Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, February 2, 1889

     8 P.M W. sitting ruminatively in his chair by the window. Cordial. Disposed to talk. Asked me about the weather. Had it changed? "I thought that either the weather had grown mild or I had." Then he said: "I have been resenting the fact that I am denied seeing the new moon: have been reading an account of it: and of Mars and Jupiter and Venus: I never used to miss them: often spend my evenings on the river here: the beautiful evenings: the great stars: the little stars: the calmness, the silence. I would sometimes try my eyes on the most distant visible stars—the familiar stars." He shook his head: "Nothing is more indicative of the closet existence I lead than my isolation from outdoors: that's the worst aspect of my confinement." And he added: "I don't seem to be a hospital person: I rebel against the idea of being nursed, cared for: but it's of no avail: here I am, tied up to the wharf, rotting in the sun." I said: "Walt, you should be ashamed to talk such stuff: you say, By God you shall not go down, to other people: why don't you say it to yourself?" He laughed gently. "Licked again," he said.

     Referred to Bucke. "I had two letters from him today." First he said, "there was nothing in them"—then, after a pause: "yes there was, too"—reaching for them among some papers on the table. "He writes about the French magazine: he has it: he has read the article: thinks it grand: listen"—reading from one of the letters. "He will send me some sort of abstract: I shall be glad to have it." W. said again: "Doctor at last speaks almost positively of the meter

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—of his trip: sets a date at last: the 11th, thereabouts: Parliament is in session: he has had his fire: he rambles about writing of all sorts and conditions of experience: the good Doctor. Well—we'll be glad to see him any time, early or late."

     As we talked Ed entered with a large flat package from the p.o. Proved to be a picture from Bucke. W. asked: "Another picture?" Ed retired. Harned entered. W. greeted H. with his "howdy, howdy"—then turned his attention to the package. W. held the picture up to survey it. "Here he is again, better than ever." The picture was cracked. W. said laughingly: "Which same can't be said of Maurice save by his enemies." And he said further: "What can't, what don't a man's enemies say about a man?" Regarded the picture affectionately. "I'd like to have pictures of William, John, you fellows, as good as this: it would make quite a gallery: I'd like to hang you all up here before my eyes so I could enjoy you."

     W. asked: "Well, Horace, what have you heard in town today?" Saw Oldach. Was sure he could give us books next week. He is having trouble getting leather of the right shade and quality. W. said: "He's a great slow-coach, isn't he?" I said: "Slow-coaches are often the best coaches: you're something of a slow-coach yourself." He seemed to be a trifle irritated. "You don't mind saying impertinent things, do you, if they occur to you?" He made me smile, I said: "No: I don't." This restored his good nature. "I suppose I am a snaily creature, take me for all in all." I said: "And maybe that's why you hate the snail in Oldach." "Yes: yes." Told him I saw Dave. He gave me three W.W. lines for W. to transcribe with signature for a facsimile page in Elizabeth P.G.'s book. These: "Of life immense in passion, pulse, and power, cheerful, for freest action form'd under the laws divine, the Modern Man I sing." I said: "Dave once said he wished you had sat down on the Gems at the start." W. aroused at once. "God knows I wished to! Consent? How did I consent? I let it be known to all of them that I was not favorable to it. I was only not vehemently against it. The only thing I really promised was that I would not raise a hell of an objection to it. When a man gets old he is more pliant on that side: is more ready to be affirmative, lenient: is not so likely to be a damned hog. That is about all my assent amounted to: I didn't want to continue to be the hog I had been: If I would not applaud, neither would I sneer.

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He seemed considerably amused with his own reflections. "Well: we ought to thank God we are out of danger: that the worst they can put upon us in our old age can do us no harm." As to the Gems: "I think Dave wholly right: in fact, I know Leaves of Grass cannot be plausibly presented in so detached a manner: still we must, we can, stand it: we have had other afflictions: this is only one more added to the rest."

