Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 339] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Tuesday, September 18th, 1888.

     7.45 p. m. W. not improved today. "I was cheerier when you came last night—you braced me up (Horace, you always do)—was brighter: thought the depression had worn out its welcome: but this morning I was back at the old stand again feeling as choky and sticky and heavy as hell. It went on so all day until about an hour ago: then I commenced to grow better. The evenings are my best times." The Jane Carlyle lay open face down on the floor. Pointing to it I said: "You won't read all the letters: I have kept on saying to myself that you wouldn't." "Neither shall I—you are right: but I want to run through them." I found a copy of the '82 edition of the Leaves in the parlor. Took it to W. He was jubilant. "Hurrah! the country's saved!" Gave me a short letter sent him by Swinton in 1865—September 25th of that year. "It's John in his most amiable mood: it is very warm—very ardent. John is often mistaken for a cynic by people who only half-know him."


Friday 6 p. m.

My dear and great Walt.

As you did not come up yesterday afternoon I did not expect you today.

I hope to be present when you come up for this package. I would be did I know when you would come.

I want to see you that I may get another copy of the Leaves and subscribe an X for the expense of their publication.

I am profoundly impressed with the great humanity, or genius, that expresses itself through you. I read this afternoon in the book. I read its first division which I never read before. I could convey no idea to you how it affects my soul. It is more to me than all other books and poetry.

The poem in the Broadway has supreme passages and thoughts but it does not seem to me perfectly artistic.

Art, as applied to poetry, simply means the best, highest, most natural, most effective form of expression.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 340] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I salute you as the poet of my heart, my intellect, my ideality, my life.

Yours,

J. Swinton.


     W. said: "I want you and John to know each other: you are fellow radicals. John is as much interested in the labor question as you are: he is a veteran—has long been loved and hated by the combatants one side and the other: is rather revolutionary, as you yourself are." Harry Fritzinger talked some with W. while I was there. W. was asking him questions about the Chinese in California. Harry is a sailor—lived for some time in San Francisco. W. felt that he was here getting "some intelligent impressions at first hand." "They are not dreams—they are not politics—they are actual experience." Kennedy sent W. a couple of copies of the Christian Register marking papers of foreign travel by Augusta Larned. W said: "He no doubt sent them in kindness of heart but I never read such papers. Who is Augusta Larned? Perhaps a friend, a correspondent, of Kennedy's." I tried to explain who she was. He then went on: "Well—I don't know her: it may be that the pieces are good: Kennedy must have thought there was something in them."

     Musgrove entered with a letter, which proved to be from Logan Smith—so W. thought without reading it. Written from an unpronounceable place in Wales. W. laughing said: "One thing is sure, Logan: when I write back to you I will address to London. Such a name deserves to be ignored." Letter was long. "And anyhow, I won't rassle with it now: it's a job in itself for to-morrow." Told him I had sent The American to Doctor Bucke. "I must confess that I don't think the best things about Frank's paper. It really contains nothing to startle anyone who looks at things as we do." "Do you require to be startled?" "No—not that: but I like the individual touch. I thought Frank's piece the best of the cluster though not the best of any cluster: the best of that set:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 341] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
containing the suspicion of something or other, I don't know what. Agnes Repplier is bright, smart, quick, knowing—and that is the trouble: especially the smartness, from which I always shrink. Smart people, merely intellectual people, professionals, writers as such, cannot comprehend Leaves of Grass—none of them: might as well let it alone."
"You think Miss Repplier extra clever?" "Did I say extra? no, I didn't say extra: I only said clever, or something to that effect. She strains for brilliancy—tries hard and harder and hardest until she gets her wit just where she wants it." "You wouldn't say that of Ingersoll's cleverness and wit?" "Oh, Lord no: the Colonel is chuck full and only bubbles it out: he just moves and spills over." I stopped for a minute. So did he. Then he said: "A man or a woman who strains to be brilliant generally ends by being simply impertinent: I'm afraid Agnes is impertinent. That crowd and our crowd start out from quite opposite premises: our roots, our aims, our ways, our results, are never like theirs—are never really understood by them. That is why the friendliness of the Coateses surprises me: their extreme friendliness. It may be that they are Quakers and the Quaker in them finds itself attracted to the same thing in me. Frank is himself way above that American paper in style and size—way above it. I think I have told you how splendidly the Williamses have always received me in their home? Their home was a sort of asylum (like old churches, temples) when so many homes were closed against me. They were like the Gilders—they were not afraid even in the days of greatest outcry to ask me round, to have me cackle and rub feathers with them in their own coop."

