Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 421] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Wednesday, October 3rd, 1888.

     8 p.m. W. had a dictionary on his lap. "What's timbre?" he asked, before he had even said "how do you do?" I laid my hat down. We shook hands. He was still looking at the book: "I have sort of an idea but can't state it." Then he smiled: "Oh, yes! now I see: timbre, timbre." He put the book down. "And how is everything with you today, Horace?" I said: "The Doctor has been over and improved you." "Been over? yes—and given a very encouraging twist to things." Still shook his head. "But, improved? I don't know. The Doctor talks—I accept his talk—but that don't conclude the matter. The shoe-maker tells his customer that the shoe just fits but the customer feels the pinch: the fellow who wears the shoe always knows

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 421] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
most about the pinch."
Still, he is brighter. Musgrove says he has seemed to be more at ease ever since the Doctor was here.

     I showed him the title page my father had drawn. He looked at it quietly—was greatly interested. "It's beautiful!" he exclaimed: "Beautiful!" Then as he thought further: "Yes, splendidly made—too splendid for me: too ornate"—and in conclusion: "If I was to see it somewhere, done, in its place, I should acknowledge, accept it: yet it's too fine for me—for me to premeditate: I must not use it." He laid the drawing down: "Horace, I guess we'll have the head made plain, alone, and then do the lettering in type." Letter today to me from Morse. Full of personal gossip. W. said: "That's the kind of letter we look for—personal notes, news." Morse suggested Blake should review N.B. for Unity. W. took Morse's new address and said he would send a book to Blake. Photo on the lounge. I picked it up. It was Gilchrist's W.W. inscribed to W. by G. W. said: "That's the picture—the London picture—Italian curls and all. How do you like Walt Whitman as fixed up for proper London society? But what a photo it is! that, at least, is up to standard. Herbert was here today for some time—talked, sat about, was cheerful. The professorship is an assured thing now—he told me so: seventy-five dollars a month—that will pay his way."

     I asked W. if the bit from Gosse did not remind him of things he had himself said of Lanier? "I can hardly see how that can be: I know so little about him—have read but detached pieces, here and there, in papers, magazines." I explained: "I mean things you have said about the art side of Lanier—the obviousness of preparation in all he wrote." W. then: "Oh yes! that is likely: but then I say that of all of 'em: it's not the thing that's to be said but the way in which to say it they most care for and emphasize. Lanier, Matthew Arnold—men of that stripe—are after style, expression, phrase: to them the fact I most and first welcome comes last." I asked him: "Is Gosse friendly?" "Yes—rather so—kindly. He has been here—sat right across there opposite me—had a long pow-wow with me one afternoon two or three years ago." Did Gosse seem especially absorbed

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 423] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
in L. of G.? "No—I guess not: am sure not: he is in great part Philistine, you know." As friendly as Dowden? "Oh no! no! Dowden, in fact, believes in me—at least in some significant measure: opens the door, asks me in. Gosse is on the other side of the house: he don't train in our code or want of code: he belongs to the present and past orders not to to-morrow and the day after."

     Bucke writes: "Johnston has written me for a likeness of myself to be used in an article on Walt and his Friends." W. said in answer to my inquiry: "I know nothing about it beyond what we find in the Doctor's letter. I expect to learn more about it as it develops. Johnston is bright, quick, demonstrative, enthusiastic, unswerving: loyal to the last degree: a money-maker but a generous sample of the breed. I count him as in our inner circle, among the chosen few. Johnston has a transcendental side strongly marked and that's where he spiritually connects with our crowd: he is free, progressive, alert. Johnston has had several wives—they liked me, I liked them: I deem that important. Often you hear it said: 'He likes so and so but the wife is opposed.' In this case the wives were on my side. Alma, the present Mrs. Johnston, is a wonderful woman: she is a convincing woman: when I look at her I think: now I know what womanhood means when it comes to its own. Johnston has a daughter, May: a most quiet, unassuming girl: she appeals to the fatherhood in me. And talking of daughters, girls—I have no little curiosity to see Ingersoll's two daughters, of whom I have heard so much—though I suppose I never shall."

     Has read of the Archæological Congress abroad: partly from having known of Baxter's participation, partly from interest in Brinton's movements. "It must be an absorbing, fascinating study when a fellow is once initiated." Speaking of conscience, he said: "It must have developed as had other organs or faculties. Still—the development theory does not account for it all. Remember," he added, "be bold, be bold, be not too bold." He always shies at purely physical theories accounting for life. J. Foster Kirk in today. "He came with what appeared to be

