Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 511] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sunday, October 21, 1888.

     7.20 evening. W. lying on the bed, dressed, I entered very quietly: stood there without a word. He had been dozing. Started up. "Come in! Come in!" After we had shaken hands he described his day: "I have kept busy—have been down stairs for a bit, read, written some, kept wide awake." Then he asked: "And you—what have you done with the day?" I had been far in the country on a long walk. I said something about "the joy of going on and on and not getting tired." This aroused him. "I can fully realize that joy—that untranslatable joy: I have known its meaning to the full. In the old days, long ago, I was fond of taking interminable walks—going on and on, as you say, without a stop or the thought of a stop. It was at that time, in Washington, that I got to know Peter Doyle—a Rebel, a car-driver, a soldier: have you met him here? seen him? talked with him? Ah yes! we would walk together for miles and miles, never sated. Often we would go on for some time without a word, then talk—Pete a rod ahead or I a rod ahead. Washington was then the grandest of all the cities for such strolls. In order to maintain the centrality, identity, authority, of the

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 512] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
city, a whole chain of forts, barracks, was put about it and roads leading out to them. It was therefore owing to these facts that our walks were made easy. Oh! the long, long walks, way into the nights!—in the after hours—sometimes lasting till two or three in the morning! The air, the stars, the moon, the water—what a fullness of inspiration they imparted!—what exhilaration! And there were the detours, too—wanderings off into the country out of the beaten path: I remember one place in Maryland in particular to which we would go. How splendid, above all, was the moon—the full moon, the half moon: and then the wonder, the delight, of the silences."
He half sat up in bed as he spoke. "It was a great, a precious, a memorable, experience. To get the ensemble of Leaves of Grass you have got to include such things as these—the walks, Pete's friendship: yes, such things: they are absolutely necessary to the completion of the story."

     I made some reference to a silent, inarticulate walk related as having been taken by Emerson and Hawthorne. W. said: "The reference to Hawthorne brings back to my mind a story once told me by a friend in Brooklyn, a lawyer, a reader of Hawthorne, who arranged to pay him a visit in company with another person—a celebre, I think, though who I can no longer remember. They gave Hawthorne notice of their coming—were there punctually on the minute: they knocked at the door (knocked, I believe, a second time): finally the door was opened by a child or a servant who asked them in. Hawthorne was not on hand at the instant but came in right afterwards with a bottle of wine in each hand—so—which he had been hunting in the cellar. He said to them that they had had a long journey and must certainly be ready for some entertainment—something of that kind. Now, while Hawthorne brought in the wine he said little or nothing during the stay of his visors. Hawthorne was an extremely reticent character: I have read somewhere the story of his slipping off at nightfall and going silently among the sailors at Salem—to the inns frequented by them. The story has the air of being authentic—I believe is authentic."


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 513] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     I picked up a card lying on a pile of papers: "Charles Leonard Moore." W. noticed it. "That's one of the callers: I don't know the name—don't know him: they come in groups, often: come to the door, inquire, go off again. No doubt I often turn away angels—turn away people I would like to see—ought to see: but then, I am feeling too bad nowadays to make too many exceptions to my rule." No word from O'Connor. W. says he is afraid "William is on the down road—is not long for this world." The Press article on November Boughs written by Melville Phillips was on W.'s table. He spoke of it. To the remark that the Hicks "notes" are "disjointed indeed" W. said: "I would take no exception to that: indeed, do I not say the same thing myself?" M. P. calls the concluding paragraphs of the Hicks "the most brilliant bit of prose Whitman has ever written." W. turned to me: "You were the first discoverer of that world! And did you not say that Clifford commended it, too? I recognize only too well the scrappiness of the piece taken as a whole. Bucke writes accepting it all—allowing for no deductions whatever: but I am not so easily satisfied as that: I need more convincing proofs of myself than I find in the Hicks." W. said again: "For myself I consider A Backward Glance my right bower." Asked me whether I thought Kennedy had "sent Doctor that Transcript piece." I sent copies of today's Press to both of them. W. nodded: "That is well. Doctor is hungry for every scrap—Kennedy not so much so, though expectant, curious. O'Connor never seemed to care particularly for curios of that description. Doctor must have a perfect museum of curiosities—a curious mess: everything, all sorts, good and bad."

     Talked of the title page portrait again. "Sometimes it impresses me that I made a mistake in condemning the head." Then he added: "In any event, if the second trial should turn out bad, we can go back to the first: I should say, take the first, curls and all!" When I originally suggested no publisher's imprint on the big book he was favorable. Then from time to time he seemed to waver a little: saw his precarious

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 514] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
state and doubted his ability to market the edition at first hand. To-night, however, his answer to my renewed questions on that point rejoiced me: "No—no—no name at all—mine alone: this will be my book." "I sat down to-day." he said, "and codgered my brains trying to get words for the title page that would thoroughly express my idea." Finally he hit upon what is now the third version, with "complete" above the head—then this below: "Poems and Prose of Walt Whitman—1855-1888: Authenticated and Personal Book (handled by W. W.)—Portraits from Life—Autograph." "This is to be final." My previous notes show his earlier experiments. "I like it because it succeeds better than either of the others in stating the wonderful personal nature of the book. As for the rest, I trust all in your hands—you come into personal, direct contact with the printers—their shops—know what is there, what can be done." W. assented to my proposition to write to Arthur Stedman telling him the Linton cut belonged absolutely to W. W. and would not be returned to New Haven: that the Stedmans were welcome to it for use any time. Just before I left he said: "Horace, I got through with all the sheets to-day: they are all signed—and some over. I feel as if I had at last got home from a long voyage." His several designs for the title page made for the printer are very clear-sighted. They provide for everything. Showed one of them to me but I was not to take it until the portrait was ready. He handed me an old war-time Trowbridge letter: "That, too, was written while I was hunting a job in Washington: still harping on my daughter: you have the other letters—take this, too."


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.