Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, August 13, 1888.

     Day wonderfully cool. W. like a child in his joy. "For the first time I feel sassy with returning vigor. I take the benefits as they come: when they do not come I do not worry reaching out for them." Harned came in. Applauded the Herald poem. "So you think the old dog is at his tricks—and that that is a sign of improvement? Well—let it go at that: you can't teach me new but I won't forget the old tricks." When I arrived he lay on his bed and we had an earnest talk, no one else being present, about the big book. W. is fully resolved. "Tell Ferguson we'll back him up for the best he can do: tell him the story of the old woman who said to the hen: 'This time I'm going to give you a chance to fling yourself!'—so let Ferguson fling. A few dollars more or less—what do they amount to?" He laughed. I said: "A few dollars more mean a good deal if you ain't got 'em." "I should say! and don't I know? hasn't my prosperity walked on its uppers almost from the start?" Still: "I think I've got enough to see the book through so let's see it through right. I am familiar with the small economies, meannesses, of publishers: but we are not publishers: let us travel over the best road." I secured a rough estimate today on a book of nine hundred pages. W. satisfied. "That

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seems reasonable: hitch up—let's start."
The idea is to issue a limited edition including Leaves of Grass, Specimen Days, and November Boughs: press work first class, paper good, margins liberal, with "powerful but modest portraits" ("if any: are portraits indispensable?" he asks): the books to sell for five or ten dollars and be autographed. This is an old idea revived. We discussed and abandoned it while W. was sick and seemed to be getting hopelessly worse. Gave me multiplied cautions to see that the Hicks portrait comes up right in the printing. "I have set my heart on that head—on its satisfactory presentation: I would rather leave it out altogether than have it go in bad."

      "Though always objecting to prefaces," he said, "I think I shall have to write some note amounting to a preface for this de luxe edition." He waited for me to notice his "de luxe." I said nothing. "What's the matter with de luxe? I thought you would say amen to it." Said further of prefaces: "They are much like bowing and scraping a man in through your open door. The door being open, that should be enough. I tie myself to no rule in such a matter but I believe that they are mainly superfluous. This seems to be a case where a preface—some explanation—is in order." When he came to light up his gas he said quickly: "Hullo! I haven't turned the facet against the wall"—he has a table jet attached—"What a thing is habit!—how habit makes monkeys of us all! We forget once or twice to turn the facet—after that we always forget it: it has become a habit. From that time on we are slaves. Curiously, it is harder to break away from your vices than from your virtues: sometimes it seems easier to go to the Devil than to go to God!"

     Harned came in and after a bit called the children up. Then there was a great munching of molasses candy—yellow jack—W. partaking most heartily. "How extra good it is, too, kiddies: ain't it better than the usual run?" Anna laughed and replied: "Oh yes! this kind you can only buy three cents worth of: you can't buy a cent's worth of this!" W. clapped his hand

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down on the big arm on his chair. "That explains it—I thought we were enjoying an extra extra treat!"

     W. gave me his notions of a cover for November Boughs. Again produced the little Epictetus volume. "The book is precious to me—I think is one out of an edition of a hundred printed especially for Rolleston. Take it along however—show it to the binders—but don't take any risks with it." He called my attention to Twenty Years, which appears in the Magazine of Art, a copy of which he received today. "I like the drawing as drawing, though it is far enough away from anything I thought of when I wrote the piece. The general make-up of the page is very flattering. The boy there in the shrouds—he is best of all: splendid, easy, natural. It is true, too, as you say, that this figure down here on the shore—this strong, straight somebody with his hands in his pockets—is a try at me—of me as you know me in that Leaves of Grass portrait. Do you remember, the Magazine man said he would like to be informed whether the page pleased me? Well, I am pleased—much pleased—and you can say so to him or anyone. I don't mind it that he chose his own way of illustrating the poem—that was his own little privilege: he tried his hand at explication. The picture is like Hamlet—it has various ways of being interpreted. I used to make a fellow I knew mad by saying there were as many Hamlets as there were actors to act Hamlet, but he would not have it so: there was but one Hamlet, only one, and God help the man who didn't act that one! Winter is one of the worst of that crowd of jackasses. I have felt Salvini and Rossi to be all the greater for preferring their own Lears, Hamlets, Othellos, to the heroes of the critics."

