Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, November 18, 1888.

     12 A. M. Clifford preached at Unity Church this morning. We went to W.'s afterwards. Harned along. W. seemingly in fine condition. Talked well—cheerfully. As we went in H. said, pushing C. ahead (W. shaking hands heartily with him): " Here 's a man, Walt, who's been taking your name in vain." Clifford had quoted Voting Day in his sermon. W. retorted: "Let him fire ahead: that 's what I 'm here for—to be whacked away at."

     We stayed there twenty or twenty-five minutes. Talking not active on W.'s part—questioning, mostly. He asked about the weather. "Is it colder than yesterday?" Fire burned cheerfully in stove—wood flaming up. W. looked fine—spruced: wore his dark gray pantaloons: clean shirt, spotless ruffles folded back over the sleeves of his coat: hair flowing: complexion pale pink—not Eakins-like. Somehow we drifted into anecdotes of Lincoln, W. showing great interest, mainly in an interrogative direction. Clifford told three or four—two of them, as W. said, "perfectly new" to him, "but good, good—smacking of genuineness." Clifford also told a Josh Billings snake story which W. called "wonderfully apt" and said "has a moral too." Asked if he had been reading the paper. He said: "Somewhat." Had "laid The Press aside" to read Ingersoll's article on Robert Elsmere. Then he asked us: "Have you fellows read in The Press the decision of the Secretary of the Treasury—or Secretary of Something: it is about Zola: I can't tell just what to make of it: it seems important." Harned asked: "Are they to rule Zola out?" W. said: "It looks like it: it looks that way." Thought it "a question that should be seriously weighed." He himself knew what it was to suffer from orders on high."

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Clifford referred to Oliver Stevens (O'Connor immortalizing him, etc.), explaining that S. had been his (C.'s) "parishioner" in New England. W. asked: "What put that maggot in his brain?" Clifford then entering upon some description of Stevens' personality. W. said: "My friends there—I think Kennedy for one—say he was put up to it—that there was more in the case than any of us knew." Clifford suggested: "If that is so, won't it all come out some day?" W. said: "I don't know." Asking meanwhile one thing and another about Stevens' make-up.

     One of Sidney's paintings on the mantel attracted Clifford's attention. He asked about it: found it was Morse's. Then ensued talk of pictures about the walls. I brought another of Morse's canvases from the room back. "Seven months ago—more than that, now—I expected to kick the bucket: got ready for it: had Morse make these for my sisters." Harned remarked: "After all, Walt, Morse seems to be the only feller of the lot who understands you." W. asked: "Do you think so? do you think them good?" Then: "I should n't wonder." Pointing to one of the pictures: "He had an odd pit of canvas there—thought he would fill it up in that way. The thing about them all which strikes me most forcibly is, that they are all mere flashes—rough glimpses—throwings off of half an hour's labor to fill in time." Why do the academic men fail to catch W.? "These fellows are not for us: we cannot accept them: yet I always argue that the Lord includes them, therefore should we: all these men, these things, have their place." Something was said of Matthew Arnold. "It is a great comfort for me to think that the Lord finds a place for them all: and if the Lord can afford to do so, so can we—and not stand off and be critical. We must have the bedbug, the rat, the flea: they all have their places."

     Clifford picked up the Epictetus: saw the inscription T. W. H. inside: did not notice the Rolleston that followed: said: "Ah! Higginson has been sending you something!"

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W. was amused. "No: Higginson would send me nothing: he thinks I am a bad egg." Speaking of Morse's big Emerson at Harned's W. said he would "be up" to see it "some day"—which indicates a real desire to get out. "I'll get a low carriage—get Ed to help me: so will manage." Spoke here of Ed's willingness and capacity. His health, he said, was "pretty good," adding: "I have had a good breakfast—buckwheat cakes and coffee." W. spoke of politics. "Don't it strike you fellows that our politics have got to such a pass that it seems all and only disturbance, confusion—merely that?" Clifford repeated some individualistic things he had said at a meeting of his church Friday. W. said, raising his finger with a twinkle in his eye: "Don't be too deadset on that: be individualistic, be individualistic, be not too damned individualistic." Clifford applauded. Harned said: "Walt, that 's profane: you will have to be suppressed." W. going on to say "No doubt of it: I should have been incarcerated long ago: ask Oliver Stevvens!" Harned expressed his distrust of a direct vote for President. Believed in the electoral college. " That 's what I say, too, Tom: it is better as it is." Then turning to Clifford: "You and I are probably extreme: we have too much impatience of restraint: we brush it nearly all aside," &c.

