Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, August 21, 1888.

     11 A.M. W. got up not feeling extra well. Yet read his daily papers (with them The Critic, which he is fond of) with a relish. Wished he might hear from Morse. "Morse went to Chicago then disappeared! We should send out the bell-man for him." I told W. I had preserved several hundred of Morse's letters. He was enthusiastic. "What a wealth of stuff that collection must be! Morse always writes memorable letters. Is there anything better in literature than the best letters?" After a pause: "Talking of letters, I have had one that will interest you. This is Tuesday the 21st—tomorrow is the 22d: tomorrow Herbert sails—Herbert Gilchrist—intending to come straight to Philadelphia. It seems to have been a sudden

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whim—a jump: whether because he has had some success with his work and some dollars I don't know. Ocean traveling nowadays costs practically nothing—if a man has to pay board anyhow he can as cheaply pay it moving about as standing still. Or it may be that Herbert comes for the shaking up—the sea voyage. Herbert's power so far has been chiefly latent—an unuttered force."

     Asked for his big blue coat. "This was made for me by my sister. Rhys brought me one over, too—but that I have never worn so far. It is down stairs." While I sat there Musgrove brought in a basket of peaches—luscious, big—that had been left at the door. W. took them, put on the glasses, read the tag. "There's no name but I think they're from Tom—from Mr. Harned. Harned came in with children last night, and they spoke of peaches, little Annie saying: 'Papa, it's time Mr. Whitman had more fruit.' And she added, 'It should be peaches this time'—making a big circle with her two hands—'that's the kind, papa!'—then laughing over it. Oh the dear, dear children! And there's little Tom, too full of life—joyous, exulting life! Yes, I know the peaches came from little Annie and the rest of the Harneds: the Harneds, may God bless em!" I spoke of Anna's excellent piano playing, W. taking it up: "Have you noticed that, too, Horace? I thought it was a secret all my own." Laughed gently. "She is full of musical feeling, though very undemonstrative, too. And by the way, Horace—wasn't your father a considerable something of a singer once upon a time?" And to my yes: "Ah! so I thought: and it must have been a great treat to you all. A baritone, was he? It is a noble voice. Ask him for me if he ever head Badiali: Badiali was the superbest of all superb baritones in my time—in my singing years. Oh! those great days! great, great days! Alboni, Badiali, in particular: no one can tell, know, even suspect, how much they had to do with the making of Leaves of Grass. Badiali was a big, coarse, broad-chested, feller, invested, however, with absolute ease of demeanor—a master of his art—confident, powerful, self-sufficient." I spoke of our contemporary

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baritone, Galassi. W. nodded: "Yes, I have heard of though I have not heard him: he, too, must have a spark of the same fire in his composition. Badiali I remember chiefly in The Puritans—in what is abominably called the 'trombone duo' by the newspaper scriveners. My younger life was was so saturated with the emotions, raptures, up-lifts, of such musical experiences that it would be surprising indeed if all my future work had not been colored by them. A real musician running through Leaves of Grass—a philosopher musician—could put his finger on this and that anywhere in the text no doubt as indicating the activity of the influences I have spoken of."

     W. confided to me some of his plans concerning the big book and answered some of my questions. "When you go in to see Ferguson today tell him we want to go right on with it—make the proper, make your own, arrangements with him: you know exactly what we want—you particularly know that we want no delays. Tell him how as Walt Whitman is on the ragged edge and needs to be pampered and shoved along—that while he may relapse into strong life again, the chances are all the other way: that he will drop into the dead sea. Tell Ferguson Walt Whitman is down on his knees saying Ferguson prayers which Ferguson like the gentleman you say he is must answer."

     Evening. W. reading The Antiquary. Has fingered the plate proofs some. "I have been thinking of our book today—trying to get it into right relations with myself. I have not yet made up my mind about November Boughs. If I end the voyage with this done I shall be happy: get into port not altogether bereft, with my colors still flying. Is that to be my good fate? I don't force things—don't force even the price of a book, the arrangement of a page of type, anything. Everything must come freely: I take up the incidents of life by the way, as they come along—and what is unwilling, loth, coquettish, I forego—I know is not for me, for my uses."

     McKay was over this afternoon. W. says; "I think Dave has treated me all right, and I shall therefore reciprocate—am inclined to treat him right—yes, not only right but generously.

