Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, August 23, 1888.

     Forenoon. W. reading Lippincott's. I asked: "Are you studying the tragedy?"—referring to Amelie Rives' play there printed in full. "Oh no—I am not prepared to tackle that. But who is this Mitchell—Langdon Elwyn Mitchell? The name has a new sound to me." "Is the poem better than the general run of them?" "I think it is—it has some snap and go: it is worth looking over a second time." W. said he had concluded to make the edition of the complete book six instead of five hundred. "Keep your best eyes on these details, Horace. I often find I fall down—most people fall down—on details." Looks feeble, tired, this morning. Weather cool. No further work yet done by him on the proofs. W. said: "I had a note from Clifford—it came just awhile ago. He got the book." Then, handing me the letter: "It is written in the style of the Queen Anne gallows period: very complimentary—rich in compliment: but I know it is wholly sincere in him—wholly so. He likes the booklet (and what a word that is, too—booklet!—just exactly says what we want it to!)—and knows just what it comes to, too, I have no doubt." Here is the letter:


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Farmington, Maine,
Aug. 21, 1888.

My dear Mr. Whitman:

I am content to have waited forty years for the birthday book which I have from you and Horace. If forty more could hold promise and deserving of such another, I should face them with best hope and patience.

If this coveted but not-to-have-been-asked for autograph means, as it seems to do, that the hand which wrote it is much stronger than when last I felt its generous touch, that token is alone enough to gladden this my little day. Long life and all love!

J. H. Clifford


     Clifford addressed the envelope simply "Walt Whitman." W. said: "I like it so. I remember that Tennyson was at first a little shy but ended by coming round and saying I must speak of you and to you simply as Walt Whitman. Some of my friends still hold on to the belated 'Walter:' some do even worse—say 'Mr.' Whitman. Could anything be more out of place than 'Mr.' Whitman?" After a laugh: "They seem to feel that anything less than 'Mr.' breeds familiarity. My own family is for calling me 'Walt'—all of my family. Dr. Bucke always speaks of me in his book as 'Walt Whitman,' which sounds just right." I reminded W. that Clifford hates the "Rev." W. nodded: "Yes, I remember what he said about it. I do not wonder that a man made up as he is mostly of the simplest material should hate a cant title. Clifford belongs out on the road—does not belong in a church. The church is no place for a man after he has got his growth. I would like to predict of Clifford that if he don't step out of his own accord he will some day be kicked out. He is too ready to say the things which rub pews the wrong way: it is like a perpetual challenge, which will in good time be taken up. Some nabob parishioner will get it into his head that Clifford is dangerous to have about—is not a fit man to act as their spokesman—then Clifford will retire—with honor, maybe, but retire. I never knew a minister extraordinary

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in a church to make a fit of that kind succesfully—and Clifford is a minister extraordinary, don't you think?"
W. stopped a minute. I said nothing. Then he went on: "I once said something like this to a woman, a church woman—it may have been Hannah Smith. She asked me: 'Why are you so bitter against religion, Mr. Whitman?' And when I answered, 'I am not talking about religion—I am talking about the church'—she only said: 'I don't see the difference—they are one thing to me.' Nine people out of ten would make the same protest."

     Evening. Reading Lippincott's again. "Ah Horace!" he cried in his usual fashion stretching out his hand: "And what do you bring tonight?" I laid my hat and package on the lounge and produced for him the big envelope containing three missing pages of plate proofs (128-9-30) and proof of frontispiece. Enjoyed them. Some of the proofs on glazed paper, which he hates. He studied the portrait with great care. "That will do," he finally remarked, looking over at me: "We have come out of a great trouble with our skins perfect. Sometimes when things don't go right I find myself saying: 'It's lucky not to have been worse.' I do not need to say that for the picture. The picture is a success. I won't thank anyone for it—it's all a part of our gamble—but I'll thank our stars." He suddenly commenced to poke about among the papers on the floor with his cane. "I had a Post here, Horace: something in it I wanted you to see to. The American Book Maker, it seems, has been printing something about me—a portrait—which Bonsall seems to regard with great favor. We must get a copy of the magazine." After much searching the paper was found under the rocker of his chair. "Ah! Here it is: read it." I stood reading. He turned up the light. "Don't that bear out my idea?" Bonsall had written: "The American Book Maker prints a life-like picture of Walt Whitman, which may be among the last, as it certainly is the best, given." Now W. resumed: "Go to Bonsall—borrow his copy: then we may see what we want." W. while he looked for the paper talked of the confusion in the room:

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"I think there is a devil—that he some days gets loose in this room."

