Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, September 19th, 1888.

     7.45 p. m. Harned already there when I called. W's "Howdy—howdy?" cordial. Shook hands. Had had a hard early morning but afterwards the trouble dissipated. Now bright though somewhat fagged. Said Burroughs had arrived today. "He looked thinner than when I last saw him but was bright, cheery." Then he added: "You fellows had better remain: John went over to hunt up Herbert—said he wanted to see Horace and he would come back in time to do so—but it is now late and you had better wait here until John turns up again." Expressed great interest in Burroughs' visit, taking it more calmly than I had expected. Engaged us in talk, a good deal of it politics—free trade, his own conviction that things are "bound all right and therefore must come right in the end."

     Handed me Buxton Forman's production of Shelley's Masque of Anarchy, fac simile of the original manuscript. It wore B. F.'s autographic dedication to W. W. said: "Herbert left that with me yesterday. It came from Forman himself. It seems the fellows over there have a Shelley society, and they want to

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know what Walt Whitman thinks of Shelley."
Then after a brief wait: "That's what Walt Whitman would like to know himself." He said further as Harned quizzed him: "No indeed Tom: I am not a reader of Shelley—I don't come so near him, or he to me, as some others." Harned alluded to a handsome Shelley once possessed by W. "Yes, I had that: you mean the one in red canvas? I sold it—a friend of mine came here one day and wanted it badly, offering to buy it: so I let him take it away." Tom spoke of its value: "It must have been worth four dollars, American money, at least." But W. demurred: "No—or if so, I didn't get that for it—didn't charge much." Afterwards he exclaimed as Tom read a verse from Shelley: "Oh, how fine! But I know nothing about Shelley—at least not enough to go on record with formally about him. I think O'Connor speaks for me in that—makes what I regard as a perfect statement of critical truth. He brings together spirit and matter: on one side Rabelais, representing all that is carnal, beastly, of the earth earthy: on the other Shelley—a wind, a perfume: pure, ethereal. That is a rare piece of abstract description: no one but O'Connor could have so touched it with vital fire." And O'Connor, he believed, was "the most catholic, comprehensive, of all critics. He has a place for every one—will not banish a soul: not any one of them—Shelley or any other." I asked: "Even Longfellow?" "Yes, even Longfellow. I know how quick he always was to resent my exceptions. There was Poe: I had often to say so and so not entirely commendatory and O'Connor would at once cry out—no, no, that is not the thing to say: that must not be!" W. stopped a bit—then cried: "Poe—poor, wonderful Poe!" and quoted: "And the fever called living is conquered at last"—saying pathetically and looking at me: "How full that seems! how true, far-reaching!" He added then: "Shelley is interesting to me as Burns is, chiefly as a person: I read with most avidity not their poems but their lives: the Burns letters, for instance."

     We talked of Henry George and his advocacy of free trade. W. interested, asking a lot of questions—what does he say? how

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does he propose to do it? and so forth. Then would say "good" and again "good"—and once: "It makes a man feel better to know somebody is saying that thing for him." Then suddenly, while we still "harped on" George, he reached towards the table saying as he did so: "My Australian anarchist friend has a poem about George: did you see it?" With his hand on the book he said: "And do you know, Horace, there's poetry in that book—poetry after all?—fire—strong places, passages: without any tricky art, but natural, sustained." He reflected further (we had in the meantime discussed the oddities of his style—broken lines, Whitmanesque and yet not): "After all, if a fellow is to write poetry the secret is—get in touch with humanity—know what the people are thinking about: retire to the very deepest sources of life—back, back, till there is no further point to retire to." He said that Adams' inscription in the volume sent him was "genuine, hearty, and interesting." "I had another Australian socialist here to see me—Bright: it was full two years ago. I think it was John Swinton who sent him. After he had gone back he delivered an address on Walt Whitman. I had a copy—he sent it to me: and it made me blush: I threw it back of the bed—it was so full, so full, of praise. Then I guess I lost sight of it—put it into the waste basket or burnt it up or sent it to Bucke." We laughed at the way he connected Bucke with its disappearance. "Well, I send all sorts of things to Bucke: I know he likes to have everything, pro or con. Bright was a keen, cute fellow—I liked him—liked him to come: but he did me up too large." I suggested: "That's the way you get square for the malignancy on the other side." He first smiled, then was serious: "The extreme that, the extreme this? I guess it is so—guess that explains it." Harned read aloud Adams' poem on Swinburne which dwells upon his apostasy, &c. I said: "It is natural for the socialist fellows, the democrats, to feel so: Swinburne has in recent years taken a sudden turn against his old loves and ideals—some say with an object." W. at this point: "Yes, I have heard it so said—the laureateship in view, it is hinted: but I don't think that is the case." There

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was a mystery in it but he was not prepared to side against Swinburne's motives. "Herbert might tell us something about that: Swinburne is intimate with the editor of The Athenaeum—derives many of his inspirations from that source, I am told. Herbert is in with all that sort of life in London: all the polish of it, the glitter: he might know."

