Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, September 10th, 1888.

     8 p.m. W. talked brightly this evening though he said he was not feeling bright. "I was in terrible shape when I first woke up this morning but I afterwards gathered myself together." Harned was in during part of our talk. W. said: "Come often, Tom: come whenever you can: I miss you." Discussed binding for November Boughs. I opened the package I had brought containing one of the two folded sets of the book I had got from Ferguson today. W.'s eyes were large with desire. "What's that? What have you there?" he asked, reaching both hands out as if to take the sheets. When I

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exhibited my prize he exclaimed: "Handsome! it completely satisfies me: that is the book—the real, living, undoubted book!" at the same time turning it over and over fondly and in a spirit of undisguised exhilaration. "Horace—the deed is done! My blood, your blood, went to the making of this book! Some men go to the North Pole to do things—some go to wars—some trade and swindle: we just stayed where we were and made a book!"

     Afterwards, when Harned entered, and asked W., "What's the thing in your hand, Walt?" W. passed it over, saying: "It's the book, Tom: November Boughs: the whole book: our newest baby. Look at it: look at that—that title-page: haven't we made a ten-strike?" adding after a pause: "I believe it at least: as I say, I never count upon material success until I have it right in my hands—am paid in cash for it (the money paid down is usually a pretty convincing argument.) So now the ship is in at last and the cargo delivered and my last doubt is gone. Horace will tell you, Tom, how many times—hundreds of times—we thought the whole caboodle was going to wreck: how often and often it looked as if we could never get the wheel of the ship manageable again." I said: "That's your best printing so far." He replied: "So I should say myself, except, perhaps, for the '55 edition. Oh! if the big book only comes to as much. I am doubtful: the paper is not first-class for the purpose."

     He alluded to the sale of the horse and buggy. "Well—I've sold the nag. Did you know it?—both know it? Corning bought it. I first offered it to Bucke who refused it." Bucke had asked me whether W. was vexed at his refusal. W. laughed: "Oh no! tell him no. He wrote me frankly—I saw the weight of his argument. He was indeed very affectionate—offered to take the animal, the mare, and keep her till she died, if I had any sentiment about it. I have for long now seen how useless it is to attempt to keep it. Here I had a chance to make a sale—made it. Corning was in earnest to buy, I was in earnest to sell—so we struck a bargain."

     W. still harping on Gilchrist. "Why did he come over? He has not told me: some big art scheme, perhaps: perhaps no

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scheme at all—simply an Irish ambassador business over again—the secret is that there is no secret: the scheme is that there is no scheme. There's something mysterious about it, I admit. He came in yesterday, made some inquiries down stairs, and went off again without seeing me. There's something back of it all: it's hardly like him to hurry in and out in that way. When he was in America last year he would come over here and stay and stay, sometimes three or four hours, and would want to talk all the time. I joked with Mary about it: perhaps he's over to get married—or perhaps for worse reasons even than that!"
He laughed. Turned to Harned. "Tom, what did Herbert say about Eakins' picture?" Harned replied: "He didn't say much: he did say, however, that the picture falsified you—was a dangerous picture to make current." W. rejoined: "I can hear Herbert say that: I do not wonder: it seems the most natural thing in the world for him to say. If he had had another opinion of Eakins' picture he would have painted a different Walt Whitman picture himself. The two pictures sort of bark at each other, they are so unlike." Harned asked: "How do you account for it? Has jealousy anything to do with it?" "Jealousy? Something, maybe, but not much. Not jealousy—not wholly or even chiefly jealousy. The fact is, Herbert is in the London swim—likes the swell crowd—endorsing its codes, sharing its worships, sailing by its beacons. He belongs with the Royal Academy nabobs: the Sir Frederick Leighton kind of reigning monarchs (that's him, ain't it?)—adept (ah! a miraculously skilled man) in technique, style, tradition: a great man according to existing rules—really of some importance, as all of them are. Herbert is in with that class—is imbued with its interests, crotchets, idiocrities—not one of them, of the whole London crowd, caring for origins, sources, inspirations, direct. It seems to me that explains Herbert's case. How could they appreciate Eakins, who breaks utterly away from the old, the outworn, the merely traditionary? Then we must remember that Eakins' picture is severe—keeps close to nature—slurs nothing—faces the worst as well as the best.

