Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, January 10, 1889.

     7.49 P. M. W. reading Stedman's Poets of America, which he put down on my entrance. I had had a note from Stedman just to-day. Read the last paragraph from it to W. and much talk of Stedman ensued. W.: "I was reading Stedman's essay on Bryant when you came in: reading it critically." I asked: "He does not say as much of Bryant as you would?" "No: I don't think he fishes with a very deep sinker. Stedman don't seem to have vision, soul—depth of nativity—sufficient to make him capable of the highest interpretations." Did Stedman lack emotion? Was he too intellectual? "That is just it: I doubt if the big fellow—the great critic—is ever the artist so-called—the reader, student." I instanced S.'s letters. They certainly contained fire, feeling. W.: "Yes, I know it: yet that something is the all—the last, I may say the finalest, quality." Again: "Stedman in his person is full of that essence which you demand: he is emotional, impulsive, enthusiastic, to the

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core: the whole man of him honest, generous, true."
Well, why did n't he let himself go then? " He 's afraid: he dare not: but it 's all there." "That means failure, don't it?" "It does indeed." Had he ever read The Discoverer? "No—I am sure I have not." W. then: "The devil with all the fellows is 'style': as you say, it 's the graveyard of too many reputations." He said again: "That is Lowell's canon: how is it done? not, what does it?" He "feared after all that influence of the New York crowd" was "baleful": "Stedman lives too near it: I don't want to be unjust, to be severe—to attach undue meanings to it: but there 's something in the touch of it of which a man must beware." Then he said: "If you write to Stedman to-morrow, give him my love: tell him I still keep my head up: that I am easier, freer—probably never to recover, to be get-about-able again, but cheerful, inclined to accept all things as they come: reading some: writing some: spending all my days in this room between a bed and a chair." W. gave me an old slip from a Washington paper—some year during or after the war—using the Marine Band for a subject, in which this reference to him occurred: "The tall gray-clad figure of Walt Whitman, with his red and tan face, was faithful to the last." He "came across it to-day": had "had it about" there "all these years": "it is an odd or end: it will interest you a bit."

     Paragraph on W. in to-day's Press. I sent paper to Bucke. W. also. Who was the writer? "Bart Bonsall, I am sure. He was here two or three days ago: stayed quite awhile. When he asked downstairs I sent word that he could come up for two minutes, but when he got up once he stayed for a long talk. Too many of them do that. I did n't mind it much that day: I was not feeling bad at all." He spoke of Bart's "apparent bad health," saying further: "He has that flea in his head: he thinks he must write: enlighten the world." McKay did not keep engagement to-day. Renewed same for to-morrow. Gave W. copy complete book bound for his personal use. Contains memos and cor-

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rections. On the first fly-leaf he has written the page nearly full, evidently at different times. This was in ink: "Walt Whitman Camden N. J. Dec. 7, 1888." Then this in pencil: "(first stitched then bound copy as a specimen to see that the plates &c: are all right—as they seem to all be)." And again the following, still in pencil: "I examine [keep] it to mark errors—typographical ones—corrections for the future—(see last of Vol:) Am in my sick room in Mickle street, Camden— to-day Dec: 31 '88-9 9:20 a.m.—have just had my breakfast: feeling middling: have now been seven months—confined all that time in this room (bed & chair)—have put through the printing office November Boughs & the big 900 page Complete Works Vol: in that time faithful helped by Horace Traubel."

     W. said: "I have wished to go through the whole book, annotating it so to say: pencilling a note here and there—giving figures, poem starts, what this came from—what that came from: such things: I will keep it by me and make entries from time to time. I could make it finally into a book that would be very valuable to you." "I should say so: do you mean to will it to me?" "I meant it for you, willing or not willing." He chuckled over his little joke. Then: "When I have lighted out you must put in your claim for the book." W. received to-day The Century Guild Hobby Horse from England. Told me to "Take it along." Laughed at Ford Madox Brown's illustration—Réné's Honeymoon. "Honey humbug!" he cried. "The book is more to be looked at as a fine piece of mechanical work than for any other reasons: its content, the text, seems utterly weak: the printing, particularly the paper, superb." Took him a copy of Springfield Republican of 25th containing a book note on N. B. written by Mrs. Goodale. W. said: "I know that Mrs. Goodale: she is the mother of the two little girl poets—the Skye Farm poets they call them. I do not mean I have met her: but I have had letters from her—from one of the daughters: letters which did not seem to require any answer—which I churlishly laid aside. The

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letters were warm in spirit. I think somebody sent me the little book of poems but I am afraid I never read them."

     W. had a great stew over a letter he said had come from Edward Carpenter to-day. "You know about Edward Carpenter? We have often talked of him. He sends me the duplicate of a draft he says was mailed way back last year—May of last year. Edward is rich: his money burns his pocket: he and two or three ladies over there have repeatedly sent me money—drafts: this undoubtedly is another. He speaks of a 'duplicate': I never got an original." Could not find the letter on the table. Took over onto his lap a pile of letters, &c. I said: "If you only had these pigeon-holed!" "Ah! if I only had them any way that was an orderly way it would be an improvement." Wheeled his chair about the floor searching. Ed afterwards said: "I wondered what you were at up there." He was in the parlor below. Several times W. threw himself back into the chair as if to give up the hunt. "Never mind: his paragraph about the draft was only a little one at the end of the letter: it is substantially as I have told it to you: the letter is mainly personal." But he would resume again and again. I picked a letter up from under the stove. It was unstamped. He looked it over. "Curiously that 's the letter of introduction: and by the way, he says the book has come: I sent it, you know, by the visitor." Finally he hit upon C.'s note in the easiest place imaginable—on a box by the fire.

