Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, March 4, 1889

     9.45 A.M. It rained hard yesterday afternoon and all night. Is still raining. Down to W.'s to get the books for O'Connor. He had sent them down in the parlor by Ed. But as W. was about I stepped upstairs. I thought I might stay a few minutes. But W. was so interested and interesting I stayed well on towards an hour. Wanted to know how things passed off last night. Twenty-six present. Asked me: "How did the Doctor sing his song?" O.K. I had no criticism to offer. "Except," I said. "Except what?" he asked. "Except his superlatives," I said: "he claimed too much for you." W.: "I shouldn't wonder: that's the Doctor's failing." I said: "He talked too much about your superiority to everybody through all time." "I don't like that: it does not help us any—rather retards: but Doctor can't help it: it's temperamental. Look at William:

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people think he is extreme: no—he is not: he is not extreme—he is only vehement."
I said: "I don't object to his general idea but to his exclusiveness." W. "Precisely: that is my contention: not to make wholesale comparisons, draw rigid lines, put everybody into a scale, try every man by a tape measure: I take it to be one of the main things if not the main thing, implied by my philosophy, if I may so dignify it, that there is no one man anywhere—that there are countless men on all sides, in all countries, who contribute to the great result—most of them in fact without a name, unknown, eclipsed by the formidable reputations of mostly lesser people. It's queer, sad, disconcerting—how that goes: it can't be helped: but we should contribute nothing ourselves to such a falsifying human habit: Doctor should be on his guard."

     I went over in detail what O'C. had said to me concerning the N.Y. men, including Burroughs. W. said: "William is mainly right: they see what they see: they don't see us—at least, not wholly: they see us fragmentarily—bits here and there. I know them: they are kind to me: I make no demands on them—involve myself in no expectations: it does not pay to snarl yourself up in the ifs and buts of matters of that character." After I had said more: "I can hear O'Connor in that: as you report it of him I am prepared to say I endorse every word. I know John is at heart unchanged—thoroughly unpolluted, as he was: but he has hobnobbed with the wrong crowd of late—has been touched (I have no suspicion of a doubt of that): and it is a more serious item with John than it is with Gilder. In Gilder it is nature—the natural, so-constituted man: he goes with his own stream, not against it. With John it is not that: it is a graft—a more serious item by far. Yet John at heart is sound: I feel it, know it, would swear to it."

     What did he think of O'Connor's idea that he had had much to do with Stedman's increased interest in W.? W. said: "I had known of Stedman's change: I never knew that William had been a factor in bringing it about: but it is likely—it has all the color of probability: Stedman became eligible to conviction—perhaps all along has been so." He then asked me: "How does it all look to you? Tell me more about William: what did he say? You can't tell me too much—you can't overfeed me." He knew Stedman had warmed up. I said: "William said that Eldridge was informed by someone that Stedman

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said recently in a discussion into which your name was brought that though there were many things in your work to which he would never be reconciled he regarded you as on the whole the most virile figure so far in our literature."
W. said: "That sounds wonderful to me: I can't discuss it: I only know that Stedman has lately shown me extra courtesies."

     After a pause he said: "Of course you know, Horace, I would rather stand well with all of them than ill: I do not itch to antagonize them or anybody or to be antagonized: I want their good feeling: I give them mine: but to strain to win them over—oh! you are right: I would not hedge an inch to win the best of them over: could not, dare not, do it: it is impossible, unthinkable!" I said O'Connor was not so sure Emerson had not weakened. W. said: "I can't quite feel sure either way: sometimes I have felt that even the wise and gentle Emerson had listened to the outcry—not vitally, not finally, not too much. The best rebuttal I know is the Lord Houghton interview: I have told you about that haven't I? Yes? So I thought. Houghton had come direct here, down from Concord: his attitude of friendliness to me was most emphatically reasonable and convincing: talked me straight in the eye, as we are doing now: it was not to be disputed or suspected: he was not a man to be guilty of detraction: the story he brought was palpably authentic."

