Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, November 21, 1888.

     7.55 P. M. W. reading Century. Became quite talkative. Laid magazine down. "Well, what is there now?" The day had been pretty sharp but clear. He asked about it—about the night. "Does the moon shine?" I spoke of the stars, the cold clear atmosphere, the moon just rising above the houses in the east. " It 's a good night for astronomers—a good night for a fellow to put on a short thick coat, take somebody along, and stroll off into the country." W. said: "Yes, what a good time that suggests! a walk of seven, eight, nine miles, anyhow!" I had spoken of getting off without an overcoat. He seemed to appreciate that. "It is a wise view: to keep warm by circulation, not by excess of covering." Spoke of his own health: admitting that he kept pretty well— "for me," he says—but exclaimed: "Oh! the imprisonment! the long stay shut up here, confined!" And again: "How much would be gained if a fellow could get about some!" No letter from Bucke for several days. His visit is so near he seems to think further writing unnecessary. W. had found Dowden's letter: he gave it to me: here it is:


Dublin, August 31, 1888.

My dear Mr. Whitman:

Allow me to introduce to you Mr. Lewis Fry, member of Parliament for Bristol City, who is about to travel in the United States.


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We rejoice to hear that your health is better and that you are able to work at your November Boughs.

Most truly yours,

E. Dowden.


     W. asked: "How did Clifford come into possession of Parker's Milton, which he offered Sunday to let me examine?" Through Hannah Stevenson. Had W. seen or known her? "Neither, I guess," he said, meditatively, "and yet the name does not sound strange to me." Then: "If I have not I am sure I should have heard of her." Asked about her. He had seen Parker and would like to see the book. "It appeals to me, to know what Parker thought of Milton." Got on politics. I described an ardent Republican (a graduate of Yale) I had met yesterday: anti-Chinese, anti-Southern: anti-freetrade: anti-emigration. "The Chinese are vermin," he said. W. very much struck. "That comprehensively states the case of the Republican party," he said: "it is typical: it shows the dominant forces here in the North: I confess that I distrust if I do not despise it." Garland discussed. Did Moore know him in Boston? "I think not: he is a new man—has just lately come up: has his career yet to make." He wondered whether Garland's friendliness was a "permanency." The pulled himself in. "Perhaps it is not just to ask that: but with Garland it may be considered more or less of an experiment: it was a sudden move." I pleaded: "We can't say for sure: some people wake up suddenly, others by degrees: but the day is a fact to both of them." He smiled: "That is profoundly true—is to be considered." He described Garland as "still young, enthusiastic, bright—I may say, too, demonstrative." But genuinely so? "Oh! without a doubt: I never met a more earnest man: yes, he is genuine." He then reflected: "It is best to be cautious: it is utterly impossible to lay down a rule for everybody: there are no formulas that have not the most remarkable exceptions—remarkable exceptions indeed: there is no formula but demands to be broken—is broken."


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     I sat on the sofa, looking across a barrier of chairs, books, papers, wood for the stove, &c., &c. My eye caught on the woodpile a bunch of manuscript. I picked it up. "What is this? What do you mean to do with this?" He seemed amused. "Oh! burn it up—use it to kindle fire with"—this in the mildest way, adding: "My main concern is to get rid of it." I half muttered something about "treasure": he caught me up: was at once listening, attentive. "Why?" he asked: "would you like to have it? It is quite a curio, I suppose: would it have any value for you?" I objected: "No value as a curio: much as coming from you, as being full of suggestions of you: your study, your workshop. You know that your friends would value such things from that side only, not as marketable curiosities." He assented: "There is much truth in that view: it gives a verity to things not to me otherwise valuable. But that mess you have there is jumble: notes, only: beginnings, hints. Still," he went on, "if you care to, take them—but you might have something better." With this he drew back his chair, reached his hand out on the floor behind him, picked up a tied package—manuscripts, etc.—and passed it across to me. "Take this," he said affectionately: "take this, if it may be of such importance to you. Should you live to be eighty perhaps it will be valuable to you: the autographs," he said, laughing heartily— "there should be some fifty checks, notes, odds and ends." He referred me to the first package again. "Notes on the Future of Poetry: you 'll find them there: who knows but they too may be worth while to you fellows as curios?" He wrote my name above the package: "for Horace Traubel, Nov: 21 1888"—above which he had already written: "Crude drafts poems autographs (cheque signatures) and rough sketches pieces &c." "Keep them as they are," he said: "in that order: you will find there notes, finished pieces, and then print—showing the growth of a poem."

