Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, February 25, 1889

     7.45 P.M. W. again reading Boswell. "He's the champion brayer in literature," said W. laughing. "I swear I'll never try to read him again." I met Ed at the door. He had an armful of mail to take to the post office. Thought W. a little better than yesterday, though still not back to normal. W. himself said: "I am doing fairly." I repeated what Ed had said. W.: "I'll never be back to normal." Asked about the weather. "It must be milder: my body tells me so." Letter from Bucke, he said. Searched for it. Everything gets sort of lost. Found it. Read it to me. "No doubt he will be here tomorrow: I am full of it: it encourages me with the liveliest anticipations." I said: "I propose having him come over to see you in the morning: we can't meet Harned till afternoon: you won't want him here all day anyhow." "That is true," he said: "I might want him but I couldn't stand him: even from Doctor a half hour's visit would be best."

     Discussed the mysterious picture. W. said: "We'll talk it over with the Doctor: three heads are better than two." "Even if two are cabbage heads," I said. He laughed: "Yours and mine, you mean!" I said: "No: mine and some one else's!" He laughed again. "Oh! you want Maurice and me to fight for the honor: I see!" Then he stopped fooling. "I think we must get the picture reproduced with reference to use in the new book: the book we now have in view." But that meant reducing it to the size of the November Boughs page. He said: "Yes: but I would rather have it large: in fact, I had contemplated something quite other: contemplated having it done in facsimile: if we were in Paris I have no doubt a way would be devised: their resources in such directions over in Europe—particularly Paris—seem unbounded. Gutekunst has a process: we might [have] recourse to that: what does he call it? phototype—something like that." But if G. did that he would own the negative and do as he pleased with the prints, no doubt putting them on the market. W. said: "That probably would be the case; we could have no protection against that"—here he paused, then went on: "Except that we are

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our own protection: we may argue that we are not famous enough to create a market for the pictures, which would mean that it would not pay Gutekunst to proceed."
After another stop: "There might be another way: the thing is now in our own hands—at least in Dave's." I put in: "Dave says we may make whatever use of it we choose." W. exclaimed: "Good! good! and thanks to Dave! Well, then: we have it in our own hands—can make our own conditions." We "need the picture for the book." But he could not "spare" himself "the desire to have it made on the present scale." But that, probably, was "out of the question even by the Gutekunst method." "It might be made large by the Ives process, to cover two pages, bound in on slips," I suggested. But W. was afraid. "That seems like choosing the elaborate way to an end," he objected: "I have no desire to court trouble: if I was to live fifty years yet, knew it, felt husky, I might declare for that: but under the present circumstances I must not consider it." I said: "I don't see what fifty years or being husky has to do with it: but have your own way: it's your funeral." He laughed heartily: "That's what I was just saying: it's my funeral that's in the way!" I said: "Walt you're a grim joker." He replied: "We can't cut out our fun even at the edge of our grave." I asked: "You mean that a joke says to a grave: where is thy victory?" Then he said: "You're joking yourself now! Just the same I think the fun is entitled to its innings even with death." I said: "If we live again then the joke's on death anyway!" "So it is: we must, will, can't help, living again: death can't have the last word."

     W. said: "I have been thinking of what Rossetti said in that letter about titled people—about being a republican: the earth will be covered with republics by and by." I put in: "or communes." He didn't object. "They may be the same thing," he said. I asked him if he didn't think Rolleston was also a republican? "Yes, he must be: it is made inevitable by his attitude towards the Empire." I also asked him if he thought the governmental development of the world would end with the republican form? "I don't say that at all: how could I see so far?" "Well—what of the anarchistic idea—no government at all?" He gave me a question for my question. "How can it be done? is there a way it can be done?" "The anarchists say so." He shook his head: "I know they do: but can it be done?"

