Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, February 3, 1889

     1.40 P.M. W. reading. Looked well. First time in several weeks that I've seen him by daylight. "Tom was in—came an hour or so ago—and your sister, too: Mrs. Harned. I was so glad she came up. It has been nine months since I have seen her: a long spell for her as well as for me." Then he paused a minute. "Yes: there were other visitors, too: Billings, or somebody: he came with a couple of young fellows." I asked: "You mean Bilstein?" he responding: "Yes, yes: Bilstein—the printer: that's the man. He did not stay long: paid simply one of the in and out visits: we talked a little bit about printing—plate printing: he appeared to be an adept—know his business. I liked him: like 'em all: he was very quiet: I get on so well with plain people."

     W. said: "I'm feeling mostly well these days: but I chafe with being kept indoors." I said: "Why don't you let us take you out?" He shook his head. "I don't have any ambitions that way: I want the air, the stars: yet I don't want to go to get them. If I could bring the Delaware River into this room I'd be wholly satisfied. I'm in a strange perplexity of impulse: I am drawn God knows where: I want and don't want the same thing: I want and don't want to be both outdoors and indoors: a certain element of irresponsibility is mixed with my routine these days." W. handed me a letter in a blue envelope. "It's from Garland: read it: then take it along." "Do you mean, read it to you?" "Yes."


Boston, January 10, 1889.

Dear Mr. Whitman:

I have word occasionally from you and it gives me great pleasure to know you are so comfortable. I get a card from Kennedy semi-occasionally. He seems to be very busy. I passed a pleasant evening with Mrs. Louise Chandler Moulton the present week, and we had some considerable talk of you. She is an appreciative admirer of your work and prizes the chat she had with you last year. She writes a literary letter to the Herald each Sunday and gets in a telling touch once in a while on your work. She is a very charming and able woman. Your stalwart supporter. Judge Chamberlain, of the Public Library, I see frequently: a very thoughtful and fearlessly

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outspoken man. He does some valuable historical lecturing and often says some inspiringly good things about our artificiality in poetry and the drama. I wonder if it ever occurred to you that our novel and drama is now slowly changing base, coming round to the "realization of the real." The whole outlook to me is full of hope. I think I see in what our aristocratic friends are pleased to call "vulgarity in fiction and the drama" the sure sign of the native indigenous literature we have waited for. If I should ever get to see you I should take pleasure in enlarging upon this. It forms the staple for a number of my lectures on the literature of Democracy.


Our friend Baxter had an extended notice of the Complete Works in the Herald. You saw it, of course. Filially yours,

Hamlin Garland


     W. said: "Mrs. Moulton is no doubt all he says she is: she seems to me, however, of the gushing sort: I shrink from that thing: it may be honest: I do not like it: often it's a man, often it's a woman: the gusher, effuser, may be of either sex. Horace, you know how I am: no man has a better right, call, for saying what I am than you: yet you know, must know, see, that I am not inclined to overdo or to be overdone: I can stand for a certain normal expression of the fraternal—even for more than the fraternal, if that is possible: yet anything like sickly emotionality, whether personal or general, drives me away, makes me sick. Every now and then someone goes away after a visit here telling the most monstrous stories of my being overcome or of having overcome them: I need not say to you that such stories are false—either invented by liars or imagined by the foolish. When Wilde was here, after our talk, he expressed some surprise: he said: 'You are not exactly as I pictured you.' I asked him: 'Worse or better?' He said: 'Better-and different.' He told Donaldson afterwards what he referred to. Tom asked him. He said: 'His poise: that was what surprised me.'" W. laughed gently: "So when you talk about it you may call it poise, Horace, though I don't stickle for that word: call it anything you please: only make it plain that I have no tearbaggy manners." Then he added: "We should leave slobbering to idiots: they are the only ones who don't know any better." He also said: "I must not be mistaken: I don't like hauteur any better than I do gush: what they call dignity, pride

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of past, gentlemen John or gentlemen Jim: I'm not for that, either—for the superior person: such nonsense."

     W. said further: "I'd like to have Hamlin come here: I'd like to hear what he has to say about the drama—about the novel: he's probably about right: the old theories hardly comport with the new spirit: we're coming nearer the divine facts all the time: the Arabella Sir John stuff is gone forever from our art: even our symbolisms have to be based more or less on palpable foundations." W. said to me: "You write a lot, don't you? That's right: keep it up: I don't say publish: that's not so essential: you will be our historian some day." He had read "that some nincompoop preacher has challenged the Colonel to a public debate." Had the Colonel accepted? W. laughed. "Why should he? Bob's worth at least a cardinal, a pope: he's entitled to the biggest champion, not the littlest: a victory over a nobody wouldn't help our or hurt their cause." I said: "You still seem to tie fast to the Colonel." He added: "As long as the Colonel's the Colonel I'll continue to be what I am: we look to him to do certain things: we are never fooled in him: he's always at least what we expect him to be—then something over: the Lord gave us good measure when he made Bob."

