Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, September 11th, 1888.

     7:45 p.m. W. not well today. "I am holding my head up but that's all." Said also: "It is my admonition constantly repeated to myself: 'Boast not of to-morrow!'" When I entered he was reading his Carlyle—laying it down and monologuing more or less about Carlyle: "Froude's Life don't change my opinion: I still keep pegging away at the book. It fascinates me. A wonderful story, if no more—but more, too." He asked me: "Did you send the Carlyle bit?" "Yes—the substance of it—not the exact words." He added: "The exact words were good enough. As you say, John has put out invaluable things about Carlyle—but the best points yet remain to be stated: the indicative, final, conclusive, points. Your own item on Carlyle last night quite settles some things for me—as I think, forever: it surprised me with a new, a true, decision. I am not sure myself about Carlyle's final place—what it must finally come to—whether to be acknowledged beyond his present fame or to fall short. I am disposed to think of him as more significant than any modern man—as in himself a full answer to the cry of the modern spirit for expression. This chirpy, self-satisfied age, full of vaunt, boast—so certain of all facts or no facts—stood in need of just such a man—a man full of scorn, complaint, contempt—lashing it into good manners by his fury." I read him a note received from Stedman today—this:


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New London, Sunday, Sept. 8th, 1888.

Dear Mr. Traubel,

I am on a kind of "Sentimental Journey," needing a week's rest, among the haunts of my youth—and thus happen to be passing Sunday at this old port. My son has sent me the final proofsheets of the passages which I selected from Walt's poetry for the Library of American Literature. Will you kindly show these to him, and then return them to me—c/o C. L. Webster & Co. 3 East 14th str., New York City?

The problem was to give a really characteristic and sympathetic representation within the utmost space that could be allotted. (You see there are 149 other authors in the same vol.—the space for each averaging only 3 1/2 pages. I have given Walt twelve.)

So I begin with the American note—the New World; then the cosmic and radical, following with human heroism, evolution, &c. &c. Then, for pure lyric splendor and sustained flight, the long passage from Out of the Cradle. Next, my favorites, for imagination—vitality—feeling, among his complete short poems: The Frigate-bird, Ethiopian, O Captain, Old Ireland, Platte Canon, &c.; then through the Vast Rondure, to broader life and immortality. Thus I suggest, at least, an epitome of Whitman's course in thought and song, from port to destination.

My love and constant honor to the grand old bard of whom the last tidings that reached me were satisfying. Next week Cassell & Co. are to give me a decision about the Calendar. As I said before, I am not hopeful for this year.

Sincerely yours,

Edmund C. Stedman.


     When W. heard: "I have given Walt twelve," he smiled happily: "That does me proud." When I read, "the grand old bard," he exclaimed: "Ah, did he say that: I am in luck indeed!" And in conclusion: "So you think Stedman means well—is affectionate? Yes, does well. I guess you are right: Stedman

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has been fair to a degree—has sized us up generously. I take all this as a feather in our cap"
—handling and lifting up the proofs— "Another point gained—won, I may say. Ah! we are getting along. I take all this as significant for our cause." W. said as to Stedman's reference to the calendar: "Well, I don't care for that: that's the least concern of all." Much moved by Stedman's good-will. "Aside entirely from the question of going into the book or not—the bandying of literary standards and reputations—aside from all that is the love Stedman excites in me by the consistent affection and consideration that he demonstrates. I would not be worth while if I failed to respond to that in kind."

     Gilchrist was over again today but again went off without seeing W. W. said: "He seemed only to want to ask questions—said he would come again. I wonder what it means? I have some of his mail here." He handed me a letter from Bucke. "A bold hand," I said, half aside. He exclaimed laughingly: "A damnable hand, I think: that address on the envelope is the best of it. The Doctor has the worst vice of penmanship—running two, three, or four words together with one stroke of the pen." Bucke, who expects to get rich off the water meter, says in his letter: "This may be the last annual report, I shall write." "God forbid!" cried W.— "we want Maurice poor or not at all!"

