Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, February 18, 1889

     8 P.M. W. was searching on the floor when I entered. He did not hear me. When finally he looked up and saw me standing in front of him he laughed happily, offered his hand, and said: "You are a dangerous man to have around, your movements are so mysterious, baffling." Raining all day. Could not take the pictures to Brown. But I went to Oldach's, where I numbered the twenty-four books (not quite finished) for McKay. Two of Oldach's binders off drunk today. We will not get more books till Thursday anyhow. W. said: "It seems to be taken as one of the inalienable prerogatives of some of the best mechanics to get drunk: you know how true this is of the printers: often of the very best of them: then there are the hatters: they too I am told are tremendously addicted to the cup: there must be something in these confining occupations which induces thirst: though soldiers, sailors, are great drunkards, too, and they certainly are not victims of the factory. I remember that a doctor said to me once down in Virginia, when I shook my head: 'What? a poet and no whiskey? Not a drop? That'll never do—never, never!' And he was a surgeon, too—a good one: belonged to Virginia though in the Northern army. I suppose we can't hurry the matter: we'll just patiently wait till the drunks sober up." I returned him the Bucke and Rhys letters. "I shall send both to Kennedy: he is hungry for bits, details, about us: it saves me writing a letter."

     Bucke up. I said: "Doctor takes a gloomy view of O'Connor's case." W.: "He does indeed: a very gloomy view: but Doctor is inclined to do that." Did not B. differ from doctors generally in his frankness with patients? "Yes, he does: radically: Doctor believes in

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telling the truth at all times: he is more moralistic than I am: if I thought it would help a sick man I'd lie the top of my head off."
Laughed. "Wouldn't Doctor?" "I am afraid not: we'll have to put it up to him when he comes." Then again: "I am quite conscious of the difference: it will interest me very much—oh! very much—by and by to have you discover how severe the Doctor is on all those points." Had he heard from Bucke today? "I don't know: let me see"—closing his eyes: "I think not: none later than this you bring back: Doctor's letters are so frequent I can't keep track of them." I showed him my letter of the 16th, received today. Bucke there says he won't start till Tuesday or Wednesday. W. exclaimed: "Another day and another day! that's the way it has gone for a month!" Nothing from Washington. "They are almost ignoring us." McKay wished to know whether W. intended sending out any copies of the big book to the press? Was one copy, for instance, to go to some Boston paper? I said I thought not. Several had already gone to individuals. W. assented to my view: "The Herald has noticed us: the Transcript: then Sanborn in the Springfield Republican: I don't think I shall go any farther with the journalists up there in New England. But I have several copies to distribute in New York: one for Bennett, one for Julius Chambers, one (perhaps) for Howells: and for Gilder: I must not forget Gilder." The Century would not review the book: "it prints us reviews": but Gilder "is personally entitled to the compliment, if we may egotistically call it such." "But as the lawyers say, irrespective of the fact herein contained, Gilder shall have a copy, if for no more than to show I appreciate his individual kindness to me—recognize that he has treated me fairly if not handsomely." I asked W.: "Do you say that without any reservations?" "Quite! think of it: I have sent him my pieces, put my price on them, been paid that price: an important item enough even taken alone: but, added to that, Gilder takes what I offer unhesitatingly without question, never interjecting a single word of petty criticism." He paused. Then he asked me: "Do you realize that that is treatment no other magazine editor in America has accorded us?" He then enlarged on this situation. "For the last three or four years Harper's has practically closed me out—would have none of me." Not because of Alden, he said, however. "I think it was the house—that Alden would be free enough if let alone—only, they put the

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screws on him."
Was Curtis inimical? "About as much inimical as he could be without active inimicality." Spoke of the Schuylers: a little doubtful how Eugene looked upon him: "but Montgomery, I believe, is distinctly favorable—even strongly so"—then, after a moment's reflection: "That is my impression, but I must not swear to it."

     I spoke enthusiastically of the Chicago News review. W. said: "It is quite a review, isn't it? It is evidently written by a man who knows about us, but who I haven't the slightest notion." There were "no earmarks." W. said: "I should not like to write asking who." I asked: "Why shouldn't I do it?" "I won't encourage or discourage you," he said. McKay has sent copies of November Boughs to McClurg. W. was interested in the name. "McClurg? did you read in the papers about the new publishing house to start there? colossal? nine stories high? Rand, McClurg—some combination like that? Maybe the Rand who has just failed in Boston." News mentioned again. "If I was out there, happened around, I should not hesitate to ask, but to write a formal inquiry—that would not do: besides, newspaper etiquette generally imposes a secrecy upon such anonymous writing." But the News man "wrote so much like one of the heretics, outlaws, I can't quiet my curiosity."

