Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, December 14, 1888.

     7.20 A. M. Ed said W. had spent an easy night. Did not wait. To town. Wrote Bucke a detailed letter. Weather to-day extremely blustering—wind N. W., dusty, cold. Ed has to keep a strong fire.

     7.40 P. M. Things maintained as they were. Every time

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the telephone rings these days I wonder if it is to be a call for me. To W.'s immediately after supper. W. on bed still dressed. Harned had just been in for a few minutes. Ed reported W. as not in so good a condition as last night. Walsh had called. Questioned W. Left prescription for powders. Ed did not go for them. W. said he would not take them. I saw W. for a few, probably ten, minutes: then away: then later was up again. Was really in poorer shape than yesterday. Said he had spent "a very bad day—one of the worst"—yet was hopeful he would "shake off" the "pall" which "seemed gathering about" him. He had been dressed most of the day but had lain down—up only at intervals and then but briefly. Spoke about Walsh's visit: "He ordered a resumption of the powders, but I said to Eddy, 'No, I will not take them—the effect is too bad': they give me such infernal pains in the stomach and the head, I must not take them again." Adding: "I am aware of Walsh's skill—acknowledge it: I like him—like his quiet way: but for all that I did not feel that I should accept his medicine." I said: "That sounds like heresy, Walt: anti-medicine: it 's dangerous blasphemy!" He smiled: "I know what it sounds like to a doctor: to me it sounds like sense: it 's all got to go—the drug theory: there 's something wrong about it: it 's a poisonous viperous notion: it does not seem to fit with what we know of the human body—with the physical something or other and the mental something or other going together: they doctor a man as a disease not as a man: a part of him—doctor a part of him: a leg, a belly, an eye: they ignore the rest: as if it was n't true that the seat of the trouble in most cases is not at the point of demonstration but way below somewhere: oh! I am impatient about it: it riles me—makes me say ugly things." He laughed quietly. "Then you won't let Ed get the drug?" "Not a bit of it—not for me." "Did you say so to Walsh?" He shook his head. "No—I did n't say it to Walsh but I said it to myself."

     W.'s mail has been small. "Nothing from Bucke—

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O'Connor: a scratchy ragged postal from Kennedy: but nothing new."
Then he asked: "What's doing with you? What have you learned?" I said: "I supposed we got ahead of the reporters this time." W.: "Well— did n't we?" I answered: "It seems not: Clifford writes me: See note of W. in Press. Can I do anything?'" W. asked: "Did Clifford say that?" Then: "Give him my love: tell him Walt Whitman is grateful: tell him I am I think slowly wriggling out of this trouble—wriggling towards the surface—will get there if nothing new occurs to throw me back: the tendency is upward." Said again: "I have not read the papers now for four or five days. Time flows on rapidly—for some!" I had met Walsh on the boat. He said: "I think Mr. Whitman is better: I do not think you need have any apprehension at present." George Whitman was down from Burlington again, staying only long enough to make inquiries. W. asked somewhat after Dave—also some others. W. said: "Herbert looked as chipper as a new gold piece last night: he seems to be getting a lot out of life just now: I 'm glad: I like us to treat our guests well." The remainder of the hundred and fifty books came this evening. Got talking a little of the Rossetti letters. He said: "I am not surprised that you think them wonderfully interesting and valuable: they are quite all you make out of them. If it should ever happen to be thought worth while to have the history of Leaves of Grass written the correspondence of William Rossetti with me and others would require to be considered first of all. It has a significance for this side as well as the other side of the Atlantic: we were all intensely excited when these propositions were made: William, John—all the fellows: Charley Edridge—yes, Charley, too: so I do not wonder, knowing the whole story as intimately as you do, that you find it sort of romantic, too." "The Romance of Leaves of Grass: some one should write that some time," I said. W. fervently: "Yes: so they should: not so much because Leaves of Grass is entitled to it but because you fellows are all entitled to it." I said to

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W.: "I have a few questions to ask you about the letters." W. replied: "I supposed you would have: well, ask them: not to-night: I 'm not up to it to-night: to-morrow, next day, as soon as you please."

