Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, January 5, 1889.

     7.55 P. M. W. sitting talking to Ed. The day stormy: high wind, N. E. Rain. Cool. W. remains in good condition. Even seems to have regained much of the old flush of the face. Manner and voice more vigorous than for some time. I brought along The Critic and The Stage. Looked at the latter. Rosina Vokes on front page. He regarded the portrait laughingly: "Rhidie Odenheimer! Sure enough Rhidie Odenheimer! A little fixed up, a little different—but still the same: too much fashionability, perhaps—but that is very apt to be the case with the girls." Would read to-morrow. The Critic contains his piece To the Year 1889. Took it from me at once. Put on his glasses. I

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asked if it was all right? After a pause: "Yes, all right"—then: "I expect they 'll all give me the devil about that—ask what it means: but I guess I'll let 'em all find out for themselves. Joe Gilder says it should be To the Year '88 instead of '89: but whatever it means or should be, here it is. I wrote to Doctor to-day. Before I sent slips to him, to Kennedy, I had to know that it appeared." I spoke of it as "strong." He asked: "Do you think so?" adding: "I do not put Sands at Seventy forward to be judged by the standard of the earlier work in Leaves of Grass: the slide has shifted, the point of view changed: years have sped. I needed something to taper off with: this seemed to me the best available: yet I know how differently people feel about it." But he did not for himself "admit" that "tapering off" implied "weakness." He hoped Sands at Seventy proved that he "still held" his "grip." "But the time has come for a final strain: I could illustrate it with the composers: after a long exhibition of power, grandeur—when the time comes to close—one will tear along on the ascending scale, make a devil of a racket, as if hell was loose: another will tone down and down till the music indistinguishably dies. I have selected the gentle, the quiet, the reposeful method: not hastily, not obstinately, from any stultifying motive, but after long and long weighing and considering."

     W. seemed suddenly reminded of something. "Oh! I meant to tell you: I got a letter here to-night—not more than twenty minutes ago: they want me to write a poem—attend: it is from some Easton soldiers who are going to dedicate a monument at Gettysburg." Well—would he write it? "That depends: all that hangs upon the question of my mood: I shall read the letter over again to-morrow and see how it strikes me then." Had laid several things aside for me. Copy of The Path. Record of Mermaid Club, Germantown. A letter from Gillette. "These are curios," he said: "I know you like them just enough to look at them, as I do"—then, thinking a moment, turning to

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table again: "and there 's another thing here: see, here it is"—opening envelope— "from Harvard University: some one's avowal: take it along. I don't want to see any of them again. I don't mean they are no importance: only, that I am done with them." Also gave me a Kennedy letter to read. "This you may bring back: I have yet to answer it." Nor was this all. I took my seat again (had been around looking over his shoulder) when he started again. "Here is something more—the crown of all: I got it to-day: it is The Herald, Boston Herald, of January third: Baxter has been doing us up in fine style: two columns of it: so more than friendly, so good, so sound, it might be us speaking instead of him!"

     Handed me The Herald: urged me to "take it along" "it would not hurt to spend half an hour over it. Are you going home direct from here? Well, sit down b the fire and see how Sylvester does us up: it is certainly the best thing he has ever written: shows a firm hand: quotes liberally, finely. Evidently Sylvester recognizes the true function of a reviewer—to state what the writer purports to say—as far as possible to let him state it for himself." Described B.'s place on The Herald. "You know Talcott Williams' position on The Press?—sort of general man, sent off on important missions: if something out of the usual is happening he is sent off to write it up: Baxter is such a man on The Herald, I believe." He said Baxter and Kennedy were "thick at one time." "Baxter lives off at Malden in a little house with his mother—a big house, perhaps: why did I say little?—I think he has some private means." He said as he had said to me before: "Baxter looks like a German: if he was to come in that door now you would without hesitation set him down as a German professor or advanced student. Sylvester was three or four or five years in Germany at one of the universities—got greatly Germanized." He said The Herald review "is the best of all the reviews so far undoubtedly." Asked me to send out a few copies. He could use three or four. "Baxter

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is a peculiar but genuine fellow: a theosophist—that is what they call them: he has travelled a good bit in New Mexico—the West: is a man of wide information."
W. had no knowledge of Belmont from any meetings with Kennedy there. "Belmont is three or four miles out of Boston: stands on a hill—high, fine: but when I was last on to Boston Kennedy was not yet married. My personal meetings with Kennedy were mostly here: he came over often to see me: little trips, talks. Kennedy was on The American then: The American was not a sheet calculated to open much new life to his sort of a man: a financial sheet—narrow, weak."