     W. stopped as if for a rest. Then he said: "There are significant points: for instance, in that visit to Emerson: I have told you of it: that last visit: the reception at Sanborn's: how Emerson seemed to make it a point to approach, to invite, me: he asked me to come to dinner the next day: I turned to Edward, who was there, as if saying, Shall I? he saying at once: 'Yes, certainly, come, if father wishes it.' It is very clear to me that Emerson was never at heart affected, disturbed: he was in an unfortunate environment: he must have heard me God-damned and son-of-a-bitched right and left: so while they didn't induce any mental reaction in him they shut him up. I have never been worried into making inquiries: I have never in any way sought for direct evidence pro or con." I exclaimed: "I hope not: I can't see how it could have been important to you. I have always thought too much was made of the incident, anyway. If Emerson went back all the worse for Emerson." W. said he thought I was essentially right. "But you know my personal love for Emerson,

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and what I assume was his personal love for me, naturally stirs my curiosity—makes me wonder how far I survived in his good graces. He lived up there in a world preeminent for its literariness—for its worship of respectable divinities: it must have made him sick: it drove him back into his shell: he lacked in the capacity for reaction, which becomes the only weapon fitted to efficiently cope with that malign influence."

     W. said he had for "long years been impelled to run the gauntlet of the vilest lies, slanders, ruffianism." He said: "That stuff must have been dinned into Emerson's ears: the enemy were everywhere—in all the cities: but Boston seemed to be their chief outlet—will probably always have the honor of that: Lowell, probably, being the chief of staff in that army of the devil." He laughed. "But even the devil should have his due: God forbid that I should make light of the devil." I said to W.: "You had after-talks with Emerson: was nothing ever said that would throw any light on this question?" W. replied: "Nothing in words, but his manners were an affirmation: he always seemed to me to be saying: 'It's all right: we understand each other': that, no more, as if anything more concrete would have been supererogation, as probably it would. It never occurred to me to ask why or whether: it was not my disposition to peek into his consciousness and try to have him say under some prickings from me what he was not ready to say without provocation. Later on the boys said to me: 'You should have made him declare, reaffirm, himself.' Even William—God Bless him!—said that I might by some unobstrusive word have drawn from him the coveted information. Well—that's all past now: if any milk was spilled let's not cry over it."

     I happened to refer to Harrison Morris. W. said: "He has gone into the Half Hours with Authors business, hasn't he?" No. He was confusing Harrison with Charles Morris. "Oh! I see! and yet I always go on mixing the names that way. Morris wrote me almost a fulsome letter about going in." And had he gone? "No: if I am not wrong I never answered his note: it was a year or two or three ago: I am very whimsical in such things: if I do I do, if I don't: probably with nineteen-twentieths (at least that, perhaps more) I don't: I end the whole matter at once by contract with the woodbasket there. When a man gets in the collections—then he thinks himself secure: it is like going to church: the fellows are in their places regularly, hear the

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sermon, pray, sing go home again, think the whole thing done, though it is by no means done—is not even commenced."

     As I rose to leave, W. said: "I have made up the package for O'Connor: send it just as it is or re-wrap it if you think best." I was at the door. "You might as well take the money for it now," he said. I said: "No: I always see to such things, Walt: whether it's you or me, what does it matter?" He nodded. "True: but send it." But he added: "One thing: when you are short you must come to me: you are spending far too much money out of your pocket on my account. I feel proud to think you want to serve me in my helplessness, but I don't want to rob you in addition!" I said: "Walt: there couldn't be any such thing as robbery between us: don't let's talk of that again." He said: "All right: don't let's." Then I said: "Amen." Finally he called after me: "Doctor will come today? I shall expect him: if you find him at Tom's be sure you bring him around."

