Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, November 20, 1888.

     7.15 P. M. W. writing a postal. Shook hands, then went on writing. Ed in the meantime coming in and waiting. W. handed Ed two postals and two wrapped papers. Ed went to the post office. Spoke of his health—said that he still feels comparatively well. "Now for fourteen days, this has kept right on, without intermission, I may say." Returned me proof for Ferguson. "Eidôlons" had not been corrected. "It is not a matter of life and death," he said, "yet it must be done: we must insist on it." I heard from Kennedy to-day. W. read the note. Where K. says of Garland's Transcript piece that it was "very good indeed," W. put in: "That is what we say, too." Asked me then: " Did n't Garland say he had sent a paper to Burroughs?" He added after I had answered him: "I thought so: I had a paper made up to send to John: a note, too: thought, just at the last minute, of what Garland had said: so set to—addressed it to O'Connor."

     W. spoke of some rabid criticism of Leaves of Grass. "There was a time when I was inclined to reply to these charges, though I never did so: now I have not even the disposition to do so: have not had for years: I have felt that whatever is for a fellow worry is not for him:

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if I had n't observed this I would not be here to-day: you take some of the criticism harder than I would: yet I can understand—I have been there."
Suddenly he said to me: "I had another M. P. here to-day: came with a letter from Dowden—only a short note—simply introducing." W. handed me cards. One of them "Lewis Fry" and the other one bearing the names of his two daughters. He pointed to the girls' card. "That is an English kink: I wonder why they have n't adopted it here." W. went on: "I liked Fry and I liked his two daughters, too: fine looking, handsome, ruddy." Did they stay long? "Oh no—only a short time: Mrs. Davis brought up the cards." He smiled good humoredly. "The doctor's prohibition was explained to them—they observed it." Was Fry as interesting as Summers? "Quite: he talked like a house afire—altogether colloquially, however: he was so interesting I almost regretted the prohibition." Described Fry as "tall, rather slimmish: moustache: not at all John Bull in appearance, build. He seems to be a good Liberal." He told W. he "had been in Dublin—seen Dowden." Here W. commenced a fruitless search for a letter. "I wanted you to have it: I thought I had laid it on the corner of the chair there where I sometimes put your letters." Floor, table, chairs, boxes, turned over but no letter. "No matter," said W., "I will look for it again—keep it for you when it turns up. I gave him a book—one of Dave's copies—for Dowden. He said he would like to read it—was not going straight home. Would I grant him the privilege? I had not written in it: of course I said yes." I remarked: " He 'll find it worth while: the book pans out well with healthy strangers." W. looked pleased. "That is a good thing to hear—that is the test of a book: does it wear?" I said my question was: Do I want to go back to it? W. approving. "That is even better—that is final: there is nothing beyond that: I never heard it put more decisively."

     Dave had not seen The Transcript piece. Elizabeth Porter Gould wrote him about it. I promised him a paper: sent

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for several Saturday: not here yet. W spoke of Dave—his ability &c. I referred to his courtesies to me. W. said: "Yes, he wants to identify himself with the books he publishes—their writers. Some people accuse Dave of sharp practice: I do not: I have seen no evidence of it: he is close—but then that is the business man in him. He has done great work on the market this year with his Shakespeares, Peys, Emersons." W. after a pause asked: "Did he ever tell you anything about Brown—Charles Brockden Brown? Did the books go?" I answered no. McKay is reviving Brown. "Not that I take any interest in Brown: it is interesting to know if anybody else does—if that sort of work can still find a place." Had he read Brown? "I think I must have done so: I read a great deal in those early days: even The Mysteries of Udolpho—as bad as that!" My inquiry then was: "Then you don't like Brown?" "No. I am not averse to the rank, the crude: but Brown was too rank, too crude." Brown then was not a Cooper? He shook his head emphatically and said with a raised voice: "I should say not: not more than a molehill is a mountain, than disease is health!" Cooper "had immortal qualities." Undine he had read: "but that is of a higher order—a stroke of genius."

