Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 193] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Saturday, August 25, 1888.

     Running about all day for W.—first to Bonsall's house for the Book Maker—then across the river for conferences at different

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 194] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
places with Ferguson, McKay, Magarge & Green (paper merchants), Brown, Bilstein (plate printers). Struck a paper for seven cents, by which we can save one hundred and forty dollars on the lot required. W. said at once: "If you agree, we will have that—that quality for both books." He endorsed my set of plate-proofs as follows: First proof-sheets of November Boughs—to my friend Horace Traubel who gets out the booklet with me. Walt Whitman Aug: 25, '88." He wrote under a frontispiece proof of his own portrait: "The Seventieth Year—taken from life" He laughed as he did this. "You threaten to be as odd and particular as I am myself. I recollect Count Gurowski, in Washington, once directing me what to write in a book—some damnable Germanicism—and then explaining: 'I know you think it trifling, but then other people attach a great value to just such things'."

     Brought over today a number of proofs of the frontispiece plate. W. still quite satisfied with it. Proposes to put it in the big book also. I produced the Book Maker containing Frank Fowler's portrait of W., who just glanced at it and exclaimed vehemently: "That's not me—not like me: I must confess it disappoints me as a portrait. Yet, what a wonderful piece of work it is!—and after all, if not the Hamlet it is a Hamlet, and that is not without its satisfactions. But what mystifies me about it is, where the devil he got my sitting, my superscription, and when the devil I looked like that. I can't for the life of me remember Fowler—what he is like, that he met me, how he could have encountered me in this or any other fashion. I do have a dim remembrance of having been corralled at Huntington (I think that was in 1881 or thereabouts) by an artist, but I am sure that involves another person, not Fowler: oh yes! Dora Wheeler: I feel it—her: do you know of her?—painter?—artist? How little this all sounds like me: 'Yes', says Walt Whitman, and so forth, and so forth: yet it looks genuine—though how Fowler could have come into possession of it I couldn't guess: the writing is a bit off for me but the sentiment is genuine. The picture itself is not Walt Whitman—is too combed, curled,

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 195] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
pretty for him—lacks his traits, the this or that which you know him by."

     Without waiting for me to break in he added: "I have been reading the Emerson-Carlyle letters: they are interesting to me from the word go: historic letters, letters of genius, in some respects the most remarkable letters in all English literature. I find you must get fully into the atmosphere before you can thoroughly enjoy them. But, do you know, I should say here was a chance for the critics, too. If I was myself a critic, was admitted as a critic to the reviews, I would cry out against the whole business as too deliberate, too much prepared, too top-loftical—too infernally top-loftical. God never made men this way: this is the way men are made when they are made over by men—creations of strains, creations for effect. But after that is said all the bad is said: as for the rest, the correspondence is fascinating, elevated, conclusive. I deduct only a little from the total, you see: there is plenty left."

     I read him Burroughs' letter of the 23rd closing with a request for W's opinion of B's Arnold in the June Century and admonished me not to "let him know I put you up to it." I excused myself to W. for reading the whole letter by saying: "I know you're that kind of a man to whom all is never too much." "You are right—right to read it: and how good in John: that part of the letter and all the letter so like him. I once visited Girard College—I think I went with Houghton, Lord Houghton—and the good old President said to me: 'I perceive you come to learn, to investigate. If you meet anywhere with the legend, 'no admittance,' be it just there that you do most quickly betake yourself.' That's the way with John's caution to you—best observed by being violated." B. will send on some pears.

     Happening to refer to a paper he had sent to Mary Costelloe W. said; "She has met Tennyson: the two girls went to see him once—I told you of that. Tennyson (the sly old rascal), is a lady's man—is fond of the girls—rather prefers them. They say he particularly affects children—children of ten or eleven or such years—is often seen with one on his knee." W. paused

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 196] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
while I asked questions about Tennyson's title. Then: "He has all that in him, the eligibility for all that—for title, place, deference, hauteur—but in the great deeps behind, below, the great spirit pervading all, something more, something truly human, lasting, unerringly true. When I write him, as I have several times, I never address him except as simply Alfred Tennyson. Mrs. Gilchrist's talks with me about him were always charmed, touched, as with the contact of an unusual personality."

