Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, March 21, 1889

     10.30 A.M. W. writing a note to Harper Brothers who have asked permission to print My Captain in their Fifth Reader. W.'s answer affirmative. Did not refer to the pay offered in return. Said to me: "It's My Captain again: always My Captain: the school readers have

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got along as far as that! My God! when will they listen to me for whole and good? When John Swinton was here he said: 'Walt, I'm sorry you ever wrote that damn poem!' I said to him: 'I am, too, John, but there's no help for it now: let's resign ourselves to the inevitable!'"
Gave him a list of the fund contributors. He asked it. I did not stipulate the amounts contributed. He said: "I wish to study it." Handed me a postal. "It is from Nelly: bad news from O'Connor!" Further vomitings: weakness. W. murmured: "Poor fellow!" turning to me: "What he seems most to need is a skilful able-bodied man—a nurse. There is work in the world: there are people to do the work: we can't get people and work together. What's the cause of it? Every day we read long accounts of people without work—thousands of them. There's something rotten in Denmark: what is it? If some of this great treasure could be made available: if, if: what's in the way? There's something rotten in America, too!" I said: "Walt, you don't want me to talk of the labor question, you've got it right there: you're talking of it yourself!" He didn't say no or yes. He only said: "There's certainly something: something crooked: some snarl: will we ever know what it is?" I said: "I have told you what it is." W.: "I know you have: but what is it?" That's the sort of evasive way he drops into when he's dodging discussion. He explained that Nelly had written of some man they used occasionally "but William prefers me when I am about: he does not take kindly to the services of any one else."

     Discussed the pictures. "I call the figure a success: it grows on me: the mysterious photograph: the reproduction is clearly what I aimed to get." His comment was various. "I never wore a stiff hat—what they call a plug hat: this picture couldn't be anyone else: it's me—only me: but how, when, where, what, God only knows! Can a man by searching find God? can a man by searching find the origin of a picture of himself? It seems incredible that this picture would have been taken and I not know it, but this seems to have been such a case: it is so thoroughly characteristic, too—that adds to the confusion—makes it worse confounded." The large head did not satisfy him. "I could not tell why but it falls short of the photo—does not appeal to me: yet we must not complain: the process is a gamble: we've got to take our chances." I said: "It is like putting a seed in the ground." "Yes," said W.: "and taking it all in all we

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have been very fortunate: three out of four have been hits: the seed has produced after its kind: first, the November Boughs picture, which I have always regarded as a hit, then the title page, which was highly successful, now this figure—this unknown known."
I said: "We have reproduced many things but never an O'Connor: why shouldn't we have an O'Connor?" W. said: "Johnston has a thing in tow which would excuse this: a book of me and my friends—portraits, text: did you know about it?" Bucke had spoken to me of such a design by the New York World. Was it the same? W. said: "Probably: I may have got the wrong notion: I offered to help with portraits as far as I could: I did not feel enthusiastic when Johnston spoke of it, though promising my coöperation." No word from Bucke yet. "I shall write by and by—off towards evening." I got up. "Wait," he said. Reached to the table. "Take this with you: put it among your O'Connor letters." I asked: "Where do you turn up all these letters?" He said: "They are scattered about here among the papers: every time one shows its head I say to myself: That's for Horace! That's the way it happens you get them." Then after a pause. "Of course there's more than that to it: our partnership involves it: there is sort of apostolic succession in it—a laying on of hands: you will make use of these things when I am beyond using them: if: that if carries a lot along with it: for if the world finally says no to Walt Whitman, then all the treasure you have hoarded goes to the dungheap!"


Washington, D. C.,
Sept. 18, 1883.

Dear Walt:

I have your postal card of the 17th, and enclose the article from the Nation—an infamous article. I would give a great deal to know who is the writer. Is it not possible to find this out?

You mention it as in the N.Y. Evening Post, of which the Nation is the weekly issue, though without containing all the matter. So I am not sure that this libel was in both papers.

I also enclose a press copy of my reply, and of the note I subsequently addressed with the Ms. to the Times. Montgomery wrote me a very kindly note, saying that the Times editor wouldn't print my article for "professional reasons"—which simply means, I suppose,

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that dog will not eat dog: or that one member of the Journalistic condatien [condition?] will stand by another in his iniquity.


When I read the article over just now, it seemed a little better than I at first thought it. I was quite ill and weighed down with lassitude when I wrote it—spurred only by my indignation. Upon its return from the Times I had a vague wandering notion of sending it to The Critic, as my blue pencil memorandum on the first sheet indicates. But I suppose it is no use. I felt rather deterred by the remembrance of Gilder's unfriendly sport at me when I was fighting the contemptible clergyman, Chadwick, and was so clearly in the right. I had thought of him previously as a friend of yours.

I also enclose a slip from the Nation which shows Dr. William Hand Browne in the noble and honorable light of trying to edit out of poor Lanier's silly lectures, the little praise he had bestowed on you—an effort baffled only by the right instincts of the poet's widow. What a lot of hell-devils the literati are, to be sure!

Send me back the slips some time.

I am glad you saw Marvin. He is the best of friends, and is firm in the faith.

