Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 146] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Thursday, August 16, 1888.

     Day awful hot. W. about knocked out. Calm, however. Read some, wrote some. W. had a note from the Philadelphia office of the Herald: this:
Aug. 15, 1888.

Dear Mr. Whitman:

Won't you read over carefully Amelie Rives' poem in today's Herald and give an expert's opinion of it for publication in the Herald? I will call for this tomorrow,

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 147] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
for I am sure you will have something instructive to say about the poem.


Very truly yours,

C. H. Browning.


     W. mad as fire. "Sure? is he? Sure? Damn his 'sure!' I know nothing about Mrs. Chanler—I have never read a thing she has written. Besides, I did not see The Herald—it is not sent here any more. And there was more than that to it, too. The letter seemed to me impertinent, impudent, if not worse: that 'expert' fling, now—what do you make out of that? Browning don't know me or he would have chosen his words and his manners a little better. He sent his message and then would send his boy for the stuff the next day! I was under orders, you see—an 'expert' under orders—to write something about a writer whose writings I had never seen. Well, the boy appeared today, and when Mr. Musgrove came up and said he was there I sent word back that Walt Whitman was a very sick man and had no goods to deliver. I think this is Browning's own little spec: I don't believe it was suggested from headquarters. I sent the Sheridan piece to The Herald because I knew Sheridan, for one reason, and because they asked for that—did not demand it. I don't see why I am to be bothered to put myself on record on any and every subject in order merely to satisfy a newspaper's desire for a sensation." W. said after he was calmed down: "There's a letter from Bucke. Read it."
London, Ont., Aug. 15, 1888.

I received last evening the last pages of the book. I admire the Elias Hicks greatly and think I understand the drift of it. Do not think you have ever written better prose. It is altogether an admirable and most valuable piece. I shall write more at length another day. Am rather crowded this morning. I think I shall remodel my piece (that I sent Walsh of Lippincott's) and make it into a review of the new volume. Perhaps in that shape I shall get some "able editor" to print it. I have

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 148] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
seen your little piece on Sheridan (one of them). You must be coming round finely to be able to write so vigorously. All well here. A little warmer today.


R. M. Bucke.


     W. said: "Bucke is eligible to approve, to be pleased, to accept: his yeas are not surprises." Concluded to make the first edition of November Boughs a thousand copies. Showed him a Tacoma paper which contained his portrait and a lament over his "approaching death." W. laughed. "Thank you Mr. Critic—you're cheerful! Death is always approaching, but Horace and I have a job of work to do before we bow it into the house and ask it to sit down—eh, Horace?" After a bit he suddenly said: "And, now, Horace, what about the Taylor letter? Did you read it? There was no ahem and ahaw in that letter, do you think? Have you got the letter in your pocket? Yes? Read it to me."
Kennett Square, Penna.
Nov. 12, 1866.

My dear Sir:

I send to you by the same mail which takes this note, a copy of my last poem The Picture of St. John. I do not know whether the subject of the poem (the growth and development of the artist-nature, and its relations to life) will much interest you, but I hope you will here and there find something drawn immediately from nature. I am, at least, not aware that anything in the book is simulated or forced: whether successful or not, it is an honest conscientious effort.

I value, above all things, sincerity in literature; hence I am not one of those who overlook your remarkable powers of expression, your broad, vital reverence for humanity, because some things you have said repel them. The age is over-squeamish, and, for my part, I prefer the honest nude to the suggestive half-draped. I think the proper question to be asked is: does a certain thing need to be said? If so, let it be said! The worst form of immorality, I have found, veils itself in decent words.

There is one quality I recognize in you, which warmly and

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 149] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
constantly attracts me. That is, your deep and tender reverence for Man—your unwearied, affectionate, practical fraternity. There is too little of this quality in the world, and the race will be better and happier in proportion as it is manifested.


I shall be in Washington on the 27th of December, to lecture, and hope that I shall then be able to meet you personally. If you can spare me an hour or two after the lecture, you will greatly oblige

Your friend,

Bayard Taylor.