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In short they don't know, don't understand: they haven't the taste for it. Give a man who is fond of poor whiskey, rum: give him the fine brandies, Johannisberger, Pommery Sac, and he'll spit 'em out, won't like 'em—won't stand by them on any account."

     W. said: "The doctor comes in and says, this is poor stuff for you to be reading—referring to the Carlyle book you brought me and the Emerson correspondence: but it does not depress me—not in the least—though I am very sensitive to smiling faces, cheery looks. Some people come in, sit on the sofa across there—treat me to a list of their woes or tell me some doleful story. The books do not have such a black influence over me—are on the contrary inspiring—put some rich blood into my veins. The Carlyle—Froude's Carlyle—is its own excuse for being: I do not sympathize with the howl against it. What justifies it to me is the fact that that is Carlyle—that and nothing else: just Carlyle: not a picture of what he should have been but of what he was: my simple criticism of Froude's life would be, that it gives the man as he was, growl and all." I read this to W. as a note I had recently written about Carlyle: "To me the explanation, the justification, of Carlyle himself, as of the Lives of Carlyle, gloomy as they might sometimes seem to be, lies in the fact of his supreme honesty: every page of every book is honest, square with his native sense of right and truth. I read clean through his growl, his complaint, his dyspepsia, to an underlying pathos of treatment that seems to vivify and glorify his work and entitle it to universal respect and adhesion." W. said: "That is first-class: read it again." When I was through he added: "That is good—splendid—the whole truth in a nutshell: better than all else that has been said. John Burroughs ought to hear that: it seems to me to throw a light on Carlyle. Let me tell you, Horace: write the gist of that to John sometime: take some afternoon—fifteen minutes of some afternoon—or an evening, now the evenings grow long and winter is coming—and write that out—a copy of it—just as you read it to me—and send it to him. It will touch him as

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it has touched me: it seems to say something he has himself long had in him to say and has not said."

     Told W. I had read Drum Taps over again today. "And what was your main thought as you read?" "My main thought? It was this: that Bucke is wrong when he says that Drum Taps already shows a falling off in the power of the Leaves." W. took this up at once: "Horace, you are right—Doctor is wrong. Bucke has certain whims and he always keeps them well to the front—certain ideas of poetry, for instance, which he clings to at all hazards but does not seem able to justify. I have several times tried to get a statement from Bucke—something I could understand—(convincing, if so it might be)—but all I could get from Bucke was—it is so because it is so." W. added: "Doctor sometimes assumes it all—that he knows the whole story—tries to put me down five by six in a doctrine—but somehow I do not yield to such treatment. My last, my final, my conclusive, message (conclusive for me) is in A Backward Glance: the steel of its strength is there—the screw-point—the heartspot of it, too—is there, in that, where I say, 'But it is not in Leaves of Grass distinctly as literature or a specimen'—and so on (you remember the passage): that's me—the last of me if not the first—doctrine or no doctrine, Bucke or no Bucke. Taking it in that spirit—freely, bravely, according to its design—with that paragraph and others closely connected—you will see that all my parts cohere—that there are no loose joints: one reason explains all: Leaves of Grass—(intact, unbroken, not a comma removed) from first to last—from Starting from Paumanok to Sands at Seventy. Doctor is too much for dogmas, too much for seeing it all and more too—drives the steed mighty near to death sometimes. I am for caution—for never claiming too much—for always allowing for a beyond." I waited for him to go on. Still thinking of Bucke he said: "When you visit Doctor, as you will someday, don't miss the drive over his farm. You must go for several weeks when you go at all—don't go for too short a stay. Doctor goes once a week all over the farm—inspecting,

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inquiring, instructing, learning: learning not the least result of his trips. The farm covers a thousand acres, and good land, too. Doctor has his theories about keeping the patients at work—theories which time, experiment, have served to confirm."

