Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, December 17, 1888.

     Stopped at W.'s in the early morning. All well there. Then to Philiadelphia. Letters from Bucke Friday and Saturday. B. not "confident" W. will last long. Who is? Is afraid we won't be able to give him (Bucke) much notice when the end comes. Down to W. again in the evening. Talk with Ed. Walsh had been in. Had little to say. Only: "Whitman is better." George Whitman stopped in. Ed says W. talked considerably with him after we left last evening. Sat up more to-day than yesterday. Ate well: chicken broth, wine and milk, mutton broth: more than for several days past. Did not touch a book, however, or write. When I got there W. was fast asleep. I stayed in Ed's room till I heard W. stirring—probably half an hour. Then I passed in and had a short talk with him. Light down, room all closed, perceptible odor of burning wood. W. sitting on the edge of the bed for a few minutes, then lying down again. Had this been a better day? "I don't know; I think rather not: only mostly like other days." And he

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added: "I am a bad mess anyway." Had done little "though I was up some." "But I had a letter from the Doctor: the books had n't come yet—it was Saturday forenoon: he expected them in the afternoon: and I wrote him, too—sent him a bundle of papers—one of them the Revue Indépendant (Paris)—discussing me, the book." Pointed out Literary World to me on the table. "I am done with it now: it is a pleasing notice—hedgey, a little—is pulled up short here and there—but agreeable, friendly: from them it is significant." I said: "You always forgive the unforgiveable fellows." He said gently: "I always remember that I am to be forgiven." "After all," I asked: "don't the literary men do just what they must do? most men are not dynamic—they are static: they would rather some one else did the revolutionary things." W. said: " That 's true: but will it always be so?" "Not maybe if the environment is more generous—more hospitable." " That 's what I mean: these fellows would let loose a lot if they did n't have to make a living." I quoted W.'s own line: "It was the body that dragged me in." "Oh," he said, " that 's mine!" Then: "But that 's no reason why it should not be true. That 's the troube with the scribbling fellows" they are dragged in: they would do something different if doing this was not so damned much easier." "But why should they damn you for doing what they would do if they could?" " That 's just the point—why should they? That 's the thing to explain. It can't be jealousy: why should any one be jealous of me? Or do they regard me as an accusation? God knows I don't want to accuse anybody: I do the work—I let the consequences take care of themselves. I recall that in one of my talks with Emerson he said: 'You have a great pack howling at your heels always, Mr. Whitman: I hope you show them all a proper contempt: they deserve no more than your heels.' Emerson could be severe, too, in his own way. Thoreau, in Brooklyn, that first time he came to see me, referred to my critics as 'reprobates.' I asked him: 'Would you apply so severe a word

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to them?' He was surprised: 'Do you regard that as a severe word? reprobates? what they really deserve is something infinitely stronger, more caustic: I thought I was letting them off easy.'"

     W. said he had "not felt well enough" to "do the books" to-day. "I had a Critic in the morning's mail: sent it to the Doctor: it contained several references to me—to the books: Doctor will want them, of course." Had also sent B. some Italian papers (Palermo). Proposed to take a bath to-day but when the time came his zest had flown. Read Press and Record this forenoon: also the local papers—Post, Courier. Harned not in to-day. Makes no move towards the discussion of a cover for the complete W. or the cover for the book to go on the market. For the present everything is suspended. To be resumed? He himself asks: "Who can see a way out of this? who?" Yet hopes—expresses hope: refuses absolute despair, though he is more easily depressed than formerly. "This is one peg more, or many: it even looks like many." Bucke writes: "It is wonderful how clear his writing is." Bucke congratulates Harned on getting the will into a secure place. W. has said nothing about it. Has not missed it. We talked of the Rossetti letters. W. wished it. Not at great length. I had some questions to ask W. Was very vehement about the expurgations. "Of course I see now as clearly as I did then how big and fine Rossetti was about it all—how thoroughly he realized me: much more so and more promptly than Conway, as you must have noticed. But I now feel somehow as if none of the changes should have been made: that I should have said, take me as I am: my bad and my good, my everything—just as I am: to hell with all cuts, all excisions, all moralistic abridgements. I never regret that I gave Rossetti options in the matter, but I doubt if I would do the thing over again that way. Rossetti himself used his margin with great tact, consideration, delicacy: was miracu-

