Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, February 14, 1889

     In and out W.'s all day till about four. Numbered such copies of the Complete book as he had there. About a hundred and seventy-five. Numbered them by letter in red ink. Worked in the lower front room. Took them from W.'s bedroom down. Then returned them to the box in his room where they now are. W. said: "It does me good to see you working round." He spoke of "not feeling in the pink of condition." Every time I entered with some books he would make some pleasant remark. "And how do you progress?" "It must be a nuisance." "It's quite a job." "I wish I could help you." "Well—God be with you!" After I had brought back the last book he said: "I feel almost as good as if I had done it myself." Looked pale and thin. "My cold hangs on: that's the trouble: it'll drool along for about a m,onth: that's the usual story: it will be a great discomfort." I said: "Walt: why don't you help yourself? say rather that you won't than that you will have it for a month?" He answered: "I should like to: I am no longer physiologically so fixed that these ailments are matters of a day: I cannot shake them off: I have to let them wear themselves out—I can't drive them out." His head was "in a whirl." "Not precisely headachy but with a jellylike feeling." I saw him first at breakfast at 9:30. He then said: "I must not allow myself to know how I feel." W. tried to make up a copy of the big book. Got it half done. Then said to me: "I'll let you finish it." It was for Knortz. Book eighty-six. I expressed it. The copies so far gone out were unnumbered. W. laughed. "It's just as well: but don't say so to Dave: it might worry him." Had letters from Bucke and Kennedy. "Instead of writing to Kennedy I'll send him Bucke's letter: instead of writing to Bucke I'll send him Kennedy's letter: that'll kill about half a dozen birds with one stone." Read the morning papers.

     7:30 P.M. Gave W. express receipt for Knortz's book. He talked freely but said he was "feeling below par." I asked him: "What does Kennedy mean when he says, 'I wish the good J.A. Symonds had the courage of his opinion?'" W. answered: "I do not know what he refers to unless it be the Fortnightly piece, which was very flat indeed

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—very flat—a surprising performance for Symonds. Symonds' piece reminded me, reminds me, of Captain Cuttle—the queer Captain Cuttle."
W. here laughed quietly. "The Captain would say in his own inimitable style: 'If the ship has gone down then she has gone down—if she has been wrecked then she has been wrecked—that's all there is about it.' That is Symonds as he shows up in the Fortnightly." Kennedy also said something in his note about "a contrast" between W.W. and Browning, whom he is now systematically reading. "I will put in a footnote." W. exclaimed: "May heaven forefend!" Then he said: "I have no doubt that is all a chimera, project from his own personality—his own inner consciousness. There is nothing to contrast." I protested: "He don't say 'compare' or 'parallel' but 'contrast.'" W. was stubborn. "Well—even for that! Have you ever read much of Browning? Some years ago I went all through the Ring and the Book and other poems—two or three thick volumes: they were very interesting." But he did not "feel free" to go into "the detail of" his "impressions." Finally: "In short, we do not seem to belong together any way you've a mind to put it: we are occupied in totally different spheres: even a contrast would be hopelessly inopportune."

     Kennedy's book was mentioned. Someone had said to W.: "It will be like a scrapheap." W. said: "That is extreme: I have seen it—seen parts of it I should rather say. I am willing to wait and see what comes out of it: I stake no high expectations upon its fate: certainly do not rate it as highly as Bucke does or even as highly as you do. My hope is, as the boys say, that it 'gets its roots in': you have heard that expression, eh? But whatever it proves to be it will do good: all these things do good—at least, I believe they do." But as to "enthusiasm?" No—he didn't feel it. "Sloane's book is yet a problem that I'm afraid will never be solved by me. If I lived a hundred years I do not suppose I would be as well pleased with anything else that could be said, that will be said, as I am with Doctor Bucke's book. I do not refer to its explanations, abstractions, explications, but to its general make-up—the book as it stands: enclosing, enfolding, as it does, O'Connor's two marvellous letters—all followed by, including, the Appendix. The whole arrangement satisfies me the more I dwell upon it." But wouldn't K.'s book have peculiar force as coming from the literary group? "You speak of the scholastic? do you

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think Kennedy scholastic? Probably he is: I had not taken it in from that angle: I admit that it's a pertinent suggestion."
Then: "No doubt the literary, professional, fellows may take hold of us if we last, but I confess I shrink from it with horror. Sloane is semi, half and half, literary some, quite human too." I asked: "Did you come to no thoroughgoing conclusion when you examined the manuscript?" "I can't say I did: it's a hodge-podgy book—begins nowhere, ends nowhere: yet I can see that it might prove to be tantalizingly spicy to the curiosity seeker."

     We spoke briefly of Specimen days—I of its "many snatches of thought, for any mood, as we turn over the pages." He considered it "interesting" to follow "non-methodical reading." "I can easily see that is one way—indeed, not only a good way, but who knows but the way?—as, for one to take a walk—allured by a tree, a bush, a stream, a mountain, a sky: just feely, when and as the spirit dictates, not as I put it, by malice prepense. My friends could never understand me, that I would start out so evidently without design for nowhere and stay long and long." Books so made "become a part of nature."

