Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 7] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Friday, November 2, 1888.

     8 P.M. W. reading Pepacton—rather lazily. "I see little in it to hold me: but I had a little notion towards it: I have John humors when I pick up his books and browse with him for a while." Looked pretty well. Yet said in reply to my question: "I can say I am here—little else, nothing else." Sat up near the light: no fire: the evening warmer, as the day had been: the stars out: a touch almost of something that felt like Indian summer. W. particularly interested as always in the state of things outdoors. Questioned me: "Where have you been? What have you been doing?" and so on. Gets great pleasure out of my recital of average experiences—particularly street incidents: likes me to tell him about people I meet—particularly everyday people. "At last and for good I 'm penned up here," said W. He said again: "We hear nothing but politics—cheap politics: cheap and nasty politics: a wearying platitudinous wrangle of politics: with hardly a sincere note anywhere to relieve the tedium of corruption." I showed him The Bulletin of Tuesday containing a review of November Boughs. W. read it while I stood looking

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 8] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
over his shoulder. "It is kindly," he said— "very kindly: and that is much." Then he added: "Be sure you send the paper to Doctor: he goes wild if he misses a single sliver—he is deadset for curios." Stopping a minute. "The Doctor must have a curious collection: I wonder what it 's all for? I have also sent Doctor a copy of The Transcript in which I found a bit of something which might go into his portfolio." He said again: "That Bulletin fellow does one thing for us—he don't say we are sick. I want the book to be taken on its merits: if it 's a sick book I don't want it excused." "Your being a sick man wouldn't excuse a sick book." " That 's just it: exactly: I want to last whole—don't want to go out piecemeal." I showed W. a letter which I received to-day:


Richfield Springs, N. Y., Oct. 31, 1888.

I am illustrating E. C. Stedman's Poets of America, and in it I find mention made of a portrait of Walt Whitman; the one which was in his Leaves of Grass, first edition, and also, I think, in the two volume Centennial edition. I am anxious to get a copy of this portrait, and Mr. Stedman suggests that I may do so through you. Will you kindly inform me whether or no a copy is obtainable, and, if obtainable, the price?

Yours respectfully,

William H. Blauvelt.


     After reading the note W. said: "This means the Linton cut or the steel"—then, as he looked again: "No—it means the steel—it could mean no other: there was no other in that edition"—continuing: "Well—send him the steel. I wonder anyhow why he chose that picture: I wonder: I wonder." He looked at the postmark: "Richfield Springs: ah! I know: the name is familiar: it suggests tone—it is the place for the eight and ten dollars a day fellows: not the ten cents a meal fellows like us:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 9] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
no, not us."
He asked me about my reading. I mentioned Robert Elsmere and happened to quote the opinion of some one who put Mrs. Ward in the same class as George Eliot. W. exclaimed: "Ah! that 's the woman!—George Eliot! I keep right on reading the book you brought me: I want to read it all: I get more and more interested in her: she was quite the cutest of all women: I have read German Life, Heine, Young—more, too, than them: I can't tell which piece I most like—whether I don't like them all equally well." Then after a pause: "I never supposed George Eliot capable of saying so many good things." I referred to The Impressions of Theophrastus Such. He said: "I think I must have read them—there is an old ring to the name"—then pausing: "Let me see"—putting his finger up against his forehead as if to cudgel his brains—breaking out again finally: "After all, I guess not, Horace: I can hardly have seen the book: I must have taken some one name from another: anyhow, bring the book along: I would like to see it." Talked now and then in a pathetic, hungry way about his friends. "No word from Morse yet: poor Morse! I wonder where he is now? And not a word from John! Oh! I need the fellows—they feed me: lying in here, cribbed here, they are sustenance, life to me. I am sorry for myself when I think how little John writes me nowadays." Then he handed me an O'Connor note with an enclosure. "Look at them," he said: "sit right where you are—read them." I took the letters. Here they are:


Washington, D. C., Nov. 1, 1888.

Dear Walt:

I was so impressed with the letter Mr. Stetson wrote a year ago about the calendar that I got Grace to send it to me from California, and enclose you a copy, thinking you might like to see it. You can return it sometime, as I have sent back the original. It does not say much, to be sure, and makes me long for such a mind to do the calendar. Don't you think so?


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 10] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The eye is as bad as ever and I see with difficulty. Good bye.

Always faithfully,

W. D. O'C.



Providence, R. I., 27th July, 1887.

Dear Miss Channing:

Yours of the 17th came yesterday. I am glad indeed to have such definite information as to what you do not want the calendar to be. I was never so at a loss for an appropriate design, probably because of the greatness of Whitman, of whom I think more highly, and probably more truly, each time I renew my reading.

