Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 334] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Monday, September 17th, 1888.

     8 p. m. W. described this as one of his very worst days— "tarry, sticky, depressing." Rallied towards night. Cheerful. Went down stairs yesterday after I left—alone. Stayed half an hour in the kitchen talking to Warren Fritzinger about his voyages. Warren is a sailor. Musgrove says the trip greatly exhausted W. W. handed me a couple of letters from Bucke. "I kept them here for you: they will interest you. Doctor is worked up about Carlyle: he says: Don't read him: he's not the food for you now: Carlyle is a bad egg—both Carlyles are bad eggs—fretful, dissatisfied, disquieting." I questioned: "But you didn't agree to all that?" "Yes, I would be willing to say all that and then to say: There's something more: let's not be too quick and end matters just there. Carlyle was satisfied with nobody, nothing: no god, existed for him: reform was a sham, democracy a humbug, civilization a lie: everything was turned helter-skelter: everything was wrong ended—everything meant despair—dead death. But the question returns and returns

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 335] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
again: was not Carlyle more than that? was he not true, the honest reflex of some incontrovertible fact? And there I stick."
I asked: "Don't society sometimes need the whip of the master?" "Yes indeed—that was what I was about to say. I am not sure Carlyle will last: many people—not the meanest—put a negation on Carlyle. There's Bucke—a sagacious, catholic spirit: he shakes his head: he does not acquiesce in Carlyle. I make no rule for myself about reading: I read what comes to my hand— what pleases my mood. I can't say that the Carlyle books oppress me: they are black enough, but they are also more than black." Reading Emerson-Carlyle correspondence this evening. I took him the Jane Carlyle volume. "I persevere—am fascinated—whether for good or evil."

     W. has been looking into Carrington's translations of Hugo. "Take the book for a few days—look it over—see what you can make of it. Carrington is skim milk. I am not surprised, however, to find his work poor. Carrington is just such a man as could not translate Hugo—do it justly: a man of no marked type—proper, dressing two or three times a day: a clergyman: that style of a creature with all that it implies. The best renderings of Hugo were Mrs. Gilchrist's. She put the Legende des Siecles into English: copied it for me—showed it to me—while she was here. It was nobly done. Do you know it?—the Pan and Deity business? Oh! how superb it was—how it opened up the great mines!—rich with ore: finer even than the French to English renderings of my French friend in Washington years ago." I named Ben Tucker as enjoying a big reputation for French translation. "Yes, I have heard of that, too—Morse spoke of it." I told him I had read some translations made from Hugo by Bayard Taylor. He never gets interested in Taylor. W. added: "They charge Hugo with a lack of decorum—God knows! He was of masculine genius. There are some signs of flare, peculiar Frenchiness, in Legende des Siecles, but after that a real sublimity of power. As to the charge of nakedness made against Hugo: the charge is made and made again: it is always a weak charge: O'Connor always had a drastic way of disposing

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 336] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
of it. I remember an evening company in Washington: great heat of debate, babble of voices, dissenting discordant opinions—mostly antagonizing Hugo—and William's final breaking in (just at the right moment and place in the talk) with the exclamation of Heine: 'But, madam, we are all naked under our clothes!'"

     W. received a copy of the concluding symposium piece in The American: The Poetry of Walt Whitman: a Rejoinder, written by Frank Williams. "It is the most parsible of the lot—better than all the rest put together—better than Frank's own first paper. My objection to them all would be that they take up verses centuries old, debate them by rule and measure: they mean this or that or the other: and then formulate the result in a doctrine or standard to which you must ever after conform or be damned. As long as they persist in such a method of criticism they had better let the Leaves alone. There are standards by which we may be judged, but they are not such standards: they must be contemporary, not antique, standards." Bucke is still asking what brought Gilchrist over? B. suggests that there's a woman in it. W. once said the same thing in a joke. Now, however, he shakes his head. "No—not that: I should say, just the desire to take up stakes and move. Such times come in every life—yours, mine, anyone's. Carlyle in the mood of rebellion just got up and away—went off on a dismal moor—anywhere, anywhere, the place not imperative: the hour had struck for him to go and he obeyed." Perhaps G. had come on a Whitman mission of some sort? "I hardly think so. What could it be? Perhaps to be around in case of my serious sickness—to watch, to care for, me: but that is provided for."