     McKay told me he had sold five hundred copies of November Boughs: that he was shortly to take a trip to New York and Boston and would carry a sample big book along. W. said: "I don't expect the book to be a go in the bookstores." Further: "I don't regard Dave as just the man to do anything with special editions et cetera: he's more at home with the everyday thing: he's built for the usual not the unusual." W. added anent Dave: "He's the type that gets rich if it has the slightest chance: Dave would leave no stone unturned if he thought there was a per cent anywhere under it." I asked him: "Do you think Dave circuitous? He shook his head. "Not at all: only canny: only Scotch—very Scotch. I have no reason for saying anything sharp about Dave." I quoted something Emerson or Longfellow is reported as having said to Clough: "That was built of the blood of authors"—pointing out the Ticknor and Fields house in Boston. W. said: "That's striking: moreover, it's about the truth: still, a fellow hardly feels like pushing the accusation too far: there may be, must be, exceptions: I always am tenderly disposed towards the exceptions." Would he say of the McKay house what was said of T. and F.? "No: Dave is not worse or better: he's one like the rest; fair to middling of his kind: I like him. Of course his house is built of the blood of authors: how could it be otherwise?" I said: "Walt, you must see that all properties are built upon the blood of somebody: there would be no sense in particularizing with publishers." W. nodded. "Exactly: that's what I meant in what I said of Dave: I say you are right: all the vast fortunes, all fortunes, all accumulation, is built upon an injustice somewhere: I don't see just where it is: you have looked into it more profoundly than I have: but I acquiesce in your general supposition." I said: "Do you call it a supposition, Walt?" "I do: what do you call it?" "I call it an axiom." W. hesitated an instant before responding. "Have it an axiom, then, if you will: I say axiom, too."


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     Had he heard anything from Kennedy lately? "Oh yes! but not newsily: about nothing of great consequence. I have in fact had a letter this very week." K. spoke of the French piece. "He puts it very high: up, up: thinks it the best ever." But W. was "not so sure of it." W. said: "We should have a full translation by somebody." W. said: "William's the one I want most to hear from but he is as still as the grave." Then he asked: "Have you seen the afternoon papers? In the afternoon papers there's an item about Dick Stoddard: he has undergone an operation for cataract: it was successful." I asked W. if S. wasn't suffering from some sort of cataract when he wrote about Poe. W. laughed heartily: "Probably: I think Dick must have had a dozen cataracts to interrupt the equitable exercise of his emotional, his intellectual, nature." And he added, after some little colloquy with Harned: "Stoddard is not all bad: he has done some good work: has qualities that are almost lofty: but he is soured: he has grown gray: his sight is nearly gone: he stands in his high place, waves his hand superciliously across the multitude of literary fellows: 'God damn you all: what right have you, with your fripperies, poems, proses, to catch the public eye, to play for applause: while I, Dick Stoddard, am disdained, forgotten!'" How did he account for Stoddard's vitriolic nature? "I don't account for it: I only see it: he has toiled, moiled, these forty years on a great variety of things: the result has been small: he has made no impression on his time: maybe he's conscious of it: this may serve to explain him."

     Harned spoke of Lowell's visit to Philadelphia: dinners are to be given him: Weir Mitchell is to give one, Doctor Pepper another. W. said: "Lowell is one kind: I'm another: he'll not come here: Lowell is one of my real enemies: he has never relaxed in his opposition: Lowell never even tolerated me as a man: he not only objected to my book: he objected to me." This seemed to remind him of something: "I have a friend here—Mrs. Garrison"—the preacher's wife? "yes": then: "She comes in sometimes: was in the other day: took four copies of November Boughs: said she wanted a dozen more: I didn't see her: Ed attended to her." I asked: "but what's that got to do with Lowell." He answered: "Nothing: but I thought it was about time to drop Lowell." This made me laugh. "Now what's the matter?" he inquired. I said: "You always think it's about time to

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drop Lowell."
I asked him if he had enough books to supply Mrs. Garrison. He asked me to look the books up. I found twenty-five on the floor. He was relieved. "Mrs. Garrison started out years ago as a most violent antagonizer, criticiser, despiser, of your uncle: by and by she melted some: then melted more: till two years ago she came completely over: I don't say to Leaves of Grass, but certainly to me."

     W. then said: "It looks to me as if November Boughs would be the best read, accepted, of all my books: it seems to offend least." Harned dissented vigorously. W. asked mockingly: "What have I done to deserve this applause?" Then: "I begin to doubt myself when others flatter me." He said people who come here often buy L. of G. "There's quite a sale of it from this house." He said he was not entirely satisfied with November Boughs. "If I had it to do over again I should change its form somewhat: I should cut off the margin at least half. It should be more in the form of Rolleston's book." I asked him why he always resented margins in books. The question puzzled him. "Do I?" And he asked me: "Don't you?" I said no. I liked open-spaced leaded liberal margined books. "Why?" he inquired. "For the same reason maybe that I like lots of windows in a house: they let the air in and the light. So they let the air and light into a book." W. said: "It's a picturesque argument even if it fails to convince me." I told him I didn't present it as an argument but as an impression. I couldn't prove it. I could only feel it. To this he said: "I admit that feeling goes way beyond proving most of the time."

