Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, November 13, 1888.

     7.25 P. M. W. reading The Long Islander: held it spread out before his face: did not at first see me: light was full up: he had his spectacles on: seemed thoroughly absorbed. I stood there. He looked up, seeing me. We shook hands. "Well—what have you been doing to-day?" he asked. He gave me the proofs of title pages. Changes few. Wants still another proof and then three sets for his own use. "After this is done," he said, "then you can whack away at the cover." I asked him how he was. "Very good—very good." " I 'm going to a Contemporary meeting this

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evening: they'll ask how you are: what shall I say to them?"
"If anybody asks you give them my love: tell them I feel better to-day than I have felt any day for five months: tell them I sit here" "top up?" I asked: "Yes, top up—good!—helpless so far as concerns moving about, but cheerful: tell them that for two or three weeks there in June things looked dark indeed, but that I weathered the capes—am safely here." Suddenly he asked: "What have you over at the Club to-night, anyway?" "Professor Edward S. Morse is to be there: he is to talk on Evolution." "Evolution? Well, that 's a big enough job to give Morse plenty to do: it 's like starting at the beginning—at the root or the seed before the root. Is this Morse the Japanese man? Tell them after they have had Morse upon Evolution they should have him for Japan—to describe what he saw there, what Japanese life signifies, to an American, in this nineteenth century."

     W. showed me a galley set of proofs of Burroughs' Walt Whitman and His Drum Taps. "It appeared in The Galaxy years ago—many, many years ago: I seem to have several sets: have been trying to get them together: one for Kennedy, one for you: even more." He had made up two complete and two incomplete sets. "I brought that package in to look them up," he said, pointing to "a miscellany in strings" lying on the floor. "Take this set—Kennedy's: read it: bring it back to me: I shall try to have yours ready by then." He wrote on the first sheet: "from the Galaxy Magazine, Dec: 1862." I asked: "1862?" He first said "Yes." Then suddenly: "No—certainly not: that could not be: it was after the War, after the hospitals: I had already written When Lilacs in the Dooryard Bloom'd: Lincoln had been murdered." He took up his pen: "1866," he asserted, as he made the change: "that was the year." I said: "Suppose I fall in love with this piece? never bring the proofs back?" He shook his finger at me: "If you don't then Sloane will get your set! now you must behave!" I repeated to him a Gartenlaube story told by a German

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who went to call on Hugo one early morning and found Hugo striding the porch naked, taking a constitutional—his sun bath. W. was merry over it. "That is a new Hugo bit for me: it sounds right: is significant: I had a sun bath myself this afternoon in the back room there: it did me good."

     W. then drifted into a talk inspired by a letter from Bucke. "The Doctor speaks of a piece about Millet in The Nineteenth Century: have you seen it?" He gave me a letter which I did n't read at the moment but put into my pocket and found on the boat subsequently was not the letter in question though from Bucke too: it was dated the 9th and contained nothing about Millet. But I said now: "Why Walt—that must be the sketch I brought down for you to see or the one you read: that was about Millet and it was in The Nineteenth Century." He looked at me queryingly for an instant: then a peculiar light broke over his face. "Sure enough: sure enough: that is exactly the piece: do you know, I had forgotten about that altogether." He described the Doctor's letter. "It pointed out the wonderful parallelism of Millet's life with mine. I consider it remarkable that Bucke should without knowing your view repeat it here almost line for line." "Don't you remember that I said to you at the time that if the name was changed it would pass as a Whitman story instead of a Millet story?" He eyed me: "Did you write that to Bucke?" "No." He exclaimed: "It is really wonderful: there must certainly have been something very plausible about it for the thing to have separately hit you both with such force." W. had read the story. I asked: " Did n't the resemblance strike you?" "Never." "Not in the slightest way?" "No: not by the suspicion of a suspicion." "When did you first happen upon Millet?" I asked. He answered, after a little hesitation: "Oh! I had often seen fugitive prints—counterfeits: bits about Millet in papers, magazines: it was in Boston that I first happened upon Millet originals: through some one else, of course, but I do not just remember who:

