Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, February 12, 1889

     4.35 P.M. Met Salter at the ferry. To W.'s as we had arranged. I went up and told W. Salter was there. W. said: "I'll see him for a few minutes." Near his dinner time. W. hospitably at ease. Salter took off his overcoat. Found a chair. I sat on the sofa. W. asked S. a few questions about his work. Then, turning to me: "Who has been writing about us in the Chicago News?" addressing Salter, too: "Do you know? Last Saturday's paper contained a long story." S. said he didn't know the literary man on the News. W.: "No? it's by some person—some outsider, so to speak: it is not by anyone familiar with our propositions." Salter asked W. about his health. W. said: "I am pretty thoroughly whacked up." S. asked: "How is your head?" W. replied: "Considering the condition of the rest of my body the immunity enjoyed by my topknot is marvellous—even surprises me."

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But he said: "You must not think I am wholly exempt mentally: any long stretch of reading, writing, talking, exhausts me."

     Salter and W. got talking of the West. S. asked W. if he had been in Chicago. W.: "I only passed through it—not to stay: Chicago, then down to Cincinnati: I have been to St. Louis—lived there for some time": spoke of his "favorable impression" of Missouri. "I think I must have struck it at a happy time, under favorable circumstances: went in across the center—then north. It is a great State—a great State: sometimes I think the greatest (if there is a greatest)." Then after a laugh: "You see I am a brevet Missourian: I reckon I'm a Westerner in spirit." Had gone farther along to Denver: "I was very contented there: I can't say what it was that hit me: something in the air: Denver itself is not at all attractive: yet there's something magnetic in the come and go of the life there: I have always felt as if had I been detained there I should not have growled." Salter spoke of a German student who had gone off into that country and grown from a shriveled up sick man to an athlete. W. said: "Eakins did that: you know Eakins? the painter: he was sick, run down, out of sorts: he went right among the cowboys: herded: built up miraculously just in the same way." I asked W.: "Don't you suppose this episode helped to make Eakins the painter he is?" "Undoubtedly: it must have done much towards giving him or confirming his theory of painting: he has a sort of cowboy bronco method: he could not have got that wholly or even mainly in the studios of Paris—he needed the converting, confirming, uncompromising touch of the plains." Salter was born in Iowa, where his father settled forty-three years ago. Still preaching there: orthodox. W. thought it "remarkable" to hear of anyone "born in Iowa forty years ago": adding: "That State was a wilderness forty years ago." Looked at Salter as if he was a curio. It amused us all.

     As we sat talking Mary came in with tray: W.'s dinner: panned oysters, toast, coffee. We at once got ready to go. S. offered some excuse. W. said: "It is one of the admonitions of my Doctor not to see people—not to talk: but then I am a disobedient subject: I only regard professional advice so far—not farther: I decide limits for myself after all." I asked W. to hand me the Symonds picture. Salter took it from me. "Yes," he said: "the author of The Greek Poets." W. nodded. "That's the man." Salter said: "He's an invalid." W.:

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"Say was, not is: he was sick: he has brushed that away: you can see by the picture that he has become quite rugged, ruddy, bronzed: he looks weather beaten, yet serene. He lives in Geneva: went there to Switzerland looking for health: he has means, fortune—can go where he pleases. I am sorry I have put his letter up to send to Doctor Bucke: you could have seen that: a letter I got Sunday: he has written me often: he beats the other scholars over there at their own trade."

     Salter picked up his coat and hat. We shook hands with W. We got near the door. W. said: "One minute." Reached to the table and got S. a copy of the Sarrazin sheet. "There," he said: "take that with you: make the worst or the best of it: that is the latest: I give it out to those who come here." And as S. folded it up to put into his pocket: "You are doing me more favor than yourself by accepting it." And then as we passed out: "Good-bye, both:" and to me personally: "I'll see you again, Horace." Showed S. the Eakins portrait downstairs. Then strolled about the streets some. S. questioned me concerning W.'s ideas. Seemed to be still as formerly dubious about W.W. on the whole. Yet said: "He was beautiful as he sat there, and his talking was very fine—the whole manner of it." Salter also said: "I wanted to hear more, yet was, as I told you, very much uncertain about going there at all. I seemed to have no excuse for a visit. You thought differently and I'm glad that you did, otherwise I shouldn't have had this treasurable experience. The brief call, the informal entrance, the exit as he said good-bye to us—oh! I shall never forget it. I acknowledge that meeting Whitman personally has determined me to look carefully into his work again."

