Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, August 29, 1888.

     Little if any change in W. today. Woke up feeling very bad. By and by remarked: "I seem to see my way out: I guess I'll get through." All day in such a negative condition. "I am like a tree fixed in the ground." "I continue just where I was, but am irritable, irritable." I objected: "I don't believe it's in you to be irritable: I couldn't connect you with irritability." He returned: "Don't be so sure about that—don't let that notion run away with you: you don't know to what depths of devilishness I may not descend if I get going once." "Yes, but you don't get going." "Maybe I don't—maybe I'm slow to get going, but it's not impossible."

     He settled himself comfortably in his chair, put on his glasses (which he had taken off as he laid down the Cosmopolitan he was reading on my entrance) and asked: "Now, what have you got for me? I see you have got something." I handed him proofs. Myrick said today: "I'll try the old man with some new-fangled type-faces." Referring to title page design. W. said: "I have no objections to being tried, especially if I am tried this way and so successfully."` We talked over details concerning the contents pages. W. said: "I never know what I want until I see it before my eyes. My mind's eye don't serve me in the printing business."


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      W. still dissenting from Bucke's views concerning the big book. "Doctor is a little too much inclined to special de luxe editions, which I don't care for at all: exclusive editions, editions for the elite, curios, what not. I have thought to get a hundred printed and bound for my own sales to help me out on the expense account. If I could sell a hundred at ten dollars a copy I'd feel like a pampered darling of fortune—it would be a pretty penny for me. Well, well—let us keep the work moving right on—many of the excited things will calm themselves. I always have great faith in ends: we miss a lot as we go along—mix up bad and good and indifferent—but the end is sure—the right end."

      Musgrove entered with a letter. W. took it, glanced at it, turned to me: "It's from the Doctor—from Bucke." Then after disposing of other things and reading the note deliberately: "There's nothing in it, nothing striking, and yet it is atmospherically so wholesome. A bunch of them take a trip together—have a good time, eating, talking, cutting up: then they go home again, all the better for a break out of routine." After a pause he said: "Did I tell you that Mrs. Coates and Mr. Coates were in today? Well, they were. I saw them—was glad to see them: both of them are so good, cordial, sincere—she particularly. It does my old eyes good to look at such a woman. They said they had come upon your intimation that they might see me. They talked about the books—she did—but Mr. Coates said: 'I have arranged for all that with Mr. Traubel—we will not trouble Mr. Whitman now.' I have reserved for them the books they want—the Centennial edition."

     I told W. I was enjoying Dowden's Shakespere. "So? It is fine—fine indeed: Dowden is flesh and blood. His book gives the common sense view of Shakespeare—gives it powerfully, lucidly, musically. I am myself not altogether satisfied with it—I do not follow or endorse his picture, his conclusions: but I esteem the book for what it possesses—for its own inimitable virtues. Dowden is my friend: he quotes me several times—is always cordial: not wholesale, but loyal. How does Dowden

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compare with Stedman? He is fuller, ampler, holds more—undoubtedly holds more. Burroughs thinks there is no one like Dowden—thinks he's the greatest of the pack—no one approaching him, no one comparable, no one in sight, not even Rossetti. I am not so sure about Rossetti: I shall never give over Rossetti: he is always capacious, liberal—an inevitably broad-acred sort of a man. Rossetti, too, has always declared for me, stood by me, staunchly assented my right to my own. And did you notice the printing of the book, Horace? The mere printing is a delight—would be a sufficient charm if there was nothing else. It is so honest—so good for bad eyes, or good ones either. American printing is all gloss, glare: the paper is bad, the ink is anemic—pale in the gills: makes me think of the prettiness of drug stores—the polished bottles, the painful glitter."

