Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, August 30, 1888.

     Received today at office basket of pears from John Burroughs, taking some over to Camden with me in the evening. When I entered W's. room with the burden on my shoulder he laid down his book and looked at me in astonishment. "What in the world have you got there?" he cried: and when I had explained he added: "Ah! so you brought it over—all the way over and by yourself, too?" I set the basket on the floor in front of him. "How good of John! And will you write to him? Yes do so and give him my love: tell him I sit here simmering, tallying things as they go, but lame, useless, perhaps not to get about again at all." He spoke calmly but freely about his condition. "I am only so-so—I gain no strength, and, I may say, no heart—lose heart, in fact. I doubt if I shall ever get out of this mess—I am more and more doubtful: it seems to me I am here for a

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life sentence—here in my prison, as I call it."
To Mary Davis he said: "I guess my ship won't sail no more," and to me in conclusion: "It looks as if I'd go on in about this way to the end."

     Every time he gets in such a mood about his condition he urges that we hurry our work. Did so this evening. Instead of saying, "let's take our time—time is plenty," he says, "our time may be very short—who knows how short?" and so: "Push everything along with vigor." I showed him samples of paper. He chose one. "I like it—like its feel, like its look: order that. I will give you a check for it any day you say so. One thing more: see that the frontispiece plate is printed. I do not want anything my fault to interfere with your progress. When I'm in the road throw me out—I empower you to throw me out." Bucke wrote him a cheery letter day before yesterday advising him to move down stairs, live in sight of events, go riding occasionally, and so forth. But W. said: "I know better than any others can what I should do, what I care to do. At present I have no desire for change of any sort." Approved of Myrick's title page. "I generally find that if I start by liking a thing I am eventually satisfied with it and let it go." Had read Contents pages today. Reduced the size of "Walt Whitman" on the title. "It's unusual for me to put it on at all but the publishers insist on it—Dave McKay in particular—saying that it secures readers, arrests attention. It never quite approves itself to my eyes but I yield. You know, Horace, that I am of a pliable disposition. You do know, don't you?" He stopped to laugh at the idea. As to the big book, he is asking himself if it may not need a special title. "If one pops up I'll nail it—use it—but I won't go looking for it." "I had from Australia today," he said, "a little book (there it is—you have your hand on it now)—a peculiar book: a book of poems, labor poems, written by an anarchist or some such fellow." "Have you read it?" "No—not at all: I rarely read literature of the sort. This man is affectionate: look at his inscription." This was the inscription:


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"To Walt Whitman,—to the poet of the first generation of Democracy, to the noble pioneer of a true Civilization, to the splendid singer of the heath and freedom of man,—with admiration, affection, reverence."

      "The author's name is Adams—Francis Adams," added W. "and the book is called Songs of the Army of the Night. You ought to take the book along with you, Horace: it's more in your line than mine. They all think I am theirs—theirs alone. My own instinct is to avoid books of that nature: they never attracted me: nowadays, when I am almost like a closed bank account, I find them absolutely impossible. You will like to see this particular book: I looked at it enough to see that it is superior in its class: you may even read it: you are so anxious to keep up with everything that's going on—to see what the fellows, all the odds and ends of the fellows, in the world are about."

     I gave him a little portrait of myself. "I shall like to have it right here where I can put my hands on it—and my eyes." Then he got back into business again. "I shall send to Washington for the copyright. We need two title pages for that. Then we need title pages for your set and Bucke's and my own, and contents for all. I trust all to you—I am always expecting that you will keep tabs on everything going on in our business together whether I speak of it or not. When the plate printer gets his work done take the sheets to Oldach, as you suggest: I have about fully decided to adopt him: I know about him—like his work." Had he gone over the plate proofs thoroughly?" "Not thoroughly, nor do I feel that I shall or ought. It looks bad for you, Horace—as if you'd have to do that part of the job without my assistance." Asked him for an order upon Sherman for the plates of L. of G. to be delivered to Ferguson. "Yes—I'll write you the order: and another thing, Horace"—here he removed his glasses and closed his eyes: "There are still a few slips in Leaves of Grass in spite of all my vigilance and these I shall give you a list of so that they may be looked to in this edition." Wishes me to get him "twenty or more—though not

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many more"
impressions from the frontispiece plate on "extra good paper:" "I have a number of friends I want to send copies to." Told him I enjoyed the Trowbridge letters very much. "So they struck you forcibly, did they? That's the way they struck me at the time." I asked in mock seriousness: "Why don't you say that Trowbridge, too, kicked you out?" He was amused. "You have a long memory Horace—an uncomfortable memory. Don't it hurt you sometimes?" It was my turn to laugh. "I don't know what about that. It's hurting you just now." Still good natured W. said: "Anyhow, the Trowbridge letters are all right, don't you think? Trowbridge is not a master-force in literature but he has mined a lot in honest ground and brought out some real metal." I read the letters aloud at W.'s request.


Arlington, Mass.
Apr. 3rd, 1875.

My dear friend,

I think I have all of your books (2 or 3 editions of some) except the last,—specified in my former note,—which alone I had intended to ask for. That might be sent by mail. I write this because on your card you speak of sending me books, and because I really desire only one.

