Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, February 9, 1889

     7.20 P.M. W. reading the Magazine of Poetry. Was not yet ready to send it to Kennedy. No word from or about O'Connor today. "I had been hoping something would come: I have written: wrote last evening." He had "not abandoned hope." "O'Connor has great tenacity of life: I look to see him make a powerful fight: he may stay a great while just as he is now: this disease is not necessarily rapidly fatal. William can sit up: he can read: but it seems he cannot write: some forms of paralysis affect the nerves of the head: this does not seem to." Said he had been thinking of O'C. all day. "I try to be cheerful: yet I am haunted with fears." Then he added: "But I have had word from Bucke: see here: here are two letters: I see by one of them they propose to list you with the meter: I don't know but that will be a good thing for you—also a better thing for the meter. Doctor seems pretty firmly bent on the 18th: it will not be long now before we see him." W. much interested in both letters—3d, 7th: in what they say of the Sarrazin piece. W. said: "Maurice says the new leaves and flowers will be my best medicine when spring comes. That sounds something like: but will the spring be something like? You'll see a few lines there too about Sarrazin:

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Doctor gives no opinion: he says he'll do something with the thing if Kennedy's abstract is not satisfactory."
I put in: "But in his second note he says: 'I have made a rough and ready abstract of Sarrazin's piece (do you know that Sarrazin means "buckwheat?") Will probably get it copied out and mailed tomorrow. If you have not yet sent Kennedy's abstract to the printer wait till you get mine. Perhaps you will combine them.'" W. said: "That's so: I forgot: but although Doctor says he has abstracted it he does not say whether he likes it or not. If it is what it would seem to be we should have it all Englished. There's nothing to do but wait and see what the Doctor makes of it."

     W. said: "Gurd is Scotch, to be sure. The Scotch: they are masterful stuff: a little too austere, not enough demonstrative, yet steadfast, inexorable:" Said good things of Thomas Davidson. "He's Scotchy of the Scotch: wonderfully human, too: vast in scholarship, all that, which I make least of: I have great respect for what he is." W. wondered if the scholars "ever really achieve a vital, virile, uncompromising style." Added: "The great French writer Legouvé says this is the final, the supreme, test, after all else is tried—how will a poem read, recite, deliver: with what effect? How will it hold its own when repeated? That is the court in which it must justify itself." W. didn't feel "like giving this a radical endorsement." Yet he regarded it as "a theory not to be rejected scornfully."

     I quoted Ingersoll, who has said to me: "Style should lend itself to the lips." This struck W. "It is profound—true: style should lend itself to the lips: it's so scant in words but means so much!" He added: "And Bob has every right to talk of style: he has achieved an undoubtable style of his own." I said to W.: "I like styles out of school not styles out of the schools." He looked at me quizzically. "Say it over again," he said. After I had done so: "That tops the whole thing: styles out of school! The two should be put together: style should lend itself to the lips: styles out of school: why, Horace, it's the style out of school that lends itself best to the lips." W. then broke into quiet laughter. "I'm thinking of the eminent German critic so-so Rolleston spoke about who said Leaves of Grass was not poetry: I was wondering what he would say if Rolleston replied: 'Maybe not—but what is it then?' Even Leaves of Grass might get

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benefit of clergy—benefit of professors, critics—by a liberal construction of the traditions: but I suppose it would have to be damn liberal: Leaves of Grass does not defy all the traditions though it does defy some of the main offenders!"
W. again said: "I know all is for law: yet I also say 'to hell with all laws!'" I put in: "No man can be lawful who's not first of all lawless." W. nodded: "That's the point precisely: yet when you say this to people they think you're a fool or a knave or both." He reverted to the idea again after a little silence. "What you say about law applies especially to style."

