Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, March 24, 1889

     6.20 P.M. W. looking well. Sat by the middle window, which he had thrown open. Reading in the dim light. The day had been fine: perfectly clear and very mild. People are throwing off their overcoats. I had taken a long walk trough the city, out Broad Street, into the Park, with Kemper and May. People everywhere enjoying the genial sunshine. W. said: "Your description is quite appetizing: you give me a taste of your own joy: I have myself absorbed what I could of it in my own secondhand way." Then he said: "I've got bad news for you." "About William?" "Yes: about him: I have had another postal from Washington: a bad one: pretty black: Nellie writes, quietly, conservatively: there have been more of the seizures—two of them—yesterday: one early, perhaps at daybreak or before: another later on, after ten—at the time she wrote (I think it was about half-past three) he was sleeping—sleeping quietly—for what end God knows!"


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     He turned to the window. The blazing sun shone in his face. He was aglow. There were tears in his eyes. "I can't get adjusted to it: the thought of our separation—of my personal helplessness: then my memory gets going: I am back in the past, living over old days again: oh my God! why has this cross been given me to carry!" This vehemence startled me. He quietly said: "If Doctor was here I should ask him what he thinks of the possibility of death ensuing sometime in one of those seizures." Bucke had said that exact thing to me. Such an end was to be expected. I repeated this to W. He repeated my phrases after me. "It is likely that that may occur any day? is that what he said?" And again: "Which means that we can only wait: that nothing we can do can push this cup from our lips: that we must drink the bitter draught sometime soon, whether or no. I struggle against my own inner convictions." Then: "I sent the postal off to the Doctor today: sent a word, a postal, to Washington: my Washington postal was mailed before I had Nellie's. As a general thing I avoid the pessimistic side: yes: I avoid even the dark"—saying again after a pause: "It's a curiously fine day—but a sad one for us." W. showed me Nellie's postal: "The message from death's door, as it seems to me." "In the same mail that brought me Nellie's postal there came a message from Hannah Smith, Mary Costelloe's mother, telling of the birth of Mary's second child." It was born on the tenth of March. W. said: "They come and they go: the procession is endless."

     There is Bucke's reference to the "harpooner" query: "I have found another misprint in L. of G. (I suppose it's a misprint) p. 145 'harpooner' is printed 'harpooneer.'" W. said again as he did yesterday: "This time Maurice is on the wrong side of the bar." I said: "I say, Walt, what is the wrong side of the bar? can't you get a drink from either side?" He laughed heartily. W. in good shape. Had some old letters for me. O'Connor, Marvin, and Redpath. "You will find them of value biographically. I gave you a letter from William some days ago in which he spoke of Marvin. You have had other Redpath letters: this is what there was of our correspondence concerning Memoranda of the War. Redpath was always my friend but always short of money: he was like Henry Clapp both in his wish to serve me and his inability to do so." I read W. Marvin's letter first.


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Washington, D. C., Feb. 16, 1887.

My dear Walt,

This morning I had occasion to call at the house of a Mr. William Brough who lives in a costly residence on Farragut Square and is a very pleasant, educated man—evidently of wealth. I saw there on the wall of his parlor a fine, large cut of yourself in a handsome frame. I found that he admired Drum-Taps very much. I mentioned the proposed pension for you, and he said that if you were in need of assistance he thought there could be no trouble in raising a purse and that he would be glad to take hold of the matter if it was thought advisable. If the pension is not authorized I will see him again about the subscription. [ "Yes: I put a quietus on the pension idea: it run counter to my blood!"]

Eldridge and O'Connor have gone to California to the place where Dr. Channing resides and have arrived safely. I saw them off two weeks ago. O'Connor, I fear, cannot hold out long but his place is kept open for him here. His trouble is induration of the spinal marrow. [ "No: he will not last long: it is about a year now since that was written: William is, alas! now about all through: there's little of this life left in him: his sands have about run out!"]

I have been dropped out of the government service to make room for a Democrat and am looking about here for something to do. Am thinking of starting a Bureau of General Information. Literary, Scientific and Political, at the Capitol of the Nation. The only question is whether I can subsist until the Bureau becomes a paying institution.

I enclose a paragraph I cut out of the Richmond, Va., Times. Let me hear from you. Wishing you health and happiness and long life I am,

Yours sincerely,

Joseph B. Marvin.


     W. said: "It's always wonderful to me how close together some of us get: how the violent opposition of others drives us into this tender personal relation. Marvin is one of our men." I said: "Yes: and there are more of our men in America than you are ever willing to admit: you have been endorsed here more than has been told in the story." W. said: "You have lately been advancing that theory with considerable

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vehemence, in season and out of season, until you've got me wondering if there's not something in it."
I said: "There's a lot in it: there's everything in it: I don't discredit the English fellows—but I don't want our fellows forgotten, either. You have had Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, Ingersoll, for instance, here: can they best that array of genius anywhere?" W. laughed: "Why, Horace, that was a speech: you are quite an argyfier: we may have to revise some of our notions if you keep on agitating. I remember Emerson said to me in one of our talks: 'You have won far more plaudits, have many more friends, Mr. Whitman, than you are aware of: you will be patient, I know: the world will come your way in the end because you have put it in your debt and such obligations are always acknowledged and met.' The gentle Emerson. He would lay his hand on my coat sleeve when he was about to say something: touch me sort of half apologetically as if saying, if I may be permitted!" After a pause W. said: "What about the O'Connor letter? will you read it?" I started at once to do so.