     I found an old pamphlet nearly destroyed under W.'s rocker. Picked it up. "What is it?" It proved to be a copy of Democratic Vistas (edition 1871). W. said to me: "Take it along—keep it: but why should n't you have another copy?—a perfect copy? It is changed, you will find, in later editions." Then, however: "No—take this as a curio: it is well to have that just as it is." Then wrote in it with blue pencil: "Horace Traubel from Walt Whitman Nov: 18 '88." Again said: "Burroughs don't agree with us about Arnold: we had a little fencing about Arnold when John was here: he was very fully convinced that Arnold had his place: that we should accept

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him—not above his value, neither for less."
Allusion was made to two of the railroad stations in Germantown—Wingohocking, Tulpehocken. "They are beautiful names," said W.: "they should be kept: they have some reasons for being." Again: "Why should we give up the native for borrowed names? Down in this country—right here, near us—there was a place called Longacoming: the name was fine, fine—the mere sound of it: yet they got it into their fat heads that the name was not satisfactory: they met, put the old name aside for a new name: changed Longacoming to Berlin: oh God!"

     8 P. M. W. reading The Critic when I entered. Was bright. I had brought The Bookbuyer along. He was at once verbal over Mrs. Ward's picture. "Well—if she is as attractive in her own person as this picture is to the eye, she may be considered fortunate indeed." The engraving itself attracted him. Afterwards turned to the portrait of Margaret Deland in the same magazine. It did not so greatly "charm" him. "Yet," he said: "we know how much little accidents do to make or mar a picture." He spoke of Mrs. Ward's "great grace." I asked: "Do you like the neck free?" He laughed. "I don't know: I like that." Farther on there was a picture of Edward Lear. He remarked nothing: looked at it quietly—was about to pass it. I asked: "What do you know about Edward Lear?" "Nothing at all," he answered. Beyond that was still another portrait: Franklin: the fur-cap portrait. "Very good!" he cried. And as he looked farther: "Even the printing of this has an attraction. There is one thing these publishers are determined to do: each one must have a book review." Asked me to leave the periodical. He knew I was going to Philadelphia. Gave me a letter to mail to The Critic and a paper for Capt. R. SA. Rayner, Doylestown. Said he had sent The Press with other papers out to the Asylum this evening. "I send a bundle every Sunday." Then referred to The Critic matter: "That envelope contains a proof. The little piece turned up to-day with this

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letter from Joe Gilder"
—handing me the following, which I read:


New York, 17th Nov., '88.

Dear Mr. Whitman:

I was particularly delighted to receive the enclosed communication as an indication of your being in a tolerable state of health. Would that you were in, or nearer, New York, that your many friends here might see more of you!

Always sincerely yours

Joseph B. Gilder.


     At the remark, "if you but lived near," &c. I looked up. " You 're not sorry you don't?" W. had been regarding me and with a laugh: said: " That 's what I was about to say: I am well content to be here: I am like the old lady (you have heard the story of the old lady?) who said—I think that 's the way it runs: 'I know the argument is true but I am of the same opinion still': I am of the same opinion still of John Gilder—of the New York fellows." Then he followed the matter up: "Keep the letter: keep what I say to yourself: it is mine, yours: let it stay so." As to The Critic piece he said again as he had said before: "It is nothing: I sent it because it was in my head and they asked for it."

     W. spoke of Knortz. "There is something suspicious about his silence: I wrote to him about Rolleston's translations: he never sent any word in return: I should write again. Knortz was himself part translator: I thought it would please him to know." Hunter was in "not staying long," as Mrs. Davis said. Everybody remarked W.'s remarkably good appearance to-day. Clifford asked: "Why should n't he live to be eighty?" This was on the way to Harned's, where we went for dinner. Toasted Walt at the table. Clifford asked me to-day how the Emerson letter came to be published. I answered: "Through Dana," but was not able to give the particulars. W. gave me a detailed

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account of it this evening. "You were right, he said: "it was Dana: Dana was city editor of the New York Tribune at the time: the letter was known, had been shown about. I met Dana one day: he had heard of the letter: asked me to let him have it, use it." W. continued after a stop: "I objected when he said, 'why not? you might just as well—in fact I think you ought.'" W. said he had "said finally, well, don't take it for granted yet: hold it open: let it go for a day or two: we 'll see each other again. That 's where the matter was left—just there. I did see him in a week or two—gave him the letter: he used it." I asked: "Did Emerson object at that time?" "Never a word—not even the hint of a word." I suggested: "Nobody objected then except those who would object to the letter itself?" He repeated: "Emerson did not object: nobody who might have objected did object: only the enemies, the fault-finders, who designed to sweep me off the boards at all hazards." After a pause as if to reassure himself: "I think that is the whole story of the publication."

