Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, February 17, 1889

     8 P.M. W. making up a package of papers for O'Connor: quite a fat bundle. No word from Washington. Had made up a package for me, too, containing a copy of the Chicago News— "I sent for some of them," he said—and letters from Bucke (15th) and Rhys (from South Wales, 2d). I asked: "Does the New Review amount to anything?" He evaded answering. "I have given you a paper: see if it does: tell me!"

     Bucke wrote W.: "O'Connor's condition is infernal, and there's only one way out of it. It seems too devilish bad that such a man should have to go through such a bad time, but there is no use growling at it. We must grin and bear it. It cannot last long: that is the only consolation." W. says: "I'm always asking myself: What's the use of the fight? There's no hope of a change for the better: why then should we try so hard to postpone the inevitable?" I asked W.: "How do you know there's no hope? If the door's got to be closed all right: but why should we close it?" And I added: "I didn't know it was according to Leaves of Grass to say anything was hopeless." W. replied: "You're right and you're wrong: you're right where you're general and wrong where you're literal."

     Bucke followed up his reference to O'C. with this: "I wish you could have a little better time yourself than you are having, but it is impossible that you should feel half yourself while you are constantly shut up in one room: no air, no change, no exercise, no amusement, no nothing but a weary dull routine. We must try to rouse you out when the birds and leaves come again." He has several times written W. similarly. W. himself indulges such fancies. He frequently tells us where he'll go, what he'll do, when he gets out again. "One of the first things to do will be to see the boy," he says: "to see Herbert Spencer Harned." As to the Doctor's coming: "I am not staking anything on seeing him Tuesday or even Wednesday: I expect to see him the coming week sometime: that's the most I can say." But he was sure Bucke would not "waste many days in

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London when the time came."
"His leave of absence is doubtless from a certain day to a certain day: that's the way they were arranged for in the departments at Washington. We could always get our furlough extended—within reason." Did he spend his vacations in New York, Brooklyn? "Hardly—rather here." He came to this place to live "because of" his "mother." "Then my displacement occurred: then I came to grief: there's nothing but my old hulk left."

     W. had "no idea" who wrote the News piece. "I do not know even who sent me the paper." He said: "Tom was in today—after church time, about—and Mrs. Harned. They brought me the Tribune. I was glad to see them—to see her." He had spent one of his "usual days" "not better, not worse, than the average." He spoke again of a scrap book for photos. "Don't go out of your way to get it but see to it when you can: then I'll know where I stand." These little things were not important, but "to a man in jail they are a whole world—the only world he knows." Said I should return him the Rhys letter so the Doctor could see it. I asked him: "Have you written any postals today?" He looked at me. "Yes—some, several: one to O'Connor: one or two others. Why?" I handed him the following from today's Philadelphia Times:


     "Walt Whitman's partiality for postal cards is well known to his correspondents and of late he rarely uses paper and envelopes. This the poet does principally to simplify his letter writing to the greatest degree. His mail would not be considered large to a younger man, but to the gray old poet it is more than a burden. He answers only business letters and those from friends; notes of any other character are unnoticed. To the autograph collector Walt Whitman is a well-known terror, and his persistent refusals of his signature make such few letters as he writes the more valuable in the open market. Even the most urgent business propositions he will answer on a postal card. A well-known literary gentleman the other day, exceedingly fastidious in his tastes, recently had occasion to write to Walt Whitman. In a few days an answer came, courteous and explicit, but written on a postal card and in red ink. A more disgusted man one never saw. But this is a little eccentricity of the old poet. To him the postal card is a luxury; it confines him to brief writing and, with eyes that are no longer of the best and fingers not as supple as they were fifty years ago, surely we may grant the old man this trifling breach of epistolary etiquette."



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     He put on his glasses: read it carefully. "Who has been guilty of this?" he asked, turning the paper over: "what a lot of stuff: this fellow was yawning for a paragraph—so I became the victim. The 'fastidious gentleman' was a fiction. He was created to order to give spice to this story." And: "As for the red ink—I never use it—I have none." Then he proceeded: "That's the devil with these smart newspaper writers: they are not especially scrupulous: a thing true, a thing false, may be one thing to them: what they want to know is whether their tale is readable—sounds well: whether it will bait the hurried reader: that is enough. And that is Conway, too—Moncure Conway: he has a touch of the same vice—the sin of smartness, of verbal thimble-rigging: but for that Conway would be quite a man to reckon with: with that he has in effect nullified his work." W. also said: "We can't trifle with ourselves spiritually any better than physically: we have to pay the penalty on the one side as well as the other." I said: "Ingersoll said to me he's willing to be considered a fool or be a fool but he'd hate to be looked upon as a liar or be a liar." W.: "That's thunderation splendid!"

