Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, October 7th, 1888.

     7.45 p.m. W. not mending at all—stays just as he has been. The nurse's daily report, as I enter and nod to him in the parlor, is "tolerable, tolerable"—and Mrs. Davis only too frequently shakes her head. W. himself appears to have abandoned hope of gaining strength. The question comes back, day to day—how long can he maintain himself at this level? He sat by the light reading the New York Tribune which Harned had brought him. He complained of the dearth of matter of interest. Did he read Harrison's speeches? No—he had "no interest that way." Yet had to have the papers: "They are as necessary as my food." For an instant W. seemed to forget today is Sunday.

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He asked me: "What have you learned today?" I reminded him and he remarked: "That's so: but one day is like another here." Then he said: "If you ask me how I am, I can say, 'I am here—the day is passed:' that is about all I can say." He added: "Corning and Tom came in some time ago—have been gone a couple of hours I guess: Tom brought the magazines in"—pointing to copies of N. A. Review on floor.

     W. is to read Ingersoll's reply to Manning. The Ibsen book did not interest him. He cut a few pages of it— "tried to make it go"—but since that day weeks back it has been laid aside. Tonight, when I referred to the subject, he expressed no interest in the book. Gilchrist was over and up stairs today, but stayed merely a short time. I mentioned my trip to Germantown today and quoted affectionate inquiries made after W. He asked: "Who were they"? and then: "They were curious, were they?—curious to know how I am?" I demurred a little: "It was not curiosity, Walt, but affection!" He repeated my sentence and then said earnestly: "I know—I know: there's Clifford: I'm certain he means it—means every word. All I have seen of him—heard of him—of what he thinks, does—convinces me that he is a man of force—generic, a first-hander." But he laughed when I said I found it difficult to describe his condition. "I do not wonder: it would be hard for me to tell the story myself." Then he said: "Horace, when you hear me growl take me by the neck and shake the black devils out of me. I know these people are my friends—respect the work I have tried to do. If I failed to respond to that feeling I would be a damned lie to myself. Some days, with this long tie-up, the long imprisonment (the beautiful sweet days outside that I so hunger for and can't go to) the irritations overcome me and I say things. Lucky is the man who never says things!"

      "I wrote Kennedy today," W. remarked— "a long letter—for me,"—and then— "and I have sent him a book, too—sent one also to O'Connor." Said he had used ten-cent stamps. "It is more convenient—and besides, I like the stamp—it seems to me the finest of the whole Uncle Sam series." I told him I

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had sent off Forman's note. W. then talked a bit more about George Eliot. "There is no doubt if she had had a perfectly free pen she would have made some acknowledgment to me in the key of Forman's allusion to her. But she was nullified—by Lewes, first—then by her second husband, Cross. I never seem to have any but the best feeling for Lewes—he is a man I respect: a man of a thousand parts."

     W. has frequently advised me to read Fanny Wright's book, A few Days in Athens. Today I borrowed the book. He said at once warmly: "I am glad—glad. They used to say—they would say still—that it is a green book. It is crude: it might in a certain sense be said—crude as the Bible and Homer are crude. There are some people who are shocked at the bare mention of her name: there has always been a sort of goody-goody taboo of her morals." "Did she ever do anything or stand for anything that shocked you?" "Oh, dear no! No indeed! Fanny Wright (we always called her Fanny for affection's sake)—Fanny Wright had a nimbus"—encircling her pictorially with a sweep of the hand— "a halo: is almost sacerdotal." "Yes, they may object to her—object as the priestly class would object to Jesus, Socrates. She was one of the few characters to excite in me a wholesale respect and love: she was beautiful in bodily shape and gifts of soul. Her book about Epicurus was daily food to me: I kept it about me for years. It is young, flowery, yet has attributes all its own. I always associated that book with Volney's Ruins, which was another of the books on which I may be said to have been raised."

     Referred to Hunter again: "I have seen a good deal of the Southern people—know them well, love them well, would not misjudge them. Yet I believe in nationality, too—internationality, for that matter: not the breaking away of peoples but the coming together of peoples—ever more and more the coming together. The War stirs me up—the causes of the War—its consequences: fills me with emotion: possibly because I have been very close to the most painful phases of its tragedy—in the hospitals, in the midst of the most extreme manifestations of its

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suffering. There is another point to this story which interested me greatly: the publishers have informed Hunter that the word 'Rebel' is not to occur in the vocabulary of the book—he is to make 'Rebel' 'Confederate' every time."