     2.30 p.m. To W.'s with Bucke and Gurd. I went upstairs ahead. W. said they should both come up. "One more or less does not hurt: I feel very well today, except that I'm a little stupid." They came up. "Doctor, find a chair: and Mr. Gurd—there on that sofa: and where are you, Horace?" I sat on a pile of papers and magazines. W. referred constantly to "the saddening news." What news? "Didn't you read of it? the story of Frank Sanborn's son?" I again asked: "What?" W. said: "He took his life—cut his throat: poor Frank! but I have been thinking most of the mother: I have met her: she impressed me profoundly." Bucke asked: "What was his trouble, Walt?" "Insomnia, Maurice." Then W. said: "Tell me something about insomnia, Maurice: what has science got to say of it?" I reminded W. of Captain Lindell's wife, who suffered similarly. W. "I did not know poor Ed had so much to contend with." Then: "The trouble with Frank's boy was, he studied too hard: he lived there at Concord with his father, was a newspaper writer to some extent—wrote for the Springfield Republican." Was he sure it was not his son who had written about him in the R.? "Oh no! that was Frank himself, without a question: I am sure of it." Produced a newspaper—a copy of the Academy. "Here is something I have just received: it contains a notice of November Boughs: Walter Lewin's notice: and very shallow, superficial, it is, too!" Turned to Bucke. "Doctor,

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you had better take it: you are the fellow who adopts all the foundlings!"

     Bucke asked W. how he took the inauguration. W. said he had been reading about the cabinet— "especially about Blaine." "I think Harrison a rather conservative, rather quiet, man: he may need such a fellow as Blaine to give sparkle to things. I do not think Harrison regrets the bad day: he has other worries, nervousnesses: a man placed as he is, is in a nest of hornets." As to Blaine: "I cannot forget that he contains streaks of the poser, the schemer: he is not of a size for his job: America is getting very great, very big: needs another kind of butter to spread its bread over with." I said: "The political pool is getting dirtier and dirtier." W. said: "Yes: but it's natural: there's no moral issue dividing the nation just now." "But don't you think it's time there was?" He readily said: "Time and more than time: but where's the man? where's the issue?" I asked: "Don't you think that if we can't see them before our faces we should hunt them?" He said: "I suppose you're right: we should hunt them. Presidents, Congresses, won't hunt them." I said: "You bet they won't: there'd be damn little food if it was left to them to do the hunting." W. said: "I comprehend and endorse that statement in substance and form."

      "Did you send the books off?" W. asked: "will they go today?" Of course I had. Of course they would. Then he addressed Bucke. "Well, Maurice: tell me about O'Connor: I guess I've had the general features from Horace: what is the rest of it?" Doctor described O'C.s condition with cruel candor. W. winced some. Yet was eager to know. "Did you say the legs were all gone? dead? that no improvement is to be expected? that he's sentenced, condemned, and no escape?" Asked B. moreover: "Do you think William's doctor thoroughly understands the case?" "Oh yes! oh my yes!" "I wondered: I wondered." B. did feel, however, that too serious a view had been taken of O'C.'s case: that "though badly off" he was "likely to live a long while yet." W. then said: "That sounds a little professional in you, Maurice: putting together the things you have said to me I don't agree with you that he will long survive: a month or two, maybe, but no more." He also said: "We have been confined to Nellie's views: she is in such close contact with William

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—she feels everything that happens, good and bad, overforcibly: when there is a bad turn she gives way to her fears at once: it is universally so: in an hour of sickness all space and time are imaged: like the fellow with the tight shoe: when it rubs very hard—makes a fellow very sore, wrothy—he sends it to hell at short order without waiting to see if it can be mended."
W. then quizzed me about Washington. "How is it across the street from O'Connor? do you remember? did you notice? ah! a whole row of houses? did you say that? I imagined something of the kind: O'Connor's is a very nice house in a nice neighborhood: when I was there all that space opposite was open: but that was a long time ago—an age ago." He tried to fix the date of his last visit. "It must have been—let me see"—pause— "I think it must have been about three years after I left—after my paralysis: since that time I have not been south at all. The changes in the city must have been momentous." Nellie's nephew with them now. W. said: "All the little unimportant things interest me: don't skip any of them." Had to tell him about William's room, too. "There's a shadow over it all," W. said, "but I want to know about it."

