Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, September 28th, 1888.

     7.45 P.M. W. sat reading Lewes' Goethe. Spoke of it with applause. "I like it—like the preface, particularly: he says there at the start, know you all, I am a friend of this man and yet I will hide nothing to confuse the verdict on his life. That's good. Of course the book's written approvingly—in that temper." He once had an abridged edition. "I liked it well—so well I was not satisfied until I had got the full book. Lewes confesses himself a worshiper—I like his candor." He has "read the book more than once." Has been reading Miss Pardoe's book again. "I tell Dr. Bucke I do it as an antidote to Carlyle—to Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle. Here is another world—a world of glitter, it is true, but also of optimism—everyway opposite to the gloominess, irascibility, of Carlyle and his extreme dissatisfaction with the condition of the world."

     Stove came today. The room was very comfortable. W. had shifted his quarters from the table east to the table by the windows near the bed. Harned dropped in. W. still complains of the pain in his stomach. "It is in the right side, significantly—I think," he said. Asked W.: "Before your paralysis of 1873 your digestion was always good?" "Yes, perfect: too good, too good." Spoke of the Herald piece again. The writer said W. revised what he gave there as expressed opinions of W. W. said to me: "That is not true: and yet, to any one who knows reporters as you do that claim explains itself." Had he revised Morse's notes on W.W.? "No—but it might be well if I did. I am confident Morse would do me no injustice. Sidney is honest. But there was Hartmann—he, too, did some business of the reporting sort. He gave some of his notes to Kennedy, who sent them to me. They were absurdly warped: everything that should have been straight was crooked. He put Carlylean fire into my mouth—made me saturnine: said things for me I didn't say for myself. I am doubtful of the

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manner of these talks, too: I am not literary—not soft-edged—not polished. I doubt if talk is ever quite so clear, direct, as the reporters make it. If there is vitality in talk—not too much study—there must be ease—therefore offences against the rules of speech. Yet Emerson was a clear instance of the careful talker. His characteristic feature was being toned down: his invariable manner, wariness—consummate, perfect, prudence—yet not deceit (no—that word don't even come in sight)—an abiding caution as to what he was saying, as if in warning: be in no haste to commit yourself—to say things not justified by your deeper consciousness. I know I am different: there is no smell of preparation about my conversation: I would disdain that. Emerson was not Socratic. Socrates was perhaps the most wonderful individual who ever lived in the great masterful quality which distinguished four or five—I guess there are not more—of the foremost English judges."
What was that? "Ah, this!" working his forefinger with a spiral movement downwards to the floor: "The clear eye which winds safely about and through all snarls and sophisms to the honest roots of the case—no distraction whatever being allowed to confuse the vision or obscure the issue. More than that, these fellows had the advantage at the start of knowing what they were after. Now, Socrates was so: would confuse all Athens by his innocent questions. Socrates would convict a man of his own mouth." Here followed an inimitable description of the reported methods of Socrates—his "do you think this or that so?" and "if so, why so?" and "if this, then of course something more?" and "if something more" then "not something less" "till at last," W. exclaimed with a most vehement and amusing gesture, "the poor devil had got himself into a snarl from which escape would be hopeless."

     W. said: "I am not surprised at the personal facts the Herald fellow got hold of: I have become public property." I told W. I knew McKay had told people how much he had paid W. in copyrights. "And exaggerated it, I'll be bound!" he exclaimed. The Herald writer said he first visited W. in 1885 and had been

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to see him repeatedly since. W. says: "No matter how many hints he throws out I am not able to identify the writer." The Home Journal, N.Y., reviewing Olive Schreiner's book, says: "The Story of an African Farm contains more poetry than most poems. Page 250, for instance, where Lyndall describes the various forms of life unknown to her which seem to percolate through her consciousness, is in itself an exquisite poem, which Walt Whitman might be proud to own among the best of his rhymeless rhythms, teeming, as it does, with picturesque contrasts such as Swinburne might not disdain to fashion into enchanting arabesques of melody." W. remarked: "That fellow offers us a little feather which we may stick in our cap. It is like an unexpected friendly hand."

     I picked up a copy of the Long Islander and called Harned's attention to it as W.W.'s child. W. said: "Yes: and I consider it the best country paper I ever came across—concerns itself only with country news from all the towns around—and crowds that in thick." He thought it good for a country editor to "have wit enough to not try to compete with the big dailies," adding: "The Camden papers haven't discovered that yet—the Post, Courier." Mrs. Coates has sent him a poem, type-written: The Promised Land. "The letter that came with it was very hospitable, forth-giving: I liked it: indeed, the letter was a better poem than the poem: a real poem, in fact." Harned expressed a wish for loose sheets of the big W.W. W. said: "You shall have them, Thomas"—putting affectionate emphasis on 'Thomas' (H. being usually Tom)— "and I don't know but there will be others like-minded to be taken care of." W. said Gilchrist had been over but not upstairs. "He don't come here, in this room—don't seem to want to exploit himself." A letter from Dick Hinton on the table caused some talk. W. said: "Dick's an anarchist—something like that—wants to upset society—send it to the devil or some other—knock things all helter-skelter: but he's a good fellow—and they were always very kind to me—Dick and his wife, both."