     General talk of Emerson's position as towards W. Had Emerson recanted? W. did not believe it. "All the evidences, the intimations, are the other way, so far as they exist at all." Clifford asked to-day: "Why did n't Emerson put himself on record when Walt was under fire?" I had answered for myself: "I suppose Emerson thought: Whitman is a great character: he needs no defence: I ask no defence for myself, why should he?" W. thought me probably right. "But," he added, " there 's more to be said again: it is to be remembered that for years there I was alone, isolated, friendless—the burden, like the handle of the pitcher, all on one side." Leaving it to be implied that Emerson might have done what he did n't do. "Yet" W. had not "the suspicion of a suspicion of Emerson." "He was wrestled with, fought with, argued with, by the whole claque of them—the Boston second, third, raters, at him: of that there can be no doubt: the circumstances do not show a surrender—even a yielding or show of

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yielding."
I asked if he did not look upon Emerson's lasting personal regard (undoubtedly made plain always) as proving something? "Yes, I have no reason to question it: but better than all that—than anything else—seems the word of my friend Milnes—Richard Moncton Milnes—brought here that time. You have heard me tell of it? It seemed intended for me—lugged in, if I may say it, simply to be said by him and heard by me, to satisfy a deep sense of emotionality, camaraderie." W. was sure that Milnes had "faithfully conserved his mission." He said: "The world now can have no idea of the bitterness of the feeling against me in those early days. I was a tough—obscene: indeed, it was my obscenity, libidinousness, all that, upon which they made up their charges." He repeated the story of the nobleman whom Lowell turned back. "He came over here with a letter of introduction from some man of high standing in England—Rossetti, William Rossetti, I guess"—but correcting himself after a pause: "No—not Rossetti: it could not have been Rossetti: some other. There was the Cambridge dinner: there were many of the swell fellows present: the man I speak of was the principal guest. In the course of their dinner he mentioned his letter to me. Lowell, who had had a couple of glasses of wine—was flushed—called out: 'What! a letter for Walt Whitman! For God Almighty's sake don't deliver it! Walt Whitman! Do you know who Walt Whitman is? Why—Walt Whitman is a rowdy, a New York tough, a loafer, a frequenter of low places—friend of cab drivers!'—and all that." "Words like those, W. said, when the passion was blown over (he had been powerfully contemptuous in stating himself): "The note was never delivered." He had learned of the incident "from one who was present—was friendly—did not share Lowell's feeling." He said O'Connor had spoken of it, "but only by way of allusion." "But O'Connor knows all about it—made some detailed note of it at once—a note probably lost now, as so many thing have been, must be." W. added that when I met O'Connor

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I should "have him unbosom on this subject: he is never extra anxious to unbosom but will do so, caught in the right mood: he knows all about it: no one else knows it so fully. This incident contained in essence the spirit of the opposition at one time omnipotent." Was "sure Emerson never yielded to it but he must have had it dinned into his ears." "We were much apart—separated completely: I went down to Washington, to the War: Emerson was in the North: years passed and we did not meet."

     I quoted Clifford as speaking of the greatness of O'Connor's letters. W said: "They are indeed all we can say of them: I cannot think of another man living who could have written any letters so significant." He felt that O'Connor took L. of G. "not of an isolated fact but as a fact related to all other facts: he looked upon it as a new dispensation, an avatar, an incarnation." L. of G. "was not a literary but a historic, a human, fact." O'Connor took the largest view. "Shakespeare was to him an era—only to be studied in that light." "The meanings of Leaves of Grass" could only be read "in the meanings of its age." "Bucke seems to think O'Connor dwelt too much on extraneous matters." W. said: "They are not extraneous: they all have a place: I think William was justified in all he did." But then: "After saying that I could say, there 's more yet—much more—to be said." As I was leaving (starting up right after this talk about O'Connor) W. reached to the table and picked something up to hand to me. "It is one of William's letters," he explained, "one of the best: full of fire—direct, explicit—with the usual tremendous vehemence back of it sending it along like a fierce storm. William resembles a natural law: he is beyond appeal: he delivers himself without apologies: he kills and saves, mercilessly, gently. Take the letter along: we 'll talk about it a bit to-morrow: not to-night: I 've about talked myself out to-night." I did not read the letter till I got home.


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Washington, D. C., July 12, 1883.

Dear Walt:

I have been so ill, and so burdened with the office charge, being scarcely able to hold my head up, that I have too long kept your Critic article, which I return. It is splendid. What other American poet has earned, or will ever earn, the proud distinction of having an article upon him, like Dr. Popoff's, suppressed by the knout-empire!