     W., asking me what was the literal translation of "Grashalme,"

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said: "I think it one of the splendid facts of our time that we insist upon the short way of things if there is a short way—and there always is a short way!" I told him I had caught the book in time at Oldach's. The twelve extra blank leaves would be put in and twelve yards ( "stubs," W.: calls them). W.: "So that is the binder's word for it? I am glad to know it: I like "stub" too: it's a good word: terse, direct: I like any word which sharply defines its object: I prefer the ugly to the beautiful words if the ugly word says more: ugly words you'll often find drive more immediately to their purpose." He added: "The usefulness of speech all goes with that: on its promptitude, its inevitableness—hitting the nail on the head without circumlocution." I heard a lecture by Tom Davidson yesterday. W. had me tell him about it. He questioned me. Listened. Finally he said: "Yes: I can see what Davidson was after: I too respect science—the scientific point of view—surely the scientific spirit: but I do not feel myself to be ready to say that I go with it wholly, unmitigatedly—for I do not. I can see what science sees—what it says can be seen: but there is much beyond that: I see that too." I said: "I'd like to hear you say more about that, Walt." He went on I could see rather because of his own impulse than of my suggestion. "I should be inclined to say the supreme value, the highest service, science is rendering to thought, today, in our world, is in clearing the way, pioneering, opening roads: untilling, in fact, some things instead of tilling them: sweeping away, destroying, burning, the underbrush. Oh! think of what it has done in untilling alone—what a precious force exerted in untilling! Take the instance of what is called the theological, what people call the religious world—the world of belief so-called: think of it: of what it has swept away there: the slag, the waste, the filth: the loathsome prisons, bitternesses, barbarisms! Even today its task is not done: see how much lingers still in some places: the cruel anathema not only of words but of deeds: how the traditions are still harped on, made much of, in pulpits—even in the press: how they threaten, slander, browbeat." Here we find that science may "get in its leveling touches—clearing, cleaning, heaven and earth for what may come."

     Had he heard from O'Connor? "No: not a word: but I got a letter from Sarrazin—a short letter: he has received the book." I asked: "Does he make no comment?" W. replied: "He does not enlarge: he

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says he will remember me when his fall work appears: it seems he is preparing a volume, a book, which he will call 'second series': it will contain other essays as well as this."
Didn't he specify the big book at all? "No: but his letter was in general very encomiumistic: if I ever blushed (I never do) I would blush at that—blushed to be talked of, talked to, in that way: but whatever about that there's no mistake about the essay itself: I don't think anything nobler has been anywhere said about Leaves of Grass." Shouldn't we proceed offhand and get a full translation from somebody? "Yes: we should have that done: but who can do it? there is no one in our group who can translate it as it should be translated: there are several who can give us its spirit, import—indicate its drift: I am happy enough, grateful enough, for that: but one needs someone who can take it up elaborately: of course there is a good deal—four or five out of the thirteen pages—made up of quotations, which will not need to be translated." I said I knew a fellow who might do the job. W. asked: "Is he thoroughly equipped? It is important that if we have it done it should be done accurately, in the right way, in complete understanding of its spirit as well as of its letter." He added that "in justice to Sarrazin" it should be given to the English speaking world. I asked: "How about justice to you?" He laughed: "That's not so important: that can wait: some people say that I've had more than my due already—that from now on I'll be a vanishing quantity: so we'd best leave that with time, which relentlessly settles all things, both for bad and good." Still kept on the same tack: "It is curious enough: I have hit upon an interesting fact: Doctor in his translation nabbed many passages not made use of by Kennedy: the two abstracts happily complement each other." W. relapsed for a few minutes during which I said nothing. Then he reached to the table and said: "But why shouldn't you have the Sarrazin letter itself? we've talked a lot about it: here—take the letter." Handing it to me—I read it to myself.


Paris, February 14, 1889.

Dear Mr. Whitman,

Accept my thanks for the "Works complete" I received some days ago; it is a very dear gift to me, and I shall peruse the new pages with the same admiration I bore to the ancient ones, with all my

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love for the one I considered, from my first reading of him, as one of the best and the greatest men of the time. The proofs, too, photographs, and newspapers, reached me safely.