     I asked: "How about the Book Maker portrait: have you come upon an explanation of it yet?" "No, not a sign of one, not a whisper or a hint. But probably I did that"—pointing to the fac-simile autograph—" "in one of my 'moods,' though, however done, it was exceptional—not in my usual manner." He added as to the same matter: "I am not surprised that that thing should have got away from me: my memory cuts up strange capers. I wrote to Lockwood thanking him for the copies I received today but said nothing about our mystery—asked no questions. My memory is not what it was—is quite surely shocked or breaking. Indeed, it performs the most astounding antics. To-day I sent copies of the Book Maker to my sisters, to O'Connor, to Bucke and to Kennedy. When I came to Kennedy I couldn't for all I might do remember his name. I could remember Belmont and Massachusetts but it took me five minutes to get the rest. And yet my memory is perfect for old things—clear about things that happened years ago: is a good deal more at home with my old than with my new history—than with affairs I am mixed with (if I mix with any things) nowadays."

     W. had been looking for a book he could not find. "I have

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had numbers of books stolen."
"Stolen?" "Yes stolen: my own books, books sent me: stolen from down stairs, from the back room here—almost under my eyes." He stopped to laugh, and he laughed with extra heartiness. "I spoke of the defects of my memory, but bad as they are they are not fatal—some ways my memory's as good as ever. These book thieves are not all unknown: in many and many a case I could name the thief if there was need for it: but though I don't do so and wouldn't, I keep up a devil of a thinking."

     Someone has sent him Edward J. McPhelim's America critique, in which it is said: "Early in life Whitman met Mr. Beecher, and at the outset of their acquaintanceship asked him: 'How does it make you feel when men swear?' Mr. Beecher replied that it shocked him. That was enough for Whitman. He went back to his rough companions and evidently found nothing uncongenial in their conversation." I laughed and asked W.: "Where did he get that from?" W. tapped his forehead: "Here." Then added: "Some men, authors, think they are born to write articles at all hazards so they write articles—write them for ten, twenty, dollars a page. If they have facts, well and good—if they haven't facts, then so much the worse for the facts. Conway is a brilliant example of that class of men—the most brilliant example. He is always writing, always getting into print: thinks it a duty to write whether there's anything to write about or not. Conway seemed intended for a better fate but some screw got loose in the machinery and the result, though not a dead failure, was not what I call the right sort of success."

     W., in speaking of the Emerson-Carlyle correspondence, says: "It seems open to one charge from the critic. All through the book we find Emerson saying to Carlyle: 'You're a good fellow, quite a great fellow,' and so forth, and so forth: and then Carlyle returns the compliment in kind, 'You're another—another, and so forth, and so forth. It's a little like two masters of fashion trying to outbow each other. That's not all there is to the book but that is there." W. says he is considering

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whether not to interdict all strangers. "They wear me down—I find I can't stand it: we'll have to put a warning up over the front door." Asked me if I still had the remaining editorial letters in my pocket? "If you have you might go on reading them to me. They remind me of my triumphs and my defeats. I still insist that I have had more editorial battles on my list lost than won. But read."


Editorial Department The Century Magazine,
New York, July 12, 1884.

Walt Whitman, Esq.,
My dear Sir:


We are making preparations for a notable series of papers on the Battles of the War to be written by participants—general officers—including Grant, McClellan, Rosecrans, Beauregard, Longstreet, Joe Johnson and others. These we desire to supplement by short pithy papers on different phases of the War. At Mr. Gilder's request I write to ask if you would not write us a short, comprehensive paper on Hospital Nursing in Washington and on the field—something human and vivid. We should like about four thousand words.

The object of the supplementary papers is to give the life, the spirit, the color, of the War, which may be left out by the generals.

Of course we should like the paper to cover different ground from what you have before written if possible—at least to cover it in a different way.

Yours sincerely,

R. U. Johnson.


     After reading this I waited for W. to say something, but he was silent, except to exclaim: "Go on—go on: let's hear them all!" So I proceeded.


Harper & Brothers' Editorial Rooms.
New York, Oct. 22, 1884.

