Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, August 28, 1888.

     Two men came in at night-fall—one a Philadelphian, the other a Rev. Andrews, of Belfast, Ireland. W. consented to see

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them though when they arrived up stairs not inviting them to be seated or talking with them as if he wished them to stay. He was eating his supper at the time. Andrews complimented him—spoke of objections "among the cloth" in England to L. of G.—assured W. that for his part W's. work was unexceptionable: W. saying concerning it all: "They do not seem to comprehend that we are all God's creatures"—but saying little more, he himself finally terminating the conference by pushing out his fist and bidding them good night. A little later W. had another visitor, a Camden printer, who had named his son "Walt Whitman so and so," as W. said. They talked a little but W. could not stand it. "Too much goes a good ways towards satisfying me," he said to me amusingly, describing the incident. "I feel such a strange lethargy—am utterly fagged out—am on the dizzy edge of things today."

      Had for him a proof of revised frontispiece page. His face lighted up. "That is right now—right at last"—nodding to me: "Horace, you know just what I want and do in such things: do it: do it just as if it was your own to do." Was in too bad shape today to touch the preface. Read some. "But even reading is difficult." He picks his book up, opens it, puts on his glasses, reads a bit, then suddenly lays his book down again on its open face, removes his glasses, drops his head against the back of the chair, and looks out into space. He does this again and again. Yet when I said: "You seem to have a hard time reading," he replied a bit testily: "Who told you that, I'd like to know?" I asked: "But do you?" He nodded: "I will admit something of that kind but not much."

     Bucke is still giving W. advice about the big book. W. remarked: "Maurice lives in a small town and sends me a large advice. If I could sell all the advice I get I might retire from the Leaves of Grass business with a competence." We expect Gilchrist in a few days. W. frequently works his way to the bath room: "But it's a damned painful process: my left leg ain't worth shucks anymore—I simply have to drag it along." W. handed me Dowden's Shakspere—his Mind and Art with the

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suggestion that I should read it. It is full of W.'s pencillings and of newspaper clippings pinned in—but few comments. "That is the sort of book that seems to have funded all the particular, essential, information in its own specialty: a world book in the sense of being rounded, completed, self-sufficient. Dowden could challenge all comers in his own line—no one would dare take him up." Then he stopped, adding, however, after my "I like to hear you say that," "I like to say it, too—it is only the truth. It's the finest thing in the world to be able to do justice to some study—do it whole justice—not exactly exhaust it (that is impossible) but to treat it with a sort of final comprehensiveness, dignity. Dowden has done that much in his book. I do not hesitate to say, in his memorable book. You can see from the thumb marks and other marks in the book how I have practically demonstrated my faith."

     We talked a little about the editorial letters he gave me a few days ago. "You have said things now and then about the editors which are not borne out by their letters." He asked: "What things?" "You have talked as if they uniformly turned you down. There are quite as many acceptances as refusals in this budget." He answered: "I suppose I have destroyed the most of the letters that came back with my poems. I was more likely to keep the pleasant than the unpleasant letters. I shouldn't wonder if it proved true that you have in that batch of letters and in a few others I have already given you about all the blessings that have ever come to me by way of editorial correspondence. There is some Galaxy stuff still coming to you: I can't just now just put my hand on it." He complained of his head. I got up to go. He protested: "Before you do so, read me a letter or two for example——." I laughed. "You know them all. Why should I worry you with them over again." But he still said: "Read a few: I want to have my memory refreshed." I read five letters before he stopped me. Several times he asked me to reread a sentence.


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Fields, Osgood & Company,
Boston, December 14, 1868.

Walt Whitman.
Dear Sir:


—In order that your poem shall go into the February number of the Atlantic, it is impossible to risk the time it would take to get the proof to Washington and back, So I promise you the proof shall be read, word for word, and point for point, with your copy, which being print, there is no chance for an error.

Yours always,

James T. Fields.



Office of The New York Citizen.
New York, Nov. 18, 1867.
Walt Whitman.

Dear Sir:

Do you remember that I wrote to you asking you if you could not give us a poem, and if so, on what terms?

May I call your attention once more to the matter. We should be very glad to have a poem from you, but I don't know how much the proprietors would authorize me to pay.

