Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, November 23, 1888.

     7.50 P. M. W. reading The Record. Had several papers on his lap. Light up, fire burning slowly, room slightly cooler than is usual for him. Was he better? "I think

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so—a little: as I have just been telling Ed, am not feeling anything to brag of but am much better this evening than through the day—than yesterday. My experience is a peculiar one: something like this"
—working his hand circularly— "it is as if things were all in a whirl—me with them—everything grown indistinct, indefinite." Here he had sat the day through, "loth to touch anything, do anything, think anything." Was the weather milder out of doors? It had grown suddenly cold last night: temperature twenty at 7.30 this morning. Said he had noted the change. "I am a very good thermometer—none better." Had not suffered any from the fall in temperature.

     We talked of my work—of my bookkeeping: how at times long stretches of it became very trying. W. said: "I have had little of that to do: little at any time even in Washington: my duties were of another sort: I was a clerk but had nothing to do with finances." He had been "put in charge of the Attorney General's letters: cases were put into my hands—small cases: the Attorney General could not attend to them all so passed some of them over to me to examine, report upon, sum up: which I did mainly by my feeling: I am afraid the technicalities of these cases did not always get their proper share of attention." Was it pleasant labor? "I cannot say it was not: indeed, I can say it was: the hours were not long: I took my time: I was very deliberate. The work of the office required some neat decisions—almost refinements of judgment: there were territorial judges, district attorneys, to be treated with, appointed. The more important of these remained for the President to appoint: the Attorney General would be called on to advise, inform—furnish required facts." He had "watched affairs closely there"—was "more and more struck" with "the general honesty and skill of the work done in the departments." "I liked all the fellows—was on good terms with them: the Attorney General: Stansbery particularly: and Stansbery was a friend of mine—a Western man—the lawyer who was

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closest to the President in the impeachment trial."
This gave a new direction to his thought. "There was a group of us—O'Connor was one, I was another—who felt, insisted upon it, from the first, that the impeachment of Johnson was a mistake." I put in: "Everybody sees it now." "Yes," he said: "But they did not see it then: the Republicans were hot for impeachment then." Yet he thought it "remarkable how independent the Republican party men of those days were: they would revolt at things then which now they would swallow without a grimace." Johnson was a sort of "mugwump" of that early day. "He should have been left alone." I said: "There was something necessary lacking in Johnson: what was it? what we may call fine instincts, high motives?" W. took up the thread with emphasis: "It is true: he was a common man: I should not say bad—deliberately, knowingly, bad: he was without brains, without conscience." Yet, "there was something in Johnson which indicated the existence of democratic instincts"—which J. "in a sense possessed truly—coming to them honestly." Still he acknowledged that Johnson "missed being much of a man." His "definitive trouble" was this: "He had no principles: was wanting in purpose: was absolutely sterile where Lincoln was most rich—where every great man must needs to be gifted: he had no insight, no fine perception of occasions, needs, men." Then "Lincoln's supreme reserve, which always stood him in good stead, was a quality unknown to Johnson: there was not a shred or trace of it in him." "Yet all this may be said and the impeachment still be regarded as a mistake—as it was."

     W. described O'Connor's work at that time. "He was in the Signal Service, of which the Life Saving Service is a branch, so to speak." W. expressed regret that we are hearing nothing of O'Connor. I asked W. why O'Connor had not been a more prolific writer? I said of the two W. W. letters: "they will go down in history with Leaves of grass: they are inseparable from it: they are part of each other." W. assented: "That is veritably, unmistakably,

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so: I too regard them in that way: always have so regarded them: they go to establish the identity of the Leaves: contribute that element as nothing else that has been written about me, about the book, could do."
He too had felt O'Connor's capacity to be far greater than his product. "It is not lazy literary habits at the root: it is much a matter of whim in his case—I might say within certain meanings, of disappointment. A more whimsical man never lived. With resources of magnificent bulk and quality he still has been mostly silent. It is true, the two letters are of themselves conclusive—aside from Leaves of Grass have a distinction all their own. We know, however, that the greatest writings—poems, orations, deliverances—have never been: the greatest natures are silent, inarticulate." He instanced Mrs. Gilchrist. "No one would better stand such tests—search, criticism—than she: yet almost nobody knows her: she is, in the most absolute sense, obscured: perhaps by a few, or socially here and there (she shone socially as elsewhere) she may be taken at her true weight: but for the rest she might just as well never have existed. It should be difficult to give any one a reason for O'Connor's reticence, but whatever was in the way it was not lack of treasure upon which to draw."

     The book is now about ready for the binder. I spurred W. "Let us have your ideas." He said: "I have n't any: but have done this to show were loose sheets may be put—pictures." Ransacked a pile of papers: drew out his folded signatures of complete works: a set, tied: ink written directions on a sheet of paper just under the string. "And I drew up this, too—just a hint"—he went on apologetically. It was a sheet of paper containing his design for the edge of the volume. I will take it with me Monday. He: "It may be as well to leave it here to-morrow: I shall take another look at it: it has long, long, long, been an idea of mine," he explained—"call it a whim, if you choose—a humor—that I should sometime collect together all I have written into one book—get everything together—here in

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bulk—without absentees or breaks."
Now that he had got this far "towards that cherished object, how would it do?" He was not at all certain. "I have held the opinion—indefensible, perhaps—that all I have done would cohere, belonged together, suggested a natural connection—would seem to merge, one theme into another, as if one story—as undoubtedly it is one story." "Now" it was "to be tested."

