Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, January 3, 1889.

     8 P. M. W. up to his recent best standard to-day. Visitors few. Harned, Harry Bonsall (or Bart?). Reading Emerson when I entered. "Glimpsing a few paragraphs—that is all." "What do you bring?" seeing a book in my hand. I passed it over. He opened it quickly. Looked along at the picture of C.'s mother: said nothing: then at the picture of Mrs. Carlyle. "It is reputed that she was a beautiful woman." After a long and attentive study: "Now I see that she must have been. I have never seen her so favorably presented as in this." Looked at the book critically. "The type is good too." Turning the pages again: "Oh! I am sure I shall be greatly interested: I can already see it." He sent The Republic off to Bucke. This was a mistake. I had had a copy sent to him direct. I had intended that B should have the paper? "No? Well—well—I thought you did. I sent B. along with it a little package of the letters—the printed letters: the new print of them, corrections and all." He was in fact annoyed at himself, first for the errors, second for having used the letter without asking permission. He was anxious to have the Doctor satis-

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fied— "to show him" that he was "inclined to act fairly." He thought The Republic piece "very indifferent."

     I returned W. Greg's pamphlet and letter. Read to-day. I called it "rather weak and stale, though, like The Republic, affirmative." W.: "You are right: undoubtedly it is stale and weak." He listened as I read him some familiar sentences not quoted. "I noticed that, too: it is wonderful like something or other: but then you must excuse him: he addressed an audience—wanted to interest them." Here W. stopped, resuming more seriously: "But when it comes to publishing I know that don't excuse. The least he could do there would be to give credit for his facts." As to Greg's repetition of the idea that twenty to thirty W. read few books aside from Shakespeare and the Bible: "That is funny—very funny: it is often said." "And he apologizes" for the "certain passages" of L. of G. which "out to be dropped," &c-( "even dear Emerson suggesting it"). "That is something that is often said even by my friends: I do not appreciate it: I have made my decision—must stick to it. However inclusive the objections may be my own reasons are the only reasons for me." He asked: "What do you know about the Boston Republic? I looked it over some—it struck me as much like Boyle O'Reilly's paper, The Pilot—to stand for much the same thing."

     Discussed permanent cover for complete W. W. I suggested that he have me go on—compare my own ideas with Oldach's—see what would result. He said: "Yes, do it: and would it not be well to take in consultation the man who 'revealed' that other cover? But do as you choose." I reminded him of that man's "peculiarity." W. had sent him fifty cents for cheese and beer. The bookkeeper had said when I gave it to the man: "I don't know about the cheese but he 'll satisfy himself with the beer." W. had me repeat the story. Then: "never mind: it reached the man anyhow—perhaps gave him more pleasure: I must not inquire beyond." Expressed regret over his own procras-

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tination. Has not yet written to Morse. Will have Morse's letter and book off before many days. Letter from Bucke. "All is quiet there."

     Read W. the letter Bucke wrote me on the 1st. B. objects to W. drinking any wine. "The good Doctor! the good Doctor! I scarcely dare tell him I take the wine—take a swig every day or two: yet I know Doctor is right—that he reasons out of the soundest experience. But this is a case like many cases—after the first, conclusive, convincing, irrefragablest reasons have been stated, there is something still to be said—to be taken note of." He spoke of an "incident" in his life of which he was "sharply reminded" by the course of our talk. Was it in Brooklyn? "Yes-there in Brooklyn: we were coming down what was called Washington Hill together: it was years and years ago: one of the many walks I delighted to take with my dear, dear mother. I can see it all, all, even now: the two of us there, the man approaching—my mother's voice: her hand as it was laid on my arm." He spoke picturesquely, pathetically. "The fellow came up—asked me for ten cents: he had not eaten, &c. I growled out: 'I'll give you nothing'" turned away. The man was drunk then: was evidently now far along in a week of dissipation—perhaps trying to get rid of the effects of it: anyway, in bad condition. I was certain the ten cents more would but go as the other had gone, for drink. We passed on. My mother spoke to me: she said (laid her hand on my arm): 'I know what you are thinking—I know you feel that it would only add to his misery to give him ten cents more now: I know about such men: when they get into that state then nothing can be done for the moment but give them the drink: it is but mercy to give it to them.'" W. said: "She was quiet, tender: I looked at her as if to ask, What? she continuing: 'I wish you had given him the money: I would have you go back and give it to him yet.' So I went back, complied—we resumed our walk." The man was no stranger. W. had known him long—had often given him money: "He was poor, dis-