     He has been going over papers and manuscripts the past week. I asked if the Aaron Burr had yet turned up? "No," he said, "but I have my eye out sharply for it: it seems as if it must be there in the mix—yet so far I 've not come upon a trace of it. Some months ago, not long before I was taken sick, I sat down for an hour in the parlor there by the window—jotted down memoranda of Burr. Since that time I have missed the sheets: they got out of sight among other papers. It is nothing: it contributes nothing new: adds nothing to the stock of knowledge of Burr: yet it is a word, perhaps well said." He thought Burr "justly should be regarded as above the ordinary estimate of him" "the school book stories," as he called them. I thought there had been a reaction from them: yet they crop up again

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and again as if to say, 'Burr was a traitor and that 's the end of him.' But that is not the end of him: Burr was an able man—one of the great men of that day: he had his bad spots: in the turns and twists of life"
—W. indicating by a gesture of his right hand— "now and then a dark spot would appear: that spot has set itself in the public eye: that spot alone, as if there was nothing else: yet the man was mainly good, mostly noble." He did not think Burr "was worse than the average great man of his day: none of them will bear inspection: Franklin, Washington, Hamilton: subject them to the standards of our time: the nice standards: none of them would shine." I asked: "But you justify our standards?" "Yes, yes: but I mean, Burr should be judged by a standard applied to all, not to him alone. A century ago drunkedness was not necessarily a dereliction: now it means shame and reproach. Hamilton has come down to us almost deified: but was he exempt from criticism? Hamilton was an intellectualist: cold dispassionate, calculating: yet he was truly a patriot—performed no inconsiderable part in the consummation of the American revolt: but Hamilton was a monarchist: there was nothing in him to appeal to our democratic instincts—to the ideals we hold so dear to-day." Described Burr: "A little man: what some of us would call dudish in manners, dress"—yet "not in the least that in fact."

     W. was much stirred up. He said: "I had the most happy good luck in my early days to fall in with superior men—the higher man of that past era. I remember Colonel Fellows: you have heard me talk of him: one of the finest of them all. He had been a bosom friend of Paine in his last days—Paine's last days. How good the stories he told! how well reflecting things as they must have been!" W. said: "My father had been an acceptor of Paine: Paine had been much vilified." W. was quiet for awhile. "There has never been a life of Paine," he said: "anything tangible, real." I jokingly said: "That would be a job for me to take up." He seized the idea earnestly: surprised me with

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the vehemence of his assent. "Yes, it would: charge yourself with it: do it: it needs to be done." He was "familiar with Vaill's life, but that is merely a sketch." Then: "I knew Vaill personally: he had a little store in New York: was a mathematician, I think: something in the nautical way: a valuable rare old man to know. Take a man: take all sentiment, poetry, philosophy out of him: that is Vaill." Yet "Vaill was a hard nut"—that is to say, "was a character not to be trifled, ridiculed, away." Still the Paine story needed to be told. W. had read Ingersoll's lecture on Paine and "perhaps his reply to Dr. Prime": "but that was not enough—was polemical." As to W.'s Burr piece, "it is nothing in itself." I suggested: "But much as it reflects you." He said: "That may be: I know it is important to know a man's views, opinions, so we may know him." He still hoped "to come across the manuscript." "When I do you shall have it to read."

     Something was said about "nothing." W. broke in: "After all, nothing makes up a good deal of a man's life: these trifles are registers, explanations, confirming, justifying." I asked W. about Dana—Charles Dana. Was Dana always friendly? W. replied: "Yes: Dana wishes me well: The Sun always treats me well: Dana accepts me so far as it is safe to do so—keeps on the line of safety." Regarding Dowden's "Walt Whitman" on the outside of the envelope, W. said: "How alike is the writing of all the English professors." I mentioned the "great secret" this evening again. He grew grave at once. "Yes, it belongs to you: you are entitled to know it: some day: some day soon." I laughingly replied: "Maybe it 's like the Diplomatic Secret: the secret being that there is no secret." He shook his head, but was very quiet for a bit. "There is a secret: you will sometimes see that there is a secret." That was all.