     What we have been speaking of as the Rossetti correspondence is a series of letters, one from Conway to W., one from W. to Conway, one from Rossetti to W., one from W. to Rossetti, two from Rossetti to W. The letters are given in the order in which W. himself numbered them. W.'s letter to Conway was addressed 14 Milborne Grove, Brompton W., London. On the envelope of W.'s letter to R. was written: "Copy of letter sent to Mr. Rossetti, Dec. 3, probably went from New York Dec. 7, '67, reaching England Dec. 20, '67." In letter 5 I found two enclosures—a title page of the Rossetti book, 1868—a translation in W.'s hand of the Michelangelo motto used on the title page: "But whether this be the name, or for evil, or for good—and whatever it be for the world—here they are."

No. 1

14 Milborne Grove, Brompton, W.,
London, England, Oct. 12, 1867.

My dear friend:

I regret to say that our hopes of getting out the complete and arranged edition of your Poems with O'Connor's Introduction is at present remote. Just as I was beginning to consult about the master I found that Hohn Camden Hotten had already contracted with W. M. Rossetti to prepare and edit a volume of selections from your Poems. I found that Hotten is not yet ready to bring out the whole work as we would wish. My first feeling at hearing of this arrangement was one of regret. On thinking the whole matter over however I came to think that such an arrangement as that was not without some advantages. In the first place it 's a thing which cannot be prevented. Americans have not granted the English any protection for their works or choice about bringing them out, and in the absence of a just law

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on the subject no one can claim property in his work over here. I may say in passing, however, that in reply to a letter from me to Mr. Hotten he told me that he meant to share with you the pecuniary profits of the venture, and spoke in an honorable tone.


Now the advantages I see in the plan of having Rossetti edit the selected volume are these: I believe that it is the best means of paving the way for a public demand for the entire work. The English people are the very ones to desire that which is reserved. Until there is such a popular demand no publisher can be found to print the poems, which are now quite extensive. In the next place it is far better, in my opinion and that of your real friends here, that the introduction of you to the general public will come much more gracefully from an English literary man than from any American. No introduction could easily surpass in simple breadth that which O'Connor has written; and some day it must appear; but his reputation here is confined to the few who have read his noble pamphlet, and, which is still more important, it can never have so much effect here for an American to praise American work. It says more for your work that has kindled enthusiasm in the mind of one of another nation, and one whose good judgments cannot be ascribed to personal friendship more than to national pride. These facts together with the assured social and literary position of Rossetti make him of all persons of my acquaintance the fittest I could name to undertake the work. It at once secures the position of your work. The criticism which he wrote in the Chronicle will show you the spirit in which his work will be done, and I know that he is putting a great deal of very careful work upon his introductory essay. I have passed an evening with him. He tells me that his plan will be to divide up the Poems according to their subjects: e.g., Poems of Democracy, Personal Poems, Poems of Friendship, etc. He does not intend to alter any of the Poems he publishes. His volume will I should judge include about one half you have written. There will

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be foot-notes explaining "phebe-bird" and other things not known in England so far as he can.


Now for some questions he wishes me to ask you: What is Calamus? I could not tell him, satisfactorily, either the exact thing you meant or its metaphorical meaning to you. Rossetti admires very much indeed your introduction ot the first edition of the Leaves of Grass, and whishes to publish it; but he is deterred by a few words. He writes to know whether you will not send him a word instead of "father-stuff" (p. 7, 17th line from bottom) and if on p. 10, bottom lines, you will allow him to alter "venereal sores or discolorations," "onanist" and "any depravity of young men." These are the only words he anywhere wishes to modify. The essay is a great one and should have a great effect; but if you do not permit the alterations he will not print it—as he goes on the honorable principle that he has not the right to change an author's language.

