Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, March 12, 1889.

     10:15 A.M. W. reading Record. Looked pretty well. Color good and voice strong. Symonds' book of sonnets, Anima Figura, at W.'s feet. He advised me to take and read it. "It is not very fascinating—not a very tantalizing dish: but take it along, take it along. I shall not want it for a day or week—perhaps not at all. In spite of everything I have taken it up now and then and found something worth while: I like to see what it is he means to say: Symonds sent me the book himself, of course." I asked: "Why 'of course'?" He said: "I meant I would not have bought it." Not more than half the leaves of the book were cut. The leaves cut were not consecutive—they jumped all over. I said to W.: "I'm getting more and more dubious about rhyme and all that." W. said: "I got wholly dubious about rhyme long ago: as to the 'all that,' I dismiss it without a peradventure."

     We discussed the pocket edition. W. had at last come to some conclusions. For one thing he would use the Oxford Bible paper. "Inquire about it: see what Ferguson knows: perhaps he will have to send to New York for it—in that case requiring more time. We must have an edition of three hundred." He watches all the details. I said: "Remember that the paging of A Backward Glance starts with five." He nodded: "I have thought of it: I will give it a bastard title—that will knock off two pages: then I shall write something to go with it to get rid of the other two. The book will make about four hundred and twenty pages in all." He spoke of the Oxford paper. "It's thin: it is essential that the print should not show through." He said he had rarely been "interested printerially" in a book as he had been in this Bible. I said: "It was given to me by a woman who didn't think I took enough interest in what she called religion." He was amused. "You are a doubled-dyed heretic: you flaunt yourself in the face of all orthodoxy with impudent assurance: I don't wonder

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she gave you the Bible: she might have given you hell, too!"
Then he got back to the mechanical book. "The cut is a feature: it must not be too large: but we must not figure too closely: I should like Ferguson to give me an idea what it will all come to—a rough notion. Take the Bible along—let Ferguson see it."

     I went to a meeting of the Browning Society last evening. There were papers and there was some music. I heard a männerchor in some adjacent building rehearsing the Pilgrim's Chorus from Tannhäuser. They were at it all the evening. I found myself listening to them and forgetting the Browning Society. W. said: "How natural! I suppose I would have done the same thing." Then he asked: "You use the word männerchor: what does it mean?" I explained. He said: "A chorus? only of male voices? as simple as that? I never knew." As to the Browning Society: "What I ask myself in cases of clubs of that sort is: after all is done, after all the study, is it worth while? is the stuff you get worth going to the feast for?" Then: "I know nothing of Tannhäuser: I only know some of its friends—like you, for example: I know some bits of it played by bands: I am convinced that it's my sort taken all in all."

     Warren came in. He reached over and kissed W. who asked him a lot of questions about his work. Then Warren said he'd have to go. W.: "Going so soon? just in and out?" W. further: "That's about all that life is here on the earth—just in and out." W. suddenly commenced to look among the papers on the table for God knows what. "I had something here that I thought would interest you but now it's gone—I can't find it." Then he handed me a letter sheet. "Take this, anyhow: it'll serve in the meantime." He said: "It's personalia: you say you are after personalia."


The North American Review
New York, July 14, 1885.

Walt Whitman, Esq.,

My Dear Sir:

I take pleasure in soliciting your literary coöperation in an enterprise which has been conducted with great success since the beginning of the year. A number of important American newspapers, among which may be mentioned such as the New York Tribune, Philadelphia Press, Detroit Post, Chicago Times, St. Paul Pioneer

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Press, etc., have agreed to combine in receiving for their Sunday Editions articles arranged for and edited by me, to be written by distinguished authors, scientists, travellers, and men of affairs on both sides of the Atlantic. Many eminent contributors in Europe and America have already written, and many others have promised to write. The papers in which these articles are published reach nearly two millions of the most intelligent people of the country. The aim is that these papers should be as far as possible of a bright and popular character (even when treating of serious topics) such as would interest the reader of newspapers and magazines; and I sincerely hope you will find it consistent with your obligations to give me your literary assistance.


I should like a paper from you at your very earliest leisure, about three thousand words in length, leaving the subject somewhat to yourself, only asking that it shall be of a popular character. I shall be glad to send you an honorarium of fifty dollars for such a paper. Hoping to hear from you very soon and that you can give me the article at once, I remain,

Yours very truly,

A. Thorndike Rice.


     W. said: "That seems to be a new idea—a new development of the idea of coöperation: I don't know why it shouldn't work: I can see it in many extensions. Rice is competent: I know no man who could be better equipped for such an enterprise." I said: "It makes the little newspaper both more and less possible." He first said: "I do not understand." Then he took a new shy at it. "I see," he then said: "you do not anticipate that the newspaper will be exempt from capitalistic tendencies?" Then he added: "Yes—something's going on: something's brewing: just what I can't make out: there'll be hell to pay."