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lously circumspect. But an expurgation means a lot more always than it looks as if it meant—has far-reaching consequences: like one move on the chessboard that moves so much else with it—imposes other moves: so we must look out—must not compromise unless it 's a life and death issue, as it was not in this case. If any mistake was made in this incident it was mine—my mistake: Rossetti was altogether beautiful—genial, loving, open-handed: he was full of resources—always seemed to know which way to turn next."

     I asked: "Did you feel any active dynamic impulse to push the book forward in that way in England?" "No—none at all: I was rather passive as towards it all—would personally have been as well satisfied if the game had been declared off at any stage of the play." "And about redistributing the poems—giving them new titles: did n't that play hob with your scheme?" "Did it? yes indeed: mixed me all up—made Leaves of Grass over from a sequential product to a poetic scrap-heap." Did W. agree with Conway as to the advantage of having an introduction by an Englishman instead of by an American? "Yes—surely: for the purposes of that edition that was the best thing to do: yet we lost heaps in losing William out of that book. There was another regret from which I have always suffered: I always wished William to figure in some edition of the Leaves in an Introduction of some sort, either abroad or here—wanted him in the book as a part of its blood and sinew: at first I thought the Rossetti book might be the occaision I hoped, looked for: then the objections arose: they were good objections." W. said again: "Conway could never understand my stony attitude towards expurgations: he at once flew to the conclusion that I was as willing to expurgate a complete Leaves as a volume of extracts. But the two things are quite unlike: even the extracts should have been used word for word, but I yielded on that—said yes with my lips when my heart said no: I wished to let Rossetti alone as much as possible—not to stand in his

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way."
W. laughed gently: "How people reel when I say father-stuff and mother-stuff and onanist and bare legs and belly! O God! you might suppose I was citing some diabolical obscenity. Will the world ever get over its own idecencies and stop attributing them to God?" "Then on the whole you resent expurgations? Asked to-day you would not submit to them under any circumstances?" "I may say that: yes: I would never permit the text to be tampered with—not for any edition, not for ten thousand editions: it 's a mistake: it 's like going back: why, that 's what Emerson asked me to do—expurgate: he did n't call it expurgate, but that 's what he meant: give the book a chance to be heard: cut the dangerous things out: they won't hurt near as much out as in: excise them—throw them away: but what do you think Leaves of Grass would come to with Children of Adam thrown out? What? what?" W. stopped. Then: "To a cipher: that 's all: what does a man come to with his virility gone? Emerson did n't say anything in the Leaves was bad: no: he only said people would insist on thinking some things bad. Well, those affairs are all past now: we can review them historically now: look back: I am not of the feeling that anybody has committed any crime in the matter: I made one mistake: Emerson—well, Emerson had his rights, too, but in his argument failed to realize the orbic character of the Leaves, supposing that an important piece could be taken out without injury on the whole: Rossetti was altogether logical—logical, asking for permission to do and doing what he did: logical—and loving, too. Oh well: that is now all gone: I 've talked freely with you because I wanted you to know just how the affair looks to me looked back upon from to-day."

     W. said: " I 've got a curio for you." What was it? He held a smallish white unstamped envelope up before me. "This: look at it." I took it from his hand. Opened it and read it. It was addressed to "Walt Whitman Esq., Attorney General's Office, Washington.


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14 Milborne, West Brompton, London, Nov. 7.

My dear Walt: I introduce to you Mr. John Morley, Editor of the Fortnightly Review, in whose acquaintance you will find much pleasure as he will in yours.

Cordially yours,

M. D. Conway


     I asked W.: "What year was that?" He closed his eyes—was still. Then: "I can't just say: is there no year on the letter?" Further: "Morley was not the famous man then that he is now: he has been gradually going ahead ahead ahead until now he is one of the big sized men over there: not quite my type—not the letting-it-go kind: rather too judicial: still quite a man."


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