Now, my dear friend, I hope that on reflection you and O'Connor will think as I do (who am on the ground) that on the whole we had best feel good-naturedly towards this plan of Hotten's and Rossetti's. We are not here up to the point yet, but are rising; and this book will help us I am quite sure. The other day the Saturday Review which once ridiculed Leaves of Grass began a review of some American's poems by saying that nothing related to America had appeared in its literature with the simple exception of Walt Whitman's works. The word had its effect. And now good-bye. Let me hear from you as soon as you can, and believe me ever cordially your friend.

M. D. Conway.


No. 2
[W. W. to Conway: "sent Nov. 1st '67": from Washington, Attorney General's office]
My feeling and attitude about a volume of selections from my "Leaves" by Mr. Rossetti, for London publication, are simply passive ones, yet with decided satisfaction that if

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the job is to be done, it is to be by such hands. Perhaps, too, "good-natured" as you advise—certainly not ill-natured. I wish Mr. Rossetti to know that I appreciate his appreciation, realize his delicacy and honor, and warmly thank him for his literary friendliness.


I have no objection to his substituting other words—leaving it all to his own tact—for "onanist," "father-stuff," &c. &c. Briefly, I hereby empower him (since that is the pivotal affair and since he has the kindness to shape his action so much by my wishes—and since, indeed, the sovereignty of the responsibility is not mine in the case) to make verbal changes of that sort wherever, for reasons sufficient for him, he decides that they are indispensable.

I would add that it is a question with me whether the introductory essay, or prose preface of the first edition, is worth printing.

"Calamus" is a common word here; it is the very large and aromatic grass, or root, spears three feet high—often called "sweet flag"—grows all over the Northern and Middle States—(see Webster's Large Dictionary—Calamus—definition 2). —The récherché or ethereal sense, as used in my book, arises probably from it, Calamus presenting the biggest and hardiest kind of spears of grass, and from its fresh, aromatic, pungent bouquet.

I write this to catch to-morrow's steamer from New York. It is every way likely I shall think of other points, and write you again in a week or so.


No. 3

56 Euston Sq., London, N. W.,
17th Nov., '67.

My dear Sir:

Allow me with the deepest reverence and true affection to thank you for the copy of your complete poems I have just received from you through our excellent friend Mr. Conway—and still more for the accompanying letter to him, in which you authorize me to make, in the

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forthcoming London issue of your poems, such verbal changes as may appear to me indispensable to meet the requirements of publicity in this country and time.


I feel greatly honored by your tolerance extended to me in this respect, and assure you that, if such a permission can in the nature of things be used rightly, it shall not be abused by me.

My selection was settled more than a month ago, and is now going through the press. The only writing of yours from which I thought it at all admissible (with your consent applied for through Mr. Conway) to cut anything out was the prose preface to the first Leaves of Grass. As for the poems, I felt bound not to tamper with their integrity in any the slightest degree, and therefore any of them which appeared to contain matter startling to the length of British ears have been enetirely excluded. But now, after your letter, it seems to me that all or most of these poems, with some minimum of verbal modification or excision, may very properly be included: and indeed, that there is nothing to prevent a reprint of the revised copy of your complete poems (which you sent to Mr. Conway) coming out at once, instead of the mere selection—subject only to modification or excision here and there as above named. Of course, I would explain in print that the responsibility for this shabby job belongs to me—fortified only by your abstaining from prohibiting it; for such a prohibition would be sacred to me.

I have just written in that sense to the publisher Mr. Hotten. I cannot clearly anticipate whether or not he will be disposed thus to sacrifice his outlay hitherto on the selection, and embark at once on the complete edition. If he does, it will please me all the better. I shall always hold it one of the truest and most prized distinctions of my writing career to be associated, in however modest a capacity, with the work of so great a poet and noble-hearted a man as you. The time is fast coming, here as elsewhere, when to be one of your enthusiastic admirers will only be to be

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one of the many. I shall remember, with a degree of self-congratulation, that in 1855 I was one of the few.


