Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, November 24, 1888

     8 P.M. Found Harned sitting on the lounge. He and W. were talking literary things—also immortality as reflected by modern writers. Tennyson chiefly up. Tennyson's bad condition excites almost painful interest in W. nowadays. Rather an interchange of views than discussion, though this too of a mild sort. W. greeted me kindly, as usual. Notes and Queries on his lap. At his feet on the floor Cæsar, which he had been looking at again, and the Bible open at Job. W. did not look bright, nor was he. The light full up—the fire cheerful. Weather growing colder. How had he passed the day? He laughed. "I have managed to survive: that is all I dare say." I relapsed. Then the conversation went on. Harned's faith in Tennyson, he said, "much shaken by his entrance into the peerage." W.'s not. Harned pinned his faith to Tennyson's earlier work. W. said: "I accept it all." So the differences ran on. Immortality? "What does modern life teach us as to that? the educators, writers, poets?" That was W.'s question. Harned rather agnostic. W. thought: "Tennyson seems to me the great expression of modern ennui—the blue devils that afflict modern civilization. It is the background of every poem—every one of them: latent there—not always pushed to the front—perhaps never introduced—but always present, never missed: a half gloom—even a question—but after all, summed up, a faith. It is not a note of triumph, but it is there. There are many to whom life may seem a thing of itself, but the greatest, noblest, farthest-seeing, largest-hoping of modern man do not believe this is an endup—this life a closing": rather, "With my friend, Mrs. Gilchrist, one of the cutest sanest souls that ever blessed the earth, I am sure, while not formulating anything (take Tennyson, Carlyle—the noble Carlyle), that we are, as she puts it, 'going somewhere,' bound for something, following out a purpose, though we

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may little apprehend its meanings—its inmost suggestions."
Tom had said something about the survival of identity—said that George Eliot, W. K. Clifford, others, questioned it, etc. Was this not true of the major proportion of the greatest modern men and women? W. said: "No—no—Tom: I do not think so: indefinite as all may seem, the faith in identity, in purpose, lasts—must may seem, the faith in identity, in purpose, lasts—must last." But it was not a thing to dogmatize about. No one knew: he did not know. But, "as Horace has said," science "has put new meanings into life—indicates that everything is alive: therefore it becomes us to be slow to reject or accept—to take fairly what may be and wait."

     W. spoke tenderly of Darwin. Darwin is one of his loves that will last. So of Clifford, so of George Eliot: "Darwin, simplest greatest, however, of all." I had said: "Science everyhow says: See how nature seems to be aiming at something in man—in all life: and everything is life!" W.: "Yes—that is coming more and more to be seen in its larger significance." As to "Why should my dog inhabit heaven if I?" W. said: "Why not? that question proves nothing: the results, whatever they be, must apply broadly to all life." "Life," said W. further, "is an enterprise, an exercise"—then after a flash— "with reference—" pausing querying. Suddenly he turned to me. "What have you got there?" Afterwards saying: "Well, it 's interesting to learn all these things." I had delivered him a copy of The American containing the promised review. He looked at but did not read it. " That 's one thing for to-morrow: we must face the music." Expressed an idea that "we must learn all that is said about us, good and bad." Harned pronounced the notice "fair and favorable." W. had turned to the table: took up a letter. he handed the letter to me. "It is from Bucke," he said: "I had it to-day: he thinks very highly of Garland's article." Did n't we all like it? "Yes, that is true: we all like it." This is what Bucke writes:


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"If I had Hamlin Garland's address I think I would write him a few lines to say how much I admire his calm and pleasant sentences in The Transcript. I do not know when I have read anything that pleased me more—not, I think since I read O'Connor's letter in the N.Y. Tribune on the Osgood-Stevens affair. We are coming to the front at last—and should come. I have no fear, no doubt. It is only a question of waiting a few years till men have time to take it in. Another quarter or half century will see Leaves of Grass acknowledged to be what it really is—the Bible of America."

