Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, September 3, 1888.

     8 P.M. W. reading when I entered but was at once solicitous for "news." He gave me money for the frontispiece presswork. Cheerier than for a week. Had discovered other errors in N. B. I opened up the subject of an Evening Lull again, almost insisting

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that he change "restless" on second line to "unrest." He said: "I never knew you to be so infernally stubborn before. Let me look at the proof again." I handed it to him. He put on his glasses and looked at the sheet intently. Then his whole face lighted up. "Why yes, Horace—you're right—Myrick's right. How do you suppose I came to pass it again and again? You remember I wrote it on one of my off days." "Now this is an on day and you correct it." "Yes, an on day." He laughed. Took up a pencil. "See—here goes then"—marking the correction. I said: "Bucke wrote me advising against the change. He said the psychologists would find it interesting when they came to write of you in the future." "The psychologists? The devil! They'd never think of it except as a typographical error or an oversight. You mean that it would be significant as showing my condition the day I wrote it? The idea shows that—I do not need to carry the evidence out into the spelling. Bucke," he added, laughing, "is a stickler for verbal inspiration: he raises a hell of a row if I change a comma if it once got in though it may first of all have got in in error."

     I saw Browning's card on the chair—the N. Y. Herald's Browning. "Has he been here?" "Yes; he was over today. He said he understood I had written a long piece about Elias Hicks (I wonder how he found it out?) and the Herald wanted a column or two advanced to them." "Will you agree to do it?" "Yes: why not? I shall do it—send it on direct to Chambers rather than through Browning. It worked in my noddle that Browning wanted it as a part of his Philadelphia correspondence, which don't quite recommended itself to me. I will make a selection of matter with great care and put my price on it: they may then print it or not as they choose. It's strange how these newspaper men get on the scent of everything—nothing escapes them: they go everywhere, they never fail. I thought we were keeping it all so mum and yet the cat is out of the bag." I said: "The Press mentioned the piece: that explains Browning's source of knowledge." "Ah! yes: I had forgotten that. It's just as well: we had no particular motive to keep the book

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in hiding."
"I hope the Herald will print intact what I send. Unless a fellow's a damned big gun—like Tennyson, for instance—they treat him pretty shabbily." "Have editors ever revised you?" "I should say so—as much as any man alive. They all think they know better."

     I told him of an experience I had with an editor recently. He wanted to entirely recast a paper I had sent him. "But you didn't allow it?" "No—not at all: I had him send it back." "I thought so—that's right. Never knuckle down—always insist upon your way, even if it is the wrong way, as the right way. There's one point, a glorious point, I get from the Emerson-Carlyle correspondence: 'Are we going to give in in our old age?' Not in such words, exactly, but signifying that. 'Are we going to give in in our old age?' It is the fore-dream of my own questions: I put that question to myself every day. Emerson's old age was very wonderful, Horace—I told Frank Sanborn I thought it highly beautiful: that in all essentials the forgetful Emerson was still what the remembering Emerson had been: the bearing, the expression, the eye, the hand, the smile, still the same. Something was gone—some quality—but the atmosphere of his noble personality never failed him." I said: "It was just today that I wrote Bucke something of the same tenor about you: that the stern poise that dignified and irradiated your character is still the first thing in all you say, think or do." I shall never forget W.'s look. He said: "Ah! Horace! That is a noble thought: it is worthy of you and more than worthy of me. And if it be true? It would make all the suffering of these days more than easy. It was a month or so ago that you said something of the same purport to me and I have never lost sight of it for an instant since in the temptations incident to such invalidism as mine. I conclude that these last poems which some of the fellows howl so about are justified by the same fact—are found in this way to be integral to the scheme of the book—could not remain unwritten or be dismissed without violating its integrity."

     Referring to the poetry in the magazines, W. said: "I read

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it nowadays. Most of it, mostly for amusement: I expect no other benefit from it. Now and then I am surprised with a bit of verse by a man or woman who seems to have something to say. Scott is my chief pleasure nowadays—the novels: I read them every day, some: read them because they are not so frivolous as to be useless and vulgar, and not so weighty as to set my brains into a snarl."
. "How about the Emerson-Carlyle correspondence? Under what head do you put that?" "I don't think that heavy—and heavy or not it is wonderfully interesting—it has attracted and absorbed me." After a pause: "And now, by the way, do you see that Whittier is out again about Burns, in a rather long letter, characteristic but weak? He sees nothing beyond the commonplaces of the orthodox scholars. He plasters it on very thick. You know about the McPherson woman who gave the twenty-five thousand dollar statue to Albany? I think Whittier is a wonderful, noble old man, but it always mystified me how he could select Burns, of all men, for his special laudations. Burns was a great 'chiel' but utterly forlorn on the very points which Whittier seems to select for praise. Lust, whiskey, such things, played heavy cards in his game of life. I have no exceptions to take: if anyone tells me he holds Burns in high love and regard I say I do, too—as high as any: for he was a whole-hearted, not a half-hearted, man, after all the rest is said. Whittier has made so conspicuously much of certain virtues for which Burns did not shine that we are entitled to remark the incongruity. Burns was Whittier's first poet—that may account for some of the mystery when nothing else will. None of them understand Burns, however—none of them: his enemies slander him beyond recognition—his friends praise him beyond recognition."