     The letter was addressed to W. at Washington. W. endorsed the envelope: "from Bayard Taylor Nov. 16, 1866." As I finished reading W. asked: "Well—what do you say to that? That don't sound like the note of a man who was in great doubt, does it? I don't make too much of such things. They come and go—or they don't come: and if they don't come, that is right too. But I find the Taylor of that time interesting because people say (the gossips say) the Taylor of today won't have me on any terms—hates to hear my name mentioned. I don't know about it all: men do change their minds: the Taylor who did like me may be wrong, the Taylor who does not like me (if there is such a Taylor) may be right. Who knows? Who knows? I wish I had the other letter now for you to read—it puts a finish on the little story. Damn it, I wonder where that letter got to? Sometimes I'm all in a heap here—goods, chattels, anything, myself with everything, all in a heap." After a laugh he added: "No matter what the fellers said, didn't say—no matter for the curses, the blessings—no matter for anything, I had to stick to my business. If I had stopped to dispute with my enemies, even to dally or luxuriate with my friends, the book would have gone begging. The book—the book: that was always the thing!"

     Picked up a copy of the Press and threw it down again with a gesture of disgust: "I hate the bigotry of the high-tariffites. Even Blaine, I notice, thinks that a revenue reformer is in

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 150] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
English pay—or says he thinks so: is a foe to the republic—a wilful marplot—bent upon the enslavement of labor. Read this paper: did you ever see anything more absolutely asinine than its attitude on this question? Charles Emory Smith might be a king among asses, but among philosophers—well, I wouldn't like to say what he would be among philosophers. Even Williams, Talcott, seems to have given in to the pressure—the hue and cry of the provincials—yet, if I recollect rightly, Talcott's view of five years ago was quite different. I do not say this from what I know but from what I infer. Talcott always impressed me as being on the liberal side of such questions."

     I had a long Wissahickon walk with Harrison Morris today. W. asked me about it. We had talked a great deal about W. I repeated some cardinal things. W. said: "It is likely you got more warmed up on that subject than I do or should. If they call me no poet then no-poet it may be. I don't care what they call me—by one name or another name—it is all one—so that I produce the result—so that I get my work spoken and heard—maybe move men and women. Morris should read Bucke's book—read it without prejudice. Bucke does not argue—does not fuss: makes a calm, almost cold, statement, like a man of exact science—then drops the point. It is hard for a man born, bred, luxuriating in the conventions, to shake that all off. Sloane Kennedy was five or six years ago just where Morris is now—still floundering among the canons—and in the end came around all right. Why, Kennedy was almost violently opposed for a time. Kennedy is a thinker, thoroughly original—a strong man on many sides—and such a student is rather more eligible for the freer processes, more sensitive to the newer intimations, than the ordinary literary dabbler. Yet I feel a little as though Morris left to himself—the reins thrown down, the ways everywhere left wide open for ingress and egress—may yet escape the professional tangle and take his place with the elect outcasts. The tendency of art is all towards the delicate, the refined, the polished: that I am forced to eschew—it is outside, it would vitiate my purpose. Well, what's the use fighting over the

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 151] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
matter? Time will settle it one way or the other—time, and what goes with time: settle it better than any immediate hammering—any high-handed disputation. What people won't see as it stands in the fact they won't see much better if at all in our dogmatism about the fact. As to Leaves of Grass—the literary man pure and simple will never acknowledge it: its premises are so different from those upon which he stakes his theories of art."
I said: "It's queer about Morris—when we are walking out in the country he's always complaining of the mathematics of goodness—of the trees planted in a row: but don't Morris plant all his art-trees in a row?" W. laughed several times over and asked: "Did you fellers go walking today just to have it out with each other?—to fight that fight to a finish—to settle that question?"

     Tomorrow we get our plate-proofs. Burroughs is to come here for a visit in September. "I expect you and John to take a shine to each other. I need not tell you about your own virtues—but John's virtues? Well, they are many and they are the kind of virtues you like. John is never a gamble—he is always a sure risk." W. asked me: "Horace, what is this Henry George thing—this single tax fandangle: tell me about it: tell me all you know: I hear so much said for it, against it, that I feel as if I should know what all the fireworks are about." I talked for the next half hour about Progress and Poverty. He asked a lot of questions—led me to explain the theory in a way to make it clear to him. Finally he said: "That'll do: now I begin to know what the hullaballoo means. It's a plausible scheme, too, it seems to me, at first blush. I have no doubt the statisticians could come along and disprove it—but what can't they disprove? Somehow men live and think and love and have their being in spite of statistics."

     W. spoke dismally of American maternity this evening. "Our women don't seem to be any longer built for child-bearing. We have gone on for so long hurting the body that the job of rehabilitating it seems prodigious if not impossible. The time will come when the whole affair of sex—copulation, reproduction—

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 152] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
will be treated with the respect to which it is entitled. Instead of meaning shame and being apologized for it will mean purity and will be glorified."


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.