Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, March 28, 1889

     11.20 A.M. Met Blake and we went to W.'s together. W. reading Boston Transcript. We stayed three quarters of an hour. Talked of many things. W. calm, easy, strong. Considerable was said of Morse. Blake has seen a lot of him. W. said: "At one time a few of us here, a group here—I was one of them—had an idea of pooling together, a little each, setting Morse up in a shanty on the outskirts of Camden where land is cheap: putting up some sort of a comfortable shack for him to live in: with, say, a room about three times as large as this, almost three times as high, where he could do his sculpt work, big and little, without worry, hindrance, what not. We were serious about it—partly from selfish reasons: we would have

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been glad to keep him here: but no—it didn't work itself out: we reflected that after all Morse was not for this—that he could not be chained, cabined, to a place: that he must be free, that he must go where he pleases. This was the only thing in the way of having the plan crystallize: Horace here can tell you all about it: the only thing: but for that reason the idea would have taken immediate practical shape."
W. then looked straight at Blake: "And isn't Morse a bird of passage anyhow?"

     I spoke of Morse's studio at Quincy. I had visited him there years before. W. asked me many questions concerning it. Then: "My friend up there in Boston—the sculptor: do you know him? Bartlett—T.H. Bartlett: I think he is there still: a remarkable, virile, rarely farseeing sort of a man: well—he had such a place, refuge: I don't remember where it was: up to the north somewhere, maybe in the mountains: I must confess the idea of it was quite inviting: a place to work in, to do big things in: I have always had longings for something like it myself. It was our idea to make it possible for Sidney to be so fixed—but more powerful considerations intervened." W. addressed me: "Was it you, Horace, who told me a story of Frederick, the old Emperor? He knew a man who was the born, the constitutional, traveller: Frederick met him—asked him: 'Where will you go after this trip?': oh! to so and so: and where after that? and still to so and so: and where after that? oh! to so and so again: and to so and so: and to so and so: till Frederick finally said to him: 'Well my friend, you are an old man of sixty now, and have an estate: I should advise you to settle down on that and spend the rest of your days in peace.' Sidney was here: we were all the better for his visit: we love him—follow his wanderings with interest: but he must have his pilgrim journey out: maybe when he is sixty or so he may settle down on his estate."

     Sidney's "estate" amused Blake. W. divined his thought. "Yes: I suppose Sidney's estate will always be like castles in Spain." W. spoke of Chicago. "It never defines itself to me: leaves me always with an idea of its material eminence—its pork, its merchandise, its petroleum: haven't they petroleum there? I have always conceived of Chicago as the great entrepôt—the basis of supplies for that great western country." Blake spoke of the fruit and berry production of the Middle West. W. said: "Yes: I have looked into

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that: I am fully aware of its marvellous fecundity."
He "knew little" of Chicago. "I was there years ago—but many years ago: even then it was only by the way—a sort of stopping off."

     John Bright died yesterday. W. said: "Yes: I know of it: Herbert—Herbert Gilchrist—was here about this time yesterday: he brought me the first news of it. Then Herbert told me something else while he was here—something which I had not before learned, which the papers take little or no notice of: he told me Tennyson was down again—down with the gout, his old complaint." Then, tapping the paper on his knee: "There's a line or two in the Transcript here to the same effect—but only a line or two, giving no particulars: the trouble may be slight, may be serious: I suppose it is hardly known which: the paragraph is vague—perhaps intendedly vague: in case of sickness, vagueness, leaving a liberal margin for mystery, is after all best—more likely to hit the truth." This train of thought brought him to O'Connor. "There's William, too, Horace: there's better news of him today: better"—pointing to the round table: "Take the postal there: see what Nelly says"—turning then to Blake: "Do you know O'Connor?" Blake said no. W. then: "He is a friend of ours—a friend of all of us—in whom we are profoundly interested: he is very sick: we love him much: he has been a great light to us all—a solace: now he is down on his back—near the end: he had lately been attacked with dreadful epileptic troubles," &c.—not entering at all into William's literary, but sticking closely to his human, significance.

