Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 465] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Monday, April 1, 1889

     11 A.M. W. had taken Ed's room. Mrs. Davis and Mrs. Mapes were dusting and scrubbing W.'s room. He called it "going to the execution." Remarked to me of the books on the shelves in Ed's room: "That's Eddy's work: he caught the disease that afflicts the women." Bad day. Rain, chill. W.: "And I feel according—miserable, as the darkies say: oh! how often I have heard that— 'my misery! my misery!'—down there in the South! It is so eloquent—direct, too: brushes aside all distractions"—swinging both hands— "goes straight to the point." No mail this morning— "at least, no letters at all, not one"—though there were papers: Transcripts from Kennedy and a copy of the Century. He called my attention at once (he was reading in the book when I entered) to an illustration in the magazine—in Kennan's article: a series of police photos of the exile for detective purposes.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 466] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Had not read much yet. "I feel knocked out." Mrs. Davis brought in Press.

     W. took from his inner vest pocket a written sheet of which he spoke: "Let me have a pencil: have you one?"—talking then as he went along, putting in commas, &c. "This is the little note for the title page which I am to sign: I think I shall let you take it to Ferguson today, if you choose: tell them there I like Leaves of Grass very well just as it is, but that if they know better, can make any suggestions, I'd be glad to listen to them as I did in the case of November Boughs: let them try it on." He said again: "Tomorrow or next day I will have ready for you the note for A Backward Glance." He had dated this note (prose: he at first thought he'd select verse) "May 31, 1889." Then asked: "If the paper has come get me a sheet of it, folded the size of our pages: bring it to me: I shall want to use it. Say to them that we propose a handsome volume: perhaps a shaved leaf: try to have them understand our purpose."

     W. said: "I can't get over that Samoan affair: it has horrified me: yet underneath it all I'm asking myself all the time: what business had we to be there?" Again: "I've been reading a newspaper story about Colonel Bob: it was about somebody he befriended: I had it here for you: it has been spirited away: Bob always seems to be befriending someone or other: he's no Christian, thank God! but he's a saint—thank God!" I said: "Burroughs said to me when he was here that he thought you and Ingersoll were the only Christians left in America." W.: "Did John say anything as extreme as that? I'm willing he should say anything he pleases about Bob: Bob can stand it: but I warn him to be careful what he says about me: I am a tender plant: I am easily withered." W. again: "The largest part of our human tragedies are humanly avoidable: they come from greed, from carelessness, from causes not catastrophic, elemental: with more radical good heart most of our woes would disappear." I asked: "What about radical good head? wouldn't that help some? Don't you think the trouble is more ignorance than viciousness?" He said he was "not inclined against the amendment." He asked: "May it not be that I include radical good head with radical good heart?" I said: "You only can answer that: I hope you do."

     I then asked him if he had never looked directly into the economic entanglements? how much so-called evil was economic pressure? He

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 467] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
answered: "I've never gone into that particularly: I have realized suspicions of it—especially with you here at my elbow giving me perpetual reminders: but on the whole, taking it for all in all, I am not informed in that direction—though perhaps I should be." I said: "You'll have to leave that to us: only, you mustn't count yourself on the other side." "What do you call the other side?" "The money side." He smiled. "Never on that side: I try to be just to the money folks: they are, many of them, very lovable, very human: I can't refuse to see that: as for the residue—for their accumulations, their possessions, their estates, their stocks and bonds—well, I have no respect for that as such: not the slightest: it's no more to me than mere dirt." Then he added: "But you have theories about all that which I haven't got to yet: you have gone beyond me: it'll probably have to remain left just there so far as I am concerned: I've got past taking up new puzzles." He said again: "You and William could have had great times over all that: he is alive, wide awake, to all the things that interest you so much."

