Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, September 12th, 1888.

     7:45 p.m. W. still reading Carlyle in London. Now in the final chapters. Examined the Stedman proofsheets today, making some, though very few, alterations. "My impression is a good one though I have a holy horror of elegant extracts. Still, I accept it—I see its meaning—am satisfied to have the affair just what it is. And Stedman is such a good fellow, too—so affectionate." What message had he for Stedman? "Give him my love: tell him I enter into the spirit of his work"—then he stopped: "No, don't say it that way: give him my love—then tell him: Walt Whitman is still in his prison here, not mentally broken down or dispirited, but physically all done for."

     Corning came in with Harned. The former went off in a few minutes. Corning asked: "How's your health, Mr. Whitman?" "Indifferent good, indifferent bad," he replied: "The doctor recommends cheerful people, cheerful books, cheerful

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everything—all things to be light, happy, reassured—and I do not see that I can disagree with him."
Then he alluded to the Carlyle book. He regarded Carlyle as being gloomy pabulum, full of growl, darkness, venom." "Carlyle," he added, "was satisfied with nobody—not with poets, reformers, writers—not with uncommon people or common people: was a damnable, dyspeptic, Presbyterian, temperament—all the more nasty, horrible, to me because I insist upon a more affable attitude towards society." Corning made some allusion to Carlyle's domestic relations. W. turned that down vigorously. "I make nothing of that. My complaint (what right I have to complain?) is of a more personal nature. Carlyle's very existence was an insult to the Almighty—a slap in the face of the universe. But there's more than that to Carlyle: I do not hide the fact from myself: gleam of suns—almost paradisaical haloings. And then, as Horace has been putting it to me here, and profoundly too, I think—we must not forget the immense overwhelming pathos of it all. I could not disregard it: indeed, I fully comprehend, gladly allow, it. Then I'm so much an optimist myself—born so—constitutionally an optimist—that it may be just as well to have some quotations from the other side—to have some one indicate that things are not all they might be: as the old lady says in the story, 'not all sugar:' that they need mending, need labor, need a devil of a thinking, before they can be set to order." Corning said: "How can you account for the friendship of Emerson and Carlyle? They are such opposites. It is a surprise to me." "No—no," said W., "it does not surprise me: I can easily see why it should be so: Carlyle is not all told in what I have just been saying. Besides, I am myself fascinated with this book. The great fact which I never forget as I go along is that the Carlyle of this book is just the man Carlyle: bad as this may seem it is honest: from top to toe, with every hair of his head, Carlyle—Carlyle the man—no trimming, no trimming—no dressing: compensating for all his sins in a grand integrity. The worst of this book is its monotony:

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its utter want of relief: it is a blank, blank horror and no release. In the hospitals at Washington I had multiform experiences—horrors, phantoms: the agonies unspeakable of the sick men: these things, other things, all of a nature to overdraw a man's store of sympathy: but there you could buckle to"
—here he slapped the arm of his chair— "lend a hand, take part in the daily work of the world: there are even outlets in work for emotional tempests: in this book there's none of it—none of it at all: this book is the book of sitters and talkers."

     W. quoted the letters of acceptance of the Presidential candidates. He had read both—Cleveland's first, then Harrison's. "I am not impressed by either letter of itself. Harrison's is a shrewd bid for votes: I shouldn't say there was anything at all in Cleveland's. I would not be at all surprised if Harrison pulled through—things at first doubtful have now shown signs of going his way. Besides, the time has not yet come for the next real thing to be done: the wheel must turn many times before the great day is here. And yet, if after all the noise, doubt, expectation, Cleveland should be elected I for my part would be gratified: for, you know, I am for Cleveland: he goes in my direction," Harned queried: "I thought you were for Harrison?" "No Tom—I am not: I got over all that if I ever had it. If I found the masses in this country making a decision for Cleveland, I would be happy—it would compensate for many defeats—it would make my optimism feel proud of itself. Harrison stands for broadcloth, three millions, finger bowls, Presbyterianism, and all that: and from one point of view it may be said that all the poisons, venoms, bigotries, of that old system—all its ugly parade of castes and elect persons—may still be needed. I may concede that something is to be said for broadcloth, finger bowls, service—even Presbyterianism: I hate them like the devil myself, but they are genteel (the dude-life, collar, tie, make-up)—and one half: oh! three quarters, of the sociology of America consists in keeping genteel. The crowd sleeps—it will yet wake up—yet come to know where its real interests lie and put in an irrefusable demand for them. I

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think some of our American voters are an unlikely lot. In the West and South and South West there is a great mass of voting put through with which don't seem to me to morally count for much. I like these fellows, too, in most of their ways: know them, have gone round with them: illiterate, rough, tall—drinking bad whiskey, belly way in"
—pressing his own: I laughing: "You can't do it—it ain't in you!" and he: "It's so, I'm sure." Harned spoke up: "Regular Be-Jesus boys?" W. laughingly: "No, not just that sort—though I know them, the Be-Jesus boys, too: in New York—stevedores on the wharves: I am soft for them, too—the real genuine fellows: but there's a rough gang, set, in New York—wicked, poisonous, snaky, filthy—oh! a dangerous gang. Perhaps to elect Harrison means to put them down. But I am at sea on all that. We want to go on and on until we hit the real trail—then go on again. Protectionism, one nation against another nation, property all of it in a few hands, none of it in the many hands—such things, conditions, ask questions which America must answer—yes, answer in the right voice, with the right decision (answer for democracy's sake) or leave our republic to go to hell for its pains. Tom, I enjoyed Dudley at your house: Dudley holds to protection with some reasons for it: but the protection of profit—the protection of the swell proprietors—I guess I don't care a shucks for that: I guess I'd just whip it out of the temple with cords any day if I could."

