Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, October 19, 1888.

     7.50, evening. W. reading The Century. Laid it aside. Brighter even than yesterday. Asked at once for "news".

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I had secured some copies of the steel print to-day—the 1855 picture. Was very much pleased. "It's the best work yet from that plate." He signed a copy for me: "Walt Whitman in 1855." I asked W. if Sam Longfellow had been over at any time during the years of his connection with the Germantown Unitarian Church. "I think not—never once. Yet I have met Longfellow—several times: that was long ago. He had a little church in Brooklyn: I lived there at the time—met him, heard him preach. His brother, you remember, came over to see me in this house. About the same time that Longfellow was preaching in Brooklyn I fell in with Brown, the sculptor—was often in his studio, where he was always modelling something—always at work. There many bright fellows came—Ward among them: there we all met on the freest terms. I have been in contact with the Longfellow circles, but they were literary, polite: I was not their kind—was not au fait—so preferred not to push myself in, or, if in, to stay in. The Brown habitues were more to my taste. There I would meet all sorts—young fellows from abroad stopped here in their swoopings: they would tell us of students, studios, the teachers, they had just left in Paris, Rome, Florence: one sparkling fellow in particular I fancied: he spoke of Beranger—I was greatly interested: he either knew Beranger or knew a heap about him. In this crowd I was myself called Beranger: my hair had already commenced to turn gray. My mother and sister would say to me: You're an odd one, Walt: whereas everybody else seems to try all they can to keep young you seem to glory in the fact that you are already beginning to look venerable." I asked him if he shaved at that time. "Very little: in fact, I may say, practically never." Getting back again to Longfellow: "No—Sam was never here—at any rate, I can't remember him here: yet away back he was a student of Leaves of Grass, I was told—liked it, called it Greek—said I was the most Greek of moderns, or something like that. Others have made similar comparisons—still others have observed what they thought was a resemblance to the Hebrew. Sam, however, was not, as I understood him, making allusion so much to the form

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as to the spirit of the book—the underlying recognition of facts which were the peculiar property of the Grecian. That was all long, long ago. I have heard nothing of Sam for many years—seen nothing of him: whether he still entertains those old views I do not know. That standing portrait of me was much hatcheted by the fellows at the time—war was waged on it: it passed through a great fire of criticism. There was Launt Thompson: you know him? he came to Brown's studio though not in my time. They were big, strong days—our young days—days of preparation: the gathering of the forces."
I promised to bring him Sam's Life of Henry which he said he would like to read.

     Clifford yesterday spoke to me of "the sublime quiet and confidence—faith—" of A Backward Glance. Harned quoted Jerome Buck as calling that "the piece of a disappointed man." Clifford retorted: "Buck may call Whitman senile and all that, but if he said such a thing he don't understand the situation. A man who can say at the end of a career like his that he can afford to wait a hundred years for confirmation is in no way or measure a disappointed man—could not be—but is on the contrary filled full and run over with reassurance and faith." I repeated all this to W., who manifested great interest. W. turned to me and asked: "And what do you say about that, Horace?" I said this: "I do not find one note of disappointment or despair in the whole book." He then said fervently: "I hope not—indeed, I can say, I believe not. But I am willing to entertain Buck's opinion—it is one of the factors going to make up the great sum. Indeed, there are passages in A Backward Glance which might be so interpreted if they could be taken as the index of the whole, but they could not be so taken: one of Milton's angels, swooping down on some desert spot—some arid plain (everything being in gloom, horror)—might take that as typical of the whole earth: but there is more to be considered than that: that is a mere speck on the great expanse." Clifford made some comparison of W. with Carlyle, which led W. to say: "I have no time for despair—not even for the fidgets. If my friends would understand me—

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if the group of my friends wished to recognize the salient meanings—if they thought it worth while—I should say they must consider how much I carry in me that is peculiar, indigenous, to America—and America cannot afford to despair, to get gloomy, whatever comes to the top."

     I quoted Emerson as being very much of W.'s own optimistic spirit. "Yes—he was very beautiful, very serene: there were always new revelations of it in our intercourse. Did I ever tell you the story of a visit he paid me once on the way to lecture at Newark? Emerson called—I was in Brooklyn at the time: it was early afternoon: he was free from then on to the lecture hour: he said to me at once: 'I have a lecture to deliver at Newark this evening: I therefore have three hours to spend with you.' I invited him to take a bite or two, but he answered: 'No—it is but a little after dinner: I am stopping at the Astor House: you don't want anything now? Nor do I.' I was entirely satisfied. He asked me how we should go: we lived three miles from the ferry: I answered him that I would rather walk. He was agreeable to that: so we went along in that way talking: the long stroll being very happy, memorable. We went to New York—to the Astor House. Emerson left me here: took me into the office: spoke of his engagement in the evening—of his anxiety to be on time: said that he would go out for a few minutes—see about the trains, make sure of everything: meanwhile I should go to his room. He left—I looked up one of the hotel men. I asked him if he knew Mr. Emerson's room. He said, yes. I then asked: Have you the pass-key? He said again, yes. I then told him what I wanted. He was reluctant. I asked: Will you open the room for me so I can wait there till Mr. Emerson comes? He still hesitated. I asked: You won't do it? and he answered: I'd rather not." W. stopped here—laughed heartily—took some liberal gulps of water from the pitcher on the floor. "After about ten minutes Emerson came back—took in the situation at a glance: seemed anxious, annoyed, flustrated—even inclined to be angry. I was not a bit mad myself—I was thoroughly composed, satisfied: on the contrary,