     Bucke is fond of ranking Faust and Leaves of grass together. I expressed doubts. W. himself spoke of Goethe. "I suppose humility should restrain me: it might be said I have no right to an opinion: I know nothing of Goethe at first hand: hit upon translations, pick up a poem, a glint, here and there. I have read Faust—looked into it—not with care, not studiously, yet intelligently, in my own way." Now he "had an opinion of Goethe," and having it, "might as well own up." "Goethe impresses me as above all to stand for essential literature, art, life—to argue the importance of centering life in self—in perfect persons—perfect you, me: to force the real into the abstract ideal: to make himself, Goethe, the supremest example of personal identity: everything making for it: in us, in Goethe: every man repeating the same experience." Goethe would ask: " What are your forty, fifty, hundred, social, national, phantasms? This only is real—this person." While W. felt that "all the great teachers—the Greek, the Roman—Plato, Seneca, Epictetus ( I remember Epictetus says a very like thing) in some respects placed a related emphasis on personality, identity," yet he observed a break in the fact that "all those eminent teachers were superbly moral (I confess they quite satisfy me as being so) while Goethe was not. Goethe seemed to look upon personal development as an end in itself: the old teachers looked for collective results. I do not mean that Goethe was immoral, bad—only that he laid stress upon another point. Goethe was for beauty, erudition, knowledge—first of all for culture. I doubt if another imaginist of the first order

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in all literature, all history, so deeply put his stamp there. Goethe asked 'What do you make out of your patriotism, army, state, people?' It was all nothing to him."
Here W. stopped and laughed. "So you see I have an opinion while I confess I know nothing about Goethe." Further: "I do not think Burns was bad any more than I think Goethe was bad, but Burns was without morals, morality." Goethe was bad, "looked askant" at patriotism. "Burns was as little a patriot in any large sense as any man that ever lived. You know it is very easy to get up a hurrah—call it freedom, patriotism: but none of that is patriotism in any sense I accept."

     William Lloyd Garrison has just written an open letter to Senator Hoar treating this very same subject of patriotism very much in W.'s own way. I spoke of it. W. asked: "you mean the young Garrison?" Then: "I should like to see it." Then reflected: "It is not hard for a tonguey man like Hoar to make a case for the Blaine-Harrison-Quay party: but then America means more than that—has a higher destiny than any of these men can conceive. It is easy to expose the pretence—the glaring pretence. Can any sound man believe in a patriotism that means America alone?" America was to keep "open arms for all broad principles"—was "to see the place of the social man made secure." "Ignoring this element—this human vitalizing connection with the world about him—was no benefit to Goethe." Postal from Clifford. "Sunday was a rare day for me. W. was great." Clifford wrote. Letter to me at last from Bucke dated 21st. Starts off as saying: "I went to Sarnia Sunday evening to see poor Pardee, who is very ill indeed and in a most wretched state mentally." W. paused at this (I had given him the letter): "Yes, poor Pardee! Poor Pardee! it 's all up with him!"—in the sweetest saddest voice. Then went on with the note, paying slight attention to what B. said about the meter, stumbling finally upon this and expressing his regret: "It is hard to speak definitely, but this change of front will prob-

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ably throw my visit to Philadelphia into January: this is bad, but we must try to go safe even if slow."
Letter, too, from Morse to-day. I read it to W., who said: "It is like Sidney: it is a good letter—not only witty but more than witty." When Morse said: " Can't Harned take it [the Emerson] down and let Walt see it," W. said quietly, sensitive as he is to the suspicion of invalidism: "No—tell him not to do it: tell him I will get out and up to see it where it is before long." I had a copy of Harper's Bazar in my pocket. He took it—looked long at the picture by Arthur Hopkins: a Type of Beauty picture: conventional, usual. "Is Arthur Hopkins a man of any celebrity?" "No." "I thought not." Then picked a package from the floor. "I liked the way these Magazine of Art fellows get over this folding business, putting the magazine flat in an envelope made for it. It sends pictures—even letter press—to you all in good condition." In to see Brown at Ferguson's. Promised to print the three pages this p. m. Will send to Oldach.

