Commentary

Disciples

 
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Monday, January 14, 1889.

     7.50 P. M. W. on bed: just turning as I came in: said: "I was just about to get up"—putting out his hand, having me assist him to the chair. His difficulty in moving bore out what he told me last evening. Cheerful: talked with ease. No visitors to-day. Read papers. Finished the Carlyle. Had bundled up a number of books together and laid on table for me. As to the Carlyle: "I got through with it—it interested me: I am glad I read it." Yet was not in the least ardent about it. I read this to him: he listened intently:

      " 'This is all very well. I like your industries and your factories and your wealth; but tell me, do they turn out men down your way?' This is the way Felix Adler quotes from an 'aged poet' in an address on The Influence of Manual Training on Characteristics in The Ethical Record for January. Was the 'aged poet' Walt Whitman? Whoever it was, the question is timely."

     W. said: "I guess that 's me: and it is very kindly and friendly, isn't it?" Then he continued, I having told him about the approaching Ethical convention: "I hope Adler will come over to see me while he is here." Handed me a bundle of papers also. "I did not know what to do

 
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with them: thought I'd give you a chance at 'em first." And he added: "also the letter: perhaps that will be a curio." There was a letter folded up in the papers: a crushed pansy blossom on the corner of a sheet containing a poem and a card note of affectionate remembrance. Dated September. He gets lots of such stuff. Expressed great pleasure over my hearing from Morse to-day. I said Morse seemed to be flourishing. He said: "Good! Sidney does seem to have got a hold on something West there!" Then he said: "Read the letter, won't you?" And I did—he questioning much. The closing two pages were about the anarchist free speech case in the Illinois courts.

     W. intensely interested. I had to read many sentences a second time. Before I came to Morse's Daniel W. had exclaimed: "A Daniel come to judgment!" Then at end: "That last I should have expected any judge to say: but the first—the sacredness of free speech as against the police: that is great—that deserves to be enshrined: that is Socratic—not only splendidly said but demonstrating an impressive courage." Then: "How rare! How rare!" I said that though Emerson, Whitman and others were quoted from as saying striking things, Whittier was not, &c. W. said: "That is so." Then stopped. "And by the way, now you mention Whittier—perhaps it was in The Critic and you have read it. Well, at any rate, somewhere, probably in some foreign paper, there is a little (or big) review of Whittier: some one does not conceive of him as a great poet: incidentally mentions me and inquires what reasons I have for giving Whittier a lofty place." "Well"—I laughed as I said it— "you are going to explain?" With a twinkle: "I don't know about that: I rather guess not: I wish I had the paper here: I want you to see it." I asked: "Did you see that John Burroughs has at last tackled Robert Elsmere?" W.: "What? John? That 's real funny—really funny!" Then: "The last time I heard from John he said he had given the literary work up almost entirely." Seemed to have no curiosity. I said I had consented to

 
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write a paper for the Book Reception at C.'s church. W.: " That 's good news!" I said mischievously: "And you will give me a text?" He looked at me inquiringly: "I should say not: I know nothing about books: thank God I don't!" I said: "Nor I: but I'll tell some of the things I don't know." W.: " That 's just as well: and anyhow, it 's a good thing: you can count it exercise: and when a fellow sits down deliberately, he has to explain himself: it shows him his beliefs: often points he had not himself suspected before. I often think that the great fellows of old have not had their tally for talk: talk was the ancient method—writing is the modern: think of Epictetus, Lucretius, the grand batch of them: their best things: the magnetism of voice, contact: gone, never written: practically unknown: a theory merely!"

     I saw a crayon picture of W. in a glass case in the city, Market Street: also one out Chestnut, it too publicly exhibited. I spoke of them as the Gutekunst portrait. W. said: "They might seem like that, but there is another with which it gets confused. The Gutekunst picture is good: the other is not: the other I think was made by Potter, around on Chestnut Street—used to be there." Then after a pause: "Have you ever remarked the difference? The Potter picture is startling but it is not good—it don't hit me." I had seen a cabinet of Hunter on Arch Street. W.: "What! our Hunter?" And when assured: "Well, that must be good: Hunter should take a fine picture: he has a face that tells: purely Roman: powerful: nose perfect: and such an eye!—a real Roman eye!" I wondered about the eye. What was the Roman eye? He laughed: then said: "Nothing in itself to be described: I should say, an eye of command, of power, of compass: an eye that constrains, wills: the Roman character typically lived. Hunter has all that."