     W. said he had felt "almost quarrelsomely well" today. "I count today one more added to the store of average days: no change, no event, to give it a distinct identity." Had he read Carpenter's Custom, which Bucke had alluded to in one of his letters? "Yes, I went through it today—the whole of it. It is not new to me: I have not thought it out just in that way: not made a special study of custom: yet I have ordinarily hit upon the same train of reasoning. It means evolution—says evolution: isn't that the gist of it?" I alluded to its compactness. "Yes—that: it is closely thought out—cubic, solid." If he was done with it I proposed sending the paper to Bucke. W.: "Do you think he would be interested? I did not think of it. Send it then." Asked him whether he had read Ingersoll's address at the funeral of Mary Fiske the other day. "Yes: and it greatly moved me: its tenderness, its force, cuts into a fellow like a knife: it's one of the best of Bob's little speeches. Did you see yesterday's Record? It aroused my ire: has a scurrilous little paragraph on the Colonel: a mean, dirty little paragraph: entirely uncalled for, too: it dealt with his speech, which I consider not only unobjectionable but wholly affirmatively beautiful and consoling." I suggested: "Some people are on general principles shocked by Ingersoll's appearance at a funeral anyway." W. said "yes" and proceeded: "Some people are asses, some people are not asses: then there are others of the overdelicate, overfussy, kind: they too are afraid of the Colonel: I'm always glad when something occurs to tumble them over. I liked what Bob said in this case so much I feel inclined to write him about it: the speech was worthy of the woman who inspired it." He thought "the devils are still at the Colonel's heels." "He is cursed for what he does say, cursed for what he does not say: cursed

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for what he is and isn't: when the world has it in for a man he does not have to do anything to furnish it with pretexts for vituperation, slander, persecution."

     Ed came in for mail. He goes to the post office every evening towards eight. "There's nothing—nothing at all," said W. As Ed was going out the door W. laughingly continued: "And nothing's not hard to carry, is it, Ed?" adding, however: "But don't take nothing for a precedent, Ed: be sure you bring something back!" Then turned to me: "Why is it everybody delights in letters?" I said: "Every letter is a surprise: the best of life is in its surprises." W. declared: "That seems reasonable: there seems to be the spice of the gambler in all of us: we'd do anything to get out of the beaten track—even commit crimes!"

     I got five copies of the book from Oldach. Left one with McKay on the way home. Gave W. the other four. W. was pleased as a kid with a new toy. Turned the first book he picked up over and over. Looked at it from all sides. "A handsome book indeed I should call it!" he exclaimed. After a pause: "It hits me in general, in particular." Continuing to examine it. "All except this 'edition 1889,' which is still not big enough." I asked: "You won't send Doctor's copy up to him?" "No: he can get it when he comes: I shall be very careful how I send them in the mails: forty cents and more a book is rather a strong pull on a weak purse. Besides, at four dollars, taking out a dollar twenty-four for the cover, I'm not making a great deal." W. felt that "Dave may sell some" but he had "no great expectations." D. already has orders for two copies. W. said: "You can take them over to him Monday." I was to keep the manuscript. Oldach told me "the story of" his "life" today in brief. I repeated it to W., who said: "It's a vivid document: I'm glad to turn over a leaf or two of it." And he was genial this time about O. "He's slow—that's sure: he's stubborn as hell—that's sure too: but after that is said the worst is said: for the rest he pleases me perfectly." I said: "Walt, that would make a great description of you, too: it fits your psychology to a t." He asked: "Do you say that?" and then: "I'm willing." Oldach had spoken of the common demand for cheap meretricious bindings. "They won't let me do things right." W. said: "That is a characteristic which runs wild these times everywhere—in goods, in architecture, in art: showiness, gaudiness, blare." Anyway, he added, "we'll

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make our book right even if it costs every cent."
Before I left, W. said: "I shall certainly dedicate a copy to you at once."