When you are in town, if you will call on me, I can show you two ladies—one of them my wife—who appreciate your poetry, as I do.

It is only of late years that I have understood it; and I am now enthusiastic over it.

Very respectfully yours,

W. L. Alden.
(Associate Editor).




Harper & Brothers' Editorial Rooms
New York, Jan. 3, 1885.

Dear Mr. Whitman,

I am unable to use After the Supper and Talk to advantage—though it is very happy in the prelusive connection you would give it in your volume.

With thanks, sincerely yours.

H. M. Alden.
Editor Harpers' Magazine.




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Editorial Department, The Century Magazine,
Marion, Mass., Aug 9, 1884.

My dear Mr. Whitman,

I am glad you can do the nursing article. Thanks for the Father Taylor. Should you not include Emerson in the list of his praisers which you give? We will try to find a photograph from life.

Sincerely,

R. W. Gilder.



New York Tribune.
New York, July 10, 1876.

Dear Whitman:

I was out of town—returning from the West, from the funeral of a near relative—when your note of the 7th came. We shall try to publish the poem on Monday, and if we get it in shall hope to enclose check herewith for the amount. If it doesn't come with this it will be because of my being compelled to go down to Washington as a witness in the Impeachment trial. If by reason of my absence it should be overlooked, pray remind me of it.

Very truly yours,

Whitelaw Reid.


     When I had got this far W. said: "Thank you, Horace: thanks, thanks. That's enough for the present. They do sort o' bear you out in what you say." He laughed lightly. "I am a little surprised myself at the favorable nature of the letters," he continued, "for they do certainly say yes, yes, in rather a friendly fashion—all except the one, and that one is not a slap. I do not feel sore when I am refused, but I hate to be pitched out head first without a chance to open the door for myself and go out. Most of the editors, in spite of this exhibit, were dead agin me—some even violently so: I ought to know what I am talking about for I was the one who felt the toes of their boots. There were exceptions—maybe I should have turned this over to you as a batch of exceptions." As W. stopped I read him another of the letters:


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Office of the Atlantic Monthly.
Boston, Oct. 10, 1861.

Mr. Walt Whitman—
Brooklyn, N. Y.
Dear Sir:


—We beg to inclose to your address, in two envelopes, the three poems with which you have favored us, but which we could not possibly use before their interest,—which is of the present,—would have passed. Thanking you for your attention,

We are, Very truly yours,

Editors of Atlantic Monthly.


     This envelope was addressed in W.'s own hand to "Walt Whitman, Portland Avenue, Brooklyn, N. Y.," and was endorsed: "from Atlantic Monthly declining poems." I asked W.: "What were the poems?" and he answered: "I don't just remember: I do remember that the idea that their interest was of the present struck me as being a bit odd: I always have written with something more than a simply contemporary perspective. But there's no use crying over spilled poems. The ways of editors are like the ways of Providence" "and the poets," I put in—"past finding out." W. laughed at my interjection and cried: "Now what the hell have you got against the poets?" "Just what you've got against the editors," I answered. "Is that all? I've got nothing against the editors." "I've got nothing against the poets." He had brightened up over our sally: "Then what the devil are we quarrelling about, Horace?" He was serious and silent after this for a moment: "Horace, if nations stopped long enough when they are mad to ask themselves that question we would have no wars: do you hear? we would have no wars!" He spoke with great earnestness. "Horace, most of our quarrels start with little things and grow in volume by what they feed upon." I said: "Watch the little things and the big things will take care of themselves." He exclaimed: "That's what I was about to say. Why didn't you wait till I said it? You're getting in the habit of taking the best things right out of my mouth and saying them as if they were your own.

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How am I going to shine if your light gets too big?"
I reminded him: "I haven't finished with the editors." He nodded: "I know—don't finish tonight: I've got beyond myself in this talk already: I felt miserable when you arrived—you have stirred me up considerably—brightened me lots—but if I don't stop now I'll have to pay for it to-morrow. Besides, Mr. Musgrove will step in presently and put me to bed with or without my consent, and then——". I said: "I don't believe Musgrove or anybody ever does much with you without your consent." He chuckled a bit: "I don't know—I don't know: though your guess, Horace, ain't half bad either."


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