Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, September 5th, 1888.

     8 p. m. W. talking to Mrs. Davis when I entered. She sat on the sofa, her arms folded. W., with his hands resting on the arms of his chair and his eyes raised over his glasses, was telling her a story. The light was only half turned up. His voice was very clear and melodious. Without stopping his talk he extended his right hand and took my own, which he pressed warmly and beckoned me to a seat. After W. finished with Mrs. Davis she took the evening papers and left. As usual, having to answer my question, he spoke first of his health. "Sunday and Monday things looked pretty bright—yesterday much less that way—today only so-so." "How about your weather inside?" "Oh!

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that's placid enough—I don't let anything disturb that."
Told him I had written to both Kennedy and O'Connor saying that last week's depression was mainly gone. "That was just the thing to say. And that reminds me—I have two letters saved here for you from Dr. Bucke and another from Kennedy: Kennedy's curiously brief. I had still another letter today—it was from Mary Costelloe—from somewhere off in Wales—that I sent to Doctor—Doctor Bucke." "I took Kennedy into our secret." "What secret was that?" "Your trip down stairs on Friday." W. laughed very happily. It was a great feat, wasn't it?—an exploit: almost heroic!" Then he added: "You're sure you haven't given it away to any reporter? They would come over to interview me—insist on knowing my sensations! The reporters are mad for sensations. If you have a belly-ache, they want to know your sensations. Of course, you have sensations—decided sensations—with a belly-ache, but what's the use making them cheap by advertising the symptoms in a newspaper?" He was a bit amused by this note:


Cambridge, Aug. 29th, 1888.

My dear Friend,

I send you this comprehensive brevity to tell you how glad I am that you are regaining your old self, and are again able to be at work.

Cordially yours,

Charlotte Fiske Bates.


      "The feeling of the note is quite loving and correct, but that 'comprehensive brevity' would surely trouble Polonious as a vile phrase." "We never say things so well when we try to say things as when we let them say themselves." "That's what I would have said if you had given me time, Horace." He spoke of the "good health" of Bucke's notes. "They invariably get in under me and give me a boost." This is Kennedy's "curiously brief" note:


Dear Walt W.

I enclose letter from St. Louis—I have begun to copy over (clean) some of the 70 pp of the Whitman MS. (my

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book). Glad to hear of your new books. Am still reading proof. I don't see much prospect of my book on you seeing the light soon. But—. Regards to Traubel.


W. S. Kennedy.


     W. said: "Bucke makes an allusion to Kennedy's book in one of those letters." I looked it up. This: "I wonder how it is we (at least, I) hear nothing these times of Kennedy and his Walt Whitman? I fear publishers are not smiling upon him. Fifty years from now they would be glad enough to get it." Another passage in one of the Bucke letters hit W. hard: I am thinking of you a great deal in this lovely September weather, wondering how it is with you, dreaming of that September eight years ago when you were here." W. said: "I am dreaming of it, too, Maurice—God bless you!" Said he had not "yet felt disposed to take up the Hicks matter for The Herald." No work today on the book. Read from time to time in the old English poets. "To-day, however, I have been reading Virgil and Marcus Aurelius." I had a few dollars change (discount) on the paper bill. Offered it to him. He said: "No—you keep it—give it to the boys—the printers, any of the others. It has always been my practice to give a few dollars here and there on occasion among the men—among the people I fall in with as I do with Ferguson's. Aside from the emotional phases—enough of themselves—there is the policy of it: though that is sordid and is not needed to make up the case. People are always extra helpful—are always doing things no money can pay for: I like to have them see I see it."

     Gilchrist turned up today. "He didn't stay long—only a few minutes." Bucke wrote: "Be sure you make it clear Walt is in a bad way and must not be visited too much." W. said: "It is done already—I took care to have them make that clear to him down stairs. Herbert is rather inclined to be long-winded, so I realize the importance of having him understand—cautioned. He has come over, I think, to stay a year or so—will settle—get a room or two rooms in the city and put up a cot there and mainly

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live in that place—meanwhile painting, studying. After he gets his studio set up you must go to see him. You ought to be very good friends."