     Insurance today one dollar and eighty instead of three dollars. W. laughed as I handed him the change. "I'll send you again," he said. Endorsed envelope containing policy and receipt. Ingersoll Lockwood wrote W. notifying him of his election "to membership in something or other" and soliciting "some encouraging words." Had he sent them? He laughed. "That would be almost unheard of." W. referred to Gilder. Then to Stoddard. He exclaimed: "God bless Watson!" Then he stopped. I said: "I don't hear you say: God bless Dick." He laughed. "I'm not averse to it: I wouldn't say God damn Dick!" Then he said: "By the way, Dick's eye operation must have been painful"—adding: "It may help him to see some things he never saw before." De Long, from Medford, who preached for Clifford last Sunday, sent his "regrets and affection" to W. W. said: "I am always glad to take these unexpected handshakes." I told him of Emma Lazarus. She wants to do something "to help make" W. "comfortable." W. said: "It is very companionlike of her to say that: I thank her deeply: such goodwill serves to appease my great hunger." I told W. he seemed a bit below par. He acknowledged it: "I am brooding over William: I can't shake the cloud off: I want to go to him: yet I'm almost as impossible as he is. It's sort of eating into me."

     W. handed me a letter nearly falling to pieces. "What do you think of that? he asked. "It's certainly a curio if no more," he said. There was no envelope for it. "It has always been a puzzle to me why people think that because I wrote Children of Adam, Leaves of Grass, I must perforce be interested in all the literature of rape, all the pornograph of vile minds. I have not only been made a target by those who despised me but a victim of violent interpretation by those who condoned me. You know the sort of stuff that's sent to me here." By this time I had read the letter. "You don't put this in the same category, do you?" He disclaimed it. "No: that fellow Matt Carpenter was a brilliant of the first water, looked at from the point of view of the conventional: he gemmed around about there in Congress for some years: he had a reputation more or less outré—whether deservedly or not, I couldn't say." C. used purple ink and marked his letter "confidential."


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United States Senate Chamber,
Washington, Jan. 31, 1872.

Mr. Walt Whitman:

Dear Sir:

Examining some old papers, the other day, I found an extract from an argument of the late Hon. A. D. Smith, a Judge of the Sup. Ct. of Wisconsin, delivered by him when practising before that Court about twenty years ago, in a case about alleged rape, followed by conception; maintaining that the fact of conception was conclusive evidence of consent on the part of the prosecutrix. This argument was quite famous in Wisconsin at the time, and the extract may possibly interest you. Here it is:

"Conception, may it please Your Honors, is no reluctant throe of nature. Its production costs no pang, save when pleasure, from excess, is turning to pain: but it follows an embrace in which the heart, the lip, the entire humanity must participate; an embrace in which the mental, moral, and physical powers and susceptibilities are wrought to such an intensity of orgasm, mutual and reciprocal, that Nature crowns her beatitude with the production and endowment of a new identity. And wisely has she ordained that every faculty of mind or body which might thwart or counteract her purpose, should for the moment be wrapt in bewilderment of bliss."

This is, in its way, I think a very fine thing: and the intimate friends of the author more than suspect that he had been there and knew.

Truly yours

Matt H. Carpenter.


     I asked W.: "Shall I take the letter?" "Yes, certainly: it goes with the story." I folded it and put it away in my pocket. W. asked: "Well: have you any thoughts about it?" I wanted to know if W. had ever put the physiological or psychological question raised by the letter up to himself. He answered: "I have taken the thing seriously at times: then again I have a suspicion of Carpenter's flippant impertinence: I have talked with Doctor Gross there across the river—the great Doctor: he would have taken the stand of the attorney who made the plea. I understand that the question has always been moot among physiologists, psychologists, legalists, jurists. I just half remember some Spanish story—was it in Don

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Quixote?—that involved the same problem."
"Then you don't think Carpenter sent this note to you from any sneering or necessarily ugly motive?" "No: why should he? he had a dare-devil streak in him, I'm informed, but I can't see it in this incident. Anyway, what ever his intention may have been, I take the story for what it seems to mean. There need be no dirt in it if we don't put it there. The letter turned up today: I at once thought of you—its natural custodian. Now you may do as you wish with it."


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