I am very glad to hear you are better and I am sure you will live long yet; besides, as Doctor Bucke rightly says, "here or elsewhere you will live and be honored always, Dear Walt, yes and loved always."

As soon as my second series appears in book form (very likely in the last week of the next month) I shall send you a copy.

Gabriel Sarrazin.


     After I had read the letter W. said: "Now you have the first hand of it. Sarrazin does not seem to be able to do much with the English, but he can do enough: does much better than Rudolf Schmidt, who, in spite of the fact that he is a translator, writes an English letter like an Irish Indian." I laughed. W. then said: "I didn't mean that to be laughed at." I said: "I was thinking you had been rather hard on Schmidt." W. said: "I did not mean to be that either: I know he must know English very well, because I am told by knowing people that his translations from me into the Danish are superb: I have, however, always been surprised that his direct personal control of the English was so slight." Asked me if I did not think the postal business "in a sense a miracle, a marvel—something almost staggering?" And explained: "I am tickled when I learn how immaculately so big a book is carried, no matter where to, how far, whatever the difficulties: even into the wilds of Ireland: even into the equal densities of Paris." "I put forty cents on such a package: it goes into France—across seas: without a shock, apparently: I have sent papers way off to Symonds, in Switzerland, for a cent—one stinking little penny stamp: I can girdle the earth for a nickel."

     Then again he said to me: "I got something more today: the German copy came today." Reaching forward, "I have a copy for your father: is that right?"—pointing to transcription on front leaf: "M.H. Traubel from W. W. with best regards." Again asked: "That is right, isn't it?"—adding: "I have wished him to have it: and see here, Horace—if he has time, perhaps he would make me a rough draft of a translation of the preface: don't push him too hard: I am not particular about Knortz's but Rolleston's I should like." And while I was not to "urge" my father should "find out" what is his

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"impression of the translation." He knew Bucke and some others could give him an idea— "some notion"—but not enough: "I know nothing about the German—nothing whatever: I want to find out how the translations touch one who is au fait to the German: who has sucked it in with his mother's milk: lived in it—is a German." He was interested in my account of my father's extensive reading of the German classics and of his great weakness for Leaves of Grass.

     We spoke of Goethe, Schiller—finally of Heine, whose "raillery is rarely understood." W. said: "I am given to assigning a good deal of the weakness of Heine to his translators: some translators make, other translators destroy, a book: Heine has been translated out of court." I inquired: "You would not say that with Leland's Reisebilder in mind, would you?" W. said: "Perhaps not: that might be going too far: I don't know, of course: that is the way I put it: besides, I do not think the English lends itself to the translation of Heine's peculiar German: the French would be a much better medium—would be a readier vehicle." I said: "Some would say too ready: I never sympathized with the charge that the French lack, as it has been said, solidity and the moral qualities." W. warmly: "Nor have I—never: O'Connor would fire up mad, blazing mad, if anyone even hinted of such a thing in his presence: I am aware of what our puritans think of the French: it counts for very little with me: I'd rather be any kind of a horrible example than a model: the main difference between us and the French in sex directions is in their frankness as opposed to our hypocrisy."

     Gave W. Bucke's letter of the 22d to me. W. read it himself. Laughed merrily. Bucke spoke of some social functionings he was asked to do. "Could not get out of them," he said. "Damn all such nonsense," he said. W. shook his head. "That's a little of Maurice's stage-play," he said: "he will go: Bucke knows, as we all know, that the things which take us out of our reckonings now and then, our routines—the clubs, the meetings, even soirees (I hate 'em too!)—may of all things be important, refreshing, not to be dispensed with."

     W. had read a baseball story in a paper. Said to me: "I still find my interest in the game unabated: I suppose it's so with you, too: I can't forget the games we used to go to together: they are precious memories." I said I considered my playdays quite as valuable for

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life-making as my workdays: did he? He said at once: "At least as potential: at least, at least: there may be more reasons some days for playing than for working." He smiled sadly: "I'd give a lot to be able to play a game of foot and a half with you this minute."


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