     Had today fixed up the books for Coates "with mine own hand." Autographed them. Then put this label in his hand on the package: "$10 Centennial Edn. Two Vols: Leaves of Grass and Two Rivulets bound in half leather & Italian boards containing Autograph, Portraits (three from life) Personal Memoranda in Secession War and Democratic Vistas." Then said: "I have about a dozen sets of the Centennial edition ready:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 342] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
am willing to sell them if a purchaser should appear. I don't see why Coates should want them. You had better persuade him against it. Don't let the poor man load up with Leaves of Grass: let him take warning of us: see how we have suffered all these years from our great overstock!"

     After a brief silence W. said he'd "bet" I couldn't tell who his chief visitor was today. I didn't bet. I only looked inquiringly at him. Then he said: "Gilchrist was over—Herbert: this time for a genuine visit—real—long. He did not, however, explain the mystery of his appearance in America: talked very well, with great optimism. I have it from some one else that he is a correspondent or something of that sort. You know, Europe is on the qui vive as to affairs in this country: they don't know America, she is a specter, a nightmare, to some of them—a puzzle to all. What does it all mean? Why hasn't America long ago gone to the devil?—and if she hasn't she ought to. She has the fastest locomotives, the biggest prairies, almost illimitable space—elbow room: has fought down the most stupendous rebellion: has had riots, Ku Klux, and hell's own pother again and again: develops an independent, almost cocky, citizenship and vast unprecedented processes in machinery: and still hangs on. What does it mean? And then, this year, there is the political hub-bub—the general excitement: the people just as much in it as the leaders. Now, it may be that Herbert came over to tell them about such things."

     I wrote to Burroughs last week to this effect: "W. will never be better than he is now: if, therefore, you are so disposed, come down: you want to see him: Dr. Bucke is afraid any day may bring a serious turn: take your chances now—even if you see but little of W. come now." Burroughs was coming in the summer. W. advised against it. Said then: "Don't tell him till I advise." He does not "advise." Today I received a postal from Burroughs saying he would be down this week, probably Wednesday. I said to W. this evening: "It's pretty near time for Burroughs to come." "So it is. Well—he will come: do not hurry him." After a silence: "Yes, he'll come.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 343] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I love John. We have not of late seen as much of each other as I would have liked. John has lived a little too close to the New York crowd—has been a trifle touched by it: is a little bit here and there under its sway. They don't let you alone—they press upon you: there is no escape: you've got to yield or say no with your clenched fist: they don't recognize any mild negative. But John's faithfulness, affection, are beyond question. Our relations with each other have always been comradely—largely and directly personal."
Then dwelt upon his life in Washington and intimacy with Burroughs there. "The mornings: shall I ever forget them? And John's wife—and the unmatchable griddle cakes—the best in the world—no one's could equal hers (and at that time I set more store by such facts than I do now). Burroughs would come in for me and take me home with him—for breakfast: Mrs. Burroughs managed things then—kept some of the department clerks—and there was always a rub with the precious coffee—that, too, the best on earth: and then the hour's talk after the meal—the sweet talk. They were precious days! I can never forget them: precious, sacred days." He then described Burroughs to me: "He is plain, large, not heavy—a farmer in appearance, a little hesitating in speech—a little more and it would be a stammer: cordial, endowed with a good voice—timbre to it: of habits all simple: just such a man as you like, I like: contented with what comes: fare frugal as a Jersey ploughman's or a country innkeeper's. John wins on you by just such qualities. They say of him—I know it of him: when there's a particularly hard job of work to be done on the farm, he does it himself—reserves it: he has hands there to help him, yet he chooses his own place, and that generally the most difficult one." I asked him if he had seen B. since the New York reception: "No—he was there then—all the time I was—a couple of days—short, but enough for both, I guess. And that's another thing about the New York boys. They look upon it as the great need—the supreme fact—to meet with, to gaze upon, celebres: to gossip about them, to take them to dinners, to swell their peacock

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 344] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
tails and strut about with them."
I said: "Your book acquits you of that weakness." "Weakness? Madness, you mean. So it does. And if it does not, I am sure I stand personally acquitted—acquit myself. I have no interest in mere distinction—in what the world calls greatness—in the professional elects—the superior author of this, the superior author of that, the superior author of the other: they do not fool me—their feathers are at the best only good for easy weather."

     I said to W.: "What I like about you, Walt, is that though you often talk strong you never talk sore." He looked at me fixedly. "I hope you are right—I hope you are right: but are you right?" I replied: "I haven't thought that today alone—I have thought it always: it is not a judgment for one day alone—it is for all time." He was very fervent when he exclaimed: "Thank God for that! thank God for that! I would rather talk weak then talk sore. Thank God for that!"


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.