     A Press reporter had got from Clifford yesterday an abstract of his Bright address. C. prepared it himself. But there was no sign of it in the paper this morning. W. said, "Sometimes we're lucky not to be reported." He said: "Go into the other room: warn the women: tell them I'm patient, very patient, but must not be tried too far—must not be trod upon!" Laughing. "I confess I look upon what they are doing with dismay: but what can I say?" I helped the two women myself. Was with them an hour. The confusion was great. Papers, manuscripts, books, clippings, everything, everywhere. He has prohibited their touching anything on or under the table against the east wall. W. said: "Mary says the time has come when the evil can be borne no longer." We even found stuff under the carpet: letters, sheets of written-over paper. God knows how they got there. The merely worthless paper was shoved into the stove. The letters, &c., were put into a big washbasket. In one corner we came upon a baby's shoe. We found a bunch of good postage stamps all stuck together—about three dollars' worth of one's and two's. Portraits. Some under our feet. Nowhere, however, the portraits we most wanted. "The idea of having my papers put to wrongs under the pretense of being put to rights appals me, but I must submit to my untoward fate." He could laugh over it. "I can be very stoical on occasion."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 468] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Everything was dusty. But there was no other sort of dirt. The stuff was mostly paper—nothing but paper. I picked up at least half a dozen of his war diaries from the floor. I found his Lincoln Lecture in the mess. Pieces, too, of the early notes of Song of Myself.

     7.50 P.M. Mary told me W. got tired sitting in the back room and they had to stop their cleaning before they were through. He sat in his usual place. He laughed. "Look," he said, sweeping arm around as if encircling the room: "Order, order, everywhere, and not a thing to be found! order in Warsaw, with everybody dead." I said: "It looks like a Sunday School: do you feel like a Sunday School teacher?" W. was resigned. "That's just what Tom asked me a few minutes ago when he was in: but it's all right: I do not object: it should have been done: something had to happen: it might have been something worse than this." He added: "The bother is, that I have felt like the devil all day: I have therefore done nothing—not even written my customary postals to William and the Doctor."

     Ferguson has not yet received the paper. Hamilton telephoned F. as to our credit. When I got over and looked through my pockets for W.'s manuscript I found I had left it home on the bed. W. had pasted up a page to illustrate his theory as to the margin. "That may give them an idea—but I mainly leave it to them." I broke in. "What nonsense, Walt: you mainly leave it to nobody: you want it your way and you'll have it that way though the heavens fall." He broke into a big smile. "How did you find that out? you're damned cute—too damned cute to live!" I said: "Come off your horse: you know you mainly leave it to yourself and to no one else: to yourself, not to them or me." He said quietly: "I suppose that's mainly so, Horace, but its not enough so to hurt." I said: "I didn't say it would hurt: I only said it was so." Then he continued: "We want the margin the narrowest that comports with decency: say this to Brown: tell him to cut it as close as he chooses: not as broad as he chooses but as close as he chooses: like the hair on the head of a prize fighter: close enough to get rid of superfluities but not close enough to expose the scalp."

     I told him of the stamps we had found. He took the tin box on his lap and examined it. Could not of course account for them. The two's were brown, indicating that they must have lain lost for several years. Said then: "It is wonderful how much of a man's income

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 469] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
is cast forth, eliminated, in the course of a year, by postage: yet I don't believe anyone ever suffers with the sense of having been injured or swindled in postage expenses. I know of nothing which so satisfies us all: yet I see it is proposed now to reduce postage still more—letters to a penny. I do not believe in it myself: I was not in favor of reduction from the three—but now that we have two, I am not in favor of a further change: it don't quite pay as it is: they have to make a small appropriation to cover it. The South has been a great burden on the Department: it is slow there: business cuts only a minor figure in the South: but it's coming on."
He added: "The penny would be all right if: that if is an acknowledgeable quantity: I should myself advise—as I advise in many other things— 'be bold, be bold, be bold—be not too damned bold!'" Asked me if I thought the inevitable tendency of cheapening was "to enlarge use." He rather "felt" it "might be so." I said: "The theory of the post office is not that it should pay financially but morally and spiritually." W. said: "I suppose you are correct, but it might be made a burden for the people to carry." "Yes," I acknowledged: "but a burden like that might become a joy." He nodded. "Quite so: the newspapers are given privileges which they are supposed to return in educational results." I asked: "Do you imagine that people will eventually do a good many things for themselves in the communal way?" He was quiet. I waited for his answer. "I never heard it presented just in that way: I shouldn't be surprised: perhaps: is it your notion that the post office is only a forerunner? that there is much to follow." "Exactly." "Well—it's a point of view that must be gravely considered: I can see that." He went no farther.

