ways of life—consciously or unconsciously that: hospitable to all sorts of me, all froms of thought, all contrasts of life: a brilliant apparition: always kind to me, thoughtful, friend of my friends as well as directly (while not intimately) friendly to me."
W. sceptical about Blaine's declaration that "if the tariff goes down it can only be by the failure of the working man to sustain it." "A wonderful remark!—and the Press seizes on it and prints it in Italics as a watchword—God help us! Alas! what have we come to! The day of emancipation is yet way off. The tariff must still hang over us, prescribing its petty principles—just as Methodism, Presbyterianism, hold on like the devil though without a leg to stand on."

     W. spoke of Emerson: "I shall never forget the first visit he paid me—the call, the first call: it was in Brooklyn: no, I can never forget it. I can hear his gentle knock still—the soft knock—so"—indicating it on the chair-arm—"and the slow sweet voice, as my mother stood there by the door: and the words, 'I came to see Mr. Whitman': and the response, 'He is here'—the simple unaffected greeting on both sides—'How are you, Mr. Whitman,' 'How are you, Waldo'—the hour's talk or so—the taste of lovableness he left behind when he was gone. I can easily see how Carlyle should have likened Emerson's appearance in their household to the apparition of an angel." W. thought Cabot's presentation of the anti-controversial Emerson "capital": "That was like him: he would take a stand, he would not hit out." W. said: "I always hated formal controversy anyhow." "I like to see the scuffle—I feel the necessity of hearing the last word of challenge—but am not to be lured into the fight. The world must move on without my fighting for it."

     He said he had "resolved" today "to keep that unprecedented thing, a scrap-book." "I started it with the two Herald pieces on Sheridan." Harned spoke of English Traits as "the best study of English character extant." W. objected: "I do not

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think so: it never struck me so forcibly as that." But he added: "Emerson was a great vessel: he held a lot. When a man is dead we begin to see what a buffer he is." Then: "You should sometime get John Burroughs, when he is in his best humor, to tell you of his visit with Conway to Carlyle: it is so full of interest—so rich in touches of Carlyle's character. John speaks of Carlyle's laugh—the hearty, roaring, indescribable laugh, about which Horace has just given us Emerson's description. I remember one incident John told me of the visit. Conway spoke of him to Carlyle as an ornithologist, whereupon Carlyle had a story to tell. He had gone a long journey—the purpose of the journey was defeated—he had been forced to walk home—was despondent, depressed, dispirited. Suddenly the song of a bird in the distance came upon him—the fresh clear notes of a song—and swept his heart clean of its debris, so that a journey's end which was threatened with sorrow was accomplished with gladness. It was wonderful to me—the undertone, the overtone, of that story. Mrs. Gilchrist will not hear to it—that Carlyle was what the average world makes him out to be: will not yield an inch to the clamor. She gives a clean bill to both of them—to Thomas, to Jean: she says the stories of their dissensions are vagaries, malicious and impossible: that she knew—that she was their neighbor, a frequent visitor in their home."

     W. finally has something to say about the Hollyer etching. "I do not think it good enough to be good—this is especially true of the eyes——they are too glaring: I have a dull not a glaring eye." Harned asked: "After all, Walt don't you think you're very much photographed and very little caught?" "Exactly, Tom—very rarely. Tom—Horace has the best picture of all: the Gardner picture—the Washington picture. I remember well the afternoon that was taken. When a reporter saw it in the case by and bye he wrote that Walt Whitman had been photographed in his night-dress. The Gardner people were fiery mad over it—to me it seemed funny." Back to the Hollyer: "It is not first class as an etching—far from first class as a portrait.

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It is taken from the Lear original. Do you know, it was Mary Costelloe who gave that picture its name?—a good name, too, as most of my friends have allowed."

     Discussed November Boughs. Thought we might try a flexible cover for it. Then looked over plans for the full-edition Whitman—a one volume W. W. to contain all the prose and verse up to the date of issue. We are to go to work on it at once. "It's a new baby to be born," said W., "and we must get to work at once to prepare its clothes." Attempted to walk round the house today but got no farther than the bathroom. The first daring venture. Said of it: "I am a lame though not yet quite a dead duck." Gave me a Bucke letter: "Tell me what you make of Bucke's warnings and objurgations."


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