Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 210] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sunday, February 24, 1889

     8 P.M. Found Baker in the parlor. He wondered if it would be all right for him to go upstairs and see W. I had him go with me. W. greeted us both heartily. Chatted briefly with B. who left us alone in a few minutes. In reply to B.'s question: "How are you?" W. said: "Well, here as you see, still in chains." And to the question: "Do you ever get down stairs?" he answered: "No—not once in a month"—in fact not since last October. When W. gets these colds he seems to have a little difficulty in hearing. Baker said he had been in the Academy earlier today. He had seen Gilchrist's picture. W. asked: "How did you like it?" Baker's impression "was a favorable one." It seems that Baker saw a picture of Mrs. Gilchrist by H. there also. This appealed to W. He asked B. several questions concerning it. Baker asked: "And what is your opinion of the picture, Mr. Whitman?" W. said: "I have no opinion, Doctor: it's safer for me not to have an opinion." W. said: "No word from Bucke today: the day as usual has been uneventful: Tom stopped at the door: left the Tribune, which I read." But he said there was "no news." He thought: "Bucke's silence is significant: he will come: I have not the slightest doubt of it: he starts tomorrow morning: gets here so that we can see him Tuesday and Wednesday."


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 211] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     Asked me what I had been doing all day. I told him of my walk to Germantown. The air was very cold and bracing. He said: "You must walk these days for both of us." And again: "You are required to be double hearted as well as double footed: I find myself expecting you to stand for me, represent me, say things for me: after I am gone you'll find yourself involved in situations which will not only test your loyalty to me but test your loyalty to yourself." Said he had read Unity. "But Agnes Repplier doesn't interest me: we seem to belong to different planes." I made a move as if to throw the paper into the wood box. W. asked: "What are you doing? You won't throw it away?" "Why not?" and then: "Keep it: send it to somebody: send it to Eldridge: he likes these half and half things." Explained: "All such papers of the liberal cast I send or give to some one: indeed, I mail papers daily, north, south, east and west: bundles, packages, single copies: to Tom, Dick, Harry: to my friends: they are sort of brevet letters: lately, in my disablement, I've had the paper stand in place of letters." Was "trying again" as he said, to read Boswell: "The more I see of the book the more I realize what a roaring bull the Doctor was and what a braying ass Boswell was." He handed me some papers tied up in a string. "They are papers of the mystic esoteric sort," he said: "I can't go them: they tell me I am a mystic myself: maybe that's the reason I don't like mystics."

     W. was under the weather. "I woke up this morning a little worse than for some days past: I've since rallied a bit." Had complained to Ed and Mary of "stitches" in his side, which sometimes wake him in the night. "I am anxious to have Bucke come: I want to ask him some questions about these things: I don't want professional opinions: I want to go deeper than that." Returned him P.M. Gazette and Greg pamphlet. Delivered him a letter from Harned. "I shall put them in the Doctor's budget." Said: "You must stand between me and those who push me: I need to have you do it: you have no idea what a comfort it is these days to know that you are sure to do what I neglect to do, haven't had the vigor to do: that you are like a sentinel everlastingly on guard shielding me from dangers on every side." I said: "Dave wants to know how much time you will give him on the big book." W. said: "I don't know: Dave never hurries anyhow: he has not made the December settlement yet in the regular

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 212] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
account."
Had he any news from Washington? "None whatever: not a word from anyone: I can't tell you how as this anxiety drags on I become more impatient, restless: I have tried to have Nellie understand how much I need to know about William from time to time: I hardly think she appreciates this—or my superadded helplessness."

     I will be glad when Bucke comes and can take the Washington trip. W. is looking eagerly forward to it. He reached out to the table, picked up a couple of folded sheets of paper and handed them to me. He said: "I have wondered what you can make out of that." I opened the sheets. They were closely written over. "Is this something new?" I asked. "No: it's something already old: turn to the last page there: you'll find a date: 1884." I asked: "Do you mean for me to read this long thing back to you?" "Yes." "But I thought you said you felt tuckered out tonight?" "I did say so: it's true I don't want to talk: but I can listen: that won't tire me." I started to look the thing over. "It's one of the confessions," he said: "I get confessions every now and then: from women, from men: they seem to inure to the kind of work I do: I don't as a rule know what to do with them: they mainly amaze me. This letter is very much like Stoker's in character." I appeared to him to be hesitating. "If you'd rather not bother about it, all right," he said: "I haven't read it myself for years: take it along, anyhow: I want you to have it: it belongs with the other riff-raff you have." "Riff-raff, you call it, do you, Walt? That's a fine word to apply to the good-will offerings of your best friends!" He exclaimed: "Guilty: I plead guilty: I know it is: what I really had in mind was the curio, not the human or historic element, that plays in the hunger of the collector, in the hoardings of collections." I then said: "Walt—I'll read now if you don't object: I want to go as soon as I've finished." W. interrupted me at a few points as I proceeded but for the most part was perfectly still, though wide awake.