     Spoke of the new ministers appointed by the President—among them Lincoln (England) and Rice (Russia). "Who is there now? who will substitute for Rice on the Review? Redpath is abroad, too: that editorial job will go begging." W. added: "I suppose Smith will come next—Charles Emory Smith: he impresses me as a great blatherskite—a blatherskite of the first water: but he has been very steadfast to Blaine: he has stuck by Blaine through thick and thin." Blake asked some question about Blaine himself. W. said: "I wonder what he will do? We will be fortunate indeed if, somehow, somewhere, he does not get us into hot water: Blaine is one of the men—is representative of a big, perhaps dominant, class here—possessed with the idea that he must be doing something, as they say: that otherwise he is a failure: that they must be protecting

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something, somebody—American rights, for instance: rights of this, rights of that: rights against the pauper labor of Europe: a species of restless do-something no matter what the hell it is: that's the idea—the Blaine idea. It's a feeble copy of the British Micawberism: British humbug about British fair play, British liberty, Britain will always stand by its people wherever, whatever, whenever, so help us God! that sort of nauseating hogwash: that's Carlyle's word, I think: hogwash: it describes that British phariseeism: it describes our own Jim Blaine."
So he went on. "I must say I have always had a soft side for Bayard—the quiet Bayard: he has a sort of Quaker virtue—is unassuming, unblatant: he seems always to be saying: 'Now hold your horses: there—hold your horses: don't get excited: keep cool: there is no danger—suspicion of danger, even: everything is serene: all will come out well.'" But "that is not the party on top now." "The Blaine fellows adopt the gospel of noise: think that success, civilization, consists in making a great racket"—and yet— "I am firm in my faith that America will outlive all that—give it the good-bye at last."

     Reference to Song of the Open Road. Blake told W. how he used it in his New Year's service. It had been suggested by Morse's reading some extracts to B. one day. W. said: "I have wondered if in my work there is not too much of that." I asked: "Of what?" He answered: "Of indirection." Blake demurred. W. said: "It has often occurred to me that perhaps all through the poems I assume too largely the responding, sympathetic gifts of the reader." Blake again expressed his dissent. W. said: "I remember a story that is told of Southey—or some line from him somewhere—in which he says his ideal of pleasure, joy, was lying stretched on the lounge before a cosy fire reading the latest novel." And he added: "I would not like that to be the Leaves of Grass motif: I am hoping for a more dynamic result than that." Blake said: "You have got, you will get, what you hope for." W. shook his head: "I don't know: there is something to be feared: I am not wholly reassured. I, as I sit here nowadays, seek for the things that do not submit me to any sense of physical impulse—things that ease me, calm me down, subscribe to my personal comfort." I asked: "And you have the fire here, just now, too: but how about the latest novel?" This made him laugh. "I'm afraid I can't go that."


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     W. was in such good condition he did the major part of the talking. Blake sat on the sofa opposite. I floated more or less about the room. W. took a copy of the butterfly portrait from a package and autographed it for Blake. Blake scrutinized it. W. explained: "Yes—that was an actual moth: the picture is substantially literal: we were good friends: I had quite the in-and-out of taming, or fraternizing with, some of the insects, animals: could easily get on good terms with birds, toads, pigs," &c. Here he slightly laughed. I asked: "Was the picture taken so? had you a photographer ready substantially for the picture?" He recognized my skepticism. "Yes," he said, humoresquely: "substantially so: it was about that way: that was the amount of it."

     Blake referred to Emerson. W. said: "He was my friend—and yours, too, eh? No? Emerson says somewhere that man needs no protection from any devil save the devil within himself: it is beautiful to be able to live, act, with that in view: I know what it means to me: it would save the world from a lot of its codes, politicalisms, such abuses." Then: "I used to charge Emerson (it was the one single charge I ever had to make against him) with culture—submitting too many things to the literary measurements: but nowadays I am not so sure my complaint was justified: I feel half inclined to retract it: it no longer satisfies my sense of justice." I put in: "And yet Emerson never let himself go: wouldn't he have been quite different, larger, if he had let himself go?" W. said: "Maybe: but it would be useless to discuss it: the fact remains that he couldn't let himself go: letting-go was not an element in his character." I suggested: "He let himself go in the Leaves of Grass letter and he let himself go when they hung John Brown." W. nodded: "So he did: but those moments stand out as being exceptional." Then: "But we mustn't say anything that sounds like a criticism of Emerson: he is chambered in our holy of holies."

     W. wanted to talk business. I told him I'd be back again after lunch on the way to the city. I left with him a sample sheet of paper containing a sample printed page. Walked with Blake and Corning to the ferry. Blake could not have happened in under better conditions. McKay did not come over yesterday as promised.

     2.30 P.M. W. sitting by the middle window reading Boswell. Said at once: "Dave has been over: he left with me a hundred and

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fifty-five dollars—fifty-five for six months' settlement, royalties"
—and after a little wait— "which is little enough: fifty-five dollars, a hundred and ten dollars a year for the two books: God save us from starvation!" Laughed. "If that was the be-all of a man's income he'd fare badly, wouldn't he?" He had signed the picture for Dave, who took it away with him. "When I opened it I saw at once how different it is from our poor copy: how more decisive, virile: with the yellow age, too, to give it a verity, charm. All that is naturally gone from our reproduction—or most of it"—but, "I am quite well aware that this is unavoidable: it is not so palpable when the pictures are not seen together, contrasted"—and yet— "I am perfectly satisfied that we have a fairly good result in our copy: it is not what we could call a failure." I told W. that Brown was not willing to lose all the money on the rejected plate. "He says he is willing to make another try: if you won't let him do that then you should assume at least part of the loss." W. stubborn: "I will tell you what the thinking of a day or two will bring forth." As to bad blood: "I have never had the thought of it—not from the first: Brown has treated us beautifully."