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I have an idea it was Bartlett: it may have been Boyle O'Reilly: I can't say: some of us went one day to Mr. Shaw's—three or four of us. Shaw had a wonderful collection of curios, gathered in the East, Syria, Spain: the walls were everywhere covered with paintings: there were swords there, too: cutlery, also—the most interesting and unusual cutlery: I remember the silks—rich silks—kept in rolls as they keep wall papers. It was while roaming through these rooms that I came upon the Millets: I was there with others: I wanted to be alone: I waived them all off"
—here he gestured—threw his head back— "'Here you fellows,' I said, or something in that manner: 'I want you to all go out—to leave me alone: I want to be alone here': they went: and so I got an hour or two to myself—the sweetest, fullest, peaceablest: then I saw Millet." He ceased talking. I did n't break in. "I remember one picture—a simple scene: a girl holding a cow with a halter: the cow's head was dropped into the creek from which it was drinking: it would be called a commonplace subject: it was that, to be sure: but then it was also vivid and powerful. Millet's color sense was opulent, thorough, uncompromising, yet not gaudy—never gilt and glitter: emphatic only as nature is emphatic. I felt the masterfulness of The Sowers: its dark grays: not overwrought anywhere: true always to its own truth—borrowing nothing: impressive in its unique majesty of expression." W. added: "I said to myself then, I say it over to myself now, that I can at last understand the French Revolution—now realize the great powers that lay back of it, explain it—its great far-stretching past. I said to myself then, I can realize now, that there can be no depth of feeling, sympathy, emotional appeal, present in a picture, a painting, anywhere, anytime, going beyond these: here is the fact incarnate." Again he said: "On one point I am not as well understood as I would wish to be: as to the old feeling of pride in the rustic because he was rustic—Burns, Millet, Whittier: I do not share that pride myself: whatever it may be it is

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not modern—is not equi-large with the newer meanings of civilization. O'Connor, somewhere, in one of his letters, quoted Victor Hugo: Hugo points to the tramps, the poor, the ignorant peasants: 'these,' he says, 'are not the people—these are but the mournful beginnings of the people': it is something like that, not that just in those words."
I put in: "What he says there of the people you would say of our present democracy." W. then: "Yes—oh, yes! that is what I have been striving to say for thirty-five years now: stating, restating: repeating, insisting upon, it: all my poems are the outcrop of that—fed with it, drinking of its meanings." I exclaimed: "What great things Hugo says!" W.: "Yes, none greater!" I said: "He is certainly one of the immortals." W. replying: "Oh! how William would delight to hear you say that! And he would carry it out to its farthest affirmations."

     Here W. halted as if to stir up his memory a bit. "I think I have told you what O'Connor says about Hugo. When we were together, in Washington, John Burroughs in the party: others, too: O'Connor would say when someone criticised Hugo—any of us (I never would): I might complain—I would not criticise: I always felt as though Hugo was beyond that, from me, from others: O'Connor would say: 'We are not able to appreciate, explain, Hugo: from our puritan environment Hugo looks outré: we can't grasp the peculiarities in him which make him first a child of France, of his time: just the exact right final sort of a man for the situation—no other planned for, possible': O'Connor would protest that with the whole force of his nature." W. again: "I suppose I should look into the Millet piece again myself: now that you fellows have come to such a striking community of agreement I should take a hand in the matter myself."

     W. referred to Bucke's "amazing modernness." "Doctor keeps the run of the progressive magazines: things come to him from all corners of the globe: he has a great stack of things come: people know him, what he wants, are on the

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qui vive for him, send him things: Doctor is one of the widest awake of men."
Then someway W. talked of the old eras of parties in America. He referred to prohibition: then to the minor parties that flourished in his youth. "The great party of those days was the Know-Nothing party: it was rather before my time that they were plentiest"—here he paused, ruminating— "No," he resumed then— " that 's not just the way to put it: I suppose in the years while I was from twenty-five to thirty or thirty-five, the party was most flourishing." "Had you any sympathy with it at all?" "Not the slightest." "What were your party affiliations then—or had you none?" "If I could have been called anything then it would probably have been a Democrat: I was an orthodox Democrat." "What were your opinions on anti-slavery at that date?" "I was anti-slavery." "From the first?" "Yes, from the first: and not only anti-slavery: more than anti-slavery: a friend, indeed, all around of progressist fellows: that 's where, why, how, I finally cut off from the Democratic party." W. gave me a John Hay letter. "It properly belongs in your pigeonholes: it helps to show how we come on with the grandees—what we pass for in the upper circles. John don't call himself upper circle or anything of that sort, but he is in the elect pit—he belongs to the saved, to the respectables. John is first rate in his own way anyhow—has always been simple enough to break love with me on occasions."


Washington, March 12, 1887.

Dear Walt Whitman:

I have received your book and Ms. and send, with my hearty thanks, a New York check for $30. It is a little more than your modest charge. You will pardon the liberty; I am not giving you anything like what the writing is worth to me, but trying to give a just compensation for the trouble of copying, simply.

My boy, ten years old, said to me this morning: "Have you got a book with a poem in it called O Captain! My

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I stared at him, having you in mind at the moment, as if he were a mind-reader—and asked him where he had heard of that poem. He said a boy had repeated it last year somewhere.


I made him happy by showing him the Ms. and promising him it should be his, if he deserved it, after I am gone.

With love and good wishes and hope that the spring may bring healing in its wings to you

I am faithfully yours,

John Hay.



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