      "Where have you been all day?" W. asked. "What have you been doing? Have you met people? Who?" I walked to Germantown with Kemper and May. To Clifford's Church. In at the Emerson circle. Met Clifford: also Mrs. Baldwin. W. still asking his questions: "How was the temperature for walking? is the moon full tonight?" I told W. the Emerson circle was discussing Emerson's "speechifying manners." This made him laugh. "If ever there was a man who didn't have any, Emerson was that man." Did he find Emerson's stage demeanor impressive? "I can't say that I did: not especially so: and yet it had certain features that transcended description." How was that? "There was no rhetoric in him in the formal sense of that term: he was probably the least rhetorical man who ever dared go on a platform: I might say it in this way: that his don't-care-a-damnativeness was sublime. And, Horace, that seems to be the first requisite: to get out of your own shoes, so to speak: to become disembodied: to give your audience the feel of your virgin impulse: that is to say, have them realize that you come there fresh, buoyant, just for them: Emerson threw out that personal effluence: his very port was a compliment to his audience."

     Continuing re Emerson: "I have seen him come on the platform,

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arrange his papers deliberately, look about over his audience—so"
—indicating— "then proceed. After a bit, a point would come: he would strike a deliberate pause: probably a minute and a half, which is a long time to make an audience wait: yet he would do it as if it was the most natural thing in the world—as if people had come there understanding, desiring, that he should follow out his own ways wholly." Further: "Yes, Horace: he was altogether unlike any other speaker: he had his own peculiar ways and means of arriving at his conclusions." I said to W.: "You deliver your Lincoln lecture with much the same unstudied ease: at least what looks like unstudied ease." He smiled over my latest skepticism. "Well—have it as you will: I'm not conscious of trying to put on any frills: no doubt there is a little something in your comparison." He got right back to Emerson: "Emerson felt on his own side that he had certain things he wished to say, that these things were worth saying (of course he felt they were worth saying: he would not have said them otherwise): that certain conditions of language, audience, manner, were required to get them said as they should be said: hence his style—its personal flavor. I should liken his manner to the finest, rarest, plate glass: I often liken style—its highest extensions, its most subtle evolutions—to the most exquisite French plate glass: I think Emerson's bearing on the platform peculiarly open to that comparison."

     I asked: "Is this the way you felt about Emerson at the time?" He answered: "You know, Horace, none of us put Emerson where he belonged in those early years—none of us, not one: indeed, I think that not till the late years, the very latest, of his life did we commence to realize his grand build—how vast his measure really had to be. We knew he was great: we realized that there was something above the usual in his whole port—spiritual, physical: but for the rest, we were blind." W. again instanced "his platform style which we have been speaking of" as "not being impressive in the usual oratorical understanding of effect" but as being "supremely natural—natural, Emerson's: not half rated as it should have been: like a cup of pure cold water, plain, simple, honest grub: everyday matters, than which nothing could be more sound, important: not immediately apprehended, yet buried away in the normal course of things." Such "delicious precision and beauty" yet also such "childlike

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spontaneity."
W. said: "These points were always so obvious in Emerson." I asked if in their talks E. would discuss his own ego at all? "Not much: hardly touch it: if something led too close to it he'd shrink back into the general again: he refused to lug himself, his work, what he wrote, into the center of the stage: even if referred to he would drop them the first chance."

     I said: "Walt, you seem to hate to leave the subject." "I do: I never get tired of talking of him." Then he resumed. "I think everybody was fascinated by his personality—everybody who came within reach of him: young, old, everybody. Take Alcott: he was an opposite man: always insisted upon his personal affairs—all sorts of pettinesses, trifles: transcendentally, of course, always transcendentally—but in a manner that to me was intolerable: he imposed them on you: he did not ask: you had to listen." But the notion sometimes given out by those who met Alcott that he thought himself superior to Emerson, W. "never was conscious of." If A. had "any such conceit" he "never intimated it in any way" in W.'s hearing. "If I say his personality fell short of Emerson's I do not wish to be understood as wishing to make less of him: not at all: but I always am aware that Emerson's personality was the most nearly perfect I ever came into contact with—perhaps the most nearly ideal the world has ever known." I asked: "What about Jesus? what about many others?" He shook his finger in my face. "There you are with your damned interrogation points again." I asked W.: "Did Sidney tell you how Emerson once said to someone that though Alcott maybe couldn't write he could talk and how Alcott who heard of it got even by saying that while Emerson maybe couldn't talk he could write?" W. said: "No: but how rich it is! and there's a grain of truth in it both ways!" Emerson had been the chosen one in The Critic's symposium about American poets. Did W. think the choice just? W.: "It was very significant: almost every fellow named him: I don't know but it's final."

