Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, September 27th, 1888.

     7.45 p.m. W. not greatly better. Still complaining of his stomach. Still "plastered up," as he says. Cheerful—almost gay. Laughed freely. Fire in the stove—the first of the fall. Took the chill off the air. He looked a lot more comfortable in consequence. The new stove, ordered today, not yet come. W. signed my sheets of the book. I gave him two dollars from Fred May for a copy of Specimen Days. "Professor Garland, who was here yesterday, said he always started with Specimen Days if he wished to win some one over to Walt Whitman." May is a Jew and has had trouble with orthodox Jews because of his radical ideas. W. said: "If that's the kind of fellow he is he must be one of us," and then added: "He'll understand—he'll see." Spoke again of the Herald piece. He was not "drawn" to it but liked its "friendliness." Laughed over the Bryant "slip." "In the headline it said: 'He thinks Bryant America's greatest poet,' but in the piece itself there is no reference to Bryant. Evidently it was crowded out—set up but not used."

     I asked W. how he first came upon Dr. Bucke. "I would have to think awhile before I could say. Quite by a growth, a struggle, on his part, I guess: he tells how slowly he came over." Remarked how most of the strong friends he had found had "approached by degrees, first with questions, afterwards with lessening qualms." Expressed his unsatisfied curiosity over the German renderings of poems from L. of G. "I have always wished to know what a real live German—a German born and bred—would make of me." Said he had Freiligrath's translations there somewhere. If he could find them wished my father "to go over them and report." Had not heard from Knortz in Rolleston matter. "Knortz is a German and a scholar—I should prefer to have his opinion even to Bucke's." Spoke of opponents of L. of G. who "had never read the book." He remarked the frequency of that vice— "people everywhere condemning writers before they have taken the trouble to read

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them."
Instanced the case of one who without reading it dismissed Donnelly's book with a negation. He reflected: "That is quite common: Leaves of Grass has had that experience from the start."

     Showed W. a parody in Danbury News. "It is amusing," he said, "not more." Talked of portraits for the complete W.W. No final arrangement yet agreed upon. "I will look the book all over to-morrow." I asked him: "What was the sheet you pinned in the corrected copy of Specimen Days?" "What do you mean? I remember none." I looked for and picked up the book. "This, I mean," opening at one of the index pages where he had pinned a little sheet of suggestions as to where to put portraits, &c. He laughed: "Caught, sure. But I don't see when I did it: I am always getting up schemes—they come and go: there are many, many of them: fugitive schemes, for good or bad, for foolishness or wisdom." My father is reading Bucke's W.W. W. poked his cane about the floor until he turned up a copy in paper covers. Referred to page 74. "Fix this if it is so in your copy—pointing to an "it" dropped out at the foot of the page. "I put no bad construction on errors of that kind—care nothing about them: but they make O'Connor mad as a hare—he's in a fury about them: and I can even imagine John Burroughs taking issue on such a nicety. O'Connor is always sensitive on that point." Alluded again to the Englishman Summers, "his answer that was no answer" "that strange evasion, when I asked my question, that Gladstone realized Ireland's condition, saw that something had to be done—ending nowhere, leading to nothing." He enlarged some upon Summers. "Mrs. Costelloe wrote that he would give me an inside view of English politics. Had I been well I might have availed myself of the chance, listened, enjoyed hearing what he had to tell, though 'inside' views rarely tempt me. Summers seemed like a lively fellow—a good believer, a sparkling lieutenant—evidently having a value in just that place they have given him. But then, no view of any one man could be satisfactory—no view, outside or inside—no one version standing

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alone. It is as if America was to be revealed, stamped, in any one person, one statement—as if she was not a result of countless contributions, gifts from all quarters of the earth, something like the weather."

     I gave W. some notion of Burroughs' estimate of Arnold as developed in my talks with B. during his visit. B. asked me whether W. had ever read Literature and Dogma? "I had the book once—I don't know but it's here yet: some one sent it to me—I guess Doctor—Doctor Bucke. I attempted to read it—read along some considerable pages, chapters perhaps—then gave it up. I have no interest in such books—none at all. That matter there which he writes about is old, old—not only a thrice told but a three hundred times told tale. If I do at times concede a point and read arguments of that kind it is only for a vacation: I never go back to them: once done it is forever done. But Scott I can take up every year—The Antiquary and The Heart of Mid-Lothian in particular. They are a rest to my mind—are always fresh, new—give me the quiet, the peace, I crave." But he did "not doubt John Burroughs had very important reasons for his espousal of Arnold." B. had said to me: "Arnold was the man for England—for present English life—the flower of its native soil: that W., on the other hand, was for America—America's absolute self—the first product of its soil, the most significant promise of its future." But W. was not impressed with this exposition. "I can never realize Arnold—like him: we are constitutionally antipathetic: Arnold is porcelain, chinaware, hangings."