     W. then talked of The Critic review, saying: "After it appeared, I wrote a postal to Joe Gilder telling him I appreciated it—that I was grateful to have these things so well said: something like that: requesting that my postal should be forwarded to the writer. Gilder replied telling me who had written it. A few days following, came a letter from Harrison—you know him: Prof. W. H. or W. M. Harrison—of the State College of Virginia. I should have answered this—intended to—but did not: I did not like the tone of the letter: Harrison took good care to tell me in the note that he did not accept me in toto—did not endorse me—all I am, have done: he admitted that November Boughs had carried him along with it. I could not tell in terms just what it was that repelled me—an indistinct something: you know how that is often—you must have realized it yourself: a something in the atmosphere, in things unsaid as well as said, a taste of something—it might be most subtle: as sometimes we know it in food—a merest suspicion, no one could say of what, but sufficient and of the sort to destroy the broth." I said: "Then, after all, Doctor's

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distrust of the criticism was subtle—is confirmed?"
The only reply he would make to that was: "You think so, eh?"

     Talk of critics in general. W. said: "You have Doctor's book, haven't you? Do you remember the Appleton's Journal piece there at the end? Well, that is Dick Stoddard's: read it again. To anyone who knew Stoddard as well as some of the older heads, this article does not need his name. If you read it again, you will see for yourself that it is the same hand that penned the Lippincott piece on poor Poe—the same venom, hatedness." I spoke of reference I had seen to "the amiable Stoddard." W.: "Dick is anything but amiable—anything." And further: "But why should I say poor Poe? Rather, poor Stoddard! With critics of the Stoddard order the picture they conjure is not of another but their own." He felt that if he wrote "of Poe, Burns, Madame Dudevant (George Sand), Byron—even Carlyle," he would "pass over the sins, idiosyncrasies, many of them, and make for the subtle benefiting powers." "I should not lay this down as law for everyone—not at all: I can well see how necessary it should seem to some to indicate the significance of the bad as well as the good"—but "whether this is done with venom or in kindness—here is the important fact." I argued: "The fatal weakness of Stoddard's Poe piece is, that he gives himself away in it—that he makes Poe's moral status contingent upon an imagined offense committed against Richard Henry." W. said at once: "That's the rub of it: that's the motive within the motive by which our Humpty Dumpty has his great fall." And again: "That's a fatal weakness—that alone: but there is more than that: his whole temper, his prevailing temper, unfits him for any discussion of the subject." Here he spoke with fervent fluency—rather more rapidly than usual: "But do you know, Horace, there's a great deal more in this case than is generally known, than you could know, than anyone could know who had not been in the thick of the fray. John Burroughs knows—John could tell you: the mortal offense which this New York crowd can never forgive Poe for is that he is famous—is held in great esteem wherever he is known. There were several in that group—fool Willie Winter was one—poor ass he is, too!—Stoddard—then Briggs—Charles V. Briggs. These fellows had enough quality to enter the match, name themselves for the race: just as in a walking match, men who know

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they have no winning chance, yet have enough quality to enter: but anything more serious than this would not be expected of them."

     I asked: "But you rank Stoddard higher than Winter?" "Oh yes! yes! very much: fool Willie Winter has no standing at all." He said he had no "sore feeling" against his "enemies": "but I know I will never be tolerated: they have always had it in for me: what right had I not to be forgotten? That's their shibboleth. Sure enough, what right had I? But as I had nothing to do with being forgotten or being remembered I don't attach any great guilt to myself in this controversy." But he did not think I would ever "fully appreciate the intensity of the opposition as it was in those first days of the fight." I would "have had to be there." He said: "The thing was like a fever: one day hot, one day cold: there were spurts of silence, then spurts of noisy venom." I said: "Someone told me that Winter takes the ground that no Italian has any right to play Shakespeare: that Shakespeare belongs to the English-speaking races: that the English-speaking races can alone interpret him fairly. I don't know whether the quotation is authentic or not." W. said: "It sounds like him, whether authentic or not: it's worthy of him: it's asinine enough to be his: it's just like the little jackanapes: to judge everything by the schoolbooks, traditions, boundary lines—the tape measure of his puny inner self. Willie always set up for two things—to be a critic, to be a poet: he never went far, even got fairly started, in either direction."

     W. said he had been doing his best to locate Dave's "photographic find." "We must never be too certain of things: that picture shows it: after all these years, no one even suspecting it, there, in an obscure out-of-the-way place, this turns up to accuse us." I said: "Lucky that the find credits rather than discredits you!" "Yes indeed: therein we're lucky: the conditions could easily have been reversed!" He tried to fix the date. "It must have been taken between 1845 and 1850—probably in '46 or '47: I can't seem to do any more towards accounting for its origin. As a work of art the portrait is extra good: we should get it processed and let the boys see it: no one can know as I know how really precious it is—what a current of reminiscence sweeps into me out of it from those past years."

