Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, August 27, 1888.

     Gave Ferguson order for paper today—seven cent paper: heavy weight for November Boughs, light weight for the "complete" Whitman. Also saw Bilstein about the frontispiece. W. spent another very bad day. When I entered was reading Scott again. He put his book down at once. Looked ill, tired, worn, almost haggard. Threatened to go down stairs today but did not go. "I must make a move—the time has come to make a break." Said to me: "If I don't force myself about some I will eventuate by making this room a prison, and that will be my finish." His niece was in to see him this evening early. Harned dropped in as we talked, leaving us after awhile still busy in our arguments. When H. was about to go W. remarked to him:

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"It's been a rum go today, Tom, a rum go: I've had a devil of a time of it—a devil of a useless time of it. I've felt brighter since you fellows came in than in all the rest of the day put together: you have cheered me up. I'm like a candle, whose flame is up and down, varying continually, never the same: that candle—that's me."

     He spoke of a Bucke letter. "Doctor is absorbed in Willie Gurd's meter—it possesses him body and soul. Even the Leaves must be set aside for this machine. I guess he has a good heap of money put away in it—far away I'd bet: so far away it'll never be got back, I'm afraid: but Doctor is very optimistic: he sees it all come home to roost with millions added to enrich the nest: God help us! Well, I don't wish Maurice any harm—and I don't wish him any money, either." Talked some about Harned: "Tom is direct—powerfully, unerringly direct—in his work in the law, I should guess. It is a Sir Matthew Hale quality: I have cited it in writing of Hicks—Elias Hicks. It is of supreme importance—perhaps the greatest faculty of all—productive of signal results: a corkscrew certainty of brain, of spirit, going this fashion"—indicating— "through all distractions to the core, to foundations, to roots. What a pity all lawyers, judges, priests (especially priests) did not have it in past ages: how much sorrow would have been saved the world!"

     I said to W.: "I didn't write to Burroughs today: I didn't know what to tell him about Arnold." W. laughed. "About me, you mean? My notion of Arnold—of John's paper? Well, what can I say? It has been some time (didn't you say June?) since it appeared. I read it then but have no definite idea of the impression it made upon me." "I remember: I remember that you seemed more occupied with the fact that you differed with Burroughs than with the other merits of the piece." "That is quite possible—no doubt true: I can never bring myself to applaud Arnold. Arnold has his pet word, adopted from the German: Philistine: a word I should apply to him above all others: and a Philistine of the sort I cannot accept, affiliate with. John himself, in spite of himself, has been touched a bit

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with the frost of the literary clique in New York: Stoddard, Winter, Fawcett, God knows who—the whole crew."
I broke in: "But he's not one of 'em!" "No—no indeed: not one of 'em: one not of 'em—but touched, touched, bitten: touched as Dowden is in England: the noble, good, Dowden, superb as he is in instinct and equipment. John's preeminent features are good nature, good humor, eligibility for friendship: he proposes to include everybody, to accept the meanest creature in the tribe, to draw no lines: he in fact is for the ensemble: John's world would have no outcasts." "Yes," I said, "nor would your world—that kind of a Burroughs is Walt Whitman, too" "True: true!—that's me, too: but I am not good natured: no; no; not at all as good and kind as John: I get riled—a fellow like Arnold stirs me up. I accept the world—most of the world—but somehow draw the line somewhere on some of those fellows. John detects in me primarily the lessons of comradeship, the comrade spirit: is drawn to that, sees that as the vitalizing spinal force."

     I showed W. an autograph note written by Wendell Phillips to C. C. Burleigh, given to me by the latter's son. "I have heard Burleigh speak," said W., taking off his glasses: "The whole Burleigh family was noble: C. C. was a powerful speaker: he was a grand looking as well as a grand spoken man: most impressive in build and demeanor. In those days I frequented the anti-slavery halls, in New York—heard many of their speakers—people of all qualities, styles—always interesting, always suggestive. It was there I heard Fanny Wright: the noblest Roman of them all, though not of them, except for a time: a woman of the noblest make-up whose orbit was a great deal larger than theirs—too large to be tolerated for long by them: a most maligned, lied-about character—one of the best in history though also one of the least understood. She had a varied career here and in France—married a damned scoundrel, lost her fortune, faced the world with her usual courage. Her crowning sorrow was when the infernal whelp who had been her husband tried in France, through the aid of a priest, to take from her her daughter, charging that the child needed to be protected from

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the danger of her mother's infidelistic teachings. Think of it! And this time it was a priest not a woman who was at the bottom of the villainy. They say, somebody says, almost everybody says, there's a woman at the bottom of everything. That's the half truth: the whole truth is that there's a man always back of the woman. The scoundrel, through the aid of the French law, which is of all law probably the least favorable to women, got nearly her whole fortune, perhaps the whole of it, so that at the last, when she needed five thousand dollars or so, she had to beg it of him, he even then making the concession reluctantly. But my remembrance of her all centers about New York. She spoke in the old Tammany Hall there, every Sunday, about all sorts of reforms. Her views were very broad, she touched the widest range of themes—spoke informally, colloquially. She published while there the Free Inquirer, which my daddy took and I often read. She has always been to me one of the sweetest of sweet memories: we all loved her: fell down before her: her very appearance seemed to enthrall us. I had a picture of her about here—it is probably somewhere in the house still: a sitting figure—graceful, deer-like: and her countenance! oh! it was very serene. Her hair was put in the old style, high at the back, so"
—gesturing. "You don't know Mary Smith—Mrs. Costelloe?—well, if you could know her, meet her, you might in a general way see Fanny Wright as she always comes back to me." "Did she write anything, Walt?" asked Harned. "Oh, yes! one little book I remember well—a little pamphlet, a mere whiffet for size but sparkling with life: Ten Days in Athens it was called." I said: "Morse gave it to me and said he had given away hundreds of copies." "Did Morse say that to you? Good for Morse! I have myself given some copies around in places where I thought they would do the most good. The book is not great but it is interesting, even fascinating—written, I think, in her eighteenth year—immature, perhaps, crude, but strong."