Dear Sir, believe me most respectfully and truly yours,

W. M. Rossetti.


No. 4

Washington, Dec. 3, 1867

My dear Mr. Rossetti:

I have just received, and have considered, your letter of Nov. 17. In order that there may be the frankest understanding with respect to my position, I hasten to write you that the authorization in my letter of Nov 1st to Mr. Conway, for you, to make verbal alterations, substitute words, &c. was meant to be constructed as an answer to the case presented in Mr. Conway's letter of Oct. 12. Mr. Conway stated the case of a volume of selections, in which it had been decided that the poems reprinted in London should appear verbatim, and asking my authority to change certain words in the preface to first edition of poems, &c. I will be candid with you, and say I had not the slightest idea of applying my authorization to a reprint of the full volume of my poems. As such a volume was not proposed, and as your courteous and honorable course and attitude called and call for no niggardly or hesitating response from me, I penned that authorization, and did not feel to set limits to it. But abstractly, and standing alone, and not read in connection with Mr. C.'s letter of Oct 12, I see now it is far too loose, and needs distinct guarding. I cannot and will not consent, of my own volition, to countenance and expurgated edition of my pieces. I have steadily refused to do so here in my own country, even under seductive offers, and must not do so in another country.

I feel it due to myself to write you explicitly thus, my dear Mr. Rossetti, though it may seem harsh, and perhaps ungenerous. Yet I rely upon you to absolve me, sooner or later. Could you see Mr. Conway's letter of Oct. 12, you would, I think, more fully comprehend the integrity of my explanation.


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I have to add that the points made in that letter, in relation to the proposed reprint, as originally designed, exactly correspond with those, on the same subject, in your late letter,—that the kind and appreciative tone of both letters is in the highest degree gratifying, and is most cordially and affectionately responded to by me—and that the fault of sending the loose authorization has surely been, to a large degree, my own.

And now, my friend, having set myself right in that matter, I proceed to say, on the other hand, for you and for Mr. Hotten, that if, before the arrival of this letter, you have practically invested in and accomplished, or partially accomplished, any plan, even contrary to this letter, I do not expect you to abandon it, at loss of outlay, but shall bona fide consider you blameless if you let it go on and be carried out as you may have arranged. It is the question of the authorization of an expurgated edition proceeding from me that deepest engages me. The facts of the different ways, one way or another, in which the book may appear in England, out of influences not under the shelter of my umbrage, are of much less importance to me.

After making the foregoing explanation, I shall, I think, accept kindly whatever happens. For I feel, indeed know, that I am in the hands of a friend, and that my pieces will receive that truest, brightest, of light and perception coming from love. In that, all other and lesser requisites become pale.

It would be better, in any introduction, to make no allusion to me as authorizing, or not prohibiting, &c.

The whole affair is somewhat mixed, and I write off-hand to catch to-morrow's New York steamer—but I guess you will pick out my meaning. Probably, indeed, Mr. Hotten has preferred to go on after the original plan—which, if so, saves all trouble.

I have to add that I only wish you could know how deeply the beautiful personal tone and passages of your letter of Nov. 17 have penetrated and touched me. It is such things

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that go to our hearts, and reward us, and make up for all else, for years. Permit me to offer you my friendship.


I sent you hence, Nov. 23, a letter through Mr. Conway. Also a copy of Mr. Burrough's Notes, Mr. O'Connor's pamphlet, and some papers containing criticisms on Leaves of Grass. Also, later, a prose article of mine, named Democracy, in a magazine.

Let me know how the work goes on, what shape it takes, &c. Finally, I charge you to construe all I have written through my declared and fervent realization of your goodness to me, nobleness of intention, and, I am fain to hope, personal, as, surely, literary and moral sympathy and attachment. And so, for the present, farewell.

