Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, February 21, 1889

     7.45 P.M. W. reading Lippincott's, which he put down on my entrance. Did not look spry though he said he was "about as well as usual." Voice not vigorous. I had seen a box of books in the hall below. From Oldach. W. said: "I know: Mary said they had come." Twelve were for him. I had twelve sent to McKay. Oldach made his charge one twenty-eight. Said he could not do them cheaper. Had W. heard from Bucke? "Not a word, not a word: neither did I write him—though I wrote others yesterday." Again: "My day has been entirely uneventful—but I always might say that. My sister was here: George's wife, I mean—my sister-in-law: she did not stay long: she is a comforting woman." I said: "You get more out of her than out of George." W.: "I get nothing out of George or absolutely nothing: I get much out of her."

     His brother Jeff "happened in yesterday." "His visit was quite a short one: he came in the forenoon: then I thought he would come back again before going off but he did not: he goes straight West again, I think." I said: "You must have been overjoyed to see him." His reply was a quiet one: "I don't say overjoyed: but Jeff and I are actual as well as accidental brothers." Then: "You know, he is not connected with the Water Department at St. Louis anymore: he is a topographical engineer: most of his work now lies north of St. Louis—in Milwaukee, Detroit, thereabouts. He is investigating theories of sewage, drainage." But not working by the French plan of running the sewage into the land? "No: Wisconsin, Michigan, have not got as far along as that yet: Wisconsin is not France—nor Michigan—nor any American State: there are individuals, institutions, doing that sort of wise thing this side but not communities,

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not States."
But it was "a great subject"—one that seemed to involve investigations, experiments, on a vast scale. He gave Jeff a copy of the big book

     I returned W. Pall Mall Gazette and Echo. McKay is through with them. W. still likes the Gazette piece, but says as to the Dante Rossetti quotations in it: "I don't quite understand them myself." Then suddenly broke out: "The nudity business appears to be growing—don't you think?—don't you notice that it is?—with the artists, writers, everywhere? And the artists are getting more bold, daring: more apt to stand by their guns. Did you see that Comstock pounced down on a fellow the other day there in New York: a statue of Hermes seems to have been the basis for Anthony's discontent: but they defied him: they are going to fight it out." I said: "William calls Comstock an unmitigated ass." W. laughed most heartily. "So he does—and so Anthony is: that is true, true, true: and there are back of him more unmitigated asses, if I may so say it." And he continued: "And the worst of it is Comstock exercises a sort of censorship over the mails—occupies an anomalous position that gives him that power." I quoted him a strong paragraph from Julian Hawthorne. But W. said: "I am not afraid of censorship, not afraid that we will be brought to that degradation." He thought Comstock "had an essentially dirty mind: nothing else will explain him." I said: "When you say you are not afraid of the censorship you mean that you don't believe a rigid censorship will ever come to pass not that you are indifferent about such incidents as we have spoken of?" "Yes, that's the lay of the land: why, I hate all censorships, big and little: I'd rather have everything rotten than everything hypocritical or puritanical, if that was the alternative, as it is not. I'd dismiss all monitors, guardians, without any ceremony whatsoever."

     Parnell Commission in session investigating the charge of the London Times. W. said: "It's uncannily complicated: I can't make head or tail of it: do you read the story? I skip it." He had been "trying to read" Sartain's Poe article in Lippincott's. "Looking into it, cursorily," he said: "I intend reading it all: it's significant." Any word from O'Connor? "Not a suspicion of a word: I sit here seeing William thousands-wise: he presents himself to me persistently, in all ways, old, new: I can't shake the haunting image

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off—nor can I say I want to. Nellie keeps us in unnecessary suspense: she probably does not realize that it's a sort of dead watch to us as well as to her."

     W. still has not decided concerning the halftone. "You will have to give me a day or two more for that." I said: "If it's not Bucke it's you: Bucks puts off: you put off: you are a couple of procrastinators." W. asked: "Is there any reason for hurrying?" Laughed. "There may be reasons for hurrying but I can't hurry anyway: I'm no hurrier: I couldn't hurry if the house was on fire." I asked: "Were you always as stubbornly deliberate over trifles as you are today?" "I'm afraid I was: William said to me more than once: 'Walt, you're as fast as frozen molasses!'" Inquired today about scrap book for photos: eleven by fourteen at three dollars and a half. W. asked: "You have informed yourself of its eligibilities?" I laughed. "Well: now what the hell is it?" he asked. I said: "Eligibilities struck me, that's all." He laughed himself. "It is a rather formidable word: if I had received it instead of giving it I've an idea I'd been struck too." He said he had many pictures. He wished a book that would contain them all. "There's only one thing to do: get one: that's the only thing to do: I shouldn't wonder but I'll have to commission you to proceed." He added: "I am obliged to brush up things to do to ease the monotony of these dilatory days."