O Walt!

Take this Calamus leaf at the hands of him thou hast sought for. Lo! I am he.

What shall I say, or how shall I utter, the radiant feelings that gush from my heart at the magical words thou hast sung to the unknown?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 213] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Like as the waters at Moses' command gushed out from the rock in the desert.


Long had I wandered alone in the earth nor met with a friend or a lover. And wonder not that my tongue now stutters and falters, for never before have I been allowed to express my love to a living soul. And none can comprehend the extent of ecstasy who hath not passed like Dante from hell to the light.

'Twas at midnight and we lay alone (remember thy words) when we first met, and O the flush of overwhelming joy that shot through my heart and set my pulses throbbing with a wild exaltation that hath not faded away.

I need not demand thy love, for that has been given. I have embraced thee and thou hast returned my embrace. Utterly thine am I and thou art mine own, and no one in all the world is like to us twain. Nor need I repeat again what thou hast depicted, nor add any silver words to thine of redeemed gold.

O thou hast not written in vain! We didn't then know an echo would somewhere be found, fearing only (didst thou not fear?) that it would not reach thine ears in the day of our sojourn here.

But now thou wantst myself. Then listen, brother and lover. Let me unroll the extensive panorama of my own personality.

1.

First for the account of its growth up till now (for it has not and never will have done growing): At fourteen I was a freethinker, at fifteen a Buddhist, at sixteen a Mohammedan, at seventeen a follower of Carlyle, at eighteen a Darwinian, at nineteen a skeptic and almost materialist, at twenty a human universalist: these are but rough landmarks. I have been an atheist and a pantheist. I have been a Stoic and an Epicurean, a follower of Plato, and of Diogenes. I have been an admirer of the man Jesus and of the Struggle for Existence, an idealist and a materialist, a misanthrope and a philanthropist. I have been a Liberal and a Radical, a Socialist and an Anarchist. And I am still all these and much moreover.

I glory in my mutability and my vast receptivity. I glory in having no unalterable opinions. I glory in my invincible supremacy over prejudice, my superb contempt for custom. Finality is the only thing

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 214] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
that is impossible to me. The only idea I fight against is the idea of fixed principles: against the possession of such I revolt and stand on my guard, for I know that, as necessary as is its perfect poise to the magnet, unswerving endeavor coupled with inexhaustible liberty is the only price of truth.


I have pondered on Life and Death and the Universe more than anyone else that is alive: but now I am no more troubled about them. If I am to be immortal, it does not trouble me; and if I am to be annihilated, that does not trouble me. For I have so diminished the separateness of my identity that I have already partly ceased to exist, and I have so transfused my essence with the Universe around me that while it lasts I cannot be altogether annihilated.

I have accepted the Universe. Wherefore it has come to pass that I am as Godlike as God is, for God cannot cause anything to happen that I have not agreed to and willed beforehand.

Also, I laugh at the smallness of this little earth; with thumb at the North Pole and finger at the South Pole I can grasp it and pinch it together. And the Solar System is absurd in mine eyes, the sun and all of his planets are so small.

(A word is written on externals.)

Although I am not of thine in birth, yet that may perhaps be forgiven, for what is a country, or what is a world, in the depths of the All? And is even Identity or Separation so beautiful as Nothing or Cohesion? And anyway can Sentiment stand in the place of Truth?

Easy to me was thy paradox. I answer it by this riddle of mine own, for thee to read: The segment is as circular as the circle, but it is not half so beautiful.

2.

Love alone is my master, to him I succumb and surrender. He is the author of all my suffering, but he hath redeemed my soul. And alas! for the blasphemous scruples of prudish harlots, I have not seen the loving entire of thee; only thine English presentment reached me last week, selected too by a mild, well-meaning soul who "admits" thy "boundless self-assertion" a "serious fault."—For me, who love thee, thou canst not assert thyself enough.

Love is my lord and king and only god, and yet I know not what

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 215] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
it is to be loved—did not, let me say, till I met thyself. For when I was but fifteen I loved in vain, loved with a holy, yearning, obstinate love, loved a being too weak for me to reproach. Pardon me that the flesh-wielded pen returns with a sad delight to the thought of bygone loves. And O how joyfully now can I look again at the sorrowful, sorrowful times I have left behind.


I assure thee that from that time to the present there has never elapsed one moment in which I would not have welcomed death. I assure thee that when I was but seventeen I bore poison constantly about with me, meditating the example of Chatterton. I assure thee that when Carlyle died I almost shed tears, I, who since my childhood have never wept.

