Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 97] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Thursday, November 15, 1888.

     7.45 P. M. W. sitting talking with Harned when I entered. Discussed the law. H. gave a critical account of things said by the minister who officiated at his brother John's marriage last night. W. said: "When it came to the worst some one should have yelled, 'rats!'" Afterwards talked evolution. H. rather conservative in the matter. W. said: "There comes a time, after all this is expounded, promulged, proved, for some one to come forward and say: 'Don't be in such a damn big hurry: don't believe that this settles everything—that nothing more remains to be done. We can say here as was said of anti-slavery: don't deceive yourselves into the idea that this question is the only question: that with this settled all is settled—that the world centres upon this spot: there are

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 98] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
slavery and anti-slavery: the world's a big one: there 's more to it than can be put into a single definition.'"
Harned said: "The evolutionists are the master-men of the time." W. then: "So they are: I don't know but you can call this their age. I stand in awe before the men of science: they hold the key to the situation: they are the true discoverers: they are—they, with their utter abandon, honesty."

     Harned left. Had to go down to the church—Corning's reception. Asked me to go along: expected Clifford there. I looked at my muddy boots, my flannel shirt—and then W. exclaimed: "Go! you 're all the better as you are: it will give salt to the occasion." But I did not go. W. handed me some proof-corrections for the book. He had no letter from Bucke to-day. Bucke wrote me: "I am greatly pleased that W. takes to Wilkins. What does Wilkins think of W.? Does he feel interested in him? I hope so and expect it will be so." W. said: "I don't know what Ed thinks of me: I think he looks upon me favorably: I like him: I wrote the Doctor so: he is just what he seems to be—straightforward, not inquisitive, hearty—best of all he is not intrusive: he does not push himself upon me, does not insist." I quizzed: "And not literary?" W. laughing and repeating: "No—not literary: and I take that to be a great escape indeed!" He shows Ed various little confidences and attentions.

     When I went into the other room later I found Ed reading L. of G.—at ease, his feet upon the trunk. Was he interested? "A little: I read a couple of pages at a time—then take a rest." Doctor's note seems to put his coming off again. W. disappointed, though saying little. Saw the Millet book on the floor. He said he was done with it. "I went through it categorically, one may say." Did he make anything of the resemblances? "No—not much: there may be something there: but it don't hit me forcibly." I had a letter from Morse to-day. W. asked me to read it. It came from Chicago. Good news. Sidney busy with work. Has made a big Emerson and shipped a copy to

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 99] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Harned. " That 's the best news from Sidney yet!" He said: "But you are away from the light: come nearer." "It seems like a tidal wave for Sidney, don't it?" He was curious about the Emerson. "Would you like Tom to bring it down for you to see?" He answered buoyantly: "Why bring it down? I'll go up to Tom's: by and by I'll go up." Clifford wrote me yesterday. He says: "Bucke sounds like a whole fellow." W. exclaimed: "And he 's just what he sounds like!" He had me read the closing passage of Clifford's note a second time:

"Truly, the brillancy of O'Connor on Walt has so drowned my rushlight flame that I have n't dared even to see if it is alight yet! Remember, too, that Walt has been so growing upon me. I don't want merely to advertise November Boughs; anyone could do that; and unless I find the word coming which will give me, if not it and him, I shall succumb to the better silence. So would you—and he."

      "So we would—so we would," cried W. Then he said: "Clifford must n't be scared by William: Clifford's a damsiter himself, though not in William's way: no two men are alike: Clifford has his own powers, identities: look how he steers his church: it 's a marvel to me: I never stop wondering over it." Talked of Burroughs' Drum Taps piece again. W. spoke of "the high lasting quality of John's best work." I told W. I had suggested to B. that he should gather his fugitive W. W. pieces together and bring them out in a volume. W. said: " I 'm suspicious: there would be no demand for it: for the present world cares mighty little for Walt Whitman: how he comes and goes—whether he comes and goes at all." "Yet I 'm glad you wrote to John—glad, too, that you wrote to Stedman: John particularly: I want you and John to get, stay, close to each other." Then of Kennedy: "I have n't written him for a week: tell him you were here to-night, that we

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 100] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
had a good talk together—that you mentioned your idea of writing to tell him of my betterment—that I sent him my love—that I am still top up, doing a little work."
He said again: " I 'm a lame duck: my physiology still says, here, but faintly: but thank God! I 've kept a clean record in my top-knot." Ed is anxious to fix up the room. "I'll clear out some day and let you do it." But he won't.