     He spoke of his visitors. "When they come they question me—pester me: they insist on talking of things about which I care nothing: some about things that I should not worry myself over even if I did care." He went on: "Visitors are a problem: the doctors say, bar them all out: I can't do that: I don't want to do that: but if we begin admitting visitors where will we end? It's not that I don't want them: I do want them: but they wear me out. It never occurs to a visitor to come here, sit down, say nothing: yet these inarticulate visits are often the most precious: certainly we know it: many's the hour we have spent in this room together, Horace—you and I—without saying a word. Mary admitted a man the other day (it wasn't her fault: it was mine), who said as soon as he got into the room: 'I came to have a little debate with you about your Children of Adam poems.' I was scarified: I threw up my hands deprecatingly: I said: 'You'll have to adjourn that little debate, my friend, till you

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can have it with Horace Traubel or Tom Harned or Doctor Bucke: they are the debaters of our household: especially Tom: Tom has the belt!'
"
I asked: "Did the man leave?" "Yes: he said: 'that's funny': we exchanged a few inane remarks both sides: then he withdrew."

     W. said: "Today I told Ed to shut all the visitors out, without exception." Miss Stafford and a newspaper man were turned away. "I have been more on my bed than on my chair today." Little reading. "I only skimmed the papers." Indigestion: headache: still laboring with the cold. No alarming symptoms. W. said he was glad to hear that Gardner had a London agency. "That will put Symonds and others in the way of getting the big book." McKay says that the "great sellers" in London will not handle it. W. said: "You like personal confessions: I've laid aside three of them here: they may be put away among your data: you must be getting quite a pile of stuff between what you collect yourself and what I pass over to you. These letters represent three nations—Scotland, England, the United States. I've always told you it is essential for you to know about Henry Clapp if you want to really know me: he was one of the earlier fellows: he was literary but he was not shackled (except by debts): he gave me more than one lift: contended for me against odds." I asked W. if he felt like hearing the letters or whether I should take them away without reading them. He said: "I'd rather have you read them to me: then if I have any comments to make I can make them without your questions." I said: "Walt: you do hate questions: you'd rather be hung than catechized." He replied very quietly: "Yes, I do hate questions: still, some questions are vital and necessary." I read Clapp's letter first. W. had endorsed the envelope: "Henry Clapp to me in Boston."


New York, May 12, 1860.

My dear Walt,

The books are duly delivered. The publishers and printers deserve high praise for the superb manner in which they have done their work. For the poet, he shall hear from me next week. Meanwhile I am up to my eyes—and over my eyes even to blindness—in the slough of a fearful road to that great castle "success" which looms up in the dim religious distance, and from which white-winged

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angels, peopling every turret, beckon me with many colored banners. In plainer English I am fighting like a thousand Humans to establish the Saturday Press, and have for my almost only encouragement the cheering words of warm and appreciating friends who alas (as in such cases made and provided) have nothing but words to give, and also the printer will not be paid in words though they are "like apples of gold in pictures of silver." As for you, success is certain. It is written all over the book. There is an aroma about it that goes right to the soul.


What I can do for it, in the way of bringing it before the public, over and over again, I shall do, and do thoroughly—if the S.P. is kept alive another month. We have more literary influence than any other paper in the land, and as your poems are not new to me, I can say it will all be used for the book—in the interest of poetry.

My brother George will deliver this. He is of the right stamp.

In haste

Henry Clapp.


     W. said: "Henry was always in financial difficulties: the Press never had anything but a hand to mouth existence: it was always at the point of passing in its checks. Henry was my friend: he would have done anything for me: in spite of being mostly academic himself he vehemently espoused my revolt: what he said there about sticking to his guns was true: he knew the difficulties I was laboring under: how but for the merest handful I was ignored or despised: nor was this from pity: there was no maudlin emotionalism in his acceptance of Leaves of Grass: he didn't take me wholesale anyhow: first of all he said he wished me to have a fair show: 'With half a fair show, Walt,' he used to say, 'I know you can take care of yourself.' I felt sorrowful a bit as you were reading: I was reminded of Henry's heroic struggle, how he went confidently on in spite of reverses: how finally he was backed to the wall and slaughtered. There was a woman up there, a marvelous woman, who did some writing for the Press: she wrote about Leaves of Grass: there was quite a stew over it: some day I'll have to unbosom so you may know the ins and outs of the incident." Here W. hauled up and looked at me. "What a lot of blabbing I'm doing: there are other letters: read them."


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S. S. Anchoria,
Anchor Line, New York,
Nov. 17, 1883.

Dear Poet.

