Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, October 2nd, 1888.

     8 p. m. W. has had a tough day of it again. Looked down-spirited—referred to his "dulness." "A bad day again," he said: "but sit you down and let us hear what you have to say." He said he did not know how to account for these varied ups and downs. "It's not 'this cursed book' with me, as with Carlyle, but, I guess, the being cribbed, confined, and for so long." He said further, on my questioning: "Indeed, the books, rather than hindering, help me—are important aids." But he had "felt it dawning" upon him "even more positively" that he was "not good for much any more." I tried to rally him with the encouraging side of Osler's talk yesterday—that O. was surprised to find him so well—that he had more resilience than O. "had suspected"—that W. was "undoubtedly more vital and tenacious than even his friends had supposed." W. said: "That certainly is encouraging: if it shall all eventuate in that—all the experience of these four months—we shall be repaid—well pleased." I added: "And you know, he had no motive to hide anything from me, over there in his office, alone"—W. saying further: "That's true—that is to be considered." Still, his face was not bright, his voice not strong. His pulse "was way down" as he himself said.

     Had been reading Emerson today, "but not greatly," "had little mind for it." Nurse says W.'s bowels are open but much of the food passes through undigested. Mrs Davis reports less emphasis in his calls for food, though sometimes of some things he partakes heartily. My sister sent him in a jar of the clams recommended by Burroughs when here. He has sipped a little bit of wine—mostly the sour wine sent by Ingram (who, by the way, was over today and had a talk with W.). I told W. Osler advised: "Never let his bowels be closed more than two days." W. laughed heartily: "I will 'let': it's not a question of

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'letting': if that was all there was about it, the matter could easily be settled."
Illustrated his thought with an anecdote of a friend in Washington—an incident "more apt," he said, "than agreeable or polite." He gave me two letters from Bucke—28th and 30th. Then rooted among his papers until he found a slip from Kennedy containing this from Edmund Gosse in the October Forum:

"Never simple, never easy, never in one single lyric natural and spontaneous for more than one stanza, always forcing the note, always concealing his bareness and lameness by grotesque violence of image and preposterous storm of sand, Lanier appears to me to be as little a poet of genius as any ambitious man who ever lived, labored and failed."

     I read that aloud to W., who then said: "I got a paper from Kennedy: he sent this with it—this dropped out. I don't see that it needs to be taken very seriously: Gosse don't seem to take himself seriously: why should he take any one else so? My feeling about Lanier is not that he is empty but that he is full—but rather full of sound than of sense: and as to his artificiality—how can any fellow, Gosse included or excluded, save himself from artificiality if he writes according other canons?—the canons themselves being artificiality piled on artificiality ages come and gone?" I said to W.: "I wrote Kennedy today: told him our big book would not be out for a month yet." W. looked at me then at himself, so to speak, seeming to count the days. "A month? Yes: I suppose that's as good a guess as anyone could make at this stage of the game." W. had me read a bit out of Bucke's letter of the 28th:

"I note all you say about my W.W. Your wishes will be religiously respected. I did think of considerable changes (for I am certain the book will sell by and bye) but was never set on them and less so lately. Yes, I shall leave it stand as it is and add under a later date what else I may have to say."


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     I asked W.: "What were you advising him to do?" "Oh! to let his present Walt Whitman alone—not to attempt to recast it. I do not object to supplementary pages but I like this book for just what it is, incomplete though it may be." Talked of portraits. "This butterfly picture could not have cost much or Dave would not have used it." Had changed the title page. "I wrestled with the puzzle we turned up yesterday. Think of choosing a title page with the legend 'Walt Whitman complete' or 'complete Walt Whitman' sprawled across its face! All the funny men in the land would be down on us in a minute! Yet we almost did it." He had made his design on a thick piece of paste-board. Head in the centre. Above the head: "Complete Poems and Prose of Walt Whitman." Under the head: "Author's Edition with autograph, portraits from life, last revisions, &c. 1855-1888." I was to take this to my father who was to make a design for it. W. much disappointed because Oldach had no books for us today. O. complained that some of the material had not come. None, then, till Thursday. W. put on a face of mock dismay: "Thursday is years off to a man who is as impatient as I am." Got Ferguson's bill: one hundred seven dollars for press work on the big book. W. said: "That's easy compared with what I expected: I have been anticipating impossible charges." Tried to catch phototype man at Gutekunst's today but missed him. Osler not over according to promise. W. spoke of his "fiber" as a thing he owed to his parents. "I started well—was lucky: had a father, a mother, as they had fathers and mothers, strong, wise, temperate, pure." Read that Ingersoll is to speak at a memorial meeting for Proctor: "Good for Ingersoll—good for Proctor! I still actively feel the tragedy of Proctor's death." W. gave me drafts of old letters to Conway and Hotten, 1867-8. "Both are about English publication: I was trying all I could then, trying hard against formidable obstacles, to bring out independent English editions." On the outside of the Conway letter W. had asked himself this question: "Did the letter or copy ever go?" I asked him: "Did it?" He answered: "I still ask

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my old question: did it ever go?"
The letter was written in pencil:


July 24, 1867.