     W. had another letter for me. He picked it up from the accustomed place on the table. " It 's from Rossetti," he said: " I 've been reading it over: William Rossetti: full

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of wise beautiful things—overflowing with genial winsome good will: you 'll feel its treasurable quality."
I sat there and read. He said: "Read it aloud: I can easily enjoy it again." When I got to the passage describing the walks W. interrupted me: "Oh! that 's so fine—so fine, fine, fine: he brings back my own walks to me: the walks alone: the walks with Pete: the blessed past undying days: they make me hungry, tied up as I am now and for good in a room: hungry: hungry. Horace, do you sometimes feel the earth hunger? the desire for the dirt? to get out doors, into the woods, on the roads? to roll in the grass: to cry out: to play tom fool with yourself in the free fields? do you feel that, Horace? If you do—O yes! I know you do—then you too can understand what Rossetti means—can understand the open air things that I have tried to set forth in Specimen Days." I went on reading, still aloud, and he listened, with his hand back of his ear, to every word: listened and spoke about what he heard. He must have broken in upon me twenty times:


56 Euston Sq., N. W., 31 March.

My dear Mr. Whitman:

Your very interesting and valuable letter of 30 Jan. ought to have been answered before now. As you are willing to confess in it, however, to being an irregular correspondent, I gladly avail myself of so tempting an opening for saying that I am the same—and shall feel confident that my delay is pardoned.

I read with much zest the poem you kindly sent me, with its deep sonata-like alternations of emotion.

It was a peculiar pleasure to me to get acquainted with Mr. Burroughs, to whom would you please remember with great cordiality whenever the chance occurs? He may have told you—and indeed it cannot have needed telling—that you were a very principal subject of our discourse, and of my reiterated enquiries.

It interests me to see in your letter that you have a habit of taking moonlight walks out of Washington. I used

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to find walks of this kind highly enjoyable, and have frequently indulged in them years ago. In my youth I was living in habits of daily and brotherly intimacy with various painters (Millais, Homan, Hunt &c) and from time to time we would all sally out, six or seven, say towards eleven at night, and pass the whole night, and sometimes the succeeding day as well, tramping about, and enjoying the varying effects of night, dawn, &—studied of course with peculiar interest, and directness of observation and purpose, by the painters: sometimes, instead of walking, we would row up the river from nightfall to day. There is a good deal of agreeable country round London: but unless one lives quite out in the suburbs, it takes miles of walking to get even to the beginning of anything green and rural. I can easily imagine that to walk out of Washington at night into Virginia or Maryland is an experience of a very different sort, in point of grandeur and impressiveness. Though, indeed, from some points of view which you of all men realize most intensely, nothing surely can be more impressive than the unmeasured size and colossal agglomeration of life in London—none the less felt through the interminable streets when all are asleep, and scarcely a passenger met althwart one's path. The interval when the streets are really deserted to this extent is but brief. I suppose from about two and three quarter to four a. m. is the most vacant time.


What you say about the insulting and in fact ungrateful treatment which your poems continue to receive in America is deeply interesting though painful. I suppose it is a very general if not universal experience that anything that is at once great and extremely novel encounters for some considerable time much more hostility than acceptance, and so far your experience is not surprising—rather indeed a testimonial, when properly considered, to the great intrinsic value of your writings. But certainly it does seem that in degree and duration the obduracy of Americans against your work is something abnormal and unworthy—especially

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considering the spirit of your intense patriotic love and national insight which pervades your book through and through. That America should be so wanting (in this matter at least) in large receptiveness and quick intuition is distressing to those who love her—among whom I may humbly but truly profess myself. It seems as if she were even less capable than others of appreciating great work vital with the very marrow of her bones and corpuscles of her blood: perhaps this very affinity is partly the reason—but at any rate a bad and perverse reason. In this country there are of course very diverse knots of opinion, and schools of thinking and criticism, and to several of these your works are still an exasperation and an offence: but others accept and exalt you with all readiness of love and delight, and I think I may safely say that it is these who have in their holding the future of English opinion on such matters for some years to come. But I will say no more on this tack. For myself (with others) who believe in you with the certainty of full conviction, all these considerations are poor and slight: the one thing is the work itself, and the maker of the work, which has a destiny as assured and as limitless as that of any other great product of the soul or of nature.


