Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 322] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Saturday, September 15th, 1888.

     W. in the forenoon quite indisposed. Then got better again. In the evening when I came I found him talking with Harned in a cheerful mood. They were on politics. W. radical—said: "The parties are getting behind the age." Again: "The masses are all going wrong just now but they will have a waking-up some day soon. The people have got a lot to wake up to: they are fleeced right and left and everywhere: they are long-suffering: sometime they will get up in their wrath and slay the monsters." Henry George speaks at the Academy of Music to-night. W. said: "I would like to be there—I think a heap of George." The Record speaks of Talcott Williams as a free trader in disguise. W. demurred: "I do not believe it—he is ultra the other way I have no doubt." Harned pointed to the stove on which were a couple of bottles. "Who sent you the wine, Walt?" "Ingram, Tom—William Ingram: they came down from the country. Let's open one shall we? Will you

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 323] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
take a glass?"
Took up a bottle. "You won't do like a fellow I had here a little while ago: he sat across from me, as you do—saw me open the bottle for him—then said he was a temperance man, or something—never drank at all." W. took a corkscrew out of his pocket and handed it with the bottle to me. "Open it Horace." I laughed. "Do you carry the corkscrew about with you, Walt?" "Yes." Harned said: "That's bad, Walt—they'll throw you out of the temperance society." "They can't—I was never in." I asked: "But didn't you write a temperance novel once?" "Yes, so I did—for seventy five dollars cash down. And, by the way, that seventy-five dollars was not the end of it, for the book sold so well they sent me fifty dollars more in two or three weeks." I mentioned the fact that Appleton's Journal had called attention to the moral inconsistency of this episode. W. was a hypocrite: consorted with roughs: what sort of a fraud was he anyway? W. said: "Yes—that's so! What is Walt Whitman anyway? A pretty tough customer." Tom drank. W. did not touch the wine. Tom remarked: "It's sour, Walt." "Yes, Ingram knows what I like."

     I quoted something said of Proctor by the Press the day he died. W. had seen it. "Yes it was good—favorable—but today they take another tack." Harned asked: "In what way?" I explained: "They question his standing among scientists." W. thus continued: "Yes, that's the grunt, but it amounts to little. For my part I thoroughly trusted Proctor: he was modest, made no claims for himself, went quietly about his work, wrote well, was possessed of extraordinary knowledge. Of course, if a fellow starts out to discern specks of the sun he'll find them—oh! he'll find all he wants of them: he can take any of the big names and throw them if specks will throw them: Shakespeare, Bacon, Milton, Emerson: there's lots to be said if that's all they're after. Why, I anticipate the day—you will live to see it, Horace, I haven't a doubt—I anticipate the day when some wise man will start out to argue that two and two are not four but five or something else: history proving that

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 324] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
two and two couldn't be four: and probability, too: yes, more than that, the wise man will prove it out of his own consciousness—prove it for somebody—for a few: they will believe in him—a body of disciples will believe: then, presto! you have a new religion! What a horrible mess the critics of the world would make of things if the making of things was (as God knows and thank God they are not) in their hands. When I think of the critics I never fail to be reminded of Heine's canon of criticism. Oh! it is superb—splendid. Heine would ask: What did this certain man stand for, set out to do? And then would ask further: Did he do that—do it honestly, his own way, with success? The code of the newspaper critic has nothing of Heine in it. Every whipper-snapper of a reviewer, instead of trying to get at the motive of a book or an incident, sets out sharply to abuse a fellow because he don't accomplish what he never aimed for and sometimes would not have if he could."

     I called his attention to several errors in Specimen Days which he had missed. But he thought it was too late to correct them now and he would let them go. "But there is one thing, above all, I wish you would see done. On page thirty-one of the Leaves the line containing 'show to me a cent' should read, 'show me to a cent.' It has I believe gone through every edition from the first wrong. It quite loses its pith in the change." I said: "I found it, Walt, and it is already corrected." W. looked at me: "You did? Damn you—you're quite a detective!" Took up a copy of the Leaves and showed the error to Tom. "It is a saying with the proofreaders, that there never has been a book without a mistake—never—never—from the earliest records of printing: never a book absolutely correct—technically, mechanically. Prizes have from time to time even been offered for correct editions, in Bible printing especially: but the prizes are all unclaimed to this day."

     I repeated to W. a remark made to me today: "Ain't it strange that all these God damned literary fellows are free traders?" W. was hilarious: "No—not strange—only natural: more significant than strange: a badge of honor. Congratulate

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 325] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
mister whoever-he-is: he has hit a nail well on its head. I am not always the apologist of the literary class but I think this would be one of the best feathers in its cap."
Picked up the Pall Mall Annual containing Gilchrist's Whitman and called my attention to Richmond's portrait of Bismarck. "Don't you think that's good? fine? I like it tremendously: that is, for a portrait: done in a style I accept."