     W. asked me: "Have you seen The Critic, the last number—Saturday's? No? Ah! there was a bit in it about Wasson—a review, what-not, of his essays. I took it up today, intending to read it—for it seems to be worth reading,—but I felt like the devil: laid it down again. Do you get The Critic? The notice is favorable, on the whole: you will like it." He himself knew little of Wasson direct but "this seems to encourage my desire to know more." He added: "There's a group of men, writers, there in New England, of whom I should know far more than I do: I have been disposed in some ways to make less of them than is deserved: Emerson said to me once: 'You would find yourself much nearer them spiritually than you imagine':

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 470] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I had been throwing out some skepticisms: he acknowledged that some of them were warranted: he said that there was a certain amount of high-falutin went with the pose in some quarters, but he said I should not be alarmed or thrown off the scent by that: they were his words: 'alarmed or thrown off the scent': no doubt the gentle Emerson was right: I was not inclined then, I am not inclined now, to dispute him: when I read this piece about Wasson, who must have been an extraordinary man, my mind went back to the little incident with Emerson."
After a pause: "I can see, too, how you and Clifford have lately been making inroads upon my prejudices."

     W. asked me about Philadelphia. The architectural changes there. I described the new big buildings most of which he has never seen. The Drexel, Bullitt, Brown buildings. The new banks everywhere. Also more definitely the Girard building at Twelfth and Market.

     W. said: "We seem to have entered an age, an atmosphere, of trusts, banks, stocks, capital—an overwhelming mass of it—but I am not clear what it all means: not at all clear." I described the great number of rooms in the Drexel building. "But the greatness of that building—of any of them—will not come till rents are cheap: till cheap rents make them accessible." Then: "All would seem to betoken that there is a good deal of money somewhere—somehow gained: the trusts—the trusts? Oh! they are here: the trusts! and yet it is all right: we must believe it is all right: at least, we must believe that it is—and a thing that is, is, anyhow! and therein lies the seriousness of it always. Success? No doubt of it—success as far as that is success: but it baffles me to declare what it all means." "But America cannot halt with this: this is the mere show of grandeur: grandeur must abide in fact in quite other evidences." W. said: "If I get out as the weather grows milder I'll want to see these wonders: I'll get across the river: we'll go together: I want to see these miracles—these financial marvels." He said again: "The piling up of money in fewer hands—it has an ominous look: don't you think so?" But before I could answer he added: "I know you think so: that's one of your pet corns." Then: "What you told me of these banks, these vast structures, these movings of money in great masses, implies a menace with which we may have serious trouble later on—may produce crises in which our democracy itself will tremble in the balance."


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 471] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     I was talking with some people last night. I spoke of protection as a humbug. A young fellow there said to me confidentially: "Between you and me I think so too, but I wouldn't dare say so to the boss." W. was hilarious when I told him about it. "Ha! ha! ha! 'but I wouldn't dare say so to the boss!'" He slapped the arm of his chair. "How good that is! how much it illustrates! not only as against protection—also against lots of other traditions: if the truth were told, if we dared say so, many things we acquiesce in now would be destroyed: we don't dare say so to the boss—to the priest, to the statesmen, to the man who employs us! oh! how wide a swath that cuts!" Then: "There are the political, as there are the literary, bosses—the insisters upon rules, codes, reputations." The young fellow had said further: "In the office last fall they would get on to politics: I was bilin', of course, but couldn't say a word—couldn't open my mouth." W. listened again with the same intentness. He said: "It's the best story in a long time: and bilin', too! haven't I been there? haven't we all gone through that? had to keep our mouths shut—say nothing? just bile, bile, bile? letting the swells talk out, blab away, with their cheap inanities while we were dumb? Yes, it's a story whose meaning goes way beyond itself."

     Blake went home this morning. I sent Morse warm messages through him from W. and myself. W. said: "That was right: Sidney has a clear title to our utmost love." W. still immersed in the Stedman books. "I dip into them more or less every day." When they cleaned this morning all the books were put back in their box. This evening he already had three volumes out again. He complains of the cold in his head. "It has made me mentally sluggish."

     Asked me what I had done in town—then of the weather. It has been very stormy all day—especially since noon—the rain falling briskly and with little let up. I of course had the wettest of wet feet. W. laughed over it: "Do you ever wear rubbers? have you developed to that yet?" I said no. He then said: "There are thin rubbers—as thin, as delicate, as silk: they are easy, soft: have you used them?" Had he? "Yes, I have worn them." "But," I inquired, "did you wear them in the old days?" "In the old days? I think not—I know not." I argued: "It is best not to study clothes or diet too closely—to go too far in studying them: we should adopt your phrase, be bold, &c." He was amused. "I see that—I see its truth: I was quite reckless in

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 472] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
my earlier days. Whether that had anything to do with what came after—with my paralysis—I could not say."
I said: "I don't believe it had anything whatever to do with it." W. then: "To tell the truth, neither do I. Without having any particular theory to account for the breaking-up, I can, I think, see pretty clearly what brought it about: my good Doctor—Doctor Drinkard—(oh! he was very good—I think the best Doctor that ever was!)—Doctor Drinkard seemed to understand me well: he charged it to the emotional disturbances to which I was subjected at that time: I do not know that he exactly formulated it that way—laid it down as indisputable—but he looked on that as the one sufficient explaining cause."