     Harned said something which disparaged my politics. W. said: "Horace is a good deal of an anarchist." "And you, Walt—what are you?" He laughed but answered at once: "I must be a good deal of an anarchist, too—though anarchist only tells a part of the story." Harned asked W. some questions about Tennyson. W. said: "It is queer how cautious, almost cowardly, he is of his words—how he feels his way. When Herbert came over I insisted upon it: Tell me what Tennyson said—tell me the very words—the exact words, verbatim—and the very manner of the words if you can. And Herbert repeated this one sentence: 'Tell Walt Whitman I send him my

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cordial esteem and remembrances.' There was nothing more—not a word more: and Herbert swore to 'em—said he knew he had made no mistake. It seemed to me spare if not formal. We on this side go farther—talk out more freely—are more spontaneous: we say always, I send you my love, or, Give him my love. Even Emerson, circumspect as he was, always did it that way: when sending remembrances to me or through me it was always, the 'love' of it—'take my love'—'heart-felt love.'"
Harned asked: "Does Gilchrist see a great deal of the big bugs over there?" W. replied: "Herbert knows them all over there: is in with snobs, lords, writers (good and bad: mostly bad), artists—meets them, meets Tennyson: says Tennyson in these later days is more get-at-able—get-about-able—especially among the art classes."

     I had verified Ferguson's bills for composition and printing N.B. W. examined them—then looked over his spectacles at me. "They are all right? I will make you a check for 'em to-morrow." A minute later he added: "There's no time like the present time—I might just as well do it now." Thereupon took his check book from his inside vest pocket and filled out a check for $246.98. Handed it to me: "That settles it—let it get dry." W. sold his buggy and horse to Corning for $130. Corning spoke of the "honor" he enjoyed. W. smiled that off without a word. W. said of Herbert: "He seems to avoid me—seems to be afraid I might ask him what he came over for." Not yet ready to have me go to McKay to treat about N.B. "I am more than ever persuaded to leave a publisher's name off the big book. I would like you to go to Dave with a book already bound and containing only my personal imprint." Harned spoke of somebody who "has money." W. looked up: "Has he money? Good! He must be happy. Ain't a man happy with a million?" Gave me a note from Bucke dated 10th. "Bucke is making a fight against alcohol in his annual report. He says: 'I expect to give the alcohol men a black eye.' Here's luck to Maurice's fist!" W. gave me a little note reminiscent of Lord Houghton's visit in 1875.


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York Farm, Branchtown P. O.,
Philadelphia, Pa., Nov. 3d, 1875.

Lord Houghton proposes to visit Mr. Whitman next Saturday Nov 6th and would be obliged to him to inform him what hour would be the most convenient.


     I remarked the poor hand. "Yes," said W., "he belongs to the tribe of illegibles: it is a big tribe!" Then he said: "I have a longer Houghton letter somewhere: it was written to Miller and sent to me by Miller. It will turn up somehow someday. Lots of my fish fight shy of my rod for a long time but I eventually game them all." I kicked to W. over something he says in the Dixon letter about the preface to the first edition: "I do not consider it of permanent value." "In what way do you wish us to take that?" He replied: "Any way you choose." "But you have taken a big lot from the preface and put it into your poems where it seems to me to have immense value." "Yes—that, too, is so. I had no notion when I wrote to Dixon that the preface would come to be regarded by my friends as permanently anything in itself. I was mistaken—some of them have even said it is the best thing I have done. But read the letter to me: let me see how my negative comes in there." The letter was addressed to Thomas Dixon and was sent from Washington.


June 30, '70.

I must render you thanks for the box of books, as they have at last reached me in good condition. The delay in their arrival is unaccountable. But they are welcome, and will all be read in due time, with sincere gratitude to the donor.

Both your letters also reached me, and were cordially welcomed. I should have acknowledged them at date, only that for many weeks I have been disabled from writing and from my clerical work by reason of a wound in the right hand, which is now better.

There is nothing new or noteworthy in my own affairs. I

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still remain in the Attorney General's office here—still enjoying good health. I keep freshening and shaping my books at my leisure, and hope to put them in type the coming year.


You speak of my prose preface to first Leaves of Grass. I am unable to send it you having not a copy left. It was written hastily while the first edition was being printed in 1855—I do not consider it of permanent value. I shall send you (probably in the mail that follows this—certainly very soon,) a piece written some while since by me on Democracy—in which Mr. Carlyle's "shooting Niagara" is alluded to. I shall also send an article by an English lady, put in print here, that may interest you.

I am writing this at my desk in the Treasury building here, an immense pile, in which our office occupies rooms. From my large open window I have an extensive view of sky, Potomac river, hills and fields of Virginia many many miles. We are having a spell of that oppressive heat which so much falls upon us here.


     W. said again: "I may have underrated the preface: it appears to have some very likely friends. At the moment it seemed vital and necessary: it seemed to give the book some feet to stand on. After the first call I saw no permanent place for it in the Leaves. I keep it in my prose volume. As you say, a heap of it—all the best of it—has got into my later verse, one place or another. O'Connor would say to me: 'Walt, you never can get any perspective on yourself: you always like yourself when you're silly.' The impulse, the demon, the something I can't deny, draws me to do something—so I do it with a cheerful spirit. I withdraw in the same spirit when the time comes." When I left with Harned, Baker, Mrs. Davis and Musgrove were sitting in the kitchen talking together. I went to Harned's for half an hour—then went home, where I found Baker had already arrived. Baker said: "Mr. Whitman came down stairs after you left. He surprised us all—was half way down before we knew he was coming."


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