Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 463] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Thursday, October 11th, 1888.

     8 p. m. W. exceedingly cheerful. As usual reading when I came. Quick to salute me and cordial in his "take a seat and

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 464] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
tell me what you know new."
Less lethargic than for days, eye clearer, voice full. He sat by the light. Conversed for over an hour. Harned has not been in for several days. Still working on the sheets. "I have finished and done up fully two hundred of them. They're a big job but I'm trying to prove I'm bigger than the job." Gave me back the Register. Has read Cooke. "I read it—it is good—simple, discriminating." Asked what I thought of Early English Metrical Romances. "It is a textbook for me—a sort of work-tool: I have made use of it time and again." Saturday's Critic contained four references to W. I asked: "Did you see them all?" He shook his head: "I guess not—a couple of them." I indicated to him Harding's dissertation on Arnold and the one place in it in which he indicated a resemblance between A. and Whitman. W. was laughing before I had finished. The idea of the Arnoldian likeness excited him. He said: "I have not read the piece, but that is a good reason for doing so now." As to the Critic's commendation of his Century Memoranda, he remarked: "I saw that: it was well-put: the War piece will hold its own." Further, as to the allusion to W. as one of Mrs. Gilchrist's friends: "Yes—I am frequently alluded to in Mrs. Gilchrist's book. Just today I came across an old Herald—Boston Herald—in which Kennedy referred to that book. I sent it off to the Doctor: you know he collects all sorts of scraps, memoranda, anything, appertaining to our affairs: I send him many many odds and ends with that in mind. Kennedy tells me he is to review November Boughs for the Transcript." Said: "I feel guilty: I have not yet sent books to Burroughs and Morse: I will not delay much longer: John can wait and Sidney will have to. God bless Sidney!" I asked: "And John? God bless John?" "Yes—why not? God bless John, too!" No acknowledgment of the book from Bucke. W. interprets B.'s silence: "Doctor is very busy—has a hand in a dozen pies at once: gets up his reports, has the inspector there, lectures students, fools with the water meter, sees everybody and goes everywhere: and now another thing: the devil of whiskey is upon him: he is persuaded, don't

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 465] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
drink whiskey, none of you, young or old, sick or well—don't touch it, don't have it about, don't even look at it."
Had he read Bucke's pamphlet on the subject? "Probably, but I don't remember: I guess I was not convinced: I go on as I have gone on. You can't make rules of diet or rules of anything else to suit everybody. I am more likely to have feelings than theories about things: I was never a man to drive doctrines to death—to take up with fads, special providences, whims of diet or manners." Handed me this letter to look over:


Sheffield Scientific School of Yale College,
New Haven, Conn., Oct 9, '88

Walt Whitman:
Dear Sir:


Shortly after posting your first letter to Mr. Linton I received word from him to forward the block to Mr. Arthur Stedman of Webster and Co. In acknowledging its receipt Mr. Stedman said that as soon as an electro could be taken it would be returned to me and I have seen nothing of it yet. I have heard nothing further from Mr. Linton with regard to the block—there has been hardly time—but will take the responsibility of sending it on to you as soon as I get it.

Very truly yours

T. W. Mather.


     W. had written an answer advising that the cut be hurried a little and sent either to him or to me. Had kept letter open in order to include my Philadelphia address. Read it aloud, carefully, with fine enunciation, and in a strong voice. Then gave it to me. I mailed it over the river later on. W. said: "I have heard from Kennedy, for one: he has the book, Look at this letter: why, it says all and says more too. Sloane often writes such scratchy letters that wobble all over but this is fine and keeps to the road. Read it." I did not know that he intended me to read it aloud. W. cried: "Don't be selfish—let me hear it, too." "Why—I'll bet you read it a dozen times today before I came."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 466] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
He only smiled as he said: "I shouldn't wonder but I can hear it again without hurt."


University Press,
Cambridge, Sept [Oct?] 9, '88

Dear W. W.

The precious volume November Boughs arrived last night and drew forth an exclamation of delight from me as I untied the package at the supper table. The portrait was a real surprise, and I value very highly the portrait of E. Hicks—a remarkable face. A god-sent man of the old heroic stamp.

The melange of the volume exhibits a range and strength that I had not thought to be so marked when I read the pieces separately as they came out. The very mass is wonderful, considering that they emanate from a semi-invalid.

I thank you deeply for the beautiful volume and for its inscription, and the good nice Sunday-afternoon letter. I devoured the new poems and prose pieces bit by bit, stealthily, today, having the book, disguised by cover, in my drawer, whence I took it out to read from time to time.

I notice a deepening shade of the sombre and of pathos throughout the latest bits of poetry. But it is better so: it completes your picture of a typical man—a man complete, clear through the opiate shades to the gates of death.