Walt Whitman.


No. 5

56 Euston Sq., London, N. W.,
8 Dec., 1867.

My dear Sir:

Your letter of 22 Nov. reached me the other day through Mr. Conway. You no doubt will by this time have received the one I addressed to you two or three weeks ago; but perhaps it may occur to me to repeat here some things said in that letter. I think the most convenient course may be for me first to state the facts about my Selection.

Some while back—I suppose before the middle of Sept.—Mr. Hotten the publisher told me that he projected bringing out a selection from your poems, and (in consequence of my review in the Chronicle) he asked whether I would undertake to make the selection, and write any such prefatory matter as I might think desirable. Proud to associate myself in any way with your writings, or to subserve their diffusion and appreciation here, I gladly consented.

I at once re-read through your last complete edition, and made the selection. In doing this I was guided by two rules—1, to omit entirely every poem which contains passages or words which modern squeamishness can raise an objection

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to—and 2, to include, from among the remaining poems, those which I most entirely and intensely admire. The bulk of poems thus selected is rather less than half the bulk of your complete edition; and, before my selection went to the printer's hands, I had the advantage of revising it by the corrected copy you sent some while ago to Mr. Conway. I also added the prose Preface to Leaves of Grass—obtaining through Mr. Conway your permission to alter (or rather, as I have done, simply to omit) two or three phrases in that Preface (only). THus my selection is a verbatim reproduction of a good number of your poems, unaccompanied by the remainder. There is no curtailment or alteration whatever—and no modification at all except in these three particulars —


1. I have given a note here and there:

2. I have thought it better, considering the difference of a selection from the sum total, to redistribute the poems into five classes, which I have termed—Chants Democratic—Drum Taps—Walt Whitman—Leaves of Grass—Songs of Parting:

3. I have given titles to many poems which in your editions are merely headed with the words of the opening line.

The selection being thus made, I wrote a Prefatory Notice and Dedicatory Letter; and then consigned the whole aaffair to the publisher and printer, somewhere in the earlier days of October. My prefatory matter and something like a third (I suppose) of the poems, were in print before your letter of Nov. 1, addressed to Mr. Conway, reached me; and now the Preface to Leaves of Grass is also in print, and I fancy the whole thing ought to be completed and out by Christmas, or very soon after.

The letter which I wrote you on receipt of yours of Nov. 1 said that I was about to consult the publisher as to dropping the mere selection, and substituting a complete edition, only with slight verbal modifications. This, however, the publisher proved unwilling to do, the Selection being so far

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advanced, advertised, &c. Therefore the Selection will come out exactly as first put together; and on reflection this pleased me decidedly better.


I now proceed to reply to the details of your letter of 22 Nov.

If any blockhead chooses to call my Selection "an expurgated edition," that lie shall be on his own head, not mine. My Prefatory Notice explains my principle of selection to exactly the same effect as given in this present letter; and contains moreover a longish passage affirming that, if such freedom of speech as you adopt were denied to others, all the great literature of the whole world would be castrated or condemned.

The form of title-page which you propose would of course be adopted by me with thanks and without a moment's debate, were it not that my own title-page was previously in print: I enclose a copy. I trust you may see nothing in it to disapprove—as indeed in essentials it comes to much the same as your own model. However, I have already written to the publisher, suggesting that he should decide, according to the convenience of the printing arrangements, which of the two shall eventually appear.

In making my Selection I preserved all (I believe all) "the larger figures dividing the pieces into separate passages or sections," but did not preserve the numbers of the stanzas,—the separation of stanzas, however, continuing as in your edition. I am sorry now that I did not meet your preference in this respect, and that the printing has already proceeded too far for me to revert to the small numbers now. My wish was to get rid of anything of a merely external kind which ordinary readers would call peculiar or eccentric. Parrot-like repetitions of that charge have been too numerous already.