     W. sent quite a mail to P.O. with Ed—seven pieces, including letters, postals, packages. Ed returned in about ten minutes with a letter from Bucke, which W. read aloud as I sat there. Leave of absence not yet received—had telegraphed for it. Was all ready to come otherwise. I said: "I wrote Bucke just this morning about the Washington trip." Said W.: "Yes, and I have written him too about that—more than once, I think: I asked him if it would not facilitate matters if he went direct to Washington, then came here: but he writes no: speaks of it in this letter: says his leave will be but a short one, that he won't be here for many days, that he has other arrangements to follow out, but fully expects to make the trip to Washington, going from Philadelphia. These trips are very matter of fact now—a few hours: much shortened since that time I took them so often. Well, I have no doubt Doctor will be with us early next week, anyhow."

     He had given Ed a five-cent piece for matches on going out. "I don't know how much they are: get a box like that." Ed returned with two boxes which he got for four cents. W. gave him one box: "You use that—I will keep this. Mary has given me matches several

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times—I should return her a box. But I'll wait now till we buy a larger quantity."
I interposed (to Ed): "Why didn't you get three for five?" W. laughed: "That's so Ed: why didn't you? You're not up to business!" It is one of his diversions now to watch the fire, poke it, do the few little things he can from his chair. Standing seems to grow more and more difficult for him. He laughed over "the trivial incident of the matches." "All my life here," he said, "is made up of pathetically little things: yet I don't know but all life is more or less like that—made dear or cheap to us in the proportion that we can accommodate ourselves to the kind of people we must meet, the kind of meals we must eat, the kind of clothes we must wear, the kind of pleasures we must have. We may make an adventure abroad occasionally, but for the main part the little motives become the big forces in existence."

     I told W. of Oldach's irascibility. W. said: "Well, if he is mainly right, if his tendency is in our direction, if he finally comes round, we can forget the rest—the little tempests: at least I should: should go about (if I could at all) treating these as matters of course to be expected, laughed over."

     After a silence of some minutes, both of us regarding the fire, W. said: "I have something new for you to do. I have been thinking of a pocket edition: something small, in leather: morocco, probably, with a flap: sort of diary style. Do you think Oldach does that work? I should print Leaves of Grass in full—including, at the end, A Backward Glance. The project is in a nebulous condition—not defined, not certain, not determined upon, yet seriously thought about." W. had even thought out its detail. "I shall have very narrow margins—shaved close: thin paper—not too thin—probably like this"—placing his hand on a copy of the Complete book which was on the edge of the table. "The edition would be small: probably two hundred and fifty: not more than three hundred: well printed." He advised me "to go and see an expert—consult with him: experts often put you in the way of your own—give shape to your own unformed desires." He asked: "Can we do the book? I'll need your assistance: if I can't calculate on you the book should not be started." I said: "You know well enough, Walt, that you can count on me for this or anything." Then he said: "You make me feel better—though

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I might have known it."
He then said: "Before going ahead we must find what the penalty may be for going ahead. I must, of course, as usual, impose much of the routine going with the job on your shoulders." I am to see Oldach tomorrow. Also Dave if he has returned. W said: "we should not less the grass grow under our feet." When W. is sickest he always wants to hurry things. When he's well he wants to take his time.

     W. did some more house cleaning today. Among other things he turned up his draft of a Herald letter. He gave it to me to put away. "It's quite significantly valuable," he said: "it belongs rather with you than with me now." W. had written at the top of the sheet: "Sent to Mr. Chambers, Herald, March 7, 1884." After the note came a memorandum to this effect: "proposal accepted by letter from H. March 8." This is the note:

Mr. Browning has just been here and says you wish something more specific, defined, in my relations and pay— If you want the little pieces continued, I would like to continue them for forty dollars a month, and will furnish you with say ten pieces a month—of the character and length as hitherto—this bargain to commence with the current month—

Walt Whitman.


     W. called this note "a curio." Told me he had thrown "a great mass of papers" away— "burned them up." "A heap of old receipts." Said he was "not afraid of being swindled." Adding: "If anybody can afford to swindle me." I said: "That's very Tolstoyan." He nodded: "Probably: but that won't hurt it any." I quoted: "The murder is to the murderer and comes back most to him." W.: "Yes: that's it. I may escape most things but I can't escape myself: what I am I am committed to: nothing else enslaves me—no outside bond." As to the Herald: "I do not fail to see that Julius Cambers tried to throw a life-rope my way: that the Herald, taken all in all, had no interest in me—the main functionaries: Julius was where he could do a little on his own account and did it: his personal disposition towards me was always friendly in the extreme. From the newspaper point of view my appearance in the paper could not have been better than merely formal." I said: "Bucke thinks you are never fooled." W. laughed: "That's where Doctor is fooled."


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