Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, December 18, 1888.

     7.45 P. M. Caught W. writing the lines— "To the year 1889": the light up full: Ed dozing on the lounge. W. with his writing pad on his lap, pencil in hand: seemingly wrapped in deep thought. He looked up—did not at once see who it was: "Ah! it is the Doctor!" I laughed. He discovered his mistake. "Well—you are not unlike him—don't even look unlike him: your manner is much similar: as it is said, there is great likeacality." But: "The Doctor has not been here to-day: I suppose it is not yet too late: what is the time, anyhow?" He added: "This is the first day he has failed to come." A mistake: Walsh did n't come Saturday—Osler alone. Then he relapsed. Complained of being dizzy. "I do not know how to account for it—whether it comes from hanging my head down over the writing here—turning my neck about: but my brain gives out: I feel sick and dizzy—unsteady." Laid his paper aside. Closed his eyes. Then said: "But I am better—undoubtedly better: better and waiting for what will turn up."

     W. said to Mrs. Davis earlier in the day: "I suppose

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in about a week there will be another spell: I am like the Indian sqaw who lost her husband—ready for another."
He added to me: "Whatever the reason, this dizziness often recurs: it is a sick weakening feeling: it generally accompanies this gastric trouble." He was averse to taking medicine. "I should not dare to tell the Doctor how much cold water and cold milk I drink." He had been up a good part of the day—really up and in his chair. This evening looked fagged but was verbally lively. Mary and Ed both speak of his rather dismal day. W.: "I am consumed with the desire to drink—drink—drink: it goes so all day long." He had "tried to be busy"—to "interest" himself "in papers and books" to-day. "I have a letter from Doctor written Sunday: interesting: but the books had not come yet." He handed me the letter. "He is in a great stew about it: it is very annoying anyhow: this tariff business: always makes me mad if I will let it." Spoke vehemently denouncing "our national narrowness." What would B. think of the book? "I have been very conservative in all I have said to the Doctor about it: I did not prepare him to expect much"—here turning to me mock threateningly: "But you have done so, I 'm afraid: you have written him—said a good deal about it." Yet he had his "own notion"—a notion "more and more intrenched." Even of Bucke he would have to say: "If he likes it—if he don't like it—it will be all the same to me: I am more and more convinced that it is the thing—just the thing: that the whole book, kept simple, genuine, is justified: it bears me out: it grows: it can be lived with day by day, night after night—months, years: after that nothing more needs be said." I made the suggestion (had before to both Bucke and W.) that this cover more or less points the way to the permanent cover. W.: "Yes: I consider that wise and something to be weighed—perhaps followed: something rich, durable"—fingering the volume on his lap— "in that line, color, air—strong, direct, characteristic." He said he had shown it to a number of people. "I find they

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all call it a noble book: it strikes me as likely to last satisfactorily, in spite of all minor objections."

     He asked about the bundle of books downstairs: how were they brought? &c. Would have us bring up the smaller box, "sometime," he put it. I queried: "Now? what better time than now?" slinging off my overcoat. W. laughing: "Yes: now, if you chose: that is my malady: not to do a thing promptly." A good tug. But we got the box in, W. watching us, interested. We put the box beside the bed against the south wall. W. thought it would make a good chair. We counted the books. W. had not written in many of them to-day. Had been "feeling in another mood." He wished me to get wrapping paper for sending the books away in. Offered me money. I refused. He said: "You always seem proud about money—sort of damned stuck up about it: don't you think my money good enough for you to have?" He held up a couple of bills: "You should not spend so much money for me—entertaining my friends: you should let me at least share all your expenses with you." I still said no. He added: " There 's no reason for your tomfoolishness, of course—no reason: we are doing the work together here: why should n't we share and share?" But as I was still stubborn: "I suppose it 's your feeling: I have such feelings myself: they are stronger than logic—no argument can touch them: they drive a man on and on: he can't account for them—he only obeys them. Well—God bless you!"