I hope to get away for a few days soon. I am still in charge of the office, and much burdened. More anon. I got your curious Shakespeare letter. Is he crazy? Au revoir.

Faithfully,

W.D. O'Connor.


     W. was greatly interested in two things in this letter. He said: "It would not have been possible for a man of the delicate literary nurture of Gilder to take very kindly to a man so elemental as William." I said: "He took to you: you are elemental: how do you explain that?" W. said: "Do you have an explanation for it?" I said: "You are conservative in manner, and radical in matter: William is radical in both." W. said: "That's a good way to put it: I shouldn't wonder but that hits the nail on the head." Again: "William is way ahead of the literary crowd: he is prophetic, with a dash of fight in him—more than a dash: look at that sentence in the letter: 'What a lot of hell-devils the literati are, to be sure!'—severe to the limit—yet true, too. Now: would I have said the same thing in the same way? I might have but I'm doubtful. That's the sort of thing in William that the other fellows never get used to." I said: "Most of

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the literary leaders are so much more interested in style than in revelation that William's verbal transgressions are regarded by them as unforgivable."
W. said: "You say that in a way to call for my ardent amen!"

     5 P.M. W. eating his dinner. Half apologized for disturbing him. W. dissented. "No: it's all right: I am nearly done: sit up near the fire!" Bathed today. Was massaged. It brightened him considerably. McKay yesterday had a customer for the big book. He looked at the signature. "It's not genuine," he said. McKay assured him it was, but the man was not convinced. "Get him to sign his name on some other page, then I'll buy the book," he said. Would W. do it? I asked him this yesterday. He laughed a little: "I don't know whether I want to or not: I want to sell the book: that's a temptation: I'd do anything honest to sell books." He finally said: "Bring the book over." I did so today. He had a good laugh over it. "I wonder whether I should get a notary to affirm the second signature?" Then: "Tell Dave we'll do this this time but can't consent to make a practice of it: we are anxious to sell the books, God knows, but only to those who will accept the authenticity of the signature as it stands: this fellow must be one of the skeptical sort: a confirmed semi-petrified business man: one of the doubters of everybody: one who throws cold water on people—is always expecting to be swindled, always being ready himself to swindle. It's a hell of a habit to get into. The preacher often will start out by saying: 'I know there are lots of people in the world who doubt that this is the Word of God, but they doubt everything'—and I don't know but he's justified in offsetting the mood of doubt, when it's a mere mood, a personal habit, by some such appeal." After a pause: "Though I do not want in any way to be quoted as an apologist for preacher-priest methods of controversy."

     W. wondered about sending a copy of the big book to the man who did the recent piece in the Chicago News. "Do you think there's any chance he would get it, Horace?" he asked. Then answered his own question: "I suppose not: yet I feel as if I owed him some greeting—his spirit towards me was so indisputably friendly." I said: "I'll write and ask who he is: that will open the way." W. said: "I do not object: suppose you do it: he deserves a book: I

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would be willing to send two, three, in fact—one for the writer—one for the editor."

     Gave me postal for O'C. and paper—with a letter for Bucke—to mail on my way home. "I wrote Bucke of my fearful inertia: that inertia is my worst failing now: I told him I could not explain it except by Sidney Morse's nigger: 'I supposes it is so because it was meant to be'—like that: then I put in brackets, in order to appease the Doctor, that I presumed this was so, in his phrase, 'up to a certain line.' Then it is like Morse's old lady, who said, 'It don't matter how the affair comes about—the chief fact is, that it is so.' Professor Shorey the other night at the Club spoke of "those splendid rebels—Shelley and Darwin." W. exclaimed when I repeated the phrase: "And splendid they are! and Darwin most splendid of all!" I spoke of the Darwin life—saying that I would soon get through with the first volume and bring it to him. He said: "I shall be glad to see it: Darwin was a vast great man." When I alluded to Darwin's supposed lack of facility in composition, W. said: "I can hardly believe that: I have always thought the opposite: thought (from all I had read from him) that he was grandly simple—had the sweet directness of a child: that his style was as natural as the bursting of a pea in its pod." "And yet that very simplicity has been his power," continued W.: "we may say that there is nothing beyond it: it is the enclosing secret."

     Dwelt upon O'Connor's helpless condition—insisted that "moving would do no good—only harm." "I wrote him the usual postal, hardly knowing it was worth while—whether he could read or hear it: but I supposed it best to continue. Poor O'Connor!" "It is good," he said further, "for a fellow to sit down content on his own dunghill: for O'Connor: to be with your own folks, your own things: there was a young fellow, thirty-five or thereabouts, a man of wealth—he wrote me several times to come along, live with him till I died. The invitation, the insistence of the man, the words of the letters—he wrote several of them—touched me deeply: but I could not consent: said so." I interpolated: "But it was generous." "Yes, indeed: noble: but I remembered that vulgar simile, 'my own dunghill,' and stayed. Indeed, Johnston has himself—and his daughters, too—opened his own home to me, upon the noblest conditions. Johnston is fine: he is a New Yorker: he is an American of

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Americans: and he is an old friend, too, as indeed, the whole family is also."
I said: "You remember what Joe Gilder told you: that it would be so nice for you to be in New York, so the literary fellows could step in and see you?" W. laughed heartily: "Well—I can assure you there's no inducement in that—not a bit of it." I said: "In spite of all the bitter things that have been said against you you have been fortunate in your friends." "Indeed, indeed, that is true—no man more so: I have said it: it more than makes up for all the rest—much as I have been forced to endure."