     W. said he was anxious to have Bucke get some reply from William's doctor. "If you come over early in the afternoon, earlier than Doctor, as may be the case, bring any word he may have got, if he got any: let me have it: I am waiting every hour here for something, something." If there was any change wouldn't he have been told of it? "I don't know about that: Nelly is strangely constituted: she's New England: she has much to do: she is reticent: no, I am not sure she would remember." Bucke had said: "Don't expect any great

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change—except for the worse."
But W. persisted: "Well, well: I have great faith—great faith in tiding over things: I have been so much in the War, in the hospitals—derived so much out of my direct personal experience: especially these last few years: I am not to be daunted: then I consider it a Whitman trait—the ability to tide over, to lay back on reserves, to wait, to take time." It went somehow with "the Whitman brood." Not more marked in him than in others. "My brother George has always displayed it wonderfully: in the War, since, always: a lethargic waitingness. He was in one of the prisons—the Southern prisons: let me see—what was it called? Isle—Bell Isle? oh no! one in Northern Tennessee"—after a pause: "I have it: Danville: that's the name." Then: "George was subjected to brutalities: he philosophically bore them—did no squealing."

     I asked: "Don't people say a lot of extreme things about Southern prisons?" He said; "The accounts have not been exaggerated: the truth was worse than the stories of it—far worse." Were Southern prisons worse than Northern prisons? "Yes, unquestionably." I said: "For one thing, they plead their property." W. said: "They were poor—but that is no explanation at all: none at all: they starved, maltreated, our men, as such things were never before known on this side of the water." He said that similar stories from Europeans were told of the vendetta—of massacres &c.—none of them exceeding the barbarism expressed in Southern prisons. What was the cause? I said: "It's a labor cause." He said: "Elaborate that." I said: "Negro slavery was really labor slavery—wage slavery: an upper-class attitude towards the laborer generally, white and black." He said: "Now I see what you mean: Yes, I'm afraid that's likely to be the truth." I said: "Of course this applies North as well as South, though more South." W. said: "You know of Mosby's guerillas—men who would run a knife through the wounded, the aged, the children, without compunction." Then: "In the South they have what they call a chivalry: a toplofticality: it is not a real chivalry—not by a damn sight: what men may call the moral toplofticality that belongs to the North: here is a distinct difference: they are behind the North, anyone can see it—behind it at least a generation. They will evolve—but will they ever catch up? we must do them justice—not let this obscure the beautiful traits: but you have no idea, Horace, how

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really fiendish the disposition of the South towards a foe is likely to be: it's hard lines there to be anybody's enemy."

     I asked if all Southern people were not prone to desperate anger? "Yes, that is true: I can see it: how it should be in Europe—in Asia: but this is not the same thing—not at all: our Southern people would go to a length of animosity not even manifested by the animals. It was long ago said by naturalists, believed by them, that some of the animals, smelling a body, finding it dead, would pass away, leaving it untouched. Some naturalists believe this yet: think, then, of the prisons South—the guerillas." It was "too much." "I always had means of hitting upon information upon these lines: I met many of the boys: they were ready to talk: would confide in me: then, besides, I had a great penchant for all that—for inquiring, hearing: the boys would come to me: of course they made much of small matters—often stretched a point—but after allowing for all that, much is left, enough is left." W. showed great feeling in the discussion of this, but no bitterness, for he ended it all in a smile: "They will come up—we must have faith: they will see right in the end."

     5:45 P.M. With Bucke in Philadelphia throughout the afternoon. To Camden together. B. went to W.'s direct. I met Harned up the street, he to his, I to my home. Afterwards both to W.'s, where we had arranged for a hack to come to take us to the ferry. We were to have dinner at the Bellevue. When I got to W.'s, B. was there but H. had not yet arrived. W. was reading Doctor Hood's letter re O'Connor's condition. According to this summing up O'C. was just where he was when we saw him. "'I am glad (?) to say, in his usual condition,' are Hood's words." W. pointed to the interrogation. "What does he mean?" Bucke said: "Hood means that it's worse than death to live on that stage." W. said nothing to this beyond his customary "ah!" Read the letter with extreme deliberation. Hood wound up by saying he wished to be remembered to W. Said W.: "What does he mean? what does he know about me? Did you speak to him?" Bucke said Hood had practiced thirty years in Washington: probably he had seen W. "Yes," said W.: "perhaps he heard through Doctor Drinkard, too—my good Doctor there." As to O'C. Doctor said: "Any permanent change in him is doubtful, even if desirable." W. said: "I can't bring my heart to say amen to that."