My idea thus far for a cheap calendar is a nearly square card large enough to hold the three and one-half by four inch days, and a photogravure in some warm tint of the head of the poet, surrounded by a sort of wreath of lilac leaves and pine (with cones and needles of course). I am convinced that pine and lilac are the keynote of the poetry. Then I thought that at the sides I could faintly—I mean delicately—indicate the evolution out of mortality to life that is so strong a feature in many of the poems, by a half-buried inoffensive skull, out of which—or rather the surface of which—merges the "leaves of grass," with their seeds, perhaps. I 'm afraid that will seem to you rather ghastly, but it would not be as I should do it. If there is any one thing that the poems suggest to me, it is the permanent change of all things, but always towards life. Things die constantly, but only to give energy to life by the nourishment of the living. I cannot see any simpler way to express it than by the accepted emblem of death out of which grows grass that so pleases him. I should dearly like to work in something expressive of the enormous sympathy he has with the earth, air, and water, but I confess myself unable to see how to do it in one card with any degree of simplicity and expressiveness.


     I had read most of the letter aloud. I stopped at this place. W. said: "Stetson goes on in detail: do you know

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 11] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
him? He is the painter—the portrait artist: enjoys quite a fame. There 's a line or so at the bottom—farther on: you will like to see it."
I looked and repeated this: "I have a horror of the cheap imitation of missal painting that has been in vogue." W. interrupted me: "So have I: I always want the real thing even if it 's real bad." Then he added: "But I am always asking myself about all that calendar business—what's the use? I can't see that it leads to anything worth while: but I 'm not responsible for it: I wash my hands of it." W. also gave me a Bucke letter. He said: "O'Connor writes on the whole as if he was on the mend"—then, after a pause: "I have hoped you would meet him: he has been here several times—yes, I think once when Sidney was here: but I feel dubious: I don't like the look of things: I 'm afraid he 'll never be here again."

     I had been to a committee meeting of the Contemporary Club. Gave W. a message from Coates. "Coates is always cheerful, encouraging, gentle. He struck me as that sort of a man: and comfortable, too: perhaps too comfortable—perhaps with a little too big pocket book, God help 'im!" I said to Brinton at the meeting: "Walt has a thorough liking for you." Brinton replied: "I take that as a great honor—a fact to cherish." I quoted this now to W. who said: "Yes, I like him: yet when you tell me of his self congratulation I recall a little story told of Oscar Wilde when he was in this country—in Boston, at some drawing room reception. Wilde said to those there—said it gravely, I think—(at least, I have taken it gravely): 'If I may presume to speak for them—to include myself among them—I should say, it is not your praise, your laudations, that we, the poets, seek, but your comprehension—your recognition of what we stand for and what we effect.'" I drifted into fuller details of my talk with Brinton. "Brinton is simple, candid, forceful, and never flatters: it 's your significance that Brinton first and last of all realizes: he is scientific: he never talks of things he has not examined and never acquiesces in things he does not approve of." W.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 12] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
smiled and said: "Amen! Amen! that sounds something like: I see: I see: Brinton is the genuine article—is the typical scientist: in the best of them that spirit is beautiful indeed: the fact, the fact, the divine fact! that 's what they're after."

     I read this out of Bucke's letter: "In the afternoon came McKay's November Boughs—for which many thanks. I like it well, and if I had not seen the other should have thought it quite perfect. As it is like YOUR November Boughs with the limp covers the best." But W. shook his head: "But mine was not the best: Maurice likes what I do when I do not like what I do myself." Bucke said this about the change in nurses: "Horace tells me that Musgrove is to leave on Sunday or Monday morning. I have written Ed Wilkins and will have him leave here by 11.40 train Sunday morning. He will reach Philadelphia about 8 A. M. Monday." This seemed to make W. serious. Yet he said: "I guess the shift on the whole will be welcome: no doubt the time has come for it." He put his name on a copy of the title page medallion. "Give it to Acton," he said. Acton is Bilstein's proof-reader. He had expressed himself as "a Whitmanite." W. said: "Give him that: give him that for me. I still find in myself that simple childlike instinct which says, I like you because you like me." And he said further: "I have a great emotional respect for the background people—for the folks who are not generally included—for the absentees, the forgotten: the shy nobodies who in the end are the best of all." A letter was handed him by Mrs. Davis. It had been left by someone at the door. "It is from Hunter: he is better: he says he hopes to get up in person on Sunday to report: he says he has suffered greatly from a boil." W. then added in a laughing way: " It 's always a boil or something: we're all in for it more or less: no one is exempt." W. referred in this way to the two O'Connor letters in Bucke's book: "I think one is as good as the other—they are alike in quality—in power—in immense impetuosity." He asked me as I was leaving: "Well: how do our book affairs get along?"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 13] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
He always says our and we. I told him I had taken the original of the title page to Wescott and Thompson to-day for their second trial of an electro.


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.