Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, January 2, 1889.

     7.45 P. M. W. on bed: cane: some papers: had been there, he said, "for an evening's quiet hour or so." Ed says: "He generally takes that nap before you come." W. said after the "Good evening—and how fares it with you?"—"Eddy is off to-night: takes a music lesson once a week: is very fond of music—his violin: plays it assiduously downstairs: I encourage him: it is good for every fellow to have a hobby." "Provided it does not ride him." "Yes—that always provided." He wondered if there was not "something" in Eddy and if that "something" could not "be brought out by the free play of his tastes." He took it for granted of Eddy as of most men. "Good Eddy! what a good boy he is!" Then he questioned me. "What sort of a day have you spent? Who have you met? What? New people? New experiences? I hardly suppose so: I guess it is the same round—the monotonous round in a sense—like mine here, it may almost be said: waking—doing a little this, a little that—then sleeping again." Has not yet written Morse. " To-morrow, maybe. Sidney's address is the same?"

     W. has at last started reading Tolstoy's My Confession. He was "curiously interested"—interested "even in things" he "would seem to be naturally driven to protest against." "What does it all mean?" he asked. His cursory original look into the book had been if anything unfavorable: now he was "alive with interest." "In spite of myself," he first said. Then: "It is scarcely fair to use that term sine I have no desire not to like Tolstoy—only the earlier impression of repugnance, now rapidly vanishing. It is hard for me to explain the book: is it not

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morbid? indeed, may I not say dreadfully morbid?"
I argued: "It would be morbid for us here in America: it is not morbid for him there in Russia." W.: "That is a better way to put it: yet I wonder to myself how a man can get into that state of mind. It is as though we should sit down to a meal—ask, why do I eat? why is this good? why will it have such and such results? —or on a hot day in summer—why do I feel so good in the glory of the sun? or, why do I strip and souse in the water? or, why does the flowing river make me happy?—why? why? making that mood the talisman for all?" W. raised himself on his elbow as he spoke: then dropped back again. "Yet I realize Tolstoy is a big, a genuine, man: a fact, real, a power"—seeming to reflect in the interval: "Most of all, a fact—as a fact, adopting Frederick's saying, to be reverenced. I do not distrust him: I feel that he is a subject—a bit out of nature—yet to be grasped, yet to be understood. I am not denying, only struggling with, him." It was his "first encounter with the Tolstoy mystery." "While baffled still, still I am not all baffled: I must keep on. For instance, I feel that he is, as a fact, a different fact from Shakespeare—a different order, we may describe it to be." I interrupted: "So are you." W. nodded: "I do not forget: I do not say, for that to be any the less honored." Tolstoy is "strangely removed from the Shakespearean." How removed he did not seem disposed to define. "That is what's to come yet." As to being "different" himself: "I feel that at many points, in essentials, I share the Shakespearean quality—except," he apologized— "of course"—here again a reflecting moment— "as to the last point—the highest flights—the latest plays—in which the breadth is so great—so unmistakably phenomenal." But he must still state his dissent even from S. "Shakespear, however, is gloomy, looks upon the people with something like despair: does so especially in his maturer plays: seemed to say: after all the human critter is a devil of a poor fellow—full of frailties, evils, poisons

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—as no doubt he is if you concentrate your light on that side of him—consent that this, this alone, is the man—are determined to take the pessimistic view."
But his own "deep impressions run counter to such lack of faith." He recognized Tolstoy's "faith and call." "Perhaps the strongest point with Tolstoy—this point that most fastens itself upon men, upon me—is this: that here is a man with a conviction—a conviction—on which he planted himself, stakes all, invites assault, affection, hope. That would be a good deal if there was nothing more—not a hint more: whereas that there is more to Tolstoy I think no one can doubt." He "clearly perceived, as perhaps not before," that "however little Tolstoy might prove to be his, for him, his place and purpose, lofty indeed, for some—perhaps for the modern world—that strange seething European world chiefly—is no longer to be questioned."

     W. reached under the pillow. "I have something here for you." Handed me a letter in an envelope. W. had marked on it in red ink: "from Ch Warren Stoddard California 1870." " It 's a rather beautiful letter: startling, too, I should say: not offensively so, however: but read it first."


2d April, 1870.

To Walt Whitman.

In the name of Calamus listen to me! before me hangs your beautiful photograph, twice precious, since it is your gift to me. Near at hand lies your beloved volume and with it the Notes of Mr. Burroughs.

May I not thank you for your picture and your letter? May I not tell you over and over that where I go you go with me, in poem and picture and the little volume of notes also, for I read and reread trying to see you in the flesh as I so long to see you!

I wrote you last from the Sandwich Islands. I shall before long be even further from you than ever, for I think of sailing towards Tahiti in about five weeks. I know there is but one hope for me. I must get in amongst people who

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are not afraid of instincts and who scorn hypocrisy. I am numbed with the frigid manners of the Christians; barbarism has given me the fullest joy of life and I long to return to it and be satisfied. May I not send you a prose idyl wherein I confess how dear it is to me? There is much truth in it and I am praying that you may like it a little. If I could only know that it has pleased you I should bless my stars fervently.


I have been in vain trying to buy from our Library a copy of your Leaves, edition of 1885. I think it your first and I have somewhere read that you set the type for it yourself. Is it true? Do you think I could obtain a copy of it by addressing some Eastern publisher or bookseller?