     W. said: "One day early in the week I sent off four letters all of them upon matters I had hoped to know about at once. One was for copyright: but then there's a good lot to do about the new library building down there and I suppose poor Spofford is at his wit's end to make things meet nowadays. I wrote to Knortz, too. Did I tell you about the German edition? Oh, yes! it comes along splendidly: Rolleston expects much of it. I wrote also to Linton for a cut: at New Haven. I have had no answers." Spoke of the Glasgow edition of Specimen Days: Wilson and McCormick's: all printed here but the title page. W. said: "They are poorly bound over there. Dave sold them sheets cheap—unusually cheap: but he was fair about it—let me know what he was doing and I didn't object." We discussed title pages for the complete W.W. W. said: "We must proceed very deliberately. I shall have to try my hand at a design or two." All of November Boughs and a part of L. of G. for the complete W.W. now printed. Read this to W.:

"Chevreul, the French savant, has just celebrated his one-hundred-and-first birthday. When asked the secret of his longevity, he replied: 'There is no secret; there can be no rule of life; what is good for one may not be good for another. We must study what is best for us individually. For example, my parents lived to be more than ninety years old, and they drank wine; from my childhood wine has been disagreeable to me. Like Locke and Newton, I have never cared for any beverage but water, and yet I am president of the Wine Society of Anjou.'"

     He made me read it a second time showing renewed interest. Then he said: "Them's my sentiments—every one of them:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 326] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
there can be no rule: every man must be a rule to himself."
Asked me: "Did you bring Jane Carlyle?" And when I said: "My friend who borrowed it has not brought it back" he assented: "Oh well—but bring it as soon as you can. I am of the Carlyle humor just now. It may not come back to me soon again" I reminded him of a supplementary volume of the Emerson-Carlyle correspondence. He said at once: "Ah! good! bring it down to-morrow." W. handed me some drafts of letters pinned together: "You may put them away or throw them away just as you think best. They will give you a little biographical data, maybe—and that would be some excuse for keeping them. Before you came around I used to burn most of such stuff up: you are responsible for the idea that there is a reason for preserving it." The letters were to Freiligrath, Buchanan (two), Carlyle and John Morley. I will put them here in the order in which they were pinned together. On the back of the second Buchanan letter W. wrote: "Sent B the N Y letter of July 4 '78 (to Olean, Scotland)." On the back of the Carlyle letter he had written: "To Carlyle with Dem Vistas & Am Inst. poem." On the reverse of the Morley letter was this: "letter to Mr. Morley reach'd London probably New Year's day."


Attorney General's Office,
Washington Jan 26, 1869.

[Freiligrath]

I have sent you today by ocean mail a copy of my Leaves of Grass—not knowing whether you have received a package sent you by a friend of mine some ten weeks since. I should be well-pleased to hear from you. My address is—



Sept. 4 '76.

R. Buchanan.

I forward you by Express today same address as this letter the package of Books (see list of other side)—I wish Tennyson to have a set and have enclosed one, and would ask you to do me the favor of seeing that it is safely transmitted to

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 327] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
him. Notwithstanding the disclaimer in yours of April 23 I also send a set for Richard Bentley in response to his kindness and generosity: (if anything I know not of prevents its reaching him, I wish you to keep it for yourself.)


Please see that the photograph is given to the School of Art, with my affectionate respects.

Trusting to your kindness to see that they are carefully sent to the subscribers.



431 Stevens St cor West
Camden N Jersey U S America
April 4 '76

Robert Buchanan—

My dear friend—

I merely want to say that I have read your letter in the London Daily News—all your three letters—and that I deeply appreciate them, and do not hesitate to accept and respond to them in the same spirit in which they were surely impelled and written.

May God bless you and yours,

Walt Whitman.



Sept 3 '72

[Carlyle]
Dear Sir:


Following an impulse of the moment, I have just mailed to you two little books of mine—writing this to introduce them—and taking permission to personally offer, as it were, from America true respects and love.



Dec. 17, '68.

John Morley

Dear Sir:

I send you an original piece of mine, in hopes it will be found available for say the March Number of your Magazine. The price is four pounds—twenty dollars—in gold—and four copies of the number in which it is printed, sent me by mail.

Please send me an answer, with decision, by next or succeeding mail.

My address is to Attorney General's Office, this city.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 328] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     I found this phrase cut out of the Freiligrath letter: "I have seen your piece about me, and—" I asked: "Do you make a prior draft of all letters?" "Of all? No: Of some? Of particular letters? Yes. I have never been a copious letter writer. I rarely write to anyone to say just: 'How do you do?' I seem to need more reason than that to write." I objected: "But sometimes a letter in which you say only 'how do you do?' may be the most necessary and valuable letter to the fellow who receives it." W. did not answer offhand but finally said: "I have no doubt you are right: I do not cite myself as an example." I asked him: "Did Carlyle ever make any bows in your direction?" He laughed: "Not one: I was outside to Carlyle: he could not divine what I was up to: I think I was no more to Carlyle than any other disturber of the peace—no more than the cock that crowed in the next door back yard and bothered the life out of him." I mentioned Anne Montgomerie. W. said: "Yes, she comes sometimes—brings flowers—kisses me: but she don't come enough. You're always harping on her: I think you folks have serious intentions towards each other. What's Anne Montgomerie to you, or what are you to Anne Montgomerie, that you should love each other as you do?" He laughed a lot over his paraphrase. He added: "A boy can do a lot sight worse than have a girl: he may not have a girl—that's lot sight worse." I exclaimed: "And that from a bachelor!" He snapped back half in fun and much in earnest: "Not too much of a bachelor, either, if you knew it all!" This fling was so dead set with its teeth shut that I thought he might go on some on the subject. But he was silent and I went home.


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.