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 424] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
his daughter."
Kirk, he said, "was evidently badly broken up by that accident" (knocked down by a team on the street). I questioned him. "Did you ever put anything into the old Lippincott's? did Kirk approve of you?" He replied: "Never a thing there—and Kirk never endorsed me: never caught even a glimmer of me: the old Lippincott never knew Walt Whitman." Yet he confessed: "I cannot count Kirk among downright enemies. Kirk may have been melting a little: I don't know. I have always felt Kirk was one upon whom I could not count—that is all. He has evidently of late years been impressed by what he has heard from my friends—good friends they are, too—many of them in Germantown. These friends won't have active opposition—not even the sign of it. It makes me think of some species of buck of which I have read somewhere: he stands on tip-top of expectation: the faintest whinny at some vastly distant point—the very sniff of a foe: (sounds no other animal—even the cute, sharp, ones—would hear, suspect:) and he's off to battle—eager, dauntless. That's the way of some of my friends." Kirk had written of Charles the Bold? W. broke out vigorously: "Yes, he has—and I consider that a poisonous, insidious book: all such books, in fact: Carlyle's Frederick, Cromwell." I asked in surprise: "How's that?"—and he added: "Well, I suppose I had better not say more—could not perhaps make out my case." Yet he did say more. "I may instance things meteorological, physiological, theological: could any one of them alone reveal life, the universe? To judge of history as if all could be brought, expressed, in one fact—one little branch of knowledge—in one person! I am very impatient of stories which imply the concentration of all historical meanings in single eminent persons. I have read but little from Green—know practically nothing of him at first hand—yet I am convinced that he was on the right tracks—was not a great-man historian—was not a disciple of the masters this and the masters that and the devil take the people at large."

     Talked again of the reference in Bucke's recent letter to "wishes religiously respected" in regard to his biography of W.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 425] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"It was not greatly important, I suppose. I advised, counselled, him: keep the book as it stands intact: if there's more to be said, say it supplementally: if you are full of this thing, are moved to pursue it, do not, at the worst, touch what is already done. I have felt this deeply. It is important to show what the book grew from—all that contributed to its formation—the adverse statements. Indeed, the book—this book—is among the few that frankly accept the facts of opposition—gives them a hearing direct. I like the book: I want this put on record, want it borne testimony to, positively, for me, as my concluding admonition."

     I told him Bucke wrote me as if he had been greatly pleased with the Herald column. "Especially the last part, Walt—the part the fellow says you revised and you say you didn't." He flashed out instantly: "Nor did I: never touched it—knew nothing about it." Then, picking up a card from the table: "This is from Garland: he says he has considerable difficulty in getting me a copy of that Herald." And as he reflected further he turned to me quickly as I was leaving and with great earnestness said: "There's that last paragraph—the bad taste of it: I 'never had a love affair', he says. 'Taint true—'Taint true! Why, just these last two weeks I've been in a great worry: a young fellow wants to come on here—I don't want him to come. There's a little fortune hanging on it—thirty or forty thousand dollars—I don't want him to sacrifice it for a sentiment." Then after a pause he resumed on the same tack: "But some other time— to-morrow—some night when we are free—I'll tell you—give you a glint: a glint—more perhaps: it is a story, a long story—important!" I hung an instant in the doorway, waiting to see if he would say more but he did not. So, with my, "Well—good-bye": and his own— "good bye—good bye, boy: I'll see you to-morrow again?"—we parted. There was something deeply stirring in his manner. This must be the "big story" he has intended to confide to me.

     W. gave me earlier in our talk this evening with only a brief allusion to their significance ( "put these in with your biographia:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 426] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
they are side lights or front lights or lights somehow on much that has gone before and will yet come in our talks"
) two letters, one of these Swinton to W. and the other Swinton to Grant (this a copy in W.'s hand, the original having been delivered) relative to the exchange of George Whitman (1865).


New York, Feb. 5, [1865].

My dear Walt—

I most cheerfully write the note that you request to Gen. Grant, though I do not know that it will be of any service. I enclose it to you, for the reason that in the new aspect of the Exchange question you may not think it worth mailing. Since your letter was written, the statement has been published (and you have doubtless seen it) that Grant has made the arrangements for a general exchange which is to be begun immediately, and carried on with all possible promptitude. It may be, and I trust will be, that under these circumstances your brother will be at once exchanged in the general mode. However, I leave this for you to decide by what you may have heard when you get this. Hoping you are now in health and that your lost brother may be soon restored to you and his mother

I remain yours

J. Swinton.



The Times Office,
New York, Feb. 6, 1865.

To The Lieutenant General
Commanding Armies United States:


I respectfully and earnestly ask the Lieutenant General, in behalf of a deeply distressed mother and family, that he will give directions that one of the special exchanges be made in favor of Capt. G. W. Whitman 51st New York Vol.—and another in favor of Lieut. S. Pooley 51st N.Y. Vols. The former has been in active service for four years, has borne himself bravely in battles east and west, including Vicksburg and Jackson, and has an aged widowed mother in deepest distress. Both of the above officers have been promoted from the ranks for brave

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 427] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
conduct on the field, and both are now, or were lately, in C.S. Military Prison, Danville, Va.


In giving the order of release the Lieutenant General will be gratefully remembered by the prisoners, by their parents, and by his

Devoted admirer

John Swinton.



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.