     Harned wants to bring his wife in. "Are you open to the ladies nowadays?" he asked W. "Oh yes! and glad to have 'em!—especially Mrs. Harned." H. said they "might be down tomorrow." W. asked him to "give my love" to Mrs. H "and give it to the baby, too—Herbert Spencer—though it'll do him no good." H. said: "It'll do him good twenty years from now when he is told that Walt Whitman remembered him in that way." W. shook his forefinger at H. "Tom, you're a flatterer: I would not have believed it of you."

     Returned me the Holmes Emerson. "I read it all: the whole thing: it's more like a picture of Oliver Wendell than of Ralph Waldo." I said: "Walt: that's exactly what Sidney Morse said when he read the book." W.: "Is it so? then I've a good man on my side, haven't

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I?"
Picked up the Bucke portrait again. "Thank God the crack didn't hit the face: it stopped at the border: it was a considerate crack."

     W. handed me an old Carpenter letter. "Carpenter was never a voluminous correspondent: he has never written me merely letters: he writes when he has something to say: for the rest he holds off. I don't know but that's the best system: I would get along quite as well if some of my other correspondents held off occasionally." Harned had gone. W. said: "It's a short note: read it before you leave."


Millthorpe near Chesterfield,
March 2, 1884.

Dear Walt:

Just a line to give you my changed address. I have been here since October last—very busy all last summer getting a little homestead built, and this winter digging and planting—have about seven acres altogether—we are gardening about two acres; fruit, flowers and vegetables; have about two and a half acres grass and about the same quantity part wheat for ourselves and part oats for the horse. My friends the Fearnehoughs have come with me, and we are employing one or two extra hands beside, just now. It is a beautiful valley right up against the Derbyshire moors, but warm; we are about eight miles from Sheffield and five and a half from Chesterfield—three and a half from the nearest station.

I got your bit about the American aborigines. Thanks.

There is a quite old flour mill here, from which the place no doubt takes its name; very quaint old wooden wheels and cogs—the stream which feeds it runs at the bottom of my three fields—lots of wood and water all about the valley. Millthorpe itself is a small hamlet of a dozen houses or so.

Have not seen the Gilchrists for some time, but I heard from Grace the other day.

I was reading Rolleston's translation into German of your Answerer this morning. It is as far as I can judge very exact and natural.


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I hope you are well and enjoying yourself. I often think about you. Best remembrances to the Staffords when you see them.

Your affectionate

Edward Carpenter.


     W. said: "I don't spend much of my time with regrets for anything: yet sometimes I regret that I never went to Europe: other times I regret that I never learned to read German and French. No doubt it's all just as well as it is: it all came about according to what they used to describe as 'the ordinances of God': there's no chance in it: maybe I'd have been modified if I had ever broken loose from my accustomed ways—become a traveller, become a linguist: that might have meant harm to the Leaves: my destiny seems to have been to live my whole life here in America without any untoward interruption." That word "exact" describing the translation of The Answerer stuck in W.'s craw. "It's like saying he was loyal to the one two three of the poem: yet a poem in ones twos threes is no poem at all."

     W. gave me what he called "a publisherial memorandum" to add to my records.


Office of The Atlantic Monthly
Boston, March 6, 1860.

Mr. Walt Whitman,

Sir.

We enclose our check for thirty dollars finding your note to be quite correct.

Yours truly,

Ticknor & Fields


     I asked W.: "What poem does that refer to?" He said: "I can't just say now." He paused. "I thought I could say: it does not come to me." The letter was addressed to W. in Brooklyn. I said: "Walt: you made your point every now and then with the editors. Why do you say they all rejected you?" He asked: "Did I say 'all'?" I said: "You certainly do in some moods: you remember that question I raised the other night." He acknowledged it. "I do: it has given me considerable concern, too: I don't want to give out any distorted conclusions: I am giving you the data: you will have to balance them up for yourself."


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