Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 360] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Saturday, September 22nd, 1888.

     2.30 P.M. W. sitting in chair reading Lippincott's Magazine. Had been examining literary notices in closing pages. Was not bright. Woke up this morning with headache—something unusual for him. How was he? "Oh! nothing to brag of." Day cool, beautiful: thought that assisted him a little. I had with me a package of books—November Boughs—five copies, secured from binder this noon, still damp when I unfolded them to Walt. His whole face lightened into a smile. "So that's the book?"—and again: "Here it is at last—and after such a siege!" Turned it over and over, radiant with satisfaction. "Yes, it is better even than I expected it would be—satisfies me—gives me peace." Things still to be looked to here and there. Advertisement not yet in. "It belongs in—I consider it a part of the history of the book—integral. I had thought we might have a book like this"—picking up the Epictetus— "but our book is so much bigger I don't know whether such a cover would do." Turned the book over and over. "Well—it will do: I approve of it: it is our dear child come safely at last through the great storm." He took a copy he meant for me and wrote on the fly-leaf: "Sept. 22 '88 Horace Traubel with the best memories and thanks of Walt Whitman"—saying as he handed it back to me: "It's not very strong, very emphatic: but then I'm not very strong, very emphatic." I quoted

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 361] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Emerson: "The superlative is the fat of expression." W. said: "Thank you for that—and thank Emerson. It's just like Emerson, too: that's the Emerson I knew: sinew without fat: if anything (though I guess not) too much sinew: reserved, reticent, always sweet, almost a disciple of silence. You know me and know I never quite go off about things—am not explosive, extravagant. Gesticulation, physical emphasis, facial grimacing, more prevalently distinguishes southern peoples than peoples north. Yet Americans are sometimes very actively exclamatory—perhaps not the most so and yet just as surely not the least so." I spoke of Salvini's remarkable physical mobility. "Well—that's the actor's part—that's his power. My friend who used to translate Hugo for me—he would sit at the other side of the table and talk across—was very lively, very animated—almost danced some of his verses out."

     Gave me two letters from Bucke. "You will want to see them—take them along: they are simple, affectionate, vigorous—and, thank God, not literary." If there is any business afoot which W. must imperatively watch he pins some memorandum concerning it to the hanging end of the table cover. Looked over several bills and reminders there this evening. "I had a paper from Boyle O'Reilly: I have sent it off to Bucke: it came yesterday or day before. Boyle is a brave man among brave men: Horace, you would cleave to him if you could get together." Burroughs suggested that W. should eat clams. Was he favorable to clams? "Ah! you forget I am a Long Islander or you would not ask the question. But then, as to liking clams—that's another thing: I don't like the things by premeditation: but if a good thing turns up on the table I am not averse to liking it. A girl off in the country sent me a jar of jelly: I didn't first of all ask myself whether I liked it: I just ate it up. After it was all gone I asked myself: 'I wonder if I like jelly?'" Then he added: "Let's try the clams: get a small jar first: it can do no harm: if it won't cure neither may it kill. 'What might cure Henry may be fatal to Camille': that is a line in a novel or a play somewhere." W. has received his copyright from Washington.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 362] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Now we proceed under the seal of authority." I read him this letter received from Stedman today:


44 East 26th Street,
New York, Sept. 21st, '88.

My dear Sir,

At length I have received the enclosed report (accidentally disfigured) from Cassell & Co.—the third firm which I have labored with on the subject of the Calendar. It plainly reached my hands too late for this year. Yesterday I received Ticknor's Calendar, edited by Miss Sanborn, for 1889. But the objections made by both Scribner and Cassell are not so much against the lateness of the season, as against "Calendars" in general. They say these are no longer a novelty, and for the moment do not sell well. Mr. Scribner told me he would rather publish the Whitman Calendar than any other he had seen—but he will not publish any. Doubtless we can place this one somewhere for 1890! Am glad to hear better news of Walt's health. Tell him I have made the amendments which he indicated on those proofs. With cordial regards,

Sincerely yours,

E.C. Stedman.