     He wrote Kennedy a note this evening. "I told him I had an idea of sending some books to him—in his care: a bundle of them: asked whether he would deliver them—how he wants them sent? whether somewhere in the city: I shall express them—prepay them—send one for him, one for Harland [he meant Garland], one for Baxter, one for Mrs. Fairchild. I sent the note for Kennedy up by Eddy: Sloane must get it to-morrow: he will answer it at once: so I will probably hear from him Thursday." For the present he had "not many books to send away—

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probably a dozen"
—would let them remain boxed. Suddenly he seemed struck, as if by something he had intended to say and nearly forgotten: "By the way, Kennedy writes an interesting letter. He says he has hit upon a poem there in the Harvard Library—a poem on Solitude—bound—purporting to be 'by Walt Whitman': so it reads: Kennedy says he looked into it some—examined portions—felt it was not me—was suspicious of it: he quoted a few lines, the two or so at the start. Of course it 's ridiculous—not mine: morbid, unhealthy: not ill done—not, however, done my way. Strangely, Kennedy says it was sent there by Lowell—was so specified: James Russell Lowell, 1860. Kennedy asked if I had not something to say to him about it—was it mine, &c? You can easily imagine for yourself what I wrote him. I sent Kennedy's letter to the Doctor—it should have been kept for you to see." Again he said: "It gives a fellow a queer feeling to find himself swirled into the atmosphere of a forgery on himself: wrenches him—makes him ask questions: I have been wondering all day whether I am really myself or some one else."

     Pictured imaginatively the city streets, the weather and the near Christmas. "There must be streams and streams of people—met everywhere—crossing you in all directions: old and young, gay and sad" &c. &c.—the play of his imagination quite fine. He said further: "The Christmas lasts in its own way rather than in the old way: the theological suppositions are all taken out of it: it has become humanized—been brought down to the earth out of the heavens: has been humanized—sometimes I think almost marketized." W. advised me to read Bucke's letter. He referred particularly to this: "I wish I could hear from O'Connor—I imagine all sorts of things about him and worry a great deal." W. said: "I too imagine but I do not worry: I too wonder: but I won't make the concession that my suspicions seem somehow to impose. It looks to me as if William was in for some extreme decision before

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long—I don't think he can last this way many months: it cuts me to the heart—the drag of it all: with me, too, sitting here, utterly hopeless."
W. said: "Maurice has The Literary World you sent him: he liked the review: he says some pleasant things about it, as you see. But the reviewers? who are they? Sometimes real men—sometimes sincere scholars, competent, in a way authoritative, entitled to our respect: sometimes: in the rare case: but for the most part ignoramuses choked with prejudice carrying a club." "You have had the good and the bad in your own case." "So I have—but not good enough to make much show against the bad." I said: "But it looks as if the good would win out: don't you call that enough good?" He laughed and shook his finger at me: "There you are, arguing again. But maybe you are right. Do you really think they will win out? be good enough to win out?" I replied: "Emerson says, one with God is a majority. Can't we say Symonds with God is a majority? or Dowden with God? or Rossetti with God? or O'Connor with God? Can't we say that?" W. retorted: "You are devilish cute: maybe we can: at any rate you have scored a point on me. The fact remains however that the main body of criticism still remains either ignorant of me or against me." "Well—why should n't it? You've got to give the laggards time to catch up: you say so in your own poems." "God bless you, so I do: sometimes I forget myself, you see—go on like any other scarifying quarreller: berate people for not doing what they are not prepared to do: expecting them to reach way beyond themselves. I know it 's not reasonable: will not hurry the world along beyond its pace. Then there remains the other reflection: maybe I 'm not so far ahead as I think I am—maybe Walt Whitman's not ahead of the world at all—maybe the world's ahead of Walt Whitman: maybe it 's with the world, not with Walt Whitman, to complain: who knows?"