I need scarcely assure you that the most glorious poem on Lincoln is included in my Selection. It shall appear with your title President Lincoln's Funeral Hymn. I had previously given it a title of my own, Nocturne for the Death

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of Lincoln; and in my Prefatory Notice it is alluded to under that title. A note of explanation shall be given.


I await with impatience the receipt of your paper on Democracy. It will find in me no reluctant hearer, as I have always been a democratic republican, and hope to live and die faithful to the meanings of that glorious creed. The other printed matter you have so kindly sent me I received two evenings back from Mr. Conway. The newspaper articles are new to me; with the publications of Mr. O'Connor and Mr. Burroughs I was also familiar, and I entertain a real respect for those publications and their writers.

Believe me, I am grateful to you for your kindness in these matters and for the indulgent eye with which you look upon a project which perhaps after all you would rather had never been entered upon. I am in some hopes that your indulgence will not be diminished when you see what the Selection itself actually looks like. In consequences of the correspondence which has passed since the Selection was made, I may possibly find occasion to add a brief P. S.: it shall contain nothing you could object to. If the Selection aids the general body of English poetical readers to understand that there really is a great poet across the Atlantic, and to demand a complete and unmutilated edition, my desires connected with the Selection will be accomplished.

Believe me, dear Sir, with the deepest respect yours,

W. M. Rossetti.


No. 6

56 Euston Sq., London N. W.,
16 Dec., 1867.

Dear Mr. Whitman:

The receipt of your letter of 3 Decr. this morning would have made me feel miserable were it not that before then the matter had already been set right, and my letter notifying that fact very nearly (no doubt) in your hands by this time. My first letter to you was written too much from the impulse of the moment; and, finding

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soon after from the publisher's statement that the original plan of the Selection could not be altered, I felt that it was also much better it should not be altered. I congratulate myself therefore on being quite at one with you concerning that point. Not one syllable of any one of your poems, as presented in my Selection, will be altered or omitted: that is the first intention and the final result.


Pray believe me however that, while I understood the latitude of your first letter honored me within its widest sense, I still meant to take all proper precautions before acting upon it. I write at once to Mr. Conway enquiring whether he put the same interpretation upon it; and his letter in reply (18 Novr. now before me) replies—"I agree with you that Whitman's letter gives you all the liberty you could desire." I am now perfectly satisfied that it would have been most undesireable for you to give or for me (even if given) to act upon such liberty.

To be honored by your friendship is as great a satisfaction and distinction as my life has presented or ever can present. I respond to it with all warmth and reverence, and the Atlantic seemed a very small space between us while I read and re-read your letter.

I read your paper on Democracy (received a few days ago) with great pleasure and interest. I have always felt—and did so markedly while our own recent Reform discussions were going on—one main truth involved in your paper. That, after one has said that such and such people or classes are not exactly fitted to make the best use of political enfranchisement, one has said only a small part of the truth, the further point remains that to induct these people or classes into the combined national life, and to constitute that life out of them along with all other classes, is an enormous gain. The consequence is that, with the intensest respect and admiration for Carlyle, I find constantly that to acquiesce in the express views he takes of late years of particular questions would be simply to abnegate my own identity.


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The Selection goes on smoothly though not fast—the proofs now approaching their close. I suppose the volume will not fall much if at all short of four hundred pages. You may possibly have seen the advertisement of it repeated several times in publications here, as enclosed (slip cut from the Athanaeum). The "Portrait" is a re-engraving (head and shoulder only, I believe) of the one in the first Leaves of Grass, which was a capital piece of art work. I have not yet seen the reproduction, but trust to find it adequately done.

Always yours,

W. M. Rossetti.


     In the advertisement enclosed by Rossetti I read this: For twelve years the American poet Whitman has been the object of widespread detraction and of concentrated admiration. The admiration continues to gain ground," &c.


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