     I asked W. if he had kept any Emerson letters. "Yes, several—I had a number of letters from him, as you know, some of them coming to Washington—two or three of them there. If you like, and I can put my hands on them, the letters may be transferred to your collection. I am pretty certain I still have the original, the first, the great Emerson letter, too—the bravest of them all: but where it just is it would beat my poor brains to say." This revived the old question—had Emerson ever recanted his Whitmanism? W. answered; "It is my final belief that he did not—a belief confirmed by many things, many facts, many side-lights. I shall never forget Lord Houghton's visit of 1876, after a several week's course of meetings with Emerson. He sat opposite me (it was down on Stevens Street) as you do there now—raised his finger this way—and said, in a resolute manner, which was at once clear and emphatic: "Mark my words, Whitman [or Walt Whitman or Walt]—mark my words, put them down: I want to say them now because I am never likely to see you again: mark my words—Emerson never took the back track—never, never: never swerved, never retreated—is still your friend, as he was and must continue to be, recanting nothing, sticking to his faith. I know what I am talking about—I am not guessing: I have been there, talked with him, understood him and been understood: Whitman in all the essentials of adhesion Emerson is still on your side, sternly affirming your particular message.' It was just that way, in such warm words, that Lord Houghton spoke to me—almost those very words or words purporting them." Then W. proceeded reflectively: "In substance, in bulk, that is right—is confirmed by my own knowledge.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 197] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
That the literary fellows drove Emerson hard I know—everybody knows: that he was almost driven to cover by the pressure is also a fact not disputed. Yet I am compelled to believe that he remained to the end unmoved in all the essentials of his first loyalty. I do not mean that he always thought the same of me but that he never shifted his point of view to satisfy the protesters. Besides, there's a side to that story which is known to but one person—a side mine, never divulged—a side I have no desire to exploit, made clear by me to O'Connor but to no other person living—and on that alone I could rest much, all. None of the reasons of my friends why Emerson could not have changed can come so close home, can go so near the marrow, the spine, of what is the abiding truth of it all, as some few things, some never exploited minor assurances, whatnot, made by Emerson to me, for me alone—sacredly, wholly for me—not to be blazoned out in any confession or defense.

      I read him a Bucke letter dilating on the water meter. W. was not interested. Drifted off at once into other matters. He was in a high mood the whole evening—the best for weeks. "The prospect of an early production of both the books gives me a sense of relief beyond words. I want you to say to all the fellows—the printer men—all of them (be sure you don't forget the proof-reader) that Walt Whitman is grateful for everything they have done—that his pay is not the pay of money but the pay of love. Tell them that—tell even the flinty ones that. I want them to know that I am not in merely trade relations with them." W. was lying down on my arrival but got up at once and hobbled to the chair, asking me what I had to show him. Of his health he said: "It's nothing to brag of—at the best only so-so—has no real up-tides. I feel as if I weighed four hundred pounds."

     Bucke has sent W. a pamphlet on the uses of alcohol, negativing it even for sickness. W. says: "Bucke knows I drink—at least that I used to whenever I got the chance—was in the mood. And yet I am not sure but he is right—right even in his extremest extreme statement—that the reaction from drink is always to be feared: always, without question or exception. I

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 198] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
know that I dare not touch it myself any more. The champagne that was brought me a couple of weeks ago was tempting and I took a little glass of it, a very little glass of it, a mere fillip—feeling, as I thought, in consequence, uncomfortable, hardly myself, the rest of the day."
W. got as far as the bath-room today, going there without any assistance. But he said to me this evening: "If these things—tables, chairs, etc.—were not scattered about the room, if I didn't know every object and spot, I don't believe I could navigate at all. There's no use bawling because the batter's upset, Horace, but it begins to look as if I wasn't much feathers any more physically speaking: my plumage is about all shaken out."


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.