     W. wished to hear more about Mr. Donnelly's Reviewers. The N. A. Review people had turned it down. But Donnelly's publishers were considering it. W. asked: "When William spoke of The Great Cryptogram as a failure did he mean a moral or a publisherial failure?" I said "publisherial" though I added: "William said to me that while he was satisfied mostly with the matter of the book he was not satisfied with its manners." Again W.: "Is it really so, Horace? can it be really so? that the book is a miscarriage?" I quoted something Donnelly had written O'C. which William repeated to me. "It's a half-confession of defeat," William said. "A defeat for the cause?" I asked. "No," said William: "the cause has nothing to do with it—is not involved." Now W. went on: "Well—well: the part of it which sticks most in my noodle is the fact that Donnelly's book is a publisherial failure—dropped flat, dead, on the market: Oh! that is very significant: I had expected the market to take it up, at least sensationally." Bucke asked: "Do you distrust Donnelly?" W. was vehement at once: "Not at all: I have no reason whatever for doing so." And he added: "We must not forget the high thick wall of tradition that Donnelly's come up against: that

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would be over-powering even if Donnelly was a bigger man than he is"

     Bucke said: "William had quite a flush on all the time we were there." W. said: "No doubt: but your mere presence, there, Horace's—the exhilaration it involved—would account for that." Bucke referred to O'C. as "paralyzed." W. asked: "Is it as bad as that, Maurice?" B. said: "As bad as that? Why, that's what it has always been." W. said: "You astonish me: I did not realize it before." Bucke asked W. if he had a copy of Man's Moral Nature within reach. "Yes, somewhere here: Horace, look in the other room on the middle shelf." But it was not there. W. then suddenly: "After all, now I think of it, I loaned it out to somebody." B. said to W.: "You must remember that William hasn't given up." I put in: "But he also talked as if he suspected that he was nearly done for, too." Bucke admitted this. I said: "He says one of his first tasks when he gets about again will be to make a complete collection of Whitman photographs." W. cried: "Ruling passion strong in death!" and: "What the hell would a man want such a collection for anyway? I can't see." Bucke said: "Walt, William says it was distinctly an act of God that a fellow like Horace should have happened along here just at the right time in your extremest need and become your ally." I started to make some protest. Bucke stopped me. "You shut up: you've got nothing to do with this: this is between Walt and me." Walt nodded. "That's so: it's between Doctor and me." Bucke went on. So did W. But it's not necessary for me to repeat them.

     W. said: "I am more or less active, as activity goes with me, though I'm no better than a snail to a man who's really alive." He's always very quaint when he gets into his playful moods. He is never a noisy joker. "Yesterday I wrote to Kennedy—sent him your letter"—turning to Doctor, who looked uncertain— "the letter that you wrote on the train"—Bucke nodded. He remembered. W. then said: "I sent it to Kennedy with instructions to pass it on to Burroughs: John is always so anxious to hear—so on the qui vive for any news that may have to do with me." Bucke wanted to know if K. had met William. W. said: "I am not certain: I think he has: but at any rate all my friends, all those who cherish me, all the people who really know me, my work, consider, include, love, admire, William. If anybody was to come to me and say: I like

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you but don't like O'Connor, I'd think it impossible and say: You'd better take some more time to look the thing over further. Those who have read Doctor Bucke's book, seen the letters there—William's letters—could not fail to see how inseparable we are: William and I must stand or fall together."
Bucke said: "Amen!" and added: "Walt: we do know that: all of us: no one can deny it: William is the keystone of the work." W. said: "Yes: name him that way if you choose: I don't care much how you do it, what you do, so you put him at the top, keep him first."