     W. received Liberty and The Christian Register among other papers to-day—the latter from Kennedy. W. laughed: "I can get in touch with Liberty, but The Register—well, it has its own reasons, but its reasons are not my reasons." Still reading the Cæsar. "I read it only by snatches—but it still fascinates me." Gave me a check to pay Bilstein. Philadelphia fashion is going to see Coquelin this week. W. said: "I have been watching the Philadelphia papers trying to hit upon something like an able criticism: but there don't seem to be a single man over there capable of taking the matter up, willing to take the matter up, in the spirit and letter of its real backgrounds." Had he read The Critic on Coquelin? "No. Should I?" "Yes." "I'll do it." Harry Wright called yesterday. George's wife in to-day. Told Mrs. Davis of some dreams. W. smiled: "Her own house, or mine, was draped in black." I asked: "Do you joke about omens?" He laughed: "I don't know but an omen is itself a joke." I saw a bunchy note in the Horace corner and asked him about it. "Oh yes!" he said: " it 's yours—yes, it 's yours: one of my war letters—a hospital letter: it 's a long one: I looked it over to-day: it made me feel quite sad, so to speak: it was a reminder—brought so many things back: the boys: most of them now gone—dead: scattered everywhere. You 'll find two versions—that is, the vague notes, then the inked letter—the letter that went was passed around: they don't essentially differ, if at all: I got the sent letter back from Lew Brown: oh! dear Lew! It may be that bits of this letter have found their way into print in other places—in Specimen Days: it may be: I don't know: anyway, take

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 101] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
it along: we can talk about it to-morrow."
Then I left. I have made my copy of the big note from the pencil draft:


Brooklyn, November 8, 1863.

Dear son and comrade, and all my dear comrades in the hospital

I sit down this pleasant Sunday forenoon intending to write you all a good stout letter to try to amuse you as I am not able at present to visit you like I did—yet what I shall write about I hardly know until I get started—but my dear comrades I wish to help you pass away the time for a few minutes anyhow—I am now home at my mother's in Brooklyn N. Y.—I am in good health as ever and eat my rations without missing one time—Lew I wish you was here with me, and I wish my dear comrade Elijah Fox in ward G was here with me—but perhaps he is on his way to Wisconsin—Lewy I came through from Washington to New York by day train, 2nd Nov. had a very pleasant trip, everything went lovely, and I got home in the evening between 8 and 9—Next morning I went up to the polls bright and early—I suppose it is not necessary to tell you how I voted—we have gained a great victory in this city—it went union this time, though it went democratic strong only a year ago, and for many years past—and all through the State the election was a very big thing for the union—I tell you the copperheads got flaxed out handsomely—indeed these late elections are about as great a victory for us as if we had flaxed General Lee himself, and all his men—and so for personal good will I feel as if I could have more for Lee or any of his fighting men, than I have for the northern copperheads—Lewy I was very glad to get your letter of the 5th—I want you to tell Oscar Cunningham in your ward that I sent him my love and he must try to keep up good courage while he is confined there with his wound. Lewy I want you to give my love to Charley Cate and all the boys in ward K, and to Benton if he is there still—I wish you would go in ward C and see James O. Stilwell, and also Thomas Carson in

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 102] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
same ward, and Chambers that lays next to him, and tell them I sent them my love. Give Carson this letter to read if he wishes it. Tell James Stilwell I have writ from here to his folks in Comac L I, and it may be I shall go down there next week, on the L I railroad; and let him have this letter to read if he wishes it. Tell Manvill Winterstein that lays next to him in ward C that I send him my love, and I hope his wound is healing good. Lew I wish you to go in ward B and tell a young cavalry man, his first name is Edwin, he is wounded in the right arm, that I send him my love, and on the opposite side a young man wounded in the right knee, and also a young man named Charley wounded in left hand, and Jennings and also a young man I love that lays now up by the door just above Jennings, that I sent them all my love. So Lew you see I am giving you a good round job, with so many messages—but I want you to do them all dear son, and leave my letter with each of the boys that wish it, to read for themselves—tell Miss Gregg in ward A that I send my love to Pleasant Barley, if he is still there, and if so I hope it be God's will that he will live and get strong to go home yet—I send my love to little Billy the Ohio boy in ward A, and to Miss Gregg herself—and if Miss Doolittle is in ward B, please ask her to tell the boys in the ward I sent them my love, and to her too, and give her this letter some evening to read to the boys, and one of these days I will come back and read to them myself—and the same to Mrs. Southwick in ward H, if she wishes to read it to the boys for my sake. Lew I wish you would go in ward G and find a very dear friend of mine in bed 11, Elijah D. Fox if he is still there. Tell him I sent him my best love and that I made reckoning of meeting him again, and that he must not forget me, though that I know he never will—I want to hear how he is, and whether he has got his papers through yet—Lewy I wish you would go to him first and let him have this letter to read if he is there—Lewy I would like you to give my love to a young man named Burns in ward I, and to all the boys