     Expressed a desire to see the Emerson-Carlyle correspondence. Ignatius Donnelly passed through Camden yesterday and this morning an interview appeared in the Press. W. had read it. "Yes, all of it: and it was interesting: but I don't think Donnelly strengthens his case by such interviews—interviews which carry with them the cheaper atmosphere of a second or third class lawyer. Besides, all that English exploiting, noising about, weakens his position. His Cryptogram is a great book in spite of Donnelly himself—the first part of it, I mean, which staggered me and must make any unbiased man pause and consider. After that, William Shaksper is no more for me—for me, at least. But long debates at Oxford, and putting it to a vote, and arguing it up and down, as the case may be in no wise adds invincibility to the cause. I rely more on the quiet pondering of data, contemporary probabilities, and so forth, than on argument, logic, scholarly pros and cons, even if they are of the very best: on the silent conviction that is possessing many minds—the drift of the more considerable students: the not-to-be-stated but real and unassailable instinct now ripening in men here and there—in Tom, in Dr. Bucke, in you yourself—yes, in me: count me in with the 'considerable.' That seems far more potent and significant to me than the slam-dash controversy of the lawyers. The whole point is, to provide the material—to set it forth so it may be handled—and then turn on the light, which, gathering strength more and more, in its own free way, will drive inevitably to a certain result—is eligible for one result and one only."

     Thurman made a big speech on the tariff yesterday at Port Huron. W. read it. "But I fear Thurman is not the man—have always believed he was not the man. There is a great dearth in America of men who will exploit, elucidate, this subject on the highest grounds—of men not intellectual alone, but emotional, sympathetic, bound in by no narrow horizon of a special party, sect, school. We have had cute men—men too

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damned cute—Summer was one of them—free traders—but no one clear of alliances, conventional hesitations, limitations of one kind or another: no one without some sort of a bond to qualify the purity of his faith. All the fellers consider the tariff as an affair in itself complete, as if nothing else was involved, as it would be in a library with one shelf only, and all that for books on one subject: and yet there is no policy, no truth, no principle that draws more to itself than the tariff, considered in its real rootgerms and its infinite effects. You mention Henry George. I do not think I should say anything about him: I know so little, practically nothing, of his economic theories. It is my impression of him, however that he too is the victim of a special twist, bias—not the absolutely direct individuality, personality, I am looking for—America requires. In this campaign it strikes me that the whole batch of the spellbinders and statesmen so-called (God help us, statesmen!) are all wrong, all sides—discussing the problem from a vulgar point of view—poor, petty, unworthy, insincere, insulting in fact. These men never get up high enough to see what the problem in reality is—never recognize it in its international complications—do not see that it is not political but human—that it means something to Bohemia as well as to America."

     He stopped here to ejaculate: "Why, damn me, I'm making a speech!" I clapped my hands. He threw his arms out as if in acknowledgment of applause. Then he proceeded: "Anyhow, I am convinced that the best samples of the critter off there in England, Ireland, Scotland, beat us by a good margin—are of more solid substance—are built for a longer stay. The actors for example (there have been lots of them coming here from time to time to see me): tall, broad, plainly dressed, not grammatical in speech (a suit of tweed, perhaps, or even something plainer)—not formal, like our men—generous, lithe, averse to show in all ways—no gammon (oh! no gammon at all—it's unknown to them)—yet men to be depended upon for severe trials, stretches of tremendous labor, splendid unostentatious achievements. And these are features of the general life over there—

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inertia, stability. The trouble here with us is our devil of a craze for money—money in everything for every occasion—by hook or by crook, money: and, on top of that, show, show: crowning all that, brilliancy, smartness unsurpassed, repartee, social wish-wash, very misleading, very superficial: the whole situation one to discourage the more efficient factors of character. Of course this is an exaggerated statement—such statements generally are—but it contains the material of a just complaint. We will get out of it—must get out of it: we will escape our defects: I do not croak. There is one thing more to be said—an important thing. Before I was sick, particularly in the year or two previous, I was visited a lot by the better class mechanics—I mean the more serious of the mechanics (the more informed, ambitious, instructed). Frequently they would come in and talk and talk, sometimes like a house afire, of their enthusiasms—socialistic, many of them, perhaps most of them, were—very bright, quick, dead in earnest, able to take care of themselves and more too in an argument. They, their like, the crowd of the grave workingmen of our world—they are the hope, the sole hope, the sufficient hope, of our democracy. Before we despair we have to count them in—after we count them in we won't despair. All will adjust itself. But that image of the typical extra fine Britisher—his brown face, his broad deep chest, his ample limbs, his clear eye, his strong independent chest, his ample limbs, his clear eye, his strong independent mien, his resonant voice—still clings to me. One thing we must remember: we were born in the political sense free—they were not: that creates an altogether different atmosphere—is a fact never to be forgotten. We seem in many ways to have grown careless of our freedom. Some day we will have to stir our croppers and fight to be free again!"
I said: "We shook off our England. We shook off the slave. What will we shake off next?" "Money!—the dominion of money." I protested: "You kick when I say that: you say I am too radical: you tell me to hold in my horses." He laughed at my dig. "Maybe I do that just after some theorist has been here with an axe to convert me. That aways makes me hot—hot: I resent it.

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But do you suppose you see any better than I do the menace hanging over our democracy? Yet, Horace, we are safe, safe. The mass, the crowd, the vast multitude that works, is competent to, will, preserve our liberties: they are our prop, mainstay, sure, sure"


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