Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, March 3, 1889

     9.15 A.M. Stopped in at W.'s on my way to Germantown, as he expected. He just up and dressed—sitting by middle window, looking "out into the morning." The brief instant before he spoke revealed his good condition: no depression of face: the color good

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and strong. Of course he quickly heard me: turned his head—released his linked hands. "Ah! Horace!" and as he held my hand: "Oh! I am glad to see you: I knew you would come!"—showing that all his thought had been of our voyage and of what may have been its result. "And so you are back? And back with good news?" I said: "Before I go on let me get two things I might forget and which Doctor must have today—a copy of Leaves of Grass to read from at church and Ingram's address." W. said: "Ingram? oh! that will take care of itself: Ingram himself was here yesterday to see me? said he would call on the Doctor—do it this morning, at noon today." As to the book: "I have no copy here but this." Produced 1872 edition. "I will get Ed to look a bit downstairs for one of the yellow books: if he does not find it, you must take this." As eventually I had to do, Ed's search being unavailing.

     Then of course told of O'C. W. did not open the Doctor's letter at once, but questioned me: did this with a persistency unusual in him. Every reply W. raptly listened to—interrupted with cries: "Good! good!" or "That is good to hear!" or "That is enough to set a fellow way up!" and others, of a similar character. At one point I said something about Doctor's "supplementary information" to come tomorrow. But W. said, "All is welcome: I am satisfied as it is: to have you go—especially go with a man like the Doctor, whose penetration, experience, in such cases is so great, is enough: what he could say now—add to your report, to his letter—would be good, welcome, but only go to strengthen the testimony already here." "It has been a long time," he said, settling back into the chair, folding his hands again, gazing out on the skies: "it has been a long time since I have had such sweet—oh! such consoling!—intelligence!"

      "O'Connor seems to feel pained to think that Burroughs has in some way changed towards him," I said: but W. said: "I do not think John is at all changed—I do not think his feelings now towards O'Connor are different at all from what they were: I may say, John has changed towards himself—that I notice—but he has not changed towards William." And he exclaimed as to O'Connor: "Oh! the grand, grand fellow: oh! the grand, grand fellow!" And as to what I told him of O'Connor's talk with me—its interesting emotional characteristics: "The fraternal quality!—that is William: the sympathetic is the center of his being—the explanation of it all: the fire of

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his spirit all comes from that."
And further, of O'Connor's appearance: "Oh! I know what you mean when you speak of his head, his neck! Then that has all lasted? It has always been unmistakably, undeniably, peculiar to him: he expresses personal beauty as well as personal power." I said: "I told him that after his letters you thought the Sarrazin piece the best thing that had been done on Leaves of Grass." W. approved. "Yes: always the letters first: they are undying: they are indispensable to Leaves of Grass." He asked me how I was impressed by O'Connor's speaking manner. I told him. Then: "I knew you would realize it at once: I knew it: no one comprehends him better than I do. We always used to settle in that way, agreeing that he was essentially an orator—that, too, in the broadest sense: prodigious, overflowing, in volume: his supreme faculties, impressiveness, physical magnetism: the voice alone, the tones of it, very fine, persuasive—which placed him en rapport, at once with groups, audiences."

     O'Connor had argued with Bucke: "No—I can't write." B. said: "That's a delusion." W. explained: "That depression is not William: he defies all that: it is more likely to be Nellie: she is bent upon taking the pessimistic view." But: "I am glad to have you say Nellie seems well: she is passing through a severe trial." Bucke argues that William should go to some institution, where he can be better taken care of by able-bodied men. W. said: "That has long been my idea: it is very obvious to me." I repeated to W. what O'C. had said to me about his breakdown. "One bright morning the Department woke up and found itself deprived of its right arm," &c. W. cried: "Oh! that is both pathetic and magnificent: say it again." Which I did. "That is William: it sounds like him: it has his sangfroid, his nonchalance." I said to W.: "It is hard to comprehend when you hear O'Connor speak why he has not written more: he seems full of subject matter." W. said: "I know that is often regarded as a puzzle: it puzzles the Doctor: but to me, knowing O'Connor as I do, it is easily explained, as plain as day: I allow, however, that it is a point which naturally puzzles the world." I told W. we must send O'C. the big and the German books at once. He said he would "endorse them immediately." "I'll get them ready for you—put them out in the hallway, so you can get them in the morning." We had spoken, while with O'C., of putting up a villa somewhere and having him

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and Walt there together. W. said: "The next villa I occupy will be a box about so broad"—indicating his body's width with his hands.

