Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, November 14, 1888.

     7.55 P. M. W., sitting in his chair, against the light, dozing—his eyes closed. Aroused by my entrance he was at once cordial and inquisitive. Talked well. Looked well. " To-day has been much like yesterday: I have in fact been fortunate the past week in being blessed with tolerable relief." Seemed depressed though. "It is wearisome, almost sad, to be confined in this way, imprisoned, for days, months, years. Yet I have made up my mind to be cheerful: to sustain myself by what philosophy I can." Bucke says: "We doctors too often fail to take account of Walt's ancestry—the wonderful recuperative potentiality of his constitution." W. said: "It is encouraging to a fellow to hear that: it boosts him a little even if he knows better himself: I do not fail to take account of the arguments the Doctor has to present: but there 's more and more than that." Mrs. Coates said to me at the Club: "Walt Whitman is Olympian." W. laughed. "That has a new sound—is a new rôle for me." As to the too cheerful reports of those who visit him: "There is often a mistake about that: people come: I brighten up: they brighten me up: they go away thinking that 's the whole story: little do they know the underlying facts!" Arthur Stedman sent back the Linton cut. Also writes. I gave W. the Millet piece: he was glad to get it. "I should read it with special care, now that you

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fellows have put it to me in your remarkable way."
He handed me Bucke's letter of 11th containing the Millet parallels. "Bucke will never be able thoroughly to appreciate Millet till he sees some of the original work: the facts themselves: the backgrounds." We talked about Bucke's letter. W. had me read the parallels to him.

"1. Both born and brought up near the sea which exerts a profound influence on the mode of thought and feeling of each.

"2. M.'s books in youth the Bible and Virgil. W.'s Homer and Shakespeare.

"3. Each born of country people and always stuck to these in preference to city and polished folk.

"4. Each strangely affected by a wreck at sea or coast near home in childhood.

"5. M. left country early: went to Paris. W. left country early: went to New York.

"6. Sensier speaks of M.'s twelve years' apprenticeship in Paris. John Burroughs of W.'s twelve years of preparation in New York.

"7. The time M.—Le Grand Rustique—revealed himself for the first time in 1850 (thirty-six years old—born 1814) in Le Sémeur—The Sower, which was hailed by at least one critic as a fine and original conception. The time W. came out, 1855 (thirty-six years old) first edition of L. of G. which was hailed by one critic (Emerson) as a fine and original conception.

"8. The fate of both: constant neglect varied by fierce attacks, relieved by the passionate faith and friendship of a few.

"9. This, then (the beauty, pathos and grandeur of labor and of the common laboring man) was M.'s (W.'s) discovery—this the message he had to give the world. Before this time the peasant had never been held a fit object for art.

"10. 'Here is a man,' said Gautier, 'who finds poetry

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in the fields, who loves the peasant.' 'In the labor of engines and trades,' says W., 'and the labor of fields I find the developments and find the eternal meanings.'


"11. They wish to drive me into their drawing-room art. No, no—a peasant I was born and a peasant I will die.

"The list might be greatly extended."

      "Is it convincing?" I asked him. "Not convincing—no: only interesting." Then W. said: "We must n't go peeking about trying to weigh and measure and classify everything." I had the page proofs of Notes and three extra sheets each. He asked me again (he has often asked me before): "What do you think is the nature of Mrs. Coates' feelings for me? I accept her thoroughly but am a little at a loss to explain her: she is wonderfully sweet, cheery: she is good to look upon." W. said: "You had evolution at the Club last night, did you? What are the limits of evolution as a theory? I assume that Spencer, Huxley, Darwin, the greatest evolutionists everywhere, take the ground that evolution is a process: do not pretend that it gives a why for existence: no: only that it expresses a method of nature." I said: "Huxley says it can't be made into a dogma: that it is a working hypothesis, no more." W. exclaimed: "That is a striking way to put it: I have never heard it put just in that way: did Morse state it so? I think that evolution, considered as you explicate it, is accepted by all who amount to much—for whose opinion we would experience sincere respect. To go further than that is, I should say, looking at it in a very crude style—is altogether unjustified. When it comes to explaining absolute beginnings, ends, I doubt if evolution clears up the mystery any better than the philosophies that have preceded it. I have felt from the first that my own work must assume the essential truths of evolution, or something like them."