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solute, well educated, talked well,"
but when they encountered him "he was a pitiable creature indeed—his brain, stomach, heart, all afire with rum." W. said again: "We know now that the best doctors agree that for a man so situated there is nothing like a dose of raw whiskey. My dear mother was wonderful wise and cute. It is a horrible remedy, but a horrible disease too: it is in fact delirium." So of his wine, he smilingly said: "I have got so, it may be said."

     Talked of nurses. "After all the best nurses are women—at the last the women are always called in. Men are the best nurses up to that point—then, somehow, the woman tells." Fell back on his Washington experience: "One nurse in particular I remember: this one: great, sturdy, fat, red-faced, Irish: her brogue terrible—hardly to be understood. She had declared war against the whole tribe down there but somehow she tolerated me: I was literally a favored one. The woman was immense in size. I have seen her take patients up in her arms bodily—hold them there like babies—while the rapid operation of changing the bed was gone through with. She was without any of the absurd pruderies which unfit so many young women for nursing." Ed is well fit in many ways: he is silent: moves about noiselessly: strong, faithful: has one quality significant above all, essential—the quality of touch: has a touch which the patient likes." He had met "the thousands of them—never one perfect." He thought "that often the illiterate are the best." After the white woman the negro. "But not universally the negro. We often found that the Northern soldiers objected to the negro nurses: but the Southerners seem to have settled that long ago—accepted them—were cheerful enough under their attendance." But "the ideal nurse is yet to come." He "had often told a story": here again: "A negro woman, speaking to her second of her first husband, was heard to say: 'Massa? Lor'! he was a puffick saint wen he was hisself—

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but Lor' sakes! Massa never was hisself!' A man is naturally a perfect nurse when he is himself, but he never is himself!"
W. considered it singular that so little attention was directed to the training of male nurses. "They talk of the girls—the women: rarely of the men." Here was "something needing to be done." Some day "we will wake up and do it."

     Ed took the books upstairs to-day: packed them there in the box again. Is it here, with the last and full issue of his book at his very bedside, that he is to wind up his career? W. asked me about my sister. How was she? "The mother of Herbert Spencer Harned." He said: "She went through that business of having a baby like the sun comes up in the morning: no cross, no shock, no shame, no apology: she was normal, sweet, whole—a perfect mother. Oh! how gloriously beautiful motherhood is when it comes normally in this way! We have got so in our civilization, so-called (which is no civilization at all) that we are afraid to face the body and its issues—when we shrink from the realities of our bodily life: when we refer the functions of the man and the woman, their sex, their passion, their normal necessary desires, to something which is to be kept in the dark and lied about instead of being avowed and gloried in. Your sister has done the proudest of proud things: she has been a mother—she is a mother: she submitted her woman's body to its noblest office. I look at the girls—at the childless women—at the old maids, as you speak of them: they lack something: they are not completed: something yet remains undone. They are not quite full—not quite entire: the woman who has denied the best of herself—the woman who has discredited the animal want, the eager physical hunger, the wish of that which though we will not allow it to be freely spoken of is still the basis of all that makes life worth while and advances the horizon of discovery. Sex: sex: sex: whether you sing or make a machine, or go to the North Pole, or love your mother, or build a house, or black shoes, or anything—anything at all—it 's sex, sex, sex: sex is

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the root of it all: sex—the coming together of men and women: sex: sex."