     Bodenstedt's seventieth birthday is approaching. W. spoke of it. He asked me what I knew of B. Spelled the name out to see if he had it right. Asked what my father thought of him. Was he familiar with B.'s work? "Not at all: I read that paragraph in the papers somewhere: was it in The Critic? It aroused my curiosity: I suspect that he's a man I should know something about." He said again: "I miss a lot through not knowing German—but that might be said of not knowing other languages, also: the German, however, the Dutch, the northern, lethargic languages, the Scandinavian (Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish), somehow appeal directly to me—hit me where I'm heaviest, solidest"—here he laughed: "I don't think I've stated that very clearly, but you know what I mean: I am not a scintillator, I am not a fire-worksy man: I take better to quietude, to the inertia of large bodies: the German gives me the ground under my feet. That may be a prejudice, based upon nothing: still, that's the way I feel about it." Then he added: "The German literature, even in translation, is somehow my own: I am at home with it—readily adjust myself to its spirit. Now why do you suppose that is?"


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     I read W. a passage from James West's letter of the 26th from Boston to me. W. said: "He's the editor of The New Ideal, eh? Yes, read it: he's our ilk: God knows we're scarce enough: we need all who are willing to be quoted on our side."


"It will be worth while for you to call on Walt, just to tell him of the following: A half hour ago a gentleman called at the office here to leave his subscription—his home is Arlington, Mass.—and while we were talking of the new ideas of many things, we spoke of 'death,' and I quoted to him from Whitman, to this effect, 'There is nothing I am so much at peace about, as I am about death.' This led him to tell me that at the funeral services of his wife, about a month since, the consolatory and aspirational readings were not from the Bible, as of old, but almost wholly from Walt! And I said to the man, Amen! He made the selections himself, for he is a lover of and believer in our good old friend and helper, Walt. At the very moment his wife was dying, that line of Whitman's, 'We two together no more,' flashed over him: and the brightness and hope of our poet cheered him through all, and led him to make the funeral of such a character that, after it was over, the friends and neighbors all said, although they knew he loved his wife most dearly, 'Why, it was a party we have attended, and not a funeral!' He is a prominent man—by name Alfred Norton—and his wife was a girl-companion and life-long friend of Mrs. Mary A. Livermore, who spoke at the memorial services."


     W. much moved. "That is the best, the most touching, testimony—a salutation from the unseen, unknown: it seems so close by, so immediate, so intimate." I said: "Clifford uses you and Bob at funeral services almost regularly: he often reads from your book: he don't say it's from so and so: he just reads: then people come up and ask him: 'Where did you get that beautiful scripture?' and he says, 'Oh, from Robert Ingersoll,' or 'Oh, from Walt Whitman'—which often flabbergasts 'em!" W. laughed. "Good for Clifford! we seem to be in good hands!"

     I asked W. if Dave had said anything further about the big book. "No—nothing at all." He said again: "I am impressed with the fact

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that Dave is personally as well as commercially friendly to me: I don't know how far that goes, but I am inclined to trust myself to it."
I said Dave appreciated W.'s inscription in the book. W. laughed. "Does he tell anyone that? They used to say—some of my friends—that all the babies of the land were Walt Whitman's babies: and the sweet babies—oh! they are my babies: I do take to them: they are like the first snow, the first blade of grass, the first anything—unstudied, unelaborated, untouched by rules." Again: "I am sure that is so—what you say of Dave. I have heard of a salesman, a big man, around at Porter and Coates': he spoke to Dave once of Leaves of Grass as 'the whore-house book': Dave was up in arms about it." W. grew serious: "But the man afterwards bought books from me—several of them—and, as the fellow said of his traducers in the story, I got my solace by charging him a damn good price for them."

     W. has been looking up the pictures to be mounted. Tied what he has found together. "There will be three sets." I asked him what price he would put on the birthday book. Five dollars. "Yes, I have settled that: I shall not spare expense in producing it: then we may ask the five with good grace." Was he feeling any "financial twinges"re the big book? He laughed. "No financial twinges: none whatever: I am not dissatisfied now that we have about concluded that other matter: I am commencing to realize the fine points of the first cover: as to the money—well, let that come or not come: I don't see that worrying will bring any customers to us or drive any away." W. tried the paper sample I had left with him. "It looks as if this would do." Thinks he will not use the lines "Come, said my soul," for autographing, but will look up "something three or four lines long only" placing this on the title page.