     W. referred to Johnston, New York. "He is loyal beyond loyalty—he is faithful in the worst and the best. I have always felt that Johnston belonged to our circus—could be relied upon whatever happened to show up at the right time and do the right thing. Johnston has some of the failings of the business man"—I broke in: "Yes, and all the virtues of the lover." W. shook his finger at me: "There you are again! Why didn't you let me say that? Some of the failings of the business man and all the virtues of the lover. Well, that's the truth, even if you do say it." He asked my advice about portraits for the complete Whitman. He turned to the Linton portrait. "You don't like that, don't you?" "Oh yes" "So do I—I always have

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liked it." "That is one,"
he said, following up the subject: "and this must go in, too" —pointing to the 1855 portrait: "Then," he added, as if still somewhat in doubt, "I will use the Specimen Days picture—the one holding the butterfly, and the little cut belonging to November Boughs—perhaps even one or two more, though of that I am uncertain." Discussing title page he asked: "Isn't it title page enough if the book is signed and delivered?"—but: "I suppose I should really design a title page: there are many formal reasons for a title page." Wondered if it would not be well after all to keep the marketing and imprint of the big book himself? "I might sell Dave some but not use his name as publisher." I suggested: "'Author's Edition' sounds well—it cuts off the last suspicion of business." "Why—yes: so it does: I like the thought of it." W. will write to Linton about the use of the Linton cut. Decides upon a wine-colored cover for November Boughs. "That color is a fad with me just now. Nothing will satisfy me but to get it on something that belongs to me."

     The time approaches for W. to come to terms with McKay. He says: "I'm going to leave that largely to you. I must spare myself as much of that worry as possible." W. will make offers to McKay for copies of November Boughs in bulk. He is afraid he will charge Dave too much. "Let Dave alone for taking care of himself," said Harned: "Dave or any other business man, for that matter." "I quite understand that it is my business to watch my own dunghill." After a pause: "I do not expect to come out cash whole on the book: I am satisfied to get the book out on whatever conditions. November Boughs is my final word—my closing up thought. The complete book celebrates my final technical blow-out." W. will probably give McKay a contract on November Boughs but is disinclined to renew the general contract for five years. He says: "My spark'll go out any day now: I don't want to tie you fellows up: you may find reasons for going to another publisher. I wouldn't advise you to go but I wouldn't put my corpse in your way if you were disposed to make a change." Asked me to see that the

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corrections in L. of G. and S. D. are properly made before the big book goes to press. "I am willing to rely upon you to sustain the integrity of my book."

     W. gave me three letters tied in a string: his draft of a letter to Thomas Dixon, and letters to W. from Burroughs and Lathrop. "Take them with you—read them: they contain 'material.' John's account of his visit to Concord is quite memorable. Lathrop's letter is unique—good in general, silly in one particular. His suggestion that I should disguise my literary self in order to secure entrance to a volume of anonymous poetry is too good to be forgotten. But you will ask me questions about the letters before you finally put 'em away, no doubt—so I will not try to anticipate you."

     W. was both jolly and serious about a squib he saw in a newspaper saying: "If Walt Whitman had written a volume of My Captains instead of filling a scrapbasket with waste and calling it a book the world would be better off today and Walt Whitman would have some excuse for living." W. commented in this way: "I'm honest when I say, damn My Captain and all the My Captains in my book! This is not the first time I have been irritated into saying I'm almost sorry I ever wrote the poem. It has reasons for being—it is a ballad—it sings, sings, in a certain strain with a certain motive—but as for being the best, the very best—God help me! what can the worst be like? A whole volume of My Captains instead of a scrap-basket! Well, that's funny, very funny: it don't leave me much room for escape. I say that if I'd written a whole volume of My Captains I'd deserve to be spanked and sent to bed with the world's compliments—which would be generous treatment, considering what a lame duck book such a book would have been! Horace, that fellow deserves a medal: he's given me a mad dig between the ribs." W. was very vehement as well as very good natured about the matter. W. handed me a letter—an old letter—from Baxter with these words: "This should go with the letters I gave you yesterday: it relates to the same incident: it will help you to get your history ship-shape. File it away."


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The Boston Herald,
Boston, Mass., June 21, 1887.

My dear friend:

Yours of the 18th received, and in response I enclose a check for $373. I hope to be able to send you more in a few days by calling in the amounts already subscribed as speedily as the pressure of my journalistic work will permit. Had I more time it might progress somewhat faster, but I regard it a privilege to be able to do what I can, and I only wish more energetic hands and a more eloquent tongue might be in charge.

We all want you to suit yourself thoroughly in the matter and we hope you will soon find yourself domiciled amid surroundings after your own heart.

I have had a call from a bright young German-Japanese, your friend Hartmann, who is on his way back to Philadelphia from Europe. It is satisfying to see your friends numbered among such diverse races.

Faithfully yours,

Sylvester Baxter.



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