Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 356] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Saturday, December 22, 1888

     8 P. M. W. reading the Bucke letter, which he wants to print. Made a note or two on it with a blue pencil. Spoke of his health. "It is dull business being confined here, days in and out—chained to the bed, the chair. Yes even this—say, the measure of vitality I enjoy this evening—not sliding back again—is something to relish, to be thankful for." He ate well: drank a lot of milk—cold milk: called for some while I was there. W. said he had a Christmas gift of five dollars from Williamson, in New York. Williamson was always W.'s good friend in more ways than W. was aware of. "How is it George M. Williamson is one of us? Has he come to the conviction by his own vision or has it been pumped into him?" Turning to me: "Can you tell?" "It is there: how it comes there I don't

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 357] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
know."
W.: "I suppose that is the best thing to say under the circumstances." Again: "Did Williamson ever acknowledge November Boughs?" I said: "Yes." Then he: "Oh yes! it comes back to me."

     I had got The Critic. Said there was nothing in it. Had not for that reason brought it down. W. said: "I am glad you did not bring it down: I never have any anxiety to read it. Take it as it comes along—it just seems so-so—that is all: sometimes there is a personal paragraph: something of the sort: practically never anything of final value." He paused. I thought he intended saying more anent The Critic. He did. "Did I tell you about the little piece I sent Doc—the piece on poetry—nothing in it—they sent me five dollars for? It was wholly a surprise: I did not expect it. Joe must be pretty flush." I said: "Either pretty flush or thinking you are not: but whatever the circumstances, the result is equally welcome." W. amened me instantly. W. had a letter from Bucke to-day. "Little, I may say—nothing—in it." I wondered if he had seen Mrs. Costelloe's piece in the English woman's paper he gave me yesterday. "No—I did not know it was there." Should I return the paper? "No—no—I do not care for it. There was nothing in Mary's piece?" Then, after my no: "Oh! I thought not! the subject is not one that interests me."

     I told him some stories of the factory life at Graham's. He said: "I should think you would jot down these incidents as they occur. Oh! they are very suggestive—deep: deeper than most of the things that pass current in books nowadays. There must be a dozen interesting little items every day. Take your little story of the six o'clock whistle: that gets down to real life—the heart of life: there is no beyond. Then you seem to have considerable faculty for telling a story: you should make something of it—give it a chance to develop: I 'm afraid sometimes you 're a little too much inclined to the didactic: your moral earnestness, your intense sympathies, maybe press you a little bit too far

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 358] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
that way. You will probably worm out it but that 's how you seem to be at this stage."
I laughed. "You have hopes of me?" He was extra friendly. "O not only hopes—I am sure of you: I can't make out just now just which road you will take but you 'll find a way and I have no doubt travel it with distinction." I had never had him break loose so about my work. I reminded him: "Once you said I was a damn fool—would never know how to write." "Did I say that? Well, I was a damn fool to say it: I can't imagine what could have tantalized me into such an outburst. You 're still a pretty green pippin but you 'll ripen." Then: "After all there 's something better than to write: that 's not to write: writing is a disease. Look where it has brought me. Do you envy me the pass it has brought me to?"

     W. reached forward to the table: picked up the folded sheets of a book: handed them to me: "This came yesterday—from Kennedy without a doubt: a book: they call it The Other Side of the War: it is written by Katharine Wormeley: I think she must be a nurse: sketches of hospital life: I suppose Sloane sent it thinking it would appeal to me. I have looked at it: did not, however, go far in it: it did not attract me. Take it along—see what you can make out of it: perhaps Aggie would like to read it." He wrote my name on it. "That dismisses it for good." I once went with Slack of The Boston Commonwealth to see Houghton and afterwards with Houghton out to their big printery in Cambridge. W. said: "When I was in Boston I had a very good time—everybody was kind to me—everybody tried to make me comfortable. The Osgoods gave me a little room—a room about as large as that yonder"—pointing to Ed's bedroom: "there I would read proofs—do anything I chose. It was a room they used one day in the week for paying off—that was all. Often I would read my proofs at the hotel. I took things very easy—moved slowly, did all carefully, and, I think, well." Was the Osgood edition not a good one, &c.? "Oh yes: I was satisfied