I still go back occasionally to the old Leaves of Grass and find in them the same unfailing freshness and power which repeated readings in no wise dull to the sense—a test which only master strokes in literature can stand. They seem very great to me. I am thankful for them.

Faithfully yours,

J. T. Trowbridge.



Arlington, Mass.
Dec. 2, 1877.

Dear Friend Whitman,

By the time you get this I suppose you will have received The Book of Eden which I have ordered for you from the publishing house. I think you will find some things in it that will interest you.


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I have heard nothing from the projected bust of you for a long while. The last time I saw it, nearly a year ago, it had quite lost headway. I hope, however, that Morse will take a new departure and finally succeed.

I see that somebody has stepped forward to "defend" you (in a mild way) in the Contributors' Club of the last Atlantic. I am astonished that these latter-day critics should have so little to say of the first Leaves of Grass, or venture to speak of them only apologetically. They still stand to me as the most powerful prophetic utterances in modern literature.

I have now two dear little girls, and we are all pretty well. I trust you are comfortable.

J. T. Trowbridge.


      W. said: "Trowbridge was one of the early comers and long stayers, always loved and welcomed. I have had some friends of a secondary character—friends with ifs and buts to be satisfied before they would swear to an allegiance. Trowbridge came with a few others by a straight road. You notice what he says of the first edition. Do you know, I think almost all the fellows who came first like the first edition above all others. Yet the last edition is as necessary to my scheme as the first edition: no one could be superior to another because all are of equal importance in the fulfillment of the design. Yet I think I know what Trowbridge means, too: I do not consider his position unreasonable: there was an immediateness in the 1855 edition, an incisive directness, that was perhaps not repeated in any section of poems afterwards added to the book: a hot unqualifying temper, an insulting arrogance (to use a few strong words) that would not have been as natural to the periods that followed. We miss that ecstasy of statement in some of the after-work—miss that and get something different, something in some ways undoubtedly better. But what's the use arguing an unarguable question? It either is or isn't and that's the end on't." I called W.'s attention to the fact that I had not read all the editorial letters last night. Should I go on with them? "Still harping on my

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daughter! Yes, go on. But, say, Horace, ain't you nearly done with 'em? I had no idea the story had so many chapters when I handed it over to you."
I read.


Harper & Brothers' Editorial Rooms.
New York, Sept. 20, 1886.

Dear Mr. Whitman,

I am unable to avail myself of your War Memoranda, which I herewith return. The Century Magazine has so strongly occupied this field that we do not wish to enter upon it.

With thanks, sincerely yours,

H. M. Alden,
Editor Harpers' Magazine.



      "See," said W., "there's a kick: don't you call that a kick?" "If it's a kick it's a sort of kick that don't hurt." He said again: "I suppose I'm thin-skinned too, sometimes: I never get it quite clear in my old head that I am not popular and if editors have any use for me at all it can only be among the minor figures of interest. I do not rank high in market valuations—at the best I am only received on sufferance: I have not yet really got beyond the trial stage."


The North American Review.
New York, Oct. 5, 1886.

My dear Friend:

The syndicate is dissolved. Mr. Rice furnishes articles for the Star only. The price of your article puts it outside of any possible use for it in that paper, as the highest price is ten dollars per thousand. Just wait a few days, however, and I will read it and see if it will not do for the North American. Your Burns article will be, I expect, in the November number.

Very truly yours,

James Redpath.


      "Redpath? yes, Redpath was always partial to me—even went out of his way to curl my hair. He jumped in several

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times and saved me from bankruptcy—steered things my way that might have gone anywhere: interceded for me, with Rice for instance, often, I suspect, at some cost to himself. O'Connor used to say to me: 'I can count your real friends in America, Walt, on my fingers and toes: Burroughs, Redpath—and so he would go on: I noticed he always included Redpath."
I read W. another letter.


The Saturday Union.
Lynn, Mass., May 26, 1884.

Mr. Walt Whitman:
Dear Sir.


I send you with this letter two copies of our paper, both containing notices of your poems. Permit me to thank you warmly for the great inspiration I have received from the reading of Leaves of Grass. In my opinion it makes a new era in American Literature, and is to stand out more and more prominently, as time advances, as the distinctively American book.

Most respectfully,

S. W. Foss.


     I asked W.: "Who is Foss?" He answered: "I don't know—a writer, they tell me: writes prose, poetry: I don't seem to have come to close quarters with his work." Then after a pause: "Now let me see, maybe I wrote him—maybe I do know more than that about him: I have, I think, read a few little poems with his name attached—quaint, semi-humorous poems: or do I still get him mixed with somebody else?" I said: "He makes a big claim for you." "Yes, so he does—but will anybody believe him? When I say such things about myself the world looks on and calls me crazy!" He seemed to be a good bit amused with his own fancy, adding: "Time was when I had to say big things about myself in order to be honest with the world—in order to keep in a good frame of mind until the world caught up. A man has sometimes to whistle very loud to keep a stiff upper lip." "When the cries and the silences are all against him?" "Yes—then: the cries and silences: that's just it." "There are a couple of letters left." He looked at his watch—threw up his

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hand in protest. "No more editors to-night: another time, any time, to-morrow: no more to-night."


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