Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, October 4th, 1888.

     7.45 p. m. W. reading. Carried on my shoulder twenty copies of November Boughs, which I put down on the sofa. "Books, eh?" queried W., as he shook my hand. At once began to question me about the day. What was his own condition? "I begin to realize that I must resign myself to the inevitable—the sooner the better." I opened the package and piled the books at his feet. "Tribute paid to Caesar," he laughingly remarked. Then added: "Horace, you are loyal, and I know you love me. That sort of relation seems to square all things up." Endorsed a book for Bucke: "Dr. R. M. Bucke from Walt Whitman the author with memories and affection Oct. 4, 1888"—saying of it: "That'll do for Doctor, won't it?" Also said he would send a copy to Morse at once. Wished me to go to McKay and make him a proposition on N. Boughs: "Offer him the edition for forty-three cents per copy: tell him we have a thousand to deliver any time he says so. The future will have to be governed by some other arrangement. I do not expect any big sale of the book: it may strike a popular fancy, but that is doubtful: the Hicks piece might interest a few Quakers—at any rate, somebody had to do the job and I volunteered as the victim. If I can come out any where near whole I shall be more than satisfied and a lot surprised. Tell Dave I am to be generous—to do more than is right by him."

     Gilchrist's Whitman stood on the mantelpiece. W. asked that I set it on the table—it had started to warp. As I conformed, I said: "You think it has no great sum of virtues to risk."

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W. laughed: "Well, it's not bad: the body of it, belly, the hands there, the light as it falls: if it was not for the hair—the curls—even the face might pass. No—no! Herbert didn't do the picture bad because he wasn't able to do it better but because the people over there demanded a certain kind of Walt Whitman and he gave them what they wanted. I look less to technical points than others. A man's got to know how to do a thing of course, but he's also got to know what he wants to do, and wants to go about doing the job without excursions into technical ornament. The trouble with Herbert's portrait of me is mainly with its ornament." He laughed gently and added: "Of course I can be told that I'm a fool, but that's nothing new. I think I am more ready to be pleased with the work of the photo-engraving company than the most of you are. Then there's that etching made by the New York man: most people would think it good, rich: I think less of it than of almost any picture I know. Tom spoke the other night of high art: the little picture here in November Boughs was not high art. I know it is not high art: I was not looking for high art: though I am not stone blind, either: I make some admissions even for high art. But if high art is low everything else I don't see that I care to make any use of it. Then sometimes a picture which is elementally very simple, crude, has something to say, says something, in fact, which no amount of added finesse would strengthen or improve."

     Called at Gutekunst's today. Found they did not have the butterfly negative. Afterwards traced it to Broadbent and Taylor's, who will look it up. W. said: "What a siege of it!" Also saw steel-plate printers, who will charge us fifty cents a hundred. Brown will do the title portrait for us in ten days. To be oval. "I prophesy its success," said W., "though, as you know, prophesy is not my long suit." No word yet from Linton. "You know Linton—or know of him?" I had read some things of his in The Radical. W. added: "Yes—that's Linton—that's the man: and that work in the magazines was fine, fine—amazing, delicate. Linton is a good fellow—a good friend: I hold

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him in real esteem. You know he is a divorced man? His wife is the celebrated woman who writes novels: I guess you know all about them. When Linton made the cut he wrote me that if he had been rich he would have made it for nothing but as he was not he would charge me fifty dollars for it. I sent him the fifty dollars. Afterwards he asked permission to use it in the Bohn book. It looked well there: I had no objection. Linton is radical—a liberty-lover. He was poor, as he said, like the rest of us—not in want but always in straitened circumstances: he was one of the folks to whom every five dollars received or given out is somewhat of a serious matter. Although my philosophy includes conservatives, everything else being equal I prefer the radicals as men and companions."

     Suggested that I should look up a mounter of photographs. "I've got a heap big lot of pictures here which I think of having some one put on cards." My foot struck a book. I reached down, pushed aside the newspaper that hid it, and picked it up. It proved to be one volume of the McKay Emerson. "Ah!" I said: "it has joined its fellow-treasures on the floor." W. said: "Yes—it is being initiated." Then, turning his eyes upon me as if desiring an answer: "As I read, an old feeling came back to me—a feeling returned after the lapse of many years—a feeling that the book is a little, just a little, antique." Then, after a very brief pause and some evident thought: "And here and there signs of preaching—just a little of it: don't you perceive it?" I answered: "Yes—preaching like the last paragraph of your Hicks." W. shook his head: "I should be sorry to think I preached too much." "It's not 'too much,'" I rejoined— "sometimes the preacher is needed—somebody needs to be shaken up—covenanter style." W. here remarked: "Well, a man insensibly falls into it—I, too: no one is entirely free from danger. It was unmistakable in Father Taylor and Elias Hicks. Perhaps the most remarkable trait in both was their dead earnestness—an awful sense of the gravity of their message.