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 359] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
with it: besides I had my own way there from the start. It seems to me a man was never more fortunate than I have been in having things done just as he demands them. I never for an instant lost sight of this—lost my grip, hold, of the books: I handled them, shifted them, changed them, never yielding control of them for an instant to any one. Take the big book, for instance: whatever it is not, it certainly is what I—I alone—no other—designed it should be. Whether lost—lost at last—unaccepted, unread—whether the world listens or turns from it—there at least it is—direct from my hand, I alone being responsible for the making of it. That of itself is something high in the nature of reward, if we must have reward. There is everything to tempt a man to stray—little to hold him steadfast—yet to stick must at last be its own satisfaction."
But "'satisfaction' is perhaps not the word: another word—perhaps 'integrity'—better says it. To steer clear of all the rocks, to remain faithful to an initial purpose—that is the point." "Everybody interferes, advises, threatens: printers, binders, worst of all publishers. If a fellow could safely get through all that many a battle would be saved: trouble: quarrel: loss." Here he picked up the poker, stirred the fire, separated the red embers—took from me a couple of heavy logs—speaking slowly as he did so: "I had a funny experience with a publisher in my early days—with the first edition. A fellow there was willing to print it but for a couple of lines which he construed into a disrespectful reference to God Almighty. It has always seemed to me very funny because I have never heard a word of complaint against them: nobody has picked them out though they have picked out nearly everything else." I remarked: "We have made strides in the conception of God since then." W.: "I should hope so: I believe we have. This printer himself said he was not 'squeamish' 'but' &c!"

     I repeated to W. the substance of a conversation I had with him on a Market Street car one Thanksgiving Day years ago—he going to Preston Street to dinner, I to For-

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 360] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
tieth Street. We talked of progress. W. remarked the increased pace each decade, attributing it to more efficient methods of communication, through commerce, printing, telegraphy, &c. As he stirred the fire again he said: "Yes, it is a quick movement now—I often feel impelled to ask, is it too quick?" But he "supposed" the tempo "was a reasonable one for the reasons given." "That which I said to you long ago, as you put it, sounds very like—it is manifestly true, whether I said it or not. I should be inclined to repeat that explanation now: solidarity—the word solidarity—that seems to me most to fit. I like much to see that word—solidarity, intercalation: not Philidelphia alone, Camden alone, even New York alone, but all together, all nations—the globe: intercalation, fusion, no one left out." I referred to the French fondness for the word: then to the orthodox puritan comtempt for French ways of life. As to this he said: "I take no part in it: it excites my contempt." Further as to solidarity: "Yes: Comte makes much of it: it is peculiarly a French word: comes naturally from the French. That is a fact I always remember in connection with Victor Hugo—with Tolstoy, too, who is not French, yet human with Hugo: their great purpose is human: their purpose is communication, understanding." He thought he had been "thoroughly inoculated by O'Connor." "People—most of them—people here—call it sentiment in the French, in Hugo, but I confess it seems to me all right—the necessary, the inevitable, thing from their standpoint: and it is from that standpoint they must be judged—not from our circumstances, our environment, but theirs: and from theirs, how high, how lofty, what Hugo, what Tolstoy—others, too—have done!" Indeed, he thought that "even the humblest person is entitled to be so judged in connection with the environment to which he has had to conform." He protested his "affection for the use of the word 'solidarity'" for "broadest reasons." "Solidarity is the future."

     W. gave me a Rudolf Schmidt letter. "It relates to the

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 361] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Danish prose book—Schmidt's own translation; you should have it along with the Rossetti and other such documents. Schmidt's letter was in English."
W. was silent as I read it.


Copenhagen, 2 January, 1874.

Dear Walt Whitman:

To-day the first part of the manuscript of the translation of Democratic Vistas goes to the printer. I would not write to you before I could give you sure information.

It is a devilish hard thing to translate your prose, and our ordinary translators most surely would break their necks in trying it.

I shall send your translation in loose sheets and give the bookseller an order to send you one or two complete copies.

When the book appears I will have left Copenhagen for one or two months; I am going to Germany a little, too.

Your letters shall reach me surely when sent to the old address.

I shall be glad to hear from you. An American gentleman told me that you were going to England. Is it true?