     W. going through complete W.W.—the whole book—with a

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vigilant eye. "So far as I have gone I haven't come upon a single mistake. We'll get conceited if we are too correct. A few errors are salt for the spirit." Harned said he would specially bind his sheets of the book for his center table. W. looked heartily disgusted. "Don't do it, Tom: it might happen to you, too." "It? What?" "Didn't I tell you? About Chase? He went in to the parlor of a friend—a woman—and found a copy of Leaves of Grass on the table. She was a reader of the copy of Leaves (God bless 'er!). Chase picked up the book and asked: What is this here for? She was up in arms at once: What are you here for? she asked: and they had a hot quarrel. Tom, don't play with fire." Harned told W. that at the Hoffman House in New York on Wednesday he was put into the bridal chamber—the only room left. "What luxury!" W. said. "I, too once had a taste of such grandeur. I refer to the reception of 1887. I had it bad then—and was glad enough to get away from it, too!" He threw his arms out wide. "A whole suite of rooms: crowds of people: rush: and such an utter weariness at the last! It was near midnight—I was clean gone: then John Fiske happened in and wanted to discuss the subject of the immortality of the soul. I saw that if I stayed a minute longer it would be all up with me. I called Billy and said: 'I'm nearly tired to death: take me somewhere—anywhere: take me to my room.' I diverted Fiske to Pearsall Smith, saying: 'Here's a fellow who knows all about such things'—and went off, leaving them there to their talk: and for all I know they're still on the spot whacking away at each other." W. then added on the general question: "I'm satisfied with Epictetus—'what is good for thee O Nature is good for me': indeed, I am sure that whatever death is it is all right. We should all accept the Benton-Calhoun solution—that there is no solution: no man ever knows here, no man ever came back to tell us." Burroughs asked when he was here: "Is Walt still of the same firm faith in personal immortality?" W. said: "Am I? I have no doubt: I guess I am." Harned said something disparaging of spiritualism. W. put in: "Don't do it, Tom: we can't wipe the spiritualists out."


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     Signed May's copy of S. Days. At one moment he said: "I shall be glad when this cursed book is out. Carlyle always cried and fussed like the devil when he started a new book and went on so about it like a half maudlin old woman until it was finished: I threaten to follow suit." Harned protested: "But Walt, this book has helped to keep you up—given you something to live for." W. then said fervently: "Yes, indeed, Tom—you are right: it has: I have realized it time and again." Harned told W. he was reading George's book on the tariff. But W. shook his head. "No figures, Tom: figures are a great lie—a great trial: and besides, I don't try anything by figures, statistics: free trade proves itself to me by other arguments. I should say the best free trade argument is the tariff literature itself." I quoted Robert Porter's logic—if American steel rails cost thirty two fifty per ton and English twenty two fifty why not buy the American output and keep both money and rails on this side the Atlantic and be so much the richer for our wisdom? W. was uproarious: "Ha! ha! ha!—and yet, Horace, that would be a very taking point at a meeting—the boys would think it awful sweet: they would applaud the roof off the house. It is a good thing there are fellows like me—an extreme among extremes—on the one side, and Dudley across there on the other: Dudley, with his undoubted statistics, perfect in themselves."

     W. is very patient when things go bad or wrong. Being sick he says: "Well, it's a comfort to think I'm not as ill as I might be." If there is something wrong in the book: "Well, thank the Lord it's na worse." If some one overcharged him: "No matter: stomach it and be grateful to your stars he hasn't made it bigger." He never admits that any real luck is against him. "Nothing is so bad it might not be worse." Gave me an envelope containing note and verses from Dalton: called the verses "queer"—asking me: "What, if anything, can you make out of them?" The O'Connor letter I have carried about with me was written December, 1864. W. was then looking for an official job in Washington. He got numerous letters of introduction at the time. He gave me another of them to-night. It was

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written in W.'s own hand and signed by the author. When I spoke to W. of this he laughed and said: "Yes, I had to tell Hall what to say about me: he was satisfied: when he looked at it after it was written he said: 'You might have said more—made it stronger—and I would still have signed it.'" This is the note:

The bearer, Walt Whitman, of Brooklyn, desires an appointment. No man in the United States is more competent or more deserving than Mr. Whitman. He was born and raised in my town, and is well known as a literary man, and to me and to the citizens of Brooklyn, for fifteen years past, for his benevolence, righteousness and ardent patriotism—is a steadfast Republican, voted for Mr. Lincoln, has two brothers in the army, and the family is poor.

Geo. Hall.

Late Mayor of Brooklyn.


     I said: "I'm afraid you're no longer 'an ardent Republican.'" He laughed: "I'm afraid so, too: if politics keep on going from bad to worse, from worse to worse again and more of it, I'm in danger of becoming an ardent anti-Republican." "That is, an ardent Democrat?" "No—the alternative is enough to make me shudder: I'll have to go unsworn until something worthy of my ardor turns up: Japhet in search of a father."


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