     Harned got up, said good bye to W. and left. W. then went right on with the same line of reminiscence, which seemed of intense interest to him, as it was to me. "I swore when I was a

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young man that I would sometime—I could not say when but as the opportunity appeared—do public justice to three people—three of the superber characters of my day or America's early days who were either much maligned or much misunderstood. One of them was Thomas Paine: Paine the chiefest of these: the other two were Elias Hicks and Fanny Wright. I determined that I would bear witness to them—true witness where the great majority have borne false witness—in thick and thin, come what might to me. Some years ago I put in a word for Paine—appeared on the Liberal League platform up town, in Philadelphia—you will find what I said in the Collect of Specimen Days—holding forth, so to speak: talking right out in I think unmistakable words the conviction that had for so long beset me. Now, in our new book, I try in my Hicks to confirm another item of my triple oath. Fanny Wright yet remains: God knows whether I'll ever get to her! If I ever get back to anything like or that seems like strength I shall do for Fanny Wright what I have done for the others—that and more, too, if need be. If a Fanny Wright afternoon or evening should be arranged for anywhere by any group of people who know enough to celebrate her I must try to be about to say my say, even if I must drag myself on my half dead legs to the spot—to put in such full measure of tribute as I know ever, forever, is due to her from me. The Paine piece was very small—written diminuendo, I am aware—yet is choked, brimfull, of such feeling as the moment, the man, the old cherished associations, invoked. The boys over in New York in the Bowery used to have a handsome idiom—'Little, but O hell!' Ain't that richer than the mint? I hope if my Paine piece is little it's also O hell."

     W. asked me: "What do you think Horace—is a preface necessary?—I mean, for the big book?" "Perhaps not necessary but you would make it seem so." "You are a flatterer. I have thought no, I have thought yes: today I have been thinking yes extra strong. But whatever it is, it must be very short: perhaps a bare statement of the purpose, design, of the book (has it a purpose or design?)—then a full stop—would be the best thing to

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meet the case. My hesitations make me think of a story. The captain of a baseball nine was to be presented with a silver pitcher. The spokesman for the Club had a fine speech written and rehearsed—the captain ditto. The day arrived, the crowd was there, but the program didn't go through. Both the stars of the occasion forgot their speeches: they flustered about, wondering what to do—then finally retreated to first causes, to their simple human nature—the spokesman exclaiming; 'Captain, here's the pitcher!' and the captain exclaiming in reply: 'Is that the pitcher?' So the affair was a success after all, though not according to the rule set. I guess I'll have to model my preface on the incident—and if the preface is half as successful as the incident I'll be satisfied. 'Captain, here's the preface!' 'Is that the preface?' We want to get the pitcher into the right hands—that's the whole object."

     W. is as he says "still mystified by the Fowler portrait and its superscription. I must have been hypnotically handled by somebody." In objecting to a line of type at the foot of the frontispiece portrait W. says: "I don't know why but I know I don't like it. I don't know what I want but I do know what I don't want. I know my game always when I see it but I do not always know how to drive it up a tree. Use your own taste—that's the best way—and when your taste is my taste (for it often enough is, don't you think, Horace?) I'll yell for you to anchor. I resign all this detail to you, to do with it what you can. You will hear from me loud and hard if you fail me but I don't think you will fail me. I have a sense of things that seems to precede all judgments—a something or other that does not immediately explain itself but likes, dislikes, not being able to say why. It's the Quaker in me—in me strong here and there."

     Though looking bad enough W's. whole talk this evening was vigorous and inspiring. His voice was at times weak. Mary Davis said to me: "You seem to have waked Mr. Whitman up. He was dull enough all day. Miss Jessie came in in the very early evening. She is a bright girl—she, too, cheered him. I have never known him to be more silent than today." Talked

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some about a Roden Noel portrait which he produced from a pile of papers on the table. "It is Byronic in the extreme: do we not understand that he is somehow of the Byron stock? It is feminine, too—not weakly so, but feminine. Noel hates to have us reckon up our assets without counting him in: you remember how he kicked? He is a virile sort of fellow, too, if I may get a shy in on him though his letters. I gave you a volume of his poems once but you have never told me how they hit you—or if they hit you all." W. also said, handing me a sheet of paper: "You might put this with the Linton letter I gave you yesterday or day before. I don't know as it's of the least use, but you're so hungry and fussy I feel guilty if I throw the least scrap of paper away without your permission." What he gave me was the draft of one of his own letters.


Camden, Feb. 24 '75.

My dear Linton:

I want you to have printed very nicely for me 1000 impressions of the cut, my head, to go into the book. Herewith I send the size of sheet. If convenient I should like to see a proof, fac simile, first.

I am still holding out here—don't get well yet—and don't go under yet.

Love to you—Write immediately on receiving this.


      Under the note W. had written: "this sized sheet—print dark in color as you think they will stand (I don't like them too weak in color)." W. said: "1875! that was one of my darkest years: I was down, down, down that year: it seemed like a year of surrender. I came out of it—God knows how." Remarked: "You have said nothing of the editorial wish-wash I handed over to you yesterday." I replied: "I haven't come to it yet—I'm getting behind in some things." W. laughed: "I'm in no hurry: anytime or never, it's all one to me"


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