Did you note how the N. Y. Post (same as The Nation) in itemizing the article, took out its essential features? Contemptible wretches. There was a vile review of Bucke's book in The Nation of [June] July 26. I did not see it until this week, and have sent a reply—quiet but scathing—which I hope may get into print. As for Mathilde Blind's (Blinnd, they pronounce it, as rhyming with dinned,) report of George Eliot's attitude toward L. of G., it is a precious war-weapon when you consider the immense estimation in which George Eliot is held, especially by the enemy (an undue estimation, though she certainly was a woman of genius). It is high jinks for us when she, whom they are even ranking with Shakespeare, should put L. of G. among the few good modern books she read, and declare that she found it "good for her soul!" This must be wormwood to some of our moral literary ghosts—ghosts, indeed, since they have, if you 'll believe them, got rid of their bodies before death—who are always retching over L. of G., and purring like cats over Adam Bede and Middlemarch. A careful advertisement ought to be prepared for McKay, giving a few of the best opinions on L. of G., with this prominent among them. The effect would be considerable. How poor Sidney Lanier would wince over this testimony! He had a savage (and silly) attack on you in his lectures, coupled with sky-falutin eulogy of George Eliot. To see his idol prostrate in worship before his béte noir, would have been a stinger. But, rest his soul! he 's dead, and gone where he knows what an ass he made of himself.

I have just read Specimen Days, and seen the splendid compliment you pay me. To be remembered in connection

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with Ossian and on an Ossianic night, is the highest tribute possible.


The book is all sweet and sane and immortal. When I get well (I am slowly mending) I am going to read it carefully and slowly—not, as now, with a weak and whirling head. I noticed on page 317 what seemed a plate breakage—NOTES LEFT OVER—"ovep" for "over."

Apropos of corrections, I wish, if Bucke's book comes to a second edition, that you would substitute something else for the facsimile piece about Garfield's assassination. First, because, despite the poor fellow's horrible death, he does not deserve such commemoration. Garfield was a bad fellow. I knew him well. He was one of the worst types of an intriguing politician—personally and politically base. His death has canonized him, although the glamor is fading. Any knowing politician, who will be confidential with you, will tell you that Dorsey's allegations are strictly true. Three or four of them, I myself know to be true. A second reason for suppressing the piece, or relegating it to a back seat, is that the first line—"the sobbing of the bells"—is one of Edgar Poe's best-known verses, original with him, too. You will find it in The Bells.

I got the twenty-five copies from McKay, and will settle soon.

I have found that the "office editor" of the N. A. Review is named Metcalf. As ill luck would have it, he is away, as Rice is. I have an article there which I am anxious to get published, but fear they will reject. Grant White had a dastardly mass of lies and perversion in The Atlantic in April anent of Mrs. Pott's publication of Bacon's Promus—an anti-Shakespeare document—which hurt the book immensely, and my article is a reply in which I take Mr. White's hide off, and "hang the calf-skin on his recreant limbs." Although Rice welcomes both sides, the Shakespeare prejudice is so strong, that I am afraid of not getting a hearing, and I wanted to make things even by bringing a little influence to bear on the office editor, in Rice's absence.

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I am glad you stand so well in Rice's favor, though I am surprised he should have rejected your Carlyle article, which seems to me so rich and grant.


I wrote to Montgomery by the way of attaching him, and had a very cordial and friendly reply. He had lots of talent, but a vicious way of temporizing—qualifying his statements—which he ought to get over. His letter, too, gave me an unpleasant impression of pertness and conceit. I fear he is an ineradicable sophomore, but he is friendly to us and we need friends.

I wrote to Sloane Kennedy, and had a fine reply. He is a good fellow.

Your Santa Fé letter is superb. It strikes a great chord. I have long looked with distrust on the Spanish boojum manufactured for us. After all, the true Spain—the real, essential Castilian spirit—is in Cervantes. Surely, it is not dark and cruel there. À propos, here 's a nice little fact. The Spanish Inquisition, according to the indictment of its deadliest enemy, its secretary, Llorente, destroyed in four hundred years, thirty thousand people. The whole Protestant world howls and roars, properly enough, over this dreadful record. Yes—but in the single reign of Henry VIII, Defender of the Faith and typical Protestant, according to Lord Chief Justice Campbell, a Protestant and a Scotsman, there were seventy-two thousand people who suffered blood and violent deaths! It is funny that History shrieks over the thirty thousand it took four hundred years for the Inquisition to destroy, and is quite mum over the seventy-two thousand who perished in the single reign of the English Bluebeard. "Give a dog a bad name." Good bye.

Faithfully,

W. D. O'Connor



Washington, July 20, 1883.

Dear Walt:

I am only succeeded to-day in getting The Critic of June 16th, for which Brentano's sent for me, and find that the item I copied into my letter was drawn therefrom.

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The article is very interesting. See what that cursed knout-empire does for praising a free book!


I hope you 'll get a copy of The Russian Magazine.

W. D. O'C.



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