Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, January 23, 1889

     8 P.M. Mrs. Davis admitted me: said: "Mr. Whitman is feeling pretty good now"—by which I understood that he had not been as well as usual today. I passed upstairs. W. sitting over by the window under the lamp reading. When I first asked W. how he was he said: "Well—I can say I'm here"—and added: "And you?" "I also can say I am here!" I exclaimed. "And the book?" "That's here, too!" He laughed. I picked the book off the bed and gave it to him. Oldach had done the job at last. W. greatly pleased. Fondled it. Inspected it from cover to cover. Turned it over and over. "I can only express myself in my old phrase: I thank God it's no worse! And then I can go on and say it's better—far, far better—than the best I looked for." Pointing to the stamping. "That part of it does not overwhelm me—I am not overwhelmed by it." I asked: "Are you ever overwhelmed?" "Yes, I think I am: that simple back put on the other book was extremely fine—was a stroke of genius." After a pause and further examination: "Still—I like this, too—in spite of all I like it: the other was very well in its place but maybe I'd get tired if I had a house full of 'em!" He suggested to me that if I found myself anywhere near Oldach's I should "go in and tell him" for W. that "the cover was a great joy to us: we like it: we think we will accept it." Had I found out the name of the fellow who did the work? "Even the letterpress comes out as never before: it seems like a new venture: it's fresh—verdant." Eyeing the book from all angles. "I ought to be proud of it: I am proud of it: I think you should be too: it's yours as well as mine: it's our joint product: the complete work of Walt

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Whitman and Horace Traubel: how'd that sound? I feel I have very much to be grateful for: no one can know—perhaps no one but you and me can know—through what doubts, difficulties, chagrins, this came safely at last. It's like a ship, at last got into port after many storms, trials, losses—after a long painful voyage."

     I said: "We had to go slow—proceed with deliberation." W. nodded to me. "That's just it: deliberation. Some of my best friends—my own people—accuse me (have always accused me) of procrastination—the most provoking in all private annals!" He threw up his hands: "I couldn't reply to that: I am slow: I could only say with Sidney Morse's nigger, who would go off on fearful sprees, have a high old time of it: 'I am so because I was meant to be so!' But after a pause, while indulging a half-audible laugh, W. said further: "But while that is a good story they would probably meet it with another, perhaps a better, story: the story told by one of the Greek writers: the story of a master beating a slave: the slave protesting: 'I was ordained to do this thing: therefore, why whip me?' the reply being 'And I was ordained to give you a hell of a thrashing!' That might apply wonderfully well to my case."

     He was silent. I waited till he began to talk again, saying nothing myself: "Despite everything the book is here: we have finished the journey: that is our answer: procrastination or no procrastination, the perfect result is in our hands: the book: our book: your book, my book: beautifully done except with one except." He pointed to the lettering: "That's not Leaves of Grass: that's a bit feeble: but I have no doubt it's about as good as the case will allow. If we could control everything—do everything we please: get a first class man here from New York, Paris, London, anywhere: pay five dollars for that: pay men for winking and bowing and scraping: we might have our way absolutely. But—well, we have had no such choice: we should be glad we've done decently well: you, indefatigable as you are: I, loafing round: Oldach, with his man or two. Oh! I'm satisfied: say so for me."

     I said to W.: "Mary intimated that you've not had such a good day." He exclaimed: "How dared she! But as a fact I have spent a dull leaden time of it since I got up this morning: up to four or half-past four it was very bad: then Mary brought me in a big mug of hot coffee: it was very nice: I drank it all. Whether from

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that or because the time for it had come I don't know, but somehow I have ever since been comfortable. It was simply more of my infernal indigestion: I seem to be passing through such a stage: it is almost periodical: constipation to start with: then the violent reaction."
Then he hauled himself in. "But what's the sense talking about my belly? Let's get away to something else." And yet he added: "My physical disabilities don't affect my power to think: no: not at all: but they increase my inertia: they paralyze my fingers, for instance, so I don't want to write: but my brain keeps on buzzing all the time just the same: and talk—well, talk comes easily enough mostly (don't they say talk's cheap?). Oh! I feel that I'll go on this way to the end, keeping my headpiece together whatever happens to the rest of me. But I said we should discuss something else: yes, let us do it."

     I reminded W. of Bucke's allusion to Wilson, over there in Scotland, who is to bring out Kennedy's W. W. "You haven't spoken of it to me," I said. He replied: "I certainly thought I had shown you Wilson's letter. I don't know whether I sent it to Bucke or whether it's here yet." What had Kennedy said about it? "Nothing: he enclosed it in an envelope without a word of his own. Wilson's note was short but very definite: almost vehement, one may say: a business man's note. It looks as if Wilson, after unaccountable delays, is about to proceed at last. You see, we appear to have quite a clientage in Scotland. You remember Alexander Gardner's purchase of an edition of November Boughs? Wilson is evidently scared: he has heard of that: he knows what it means: he sees us slipping through his fingers: so he writes to Kennedy: 'If you are ready with the copy I am ready to go on with it: I have had it in hand eight months: it's about time we should do something conclusive—emphatic.' Of course that is my surmise about clientage, the scare: but it's a surmise from a man not given to surmising: I rarely risk myself in guesses." He stopped before he added: "As to the book itself: well, I mean no disrespect to Sloane when I say I attach much less significance to the book than you fellows do: Kennedy himself, Bucke, Tom, you. I get humors—they come over me—when I resent being discussed at all, whether for good or bad—almost resent the good more than the bad: such emotional revolts: against you all, against myself: against words—God damn them, words:

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even the words I myself utter: wondering if anything was ever done worth while except in the final silences."
He laughed after this outbreak. "Then you say something to please me: Bucke writes something: I think something to please myself: then I'm back where I was again."