     Coates gave me ten dollars more for another set of the Centennial edition. W. spread the note flat on his knee and said: "The portrait of somebody or other on a ten dollar bill always has a lucky look!" Coates had made some hint to me that he and some one else had wondered if they might not buy up the residue of the Centennial edition and so help W. in his need. I had replied that W. was not in such pressing need—that he would like well

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 337] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
enough to sell the books but not by any false pretense. I explained all this to W. who said: "You did right—perfectly right: I am not in any need whatever—neither am I greatly flush. Coates has done so much more than well as it is that I would hesitate to have him do better from any fallacious fear that I might be in dire straits. This does not mean that I would not like to or am not willing to sell the books: selling books is what I am here for: but when I sell 'em I want to sell 'em honest." Said again: "I have been a little worried: a man out in St. Louis somehow got a spurious edition of the Leaves and wrote telling me about it: so I took and sent him a copy of the Osgood issue—one of the few I thought I had—the 'author's edition' I got bound up here. Now, when I come to look more into the matter, I find it possible I sent him the last copy I had. Another may turn up but if it don't I'm in a stew." Baker was over to-night. Felt W.'s pulse and reported it "good." "Do you say so?" asked W. Baker nodded assent. W. then: "No matter how bad I feel that ought to satisfy me. I always like you fellows to tell me I am well." After B. was gone W. said: "He's a gentle fellow—was a sweet nurse: it was like good health to have him touch me." W. called my attention to this in Bucke's note of the 14th.




"I hope you will settle down to the notion of issuing the big book yourself without the intermeddling of any publisher—print four or five hundred copies—get them up in all ways in first class style—number each—sell for ten dollars—advertise in the N. B. and perhaps in the Critic and Pall Mall Gazette—let Horace do all the work except the autographing—make it a solid remembrancer of yourself to your friends—make it as personal as possible."


     W. said: "We have anticipated Maurice in almost every point: he comes a day after the fair. But his Carlyle letter is very vigorous and worth while: it presents a point of view—a valuable point of view: is partial, fragmentary, a piece instead

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 338] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
of the whole—but significant—an impression that we can't skip or pass by as being useless."
This is the Bucke letter:


London, Ontario, Sept. 14, '88.

All quiet here and another perfect autumn day. Your card of the 13th came this morning. I think it is wonderful how perfect your handwriting keeps through all your illness and feebleness. No, I would not recommend Froude's Carlyle to a man who needed cheering up. I read it a few years ago and it nearly gave me a fit of melancholia. I look upon that same Carlyle as being (or having been?) one of the worst "cranks" that ever lived. And he certainly had about as bad a time of it for eighty-six years as any man ever had in this world. Nothing gave him pleasure, nearly everything gave him pain. As long as his wife lived her presence only seemed to add to his worry and gloom; as soon as she was dead he was more gloomy and worried more than ever because he had lost her. He was a bad sample and she was little (if any?) better. He couldn't even live with his favorite brother John. I think his ignorant old mother with her pipe was the best of the lot; think I could have liked her. I should like to know C. by and bye to see what he is like in the next world but I never expect to care much about him. Love to you.

R. M. Bucke.


     I said to W.: "Somebody here the other day said you swore by Doctor Bucke—that you always said yes when he did and all that." W. replied: "Did they? They were very shrewd: they found us out in a great secret. You know how I say yes to the Doctor— and to you, too, for that matter. I have always been taken for a great quarreler—almost a brawler—rather than a bower and scraper: I was never accused before of being too willing to train in with other people. My dear mother used to say to me: 'Walt—does thee not sometimes—just sometimes, Walt—look for differences where there are none?' Dear mother!"


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.