     Agassiz was mentioned. W. said: "It was charged against him that he showed an anxiety to prove the story of revelation—so-called—true. I never construed him so: I

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heard him speak once in Washington: there had been a series of lectures at the Smithsonian: two or three or more of them: I attended—once at least."
Was Agassiz as a person attractive? W.: "Let me see: who does he look like? Have you seen Henry Wilson—H. B. Wilson? Agassiz resembled Wilson, I should say, though not so large a man. Agassiz's voice was good: his manner was modest, simple—no tricks—perfectly easy: as of a man confident he was capable of handling his subject. He spoke English as well as he spoke French—as well as an American: there was no trace of a brogue in it: directly, clearly, without circumlocution: making his point inevitably, with grace and charm." Ingersoll was mentioned. W. said: "Ingersoll stands for perfect poise, nonchalance, equability: he is nonconventional: runs on like a stream: is sweet, fluid—as they say in the Bible, like precious ointment. It is good to know that Agassiz's son is more radical, advanced, in his views than his father—that the father is outgrown."

     W. referred to something Mrs. Coates had said to me about him. "Yes, I often think of it, especially of late days—how fortunate I have been in my friends: I doubt if any man has been more blessed: such advocates, comrades, men affiliated through thick and thin: O'Connor, Mrs. Gilchrist, Burroughs, Dowden, Symonds, Rossetti: and there have been and are others: Bucke, Tom, you: and now Kennedy, too." I said: "It sounds middle-agey with heroics." W. smiled: "So it does: it seems like romance." Bucke says: "If Walt had stayed away from the War he would have been good for ninety years." W. assented "Yes: but there 's more to the story: I never once have questioned the decision that led me into the War: whatever the years have brought—whatever sickness, whatnot—I have accepted the result as inevitable and right. This is very centre, circumference, umbillicus, of my whole career. You remember Homer—the divine horses: 'Now, Achilles, we 'll take you there, see you safely back again, but only on condition you will not do this thing again—act unwisely;

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will be steady, peaceful, quiet—cut up no capers': but you know Achilles said: 'No—let what must, come: I must cut up my capers.' So it was with me: I had to cut up my capers. Why, I would not for all the rest have missed those three or four years."
In this connection spoke of Burroughs' discussion of Drum Taps. "I find no other complete sets: I suspect from the difficulty I had in finding these—their scarcity—that I really never had them to give away. I sent a set up to Dr. Bucke yesterday. I came across the stuff accidentally in looking for something else. As I do not remember having extra copies I doubted if Bucke had one. The piece itself I have always clearly enough remembered—always liked." Gurowski mentioned again: "He had a Roman head: circular: it was a powerful top-knot, in and out: people always stopped to look at him."

     We talked about what I called "manners and matters." Dress and substance. W. said: "We can't always get at a man immediately through externals. Years ago there was a man who came here to see me—a perfect Dundreary: came several times: his manners, his talk, the tone of his voice—they were sickish, nauseating"—here W. pressed his forefinger into his belly, indicating—: "he lived at Newport—was a man of some fame, power. Well, he was about the worst. But I learned by and by that back of all the pretence, affectation, sickishness, Dundrearyism, there were diamonds, pearls—gems of unquestionable richness: so that after all, so far as currents of the world's meanings were concerned, he knew as much, he got as close to essentials, as the rest of us." He quoted another instance—that of "an army man: the case of a colonel—a dandy: much criticised, talked over; everybody having a whack at him: an old fellow defended him: 'Here you growlers, let up: try this man in a battle: he 'll be as brave as the rest of you!' and I have no doubt he was." So W. counselled me in a fatherly way. "It is well to allow a liberal margin to the dudes, dandies, dawdlers: I know the probabilities

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are against you: the average is likely, almost certain, to disappoint you: yet your man may be there."

     W. spoke of Mrs. Gilchrist: "Oh! she was strangely different from the average: entirely herself: as simple as nature: true, honest: beautiful as a tree is tall, leafy, rich, full, free—is a tree. Yet, free as she was by nature, bound by no conventionalisms, she was the most courageous of women: more than queenly: of high aspect in the best sense. She was not cold: she had her passions: I have known her to warm up—to resent something that was said: some impeachment of good things—great things: of a person sometimes: she had the largest charity, the sweetest fondest optimism. But however able to resent she was not able to be discourteous: she could resent but she resented nobly: for instance, in behalf of Shelley, Tennyson, Browning: she believed in Shelley: there must have been a heap in Shelley that I never reached to: see the people who believe in him—Mrs. Gilchrist, Forman, Symonds. She was a radical of radicals: enjoyed all sorts of high enthusiasms: was exquisitely sensitized: belonged to the times yet to come: her vision went on and on."


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