     W. had been reading the Tribune. "Tom brought it." The Press was on the floor under his feet. I asked him: "Have you read the Why Are You a Bachelor symposium?" "No: not a word of it—have not seen it. I suppose the time has come for some of 'em to go on record on that, so here it is and they talk like a congregation of sillyheads. It's like the Blue Glass craze that whirled about us seven or eight years ago—took everybody in. I myself went under blue glass at that time." I laughed and W. joined me. "It was at Esopus, John Burroughs' place: there they tried it on me." Did B. assent to the theory? "I don't know: I could not say: but he had some of the glass there—some panes. I sat there—the sun shone through." Was the result good or bad? He smiled again: "I am sure I couldn't say: I forget: the theory was that it must be good. The thing started with the idea that the sun's rays were in themselves beneficial: all that: that much I could assent to myself. Haven't I always gone into the sun myself: didn't I do it through that long dreary period after seventy-three? One of the worst features of my confinement here is that fact that I am in the north room, obliged to stay here, away from

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the sun altogether: I miss the sun as I miss nothing else."
Why shouldn't he swap with Mary for her room at the back of the house? "That would hardly mend matters: the sun's only there for an hour or two a day." He had often discussed the problem with himself. "At one time, I thought of putting another story on the house: I have not abandoned it yet: there I could have windows all around me: I suppose it's too late to push such a plan through: I should have carried it out five years ago." I said: "A man needs light, not only in but on his head: and pure air—not only about him but in him." "That's so," said W.: "I amen every word of that: it's more to a man than anything else. I lack the vim, energy, to see such a project through." He was quite still for awhile. Then he added: "I sit here, simmer, hug the windows in summer, hug the fire in winter, letting everything else take its chances." Suddenly W. asked: "Did you know John was in Poughkeepsie? Well—he is: he didn't write me saying so, but Kennedy has referred to it."

     W. wrote Bucke today. Sent a bundle of papers to O'Connor. Had he written anything on the N.A. Review fiction piece? "Not a word: I seem to be almost afraid to start it: I have some things to say, yet fear to try to say them. That's characteristic of me these days in anything that involves the expenditure of physical energy: my thinking apparatus seems to be O.K.: it's the rest of me that gets tired. If I could talk into a machine—if I didn't have to use a pen—my troubles would be over." I said: "No doubt we will speak into machines some day and out of them too." W. asked: "Do you mean the telephone? We have that already." I said: "No: I mean a machine with a voice." W. looked at me quizically: "Well—who knows: having gone as far as we have with these wonders why shouldn't other wonders follow?"

     McKay is about to go on the road. He asks W. two questions. 1st: will the six-dollar books be numbered? 2d: will the six-hundred edition be the limit—no more being issued under any circumstances? I said to W.: "You must answer the questions: I'll have to say something to Dave one way or the other." W. said: "I shall do whatever you fellows think best on that point: I want to please you—to please Dave, too—to act fairly, so that you may both be satisfied. You lay more stress on the importance of that numbering business than I do: whether the buyer buying a book bearing my signature would think

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the book had more value if there was a figure somewhere up in the corner I don't know: perhaps he would: you fellows are more likely to know about that than I am. It would be quite a little job: you or Dave could do it as well as or better than I could."
But he was shy about promising to limit the edition. "There's no danger that a further edition will ever be called for. You can tell Dave the edition is really only four hundred and fifty: that I have kept a hundred and fifty here for my own use." And he added: "I should not care to make any pledges: to engage as to what should be done in the future: to say, this I shall do, this not. If I should live—I do not think I shall, it is scarcely possible—but if I should live, and this edition was exhausted, I should not like to say more would not be issued: but under all ordinary circumstances, probabilities, it may be said to be morally certain that this printing will be the last—that nothing beyond this will ever be attempted by me. Dave must be very optimistic to suppose he can sell the books anyway: I have no similar confidence in the book myself: the market is more likely to shrink from than embrace it. Dave can go out to his trade—he can say: here is so and so: say, an edition of such and such a size: a book of such and such a quality: it is certain now that there are but so many: they are all authenticated—cover, portraits, all that: all is absolutely as represented: now, what can be done for that? I said: "Walt, you could drum for your own books, sure." He laughed. "I have drummed: I have had to: I have had nobody to do it for me." Then deliberately: "Anyhow, you will see Dave: say these things to him just as I have said them to you: consult with him: put your heads together: then let me know the conclusions you come to. I want to acquiesce wherever I can: I am never a wilful disturber of the peace."

     W. wanted to know whether the river was frozen across. He said: "I once hobbled about half way over with my cane: the ice got unreliable then: I had to turn back." Said of Burroughs: "John is not so wonderful about people as about bugs: he sees some things with wonderful clarity of comprehension: there are other things which he sees rather dimly. My feeling about people, about the universe, becomes more and more superphysical—is more and more emphatic in its mystical intimations. In reading John of late I have felt that his studies were drawing him the other way. Perhaps I'm

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getting mixed: I may not interpret him fairly: so I do not offer my impression as final. It always amazes me when a man of science drifts off into materialism: I look to every man of science to maintain the assertion of omnipresent unmitigated never terminable life: when he does anything else I suspect him of being false to his standards of truth. This may sound like inexcusable dogmatism, though I offer it in any but a dogmatic spirit."


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