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I commended the waiter: he had done the one thing the right kind of a man in his position was bound to do. We went up to Emerson's room together—Emerson still seemed exercised—made no attempt to disguise his annoyance. We sat down. Emerson said: 'We have had quite a long walk: you must be thirsty: wouldn't you like to have something to drink?' I answered 'yes.' So we had some drink together, I can't now remember what. Emerson still continued in a sort of fretful mood: I saw there was danger he would break loose on, be sharp to, the waiter. I think I said to him—I am sure I said to him—about it: 'Let it pass—don't say anything about it: he did his duty—that was all.'"
Did Emerson see it? "I should say so—like a flash." Then added: "Why, Emerson had the cutest, justest, brain of all our world: saw everything, literally everything, in right perspective—things personal, things general. We got into some discussion at dinner: were perfectly free together: sometimes things would get hot, stormy (for us): we differed sharply in some things—never hesitated to express our differences—doing so this day rather loudly—more positively than usual. The question up was of national character: Emerson had just published English Traits—naturally was full of the English—English power, characteristics, and so forth. We talked and talked: Emerson inclined to favor the English—to accept them in a more favorable light than the Scotch-Irish. My own choice would have been hard to tell—I embrace, include, all. I am especially fond of the Scotch, though I can never be partial in the last analysis to one nation as above another: fond of the Scotch, who, after we admit their gloomy, despotic, reverse side, are still to be credited with some of the most marvellous qualities of which any race can boast. At one moment, the discussion running along this line, Emerson was saying: 'I like the English—I do not like the Scotch so well: and as for the Irish—': here he suddenly stopped (suddenly, as Hicks used to haul himself to in the moment of his canting spells): I didn't know what had happened. A young waiter who had been standing back of us left the room. Emerson looked at

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me quietly and said: 'I was going to say more—more about the Irish: but it suddenly struck me that the young man there was himself Irish and might not find what I was going to say pleasant.' It was thoroughly characteristic—just like him: like his consideration, courtesy, unfailing tact. His temperament was almost ideal."
Then he said: "Whatever may be the truth of what Clifford says about me I hope there may never stray out of my work anywhere a note of dissatisfaction, disappointment, despair: indeed, I may say I am sure there does not—sure of it."

     W. dissented from the idea that Tennyson's brother "was a greater poet than Alfred." "It could not be proved—therefore it is easy to say. The same thing was said about Emerson's brother. I like to hear people say things but I don't always say yes." I quoted Disraeli's retort upon those who criticised the sins of Byron: "Gentleman, remember his youth." W. exclaimed: "How good! how noble! Disraeli was a man of brilliant qualities who cannot be dismissed with a sneer." Talked about portraits of himself. He mentioned a painting. "The other picture," he said, "is in oil—belongs to my sister in St. Louis." Who was the artist? "Libbey," he answered, even going so far as to spell the name out for me: "Libbey: he was quite young—a friend of mine: Walter Libbey: bright, versatile, full of promise, it was everywhere recognized: but died young with nothing practically accomplished—not even a name won." He spoke pathetically of this episode: "The painting is even of earlier date than the steel, I think. The steel came from a photo—the photo from what would be called a chance." How was that? "I was sauntering along the street: the day was hot: I was dressed just as you see me there. A friend of mine—Gabriel Harrison (you know him? ah! yes!—he has always been a good friend!)—stood at the door of his place looking at the passers-by. He cried out to me at once: 'Old man!—old man!—come here: come right up stairs with me this minute'—and when he noticed that I hesitated cried still more emphatically: 'Do come: come: I'm dying for something to do.' This picture was the result. Many people think the dominant

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quality in Harrison's picture is its sadness: even Bucke has said something of the kind—and others, too."
W. gave me a postal from Kennedy. It read this way:


Belmont, Oct. 18, '88.

I send you the Transcript with my notice of November Boughs, hastily pencil-scrawled between jobs on my proof-desk. I have really no time to myself now—except a sleepy hour o'evening. The same Transcript contains a good big piece by young Sadakichi Hartmann. Your card just received. Thank you. Be sure to tell me about O'Connor when you hear. I asked Traubel to tell you that Wilson (Glaswegian) had written me about my book.

Cordially yours,

W. S. Kennedy.


     I have received a letter from Arthur Stedman. He says he has sent the Linton cut to Mather. Stedman intimates that Linton's folks are in some doubt as to who owns the cut. W. says hotly: "I have no doubt on the subject myself: just you tell them that the cut belongs to Walt Whitman—that it was paid for, every cent, just by Walt Whitman."


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