     McKay wants to know what W. will sell him the complete W. W. for. He says he'll be sure to be applied to for copies—especially abroad. I asked W. He said: "I'll think it over: I'll tell you tomorrow." I put in: "Always tomorrow—always tomorrow: you're a tomorrow sort of a man!" "I suppose I am: I want to be: even if at the cost of some procrastination." McKay didn't have sheets of Bucke's W. W. handy today. He'll get me a set for W. Oldach will charge us a dollar and twenty-four per copy for big book bound in leather. W. for an instant seemed staggered by the price. Then he recovered himself. "I guess it's worth that much," he quietly said. No letter from Bucke. "In fact no letter from anybody." How about O'Connor? "Oh! did I tell you I had a postcard from Nellie a day or two ago? She said she was fagged out—was too tired to enter into particulars: William a week or ten days ago took to his bed: he has not been about since. The outlook is dismal if not dangerous: it's hard on Nellie: she's frail though resolute: O'Connor himself has great courage—besides, is very optimistic: Nellie being rather the contrary of all that: is a bit pessimistic—sees the bad side." But determined? "Yes! I did not mean to question her force: I only wanted to say she was inclined to take the gloomy view." And yet wasn't she full of faith about things in general? "Yes: this strain is temperamental in her: she can't escape it."

     We talked of Bradley's conviction in the Philadelphia courts yesterday. "Yes, I have read the story: Bradley was monstrous—monstrous: but would you not think him abnormal: I see no other way to account for it: certainly he can't be explained by the ordinary process of reasoning. In the present condition of our criminal laws—of crime—as in affairs like this—these extra sex developments—abnormality is the only word that will cover the case. Then we must remember that such individual abnormality comes from the abnormality of society at large. I think any judge would admit that—perhaps express it almost in my words: it seems to me to arise—so much of it, who knows but all of it?—in an absence of simplicity—

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in a lack of what I may call natural morality. Perhaps that's not the exact word for it, but as I said, any judge would correctly diagnose the case I have no doubt."
"Speaking of judges," said W. the minute after, "would you not like to take the paper along?—Sidney's paper?" Handed me the mail from the table. Had he read it? "O yes: every word of it: with great care: with as much interest as care: I say amen to it all, too: amen, amen: if I found it possible I should tell him about this feeling in me. If you write to Sidney—to any of the fellows out there—say this—say it for me: in my name if you choose. I feel like thanking the man from myself, for America, for Americans." It had appeared to him "rare among rare decisions."

      "I know that in regard to these Anarchists there are contending impulses drawing us two ways, but for liberty, abstract, concrete—the broad question of liberty—there is no doubt at all. I look ahead seeing for America a bad day—a dark if not stormy day—in which this policy, this restriction, this attempt to draw a line against free speech, free printing, free assembly, will become a weapon of menace to our future." He thought this decision not only "good as legal decisions go" but "good practically, as a workable hypothesis." "I like that the judge—Sully, or whatever (Tuley)—faces the question objectively: that he's not theoretic merely but makes his statement to meet other possible cases: like a surgeon—one of the genuine surgeons—who takes a fever for what it is, not what it might be, as developed in everyday John or somebody." I asked him: "You speak of liberty: do you mean every and any liberty? or do you too set limits?" He said: "I can't set limits even if there should be limits: of course we can't do as we please—every man can't do as he pleases: but short of that why shouldn't liberty prevail?" Read W. portions of a letter I have from Bucke.


London, Ontario, January 21, 1889.

My dear Horace:

Yours of 18th just to hand. I agree with all you say and with all you have done about the will. I have no doubt W. understands perfectly well what has become of it and is satisfied that it should be taken care of. All quiet here and all sound with meter and everything else. Thanks for the German paper though it is a stupid little piece. What he means is that W. "though a living writer belongs to

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 16] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - an elder race (Hebrew prophets, authors of Eddas, &c.) of humanitarianism, poetical, inspired eccentrics. The contents of his work is poetic (an art rhapsody) but (as regards execution) he is innocent of rhyme, rhythm or form. Freiligrath's translations of him (W. W.) are better than the original."
Evidently a critic of heavy caliber (Herr Siller)—heavy in the sense of dumm!


R.M. Bucke.


     W. laughed over the reference to Freiligrath. "I'll bet that made the Doctor mad: he'd fire up at such a comparison: but then—who knows? A translation is often enough worse but it may well be better than the original." I quoted another of Bucke's notes in which Doctor speaks of probably being here early in February. W. said of the meter: "Doctor sets such store by it: he's hot for it: somehow I have my doubts: wouldn't wonder if the whole scheme went to smash. I don't know but it would be better for Doctor if it did: yes, better: I shudder when I think of him, of anyone, you, anyone I love, making money—getting on what they call easy street: easy street has killed many a man who was worth keeping alive." W. said as I left: "You are doing everything for me now: I know it: you are more to me than my right hand: but you'll do more for me after I'm dead—way into the future. I'll haunt you after you've buried me: you'll feel me taking part with you in many a great undertaking. Take my word for it—and wait: you'll find that I'm not mistaken."


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