Commentary

Disciples


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Monday July 23, 1888.

     W. passed a good day in all respects except as to strength. Complains of appalling weakness. Wonderfully cheerful in the evening on my arrival, talking most freely for more than an hour. Little work done. Read some papers. Wrote notes, one to Mrs. Stafford. Letters received from Gilchrist and Pearsall

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Smith. Answered Smith at once. Wrote Gilder about war piece. "It was a delicate matter: some of the publishers won't consider such requests: but in this case I hope to make my point. It seems so fit and proper to put that piece in November Boughs. I struck out the 'volunteer hospital nurse' line. My last thought confirmed my first: it seemed like supererogation to impose such a statement upon the headlines." Spoke of the memoranda itself: "I like it well. It has lain there in New York nearly two years—perhaps over. Now it comes back fresh to me—almost like a new thought, a new story. It stirs, moves, me—even me—just as though I had had no hand myself in writing it down. I have been sitting here today and saying to myself: 'If that is all so, it must have a value, a pertinency, to others fully as great.'"

     Gilchrist reported in his letter that Rhys had said to Baron Sternbach: "I gained a fortune in America and lost it." What did he mean? W. had "no idea." Was it a compliment directed toward W.? "I think not—am sure not. You know, Rhys is not one of my thick and thin admirers—he don't swallow me whole—is not overflowing in his endorsements—not swept away by Leaves of Grass, as are some English people. Rhys is very interesting to me—I easily love him. He is not original—brilliant. He is young—he may still go on to greater things—but he is rather a plodder than a dreamer. How he and Kennedy fell afoul of each other was a caution! Kennedy does not like Rhys—and for that matter Rhys does not like Kennedy—which squares 'em up. Rhys thinks the Kennedys the nervousest couple he ever came across (as perhaps they are) and Kennedy thinks Rhys the stolidest dullhead he ever came across (as maybe he is) but for all that both of them sit with equal prestige in my parliament. Kennedy evidently thinks the center, the core, of Rhys is selfishness—that he is in for the make—that whatever he does is done with certain definite returns in view. I am sure Kennedy got his glasses on his nose upside down when he sat in judgment on Rhys. Rhys should come to America and stay—he belongs here. He is bright, smart, wide-awake,

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with an instinct for new things, delighting in strange doctrines. He was intensely interested in America—saw what was to come—was not disturbed by inharmonies. Rhys is very modern, the best of him—very modern—though I must say of him that he has too deeply dipped into Elizabethan literature—into the literature of stilts, as some of it is: Dekker and those others—does that sort of work right along for the Walter Scott publishers there in London. Those old writers were made for an age of smartness: they write in sounding phrases, make stiff speeches: they are full of the affectations, false humors, wittinesses of the swell boudoirs and reading rooms."

     He spoke of the cities he liked best: Brooklyn, Washington, New Orleans, St. Louis, New York. "Camden was originally an accident—but I shall never be sorry I was left over in Camden! It has brought me blessed returns." He looked at me affectionately. "But Washington, New Orleans, Brooklyn—they are my cities of romance. They are the cities of things begun—this is the city of things finished." He paused. Then said: "Of things finished—yes, that's it: soon I will be all finished!"

     If the Century people will give him the War Memoranda he will insert it ahead of the Hicks piece. "I want to have the book end with the Fox paper." Sent his "best respects and love" to Myrick, the printer. Could not "muster up the courage" to write Burroughs. "I still have the instinct, the grasp, the pith, of the printer. It is like swimming—the stroke comes back however long and many the years since may have been." Speaking of original writers W. said he thought that "Tennyson in England and Emerson in America constitute the best recent examples—or possible examples, if a fellow has a little doubt left!" Asked me who were yet to be heard from in the American symposium. I knew of Agnes Repplier and Lüders—not of others. W. had never heard of Lüders but said of Miss Repplier: "She is the woman who talks and talks at meetings and then talks again—eh? ain't she? I don't seem to like smart people and I hear that she is damned smart—damned. Yet they belong to the great whole and must have their fling."


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     He asked me some questions about my health. "When you come in, each day, any time, when I ask you, as I always do: How have you been? your invariable answer is: Well, always well. Are you always so well? It is so great—so superb—to be always well. However, these are your years to expect it—from eighteen to forty-five—halcyon days, sure enough—and if there's anything in a man, physically or mentally, it's sure to come out, to give an account of itself, along through that stretch of life." Just as I was leaving W. gave me three letters in a bunch, saying of them: "They are safer among your papers than among mine. They are three of the letters Rhys wrote me while he was in America. They are memoranda of travel—very interesting, too, though short: in one of them—maybe in two—you will find a little look in on the Colonel, who seems to have taken Rhys by storm as he does everybody else—except, I suppose, the parsons, who have for business reasons"—laughing— "to dissemble their love. After the much talk we have had about Rhys to-night these letters are in point." Here is the first of the Rhys letters:


St. Botolph Club, Boston, 3rd April, '88.

Dear Walt Whitman,

Thanks for note forwarded,—reached me this morning. Here in Boston I have had some queer ups and downs. The notorious blizzard ruined one lecture completely, but since then two have passed off with good success, and I am safe from bankruptcy,—glad to be able to get off with a whole skin to England and home. I think of leaving here for New York next Monday or Tuesday, and then taking a trip to Washington, returning via Philadelphia for a last visit of two or three days. Spring is probably more forward with you, than up here; I hope the brighter weather is giving you good cheer,—after the long imprisonment of winter.

Kennedy has not crossed my sight very recently; I hope to spend an evening with him before I leave. He went with me the other day to see the collection of Jean Francois Millet's paintings at Mr. Quincy Shaw's, Brookline. A grand array

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they make,—giving one new insight into the human environment of earth and sky and water. How paltry this life of parlors and carpets in comparison!


The note from H. Gilchrist, which you sent on the other day, shows him full of work and good spirits. Of course he ends with "Love to Walt" as usual. Several other young fellows over there, who have written lately, have also sent greetings and love, to which adding my own, I am, as always,

Yours affectionately,

Ernest Rhys.


     W. said: "That reference to the Millet pictures made me home-sick. I, too, have seen those pictures—seen them in that same place. Millet excites all the religion in me—excites me to a greater self-respect. I could not stand before a Millet picture with my hat on."


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