     W. gave me two letters received from Bucke. "He seems determined not to let a day pass without writing, which is grist to our mill, to be sure." He called my attention to one passage in the notes: "I suppose you have not read Robert Elsmere by Mrs. Ward. It is quite a book and I believe has made quite a stir in England. I am just reading it. It is calculated to make the modern Britisher think." Had he read the book? "No—no: I do not seem to connect with it. I have looked at it a bit here and there—only peeped, so to speak." Harned said something which seemed to W. to express a distrust of the people. W. blazed out: "You're a hell of a democrat, Tom." T. explained. W. was mollified. "I got the idea started wrong," he said. He endorsed my set of November Boughs sheets: "Horace Traubel Sept. 10, '88" W. spoke of Ellen Emerson as "the old hag." I demurred. He repeated it: "She is a nasty old hag—a Puritan gone to seed." I said: "She has been regarded as Emerson's right hand helper." He shook his head. "Not so: interferer." But he liked Edward. "Edward is a noble fellow all through, so far as I can see—a man much after the father's own style."

     W. gave me a Baxter letter. It was in a Boston Herald envelope endorsed: "List of Contributors to the Boston Cottage Fund." He said: "I particularly want you to have it. It is a letter of fact: not sentiment—not talk: fact. I want you to know how the thing was done—how, when, by whom. It is an American fact—would please Gilder to know about: this wouldn't 'gall' Gilder—God bless 'im! Gilder always contended 'that it's nonsense to tell Englishmen Walt Whitman is in danger of starving to death': that he has plenty of friends right here in America to see him through. Anyway, this cottage business is an argument on Gilder's side. I don't seem to have

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things to say about it to you: it arouses in me unspeakable recognition."


The Herald, Boston, Oct. 8, 1887.

My dear friend:

I have yours of yesterday and enclose a list of the subscribers. I cannot send the amount since it was understood that the individual sums should not be made known and some of the largest givers expressly made that stipulation, on the ground that it might be unjust to those who could give but little and yet in proportion gave even more than themselves. You will see that some are from outside Boston. Mrs. van Renssalaer is, I believe, the only representative of New York, but if there had been anybody there to take hold we could have got many, I am confident. Mrs. van Renssalaer is a genuine friend and hearing of the project specially sent me word she wished to subscribe. She was visiting here then.

Saw Kennedy yesterday: has been working hard reading proof. Saw Dr. Bartol the other day and he spoke warmly of you.

What glorious October weather!

Faithfully yours,

Sylvester Baxter.


     Baxter added a list of the subscribers: J.T. Trowbridge, C. A. Bartol, William P. Wesselhoeft, Mrs. Ole Bull, L. N. Fairchild, Albert B. Otis, A friend, W. D. Howells, John Boyle O'Reilly, A friend, T. B. Aldrich, Mellin Chamberlain, Mrs. Annie Fields, Lawrence Barrett, Edwin Booth, Laurence Hutton, James R. Osgood, Susan C. Warren, Frank Sanborn, Linn Boyd Porter, Albert A. Pope, Mrs. S. A. Bigelow, Daniel S. Ford, Roberts Brothers, Samuel L. Clemens, Charles S. Gleed (Topeka), A friend, Francis Tiffany, H. R. Dorr, Arlo Bates, E. B. Haskell, Charles S. Sargent, M. G. van Renssalaer (New York), Charles Eliot Norton, George Fred Williams, J. R. Chadwick, (Mr.) Bromley,

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Hugh Cochrane, Charles Levi Woodbury, T. R. Sullivan, J. J. Roche, A. P. Brown, Arthur Macy, Benjamin Kimball, W. S. Kennedy, Sylvester Baxter.

     I said to W.: "That's an honor list you ought to be proud of." "I am proud—or humble. It's a chapter in my personal history that must not be lost sight of. I do not say much about it myself but you are at liberty to exploit it all you choose. If there's anything I like less than gratitude it's ingratitude. You will not misunderstand me."


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