     W. asked me many questions concerning Washington, the city. The streets, &c. As to the Negro element: "That would, of course, strike you or any stranger: you should spend a few weeks, two or three weeks, in Washington—go into the markets: it's there you'd find the busiest, most curious, most native life of the place. Washington has the insane political element—the scamps, scoundrels, culled nationally from that vast field: then it has itself—that is, its resident blacks and whites. You are just on the edge of the South there—you begin there to penetrate Dixie." W. gave me a package of Sarrazin sheets. "You may wish a few to give out here and there." Ed brought up W.'s breakfast on a tray. W. said: "You have braced me, Horace: I've quite an appetite: won't you have something yourself?" W. got busy on his meal at once. But before doing so he handed me a bunch of letters in a rubber band: "I laid them aside for you while you were away: they are quite miscellaneous: you might go over them while I eat my grub: if you have any questions to ask I'll be here to answer them." I found five different letters. I read this first:


Paris, Feb. 1st, 1887.

Dear Walt Whitman.

Your two postals came duly to hand—the last on the 2d of last month—but the letter therein announced has not come. It is now too late, I presume, to expect it.

I will say for Mr. Laforgue that he is glad of your permission to translate Leaves of Grass and that he expects to make it an interesting volume. We want to publish it with a preface in the shape of a biographical sketch. It would be pleasant to have facts in your life not yet published: your youth, how you gave yourself on the battlefield during the War, etc. Would you have the strength and the inclination to furnish us such?

I am sorry to learn through the papers that you are permanently disabled physically. I trust that the appearance of your poems in a foreign dress will have a happy pecuniary result. In any event you have too many friends on both sides of the ocean ever to be forgotten.


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As the interpreter of the little group here I am the bearer of many good words.

Ever yours sincerely

R. Brisbane.


     I asked W.: "Did this scheme ever come to anything?" He shook his head: "No: to nothing." Then he quietly chuckled: "But that's not surprising, not exceptional: my schemes never came to anything." "Then there were none of the pecuniary results Brisbane speaks of?" "Least of all, pecuniary results: does anything I do ever have pecuniary results? When I think of all the schemes—some of them mine, some of them from others—designed to establish for Leaves of Grass some plausible wordly estate, I am struck with amazement—almost consternation. George once said to me: 'Walt, hasn't the world made it plain to you that it'd rather not have your book? Why, then, don't you call the game off?' I couldn't give George any reason why which he would have understood. Then I remembered that he was my mother's son, my brother—not my counsellor. I said nothing: George was disappointed: he said 'You are stubburner, Walt, than a load of bricks.'" W. said: "I admit that—but what can I do? I can't surrender: I won't defend myself: that made George, makes others, madder than if I told them to go to hell." I said: "Walt, I see that one of these letters is from Stoddard—Charles Warren Stoddard: he is much loved: did you ever have much to do with him?" W. replied: "No: nothing beyond a few letters, from him to me, from me to him: I have known about him from several sources: Joaquin Miller, for one, lauds him unreservedly. You have come to Stoddard's letter? let me hear it: I'd like to: read it to me"


Honolulu, Hawaiian Islands,
March 2, 1869.

To Walt Whitman.

May I quote you a couplet from your Leaves of Grass? "Stranger! if you, passing, meet me, and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?"

I am the stranger who, passing, desires to speak to you. Once before I have done so offering you a few feeble verses. I don't wonder you did not reply to them. Now my voice is stronger. I ask—why will you not speak to me?


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So fortunate as to be travelling in these very interesting Islands I have done wonders in my intercourse with these natives. For the first time I act as my nature prompts me. It would not answer in America, as a general principle,—not even in California, where men are tolerably bold. This is my mode of life.