     W. showed me the draft—for a hundred and seventy-four dollars and some cents. What should we do with it? Was certain E. had not sent the other: date May 17, 1888. "He is often very absent-minded: I have known that in him myself: somehow the draft never was sent." He could not believe it lost. "I have never lost anything that way in the mail." I did not read C.'s letter while there. W. said: "Take it with you: you are going straight home? Take it with you: read it at your ease." Found this to be C.'s

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reference to the draft: "Enclosed draft is only a duplicate of one we sent you in May—which probably you got all right—but not having heard I thought I would send you this instead of destroying it. You can destroy it." W. said he had no record of receipt of corresponding amount at any time. "It may have been intended as a birthday gift." Thought he would "simply deposit it." Gave me a Bucke letter of the 8th. "I think you should see it: I have not shown it to you." Rather dubious about his health to-night. "I don't gain any strength at all: I wonder what it means? Although I feel much better all through, I am as little able to move about as ever." Speaks frequently of his seventieth birthday. I wonder if he will reach it? Expresses no confidence—nor doubt either for that matter. "The books done! who can measure what that means to me?" Dwells on this— "the difficulties through which it has been accomplished." Reads many papers: lays them over the back of a chair: the chair is now piled up as high nearly as my shoulders. "This is not a habit," he says: "this is a disease!" When W. has things to give me he often leaves it to the last minute before my going to hand them out. To-night he gave me an unstamped envelope addressed in O'Connor's hand to "Walt Whitman, Attorney General's Office." He said: "It did not come through the mail: William must have handed it to me or sent it by a messenger. He and Sarah Helen Whitman were great friends: he sends me here a few bits from one of her letters to him. I am also giving you a Trowbridge letter which bears upon the sale of Leaves of Grass—has to do with the business of Leaves of Grass editions. You are so eager to know the who and what of my history that I am doing what I can to supply you with material."


Monday Noon, Nov. 23, 1868.

Dear Walt: I can't come down so I transcribe and send to you the enclosed dithyramb which forms nearly the whole of the letter I got from Mrs. Whitman this morning. She

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alludes to a number of passages I marked in the copy of the book you gave me for her. I told her I would mark passages for her in the copy I meant to send on my own hook, but did n't send because you gave me the book, so I mailed you a copy.


Your faithfully

W. D. O'C.


[From Sarah Helen Whitman to W. D. O'C.]

How shall I thank our poet for the beautiful book and for my name written in it by his own hand so near his own! His "cousin" had not dared to ask for this. The great, the good Camerado! The lover of men! The Counsellor! The Interpreter! How strange it seems to me now that I should have been so near him without knowing him better! How many questions that I asked you about him would have needed no answer, if I had but have read his book then as I have read it now.

Is it your haunting voice as I heard it that last night we were together, chanting to me that divine song of Death—that "word out of the sea"—is it your voice ( "O heart of love and soul of fire!") that has lent to these poems such a mysterious rhythmic charm—such majestic meanings—such sweet and solemn cadences?



"Never more shall I escape —
"Never more the reverberations."


I have read all the passages you marked for me with a longing, lingering delight—read them again and again, dreading to have heard the last.

How he probes and searches all hearts with his "barbed tongue!" How he gives expression to our most secret and presumptuous thoughts—as in the lines beginning, "Have you thought there could be but one Supreme?"

I have many things to say to you about these poems but not now.


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     The Trowbridge letter of which W. spoke follows. He interrupted me once in the reading to say: "The way Trowbridge stuck by me through thick and thin was beautiful to behold. He had objections to me always: has objections to-day: but he accepted me on general principles and has never so far as I know revised his original declaration in my favor." I said: "You do not class him among your radical friends?" "No—I don't: but that, not because I like to draw lines: I don't: only, some of the fellows do these things in totals and some do them in halves: William, you fellows—you are wholesale: you enter no qualifications: Trowbridge I rather guess would have some serious negations to charge up to me if it came to a rough and tumble test. I hate to debate this way about a man: it seems ungracious, if not insulting." I read the letter to him.


Arlington, Mass., July 20, 1867.

My Dear Friend. W. H. Piper & Co. of Boston say they would like to place your new edition of the Leaves on their counter, and sell it as they sell other books. They would take, say, fifty copies to begin with. There is a small continuous dropping-in demand for the Leaves, and copies of the Thayer and Eldridge edition sell for five dollars. You might write directly to W. H. Piper, using my name. He will be a good man to retail the book: he would also have undertaken to publish and push it but for the opposition of others.

Mr. Newton was not able to call on you for the little volume you wished to send me by him. It came by mail—through W. D. O'C.'s agency, I perceive, with a N. Y. Times enclosed. I thank you both. I had already bought a copy of the critique, but as a friend had carried it off, I was very glad to get another. It is a unique and delightful little treatise: how bold, fresh and native! I hope some day to see the author.

My love to the O'Connors. I owe Wm. for a long and eloquent letter received I don't dare to say how long ago!

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I am hungry to see you and him and Mrs. O'C. again: if you or they ever come near me, you must surely visit me.


Sincerely your friend

J. T. Trowbridge.



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