     Postcard from Knortz acknowledging the big book. I had consulted with McKay about review copies for abroad. W. gave me a

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copy to send to Gardner, in Scotland, who was to pass it on to the periodical Dave named as being desirable. "You must use your own judgment about that: if you need another, take it." W. endorsed Harned's copy of the leather-bound big book in this way:


Thomas B. Harned

Dear friend & Sir:

I send this book to you not merely as a collection of my own poems, thoughts, descriptions, of our day and time—but as a special personal memento of our friendship and of many meetings and festivals at your house. And I wish to put in my best greeting to Mrs. Harned and to Anna, Tom, and little Herbert—sending love and prayers herewith for you all.

Walt Whitman

Camden New Jersey

Feb: 15 1889.

     As I sat there Ed brought him in a black-edged letter. W. opened it hesitatingly: said painfully: "Oh!" but no more. I did not ask for what. I knew. W. asked me about "the little man in the store—Dave's father"—adding: "I am sure I should like him though we have never had much to do with each other." And again: "I like the simple folk: they get nearest my heart: I get nearest their hearts." He had been reading about the disappearance of Bessie MacIntosh, in Philadelphia, whose father I knew well. "It's an insoluble, deepening, tragic mystery," Walt said: "Do you realize, Horace, the number of people who in one way or another simply disappear from the world, God knows when, where, how? I have thought I must some day put that into a poem in some way or other." "Horace," he said again: "I wonder if Sarrazin has yet got the big book? I shall be a little anxious till I hear that the book is in his hands." I said: "Kennedy seemed a little sensitive about 'errors' in that sheet." W.: "Yes: so it seems: he said something to that effect in his letters: but I don't know why he should be—don't know what errors there were." "But in writing to Kennedy you said something yourself about his overlooking the errors." W.: "Perhaps I did, in a general way: not indicating anything, however—only saying I regretted little slips: but there really is nothing—nothing to attract the criticism of a reader: I don't believe Sarrazin himself would take exception to anything

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found on that sheet."
Then he added: "In Doctor's case I'll be very careful." "Ah!" I said: "then you have sent his abstract to the printer?" Yes, today: he has it now: Curtz: I meant to tell you. I did not hurry him: in fact, let him know he could take his time with it: I intended sending a proof to the Doctor but as he is about to come on he can take care of it when he arrives." I had a letter from Blauvelt. Read it to W.


Hagaman's Mills, N.Y., Feb. 15, 1889.

My Dear Sir.

Some time ago, you may remember, you were kind enough to send me an engraved portrait of Walt Whitman, to be used in illustrating Stedman's Poets of America. Now, I understand there has been a new portrait of Mr. W. published recently, which I would like to have, if it be procurable. I believe it is in Mr. W.'s November Boughs. I am located in a place where information in regard to much that is going on in the literary world is hard to get, and I therefore take the liberty of troubling you in regard to this. Should there be such a portrait as I mention I will esteem it a favor if you will drop me a line at this place, stating the fact, and also price of portrait, so that I may remit the necessary amounts. My usual address is Richfield Springs, N.Y., but I am to be here for a few days yet.

I saw in a recent paper that Mr. Whitman was still confined to his room. Please say to him that I hope soon to hear of his complete restoration to health.

I expected to have the pleasure of sending him another partridge or two before the weather changed, but we had several early falls of snow, and after this happens the birds are not in good condition for eating, owing to the food—certain sorts of birds, usually—to which they are restricted. Our other game is only ordinary—principally rabbits and squirrels.

Again apologizing for thus troubling you, I am

Yours Sincerely,

William H. Blauvelt.


     W. said: "I suppose he wants the sitting picture: we must give him one: we must never refuse to gratify anyone so kind who is so easily pleased. He seems honest: to mean well—mean us well: is

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bitten with the idea: let him have it."
Picked up a pile of papers: began his search: found the picture without much trouble: gave me one. "Send that to him." I saw a picture in the pile that I had never seen before. He noticed my interest. "Do you like it? then take it along." He wrote on it: "Walt Whitman in 1864." Photo: half figure. W. also said: "Blauvelt has a benevolent side: he not only pays but throws something in: that's how it should be all around: I am always inclined to treat with people that way myself: some day we may have a world in which the ways and means of life will be quite different from now." I broke in: "Yes: when everything instead of being for value received will be for value given." W. paused as if thinking something out, as he was. Then he said: "That sounded silly to me when you first said it but when I turned it over in my noodle I began to see how subtle it is."


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