I have not met Professor Dowden since last summer (or spring perhaps): he is seldom, I think, out of Ireland. What I saw of him I like particularly. He seems an uncommonly young man to be a Professor—less than thirty to look at; and is in no common degree good-looking, pleasant, open, and sound-minded. There are few men, I should say, more likely to have their sympathies in literary matters sane and right—guided also by the fullest measure of lettered cultivation. Mrs. Gilchrist I dined with noy many weeks ago. She seems to have fairly recovered from a very exhaustive and indeed dangerous illness that oppressed her of late (say from the early autumn of 1870 to the late summer of 1871)—only that she is not so capable as she used to be of continuous mental or bodily

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strain. It was a pleasure to see her surrounded by her family, the type of a true mother, guiding and nurturing all aright in her children, mind and body. The eldest son bids fair to have a distinguished and prosperous career as a mining engineer: a younger son is greatly set on being a painter. One of the daughters is just about grown up; the other, I suppose, ten or eleven years of age.


Mr. J. A. Symonds I don't know personally; but, about the time when my selections from your Poems came out, he wrote to me (two or three letters) showing himself to have been for some while past one of your very ardent admirers. Tennyson I have known for years, and like much: I think him deep-hearted and high-minded, though it may be true (as has often been said, and sometimes not in a kindly spirit) that he is somewhat too self-centered, and morbidly sensitive. He hates the vulgarizing aspects of fame, and some people find him present a very obtuse exterior to their advances and approaches; for myself, I can truly say my experience is the direct contrary. I think you and he would understand each other, and feel on a very friendly footing. Tennyson (as I dare say you know) is a remarkably fine manly person to look at, with a noble mould of face, and very powerful frame. He must be six foot one in height, I should suppose—but not now so erect as in his prime. If you do at any time come to England to see Tennyson or others, I need not say what a delight it would be to me to know you personally—and several of my friends would amply share my feelings.

My volume of selections from American Poets does n't seem likely to be published yet awhile. It has been completed for months past: but, as it is one volume of a series, and others of the volumes are in course of printing, the printer may probably leave it over for a few months to come. I have in the briefest terms dedicated it to you (and hope you won't object). Any other dedication—at least, if to any one on your side the Atlantic—would be a fatuity.


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I have no doubt you will have felt sorrow as I did—though indeed sorrow is not fully the right word, nor the right emotion—at reading lately of the death of Mazzini. I, who am three-fourths Italian in blood, have naturally a strong feeling on these subjects: and I regard Mazzini as the noblest of patriots, and the man to whom more than any other single person, not even excepting Garibaldi, the lovers of Italian unity are beholden. It is often a pleasure to me to reflect that, with all the miserable oppression and depression under which she has so long been laboring, Italy has after all produced the three greatest public men (to my thinking such) of the last hundred years in Europe—

1. Napoleon I, the greatest genius as a conqueror and rules (I suppose anyone is to be allowed to admire him enormously whether one approves him or not—and to call him a Frenchman, or anything save an Italian, is meaningless).

2. Mazzini, the greatest of ideal statesmen, patriot.

3. Garibaldi, the greatest and most flawless personal hero.

Believe me honored to be called your friend,

W. M. Rossetti


     W. said: "Rossetti fires up magnificently when he talks of the American attitudes towards me. Whether America is right or Rosetti is right—who knows? I don't. Rossetti sounds right: yet America has her own voice in the matter—has thundered against me or been contemptuously silent about me in a way not to be misunderstood. America makes me proud: Rossetti makes me humble: I stand for myself, for the Leaves—must let results take care of themselves. I would be a fool, an ingrate, if I did not however respond with love to a confession as unhesitating and unqualified as Rossetti's." He paused. I went on. The Tennyson matter moved him? "Yes, I am sure we would understand each other: we would find that we had most things in common—that the differentiations were too trifling to make much of." "Even Tennyson's later desertion of democracy?" I

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quizzed. He laughed mildly: " I 'd prefer to go back of that: back of that you 'll find Tennyson all right—or mainly right." W. was also very responsive to what Rossetti wrote of the dedication. "We can best appreciate such delicate compliments in the silences." To the Mazzini passages W. cried repeatedly: "Amen! Amen! Amen!" And he wound up with declaring: "Mazzini was the greatest of them all down there in Italy: infinitely the greatest: went deepest—was biggest around."


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