     W. said: "I have about finally decided that the little book must be one dollar and a quarter. In regard to the big book I am still at sea." I spent some time at Ferguson's looking over page proofs. November Boughs goes to press to-morrow. W. said: "My eye affects a soft wine color—dark, pure—for the little book." Several visitors. Would not see them. I asked W.: "Do you keep your receipts all together?" He laughed. "I keep nothing together: did you ever know me to keep things together? I keep body and soul together—that's about all." Said that though he had promised me a copy of the 1872 edition he "doubted now whether there was more than one copy about the house—the one there—" pointing to the table. "And yet one may turn up: I am always finding things I thought lost, or things I imagined given away long ago, or things I thought I never possessed." Talked a little about the Forman letters he gave me Monday. "There was a gap of four years between the letters," said W., "and a lot happened in those four years. They were in some ways the four worst years of my life: I was down in the dumps from seventy-three about on to seventy-seven—then I got a bit more spruce again. But read the letters: I'd rather refresh my memory a bit with 'em."


36, Marlborough Hill,
St. John's Wood,
London N. W., 21 Feb. 72.

Walt Whitman, Esq.
Dear Sir,


I send herewith, by book post, a short poem called The Great Peace-Maker, which I have just edited for private distribution.

As a constant reader and great admirer of your poetry, I have had the idea that the practical element in this poem, and also its fervent aspiration after the good of mankind, may commend

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themselves to you,—while a poem more like the rest of our contemporary verse might not.


I have been a long time trying to persuade one or another of our publishers to print a complete English edition of your works—verbatim, without any retrenchments; and I have gone so far as to offer my poor services in justifying as far as criticism can justify poetry, those portions which they take exception to, or fear to print. Supposing I ultimately succeeded, would a verbatim reprint of the latest edition, with an introductory essay, have your approval?

Believe me to be dear sir faithfully yours,

H. Buxton Forman.


      "Don't that sound refreshing—verbatim, without any retrenchments? That's no by-your-leave spirit. In a day and month and year of weakness I yielded to the idea that the English reader could not stand a full dose of Walt Whitman. It was an evil decision growing out of the best intentions. 'Verbatim, without any retrenchments.' The book belongs so or does not belong at all. Any edition American or English which for any reason whatever is abridged is abhorrent and inexcusable: none the less abhorrent because I am the one to acquiesce in the mutilation of my own book. Worst of all, any cut made in a book which has been subjected to the peculiar criticism visited upon the Leaves is a confession and I do not see why I should be making confessions." On the envelope of Forman's second letter W. had written: "H. Buxton Forman, Jan. '76. sent paper and circ. Apr 4. (Sent W. J. Press art, May 24, '76)."


London, N. W.
26 January, 1876.

Walt Whitman Esq.
My dear Sir,


Some years ago when I had occasion to address you, you were so good as to say you should be happy to hear from me again: and as my admiration of your works and interest in whatever concerns you have rather strengthened than

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weakened, I feel sure you will not mind my asking you one or two questions.


As a faithful student of your books, I have made it my business to obtain every edition I could, and all portraits and notable accounts and criticisms. But there is one edition in particular which I have never been able to see even,—that mentioned by Rossetti as having been issued in 1856 in 16 mo. The American agent to whom my last application for this was forwarded says: "I don't think there is an 1856 edition. There is one earlier or later in great demand, and at a high price, something like twenty-five or thirty dollars: but I can't find that. There was a copy auctioned the other night at something like the above."

Can you tell me whether there is or is not an edition between that one set up by yourself in 1855 and that of Thayer and Eldridge dated 1860-1861? If there is, can you give me any particulars that will help me towards buying it? Also, what is the edition that fetches twenty-five dollars to thirty dollars? Not that of 1855; for I hear that can be had for three or four.

When at my friend Mr. W. B. Scott's a few weeks ago, I saw a proof of a fine portrait of you enlarged by Linton: may I ask what it is from, and where it is published?

I live in hopes of publishing some day a good English edition of your works; and my enquiries about editions are not mere bibliomania. I find they vary considerably; and my experience is that the careful collation of various versions of a poet's work is often a key as well as an incitement to the right understanding of his spirit and intent.

I am at present engaged on an edition of Shelley which will be handsomest in form, and the most extensive in matter (I hope), yet published; and that takes up most of my time.

With best wishes believe me to be, dear sir, faithfully yours,

H. Buxton Forman.



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