     Talked of Washington. "Oh Horace, they were great, great years—tumultuous years! You could go now—get a glimpse of the truth still: not go as you did, that one day, but go for some days, for a week: go into the departments, with the people, go about everywhere. You might still take the pulse of that old thing: at that day Washington was the hotbed of intrigue: we were borne on and on—we would often ask, to what? wondering over the probabilities—what would finally come: full of dubious moods, upset by fears: the Government itself rocking with treason—honeycombed with villainy: the departments full of Secession: a sort of snickering venom on the one hand: infidelity, I may call it, on the other hand: the atmosphere was saturated with distrust: it radiated Confederatism. The expert clerks in the departments, the fellows along in the higher grades, the heads, the more necessary men, were most of them Southerners, or with proclivities that way." "These clerks were not removed: in fact, there was no desire to remove them: there was more cohesiveness (it is as much so today) among the clerks there in the departments than people knew or were willing to allow: then Lincoln was keen, circumspect, realized the dangers, pursued a conservative policy: temporized, as we would call it today: never did anything to aggravate feeling—to add to the already great enough acrimony."

     I said interpolatively: "As was shown in the McClellan episode." He said: "Yes, in that and in thousands of other affairs: incidents the true inwardness of which the world never has known or can know: Lincoln, the sublime, patient, Lincoln: putting a calm face upon events when down below all he was mad as hell—his whole interior being up in arms." He referred to the draft riots in New York.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 473] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Congress passed the law: the people there, or some people there, resisted it: they were abetted by the Governor—oh! who was he?" I suggested: "Seymour?" and W.: "Yes—that's the man: he was worse than the enemies at the front. There was a time when a wrong turn of the hand might have altered the fate of the nation." But Lincoln "was adequate: he was ready for anything." We must "try to imagine the emotional psychical experience" of those who "threw themselves into this conflict of emotional forces." W. said: "I was one of them."

     He doubted the story that Hawthorne was killed by the War. W.: "I don't know: I doubt if it fretted him much—or that much: not but that I respect Hawthorne." He said it was "in the Whitman breed" to take "these emotional entities hard." "My father was so before me: Jeff is the same—dear Jeff!" What were they in politics? "All Republicans, Jeff, George: all of us: we were originally Democrats but when the time came we went over with a vengeance: it was no role, no play, for us: we were at once what the church would call—what orthodox Democrats would call—deep-dyed heretics." I asked: "And at what time was it your father died?" "1855." "Just your entrance year?" "Yes." "Then he did not live to see any of your great work?" "No—and I don't suppose it would have made much difference if he had." "But," I pursued, "have none of your folks grown into an understanding of it?" "I hardly think so—surely not: they sort of accept me—do it as a matter of course—but with a feeling as though not knowing why or what I am: a feeling, a wish, that I might be more respectable, train more in accustomed lines—let myself be stitched in with the cluster of celebrities. Even today they look on me, I am sure, as untamed, stubborn, too much bent on my own ways—a curio of sort." He did not "expect of any of them anything in the way of enthusiasm or even reasonable acceptance." I asked: "Then there's not one in the bunch who can be regarded as being in touch with what you have written?" "Not one of them, from my dear mother down—not one of them: on the contrary, they are dead set against my book and what it stands for—or what they think it stands for. George could never overlook the Children of Adam poems: he has of course never understood them—I doubt if he ever really read them, though he says he did: he thinks them of 'the whore-house order,' as he has said to me: what mystifies him is the

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 474] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
fact that I wrote the poems: he finds it impossible to realize them as mine: he don't believe evil of me—yet the poems seem to him to be evil poems: it's quite a puzzle which he has told me more than once he absolutely gives up."

     W. gave me copy of etching by G.W. Waters, 1877. Also a photo. I took it away thinking it was a Sarony picture. When I got home I had some doubts. W. with folded arms.


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.