Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, February 26, 1889

     Met Bucke at ten at Dooner's, as appointed. Then to McKay's, where he at once looked at and was captured by the mysterious portrait. Then to Camden, reaching W.'s about 11. W.'s room thrown wide open: one of the doors, one of the windows: W. himself in the bathroom. Bucke stopped in the doorway. Finally W. came toilsomely from the back hall, Ed supporting him. He sees the Doctor. Ed was saying: "Be careful." W. said: "I will! ah! there is Doctor Bucke!" and as they met at the doorway: "Ah! Doctor, how goes it?" Greetings all around. Ed and Bucke shook hands. W. said: "Well—the family is reunited at last!" Bucke and W. said little at the start. They gazed at each other. They both looked serene. Doctor dropped into the second big chair. W. looked out of the window. Grave. Motioned to Ed, who closed the window. W. said: "Well, Maurice: we've had a long wait for you: now you're here: this is our reward—to have you here at last!" Bucke said: "Walt, if you had half the fun waiting that I've had having to wait you must be fully repaid." W. said: "Do you call it fun, Doctor? I'd call it something else if I had to give it a word."

     Bucke thought W. looked "rather well after all." Better than he had expected to find him. B. always candid: "Yes, Walt: you're not in any condition to brag of: you've gone off a lot: but you may last a long while on this stage." W. asked quietly: "Then you find me still a little chirpy?" B. replied: "You can put it that way if you've a mind to." W.: "Wouldn't you put it that way?" "Hardly: I'll be honest with you, Walt: I know I couldn't deceive you if I wanted to—and I don't want to: I don't think your status anything to brag of." W. very calm. "I wanted you to say that, Maurice: I wanted you to tell me the truth as you see the truth: I'm not willing to be humbugged by professional sugar-baiting: I knew you would say what you felt." B. then asked: "And how are you faring just now, Walt? at this minute? is there anything you wish to say, to ask me about?" W. spoke up at once: "The past three or four days have been in the

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minor key: I have suffered a lot of discomfort."
Then exposed his side. Bucke examined. Said: "It's only an enlargement of the spleen." Was it serious? He smiled: "Not a bit: it can easily be relieved." He would provide for that.

     O'Connor talked of. Bucke said: "William does not boost himself enough: he helps everybody but himself." W. nodded his approval. "That's what John says: that's what Horace and I have talked over here more than once." "What do you see ahead for William?" W. asked. Bucke replied: "Nothing but death: and it's not far off, either." W. said: "You spare us nothing, Maurice." B. asked: "You don't want me to spare the truth, do you, Walt?" "No I don't," said Walt: "I want to know the worst: that's why your appearance here has helped me instanter." Much desultory conversation. W. gave Bucke the pile of papers he had been saving the last week or ten days. Bucke looked over the Sarrazin proof. W. listened with keen ears as Bucke read certain passages aloud. I said: "Doctor's abstract seems to me stronger than Kennedy's." W. asked: "Does it appear so to you?" I said "yes." He said: "Ah!" He wouldn't take sides even with Bucke there. "I think of the two abstracts as the two sides of the shield," he said. That was all. At the point where Sarrazin discusses evil as interpreted by W. he exclaimed: "Yes: that is a part of it—tells a part of it, indeed, a good part of it: but that is not all." He told B. he had Sarrazin's acknowledgment of the big book. "Only a short note—not going fully into anything." W. said: "And not too French! that tickled me!"

     W. asked: "Maurice: tell us about the big book: did it convince you?" Bucke said: "I can say the book did: also that the board cover did: but the last experiment seemed to me to be a failure: it can't be said to look like you at all." "But it suits the publisher," protested W. Bucke said in a boisterous way: "It looks too much like a bound volume of Scribner's to suit me." W. again: "But it is not to be judged by that standard alone." W. asked: "And what about the meter, Maurice?" B. was fervent at once: "Oh Walt! we've got a big vast thing there: no one can tell what it will not do for us: we'll all be millionaires quicker'n it takes you to say Jack Robinson!" W. looked at Bucke quizzically: "Do you say that, Maurice, because you don't believe it or because you do believe it?" B. replied: "I believe nothing, Walt: I know!" I broke in with a laugh. "What's

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up?"
I replied: "I was only thinking that you, Walt, would have said that thing the other way about: you would have said: 'I know nothing, Maurice: I believe!'" W. said: "You see, Doctor, Horace is trying to humble us both with his transcendental epigrams!"