Washington, March 23, 1886.

Dear Walt:

It is a perfect shame I have not written you for so long, but I have been awfully lame and ill, and with a mind so weak and wandering that most of the time I have been actually unable to write. I now begin to feel a little better as the spring advances, though still greatly crippled. [ "That's another beginning of the end, Horace: that's when the damned disease was getting its first licks in!"]

I got your letter of last January (22d) and your card of Feb. 3d from Elkton, telling of your lecturing, at which proof of your activity I greatly rejoiced. I saw in the Tribune today that you are to give your Lincoln lecture in Philadelphia.

I wonder if Dr. Bucke got off. I had a letter from him some time ago telling me he expected to go, but have not since heard from him.

C.W.E. and I were intensely amused at your "amiable clerk with a pen behind his ear," as applied to Stedman's book. The hit is palpable, like Hamlet's lunge.

I am glad I sent you Nencioni's article. We are after it, hot foot, for I judge it must be fine. I made an effort to get it here, but could

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not find, however, where in Italy the Nuova Antologia is published, though probably it is Florence or Milan. Kennedy promises to help find the locale.


It pleases me greatly to hear that your eyes are all right or nearly so. Do take care of them, and beware of draughts—so grateful but so pernicious. Dr. Bigelow, our greatest physician in Boston of old time, used to say that the back of the neck was more vulnerable than the heel of Achilles, when exposed to a draught, and he always put up his coat collar when he got into an omnibus or horse car. [ "I'm afraid of draughts myself but I consider that draught business pure and simple rot. Some people are afraid to breathe for fear they'll catch cold."]

I heard yesterday that John Burroughs is coming down here. I shall be glad to see him, though I owe him a grudge for his late proposition to murder all the sparrows. [ "I guess John believes there's a providence in the fall of a sparrow!"] This gives points to Herod, and is worse than the slaughter of the innocents, because they were Jew babies and had objectionable little hook noses. [ "Rich, delicious! objectionable little hook noses!"]

The weather has been infernal here since January, and March is not much better. I hope the Spring, just beginning to open, may put new life into you.

Glad to hear of the English "offering," which I wish was much more. I wish we could get up a boom on your books. [ "We might as well get up a boom on mud!" W. laughingly exclaimed.] That McKay is a poor publisher. [ "He'll be a rich publisher some day, William, unless all the signs fail!"]

Wonders will never cease, and after all Houghton consented to publish my little work Hamlet's Note Book, a copy of which I hope to send you in a few days. Everyone else refused it. The prejudice against the Baconians is annoying. [ "Yes: so it is: and against some other people, too!"] The last publisher to whom I offered it (Coombes, of New York) although I proposed to pay the cost of manufacture, wrote in reply that he would undertake it, push it with energy, and do everything for it in his power, if I would only consent that his imprint should not appear on the title page!!! I never answered his letter.


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Write when you feel like it, and let me know if anything happens.

Always faithfully

W.D. O'Connor.


     The Redpath stuff I had a lot of trouble with. W. had so interlined it and so interlined his interlineations that the pencilled sheets looked like hopeless confusion. But I worked my way through it. He'd say: "Don't give up," laughing. I stumbled and fell and picked myself up again. W. said: "You're doing a good job: you are a worthy student." Then he laughed again. The enclosing envelope was imprinted as from the "U.S. Christian Commission Office," in Washington. W. had inscribed it this way: "letter to Redpath about Memoranda of a Year (publishers' announcement) sent Oct 21 '63." The first sheet contained his drawn design for a title page: "Memoranda of a Year (1863) By Walt Whitman." The second and third sheets contained his draft of a circular for the book. Everything was written in pencil—circular and letter. I'll place the circular first.

"Walt Whitman's publishers' announcement. A new book. Memoranda of a Year. Probably no greater year has ever sped to its close, in the world's history, than the one now about terminating. At all events the year 1863 is by far the most important in the hitherto history of America. And this book, with its framework jotted down on the battlefield, in the shelter tent, by the wayside amid the rumble of passing artillery trains or the moving of cavalry in the streets of Washington, in the gorgeous halls of gold where the national representatives meet, and above all in the great military hospitals, amid the children of every one of the United States, the representatives of every battle, amid the ashy face, the bloody bandage, with death and suffering on every side. An ardent book arresting many of the most significant things, flashes, stormy and quick, that characterize the time and the spirit and fact of the events all are passing through,—a book, indeed full of these vehement, these tremendous days—full of incidents, full of the blood and vitality of the American people,—a book, antedating from a mentality gestated amid the ocean life and cosmopolitanism of New York, with all the proclivities of Nationality, Freedom and real Democracy.

"Such is the new volume the publishers offer to the public confident it will prove all that the foregoing description claims for it."