I assure thee that I wrote letters at midnight to an imaginary friend! To him I said this: "I feel a large fountain of love running waste in my heart, and I want someone to partake of it; I thirst for someone to love and to be loved by. And will a merciful God let me thirst in vain forever? Surely not. O my friend, mayst thou never feel such heaviness of heart as I sometimes feel. O wherefore did I not meet thee then?" And elsewhere I wrote: "O could our souls together climb Above this realm of earthly clods And soar aloft like demigods, To watch the travail throes of Time!" All these were meant for thee, and more I need not now extract.

Hast thou had experience such as I speak of? Hast thou known what it is to live unloved?

With parents whose affection is no boon to me (for without it be accompanied by understanding, what is such affection, after all, than the beast's?) with relations not even friendly, without a single lover, or friend, or intimate, or companion.

Such is the curse of the Truth-seeker; but the Universe is his reward.

And I had steeled my heart to desertion, and they that marked me said: "This mortal has never loved, a selfish satirical cynic is he, whose heart is only a palpitating stone." Yet knew I that somewhere, far in the Universe, there dwelt a spirit in pure accord with mine, strong and weak and high and tender and large and true.

Now dost thou know as much, perhaps more, of me than I know of myself, for these blunt words to thee will be subtle directions.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 216] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
(And of what account are words except for the impression produced? And no words ever yet produced quite the same impression on two different personalities.)


And if thou wouldst inquire of evil qualities and vices, I have all thine evil qualities and vices, but I do not acknowledge them to be evil and vicious. (I have expunged the word "SIN" from my writings.) And I take pleasure in what men would call my personal defects for I can, standing by as it were an outsider, perceive them working together to influence my identity for good.

And if thou wouldst know me, as I write, even to the innermost core, go forth at night and gaze for a silent hour into the mighty deeps of the far-off stars.

3.

My soul and heart hast thou seen, and now my mental directions.

I am a singer or writer of verses or perhaps—but I do not yet appraise myself. I have written plays, comedy and tragedy, allegory, satire, and biting political pieces, a few of them printed, also a multitude of sonnets, with other pieces, serious and pleasant, too numerous to be mentioned.

I have written prose treaties on the constitution of the Universe and contributions in several comic papers.

I am an orator and a demagogue (I prefer the name demagogue for myself). I have delivered speeches on behalf of free thought and democracy. I have gone, a Saxon, among the embittered children of Erin, and they will not report unfavorably of me.

Now am I less than equal on account of my years. I hold that youth has its own high wisdom, that it is fully as wise as age. For youth can be easiest touched and taught and won and converted.

4.

On externals.

Here I have recently come as a clerk in a government office. But meanwhile I secretly prepare myself for the task of aiding the people to reject the yoke of my own (I do not mean bloodshed). This thou wilt surely deem a not unworthy object. Yet for its better advancement I have to play the part of a grateful citizen—part repugnant! Such am I known, a respectable good young man, with perhaps a

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 217] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
taste for rhyme, a radical too, and tainted, alas! with some slight touch of freethought!


Yet to no two persons am I known quite the same, and there is not one who has seen one-tenth part of what I am showing thee. (For I have not succeeded in publishing aught yet, though even now I am trying.)

Here too my fate of unfortunate love has followed me still, for thou art an ocean away. Now if thou wilt summon me, I will take courage and leave all, although without a penny I reach thy side (for I am not rich). But without thy word I dare not forestall the course of events. Nor dare I summon thee here, for it is my place to go to thee. And if it were possible, I know thou wouldst come.

Yet it shall come to pass somehow, soon or late. I must behold thee. And no so much to listen or talk, as to grasp thine own warm strong right hand, and take a long look down thine eyes.

This is the Calamus leaf which the Englishman Allen Upward (Upward, ought I not to be proud of the name?) plucked from the soil of his inmost bosom to send to Walt Whitman, the American, poet, writer and lover.

From 11 Great Charles Street, Dublin, Ireland. Written on the 12th March, 1884.

WALT See, I kiss this, am I too bold?


     I said to W.: "That's about the biggest job you've ever given me in the reading line." "Yes," said W.: "I suppose it is." After a pause: "Well, Horace: what do you make of it?" I replied: "That wouldn't interest me: I'd rather know what you make of it." W. was momentarily still. Then he said: "You answer one question by another. What do I make of it? Nothing: taking it as a whole, nothing definite: I have feelings about it but no conclusions: it's so youthful, so green, so little, so big, so spontaneous, so stagy, so bulging with vanity, so crowded with affection, I can only listen to it, read it, like it as if I was eating something I was sure I liked and wondered if I liked, both. Do you see something in the letter that makes you think of Stoker? The same impertinence, and pertinence, too? the same crude boy confidence, the same mix-up of instincts, magnetisms, revolts? In both cases there's the curious, beautiful self-deception of youth: Stoker, this boy: it's the same: they thought

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 218] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
they were writing to me: so they were, incidentally: but they were really writing more definitely to themselves. I could not but warmly respond to that which is actually personal: I do it with my whole heart."


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.