Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, September 21st, 1888.

     8 p. m. W. not bright this evening though he has been better today than yesterday— "but only a very little—a shade better: though, as you understand, a little is a great deal in my case." Harned in this evening. Burroughs started off for Sea Bright this morning. "It was to visit Johnson," said W.: "Johnson of the Century staff—an old-fashioned first-class fellow doing the work of a general utility man there." Burroughs still complains of insomnia. I had a long talk with him last night. W. said: I thought he was all over that insomnia deviltry long ago. Dear John! I do not question his loyalty: he is true as a die! The damnable insomnia—what causes it? There was Lindell's wife, too—she was bad, very bad." Lindell's wife is much better." "Do you hear that? That's good news—better news—best news! Tell Lindell for me that I am glad to hear of her luck. Herbert Spencer, too, seems to be a victim of the same complaint. I have belly aches and head aches and leg aches and all other kinds of damned aches but I hain't got no acheless insomnia: thank God for that!" I said: "You are chipper this evening. You show the effects of not having to endure tariff symposiums and torchlight parades last night!" He was merry over this. "Very good—and true enough to be good, too, Horace: I seem to have got past the age, and the health, when I can stand debating societies and political jubilations without hurt. Life simply drags along with me: there's drag, drag, drag—but nothing more substantial." I said Burroughs had asked me if W. thought well of Kennedy. "What did you say?" "That you did—very well." "That was right: that will do very well for an answer. Yes indeed we do—all of us."

     W. had his hat on and wore a red tie. "You have a sort of out-doors and youthful look to-night, Walt." "Do I? That's worth believing. I'll get into the hat and tie habit: maybe that'll help to keep me alive." Burroughs had brought him an

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apple phenomenal both for size and beauty. It still lay on the table. "Why don't you eat it." "It's too grand: I hate the idea of not having it just where it is so I can look at it." W. spoke of Donaldson as "a rare raconteur: among the very best: perhaps the very best. Burroughs tells some Greek story of two armies, one of them nearly conquered yet not despairing. A moonlight night comes on: the weaker combatants are under arms, not knowing what to do. All at once, on a new angle of the moon, the position of the enemy was revealed by the glint of their spears. Then an assault—a victory—the tide turned! When it comes to a story Donaldson can give you that glint: or if not a story then just a bit of current philosophy: he can give you that glint: he has the genius of the glint." He talked again of his physical decadence. "Bucke says your letters are better today than any time since you were taken sick." "Ah! But Bucke don't know all—or half of all! There's many a dangerous spot beneath the fair surface of the stream." Could not get his mind off Burroughs. "What a singular thing that insomnia is—the most horrible affliction I can think of."

     Found a pile of well on to a thousand copies of the Linton portrait in the back room but sheet too small to fit into the big book. W. said: "That's infernal tantalizing. I should not have left the cut so long in New Haven, where Linton has it. I have a bad habit of dropping things about in that way and often of forgetting where they are: leaving them here and there on deposit, so to speak. Linton once used his portrait in a book he prepared for Bohn—asked my permission, which I granted. I like it—always have liked it. The printing bill at the time was a startling one: that is why I regret to have to waste these sheets now." Alluded to Gutekunst pictures of his father and of himself: "They are first-rate: they satisfy my sense of photographic righteousness: I have given many of them away—the pictures of myself—because, on the whole, to a person who gets only one picture, this picture is in more ways than any other spiritually satisfactory and physically representative."

     Has spent part of the day making up packages of the Centennial

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Edition. Is happy over the intelligence, brought by Burroughs from Gilder, that W.'s prose piece will undoubtedly appear in October. Copyright not yet received. "Where did our dollar go? If any fellow needs that dollar more than I do, let him have it. I don't object to losing the dollar but I do object to the delay. The minutes to a man in my straits are golden. How can I do much, shut off here from the world, from the light and air of the common life, so precious (yes, so necessary), day in and out, and night—and the vim of me all gone!" I said: "If you keep on practising putting on such a poor mouth you'll get yourself penniless again." "Ain't I penniless—in health?" "No—you've got a fortune left and you know it." He looked at me. "Horace—you're more right than I am in that: yes, there's a fortune left and I will draw on it." I said to W.: "Were you sorry to see John go?" "Yes and no: yes—because it would be nice to have him live nearer: no—because we were about talked out for the present. I am no kind of a social being just now. I seem to have only one thing in mind—only one: the book, the book, only the book—and you, who are my other self pledged to the same single undertaking: you and the book—you are in my mind day and night. Besides, though John is wholesome in general he carries about with him just now a slightly depressed air, to which I seem to be extremely sensitive." W. started me looking over the table for some letters which I didn't find, but in the course of my search I turned up a draft of a letter written by him in 1867 to Rossetti which he said I might "take along and put away" if I thought it "likely to be of any biographical use in the future." I sat right down where I was and read it.


Nov. 22, '67.

I suppose Mr. Conway has received and you have read, the letter I sent over about three weeks since, assenting to the substitution of other words, &c. as prepared by you, in your reprint of my book, or selections therefrom.

I suppose the reprint intends to avoid any expressed or implied character of being an expurgated edition—and hope it will

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simply assume the form and name of a selection from the various editions of my pieces, printed here. I suggest, in the interest of that view, whether the following might not be a good form of Title-page:"Walt Whitman's Poems Selected from the American Editions By William M. Rossetti."


When I have my next edition brought out here, I shall change the title of the piece, "When lilacs in the Dooryard bloom'd," to "President Lincoln's Funeral Hymn." You are at liberty to take the latter name, or the old one, at your option, (if you include the piece in your reprint.)

I wish particularly not [only] that the little figures numbering the stanzas, but also that the larger figures dividing the pieces into separate passages or sections, be carefully preserved as in copy.

It is quite certain that I shall add to my next edition (according to my plan from the start) a brief cluster of pieces, born of thoughts on the deep themes—Death and Immortality.

You will allow me to send you an article I have printed on "Democracy"—a hasty charcoal-sketch of a piece, but indicative, to any one interested in Leaves of Grass, as of the audience the book supposes and in whose interest it is made.

Allow me also to send you (as the ocean postage law is now so easy,) a copy of Mr. Burroughs' Notes and some papers.

And now, my dear sir, and with uninterested candor, you must just make what use, or no use at all, of anything I suggest or send as your own occasions call for. Very likely some of my suggestions may have been anticipated.


     I asked W.: "Didn't you after all come to the conviction that the Rossetti book was in effect an expurgated edition?" "Yes I did: I never gave my assent to any abbreviated editions which I didn't live to regret. After all, the Rossetti book was a piecemeal affair—an apology: it said to the British public: here you are good respectable readers, here is this American Walt Whitman pruned so as to make a decent member of your household: your sons and daughters are safe with this book: we have shaved

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off the mane of the lion, we have drawn his claws and teeth: now behold, you have one of yourselves, whom you may welcome with an unfearing heart. I do not say Rossetti intended it for that but that's what it came to. I never have had any reason to be other than proud of Rossetti: his attitude towards me has been consistently noble, considerate, even sacrificial—no man could have been more truly another man's friend and brother."
I said to W.: "I've been waiting to hear the big story you were going to tell me." You'll hear that in due time—not to-night. That cat has too long a tail to start to unravel at the end of an evening: we'll need a whole night for it."


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