     W. thinks Burroughs "does not nowadays do full justice to his own genius." "I feel, in spite of what he says (and he would resent it, if it was told to him, I know) that John has been bitten by the New York poison. I am sure of it—sure what I have frequently told you is true—will hold good. No doubt John is unconscious of it—absolutely so: yet for all that the mark of it is there. They have their orthodoxies—their measures, lines—those fellows: John has never done anything to countervail them—is therefore admitted to the sanctuary. I am

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not likely to be deceived on that score—I know the breed too well."
And again he said: "Take John's estimate of O'Connor—it falls very short of the truth—short of the short of it: shows a failure to penetrate to the deeper roots of the man: especially misses his size—especially misses his steadfastness: his utter alienation from the conventional usages and shame of our age. This is where John misses it—though it is only fair to say that he hits it quite often in other places—yes, oftener hits than misses. Now, John has too many radical qualities—too many radically noble points, traits—traits established, irrefragible as facts in nature, the universe itself—to be destroyed by his imperfections: I know that there is in these enough to offset all that could be said adverse to him: in such a man the little weaknesses—and in John they are little—can do no harm. For years past he has seemed to be unable to get adjusted to the immensities of William's perspective. Why is it? I have tried to say—yet I suppose my explanation—like explanations in general—does not explain." He asked me: "Do you notice that sickness has such different effects on William and John? John exaggerates his trouble: William, who is much worse off, makes light of it—seems not in the least spiritually affected by it: his courage remains undaunted—indeed, if anything, fierier."

     We talked of Ingersoll. W. said: "They are telling me to beware of Ingersoll. Rot! Rot! Why shouldn't Ingersoll beware of me? That's as good said one way as the other. Dr. Bucke has told me of an aunt he has—lives in England: conventional, prejudiced, straight-laced. Doctor was over there once, years ago—was staying with her—and asked one Sunday about the Methodist church in the place—where was it? who peached there? She asked him sharply: 'Are you going there?' He said: 'Yes!' 'Well,' was her reply, 'if you go to that place you need not come back here.' She wanted no dissent. My friends may say that to me when I say hello to the Colonel, but I say, damn my friends if their friendship means that!" Advised me to keep in touch with Bucke: "Write him—write often—write to-morrow: he is hungry for things from this quarter—

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things, small and large, whatever signifying."
W. gave me an interesting old letter of Swinton's—all smeared and crushed—which he took from under a tumbler on the table. "Read it," he said: "read it aloud."


Kaaterskill, N.Y., Aug. 12, 1882.

My dear Walt—

Nine years ago I delivered before a German Society of New York city a lecture on American literature, in which a great deal was said about you. Last winter, after the manuscript had lain all these years in a trunk, I spoke it twice again—before the Philosophical Society of Brooklyn and that of Williamsburgh. But now comes the fun for you. Some months ago, I sent the lecture, by invitation, as an essay to the great literary magazine of Russia, the Sagranitschuy Viestuik of St. Petersburgh. There it was put into the Russian language and into the Olympian Magazine. Now I have the magazine, and you have a very heavy puff in the organ which is studied by all the powerful and intellectual classes of Russia—about a quarter or a fifth of the whole article. I guess this is your first introduction to Rooshia, to the Czar and his subjects—and I am sure it would be satisfactory to you. You will never read it in the beautiful Russian—for it is indeed a dreadful language; but it is enough for you to know it partly.

I have been staying here for a week and shall leave in two or three days; but back in the city by the end of the month.

Yours truly,

John Swinton.


     When I was done W. said: "That has a real sound: it seems to take me way off into a strange country and set me down there. But Williams says I'm as much for all countries as for one and I suppose I am so that I should not feel like an alien even over in that great Tartar empire." W. asked: "What have you done with the O'Connor letter I gave you some days ago?" "I still have it—am still carrying it about in my pocket: it is too fine to put away right off: I've been showing it to people." He said:

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"I carry it about in my heart—carry it—yes: and William, too. William is fresh every day: never seems to get stale with time."


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