     W. talked about portraits again. He says he still dislikes the head, but is more than ever pleased with the figure. No clue to its origin yet? "None at all." I saw Brown today. He may have a new plate made. W. said: "That sounds very fair: I like to hear him talk like that." W. said: "It quite shames me that I can't locate the picture at all—not even the cut of the clothes." I said: "It couldn't after all, Walt, by any contingency, be someone else—do you think?" He laughed: "I'm afraid not: it's unmistakable: that's what makes my ignorance in the matter so inexcusable: did God ever try his hand on another like me? one Walt Whitman should satisfy the curiosity even of heaven!" "Joking aside, Walt," I said, "have you any idea when you owned such a suit of clothes?" "No idea at all," he replied: "no more idea than you have: it might have been before the flood, for all I know about it: the suit was a beautiful misfit, as usual, eh? wasn't it? That's what hits me so strong about it: its calm don't-care-a-damnativeness — its go-to-hell-and-find-outativeness: it has that air strong, yet is not impertinent: defiant: yet it is genial. But the puzzle, who did it, and when? still remains." I said: "We surely have another mystery to add to the man with the Iron Mask!" He laughed heartily. "We have that, sure enough: it's a devilish, tantalizing mystery, too: I hate to give it up!"

     W. handed me a package marked: "Walt Whitman's autographic Ms of Passage to India given (March 21, 1889) by W W to Horace Traubel Camden New Jersey." He said: "You see, that was the package: I have done it up carefully: you can take it just as it is, pigeon-hole it, put it away in your trunk: it is one of the war-time manuscripts—written at Washington, I don't know just what year printed: it was first in Leaves of Grass, then in the little green booklet." It was tied up in red tape. Included with the manuscript was a home-made note book containing the ground plan or the sky plan, of the poem. He had written on the cover page of the note book: "Passage to India. Completion Pacific R R 1869." I will copy off the inside matter absolutely, indicating the pages by a blank line.

     
? quite a long piece—
The spinal Idea That the divine efforts of heroes, and their ideas, faithfully lived up to, will finally prevail, and be accomplished however long deferred

[pencil] put this in literally [ink] Every great problem is The Passage to
India [two hands pointing to it]
Columbus? type of faith? perseverance

[pencil] O the free, clear
O the way! the free, clear passage!

[ink] At outset draw a simple picture of the setting out of the
Columban expedition of discovery—
? the voyage.

[ink] In course of piece, a geographical and other description of the country through which the Continental Road passes in the States, (then names,) the fauna, mountains, rivers, &c.

[ink] Bring in the discovery of the route by Cape of Good Hope [Asks himself, "who was it by?" then pencils that out, adding De Gama's name] Vasco de Gama?
[pencil]? And I saw the lesson. A main idea is that ["great heroic" struck out] brave heroic thought or religious idea, faithfully pursued, justifies itself in time, not perhaps in its own way but often in grander ways.

[ink]? then at end
What else remains? The old one being attained, what new deeper problem? What other passage to India?
[blue pencil] a religious Sentiment—is in all these heroic ideas and underneath them.

[ink] Thou too, O my Soul, ["—what," "—hast th," "what is thy," cut out] takest thou passage to India?


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 400] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - To the mystic wisdom—the lore of old philosophy,
To All the limpid transcendental streams, their sources,
[pencil] The Vedas, with all their hymns and sacred odes,
[ink] To great and mighty Poems, the Ramayana, the Mahabarata.

[pencil] And you O my Soul?
["See" cut out]
["How long have" cut out]
Have not you and I long sought the passage to India?
["Sought the" cut out] Some isthmus sought—some fond and? strait Some Suez or some Darien Panama
? [what are the straits]

[ink] O Love! passage to India
Pride of man! passage to India
Then after the rest
Passage to India, O my Soul

[ink] make a fine, full, gorgeous picture of the starting out ((?) or landing?) of Columbus
also about Vasco de Gama
also of the Pacific R R route—its features—Geography &c &c.

[pencil] I see Columbus sailing out of port at?
I see—(then? the voyage is brief)
? ? open the piece with a lofty declamatory passage declaiming the phrase "passage to India."

[ink] Columbus set forth? from Palos Aug 3, 1492
he landed and with his great footstep imprest a new world
(12th. October 1492 he landed in America at daybreak)
Not to Castile and Leon, but to all the old world, Columbus gave a New World
see p. 158 Enc. Amer Vol VII
In old age poverty, dejection, humiliated and in prison
He was of deepest piety
portraiture of Columbus


     I looked this over before I left W. He said: "It's the top, bottom, all around, of the poem: its genesis and revelation: you can fill in the rest easily." I said: "I like everything in the poem but the thou's!" W. said: "I see: I have great respect for your objection."


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