Yours,

Rudolf Schmidt.


     W. said: "Schmidt brought out a fine book: I am told that the translation was way above par—was more than good: was virile—idiomatically strong: faithful, circumspect, clarified. That man Schmidt is a big man: also a man of many sorrows, I fear: has had domestic troubles of one sort or another—something. He has written me considerably in the past—not so much now: was an admirer, lover, of Bjornson—recanted (gave up his idol): seems to have some vinegar in his composition, which I do not marvel at remembering what he has gone through. I want you to have some of his letters: I will look them up for you: they go to the making of our story. There is in some way a remote-

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 362] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
ness about Schmidt: I don't know how I get the impression, but I have it strong; he seems to hermit himself."

     George Whitman in to-day. Saw Walt for a minute. Never stays longs. Makes brief inquiries. In nearly every day. W. knows I am on friendly terms with the men at the ferry and on the boats. Made explicit inquiries to-night of many of them by name, of some of them descriptively: knows most of them by name however. "Pilot" this and "engineer" that and "deck hand" the other: and then he said: "Tell me about Ed Lindell—tell me particularly about him." Lindell is a gatekeeper on this side—a great friend: the only man there who reads W., I believe: a strange character, with striking elements who never reads other books: always asks after W.—used to talk with him daily. I see L. often. Told W. so. W. was much concerned about one of the engineers who I told him was sick—perhaps mortally so. Asked: "What boats are they running now?" I named several of the boats. W. then: "The Beverly is the best of all: the Wenonah is good, too: they were the special good boats." I mentioned the Pennsylvania. "Lindell tells me she is the best of all in obeying her rudder." W. said: "I can't believe it—the dear old boat! And you say the Delaware is still used? What has anybody to say in her praise? The poor old Delaware seems to go unvoiced." Dwelt upon "the old days strolling and lolling about the wharves and on the boats": "sunshine and cloud—seeing many people—water, sky, life." "I never used the other ferry: this was the most convenient." Finally he said: "Give my love to the boys—to all of 'em!"

     Ed came in with an armful of wood. W. admired "the fine thick chunks." "Who split it? You? Why, I did not hear you": adding: "I have a neighbor, next door below, who splits his wood on the floor—seems to get up in the middle of the night to do it. He is not a particular fellow: sometimes takes a notion of early morning to get up and tramp steadily about his room, miles and miles: then makes his fire: then whistles—generally starts up a noise: wakes

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 363] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
me at all hours: I manage to hear him whom I ought not to hear—miss you whom I should like to hear."
I remarked that Ed had his hair cut. W. said as Ed left the room: "Yes, Eddy has been and had his picture taken—had to spruce up: the boy is a little like the women: they will fix up whatever is said: if they have jewelry on it must go."

     W. gave me my personal copy—the complete W. W.— to-night. I left it at the house this morning on my way to Philadelphia. He proposed last night that I should do this. "I have done the writing and tied up the book again." At home I opened the package: found in it the inscription that follows. It is the first time he has let himself go to me.


To Horace Traubel from his friend the author Walt Whitman

& my deepest heartfelt thanks go with it to H T in getting this book out—it is his book in a sense—for I have been closely imprison'd & prostrated all the time (June to December 1888) by sickness & disability—& H T has managed it all for me with copy, proofs, printing, binding, &c. The Volume, & especially "November Boughs" & the portraits, could not now be existing formulated as here, except thro' his faithful & loving kindness & industry, daily, unitermitted, unremunerated—

W W Dec: 1888
Camden New Jersey—


     Baker came in just as I left. I advised him to go up and see W. a minute. He did so. W. very hearty and cheerful with him. W. gave me a soiled and rumpled picture of himself which I found on the floor. "Whose is it?" I asked. He asked in turn: "Don't you recognize its characteristics? It 's one of the Gardner pictures—one of the best. It was sometimes my mother's favorite picture of me: she said to me often about it: 'When I look at this picture I feel like cheering thee with extra love.' You want it? Why of

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 364] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
course, take it: there must be other copies here."
I asked him if he would some day put his name on it. The light was down. He was back on his bed by this time. "Yes, some day, not to-night: bring it along some time: yes."


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.