Dear friend.

I avail myself of an opportunity to send you, by the hands of Mr. Philp, just starting for London, a copy of my Poems prepared with care for the printers, with reference to republication in England. The Introduction is written by William O'Connor. All is sent you, so that in case there comes any opening you may have a proper copy of latest date, prepared by me, to publish from. Of course I do not expect you, and would not permit you, to make yourself the job of running around and seeking after a publisher; only, please take charge of the copy—I hereby clothe you with power over it, and should any good chance befall, it is what I should wish a London edition set up from.

Mr. O'Connor has shown me your note of April 30th last to him. I wish to send you, as also to those other friends and well-wishers whom it seems I have in England, my true thanks and love.

Many serious and wonderful things have occurred in our dear country since you and I last met, my friend. But of these I will not now talk. I too have had many deep experiences since.

Mr. Philp starts from Washington this evening so I must cut short my letter. I will add that I remain well and hearty. For occupation I hold a pleasant clerkship in the Attorney General's office—of pay sufficient and duties agreeable and consistent with my tastes. I may write you, by mail, further about the book, and other matters. Write me on receipt of the copy. Farewell.


     W. said: "With all the fussing and fretting I never got a complete edition of Leaves of Grass done in England: with all my friends there—all their heart, all their loyalty—I only appeared there in pieces, extracts, bits, expurgations—except, of

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course, where they bought the American books. I was always fishing for a full invite but was never more than conditionally received. I suppose the publisher saw no market. In later years I have not cared because now the sheets are sent over and the full book appears on that side with an English imprint: but time was when I did hope that I might be done straight out and unabridged in an English book. The fact is, I am probably not any more popular there than here: it may even be that counting the sales of the Leaves complete many more books have been sold in America than in England. Anyway you look at it, I'm not a bloomin' success from the market point of view. I find that with regard to the abridged books I hate 'em more and more. I hate the idea of being put somewhere with the harm taken out of me, as good house-wives alter Tomcats to make them respectable in the neighborhood."
The Hotten letter was written from Washington, enclosed in an envelope of the Attorney General's Office.


Feb. 18, 1868.

Dear Sir:

In response to your letter of the 5th instant, which has just reached me, I have to say that I accept the proposal in it respecting your English publication of my poems—and hereby agree that you have the privilege of selling that publication in the United States, on payment to me, or my agent, of a royalty of one shilling, (or 25 cents gold) upon every copy sold in the U.S. Of course it is distinctly understood that this grant from me does not affect my copyright here but that said copyright in each of its particulars and in the whole, is absolutely and fully and exclusively retained by me.

It is not improbable that a very handsome and steady sale of the English volume may be effected here, by the right business manipulation, a moderate, judicious advertising &c.

My book has never been really published here at all and the market is in a sort vacant of supply. I will suggest something to you on these points in a future letter.

I received yesterday a letter form Mr. Conway conveying

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your proposition, to which I mailed an immediate answer, to the same effect as herewith.


Accept my thanks for the William Blake. It has not yet come from the post office, but I know it will prove to me a profoundly interesting study and a handsome gift. It is, in fact, a book I was wanting.

After the reception of the copy you speak of—my own volume—(now probably on its way)—I shall doubtless have occasion to express genuine pleasure—with gratitude both to its editor and publisher.

And now, my dear sir, please accept with my trust in the success of the enterprise my kindest respects to yourself personally.


     Asked W.: "Did you never feel you were 'really published' until Osgood took the book?" "I would say that—yes: Osgood was the first to really push the Leaves in the regular and general way: he threatened to sell a lot of the books: but the state stuck in its nose—smelt our bad smell—found we wouldn't do—and we ran for our lives: ran, but took our plates with us: and then, what radical Massachusetts was too good to do conservative Pennsylvania was bad enough to do, and we were safe."


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