     The Cassell report enclosed was merely formal. W. said: "Stedman is generous—is always doing things for people: I am not grateful for I know he would resent gratitude—I am only happy for knowing his good-will to be so near and constant." I said: "I told Stedman you personally cared little about the Calendar." "You did, eh? Well—you told what was true: I wouldn't turn on my heel for it. That's the reason it seems like an outrage to worry Stedman with it." Passed an old Dowden letter over to me. "Maybe you would like that. It's Dowden all over: always under rein—never slap-dash and let go: but loyal, hospitable, insinuating. I don't know what kind of a man I like most—one kind of a man or another kind of a man. I guess I like all kinds most." I started to read the letter to myself. W. said: "Read it aloud—it's just as easy for you and

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 363] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
better for me."
I said to W.: "You're still your mother's boy Walt!" He laughed and answered fervently: "Thank God for that, Horace!"


Dublin, November 21, 1882.

Dear Mr. Whitman.

Your card and Progress have just arrived. I rejoice that with the ill tidings of your recent prostration comes good news of your recovery. May this better condition continue! You annex your friends so closely that your health and strength becomes part of theirs.

I send you the Academy with my notice of Specimen Days. I closed my review with a wish that you might try a voyage across the Atlantic. It would be a happy thing if we could have you here for a while, where you would find a bedroom, books, and, in summer, flowers and birds, besides a friend or two. Think of this. In London, I am sure, your welcome would be hearty.

Please notice a few lines by the editor of The Academy (I suppose) on p. 362. Who his informant was I do not know.

Most truly yours, dear friend,

Edward Dowden.


     I said: "I know one thing in that letter that hit you hard." "So do I. What was it?" "The sentence, 'you annex your friends so closely,': that's my guess." "You fire right home—that's the thing. Isn't that better than writing books?" "But don't it come to you because you have written a book?" He hesitated an instant before replying. "It might be put that way but I prefer to say, because I have lived a life. Don't you think living a life the most important thing after all?" I accepted his amendment. "I suppose you would say, Walt, that the trouble with most books is that they have not lived a life?" "Precisely: that comes first: all else follows or don't follow: living a life—a life of service, love—that is the first article in every noble faith."

     Evening. Went down with Harned. Up into the bedroom. W. not there. Found him in adjoining room, in the darkness,

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 364] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
fumbling about for something. As he came through the door on his way back he saw us. "Oh! it's Tom and Horace! Welcome both—welcome both!" Had his hat on and wore his red tie. Walked laboriously to his chair. Prefers not to be helped. "It's a job for me to take the shortest journey." W. handed Harned a copy of November Boughs. "It's all good but that lettering on the cover: that's weak pea-soup, dish-wash. Oldach tried for his worst on that and succeeded." Talked with Harned about Burroughs' insomnia: "That's an agent of the devil. I am mystified: why should John suffer from insomnia? John always seemed to me rugged, hearty, strong, with good digestion and a clear head." Harned said: "Why, it's so bad, Walt, that Burroughs has an idea he may have to undergo an operation to get rid of it." W. dissented: An operation? Oh no—not that: tell John not that: anything but that: that's worse than all. I say, damn the drugs—damn the operation!" He stopped. "I guess that's too strong but that's what I meant to say in effect. There's one habit of John's with which I never could sympathize: his disposition to rush off and have something done for him by a doctor the minute anything is the matter with him: to consult medicine men, take things—potions of some sort. Nature abhors all that—abhors it especially in a fellow like John, whose good body, good brain, seem to demand saner correctives. I have often met instances of that insomnia horror but find that it is usually of short duration. Indigestion accounts for fully nine-tenths of all our ailments and yet it cannot be that with John. We all love John and all hate his troubles. I thought after John had been here awhile the other day that there was a great absence in him of that buoyancy, spring, spirit, which had always been to me a source of delight. John is sweet—equable: breathes out the life of pears, cherries, grapes—odors of wildwoods, too. And by the way, when he was here he asked if I would have more pears, and I said no—or, if not more pears, grapes, and I still said no—and then if neither pears nor grapes, how about cider? And there he stumped me. Cider? I asked him: 'Have you cider?' and he answered: 'I

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 365] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
haven't but everybody up there has: I can get all I want.'
So I shouldn't be surprised to have it come to you over there in Philadelphia some day—a barrel of it: and you will come along here some evening with it on your shoulders, like the little mountain men in Rip Van Winkle."