     But B. seemed to be a trifle piqued by W.'s apparent skepticism. He fired the question at W. straight: "Walt, I don't believe you want the meter to go, damn if I do." W. was good-natured, yet emphatic: "I don't want you to make a million dollars, Maurice, damn if I do!" We all laughed. Bucke said: "You'd rather see me poor than rich." W. assented. "If you have to be either I'd rather you were poor." And though B. started to say something replying to this last remark W. went on: "I'm afraid to have anyone I love make money: I'd rather he'd make anything else than money: I don't want to see you rich, Maurice: I'd rather see you mostly as you are: I'm simply afraid—yes afraid: you sort of scare me when you come here and talk of millions, millions: though as for that"—here he laughed quietly and put his hand gently on Bucke's knee— "as for that I don't think there's any danger impending: I feel it in my bones that you are never to be tested." Bucke cried: "Do you mean that you feel in your darned bones that the thing'll all go to smash?" "I didn't say smash, Maurice: I only said I felt it in my bones that you'd never be tested." Bucke, still vehement: "You're cute, you're stubborn: I don't know how to take you: I never saw you before in the role of kill-joy." W. looked straight at B. "Oh Maurice, won't you understand? It's not kill-joy: it's kill-grief: I feel that success in this thing will only bring you sorrow." Bucke was mystified. "Why? Why?" W. was not disposed to continue. "I'd rather not argue it, Maurice: you asked the broad question—I gave you the broad answer: let it pass at that." I said: "Walt and I have taken the vow of poverty!" B. regarded us with genial contempt: "You fellows may do as you please: but as for me—well, watch me." The meter talk stopped here. But when we were out on the street alone afterwards Bucke said to me: "Did you ever hear anything so extraordinary as the way the old man went on about the meter? Why, I felt as if he was kicking my ass out of the house!"

     W. pointed out the Symonds portrait on the mantel. "Maurice: did you see that? What did you think of that?" B. remarked the lines on the face. "They are asthmatic," he said. W. contradicted him.

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"No: consumption, that's the reason he went to Switzerland." And as to the Gilchrist W. W., a piece of which peeped above the picture that stood in front of it: "That's the London drawing-room point of view, which also has to be considered to be sure." Then he added: "There are some of my friends who are determined that I shall not be represented as a savage with a tomahawk, so they curl me up—agonize me: even the process man, you remember, made a break for the Romeo curls." He talked energetically in this strain. Bucke said: "But you rather like Herbert's work on the whole, don't you?" "I was not speaking of his work on the whole: I was only referring to this particular picture: it seems to have been painted under some misconception." Bucke asked: "You still stick to the Eakins picture, Walt?" "Yes: closer than ever—like the molasses holds on to the jug."

     Bucke found a letter at Dooner's from Nellie O'Connor. Downcast. She gives us little hope. Bucke engaged to deliver his Whitman lecture next Sunday at Germantown and on Tuesday at the Ethical. Some talk of Dave's portrait of W. Bucke said "the mystery is unsolved," going on to advise W. that it was his "duty" to "find for us the genealogy of that picture." W. replied: "I can't do much with duties, you know, but maybe I can help you out—maybe." Urged Bucke if he came again today to come in the early evening, "say five or six or thereabouts"—or perhaps better, "come in the morning." He was very calm though depressed. Pale, somewhat: talked with hesitation—took his time. W. said: "Maurice, you and Horace must stick together these days: I want you to see all you can of each other: it'll help me as well as both of you for the two of you come to some complete understanding." Just before I left he said: "Shove this in your pocket: read it as you and the Doctor travel about together." I didn't look it over at the moment. "Who is it from?" "Rhys: and if you find there's anything in it you wish to ask me about bring up the questions tomorrow. Rhys starts off with a wonderful passage describing his environment in Wales: he's rather stolid in average moods: this seems to wake him up—to stir him—so he lets go and speaks out without any compromise."

     Bucke had got out in the hallway. He reappeared at the door. "What are you two chinning about?" he cried. We all laughed and I followed Doctor as he hobbled downstairs on his very necessary cane. We went off to town together to dinner. I met Gurd. Later, in

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the evening, at 9:30, I dropped in at W.'s with a powder for him to take. He was still up, sitting, the light turned low. It was fine to get back into the quiet of that dear room again after the rush of the city and tiresome meter talk and the hurry and swagger of the club. I stood over W. He looked up at me in the half dark. "I'm glad you came in, even if only for a minute," he said. And as I kissed him on leaving he cried three or four good nights to me down the hallway to the front door.