     Bucke picked up what we called the John Burns poems from Walt's table. "Who did this come from, Walt?" he asked. W. said: "I am not clear: it may have come from Burns: perhaps the publishers sent it: I am not clear about it: my impression is that Burns sent it." He stopped. "No: I'm wrong: it was from Marshall Williams: portrait and book: he sent both: Williams wishes them returned." Bucke said he'd like to look the poems over. W. said: "Yes, do it: then send the book back direct to Williams." Bucke: "I've seen enough of them looking at them this way to realize that they're very good imitations: they are certainly better than Edward Carpenter's." "Do you say that, Maurice? you who are so close to Edward—know him so well?" It appeared that Marshall Williams wrote the poems himself. W. said: "I do not know but that I understand what you say of Edward's work, Maurice—yes, and more or less agree with it: but Edward is young: his time is still to come." The Williams poems were type-written. W. said: "I have not read them: should I? I am timid about tackling new propositions—avoid them whenever I can: I'll leave them with you fellows to dispose of."

     Then he asked Bucke: "What about last night? you haven't said a word about last night." Bucke turned him over to me laughingly. "Let him tell you: he was there." Then B. addressed me direct: "Horace, what the devil did I read to make the women wipe their eyes?" W. said: "Yes: what was the poem, Horace?" I said: "It wasn't any single poem, Walt: it was bits of poems: he had them on the run." Bucke said: "I read A Woman Waits for Me, Walt." "Would they listen to it?" "They did listen to it." W. then said: "A man or a woman who can listen to it is ready to receive Leaves of Grass and all that it implies." Bucke said: "I had an open-minded,

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open-hearted audience."
W. said: "I'm not surprised, Maurice: it's Clifford's work." W. showed us a letter about and gave us copies of a poem which he said "was written by a patent medicine man." B. looked it over. Bucke said: "It's rather good rather than rather bad." W.: "So it is: we mustn't be prejudiced against our friends." He said to me: "It is another one of the new arrivals: they come, they go: on the whole more come than go." He put on his glasses. "I'll read you the poem," he said. I said: "You're stealing my job: I'm the reader." W. laughed. "Forgive me this time: I'll read it." Bucke asked: "Shall I drop the note on the woodbox?" W. said: "Oh no! give it to me: I may wish to show it to someone else." The poem was addressed "To Walt Whitman" and was signed "J.D. Vinton, M.D." W. read it equably, musically.



"Prophetic Bard! Thou dost behold, through years
Of coming time, for heavenly Poesy
A newer age, which, though so few can see,
To thy broad vision luminous appears.
A Hercules thou art, by critic sneers
Undaunted; or of Atlas pedigree
That thou canst back a world's philosophy,
Nor fear the clamor of the would-be sneers.
A venturous bard wert thou alone to choose
A path untrodden, one that reached so far
Beyond the lore of this expanding day,
For thou hadst all to gain or all to lose,
To be a meteor, or a constant star,
Or, what thou art, a sun to shine for aye!"

     W. himself turned the conversation from one thing to another from time to time. He looked at Gurd. "And now what about the meter?" Then spoke of Sanborn. "I can't shake it off: the news is dreadful, horrible." Had written a few postals today. Made up a couple of papers for O'Connor. W. said: "You and Horace have bridged the miles between Camden and Washington: Washington will never seem to be so far off again." We stayed about three-quarters of an hour. W. sat with his back to the window. Looked rather tired. Color good. Complained of nothing. W. said: "I wanted the brief of William's illness: now I have it: now I feel better: it somehow seems to bring William physically closer to me." Bucke

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said: "You never forget the body, Walt, do you?" Laughed. I said: "His soul won't let him!" W. "Good: that's it: my soul won't let me. That's the way we have to keep up the balance." W. said as we left: "Come all you can, Maurice: I am stronger: you and Horace: come."


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