     7.15 P.M. Stopped in to see W. again. Had he anything from Bucke? "No word at all: let me see: this is Tuesday and he said next Monday. Well, he has so often set his Mondays I am skeptical." Had he received Bucke's abstract of the Sarrazin? "Yes: didn't I tell you? I meant to." Was it more elaborate than Kennedy's?" "It adds nothing to Kennedy." He asked me to tell him about Salter. "I enjoyed our Western talk." I said: "He is still having trouble with your mystification of virtue and vice." W. laughed. "Is that too hard a nut for him to crack?" "Yes," I said: "but he can't get reconciled to you when you ask, what is this blurt about virtue and about vice?" I haven't heard Walt laugh for a long time so heartily as he did about

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that. "That would be a hard thing to make plain to any man who could not make it plain to himself." W. asked: "He's of the pro-ethical sort, didn't you say? They are in a net from which they are not easily disentangled: the Ethical people have more botheration getting under way than the Trinitarians: they've got rid of one mixup and adopted another: so far as dogmatism is concerned I can't see but good and bad may be as objectionable as heaven and hell."

     W. has something to say about the beauty of the Symonds picture every time he looks at it. Harry Wright in this evening. Stayed an hour. After he was gone W. said to Ed: "Why didn't you come in and take him away: he stayed too long: next time give him a pointer." Sent off a big mail—papers and letters. Salter told me of a Chicago library in which there was no copy of Leaves of Grass. Some one he knew had a tilt with the librarian over the matter. W. said: "We're tabooed in many places: this counts only one more place: I am never surprised whatever happens to the books good or bad." Just as I was about to leave he said: "The best word I have had today is from abroad—from Rolleston: a few lines, brief lines, very happy lines—very much the kind of letter I most enjoy and am most encouraged by receiving." He paused. "He has got the big book: I am gratified at that: Wicklow must be in an out-of-the-way country. I feared a little for the book: it's big, bulky, weighs considerable: but there it is. And Rolleston appears thoroughly to accept it: I was very much enlightened with what he said of it." "What did he say?" "He said he liked the idea of having the books together in one cover: he said the volume seemed like a great land which you enter and find overflowing with riches—a land in which everybody has enough room: fine, grand vistas: vegetation, strata, everything laid out on a conclusive scale." I said: "What he says you have done sounds like you saying what you intend or would like to do." W. said he wrote to Bucke quoting R. He gave me R.'s letter to look over. After reading it I said: "It's not as forceful as your description of it." W. answered: "Perhaps I gave what it meant, not what it said." W. handed me a poem pamphlet. "Look at that," he said: "That's a sample of the things I get—must endure: read the letter: it explains." The poems were called Cherries from a Young Tree. W. said: "The letter is better than the poems." Then: "I never feel like making

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light of this sort of effusion: it means something to the fellow who does it."
He said he got "all sorts of poems and proses from all sorts of people." He never knows "what to do with such fodder." Harned said: "You should use it for bumwad." W. retorted: "You're too severe, Tom: we have to look at these things from the standpoint of the other fellow, too." He asked me: "What right have I to say it's not poetry? Any number of people agree that what I write is not poetry."

     W. gave me what he called "another tidbit" for my "archeeves." "It belongs with the story: helps along its continuity: some day if you arrange your documents in order you'll have quite an explicit narrative: you'll be able to clean up many questions having to do with the history of Leaves of Grass." Then he added: "But as for that maybe nobody'll ever care what its history was." Giving me a letter from O'Connor induced him to say: "But oh! what wouldn't I give to be near enough to William now to see him occasionally." I said: "You do feel him?" "I do: I do: every inch of me: all the time: yet I crave his bodily presence." The letter:


Washington, D.C.,
April 9, 1883.

Dear Walt:

Here you are! Good, too! I managed to get down to the Congressional this morning, and copied the enclosed from the Areopagitica. I think it makes a capital epigraph.

It will add force to the argument to print it as I have copied it, with the full title of the treatise appended, since "unlicensed printing" is the subject of our story. I think you will agree that the passage fits the case also in other ways, and I hope you will like it.

Winter has a characteristic dirty squib in today's Tribune anent of Doctor Bucke's book. I hope the dose I have given him in the Introductory may be appreciated by him. Goodbye. Faithfully

W. D. O'Connor.

[Enclosure] "As good almost kill a man as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth, but a good book is the precious lifeblood of a master-spirit embalmed and treasured

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up on purpose, to a life beyond life. 'Tis true no age can restore a life, whereof perhaps there is no great loss; but revolutions of ages do not oft recover the loss of a rejected truth, for the want of which all nations fare the worse. We should be wary, therefore, what persecution we raise against the living labors of public men; how we spill that seasoned life of man preserved and stored up in books, since we see a kind of homicide may be thus committed, sometimes a martyrdom."


     W. exclaimed: "That should be carved over the door of every library, every publishing house, every public place whatsoever: children should be taught it: grown-up people should be forced to remember it: it is precious, sacred, everlasting: William was right: it fits our case, our struggles against adversity: few people know what we have had to go through to get even where we are today—which is none too far. Horace, read it again before you stick it in your pocket." I did so. He exclaimed "Amen! Amen!" when I was through.


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