Dear Mr. Whitman:

Please find enclosed Messrs Harper & Brothers' cheque for thirty dollars in payment for your poem

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Of That Blithe Throat of Thine. And you have the Messrs Harpers' permission to use the poem in a collection of your poems six months (or later) after our publication.


With thanks, sincerely yours,

H. M. Alden.

Editor of Harpers' Magazine.


      "That thirty dollars," said W., "I remember quite well, because Harry Bonsall was here when it arrived and as I flourished it in the air said to me: 'I'd write bad poems myself Walt if I could get anybody to pay me thirty dollars apiece for 'em.'" The next letter was headed by a red ink question in W's hand: "send something?" It was written on the stationery of the Dublin University Magazine.


London, April 23, 1877.

Walt Whitman, Esq.
Dear Sir:


—I have been reading aloud your Whispers of Heavenly Death this evening from the copy which you so kindly sent me in March, 1876: and it has led me on to ask if you have any poems still unpublished in the same vein of mystic realism. And if so, could you spare me one or two for the Magazine which I represent? I am sorry that but a trifle could be offered for them, as the Magazine has been neglected of late, and has only recently come into my hands, to be worked up again by labor and patience.

I trust you are as well as you expect to be and nearly as happy as you hope.

Yours faithfully,

Kenningale Cook.


     "Mystic realism" struck W. He said: "Now and then we get a whole something or other packed tight and sure in a word or two." I said: "That, again, don't look much like being kicked out." And as I read the next: "Nor this either."


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Once A Week.
New York, 30 July, 1887.

Dear Sir.

Will you be so good as to let me know if you would be willing to honor us with a contribution for Once A Week and what your terms would be?

Yours faithfully,

Nugent Robinson,
Editor.



      "Why, he even says 'honor us!' It seems to me these fellows instead of kicking you out went out on the sidewalk and helped you in." W. retorted: "You do well to say 'these fellows:' but what about all the other fellows who did the kicking? Maybe you'd like to hear about them?" "I have heard: you have told me: but this bunch of autocrats seem to me to have handled you in a very mild spirit." Now he laughed. "Damn you, you are determined to have it your way! Go on with the letters and don't say so much!" Next I read another Alden letter, remarking as I did so: "Better and more of it." "Better what?" he asked. "Better courtesy, patronage, good will."


Harper & Brothers' Editorial Rooms.
New York, Nov. 30, 1883.

Dear Mr. Whitman,

Please find enclosed Messrs Harper & Brothers' cheque for fifty dollars in payment for your poem, With Husky-Haughty Lips O Sea!

With thanks and best wishes for your health and holiday cheer.

Sincerely yours,

Henry M. Alden,
Editor Harpers' Magazine.



     I still jollied W. "When you gave me this collection of letters the other day I thought from what you said that it was a bunch of sticks. Instead of that it is a bunch of roses." He had at first been just a bit nettled by my comments on these letters but this

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broke down his dignity. He nodded to me: "It certainly does look bad for my growl, to have all this evidence against it. But it just happens that I have saved the approving letters and thrown the disapproving letters away. If I had saved all my correspondence with editors you would at once see what I meant by my original remark—how that remark was justified by the facts." I desisted from further reading. There were three or four letters left but there didn't seem to be much of him left. I helped him over to the bed. "Haven't I stayed too long?" "No—it's not that—I am just as apt to get this way without you here as with you here. Besides, there are things we must do together even if we must fight for our lives in getting 'em done." I kissed him good night and started off. I was already in the hallway when I heard him cry: "Horace! Horace!" I hurried back. "I almost forgot," he exclaimed: "you'll find on the table over there a couple of open letters in purple ink. They are Trowbridge letters. You remember, you asked about his letters. There are more here but the two I have laid out there will give you a pretty good idea of the length and breadth and heat of his adhesion to me in my unfashionable days."


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