You say you "don't write many letters." O, if you would only reply to this within the month! I could then go into the South Seas feeling sure of your friendship and I should try to live the real life there for your sake as well as for my own. Forgive me if I have worried you: I will be silent and thoughtful in future, but in any case know, dear friend, that I am grateful for your indulgence.

Affectionately yours,

Charles Warren Stoddard.


      "I have had other letters from him," said W.: "when they turn up you shall have them: he is your kind of a man some ways: I would like to have you meet him some day: he is still alive—somewhere: he did go off I believe as he threatens in the letter: he is of a simple direct naive nature—never seemed to fit in very well with things here: many of the finest spirits don't—seem to be born for another planet—seem to have got here by mistake: they are not too bad—no: they are too good: they take their stand on a plane higher than the average practice. You would think they would be respected for that, but they are not: they are almost universally agreed to be fools—they are derided rather than reverenced: why, Horace, you are a

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good sight such a sort of a fool yourself."
He thought I might be hurt. Laid his hand on mine: "You know what I refer to in you? I mean your other worldliness, as they call it: you have that in you: the disposition to sacrifice yourself to others—to ideas, ideals—all that: it means hell for you maybe here and there but heaven too for sure. Stoddard was, is, that sort of a man, they tell me: I have felt it in his letters."

     W. suddenly took a notion to get up. I helped him to the chair. His legs are little good. He leans heavily on you. Yet he on his own plane is comfortable just now. "One thing is gone utterly and forever—my agility," he said as we walked across the room. Sat down. Stirred the fire. "I will get you to hand me the poker," he said. Then worked for fully ten minutes—likes it—with the embers, talking meanwhile leisurely and at perfect ease. Turned up light, too: brushed his hair back from his face and brow. Did he nap it always so in the evening as Ed said? "No: I have no rule: I live, move, just as the spirit directs." He had read somewhere of Humboldt's informal mode of life while in Paris—eating, sleeping, &c., not by hours but by instinct. W. liked the idea. Spoke of it. I received from Boston to-day a copy of The Republic containing a brief review of November Boughs—flat but affirmative. Left it with W. Gave me Herald containing the review: again approved "its excellent good judgment in letting me state my case for myself." Too often "the reviewers so called come between." He handed me Bucke's letter of the 31st. " There 's nothing new in it—yet it is fresh, breezy." Reached to the table. " Here 's a new sheet also of Doctor's printed letter: Curtz set to work, corrected it." Did Bucke object to having the letter used in this way? "No—he had no grave, not any, objection to it: only, he balked at the Goethe with the accent. It is changed but I don't see that it makes much difference." Was it the scholar in B. that objected? "No—I would n't call it that: the German: the individual, first of all." I

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picked up a square much trodden envelope from the floor. "Whose writing is this?" W. took it—put on his glasses. "I do not know." Opened it. "Oh! a man named Angus—a Scotchman: I remember now: it came several months ago: you like curious things: take it along then—put it in your pocket." I did not read it there but at home. It was curious.

     I picked up a photo from a box near the fire. "Ah! Baxter!" W.: "Oh, yes! it came a day or two ago: he wrote a good letter along with it—but it was not what we call newsy." I remarked a resemblance between Baxter's face and Howells'. W. said: "I see what you mean: it is there: Baxter has something of the German scholar look." Spoke warmly of Baxter's "advocacy and friendship." January Century there on a pile of papers. Opening with Stillman's piece on Giotto—copiously illustrated. W. had not read it. "I know it must be considered something important to artists." It did not appeal to him. But he had read "several pieces in the number." "I have been particularly interested in the Hay-Lincoln there—the Emancipation chapter: read every word of it." Then he asked: "Did you see about McClellan? Poor McClellan! Poor McClellan! How they lay it on him! Yet I don't doubt but it is just—that he deserves it." He had "always had an impression amounting to the same thing." Contrasted Lincoln "as here portrayed" with McClellan: "see how above all others, unapproached, Lincoln is." Bucke is earnest as to W.'s diet. W. inclined to observe, yet rebellious. He acknowledges that Bucke knows— "but—but"—and laughs it off. Giving me a letter to mail he asked: "Are you one of the fellows who forget? I have had a queer knack trusting just such rascals: I am one of them myself—so I know what they are and how to appreciate them!" He was very much like his old self all this evening. He was curious to have me tell him something about Bonsall. We had had a talk to-day. Bonsall is one of W.'s "warmest partisans." Bonsall says: "We have to be partisans in order to fight

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off the enemy."
W. "not quite sure". He said: "You must nt make too many claims: be conservative: let the other fellow make the claims against us: we should just stick to our work and let the claims take care of themselves. It seems absurd for us to be putting crowns on our own heads—to be patting ourselves on our backs—to be throwing bouquets at ourselves." I spoke of a Beranger poem of a poet who was asking questions or providence all the time and was told to "sing, poor little thing—sing, sing!" and ask no questions. W. laughed over that. " That 's mighty good: sing, poor little thing—sing, sing! and ask no questions: sing, Walt Whitman: sing, sing! and ask no questions: and you, too, Horace—you are not excused: you, too, sing, poor little thing—sing! sing!"


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