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 103] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
in ward I,—and indeed in every ward, from A to K inclusive, and all through the hospital, as I find I cannot particularize without being tedious—so I send my love sincerely to each and all, for every sick and wounded soldier is dear to me as a son or brother, and furthermore every man that wears the union uniform and sticks to it like a man, is to me a dear comrade, and I will do what I can for him though it may not be much—and I will add that my mother and all my folks feel just the same about it, and would show it by their words too when they can—


Well, dear comrades, what shall I tell you to pass away the time? I am going around quite a great deal, more than I really desire to. Two or three nights ago I went to the N Y Academy of Music, to the Italian opera. I suppose you know that is a performance, a play, all in music and singing, in the Italian language, very sweet and beautiful. There is a large company of singers and a large band, altogether two or three hundred. It is a splendid great house, four or five tiers high, and a broad parquette on the main floor. The opera here now has some of the greatest singers in the world—the principal lady singer (her name is Medori) has a voice that would make you hold your breath with wonder and delight—it is like a miracle—no mocking bird or clearest flute can begin with it—and besides she is a tall and handsome lady, and her actions are so graceful as she moves about the stage, playing her part. Boys, I must tell you just one scene in the opera I saw—things have worked so in the piece that this lady is compelled, although she tries very hard to avoid it, to give the cup of poisoned wine to her lover—the king her husband forces her to do it—she pleads hard, but her husband threatens to take both their lives (all this is in the singing and music, very fine)—so the lover is brought in as a prisoner, and the king pretends to pardon him and make up, and asks the young man to drink a cup of wine, and orders the lady to pour it out. The lover drinks it, then the king gives her and him a look, and walks off

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 104] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
the stage. And now came as good a piece of performance as I ever saw in my life. The lady as soon as she saw that her husband was really gone, she sprang to her lover, clutched him by the arm, and poured out the greatest singing you ever heard—it poured like a raging river more than anything else I could compare it to—she tells him he is poisoned—he tries to inquire &c and hardly knows what to make of it—she breaks in trying to pacify him, and explain &c—all this goes on very rapid indeed, and the band accompanying—she quickly draws out from her bosom a little vial, to neutralize the poison, then the young man in his desperation abuses her and tells her perhaps it is to poison him still more as she has already poisoned him once—this puts her in such an agony, she begs and pleads with him to take the antidote at once before it is too late—her voice is so wild and high it goes through one like a knife, yet it is delicious—she holds the little vial to his mouth with one hand and with the other springs open a secret door in the wall for him to escape from the palace—he swallows the antidote, and as she pushes him through the door, the husband returns with some armed guards, but she slams the door to, and stands back up against the door, and her arms spread wide open across it, one fist clenched, and her eyes glaring like a wildcat, so they dare not touch her—and that ends the scene. Comrades, recollect all this is in singing and music, and lots of it too, on a big scale, in the band, every instrument you can think of, and the best players in the world, and sometimes the whole band and the whole men's chorus and the women's chorus all putting on the steam together—and all in a vast house, light as day, and with a crowded audience of ladies and men. Such singing and strong rich music always give me the greatest pleasure—and so the opera is the only amusement I have gone to, for my own satisfaction, for last ten years.


But my dear comrades I will now tell you something about my own folks—home here there is quite a lot of us—my father is not living—my dear mother is very well indeed

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 105] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
for her age, which is 67—she is cheerful and hearty and still does all her light housework and cooking—She never tires of hearing about the soldiers, and I sometimes think she is the greatest patriot I ever met, one of the old stock—I believe she would cheerfully give her life for the union, if it would avail anything—and the last mouthful in the house to any union soldier that needed it—then I have a very excellent sister-in-law,—she has two fine young ones—so I am very happy in the women and family arrangements. Lewy, the brother I mentioned as sick, lives near here, he is very poorly indeed, and I fear will never be much better—he too was a soldier, has for several months had throat disease—he is married and has a family—I believe I have told you of still another brother in the army, down in the 9th Army Corps, has been in the service over two years, he is very rugged and healthy—has been in many battles, but only once wounded, at first Fredericksburg.