     I said to W.: "No one likes the Book Maker head." "Why should they? It might just as well be Jim Blaine as me." Asked me: "Have you the second of Froude's big books on Carlyle? I never read it. The first I got hold of when it first appeared: the second was brought out six months later, never came my way. My impression of it was favorable—not the common one

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at all. I did not feel as though it had style, brilliancy, and there stopped. It seemed to me to be a real success in stating the facts of Carlyle's personality—in presenting an individual of flesh and blood. Burroughs was here while I was full of the matter and we agreed—unanimously agreed, the two of us—that Froude had not failed; had in fact achieved a notable success. I think I must try to read the second volume: it may undeceive me!"

     W. had found someone saying again in print somewhere that he had no humor. "O'Connor has his own way of taking that charge up—says Walt Whitman don't start out to be humorous: humor is no implied part of his scheme: though if it was he would show up for humor as supremely as he had for other qualities: and besides, there's a humor deeper than a laugh which Walt Whitman has—this cannot be questioned: and even the laugh humor is there, as all his personal friends know—no man being more eligible to enter into its spirit. That is the way O'Connor puts it. It is a strong defense: William says of it himself: 'Walt, it puts them all to flight!' The humor in the Shakespearean comedies is very broad, obvious, often brutal, coarse: but in some of the tragedies—take Lear for instance—you will find another kind of humor, a humor more remote (subtle, illusive, not present)—the sort of humor William declares he finds in the Leaves and in me."

     W. showed me an English serial publication called Parodies (part 58: Vol. 5) put out by Reeves & Taylor, London—this number devoted to American writers and devoting six double-columned pages to W. "It is a novel affair of its kind: it is conceived in no inimical spirit: gives biographical data and even literal selections from the works of writers parodied. Some of the parodies are well done, too—very well done. I haven't looked them over critically but they seem to me almost uniformly above the average. I am aware that Leaves of Grass lends itself readily to parody—invites parody—given the right man to do the deed."

     W. said: "Your father was in today again, Horace. He told me some things about himself—that he comes of Jewish stock,

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that he quarreled with his parents about religion when he was a mere boy: left home, weathered out life for himself: came to America with nothing but his brains and faith (he had plenty of both): and so on, Horace: so on. It all sounded right: I never thought he was any other kind of a man than just that kind: in our crowd he is initiate—he requires no extra introductions. I would like you and your father to meet Karl Knortz. We should all meet: perhaps it can be arranged yet. It is one of the things I design still to do. My own curiosity to see him is great. Don't you see how impossible it is for me to die just yet, with all these new plans for things little and big pushing out their heads everyday?"

     W. gave me an old Tucker letter. "I want you to know how staunch his adhesion to me has been. We talked about him the other day: I said nothing quite warm enough then—I shall say nothing now to increase the quantity of my adjectives applied to him—but I want you to know the facts, and such facts are strong enough without words added to embellish them. This letter is a fact—at the time it was a fighting fact—better in peace to me than a file of soldiers in war to an army. Do you mind reading the letter aloud to me? No? Well, go on."


Boston, May 25, 1882.

Mr. Walt Whitman:
Dear Sir,


I am a stranger to you but have long been an admirer of your writings. Perhaps you have heard of me as at one time editor of the Radical Review, which published J. B. Marvin's admirable essay entitled Walt Whitman. The action of the Massachusetts authorities and the cowardice of the Osgoods prompt me to write to you. I am ashamed of the whole business. What do you propose to do? Some steps should be at once taken for the republication of your book, from the same plates, in the same locality where it has been struck down. Is there no one that will undertake it? With able counsel to conduct the case I do not believe a jury could be found in Massachusetts to send the publisher of Leaves of Grass to prison. At any rate the

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question ought to be tested. If I had the means, I would gladly, with your permission, put your book on the market advertised as the suppressed edition, and invite the authorities to dispute my right to do so. What I will do is this, if nothing better can be done. If you will find parties to furnish the means for republication from your plates, advertising the book, and defending it in court, I will become the responsible publisher, and go to prison if necessary. In case the verdict should be against me and I should be fined, I should decline to pay the fine. It seems to me highly important that the people of America should know exactly how far they can safely indulge in the expression of their opinions. What do you say? If you desire to know anything about me before replying to so important a question, you may inquire of S. H. Morse Quincy, Mass., the sculptor, whom you know, and who has long been one of my intimate friends. He does not know of my design in this matter, but he will tell you that I am thoroughly reliable, and no notoriety-hunter or anything of that kind.


Yours indignantly,

Benj. R. Tucker


     When I had read it through W. exclaimed: "Good! Good! Bully for Tucker! just as if he was hearing it for the first time. Then he said: "Ain't that like the challenge of an old knight going out against all comers in behalf of his faith? Like it and better! You didn't know the letter existed, did you? It's none the less a feather in Tucker's cap that it was not necessary for me to acquiesce in his proposition. This is not the letter of a literary man but of a man: a man simply possessed of the first impulse to help make fair play possible in the world. I do not mean by this to belittle Tucker's acquirements, which I am told are most uncommon. Morse says his knowledge is encyclopedic: says he is one of the best, the very best, of translators from the French: and more, much more. Morse spent one of his half days here with me last year just speaking about Tucker—he giving me an idea in the rough of how Tucker had come in conflict with the

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authorities by reason of his advanced anarchistic ideas. When I recall the cowardly advice I have in the main received from the literary class concerning the expurgation of Leaves of Grass Tucker's immediate rally to its support, his persistent advocacy in thick and thin, excites me to supreme admiration."
As I left to go W. gave me two letters tied in red string of which he said: "I think they were the start of my correspondence with Forman, which has been kept up, though not in any great volume, ever since."


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