The plaster bust I still hold in trust. Mr. Sanborn accepted it for the Concord School. But as the School is closed for the following year, I suppose he neglects to call for it. I shall take occasion to speak of it (indirectly) some day, and follow his directions. The bust shall surely go into some gallery or I'll be busted myself.

I hope to write a notice of the Boughs for The Transcript.

Sorry indeed to hear of O'Connor's bad state. We all need out-o'door life continually. I am also so sorry to hear so much of your bad digestion and lethargy. Don't you think you ought to take a railway sleeper for Florida this winter?

Affectionately and admiringly your friend

W. S. Kennedy.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 467] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     W. had me read the passage about "your picture of a typical man" a second time, and said of it: "That's the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth: if some of the enemies of the Leaves could get that into their noddles—and some of its friends, too—we'd all be in a more amiable frame of mind and my ship would sail out its journey with less jars." Now he handed me a third letter. "From O'Connor at last! Not a long letter—but his: and that seems like saying enough. This has been a busy day for me, Horace." William's letter was indeed brief.


Life Saving Service,
Washington, D. C.,
Oct. 9, 1888.

Dear Walt:

I was delighted to get yours of the 7th, with the welcome November Boughs. My eye is now under battery treatment (assault and battery treatment, you would think to look at it!) and just as soon as I can recover my sight a little better, I will plunge into the volume, which now invites me through a thick blur. I hope David McKay will do better with it than he has done with your other books. I long for you to have a good publisher.

More anon. The weather here has turned very cold, though bright, and I am barking with influenza. November bow-wows! (Isn't this insulting!)

I hope you keep comfortable. Nelly sends her love.

Always affectionately,

W. D. O'Connor.


      "He is apt to go off about things in general, not to submit peacefully to them," said W. "Do you mean he is not as even in temper as you are?" "No—I didn't mean that: I guess I didn't say it right. I should say he was quite as easy-going as I am: it is not that." He stopped as if to gather the threads of something together. Then went on: "Now I've got it! Oh! you have turned my memory back to an old story. Did I ever tell you? Years ago, one day, I met Dana, Charles A. Dana,

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 468] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
the Sun man, on the street: it was in New York: it was at a period when Dana's public utterances were particularly irascible: he was finding fault with all things, all people, nobody satisfying him, nobody hitting his mark: Grant, particularly, a great national figure, subjected to constant castigation from Dana—word-lashing: the latest, though not the last, of Dana's hates. You know, I aways liked Grant, he was so reticent, modest—so philosophical: so imperturbably accepted events, people. Well, that day, with Dana: the instant I saw him, I made for him, talked my loudest, saying: 'What in hell is the matter with you, Dana, that nothing satisfies you—that you keep up an everlasting growl about everybody, everything?' something in that strain. Dana waited till I was through and then took me by the lapel of the coat: 'See here, Walt,' he said—I think he said it almost in that way— 'see here, Walt: have you spent all these years in the world and not known, not learned, (as I have) what a sorry, mean lot mankind is anyhow?'"

     W. laughed long and heartily: "It is a Carlylean humor: things all wrong, a bad smell in the car, bed bugs at home, the cocks noisy next door, a huckster crying his wares in the street, a little bit put out at the stomach, a cold in the head, somebody's unruly children—such things, any things, liable to throw the balance of humor to the bad. Carlyle was chronically victimized by this defect of temper. William was in a trifling measure afflicted in the same way. It is often said: better to have this ire out than in. I am not so sure about that: I question whether a fellow has any excuse for hitting out right and left fore and aft on the slightest provocation. While it might do him good to hit what about the man he hits? Yet I believe O'Connor's abounding spirits will hold on to the last—his inclination to see a bright side to the darkest event: his ability to make the very best always of the very worst bargains. Look at that letter we have just read: he is in a devil of a pickle and yet he has the time and the courage to joke about it. You can't kill such character—dead or alive it has immortal resources." I said to W.: "I used to regret that I missed going to

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 469] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
college."
"You regret it no longer?" "I see now that I was in luck." "Good for you: you were in luck: you made a providential escape: for a fellow with your rebel independence, with your ability to take care of yourself, with your almost nasty resolution to go your own road, a college is not necessary—would in fact be a monster mountain of obstruction. As between a university course anyhow and a struggle of the right sort in the quick of everyday life the life course would beat the university course every time." Still harps a little on Oldach's "gouge." Oldach has dropped his quotations a quarter of a cent a copy—but says he won't go a bit lower. W. says: "It's still a gouge—but it's not a matter of life or death either way." I said: "That's ugly in you, Walt." He looked at me questioningly. "You mean that you think Oldach right and me wrong?" "Yes." Resumed his good humor: "Outvoted again! The decision of the meeting is that the gouge is not a gouge!" I kissed him for good night and left.


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.