     W. of Stedman: "Stedman would I think be freer and easier with me if it was not for the rabid crowd of literary wolves by which he is surrounded in New York—that crowd of yellers and screamers who declare that Walt Whitman is no good—is to be in no way endorsed, tolerated, commended. Even Stedman could not resist all that pressure. Yet he is noble, generous, lavish of his love. I shall never forget his kindness

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to me—his many kindnesses: why, he once paid thirty dollars I am told for a single special copy of Leaves of Grass. That was surely an act of great faith. The worst I hear about Stedman is not that he has failed in business but that he is sick."
W. gave me an 1887 letter from James Grant Wilson: "I knew Wilson very well—he was a cordial and convincing character. This letter was sweetened by a touch of frank cameraderie—no more but that truely. Wilson belongs to the conventional literary old guard in New York." "You never broke into that crowd?" "No—they broke into me. I find them here and there hospitable, conciliatory: as a rule they are haughtily set against my claims—which is all right too, for their denial may in the end be confirmed." Wilson's letter was written on the stationery of Appleton's Cyclopedia.


New York, April 8, [1887]

My dear Mr. Whitman:

Am glad to see by a morning journal that you are well enough to undertake a visit to New York, and the delivery of your address on Lincoln. If you have no better place to go, I shall be happy to give you shelter under my roof No. 15, East Seventy-fourth st, where I think you spent an hour some years ago. In any event, I hope to hear your address and to see you at my office. I am anxious to have one or more contributions from you for my Cyclopedia for which we pay ten dollars per printed page. Will you suggest some that you would like to write? Prospectus enclosed.

Very faithfully yours,

Jas. Grant Wilson.


P.S. I can offer you a large chamber on the second floor, with a bathroom connected with it, for your exclusive use!

      "I might have written up Paine, Hicks, Burr, Frances Wright—the unpopulars—but do you think the book would have stood for it? I'm afraid my pen let loose would have seemed out of character in such a place: my pen tied up I haven't to sell." "But," added W., "while the conventionals, on their side, are

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generally too timid, we, the radicals of us, on our side, are often too cocky." He shook his finger at me: "Be cocky, you young quarrelers—be cocky, be cocky, don't be too damned cocky!"

     W. gave me a bit of his writing which proved to be draft of his Garfield poem, The Sobbing of the Bells. I found it was written on the reverse of a letter written to W. by Boyle O'Reilly. Spoke of it to W. "Yes, so I see. That must have been in the eighties, while I was in Boston. Yes, we want art: I saw the Millet pictures at Shaw's: it was a great day." As W. had cut the Boyle letter and pieced it together again irregularly it is now difficult to make out. Up in the corner of the letter O'R. wrote: "Shall see you at Bartlett's Thursday." This is the letter as I have got it together with perhaps a word or two not literally in place:


The Pilot Editorial Rooms,
Boston, Sept. 21.

Dear Mr. Whitman:

Can you come, with Bartlett, Kate, and a charming lady and myself, to see Mr. Quincey Shaw's pictures on Friday at 2 p.m.? I shall call for you with carriage. Don't say no: you'll enjoy it. If you don't answer I shall take it for yes.

Boyle O'Reilly.


     Regarding the manuscript W. said: "Some of my enemies who think I write in the dark without premeditation ought to see that sheet of paper: there ain't a word there that seems to have had an easy time of it—that wasn't subjected to catawauling. I tell you, Horace, it's no fun for words when they get in my hands, though the howlers may not know it."


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