At dusk I reach some village—a few grass huts by the sea or in some valley. The native villagers gather about me, for strangers are not common in these parts. I observe them closely. Superb looking, many of them. Fine heads, glorious eyes that question, observe and then trust or distrust with an infallible instinct. Proud, defiant lips, a matchless physique, grace and freedom in every motion.

I mark one, a lad of eighteen or twenty years, who is regarding me. I call him to me, ask his name, giving mine in return. He speaks it over and over, manipulating my body unconsciously, as it were, with bountiful and unconstrained love. I go to his grass house, eat with him his simple food, sleep with him upon his mats, and at night sometimes waken to find him watching me with earnest, patient looks, his arm over my breast and around me. In the morning he hates to have me go. I hate as much to leave him. Over and over I think of him as I travel: he doubtless recalls me sometimes, perhaps wishes me back with him. We were known to one another perhaps twelve hours. Yet I cannot forget him. Everything that pertains to him now interests me.

You will easily imagine, my dear sir, how delightful I find this life. I read your Poems with a new spirit, to understand them as few may be able to. And I wish more than ever that I might possess a few lines from your pen. I want your personal magnetism to quicken mine. How else shall I have it? Do write me a few lines for they will be of immense value to me.

I wish it were possible to get your photograph. The small lithograph I have of you is not wholly satisfactory. But I would not ask so much of you. Only a page with your name and mine as you write it. Is this too much?

My address is San Francisco, Calif., Box 1005, P.O. I shall immediately return there. In all places I am the same to you.

Chas. Warren Stoddard.


     W. had written a reply to S.—very short, only a few words. I read this also to W. The two letters had been pinned together. W. said:

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"He is right: occidental people, for the most part, would not only not understand but would likewise condemn the sort of thing about which Stoddard centers his letter." I read what W. said in reply:


June 12, 1869.

Charles W. Stoddard.

Dear Sir.

Your letters have reached me. I cordially accept your appreciation and reciprocate your friendship. I do not write many letters, but like to meet people. Those tender and primitive personal relations away off there in the Pacific islands (as described by you) touched me deeply.

I send you my picture, taken three months since. Also a newspaper. Farewell, my dear friend. I sincerely thank you and hope some day to meet you.

Walt Whitman.


     W. said: "It's wonderful how true it is that a man can't go anywhere without taking himself along and without finding love meeting him more than half way. It gives you a new intimation of the providences to become the subject of such an ingratiating hospitality: it makes the big world littler—it knits all the fragments together: it makes the little world bigger—it expands the arc of comradery." I read the fourth letter. "You have put some personal history into it," I said. He nodded: "Yes—and some views: don't you like views? I think you and Doctor always itch for views." Laughed.


Attorney General's Office,
Washington, D.C., Nov. 22, 1868.

Dear Jack Flood.

I received your welcome letter, and was happy to know that you had not forgotten me—for I have thought of you many times since. I returned here from New York about four weeks ago, and have been and now am working in this office as usual—am well and hearty, and don't hurt myself with hard work. Our hours are from 9 till 3.

You speak of coming here and paying me a visit. Dear boy, I hope you will come truly, for it would be a great comfort to me if we could be together again. I don't know whether it would be very

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pleasant to you here, Jack, for this is a stupid place compared to New York—but we would have each other's society, and that would be first rate.


There's not much excitement in Washington—at least none that I take any interest in. Politics and politicians carry the day here—but I meddle with them very little. In a couple of weeks more, Congress will meet, and then the city will be quite lively.

I am out a good deal in the open air, as I have plenty of leisure time. It is fine scenery around Washington—plenty of hills, and a noble river. I take a ride on the cars out to Georgetown west, or Navy Yard east, once in a while of a pleasant afternoon, or Sunday—but I tell you I miss New York. We had a long spell of splendid weather. But now it is colder, with some snow a couple of days since. Jack, you must write often as you can—anything from my loving boy will be welcome—you needn't be particular about the writing—you might write in the car with pencil, when you have any time. I will write to you too. I will now close for this time. Dear Jack, I send you my love.

Walt Whitman.


     I said to W.: "O'Connor thinks you should collect all your comrade letters in a book: he says they exemplify your revolutionary sympathies." "Ah! is that his idea? they seem so personal: it might be done but not by me: I would not be the best one for such a delicate task."


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