     8.05 P.M. Found W. looking over papers. "I have felt mighty well—for me—all day: I've kept myself busy right along doing one thing or another." He has been trying to get the unmounted photos together. "I've been rummaging into the nooks and corners." Would he have all he needed? "There are almost enough on the table now except in one of the bundles: I have more of them too, somewhere, but I can't just put my hands on them. In the other room there, while I was sick, Mrs. Mapes put things to rights, as she calls it, which means putting them where I can't find them: formerly I could

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go in there any time and reach my hand instanter to anything I wanted, but now—oh Lord!"
He was good-natured enough over it.

     W. said he liked Blake. "I was very strongly impressed with him." I referred to his light physical build. W. said: "I noticed it: and do you know—did you remark it?—he looks much like our Symonds: as we used to say on Long Island, favors Symonds—favors Symonds very much." He pointed to the big Symonds picture. "Not so much as Symonds is in that: more as he is in other pictures I have."

     Discussed paper. I saw Hamilton, who had offered to drop to fourteen cents per pound. Found from Brown (at Ferguson's) that we needed precisely what Hamilton had—ten pounds. Dave told them at Ferguson's regarding the big book that he had not been consulted—that he might have given us a point or two on it if he had. W. said: "No doubt, but—," He smiled. Then: "When I look over the whole field myself, see how things seemed to hitch so naturally together—no snag anywhere—I consider that we have achieved a real success: I don't commiserate, I congratulate us—notwithstanding Dave." "It is very significant that we have made a hit—hit even with the cheap cover." "As you have well said, it is the characteristicality of that cover which appeals to me. It is interesting that Aldrich is well-pleased: Aldrich, who sees the book, must have one—Aldrich, so dainty as almost to be a Miss Nancy, though not that, but really a very manly fellow." "And there's Stedman, probably, though I don't know—have not heard from him." Then suddenly: "But how about our paper? How much does it make in dollars? Should we not get it at once?"

     Photo-mounter wants thirty dollars per thousand. W. said: "This looks like robbery on the surface—but then we have no right to look on the surface. I suppose this will be another case of throwing good after bad money." More pocket edition talk. "It is a whim of mine to have it out by my birthday: only a whim, people will probably think: but I am much set, determined, upon it." I remarked: "And by that time I hope you will get out—at least in your chair—and around the corner"—and W.: "Yes—get a sniff of the great outside! Oh! the joy of that! And the greater joy after a while of getting to the ferry! And greatest joy of all, getting wheeled on the boat! Oh! that will so intoxicate me, I'll want to jump overboard!" His whole form dilated as he spoke of this. It was a fine evening:

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some of the recent days have been of extraordinary beauty: he is much pleased with the prospect of a spring rally.

     I saw Wagner's The Valkyr last night. Gave W. impressions. He suspended his work—listened intently to what I had to say. I was of course warmly enthusiastic. At one point he exclaimed: "I know! I know! it must be so! must be. You tell it to me just as the Doctor did!" And again: "Have you a libretto? something quite good—full?" And: "Do you know of any good analysis of the opera—any thorough review, exposition, of it—of the music?" Had read the Press notice this morning but wished something more than that. Desired my libretto. "It's one of my regrets that the Wagner operas have never come my way—that I for my own part have not found it possible to indulge in them. I am quite well aware that they are my operas—belong to Leaves of Grass, to me, as we belong to them: they are an unmistakable entity of our treasure-box: your description of The Valkyr—do you call it that?—only serves to make my conviction more vehement."

     W. gave me copies of big book for my sister Agnes and Anne Montgomerie. Wrote in the former: "Agnes Traubel—from her friend the author and her brother Horace March 28 1889." In the other book: "Anne Montgomerie, from the author W W and Horace Traubel March 28 1889." I suggested that W. should ask Bucke to send on the corrections B. said he wished to refer to W. for the new Leaves of Grass. I was to be down in the forenoon tomorrow to get portraits or anything else W. might have ready. Bucke wrote W. day before yesterday:

      "We absolutely must not look for any but the worst kind of news from O'C. The only consolation in the case is that he does not suffer—at least not much. Some day (quite likely soon) he will have a series of fits that will end his life. It is bad, infernally bad, but we must stand it."

     W. said "I am ready—and not ready: I am aware of what is impending—yet I throw up my hands: try to ward it off: I know we're in the presence of death—yet I want to think only of life: nothing that could happen would surprise me—even his complete return to life: yet I am frank with myself: I see that everything is drifting the other way—that we can't hold back the inevitable shadows."


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