     He stopped at this point. I cried: "I wish you had kept on, Walt!" He said: "Why should I? I have got it all said: sex, sex: always immanent: here with us discredited—not suffered: rejected from our art: yet still sex, sex: the root of roots: the life below the life!" I said: "You grow eloquent on that subject." W. answered: "I have a right to: it is the thing in my work which has been most misunderstood—that has excited the roundest opposition, the sharpest venom, the unintermitted slander, of the people who regard themselves as the custodians of the morals of the world. Horace, you are too young to know the fierceness, the bitterness, the vile quality, of this antagonism—how it threw aside all reserves and simply tore me to pieces metaphorically without giving me half a chance to make my meanings clear. You have only heard the echoes of that uproar: it 's bad enough, still, to be sure—bad enough even in its echoes: but we have to some extent worn the enemy out—have in some part won our contention." "When you debated Children of Adam with Emerson did he show any sympathy whatever with this outcry?" "None whatever: he in fact expressly disclaimed it: he said: 'Always understand, Mr. Whitman, that my idea is not that there is evil in the book: my idea is that by taking certain things out of the book you are likely to be instrumental in removing some evil out of people': that, in about such words: that was what Emerson said." "Was it your impression that Emerson was less physical than yourself?" W. was quiet a minute. Then he said: "Yes, he was less physical: but he did not hesitate to say he regretted that as a defect in himself." "Did he use the word 'defect'?" "Yes-that word: I remember it clearly." "Would you yourself describe it as a defect in Emerson?" "It was surely a defect: and yet, Horace, somehow, I don't think I could honestly describe anything as a defect in Emerson: he seems surely so far beyond defect: is not perfect, either: yet is beyond defect—beyond it."


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     W. said: " I 've got a lot of Galaxy letters somewhere: I want you to have them: they appertain to my publisherial history—help to show what I have been at—when, where, how: they belong in your collection. The Galaxy was hospitable to me: you fellows should know it: who set me up, who knocked me down: who opened their doors, who slammed their doors in my face: who saw, who did n't see: you are entitled to know. William was always a world of help in these treaties with editors: he was an intercessory force: knew everybody, everybody knowing him: would say: 'What's the matter with you that you don't invite Walt Whitman in?' Some invited, most did n't: but whether the one thing or the other, William mediated with his customary enthusiasm." I read the one Galaxy letter he had found. Read it to him. His draft of a letter. He had cancelled it this way: "To Messrs Church April 30, '68, proposing Orbic Literature."


To W. C. & F. P. Church.

I have now just ready an article intended as the third and concluding one to the two already published by you on Democracy and Personalism. This is upon the general subject of a needed American literature in the highest sense, and of our imaginative mental &c growths, home-born, appropriate to and towering high enough for The States, and in the interests of their democratic institutions. I have, of course, treated the subject in my own way,—certain parts strong and earnest,—but there is nothing in it to make the piece at all improper for the magazine—probably indeed may be found more appropriate and serviceable, and more to rouse additional and critical attention, &c., than the already published articles. I propose to you to print it in The Galaxy for July. It will make from eleven to twelve pages in the new form and type. The name is Orbic Literature. The price will be the same as for each of the previous articles, $100. I reserve the right of printing it in future book. I can sent it on immediately. I think it will be best to not

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delay too long as the interest in the thing is now up, something like a serial story. This is the conclusion and I should like to have it in the July number.



     I asked W.: "This Personalism piece: was it the one Alcott liked so much?" "Yes." "You found these three things responded to?" "Very largely: by a limited body of people, very largely. You must remember that I was never popular—am not to-day: when I say it was liked I refer to the very very few: they liked it. The world at large has always ignored me—still ignores me: I do not cut a big figure in the professional sphere: I am either not known at all or known for bad. When we were together in Boston I said to Emerson: 'Mr. Alcott tells me that he enjoyed some of my prose papers—that, indeed, he and you would sometimes confer together over them.' Emerson immediately talked straight out. 'That is true: they pleased us greatly: they seemed to us elemental—dove deeper into reasons than anything else we knew this side dealing with your democracy.' I asked him again: 'Is it possible you feel so about them? You surprise me.' Then he was very cordial: 'You need not be surprised: many people, many others, we are not the only ones, look to you to speak the profounder message of our democracy: it peculiarly fits in with your character and your idealism: we would be surprised if it were the other way about—if you failed us at this point.'" I said to W.: "You never told me this before: I must make a note of it: its too fine, too significant, to lose. Would you object if I made a note of it?" He was genial. "Object? Not at all. Only, you must be just—give it just as I say it to you: not commit Emerson too much to me, me too much to him."


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