Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, September 23rd, 1888.

     7.15 p.m. W. reading Pardoe's Court of Louis Fourteenth. "I feel a bit better today but you notice I wear no extra feathers in my cap." The morning papers published extracts from the Diary of the Emperor Frederick William—cabled from abroad. "Ah! the good Emperor! His time had not come yet—Europe was not ready for him. The moral greatness of Frederick always impresses me profoundly." I told him Burroughs had left word that the substance of the Carlyle papers which W. advised him to put into a book had already been so used. "Then I don't think I ever got the book," said W. "Two or three weeks ago I made up my mind to go into the Carlyle matter—go to the bottom of it—if it had a bottom—sift all its wheat from its chaff. If John had sent me such a book I know I should have taken to it first. I endorse all he said in those papers: his torch lit up the whole scene: it was like the best light in the worst darkness. Carlyle is still a mystery to me. I have long had these doubts and they remain unshaken by all I have recently read." I advised W. to read the letters. "They show the best Carlyle—Carlyle real, loyal: they are the letters to his mother, father and brothers." W. said quickly: "That's surely stuff for me to read: nothing is more likely to exploit the interior best of a man." I remarked: "I admit all you said last night, and yet Carlyle has done me good." "I am glad to hear you say that, Horace: he has done me good, too—immense, incalculable good: that is what I always allow whatever has been denied: the substance of his message underlying all its often misguiding words: the precious something unwritten, unsaid: the fact below the fact. I have often taken up cudgels for Carlyle. I remember two or three occasions at Pearsall Smith's—stormy occasions—when I had to rally the stampede and declare for Carlyle in vehement terms."

     I was in Germantown today. Many inquiries everywhere concerning W. "It does me good to sit here and think there are people, even groups of people, unknown, never met, even

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unsuspected—who ask for, remember, me. Kennedy used to go about a good deal in Boston, years ago: you know the time—it was when he wrote the famous letter: 'there is a solid phalanx of enemies wherever I turn.' Kennedy is easily riled: he goes into the most orthodox circles: some word is said—maybe a very innocent word: he takes it up, defends, assaults, fences, and then a battle is on. There was a little clipping of Kennedy's piece on Sanborn's Thoreau in the Press today."
Clifford gave me a scrap on W. from N.Y. Press. W. read it. First he said: "No, no, that's not me." Then: "There seem glints of things here and there"—then, after reading on: "Oh what bosh! I never said that—it don't sound like me—I don't talk so peacocky." Finally, he said: "This fellow is friendly but he hasn't got the correct line on my history." It was given out mostly as an interview, mainly purporting to be in W.'s own words. "The ideas seem like your ideas Walt." So they do—mostly: but I never talk in that way."

"Long white hair, long white beard and moustache, a florid face, with blue eyes alive with fire, a gigantic frame withered, a shirt thrown open below his corded neck, gray coat and trousers, shoes tied with leather strings, is the picture that Walt Whitman presents to a visitor. An inkstand and pen are on the table before him, and a lead pencil is on the window near him. His old white hat lies on a chair. His tone and manner are cheerful and he responds to the expression of sympathetic interest in him.

"It is now thirty years since Walt Whitman began to write. He is nearer, but scarcely nearer, popular appreciation than when he began. There is something pathetic in his uncomplaining attitude towards the persistent misapprehension which attends all he does.

"He said recently, in speaking of this: 'I set out with a design as thoroughly considered as an architect's plan of a cathedral. None of the poets have touched exactly what I wanted to do. It seemed to me that all had fallen short of getting down deep

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" 'I set out to illustrate, without any flinching, humanity. I proposed to myself a series of compositions which should depict the physical, emotional, moral, intellectual and spiritual nature of man.' This man was to be himself. 'I had to deal with the physical, corporeal and amative—that part which is developed between the ages of twenty-two and thirty-five. It is that part of my endeavor which has caused the harshest criticism and prevented candid examination of the ensuing stages of the design. Still I have gone on adding, building up, preserving, so far as I am able to do in my original intention. I suppose I fail, as many others have failed, in fully expressing myself. The difficulty is not in not knowing what a man wants to say, but in formulating it. I am not embittered by my want of success. It is so different from the accepted forms of poetry that it could not be expected to make its way. I have been most kindly received in England both by periodicals and critics. My last volume is in response to the interest of my friends abroad.'"

     W. gave me a set of the Centennial Edition. "It makes me feel rich," I said. He replied: "If you feel richer taking than I do to give you must feel like a millionaire." Pointed out a pile of the books over on the floor. "I am trying to get them in shape for selling," he said. W. is a slow answerer but he always answers to the point. That is, if he wants to answer at all. Sometimes he don't. Then he will say he don't want to in so many words or will tell you what a long tail that cat has and so get off your chase. I asked him: "What comes before comradeship?" He answered: "Nothing." I asked: "And after?" "Nothing again." This apropos of a letter he gave

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me. It was one of the rough drafts a few of which he seems to have kept. I will put it right in here.


April 15, 1870.

Dear Benton Wilson,

Dear loving comrade, As I have just been again reading your last letter to me of December 19, last. I think I wrote to you on receiving it, but cannot now remember for certain. Sometimes, after an interval, the thought of one I much love comes upon me strong and full all of a sudden—and now as I sit here by a big open window, this beautiful afternoon, every thing quiet and sunny—I have been and am now, thinking so of you, dear young man, and of your love, or more rightly speaking, our love for each other—so curious, so sweet, I say so religious—We met there in the Hospital—how little we have been together—seems to me we ought to be some together every day of our lives—I don't care about talking, or amusement—but just to be together, and work together, or go off in the open air together—Now it is a long while since we have been together—and it seems a long while since I have had a letter. Don't blame me for not writing oftener. I know you would feel satisfied if you could only realize how and how much I am thinking of you, and with what great love, this afternoon. I can hardly express it in a letter—but I thought I would just write a letter this time off-hand to you, dearest soldier, only for love to you—I thought it might please you.

Nothing very new or different in my affairs. I am still working here in Atty Gens office—same posish—have good health—expect to bring out new editions of my books before long—how is the little boy—I send my love to him and your wife and parents.


     I looked at W. There were tears in my eyes. I said: "You did not ask me to read that aloud and I'm glad you didn't." "You mean you couldn't have read it?" "Yes—and that you couldn't have heard it read." His face was very grave. "Horace—it is true—it is true: I can't live some of my old letters over

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again."
I said: "These letters of yours to the soldiers are the best gospel of comradeship in the language—better than the Leaves itself." "Comradeship—yes, that's the thing: getting everywhere to make all: that's the only bond we should accept and that's the only freedom we should desire: comradeship, comradeship." He had made up a bunch of old letters for me tonight— "brands plucked from the burning," he called them. They were from Nelly O'Connor, William O'Connor, Cyril Flower, Henry Clapp, Sylvester Baxter, and W.'s own draft of a letter to Elijah Fox. I stuck them in my pocket. As I kissed W. on leaving he said: "All our good nights are precious to me—and our good mornings."


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