     Discussed the writing habits of authors. Professor Cope contends for outdoors. Has said beautiful things to me

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about it. I quoted him to W. W. said: "That has mainly been by method: I have caught much on the fly: things as they come and go—on the spur of the moment. I have never forced my mind: never driven it to work: when it tired, when writing became a task, then I stopped: that was always the case—always my habit." I suggested: "Here is the explanation of the tremendous living power of your books." He acquiesced: "No doubt, that in some measure needs to be said: if the power is there that must have been its cause. Indeed, it is that sort of a test I always apply to the great writers: the power to arouse, to excite, to stir, to the highest pitch the highest things in man." It is not the "place" of the writer to supply this force to men. He said: "I make little of mere absorbing." Men must accept or reject: help themselves. "I take it there are qualities—latent forces—in all men which need to be shaken up into life: to shake them up—that is the function of the writer." He was conscious of the spur of his own thought upon his thinking. "The surprise to me is, how much is spontaneously suggested which a man could never have planned for. I sit down to write: one seemingly simple idea brings into view a dozen others: so my work grows. A writer can do nothing for men more necessary, satisfying, than just simply to reveal to them the infinite possibilities of their own souls."

     He has been working much among his papers for a week or two past—rooting, destroying, arranging. Talked of Tennyson. "I don't know about him: the reports vary—even the reports of a day. In the morning I read that he is in bed—in the evening that he is greatly improved again. I am inclined to believe he does improve: not absolutely, but as much as can be expected for a man of his years." We speculated as to the physical Tennyson. Had he a big body?— "like yours?" I asked. W. answered: "I think not: I asked Herbert when he came about Tenny-

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son's appearance: Herbert described him as tall, bent, lean: in no way of my make-up: not thick, broad, but lean—almost what may be called thinnish."
He did "not attempt to account for it." "But Tennyson has had much worry—mental worry, worry of work, writing, thought: has always been poring over books, applied himself, lived the intellectual life: he must have had a good constitution at the start: nor can I say he has not used it well—in fact, I think he has. He is seven years my senior, I believe: Herbert says, shows age, is round-shouldered, stoops." After a pause: "My mental work was always taken easy: more-over, I have never forgotten what I owe my fathers, mothers, for a good body." "Some day soon," he thought, "as I sit here, will come the news of Tennyson's death."

     Clifford's sermon was given a column in Monday's Post. But the W. W. passage was cut out. Why? W. himself laughed over it. "Something had to go: that was least important." I wrote Kennedy, Bucke and Burroughs to-day about W., saying he was improved. I don't predict. I only hope. W. said this about Ingersoll: "He is a master of fence: his strokes are not only infallible but virile: he contains no malice, no poison, but is vehement, aggressive, even overwhelming, not impetuous, as William is, but searching, calm: he batters down the opposition like some irresistible wind-blow—like the sea when it comes piling in flooding everything." After leaving W. I went to the city. Saw Anne. Looked with her over the papers he had given me. I was much moved and delighted. Here were the origins of poems I had always enjoyed in the printed book: lines, passages, showing his backgrounds. The Prayer of Columbus notes were particularly interesting to me. I will sort of inventory the contents of the package:

     A hospital note book. Manuscript, The Patrol at Barnegat. Manuscript, The Dalliance of the Eagles. Checks. Origins, notes, completed manuscript, of the Prayer of Columbus. Manuscripts: A Death Sonnet to Custer, Spirit that Form'd this Scene, Edgar Poe's Significance, Death of

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Carlye, Poetry in America, After all not to Create Only (voluminous notes and completed version).


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