Monday forenoon November 9.

Dear comrades as I did not finish my letter yesterday afternoon, as I had many friends come and see me, I will finish it now—the news this morning is that Meade is shoving Lee back upon Richmond and that we have already given the rebs some hard knocks there on the old Rappahannock fighting ground. O I do hope the Army of the Potomac will at last gain a first-class victory, for they have had to retreat often enough, and yet I believe a better Army never trod the earth than they are and have been for over a year.

Well dear comrades it looks so different here in all this mighty city, everything going with a big rush and so gay, as if there was neither war nor hospitals in the land. New York and Brooklyn appear nothing but prosperity and plenty. Everywhere carts and trucks and carriages and vehicles on the go, loaded with goods, express wagons, omnibuses, cars, etc—thousands of ships along the wharves, and the piers piled high, where they are loading or unload-

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 106] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
ing the cargoes—all the stores crammed with everything you can think of, and the markets with all sorts of provisions—tens and hundreds of thousands of people everywhere, the population is 1,500,000—almost everybody well-drest, and appearing to have enough—then the splendid river and harbor here, full of ships, steamers, sloops, &c—then the great street Broadway, for four miles, one continual jam of people, and the great magnificent stores all along on each side, and the show windows filled with beautiful and costly goods—I never saw the crowd thicker nor such goings on and such prosperity—and as I passed through Baltimore and Philadelphia it seemed to be just the same. I am quite fond of crossing on the Fulton ferry, or South ferry, between Brooklyn and New York, on the big handsome boats. They run continually day and night. I know most of the pilots, and I go up on deck and stay as long as I choose. The scene is very curious and full of variety. The shipping along the wharves looks like a forest of bare trees. Then there are all classes of sailing vessels and steamers, some of the grandest and most beautiful steamships in the world, going or coming from Europe, or on the California route, all these things on the move. As I sit up there in the pilot house I can see everything, and the distant scenery, and away down toward the sea, and Fort Lafayette &c. The ferry boat has to pick its way through the crowd. Often they hit each other, then there is a time—


My loving comrades, I am scribbling all this in my room in my mother's house. It is Monday forenoon—I have now been home about a week in the midst of relations, and many friends, many young men some I have known from childhood, many I love very much, I am out quite a good deal, as we are glad to be with each other—they have entertainments &c. But truly my dear comrades I never sit down, not a single time, to the bountiful dinners and suppers to which I am taken in this land of wealth and plenty without feeling it would be such a comfort to all,

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 107] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
if you too my dear and loving boys could have each your share of the good things to eat and drink, and of the pleasure and amusement. My friends among the young men make supper parties, after which there is drinking &c: everything prodigal and first rate. One, Saturday night, and another last night—it is much pleasure, yet often in the midst of the profusion, the palatable dishes to eat, and the laughing and talking, and liquors &c my thoughts silently turn to Washington, to all who lie there sick and wounded, with bread and molasses for supper—


Lewy dear son I think I shall remain here ten or twelve days longer and then I will try to be with you once again. If you feel like it I would like to have you write me soon, tell me about the boys, especially James Stilwell, Pleasant Barley, Cunningham, and from the cavalry boy Edwin in ward B—tell me whether Elijah Fox in ward G has gone home—Lew when you write to Tom Sawyer you know what to say from me—he is one I love in my heart and always shall till death, and afterwards too—I wish you to tell a young man in ward D 2nd bed below the middle door, (his first name is Isaac, he is wounded in left leg, and it has had erysipelas) that I sent him my love and I wish him to have this letter to read if he desires it, and I will see him again before long.

So Lew I have given you a lot of messages but you can take your time to do them, only I wish each of the boys I have mentioned to have my letter that wishes it, and read it at leisure for themselves, and then pass it to another. If Miss Hill in ward F or the lady nurse in ward E cares about reading it to the boys in those wards for my sake, you give it them some evening, as I know the boys would like to hear from me, as I do from them.

Well Lewy I must bid you good bye for present dear son, and also to all the rest of my dear comrades, and I pray God to bless you my darling boys, and I send you all my love, and I hope it will be so ordered to let things go as easy as possible with all my dear boys wounded or sick,

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 108] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
and I hope it will be God's will that we shall all meet again my dear and loving comrades not only here but hereafter.


Walt Whitman.

Portland Avenue near Myrtle
Brooklyn New York.



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.