     W. informed me that the Herald would not use his piece. "Habberton wrote me that I did not quite understand what they wanted. He intimated that their design was to help me along—give the book a lift. On Monday the Herald gave me a notice about so long"—indicating three or four inches on his hand— "for November Boughs." Said he was "not disappointed" "expected as much." Told me he had written to Morse— "a short note." (Afterwards when Burroughs and Gilchrist and Harned were with us he suddenly picked his notebook up from the floor, took off the rubber—putting it about the arm of the chair—opened at a certain page, and said to me: "Laflin street: that's right?") Said he had "something peculiar" to tell me about H. G.'s picture. "He puts it at three hundred pounds. And did you know—I guess none of us did—that the head there (and in the book, too) is not the head he painted here?" Explained: "The crown of the head in the Camden picture was too near the edge of the canvas: therefore Herbert made new measurements and a full new copy." I suggested: "It can't have been changed much or we would have detected it." "It wasn't," returned W.: "in fact it is in one sense the same picture." Harned told a story of a fellow suing a client of his for a hundred and thirty-five thousand dollars. Harned had asked—why didn't he sue for that many millions—he would be just as likely to get it. "So with Herbert's picture—why didn't he ask three thousand for it?" W. exceedingly amused—laughed for some time before he could say what he wanted to—then: "Don't be too hard on 'em, Tom: let the London crowd have its swing, though I guess it'll have it whether we say so or no. The picture is not all bad—has good (indeed, very superior) qualities: and then, you know, they want Walt Whitman a

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certain way—will have him that way whatever is said—however wide of the truth it may be."
He spoke of "the sublime confidence of Englishmen—the mountainous egotism: and it is sublime—so grandly so—so grand I can't help but admire it." Tom said he had asked H. G. about European art—where it was most highly developed, G. replying: "Undoubtedly in England." W. shook with gayety: "That's a sample of it—just what I've been saying."

     W. entirely satisfied with my arrangement of bastard titles. Also with Oldach's promise to get us four show copies of November Boughs in covers by Saturday. Delivered the books to Coates, repeating to him what W. had said about the copies left. Coates thought he knew several people who would like to have sets. W. facetious: "God speed 'em in their like!" A package of photos of Bucke's children on the table—tied together. Harned picked them up—looked them through—finding a picture of W. among them—a Sarony picture. W. saw it and at first said: "Why, where did that come from? I don't remember myself how it happened"—but after a little thought: "Yes I do, too." Looked long and long at the Bucke portraits—remarked the family resemblances.

     Got a short note from Donaldson asking for some written opinion from W. on the Catlin volume of Indian remains, &c., either accompanying or sent some time since. W. said he had known Catlin: "That picture on the wall over there was his: he gave it to me over forty years ago. He was an interesting old codger—a lithographer—gave the second half of his life all up to these studies—became proficient, accumulated a vast deal of information." Of the two portraits in the volume W. commended the younger. "Catlin was already old when I knew him" I asked: "Well—will you gratify Donaldson? will you write?" And he said: "Yes, I guess so: I am willing to bear my testimony to the old man—say a good word for the old man." Was it to be long? "No—five or six or a dozen lines at the outmost." Did not "think however" that he "would read Donaldson's immense book." Picked it up and looked at it with

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mock horror. Said about the Catlin picture: "I had that stowed away ten years, and when it came out it was in that shape. And there is the other, too: I took the better part of two days putting it together. I should have our man up on Market street frame them both—Neumeyer—and superintend the job myself."

     After the foregoing, in the midst of one of W.'s sentences, we heard a step down stairs and the vestibule door opened. W. looked at me and said: "There's John now"—which proved to be true: John and Gilchrist, who came in together. After greetings I swung the lounge around. B. sat at one end, I at the other. Harned took his chair again. Gilchrist sat on the bed. Walt serene, questioning. Had Burroughs had his oysters, &c? Offered him "home hospitality" down stairs. Talked of viands: of oysters chiefly—where to get them in Philadelphia and how. Afterwards prompted by the noise of bands, &c. on the street (Democratic Cleveland and Thurman demonstration in Camden to-night) talked of the tariff. W. very lively—went over the ground much traversed by him of late. No discussion because all were free traders, except, perhaps, Harned, whose faith in the tariff is not pugnacious. W. told his "good story" of the Benton-Calhoun duel. "John Forney used to repeat it to me with great gusto." After a shot apiece, "each admitting to the other that he knew nothing about the question at issue—the tariff question—each in fact doubting if anybody knew," &c &c. W. hugely moved with the humor of it. "And if not then, how or why more now?"

     At one point, when Burroughs had spoken of "solidarity" among the nations, W. said almost solemnly: "Yes, solidarity—that's the word: that's a noble view to take of it: the federation of the world." Curiously, however, after W. had tired a little of the persistent talk on the one subject he suddenly turned to Burroughs with an utterly foreign question. This got us out of the rut. He handed B. November Boughs (in sheets) and spoke somewhat of that. Finally he seemed to suffer from too much talk. I suggested we should leave. W. looked at me

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gratefully. It was proposed that all hands should go up the street to the meeting. B. asked W. if the long talk did not weary him and he said he thought it did. Then away—Burroughs to come in the morning again. W. said: "Not before ten—you know I stay in bed late"—or words to that effect. B. asked what time he went to bed usually. Thought to-night he would "go right away." But evidently thought better of it—for an hour after and more when we returned for B.'s valise left in the parlor the light was still up in his bedroom. Cannot stand much consecutive strain—listening, reading, talking. Burroughs reports an impression of great change in W. but thinks he looks better than might have been expected. B. will stay over till Friday morning, putting up at Harned's. Went after leaving W.'s to Harned's—saw big torchlight parade from that point. Talked much of Walt. Burroughs advises more energetic, even drastic, nursing—rubbing, massage, and so on.


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