     He stopped—was very quiet. "Do you have moods in which you get that doubtful about yourself?" "Yes—

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sometimes: at least moods in which I put myself through a series of the severest questions. It does a man good to turn himself inside out once in a while: to sort of turn the tables on himself: to look at himself through other eyes—especially skeptical eyes, if he can. It takes a good deal of resolution to do it: yet it should be done—no one is safe until he can give himself such a drubbing: until he can shock himself out of his complacency. Think how we go on believing in ourselves—which in the main is all right (what could we ever do if we did n't believe in ourselves?): but if we don't look out we develop a bumptious bigotry—a colossal self-satisfaction, which is worse for a man than being a damned scoundrel."

     W. shot all this out much faster than in his usual talk as if stirred by great feeling. When he was through with it I thought he was likely to say more. When he was through with it I thought he was likely to say more. So I did not break in. There were some minutes of silence. Then he quietly said: "At least that 's the way the situation looks to me, Horace: I have no illusions about myself: Leaves of Grass is still speculative—I mean its hold on the world, its place in literature: where it is to be put if put anywhere at all: whether it 's to go to the dust bin to which Carlyle was so fond of consigning his contemporaries." I asked W.: "Suppose the whole damned thing went up in smoke, Walt: would you consider your life a failure?" He cried out at once with intense feeling: "Not a bit of it: why my life? why any life? No life is a failure. I have done the work: I have thrown my life into the work: in those early years: teaching, loafing, working on the newspapers: traveling: then in Washington—clerking, nursing the soldiers: putting my life into the scale—my single simple life: putting it up for what it was worth: into the book—pouring it into the book: honestly, without stint, giving the book all, all, all: why should I call it a failure? why? why? I don't think a man can be so easily wrecked as that." "You really mean that you don't think he can be wrecked at all." "Yes— that 's better— that 's saying the whole truth: not

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wrecked at all."
I said: "You don't seem to be disturbed by literary ambitions." "Well—say it anyway you choose: I have had ambitions: no one is without ambition: nothing can be done without it: but I had no notion of simply shining—of doing something brilliant, showy, to catch the popular imagination: I can say I never was bitten by that poisonous bug: but I had ambition: there were some things I wanted to do—some things I wanted to say: I was very eager to get my life according to a certain plan—to get my book written so, according to a certain plan: I was very resolute about that: that was my ambition: to get certain things said and done." He was still talking with intense feeling. "Have I done it? Have I fulfilled my ambition? God knows. Here I am about stepping out with the case still undecided." "But you really have some confidence in the decision?" "On the whole, yes: sometimes, no: but on the whole, yes."

     W. said: "Harned has not been in to-day: I miss him: I like him to come every day: he never stays long (I wish he would stay longer) but he always says a few stirring cheerful things which wake me up." No callers to-day. W. read the daily papers. " That 's hopeful: don't you think so?" he asked. Wrote to Bucke. "A short letter," he said. Then: "I am depending upon you to in the main keep our folks informed how I am—John, William, Kennedy: and, if you will, I would like it if you should connect with the fellows abroad: they should know you—you already know them: they should be told from time to time whether I am walking or crawling: they write me constantly—seem so sincerely, profoundly, anxious: Carpenter, Symonds, Dowden, Rossetti: and there are others, Horace—quite a list: they have been loyal to me." I was getting ready to go when he handed me a little bunch of stuff from off the corner of the chair. "We have often talked of Charley Hine—of his portrait of me: the portrait Johnston has: I have told you some things about Charley—some things about the picture: to-day I came across this stuff pinned together just

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as you see it. I thought of you at once—thought that you would like to see the letters: they will explain some things to you: a letter from Johnston, the draft of a letter—my letter—to Charley, a letter from Mrs. Hine to me: they are sad enough—pathetic: you will find them valuable in the statistical way: they will give you a few dates."
He smiled: "You are rapidly becoming our statistician-in-chief!" On Mrs. Hine's yellow envelope W. had written "from Mrs. Hine about my dear friend C.H." W.'s letter and Johnston's were unenclosed. I said good night to W. He said: "I mean to fill in a book for you some day when the humor is on." I read the letters when I got home.