     W. explained: "As Lippincott's seems to have announced something

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from me about Elias Hicks I shall set to and reel it off."
He had forgotten that he had promised this to Walsh some time ago. Osler had examined W.'s urine and found it perfect—without any deleterious quality whatever. I asked W. if it did not help him to know that. "Yes," he said, dubiously: "if it's true!" But Osler's message coupled with Hood's elated him visibly. Tom said to B.: "Will you keep a bottle of that in your Whitman collection?" All laughed, W. included. Then W. added: "I used to tell Doctor Baker when he was here that the commode there, across the room"—pointing— "would make a poem, too—a fine poem: the suffering, the release." I said: "That makes my definition of heaven apropos." W. asked: "What's that?" And Bucke cried: "Yes: what is heaven?" Harned said: "I'd like to know, too." I said: "Heaven is the first moment after constipation." They roared. W. exclaimed: "That's spiritual: that's an inspiration!" Bucke broke in: "I think it's damn physical: but it's an inspiration, nevertheless." Harned said: "I'm ashamed of you all: what'll you be saying next?" W. looked over at Tom: "Do you think the world would accept my poem?" Harned laughed gayly: "The world may sometime forgive you your other poems but it would never forgive you this." But W. was stubborn: "I don't know, Tom: not now, of course, but by and by when it comes into its right senses about all such things: the time will come when even that will be assented to, understood." He quoted Millet to the effect that to the right person everything was subject to noble treatment. "I think that very profound." Then: "I was just saying the other day that Leaves of Grass could only be thoroughly understood by nurses, doctors, the mothers of children." Bucke asked W.: "Did you ever come upon that Nineteenth Century piece on Millet?" At one point B. spoke of W.W., Millet, and Wagner as "the three men who stand out beyond all others in our time, each in his own line." W. said: "Maurice, write that out—make about ten lines of it—when you get back: I want it: it sounds to me very deep cut: it tickles my vanity." Then remarked of Millet: "It seems to me this will all be adjusted fifty years hence: Millet is one of the men—our man, surely."

     Ed came up to tell us the carriage had arrived. W. thought Ed had come for his pay, which he handed to Ed. "Yes, you can take it." Picking up a bottle of sherry, Harned said he gave Doctor "fair warning" that he was going to fill W.'s bottle for him. W. joked a

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great deal about it—said he "repeated the warning" that he would drink it—spoke of its "going to the right spot"—Harned continuing: "I have been for a long time waiting, not knowing whether to send the bottle or not." Harned would see he got more of the sherry. W said, pointing to the table and looking at the Doctor laughingly: "And there's the bottle: I will send it up to Ed to be refilled." Harned protested: "No—I have bottles"—but W. lifted it by the neck: "No, I'll send this, Tom, it's bigger: fill it to the neck." Then turned with mock deference to the Doctor: "I use it very tenderly, Doctor, I can assure you—only now and then: a swallow and a half a day." "It all lays here, Maurice: to know when to do a thing, when not to do a thing." This half swallow convulsed Doctor—W. continuing: "Yes, even that, a half swallow: I wait for the right time, then take it that way, lightly: I never do it but with fear and trembling, for I remember all your warnings: but when I get the wish—into the deglutition state—I take the sip: take it right out of the bottle. You know, I like a drink from the bucket. The other day when I sent word down to Mary that I wanted a custard I directed that she make it in the big mug." He asked: "Where are you all going?" And when told, "to the Bellevue—Harned's going to set 'em up"—he laughingly added— "as Sarey Gamp says, 'I quite enviges you!'" When I was going out the door he said: "It's good news all along the line!"

     10.30 on my way back passed 328. I did not intend to go in. Ed happened to be standing in the doorway. Mrs. Davis was back in the kitchen—still up. I said to Ed: "There's a dim light in Walt's bedroom: is he all right?" Ed said: "Yes: he's only later than usual. He read long after his usual time in spite of feeling well. He told me he felt much better after you people were here in the evening." I asked Ed: "Do you feel alarmed about his condition?" Ed said at once: "Not at all: he'll live some years yet: he has ups and downs but nothing since I came to make me feel that he's going to light out in a hurry." Bucke is more doubtful. "While he may last, the chances are all the other way." W. himself said as to his own prospects today: "I am aware that I only live from day to day: I make no faraway plans—I do not risk anything on my mortal future: I feel my way, sort of—not, however, in fear, but in caution: I am ready for whatever may happen."


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