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Hicks would unconsciously fall into the canting sing-song tone—then come to realize his danger—recover himself: turn about quick as that"
—flinging arm and body— "shake the thing off." W. added to this graphically: "And his audiences always accepted it—comprehended what he meant." This brought up the question of Emerson's optimism. "It is sometimes complained of as too general." W. said dissentingly: "No—no—it could not be—it can do nothing but good—be nothing but right. I have no patience with people who start out to blacken the face of the earth. Whether it is constitutional or what not with me, I stand for the sunny point of view—stand for the joyful conclusions. This is not because I merely guess: it's because my faith seems to belong to the nature of things—is imposed, cannot be escaped: can better account for life and what goes with life than the opposite theory."

     Said to me about the book: "And precious little in it for you so far—nothing but work, work." I carried his sentence along: "nothing but love, love." He looked happy. Reached out his hand. "Horace, I understand that—I understand:—it removes all my doubts." Gave me a letter from Bucke dated First and pointed out the opening sentences: "Horace Traubel has sent me (just to hand) Herald of 23rd ult. Have been reading the piece on you and like it well. Who is the author?" W. said: "That's just it: who is the author? The author, whoever he is, says I am the author—that I said all the things he says I said and in the way he says them: but I don't see it that way. But if all you fellows agree in liking the thing I suppose I don't count." W. produced an old letter form Johnston, saying of it: "I talked with you about Johnston yesterday: well, this will show you the practical nature of his camaraderie. Johnston is always turning up the pennies but spends the pounds with a certain sort of abandon. He is the kind of a man who might play with riches and die poor—though he's mighty comfortable fixed, I should imagine, as things are going now. This letter gives you a little look in on Johnston for one thing—then adds a point or two of history for keeps."


150 Bowery, New York, Mar 24, 1887.

Dear Uncle Walt:

Over two weeks ago I determined to let Major Pond manage your lecture. He is "up" in that kind of business and knows just how to do it. He said I might calculate three hundred and fifty dollars as the cost—the output, and he would guarantee to fill a hall. I at once assumed the responsibility and became security for the three hundred and fifty dollars. He then tried to get Chickering Hall but it was engaged for April 14th and also for every afternoon and evening about that date. We have at last settled upon the Madison Square Theatre for the afternoon (four o'clock) of April 14th. I must pay the seventy five dollars for the Theatre the moment it is engaged, and I will do so the moment I receive a telegram from you to-morrow saying, "all right, go ahead." Please wire me at once on receipt of this.

Alma is here with me and is well and says: "Lots of love and thanks for the nice letter received at Equinunk."

Ever yours sincerely

J. H. Johnston.


     W. asked me: "Do you remember that I gave you some time ago a draft of a letter I wrote Freiligrath when I sent him the Leaves? Yes? Well—here is a letter of William's connected with the same affair: you had better take it and put the two together." I started to read the letter to myself. W. said: "Let me hear it, too—read it aloud."


Washington, D.C.,
September 16, 1868.

Dear Walt:

I was very sorry not to have seen you yesterday before you left, because the enclosed answer came from Westerman, and I wanted to consult with you as to the steps to be taken. I think a package ought to be made up at once for Ferdinand Freiligrath, and we can send it through Westerman, reimbursing him for the expense of transportation. I suppose it would be best to have it done by my agency, and I suggest that I write

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F.F. a letter, (to go with the package) explaining things generally, and making him as far as possible master of the situation. What do you think? I am sorry I did not know you were going yesterday, because we could have arranged all better than now.


Preserve the enclosed. I think the sooner we do what is to be done (if anything) regarding F.F., the better.

I write hurriedly, just on the edge of mail-time. No letter from you today at the Attorney General's. I hope you'll have a good time. Give my love to your mother. John came in yesterday and bid me tell you to come up to his house before you left. I did not then know you had gone. He will be disappointed.

Affectionately yours,

W.D. O'Connor.



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