59 Cheyne Walk,
Chelsea, London, Nov. 26, 1886.

Dear Walt Whitman,

I have been waiting all this time for the right mood and the right day to send a letter to you, but I must not wait any longer now, though there is a fog outside and a fog or something of the sort in my head. Since coming back here from the country three weeks ago there has been such a lot to do that I have got out of touch with the natural order and spirit of things, and these London fogs are enough to make the animal in one turn absolute coward. With sunlight or a flying wind or a good rain I am happy enough, but I cannot stand these smoke-soiled days. They make me feel stupid and wicked.

But I ought not to grumble like this, and I won't any more. For I had a splendid ten weeks of autumn in Wales and the West of England. In North Wales, at a place called Llwyngwril, a primitive little village, quite away from town ways and fashions, I stayed for four weeks with my dear friend Herbert Horne at a farmhouse close to the seashore. There we bathed and mountaineered and drank our fill of mountain and sunshine, and I rambled off once right round by Snowdon to Carnarvon, where the remnant of the Cymric races were holding their Eisteddfod. There is a wonderful old castle at Carnarvon, and within its walls on a bright September morning it impressed me strangely (being half Cymric in blood myself) to see those old gray-bearded, venerable fellows, in their mystic circle, uttering those wonderful Druidic prayers (which are purely theistic), and eloquently orating in a way utterly unlike our English fashion; for the Welsh orators make their voices almost sing sometimes, and their language is much more plastic and various, like a more southern tongue. Their improvised harp-songs—Penillion-singing

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—are very striking too—quaint wild tunes that would delight you I am sure, so full as they are of natural music and feeling. Unhappily I don't know enough of the language to understand all, but I saw and heard enough to make me feel that there was a great deal of tremendous value for our Saxon materialistic minds in the spirit of imaginative idealism that underlies the Cymric expression of life, now as in the past. There is something to me greatly inspiring to think of the international elements, Celtic, Cymric, Schlavonic, Gallic, that our Saxon stock must assimilate to itself new ends of human growth and perfection as time goes by. And for this, of course, America is the grand field of development!


A few days back W. S. Kennedy's new book about you arrived here from Chatto & Windus, and in reading it and looking at relative passages in Specimen Days and Leaves of Grass, the thought of the American future has filled me with a new impetus. But I must not dwell upon this now, as there are other things to settle. I must just say about Kennedy's book, however, that I have every hope of being able to place it satisfactorily with some publisher. I am waiting now to hear from Fred Wilson, of W. and McCormick, and you may be sure I will do all I can for the book. There is a great deal in it about L. of G. and about yourself intimately, which I find unspeakably stimulative and tonic. It will cause something like a sensation when it appears—amongst those who know L. of G. at any rate. Having it in my drawer or on the table as I write, it makes me feel as if you yourself had been in the room, bringing health and virile stimulus.

This brings me to Specimen Days, which I am proud to think will appear in the Camelot series. Thanks very much for letting me have it! I will get as much as I can out of the publishers; for as Walter Scott is one of the largest railway contractors as well as a publisher, and well stocked with money, I have no scruple on that score. It is not easy in any case to get much out of him, unfortunately. For my own sake, as well as yours, I wish it were! As for cutting the book down, it seems wicked to think of it; but it is rather longer than they find it pays to give for a shilling, and if you will do the emendation yourself, we may feel less sore about it. Including the appendix (which is of course in smaller type) there are about seventy pages more than the publishers like to have in the Camelot

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volumes, so if you will revise the book to make it about three hundred pages, it will answer capitally. Is it too much to ask you for a few fresh words of introduction as well, addressed to the English reader?


I hope we shall soon be ready now too to print the second edition of the selected Leaves of Grass. In the paper you sent me I noticed your admonition about tampering with your full expression in them, and have thought it over very seriously, besides asking Doctor Bucke's opinion about issuing a second edition at all of my little book. He strongly advises the reissue, however, looking at it, as I do, as an important makeshift which will help the perfect presentment to a hearing presently. He advises, too, the inclusion of the Song of Myself instead of some of the other poems. Herbert Gilchrist (whom I expect to see this evening) has promised me a new portrait too.

Doctor Bucke has hospitably pressed me to see him next summer, holding out the inducement of your being at his place. Ah, how I should like it to be possible.

I ought to have said with regard to Specimen Days and the Camelot requirements, that the volume of King Arthur contains a great deal more than the publishers can really afford to give. The fist volume they looked upon as a sort of pilot for the rest, and put an extra amount in accordingly.

Yours, with great love,

Ernest Rhys.


     I should add this. W. said: "There's quite a bit of Leaves of Grass history in Rhys' letter: he had his troubles over it all: I appreciated it: Rhys, though a Welshman, is of the German sort: has the oversolemnity, overweight, of the Germans, but also the Germanic force, solidity, mountainousness: being built for strength before grace, though not graceless either."


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