     W. spoke of cover for big book again. Wishes me to hunt up the man at Oldach's who had made "the other beautiful strike." "I shall write out my ideas: make a memorandum of them: but say at the same time, throw these overboard if you have a better scheme." I repeated my idea of a cover. W. said: "Yes, I am in favor of calf: anything rather than vellum: the order of my instructions would be, durability, utility, first: then anything consistent that is rich and true. I am not averse to having it look handsome, provided the other points can be gained also." He instanced two pairs of gloves sent him: "the same year—the same occasion—I think: both pairs fine—equally fine—but one evidently made to put on the shelf, the bureau: the other to be worn against the cold—for comfort, use. Now I am after the second glove: I want the book to be neither ugly nor worthless." Said I should "give the man a dollar or two": "prod him on": if the thing did not work out "at any rate no one is damaged and we are where we were at the first." Thought he should send a copy of the big book to Dave. "He often sends me books: I should give him one for his personal library." Would fix it to-morrow. And Morse's. "Take them into consideration, as diplomats would say."

     W. stirred the fire repeatedly. Somewhat colder. The wind howling around the corner of the house. "Speaking

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of diplomats, did you ever see the play Diplomacy? It shows how much importance may attach to trivial things—as with our book, with all we do. Years ago Barrymore was in Philadelphia playing it; he sent me over a lot of tickets: we all went—had a good time."
Detailed it: animatedly: "at one point the fellow stands—says, 'What's that?': the effect was fine: I think it was Barrymore himself: the hush: oh! so few actors realize the power of silence, pause, surprise! and here was a demonstration." The plot of the play was about a perfumed glove—so trivial, almost silly—yet was a successful study throughout: delicate—very delicate: French, in fact: no one but the French can hit high water mark in such things: the play must have had a French inspiration—purely French." Then: "The Puritan world in spite of itself is greatly influenced from France." Had not read Carlyle to-day much though some. "I am gone so deep into Carlyle affairs this must come as a matter of course: I must take the full dose, then wait to see its effect." No word from Bucke. Did not know but Bucke would yet "be rich out of that meter." "He has put his cash and his faith into it. Such a piece of mechanism—a good instrument—seems to be very much desired."

     W. gave me an "avowal" from Harvard. He also gave me an older avowal. He had written on the envelope with pencil: "from Dr. Gillette on Democracy—no answer." This:


Post Hospital, Natchez, Miss.,
Dec. 23, 1867.

Walt Whitman:

Dear Sir. I write this to let you know how glad I am Walt Whitman was born, and that he writes. Oh! that there were more of the same sort. Our country needs them. I hope some day to grasp your hand and hear you speak. Democracy made me yell with delight. It put things into

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shape that I ran all in a heap before. Go on, and may God bless you and you efforts as a true American.


Respectfully,

F. B. Gillette, U. S. A.


     And this was another "avowal." W. said: "I have had such confessions from time to time: one now and then: a sort of oasis in a desert: a sort of blessing in the midst of curses: in the crowd and clamor of my enemies some hand lifted up in friendly salutation: I have felt that to be the sacred counterblast: especially the very old ones, like Redpath's, coming in the period of my darkest prospects, when scarcely a sigh appeared anywhere of anything except exclusion, antagonism, misrepresentation. A cry like Redpath's heard at such a juncture comes along as a rescue: is too unmistakably encouraging and reassuring to be made light of." The other avowal follows: W. spoke of it as "fragrant and beautiful."


14 The Grove, Clapham Common,
London, S. W., Dec. 12, '86.

Dear Sir. I have but lately read your poems, Leaves of Grass, but I find in them so much encouragement and hope, but such a great personality, that I write to express my simple thanks for the gift of the book and the great thoughts in it. Though I belong to England, and am English heart and soul, I know your America, who finds in you her first poetical expression, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from New York to Texas, and Minnesota, and the great West, Oregon, Washington, and California. I have toiled and travelled thousands of miles on the Pacific slope, and only regret that I had not Leaves of Grass with me to make me see even more than I did in three years of arduous struggle. But I thank you now, and with all sincerity, for a new religion and the knowledge of a great personality. In all

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events to come for me, you have had a great influence, and I am, dear sir, yours gratefully


Morley C.Roberts


     W. said: "For a long time all I got out of my work was the work itself and a few amens like that: I was not only popular (and am not popular yet—never will be) but I was non grata—I was not welcome in the world. The fellows on top did not want me at any price—not even as a gift: the people, the crowd—I have had no way of reaching them. I have sometimes thought of going out and around and reading my poems: I felt that the people would listen—would get to know what I am about: as things are I am a stranger to them: they have no way of getting acquainted with me: I get to them through the falsifying interpretations of the newspapers: through slander, even: which is not getting to them at all." I said: "Emerson travelled and lectured: why could n't you have travelled and read?" He replied: "I could, I should, have done it: some of them wanted me to: I see now that it was my mistake: I needed to reach the people: I could have done so at once, following out this method, instead of subjecting myself to the terrible delays—the murderous delays: but it 's too late now: the milk is spilled: I can only say to you, don't do likewise: if you have anything to say to the people find some way of saying it direct: don't rely upon explications and time: they will come anyhow: go ahead on your own account: speak out: trust the people—yes, trust the people."


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