"sent May 9, '68"

My dear Charles Hine:

I received with gladness the authentic sign and proof that you are on hand and doing,—viz. Watson's Art Journal with notice &c—I am anxious to see the picture. I am sure it must be a thing of beauty, glowing, human and true. Believe me, my friend, I have not forgotten you nor your old kindnes and friendliness. Also Mrs. Hine and the daughter—to whom I send best remembrances.

As soon as I come to New York again I will visit you at the studio. In the meantime, I send you by same mail as this a copy of my last edition, also a little book, written by Mr. Burroughs, (a second Thoreau,)—and a newspaper, with letter—the book and letter all about my precious self,—and I dare say may interest you. If the books are not brought by the carrier, you must send to p. o. for them. I have seen Faris here, but now he has gone back to N. Y. I am working in the Attorney General's office—have a pleasant berth, moderate pay, but sufficient. I am well, weigh nearly 200, and eat my rations every time. You must write and let me know whether the books come safe.







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New Haven, Aug 6, 1871.

My dear friend Walt Whitman:

I have written so many letters to you dictated by Charles that I feel a painful pleasure in commencing this to you at this time, knowing that his voice is silent, and that no pleasant message can come from his lips to you. It is useless for me to tell you how strong his affection was for you, and how he has looked forward to you coming N. H. I think that after your visit to him that his hold on life seemed to give way and his yearnings were all accomplished. There was a gentleman, Mr. John Matthew, who was very kind to him once in New York when he was sick. He had sent several invitations to him but he put it off for some reason, and he was the only one of all his friends. His exit was peaceful—no struggle—a gradual giving way. He used to say: "I don't believe I can die," when his sufferings were so great. It seemed as if his release would never come. And although I thought he was likely to die at any time, still I found I was unprepared for his departure—and my ambition and hopes were all crushed. I am feeling most keenly the desolation of widowhood. I look at my three children and think what a work I have yet to perform. The duty of father and mother both merged in one. As far as my means go I am left very dependent, Charley's protracted sickness exhausting the little we had laid by. I hope I may realize a little from the sale of pictures. I want to ask you if you could at the distance I live assist me to get some writing or copying to do. I thought you if anyone might know of something, and you could perhaps make inquiries that might lead to my getting some business of that kind. I wish I might. Mr. Townsend, a dear friend of Charley's, has sent you a paper with a pleasant article written by himself. I hope you have received it. I am intending to visit New York soon. I shall try to call upon your mother. It will be always pleasant to me to hear from you; any and every association connected with my husband will be hallowed. The funeral was Masonic and

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largely attended, and the ceremony at the grave was very impressive.


My mother from Massachusetts is with me for a few days and is a great comfort.

Hoping to hear from you soon I am very sincerely you friend

Mrs. Charles Hine.



New York, March 25th, 1884.

Dear Walt:

I promised you I would send you fifty dollars four times over for your portrait by Hine, but the thought has occurred to me that your moving may make it desirable to have some extra cash just now, and so I send you my check for one hundred dollars and will send the balance before you need it, I trust; if not a gentle reminder from you will fetch it.

As I looked at your things packed up for moving, I wondered if you had in any way by will or otherwise secured their safe care when you have passed away. Some one who loves you should have them to give to the world in proper shape. I do not consider myself the proper one, although I hope some day to tell the world "what I know about Walt Whitman," but the safe care of your literary remains I feel anxious to have in right hands.

Mr. Montgomery was wonderfully delighted with meeting you, and talked of nothing else all day and evening. He is a man of very marked ability, who will be heard of before long in politics and literature. I think he has a wonderfully well-balanced mind. Alma ws sorely disappointed at my not bringing you home with us Sunday and hope you will very soon visit us.

I want you to write me the full history of the painting by Hine—when, where, how, &c &c.

Sincerely yours,

J. H. Johnston



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