I have been home and back again since I called upon you in Philadelphia last month. I often think of you and wish I could stay near you, that I might see and speak to you sometimes. However, I often read your poems, and, as Shelley has said, "poetry is the record of the greatest and happiest moments of our greatest and best minds." Therefore, in reading your book, I feel that I have that which is greatest in you, but the heart will often rebel against the most logical conclusion, and thus with me I would like to be near you sometimes. I have only one other friend who has the same power over me, and that is he of whom I told you, in Halifax. I was rather amused (when I told some of my friends at home that I had seen you) at the idea they seemed to have of my object in calling on you. Some thought it was simply because you were a great man, and they gave me the addresses of several well-known men in literature &c. However, I told them those other men were not Walt Whitman [ "Nor is Walt Whitman those other men!" exclaimed W.] and that the only others I would have crossed the Atlantic to see would have been Emerson and Thoreau, both of whom are very, very dear to me. [ "And to me too! to me too!"]

You may have forgotten all about me. [ "But I haven't!"] Indeed, it would be surprising to find it otherwise. But it was not that you should know me that I came. No. I both knew and loved you before, but I wanted to see and speak to you. It might have been my friend as well as myself who called, but I had the opportunity.

I send you a book that a friend in Glasgow, who is greatly taken with your Leaves of Grass, asked me to send to you or take. I cannot very well leave my ship just now, so I post it to you. He would have liked to have sent a more valuable book but he cannot afford it. I thought it very kind of him. I know he is a dear, soft-hearted fellow, and a splendid critic of English literature. I will be here for eight days, and I would like very much to know if you are well.

I am glad to be able to tell you that your number of readers in Scotland is greatly increased. They are beginning to understand your teaching much better.


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I heard that Swinburne ranks you third of living men. [ "Not now: that was once upon a time!"] Victor Hugo, I know, is his great hero. [ "And one of my heroes, too! and one of the world's heroes!"] With best wishes,

Yours affectionately,

T. F. Macdonald.

(Surgeon S.S. Anchoria).


      "He's a surgeon, Horace, you notice: you remember what I've always said: surgeons, mothers, nurses—they should understand me best of all: they do not always do so, but they should: Macdonald, he's Scotch: he thought I forgot him: no indeed—I am not that sort: besides, I'd had too many enemies to forget my friends." He again said before I started the third letter: "Do you feel some subtle psychical difference between the American and the Scotch letter? a little more man to man I'm as good as you are attitude in Henry? the little more deferential tone of Macdonald? It has its own long reasons for being—that difference: it's no accident: after all we've developed a little farther in the direction of personal democracy on this side: that much we have done. When you read Angus you will see still better what I am trying to say." Before I read the third letter I said: "Why, Walt: you said this was from an Englishman: he's Scotch, I think: Angus is his name—he writes from Glasgow: what made you think he was English?" He said: "Let me see it." I handed it to him. He looked it over. Handed it back. "I guess you're right: I wonder how I got the other notion? It's remarkable how stubborn false impressions get to be." And reflectively: "Angus: yes, that's Scotch: I must have had some other letter in mind when I spoke of this: no matter: let me hear it.


Glasgow, October 26, 1888.

Walt Whitman, Dear Sir—

I am glad to see by the Pall Mall Budget of yesterday that you are in fairly good health. Were I near you I should like to have the honor of paying my personal respects to you. I am your debtor. When a young man I read your Leaves of Grass 1855 edition. It revealed a new world to me—the world within myself. Your Specimen Days I regard as the most humane book of the present century. [ "Poor Leaves of Grass! where does that put Leaves of Grass?"]


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While breathing the spirit of freedom it bears no feeling of ill will against those who wished to keep chains on men because their skins were black. [ "Don't carry that inference too far, Angus: I may not hate anybody, but the chains—God damn the chains, I say, no matter where!"]

I might say more, but enough to satisfy you that I have a real sympathy with your life's work, and that I regard your Leaves of Grass as being the most original of American books. [ "Ah! there's Leaves of Grass: I was wondering what he was going to do with Leaves of Grass."

If you would write your name upon my 1855 edition, which I intend to present to a public library, I should send it to you. I should like the book to represent your penmanship as well as your skill as a printer. Hoping you will be willing to render me this service, I am, dear Poet, yours truly,

W. C. Angus


     I said: "There's your Englishman!" He said: "I don't remember when the letter came but when I picked it up off the table here the other day I said: 'There's that Englishman's letter again.' I was thinking as you read it how many angles I am received from—with what different results. Sumner said to William once: 'Whitman would have been all right if he'd only written Democratic Vistas.' Phillips, too, it seems, told somebody that Leaves of Grass was a mistake. The public seems to look at things the other way about: people buy Leaves of Grass—they don't buy Specimen Days: to many people Specimen Days is the mistake." I asked him. "To most people, Walt, both books are a mistake, and you yourself are the biggest mistake of all!" He nodded: "It's fair to say that, too: I'm not sure it's wrong. I am not prepared to put up an argument against it." I said: "Walt, you never put up an argument against anything: when they growl you say 'yes, yes' when you mean 'no, no,' and go on doing just as you please. Laughed. "I am not prepared to put up an argument against you." Laughed again.


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