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I have about decided to let him have the book—the little book. That is, I think I shall propose that he take the whole edition at forty-three cents—forty-three cents a volume. He may shy at that—regard it suspiciously as too big a demand: but as I have been sitting here, such is the condition that I feel bound to attach to any large or exclusive sale of the book. I shall be glad if I come out even on the job—get the plates even if nothing beyond. I am not worrying, shall not worry, dare not worry. When I have thought this all out for myself I am going to ask you to act it all out for me. For the present we will go on with the book—get it finished. I must have my own way, too: I must be humored. I think there's only one person living who ever browbeats me with success."
"Who is that?" "You—you!" Laughed. "My good daddy used to say: 'Oh! What a comfort it is to lie down on your own floor, a floor laid with your own hands, in a house which represents your own handiwork—cellar and walls and roof!' In Long Island they had a phrase, 'to lie on one's own dunghill,' or something like it. I have long teased my brain with visions of a handsome little book at last—like the Epictetus—a dear, strong, aromatic volume, like the Encheiridion, as it is called, for the pocket. That would tend to induce people to take me along with them and read me in the open air: I am nearly always successful with the reader in the open air. I have my own peculiar affection for November Boughs. It is the depository of many dreams and thoughts precious to me—of many sacred aspirational experiences, too holy to be argued about—of sayings, almost of mots: of so many unspeakable records, reminiscences, worked into the soil of my matured life and now at last projected in this compact shape. To have such a book—such a book produced in every way according to a feller's simple and unimpeded humors—that has been my idea, is still my idea."

     He went on about McKay: "He is young-blooded, careful, wide-awake, vital—has a shrewd eye, a steady hand. I should predict for Dave (you know he is greatly extending, greatly, all the time) that a few years of success will show him up as a big

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gun among publishers. Dave never shuffles his papers—he keeps his contracts. He has just returned from a trip West—a successful trip. He tells me he is to produce an Emerson—an early Emerson on which the copyright has expired. What a cute—devilishly cute—lot the publishing wolves are. There they are, the whole hungry herd—a dozen sets of eyes straining for a chance to pounce on these things the first minute of freedom."

     This, too, was W.'s: "Often when the visitors come—visitors particularly honored and desired—my dear, dear mother, wishing to increase the richness of her cakes, would put in shortening, and keep putting it in, until from excess of attention the whole cake would fall apart. Now—warn the professionals—the artists—the men of finesse—not to put too much shortening in their cakes!" W. gave me an O'Connor letter with the remark: "It is as much your letter as mine. Make it all yours—take it home. William mentions you. This is one of William's least consequential letters, yet has the same inevitable stir of his blood. William will die with a hurrah on his lips." I said: "He'll never know he's dead he'll be so busy with resurrection day." This made W. laugh. "Horace, you ought to write that down: it's a trumpet-note." O'Connor's letter:


Washington, D.C., Life Saving Service,
July 26, 1888

Dear Walt:

I got your card of the 19th (last Thursday's) and was greatly cheered and comforted thereby—the handwriting was so bold and vigorous. I had been feeling depressed and sorrowful—perhaps my own bad state had something to do with it: but anyhow, the brave handwriting was like Chevy Chase to Sidney, "stirring my heart as with the sound of a trumpet." Since, I saw an item in a paper reporting you better, and am encouraged. Strong hope is like strong prayer, and I shall hope for you strongly.

I have sent the To-Day to Dr. Bucke. The article was pleasing.


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One of the Transcripts you sent had a characteristic speech by Littlebill Winter. He is certainly the Winter of my discontent mentioned by Lord Bacon in his play of Richard III. Small beast! It makes me sad to think how the Devil will suffer when he gets him. For spite of his faults, the prince of darkness is a gentleman, and how can he endure such company!

I hear from Bucke pretty often. He is a saint.

We have had heavenly weather until yesterday which was a swelterer. But today is good again.

I have been overrun this week, but held back the flying hour by the hair today, just to send you this note.

I had a nice letter this morning from Mr. Traubel, to whom I will write soon.

I hope this will find you comfortable. Au revoir.

Always affectionately,

W. D. O'Connor.


      "William always has the effect of the open air upon me," said W. "Next to getting out of my room here is to stay in my room and get a letter from William. I don't know which contains the most open air—William or out-doors. I like salient men—the men of elements—oxygenated men: the fellers who come and go like storms come and go: who grow up and out of honest roots: not the titillated gentleman of boudoir amours and parlor fripperies: no, not that man: but if need be the rough of the streets who may underneath his coarse skin possess the saving graces of sympathy, service—the first of all, the last of all, the heart of all, personal excellence."


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