     I picked up the Jane Carlyle book. W.'s marker was stuck into it about half way through. "So you're going to read it after all?" I asked. W. took the book out of my hands and said: "Yes and no: though go through with them—take a glance at each letter—that I must do. It is like a case with a fellow who has bad bowels: I must keep at him to get at the bottom facts." Was he interested, after all? "No—I think it about the stupidest stuff that ever was put into print." Harned asked: "Why was it printed, then?" W. replied: "Lord only knows: because the world wanted it, I suppose—wanted and would pay for it." But Mrs. Carlyle was for him "one of the smart people, capable of saying sharp and bitter and bright things—the sort no one could ever expect me to feel any thorough interest in." He regarded it as "a horrible dose, taken all in all: the whole Carlyle matter, in fact, very hard indeed to bear. Sour, discontented, vinegary, grunting—what a horror it is! As you heard me say the other night, the Carlyle rumpus is a reproach to the Almighty: think of it, that any man could stand in the presence of the great globes and say, all this is humbug—stand and rail at everything, all men—the whole constitution of the existing universe: nothing left in the wreckage to satisfy the soul—nothing to offer reassurances—nothing that would compensate for defects or to make up for evil. There's no use talking, they were both bad eggs—Jane, Thomas: bad eggs indeed. And yet I see underlying all that, pervading all, pathos: pathos, as you said the other day so finely, Horace: here everything is pathetic: no matter how deep you dig, how wide you cut, how high you go, there's the pathos of it, the awful pathos of it, staring you in the face. Yet I keep always asking myself another question. Why the hell didn't she marry some strong, healthy, manly Scotchman—some fellow who loved her and

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 366] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
could be lived with?—then all this vinegar might have been turned into sweet channels—might have been spared or converted to beneficent uses. Carlyle seemed to forget that other men had mothers, too: he didn't have sympathy for other men's mothers: he was dull—did not see the big things in others—in Mill, for instance: and he never saw radicalism clearly: all the radicals, democrats—no matter how disinterested, pure—were to him damned shams, arrant knaves, spectres of night: and civilization itself, modern life and hopes, more than all the fresher spiritual lights, aroused in him sorry forebodings of reaction. Life is not so bright that anybody should wanton with it—should keep its shadows too much to the front. Carlyle spit out everything—perhaps to his peace, though to the world's pain."

     Harned said: "Walt, you've gone at a great pace: you've rubbed all the fur off Carlyle's back." W. laughed. "Well, Tom, look what Carlyle has done to me: he has left me with hardly a hope left, for all my great faith, what with the green envy and devilish venom of his growl. Yet I know more's to be said—much more. I always tell myself after speaking freely of Carlyle—there is more yet to be said: he was needed, he was great, he was important to this age perhaps beyond any other." I cited a story repeated by Emerson to Whittier. Emerson told Carlyle about a lecture manager who tried to get him to deduct something from his fee for the lecture after it was delivered. Carlyle took his pipe from his mouth and exclaimed: "And why did you not put a bullet through his doorty brains?" W. enjoyed the story. "Well—I could forgive Carlyle much for that—that's a classic!" Harned asked W.: "Walt, do you find that John Burroughs is as fond of your friends as you are?" W. answered very slowly: "That's funny, Tom: I've been asking myself such a question. I feel that John is loyal to me even if he is not loyal to my friends—is not afraid of me, though he may be a little afraid of some of my friends. Don't you see, you're a dangerous lot—William, down in Washington, and Bucke, and Horace here, with enough revolution in him to make a good Mexican!"


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.