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     W. asked: "Does that sound like bombast? I hate anything like bombast: I hate too much flag flying, hurrahing—such things: I have been accused of blowing my own horn: maybe I'm guilty—just a little bit: I don't stand too hard and fast for behavior: yet I go slow when it comes to the pinch: I don't want to practice self-exaltation. William used to say: 'Walt, you're entitled to it: nobody will do it for you: do it for yourself.'" W. smiled. "But suppose you read me the letter: do you think you can manage it?" It made me sweat to look at it. But I persevered. He broke in every now and then: "Don't give up!" "Bravo!" I asked him: "Do you think you could decipher it yourself?" He shook his head. "No: I know I couldn't: but then I expect you to do things with handwritings, even with my handwriting, that are impossible to me."


Dear friend,

My idea of a book of the time, worthy the time—something considerably beyond mere hospital sketches—a book for sale perhaps in a larger American market—the premises or skeleton memoranda of incidents, persons, places, sights, the past year (mostly jotted down either on the spot or in the spirit of what is narrated) seeing or hearing (I left New York early last December and have been around in the front or here ever since—) full of interest I surely think—in some respects somewhat a combination in handling of the old French Memoires, and my own personality (things seen through my eyes and what my vision brings)—a book full enough of mosaic but all fused to one comprehensive theory—one of the main drifts is to push forward the very big and needed truths that our national military system needs shifting, revolutionizing and made to tally with democracy, the people. The officers should almost invariably rise from the ranks—there is an absolute want of democratic spirit in the present system and officers—it is the feudal spirit exclusively—nearly the entire capacity, keenness and courage of our army are in the ranks—what has been done has been unavoidable so far, but the time has come to discuss the charge—have much to say of the hospitals, the immense national hospitals—in them too most radical changes of premises are demanded—(the air the spirit of a thing in everything, the details follow and adjust themselves).

I have many hospital incidents that will take with the general

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reader—I ventilate my general democracy with details very largely and with reference to the future—bringing in persons, the President, Seward, Congress, the Capitol, Washington City, many of the actors of the drama—have something to say of the great trunk America the West &c &c—do not hesitate to diffuse myself—the book is very rapid—is a book that can be read by the five or ten minutes at (being full of small parts, pieces, paragraphs with their dates, incidents, &c) I should think two or three thousand sale ought to be certainly depended on here in hospitals in Washington departments &c.


My idea is a book of handy size and form 16 mo or smallish 12 mo, first rate paper, (this last indispensable) ordinary binding, strongly stitched, to cost including copyright not more than thirty-five cents or thereabouts to make, to retail for a dollar. It should be put out immediately. I think an edition, elegantly bound, might be pushed off for books for presents &c for the holidays, if advertised for that purpose. It would be very appropriate. I think it a book that would please women. I should expect it to be popular with the trade.

Of course I propose the affair to you publisherially as something to invest in, to make out of (for both of us)—I take it it would be a very handsome speculation. Only it is to be done while the thing is warm, namely at once. I have been and am in the midst of these things, feel myself full of them, and I know the people generally now are too (far more than they know) and would readily absorb and understand my mem.—wherefore let us make and publish the book, and out with it so as to have it for sale by the middle or twentieth of November.

Walt Whitman.


     When I finished the reading I said: "Whew! that made me sweat: it was like a Chinese puzzle." He was playful over it. "By the sweat of your brow shall you earn your bread! You deserve a medal!" I said: "You are funny in two places: where you speak of the book as rapid and where you refer to it as 'a handsome speculation.'" He said: "Perhaps that wasn't just the word." As to the handsome speculation he laughed heartily. "That must sound worse to you even than it does to me, though even to me it sounds like a joke: but you see I too sometimes get way up in the air, as they say." Next, finally, I read Redpath's reply.


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Boston, October 28, 1863.

Friend W.

I have taken your proposition into consideration.

There is a lion in the way—$

I could easily publish a small Book, but the one you propose—to stereotype, advertise and push it—implies an expenditure that may be beyond my means. But if I can get credit, I may try. Whether I will or no depends somewhat on the printer's notions as to whether the book would sell.

Suppose you finish it and send it on: if I can't publish it, I will see if some other person won't.

This is the best I can safely promise you. If I can get one or two jobbers to read and like it, and they will make an advance order, or give a favorable trade opinion, the way is clear.

What say?

James Redpath.


     Redpath's note was sent to W. care of Major Hapgood in Washington. W. said: "The main factor in Redpath's letter is its friendly brotherliness—its personal rather than its publisherial fervor: he was always that way with me: the man came first on both sides: business was secondary." He said he had heard from Bucke. Picked up a letter and read: "I send you today a piece I wrote for an uncle more than thirty years ago about my old wanderings in the States 53-58. I do not know whether you ever saw it. If not it may amuse you for a few minutes. I promised Horace to send him a copy of my Saguenay poem but please tell him I cannot find one and fear they are all gone." W. said: "Maurice has dropped back among inconsequentials again: he came here, made his spurt, gush, splash—then retired to his native land again: I was hoping more would come of all that preparation: so much was put in the ground: the harvest disappointed me."


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