     Why was he (W.) so often called Greek? "I don't see why: don't know about that: I am never pleased with such comparisons: I have a face: it seems to make up fairly well

 
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in a picture: that is all: my head gets about: is easily recognized: but where is the Greek?" Then he said: "One of the papers in that bundle is Lockwood's: you know he published me in one of the numbers." Clifford speaks tomorrow evening at the Ethical building. The Ethics of Criticism. W.: "That is great! that covers all: I wonder what he 'll do with it? There is a chance for any man: I guess Clifford 'll meet it!" Allusion to Darwin. W. still says he wishes to read the book. Asked me: "Did you say Oldach would put lettering on that cover? Ah! what will he use?" I did not remember. W. suggested. "If you think there 's time I would like to give you the words myself." He took up his writing pad—slowly printed with pencil: "Walt Whitman Complete Poems and Prose Ed'n 1889." I said as he drew: "I am just reading in Darwin his expressed regret that he did not learn to draw when a young man." W.: "Well might he grieve! I think that very essential—oh, very important!—one of the first things." W. then further: "I doubt myself if this new cover will please me as much as the other: still, I suppose it is necessary to have the other and this too." Did not think O. would fail to do something pretty good, "but whether satisfactory—that is another matter." I said Oldach did not seem to have much confidence in his stamper. W.: "Nor have I: his work for us would seem to justify Oldach's suspicion." W. not as much engrossed in Carlyle's letters to his mother and Miss Welsh as I think he would have been under other conditions. He admitted "a lax interest merely." Once W. alluded to Carlyle as "Schopenhauerish, top to toe"—then added that "perhaps Schopenhauer as a person" was "cheerful enough, which could not be said honestly of our great Thomas." As to vellum for cover, he would not think of it. "Vellum? pshaw! hangings, curtains, finger-bowls, chinaware, Matthew Arnold!" Touching at one moment the slip he made up for Oldach, he said, looking at me: "You know I am very arbitrary: always determined to have my own way: so much so, those who have
 
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worked with me, understood me, have adopted the method of the Chinaman who cut a hole to sew a patch on!"
This was his quaint way of speaking of his resolution. He is not arbitrary—not in the slightest degree.

     Had been cleaning up a little to-day: got rid of paper from chairs, tables, floors. Discussed his health more lightheartedly than last night. Said: "A letter from Dr. Bucke with nothing in it." W. said: "You have taken such an interest in the avowals I am trying to get together all that are left for you. There were quite a number here: not enough to make a big story out of but quite enough to seem formidable if brought together. Now here is another: it is from Philip Hale, at Exeter (maybe was in the school there—maybe): he speaks of himself as a boy: there is a refreshing air of independence about it: you will like it. See the date: 1871: that was awhile ago. Read me the letter."


Exeter, N. H., Sep. 14, 1871.




      Dear Sir: I have just got your complete works Ed. 1871, and would like to ask you why you did not reprint the preface to the first edition? I have only read extracts from that preface and should like to have seen the whole reprinted. I suppose I cannot get the old ed. now at the stores.

     I saw the other day that Mr. Swinburne said he enjoyed your Song of the Sea more than any of your works. Did he mean Sea Shore Memories No. 1? The poem of yours that I read over with the most satisfaction is your Burial Hymn of Lincoln. But as my opinion is not worth anything, being a boy, I should not have intruded it upon you. If you are pressed for time—even then I should like to hear from you—just a word. Do you know where I could get a first ed. with a preface? Yours most respectfully,




Phillip Hale.

     W. said: "I like the boys who are glad they are boys—the men who remain boys. Why should any man ever give

 
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up being a boy? What do you know of this boy Hale? I wonder what he has got into since? It would be interesting to me to know."

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