     Had he read Donnelly's Shakespeare piece in the Press? "I did not read it all: started it: read considerable: it did not interest me, so I gave it up as a bad job." He said he was "surprised" at himself. "I was sure I would be interested: certainly, the subject interests me: I find myself bothered by the minutiae of the problem. As you

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know, I am mainly with them—with Donnelly, with William: but ciphers, three and two make five, six from twelve leaves six—that is too much for me."

     Referring to the Times story: "It's a fabrication." In the News, his copy, next the W.W. piece, he had marked a poem, Jim, by George Bosely. "It's worth looking at—once," he said. W. very cool. Some blazing splinters blew out of the stove among his papers. He calmly extinguished them with the poker. I quoted O'Connor's: "It is the king's signet." I said: "Walt, it's more than that: it's the man's love!" W. was very responsive: "Yes: whatever else it may be, back of it is the man's love: Horace, you are right."

     As I got up to leave he said: "And now, by the way, you must take this Carpenter letter—from Ed Carpenter—as closing out that unfortunate draft matter. I certainly fell over my own feet that time. As you have heard the rest of the story—have been a party to it—you should codicil it with this memorandum. Carpenter has been wondering, but what could be his wonder to mine? My memory never played me such a mean trick: I've had horrible experiences to meet, endure—but my memory has always been loyal. This was almost its only offense: I forgive it this time but if it ever behaves so badly again I'll discharge it." I broke in upon his quiet laugh: "But if your memory fails to remember, it discharges itself!" W. said: "What a logic-chopper you are! you won't let me have any fun with myself." Then he added: "But read the letter." I asked: "To you?" "Yes—if you will." I said: "I will, to be sure: but I'd rather hear you read it to me." "That wouldn't do," he answered: "that wouldn't serve my purpose."


Millthorpe near
Chesterfield, January 27, 1889.

Dear Walt Whitman.

Yours of 11 Jan. received. It is a bother about that draft—as I think probably it has been cashed already, and that you won't get the money. However, please send a line saying what happens. The original was posted about the 25th May last (I may have a note of exact date somewhere, but am away from home just now). I got no answer from you, but news came about that time that you were much out of sorts, and then later appeared a paragraph in the papers

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from you saying you had been ill and thanking friends for birthday letters remaining unanswered—so I supposed it was all right. If the original letter has merely been lost, the duplicate draft will of course be cashed: but if it has been, as I guess, intercepted, there is no practical remedy. I am almost certain that I registered the letter, which perhaps is an unwise thing to do in these cases, as it's like showing one's hand—and I may have the p.o. receipt for the letter at home, but of that I am not sure. Anyhow, let me know by p.c. how matters stand, but don't worry about it—as the letter (if necessary) would have to be traced from this end. The sum in question was from the Miss Fords, R.D. Roberts, W. Thompson and friends, Frank Deas, and myself:—as a little birthday remembrance—and we shall only be sorry at your receipt of it having been so delayed.


I saw Ernest Rhys a day or two back in London—seems pretty well—told me a good bit about you. I am glad from this present letter that you seem a bit better, Walt. Shall be glad to see the 900-pounder edition! a fine literary cannonball.

The Fords' address is Adel Grange, near Leeds.

I am lecturing around a bit, in London and neighborhood, enjoying life well—a wonderful feeling of new social life in the air—though the days are foggy and we see no sun.

Greetings to Henry and to yourself.

Edward Carpenter.


     I folded the letter up and put it into my pocket. W. said: "Carpenter knows the truth by now: no doubt it was my terrible crisis of last June that was responsible for this break as well as for other breaks in the consecutiveness of my life. It was only for a day or two but it was a real disaster. There's no use nursing the memory of it: it's best forgotten. But that note, now: I have wished to ask you something about it." I took the note out of my pocket again and offered it to W. He shook his head: "No: not that: I don't want it: I only want to ask you a question about it." "What question?" "This," W. said: "whether you do not feel a certain aloofness, withdrawnness, in the letter: as when he starts saying 'dear Walt Whitman' instead of 'dear Walt': and at the end, where he sends me 'greetings.' I may be mistaken, but I seem to sense some sort of reserve there that I had not noticed formerly in Edward. What's the truth of it? Does it denote a change of attitude? or is that reserve

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only the English of it? You see, the English way is somehow very different from our own: not quite so easy-going, not nearly so out and out: we have possibly developed a little farther in personal democracy—in the ability to forego castes, classes, social lines: I find the American more immediately capable of unbending, of meeting those he meets simply as a man meets a man, without any extraneous quibbles. The English are more likely to ask: who are you? what do you want? why should I? Do you not scent such a distinction in Carpenter's letter? I never quite suspected it before, but it does certainly seem to be here."


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