     W. made no remark about Bucke's enthusiasm. W. interested in Arthur Montefiore's Temple Bar piece about America which I had brought to leave with him: a reprint. "Such things," he said, "I always read." Whatever was missed "that should not be." I got The Critic to-day. He did not get his copy. Was curious to hear what I could tell him about the poet symposium now at last out. "What do you make of it all?" he asked: "or do you make nothing—which is more probable?" I said the consensus appeared to be for Emerson. W. at once: "I don't know but that is just—but that 's the best thing to be set down." He wanted the names of writers: spoke of some of them—Burroughs, Gilder—kindly. "But what can they say? What can anybody say?" I remarked: "There is no mention of you." He smilingly replied: "I am ruled out by the terms of the question if nothing else." "But you yourself name Whittier." "Ah! he is so near: we are privileged!" Showed no feeling whatever. But said: "It appears thoroughly unprofitable to enter such a discussion: if Charles Dudly Warner calls it 'idle speculation' I agree with him." Harned mentioned Louise Chandler Moulton. I remarked: "She is one of your admirers." W.: "Yes, of the gushing kind: she has been here to see me." Had he met Elizabeth Stuart Phelps? "No—never: I know little of her—she of me, I suppose." I expected Howells

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to notice November Boughs in some way in Harper's. W.: "It is doubtful: still it may prove so: but it will be in no hurry: it takes two or three months at least to get anything into our magazines." Did not think Howells had ever said anything about him in The Atlantic. "They printed several of the poems there years ago: but their policy is mainly to ignore me." Still, "something might turn up from Howells," though he did "not expect it."

     Harned thought W. looked rather bad. He spent a brighter day, Mrs. Davis tells me, than yesterday. W. called my attention to the dummy of the book for the binder. He had it ready. "Take it now, if you care to." But I left it for to-morrow. The second half of this week has been a hard one for W., clearly discouraging him from any sanguine feelings. Harned left. I stayed a little while longer. Just a little. W. said: " I 'm glad you held on: I wanted to say a word or two to you about a nasty snarling thing I saw in a paper here about the Colonel." He commenced a search in the litter on his table. Then sank back in his chair. " I 'm too tired: the paper was there: I kept it for you. It was of no importance: only I wanted you to see it. I wanted to see you get hot over it. It made me boil. Bob is a big dog and goes on cheerfully though the little curs do make a hell of a noise: but every time he turns his head they scamper: why, there 's no other canine his size in the whole tribe. This time it was an editor fool not a preacher fool, Horace, though, as you know, as we know, both sorts of fools are plentiful. Ingersoll is so placid equable self-contained that these biters, these poisoners, these revengers, don't seem to raise a hair on his back." I said: " You 're something that sort of critter yourself." He smiled: "I suppose we 've got to be: I suppose fellows of our sort have got to get used to the crossfirers."

     We talked a little about the Rhys letter. I asked W. some questions. W. said: "It is really a noble letter—

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the letter of an extra inspired young man of idealist inclinations. I liked two things especially in the letter: what he said of the necessity of having the Leaves dressed in a habit of its own, and what he said about his young friends there—that they are 'of the people not the academics': Horace, have you the letter with you?"
I had. I took it out of my pocket. "Read that passage to me again." I did so. He said fervently: " That 's a memorable tribute—a memorable tribute: to Rhys really more than to me: not so much proving anything about me but certainly proving something—something ingratiating and lofty—about Rhys himself."

     W. had laid aside a William Rossetti letter for me. He handed it to me the last thing. "I want you to have it: it throws a little more light on that English part of our history: speaks of editions there—people, too—some very friendly people: none of them, of course, more nobly generous, comradely, than Rossetti himself: William. Oh! it seems queer about the William Rossetti: of course I have never seen him: I only know him in this way, by correspondence, by his work: but when John went to England their first encounter was almost a tragedy: something got on John's nerves—something in Rossetti's manner: got on his nerves hard: so John was for never going back again—never seeing him again: to hell with him: but later John tried again: this time everything went as if it was greased: nothing could have been more beautiful, satisfying: that English something or other which floored John seems to have smoothed itself all out." W. laughed quietly. "You will find the letter delightful to read—also important for your records: file it away—put it in a safe place." He stopped in an amused way. "I tell you to put it in a safe place: I know I don't need to: I know you keep all these things damned safe almost with a miser's caution." I got to the door. He called me. "Won't you kiss me good night." Saying: "It will be a last kiss, a last good-night, sometime." I said: "You seem a bit gloomy." "No: I

