Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 507] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Saturday, October 20, 1888.

     7.45 p. m. W. very much more active today—brighter, more cheerful, than for many days. Received Transcript containing Kennedy's notice of November Boughs. I asked W. what he thought of it. He said: "Very much: it is short but there are touches in it which I would not like to miss—points well to have generally known, well to get said." He handed me the slip of paper. "Read it—read it now: it's worth your while." And he added: "you should put that among your papers: it is an item helping along the elaboration of your records." This is what Kennedy wrote:

"Walt Whitman's new volume of poetry and prose, November Boughs, is out in handsome shape—flexible dark-red covers,

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 508] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
new and unique portrait of the poet at seventy years, from life, and a rare portrait of Elias Hicks, to whom Mr. Whitman devotes some pages of reminiscence. The poems are entitled, 'Sands at Seventy.' Many of them bear the stamp of full power—such as With Husky Haughty Lips, Fancies at Navesink, etc.: others show marks of the advancing lethargy of age. The whole melange is a remarkable work to have been forged in a sick room. Walt Whitman is exhibiting an astonishing tenacity of grip on life. His brain is as clear in its thinking as ever, and his handwriting bold and strong as of old. He ought to winter in some pleasant Southern city where he could sit by open windows. But as he has not come down stairs out of his chamber more than twice in several months, it is probable—nearly certain, in fact—that he would not be equal to a journey of any kind, even if inclined to take it. He is in the care of affectionate friends, one of whom, Mr. Horace Traubel, formerly an editorial writer on the Boston Commonwealth, is in constant and affectionate daily attendance on him, and has helped him put through the press the volume November Boughs and a forthcoming six-dollar edition of his complete works."


     I told W. that McKay ridiculed the reference to "a rare portrait of Elias Hicks:" "That damned thing!" W. replied: "That is the business point of view: I think the head a good one, don't you? Dave is a business man, and though business men are infernal cute some ways most ways they are like tom-cats lost in the woods." Today's Press announces a review of N. B. for tomorrow. W. said: "I am not very curious." The Times review by Seilheimer also expected for tomorrow will be put aside. "Seilheimer? That's a new name to me. Lambdin used to be managing editor of The Times. He was strenuously opposed to Leaves of Grass—bitterly, malignantly, opposed." I asked: "Was it so bad as that?" "Yes—so bad: even worse. Have you ever experienced the rankest enmity of one who opposed you with all weapons honest and dishonest without seeming to know why: with no square reason opposed

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 509] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
you: you, you, just you—foully, bitterly, you: men who find a stab in the back none too good to use in furthering their malicious designs? I have always regarded Lambdin as that kind of an enemy."
I remarked: "I understand that Seilheimer himself is none too friendly." "Then," said W., "he can give us a column of cussing: cussing is often of more value than the other thing." "You don't seem to think so in the case of Lambdin." "That is not cussing—that is downright personal vituperation and assault. Did you ever hear me kick about honest opposition? That is as good to me, as good for me, as anything else honest: but Lambdin's objections to me, like Stoddard's and some others', is rather of the offensive personal order." W. then again: "Julius Chambers used to be on The Times, but he is always exceedingly friendly." W. gave me a letter he received today from Hamlin Garland. "Garland also seems to have intended sending something to The Transcript about the book but Kennedy has cut him out. Garland writes a very interesting note."


Jamaica Plain, Oct. 18, 1888.

Dear Mr. Whitman:

I began a course of twelve class lectures in Waltham yesterday in which I take up Walt Whitman's Message. I never have any difficulty in obtaining respectful listeners upon that theme. I hope to speak many times upon it. I had a very friendly letter from Mr. Burroughs. I am sorry I did not see him as I came through. I want to say also that I did not write that little notice of your book in Transcript. I am waiting till you send that autograph copy—then I will write a goodly review for Transcript or elsewhere. I have not seen Kennedy since returning—nor Baxter. Hope to do so soon. At the earliest possible moment I intend to get that article into shape concerning your work as a landscapist. I do hope you'll keep gaining in strength, as Burroughs wrote me you were.

With grateful esteem,

Hamlin Garland.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 510] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     W. said: "Garland seems to be getting actively on our side: he seems to swallow the lump without gagging over it. That's the only safe sort of a rebel: the rebel who has to try to be one or wonder why he is one or asks himself if he hasn't made a mistake—that sort of a rebel had better go back home and lock his door—he's not quite the ilk for our stern brotherhood." I asked: "The Walt Whitman brotherhood?" "That, maybe—yes: but not more that than the Horace Traubel brotherhood or any other man's brotherhood. The chief thing is the brotherhood—not any particular member of it." Dave speaks of H. G.'s picture of W. as "a caricature." W. protests: "That is too severe: take away the curls, the Italian curls, which I haven't, and it's not so bad: even of the curls they'd say: 'Damn 'im, if he ain't got 'em he'd ought to have 'em." I saw Brown today. The title is not yet done. W. said: "I'll punch myself if the first plate is destroyed and the second is no good!" Linton cut arrived from New Haven today, addressed to me. I asked W.: "You don't keep an account book?" "Mercy, no! it's unheard of! I've got nothing to keep account of!" W. will send McKay a bill for one thousand copies of N. B. at thirty-one and a quarter cents. Gave me a copy of the soft N. B. for Talcott Williams—endorsed it. I looked over his shoulder as he wrote "You write his name a good deal more clearly than he would." He laughed. "As a printer I am bound to: there is no excuse for illegible writing in a printer—not the slightest."

     Letter from Blake today acknowledging the book. Blake says: "I am enjoying Morse exceedingly. We go along brotherly. It will turn out well for him here I think." W. remarked: "That good news about Sidney rejoices my soul." I asked W.: "Walt, are you in earnest in saying you have a big story to tell me some day?" He grew very grave at once: "Yes, Horace—dead in earnest: you have no idea, no suspicion, of it, but you ought to know it all. I find it hard to steady my nerves for it—it means so much to me, will mean so much to you, means so much to others. The cat has a long tail—a very, very long tail." It did not seem to me there was anything for me to do

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 511] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
but be silent. He looked at me intently. Then he reached his hand out and took my own, holding it: "We won't go on with it tonight—not tonight: I am not enough myself to undertake it tonight: it involves so much—feeling, reminiscence, almost tragedy: it's a long, long story: and I don't want you to know only a part of it—I want you to know it all: when I start I want to finish: so we must let it go over to some day, some night, when I am just in the exact mood to speak and you are just in the exact mood to listen. I want you to get it right when I tell it—not wrong: which implies, as I have just said, that you must be in the mood to hear right what I want to tell in the right spirit." I reached over and kissed him good night. He called "good night" to me several times as I went to and out the door into the hallway: "Good-night!" "Good-night!" His voice was full of emotion.


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.