     W. spoke of photographers. "They have photographed me all ages, sizes, shapes: they have used me for a show-horse again and again and again: they make the pictures and sell them: but as for paying me—well, they don't worry about that: all except Cox, the premier exception, who, I shouldn't wonder, has paid me as much as a hundred dollars and more in royalties." Sent me hunting over his table for a letter from Bucke. Bucke says he will be down shortly on meter business. W. advised me to show the letter to Harned. "Doctor thinks he's going to get rich: God help us not to get rich! Doctor thinks riches would make him a free man: it would do exactly the opposite—put him into the bonds of the worst slavery. God help us not to get rich!" I said: "We don't need to advise God on that subject—he keeps most of us poor enough without special dispensations." "For reasons," said W.— "yes, for the best reasons. I will amend my prayer: God help us not to want to get rich!"

     W. said autobiographically: "Most of my friends have been thinkers—people of the highest, though not of the professional, poetic nature. The great literary leaders—most of them—had no idea that I could be taken seriously and refused to condone my existence. If God Almighty was willing to be responsible for me, well and good: but as for them—they would have no Walt Whitman: their skirts were clean." Said Bucke was "a German scholar": "He will not admit of translations—not even the best: not even Taylor's." Gave Harned a copy of N.B., writing in it: "T.B. Harned from Walt Whitman with thanks, affection and best memories." Also sent a copy by Harned to Corning. Wants to see McKay. "Tell him what I have said about the book—that we are willing to hear all his objections and even to change our plans if it may seem wise to do so." W. asked: "Do you remember that we talked the other night about

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English editions and that I remarked that after all their talk in England they had never been willing to make a complete Leaves over there? I have put you aside some correspondence I had with Ellis back in the seventies on that subject. You will construe it as a confirmation of your argument and I don't question your right to do so."
There were three letters—one a draft from W. to Ellis and two from Ellis in return. W. wrote from Washington.


Sent by Steamer, Aug. 12 '71.

F.S. Ellis, publisher, 33 King st, Covent Garden, London:

I take the liberty of writing at a venture to propose to you the publication, in a moderate-priced volume, of a full edition of my poems, Leaves of Grass, in England under my sanction. I send by same mail as this, a revised copy of L. of G. I should like a fair remuneration or percentage.

I make this proposition not only to get my poems before the British public, but more because I am annoyed at the horrible dismemberment of my book there already and possibility of something worse.

Should my proposal suit you, go right on with the book. Style of setting up, price, rate of remuneration to me, &c, I leave entirely to you. Only the text must be sacredly preserved, verbatim.

Please direct to me here as soon as convenient.



London, W. C. Aug. 23, 1871.

Dear Sir:

I thank you very much for your letter received this morning. Its frank and pleasant tone makes me regret even more than I should otherwise have done, to feel myself obliged to say at once that I do not see my way to bringing out a complete edition of your poems in England. I admire them so very much myself that I should much like to do it but there are certain pieces (among those which I admire the most) which would not go down in England, and it certainly would not be worth while to publish it again in a mutilated form, nor of course

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would you wish it. W.M. Rossetti is a great admirer of your poems and a man by no means squeamish yet you see he did not venture to publish them without alteration in England. I think he was wrong: they should have been published complete and with your sanction or let alone. May I keep the volume you send me? If so I will remit you the price for I have tried in vain to get a complete edition through Trübner's.


I am Dear Sir

Yours faithfully

F.S. Ellis.



London, Aug. 24, 1871.

Dear Sir:

When I wrote to you yesterday I quite forgot to mention that Mr. Swinburne had for a long time been very much concerned that not knowing your address he had been unable to send you a copy of his Songs before Sunrise. As I think it possible that by this time you may have got the books I send you one of the special copies printed on fine paper, of which only twenty-five were struck off, and shall feel much gratified by your acceptance of it.

Dear Sir, Yours faithfully,

F.S. Ellis.


      "Yes," I said to W., "that's rather on my side. It looks a little this way: as if you had more literary support in England and more popular support over here." W. said: "It's an open question but your statement sounds very plausible."


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