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only face conditions."
Then I went home. I will put Rossetti's letter right in here:


Somerset House, 15 June, '77

Dear Whitman:

I received some little while ago your post-card of 3rd May, and felt obliged to you for having sent the books to Mr. Cozens, without waiting for actual receipt of the money—which, as before stated, is in my hands. The only reason why, contrary to my usual practice, I have so long delayed sending it on to you is that I have been looking out for any other stray subscriptions, promised but not yet paid, which could be sent along with Mr. Cozens' in a Bank order—or, if more convenient, a P. O. order. On receipt of your card (other such subscriptions not making their appearance at present) I was intending to send C.'s money at once by P. O. order; but then, some little while ago now, Minto, the editor of The Examiner, started in to talk with me, of his own accord, on the subject of the money that he owes for your article, and he proposed to send round to me at once—which of course I approved. This again made me hold over the dispatching of the P. O. order for C.s money, but as yet, after all, no symptom of Minto's remittance appears. One of these days C.'s money will be properly sent off to you—accompanied, let us hope, by some other, but if not then by itself. I enter into all these tiresome details because an explanation of my delay is due to you: but I fear you will think them quite as bothering as the delay itself.

It is a goodish while ago—say six weeks—that I wrote to Dowden in Dublin, inquiring about those subscribers who volunteered through him (not holding any direct communication with me), and who have not yet paid. Dowden has not yet replied to me: when he does so, it will behoove me to look into the details of all the outstanding subscriptions, and get the affair finally closed.

Lately,—say three weeks ago—I received a letter from Australia, of which I enclose some extracts, along with the

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printed matter which accompanied it. I replied the other day, giving the writer, Mr. Adams, my last news of your health, and enclosing also a copy of my last circular (summer of 1876) regarding your new editions—not without some hope that some few Australians here and there may do themselves the good service of ordering copies. Mr. A.'s wish for a copy of my "full review" of you (as he terms it, meaning of course the introduction to the selection from your Poems which I published in 1868) has been attended to—the publishers sending him a copy. I had hardly thought there was any remaining of the book. The tone of his letter is agreeable to me, and I hope it will be the same to you: his name had not previously been known to me.


Pleae remember me to Mrs. Gilchrist—or us, I should rather say. My wife received lately a letter from Mrs. G. to serve as an introduction for an American lady, Mrs. G. to serve as an introduction for an American lady, Mrs. Edwards. To the latter my wife sent a card for a gathering at our house of a few friends on 14 June, and we had the pleasure of seeing Mrs. E. and her son accordingly. I was glad to hear from her a good account of the G.'s generally, though she thinks Philadelphia is anything but a favorable field for the painting career of Herbert.

I have by me a note written long ago (6 Jan?) by Foote, editor of The Secularist, to say that before receiving my then last note on the subject, he had sent on to you direct the subscription money in his hands. This, I suppose, is all right, within your cognizance.

I enclose a note written to you by C. P. O'Conor, and shall without a delay forward to you by post the volume of his poems. In a note addressed to me he says: Will you kindly tell Whitman that the writer is one of his ardent admirers, and that it was a rich treat to read in your American Poems those of Walt Whitman's production." I never met Mr. O'Conor: but he has addressed me from time to time about his volume of poems, and other such matters.

Not very long ago I received a letter from Mr. Marvin

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offering a prospect, rather more definite than hitherto, of your coming to look a little about you in England, and perhaps on the European continent. I can but repeat my delight in this prospect, were it to be realized, and my wife's hope and my own that you will not, in such case, fail to give us some of your company in this house, Euston Sq.


We have had a rather noticeable summer here. Up to 2 June, nothing that was worthy the name even of spring: then suddenly at 3 June hot summer, which continues till now—but less decidedly these two days.

I am interested in hearing that the Bostonians mean to cut us out—and we deserve it for our neglectful tardy stolidity—and erect a statue to our poet Shelley.

Believe me with all affection, Truly yours,

W. M. Rossetti.



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