     W. handed me a Rhys letter. It was not in an envelope. He said: "It is another one of the notes throwing light on the English end of our history. You have Rosetti's letters and other Rhys letters. I want you to have all the memoranda I can find applying to the publication of the Leaves over there. This letter from Rhys is particularly interesting—indeed, very incisive, definitive, and then also delicately diplomatic." He had written at the top of the letter in ink: "Third Letter from Rhys—the little English selection from L. of G. is out since, and the whole edition (10,000) sold." "You may want to ask me something about the letter," W. said: "Take it with you—let me know to-morrow if there 's anything you want me to add to it." I found this memorandum on the margin in red ink: "return no hurry." "Who did you send it to?" I asked. He answered: "To William: I wanted William to see it: he has followed things so closely. I feel that Rhys now has become one of my surest friends: not blindly

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idolatrous but sanely firm in his adhesion. I feel about these fellows—Rhys, Symonds, Rossetti, O'Grady, Rolleston—over there, that I owe more to them than they owe to me, though they put it the other way."


59 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London, S. W., 25th September, 1885

Dear Walt Whitman:

Twice I have written to you before,—and whether my letters have ever reached you, or whether you have had other nobler and more important things to prevent your attending to mere secondary matters, or—whatever the reason may be—(and indeed I know how many reasons, remembering too that you have been ill this summer, there are for it) I have waited very anxiously for a reply, so far in vain. You know this anxiety—of a young man, in the first hard fight of life and poetry in a great careless town, rebuffed over and over. . . . Not that I wish to pretend to any great misery—for perhaps there never was a happier life than mine, in most ways; but discovering my present standpoint, at odds with the fortunate ordinary aspects, you may be more ready to give me your helping hand of comradeship and cheer.

The exact nature of the help you can give is this,—(as perhaps I ought to assume you know already, unless my former letters have not reached you)—the giving permission for a new and cheap edition of Leaves of Grass in England. The conditions of the series of poets in which it is proposed to include your name are not altogether satifactory maybe; certain details are rather out of keeping with the tremendous scheme and infinite scope of the Leaves of Grass. But at the same time there are advantages in such an assocation which cannot be overlooked, as for instance the immediately extended audience which is obtained by the appearance in a popular series of this sort. The more incompatible features of the edition—such as red line borders, prettified cover and so on, we must insist on having done away with in the case of the Leaves of Grass

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volume; and indeed I think if you strongly expressed your disapproval of the general conditions of the series, at the same time not objecting to the most urgent part of the request—for a cheap edition simply that is—I think the publishers would be persuaded to issue the volume specially and by itself, as a small square volume with plain cover and simply the emblem of a tuft of grass, and this would be a size and shape which could easily be carried about anywhere in the pocket. My own copy of Leaves of Grass [Philadelphia, 1883 edition] I have taken to pieces and carry the different parts as I may want them about in a little parchment wallet; for the whole book is too big to be conveniently pocketed. The publishers have asked me to forward you as a proof of their honorable intentions ten guineas, and I am sure if the edition proved successful they would readily repeat the remittance. Last week I saw William Rossetti, and he advised me to send the amount through the Post Office, which I will do accordingly early next week.


William Rossetti said he thought the proposed edition very desirable and was altogether so kind that I felt a good deal cheered (though we only had a moment or two's talk) and determined to consult him again as the arrangements progressed. Last Sunday as a further step I lectured on Leaves of Grass, as you will see by the bill enclosed, in Islington, north London, and thanks to my subject the adventure was successful and I have been asked to redeliver the lecture in two other places. We had been threatened beforehand with a fierce opposition, but to our surprise it utterly collapsed after the lecture, and one lady present spoke with enthusiasm on the right side. For my own part I can't tell you with what elation and pride I recited some of the noblest passages in Leaves of Grass, firing them off as it were into the enemy's camp like the rifles Ruskin calls them.

29th Sept.—This is my chief claim to be your interpreter at all in England then—that I stand with the band of young men who have the future in their hands, young men

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of the people, not academicians; not mere university students, but a healthy, determined, hearty band of comrades, seeking amid all their errors and foolishnesses to help th eaverage, everyday man about them. You could have a thousand writers of more culture and literary student faculty than mine, but none I think with more love and enthusiasm and heat of youth. So far my accomplishment in life and song has not been much, having struggled through endless phases of literary tradition, being too occupied with the mining of coal and the living of a free open-air country life in the north. But give me your word, and I will not be unworthy of it.


There 's a temptation to say more about myself in past and present, but perhaps it 's better not to, especially as before long I may be able to send you a book—The Book of Browney Valley, (Browney being the name of the little river by which I lived for some years), which will tell what is to be told at length. Now, on the banks of the Thames, whose currents and craft of all kinds—sailing, steaming, rowing—are free every morning to this attic window, I gather with tremendous zest materials for a larger volume—the book of Thames valley, which will owe to Leaves of Grass more than I can well say.

Ah, I often wonder what your days are like in Camden,—how the sun shines, how the winds visit you,—wonder too whether you would mind if one day yet another young messenger came with some English leaves of grass in his hand for a token to your door. Only before that there 's a great deal I must do, for to-night, remembering that admonitant voice in Calamus, I seem a very poor and weak and inefficient follower. But "Therefore release me and depart on your way," as ominously runs the last line I will not!

I shall wait very eagerly for some word from you; with great love (in which William Rossetti asked to be included) from this London nook of the world.

Faithfully

Ernest Rhys.



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