Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, April 3, 1889

     11 A.M. Arrived just in time to find W. starting for the bathroom to get "a half wash" as he called it. I asked him: "Is your half wash any relation to your swallow and a half?" He laughed. "Oh! I remember: that swallow and a half mystified the Doctor so, didn't it?" He had thrown one of the windows open. He held his arm out for Ed to assist with. Advising me: "Sit down: take a book and read." Ed said: "You're quite a load." W.: "I shouldn't wonder: I feel like a load even to myself." Looked pale. I picked up an old blue scrapbook with gilt letters on. It was there on the table. It contained newspaper clippings—old ones—all about W. Some were as far back as 1860. One of that year, from the Springfield Republican, was very abusive. A Tribune letter from Burroughs there also. All new to me. Some were pinned in. Some were pasted.

     I sat there half an hour. Absorbed. So much so I did not notice

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W.'s return till I heard him shuffling in the turn of the hallway. He was trying to come back alone. I of course hurried to him. He took his usual chair by the window, which he asked me to close. He sank down utterly exhausted. Paler than ever. Closed his eyes. Breathed heavily. Silence for five minutes. Then he wearily opened his eyes. "Such trips seem to be too much for me: you can now see how much I have lost." He felt chilled. "The window beyond: isn't it up a trifle?" Sure enough it was. "I am supersensitive," he said: "I am so easily exhausted: I took the half wash: it has about done me up." He saw that I had been looking into the scrapbook. I mentioned the Republican piece. He didn't say it was Holland's, but he said: "Holland was a very venomous enemy of mine." Then: "I wish you would take that book sometime, if it interests you: you can read it at your leisure: it should go probably among your records."

      "I'm hungry for news from William," he said: "nothing has come." Read me a few lines from Bucke's letter of the 1st: "You will have lots of reading now with your seven volumes of Stedman's American Literature. I wish you a good appetite for it! No doubt, however, it will be well worth looking through. Want much to see what he says of you in it." W. said: "I have the appetite sure enough, Maurice: it's a very palatable work: I am finding it to be a great resource every day: it relieves the tedium of my imprisonment." W. started then to explain something he wished me to do with the photo-engraved plate, but ceased: "I cannot talk of that now: I feel like the devil: we will have that out by and by: you'll be back this afternoon or evening, won't you?" Woke feeling bad. Tried to brisk up with the bath. It worked the other way. "Before you go take this—put it into your pocket," he said. "It's an old letter: it's from Kennedy: he talks about producing The Poet as a Craftsman: it's a piece of history which we may properly include." Should I read it to him? "No: I can't listen: I'm done up: we'll talk about it maybe later on: I will expect you in again today." I left.


Belmont, Mass., Dec. 2, 1885.

My dear Whitman:

Maugre your wholesome advice (exc. that I put in a paper on you and Hugo—parallelism of your poetic technique, en-avant freshness, &c.) I have done gone and published my essay The Poet as a Craftsman.

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I set up every stick of it mesilf indade, and corrected my proofs, which, I'll have you know, were pronounced excellent by the other typos. You didn't know I had learned your boyhood's art, did you? Well, I have learned just enough to set up this and my poems (Heaven bless the mark—"poems" quotha—I wouldn't have you ever see 'em for a Scotch haggis, or a shining goldpiece—I published an edition of six copies of the poems!). Of this monograph I struck off three hundred copies. McKay (the publisher) (lucus a non) has two hundred twenty-five. You may tell him to let you have all you want at twelve and a half cents; retail price twenty-five.


I do hope you are feeling well, and pray fervently you may weather the winter very comfortably. How's the pony?

I am going to send copies of Poet as Craftsman to Bucke, Swineburne, Tennyson, Rossetti, O'Connor, Burroughs, Dowden (what's his address?), Gilder and O'Reilly. These of your personal friends I mention so you need not send duplicates. I am sick of the pamphlet by this time; but I believe in it still very thoroughly, and hope it will elicit new thoughts and better, and be a bugle-note for reform.

I read of the English gift of five hundred dollars with joy.

Affectionately, as ever

W. S. Kennedy.


     7.45 P. M. Found W. having an animated talk with Harned. Harned said to me: "Walt is telling me our American literature is hodge-podge of hodge-podge!" W. laughed. "I suppose it's something like that: that's the amount of what I was saying: but remember, Tom, this is not to be given away!" Tom said: "Given away! why, you've been giving it away yourself in one style or another for twenty-five years and more!" W. said: "Is it as bad as that, Tom? have I been as quarrelsome as that? don't you think you're a little severe?" Harned kept on jollying him: "You're the one who's severe, Walt: you're the one who's been making all the accusations."

     They had been talking of O'Connor. W. got back to the subject. He spoke of O'C.'s "literalness—genuineness"—and continued: "He is like a Baptist, a Methodist, preacher, who would go into the pulpit and insist upon the true Christ—the Christ as he was in the original story the long centuries ago: a sort of Savonarola, who would ask: 'But where is the Christian now? where is the Christian—is there one?—on the globe, anywhere, today?'" W. added: "That's

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my question, too: where is the Christian?"
I said: "Bucke points to you, you point to Bob, I point to you and Bob." W. smiled. "It's very exclusive." I asked: "How about Tolstoy?" W. assented: "Perhaps Tolstoy: but apart from Tolstoy, who? I don't know of one other—not one. This may sound extreme: no matter: let it go: it has sound justification: I say it with malice aforethought." As to the communism of Jesus: "The true Jesus? who, what, was the true Jesus: I can't tell: can you? The story, what we know of it, is so faded, so pale, as well as so manufactured (almost theatrical), that we can form no definite idea, no plausible estimate, of what Jesus can have been like."

     W. thought art had "falsified everything in connection with Jesus" "a species of theological art." "The Jesus we have been led to accept is a man painted on a canvas: he is the result of paintings painted from paintings: of more paintings derived from more paintings without end: where, with what, it commenced, who can tell? It defies extrication. Who was it?—some cute fellow—who spoke of Jesus as 'that divine tramp'?" Harned said: "Walt, you are a splendid sermonizer, though I don't know what pulpit you'd fit into." W. said: "I don't know, either: no pulpit: why, Tom, I don't ever seem to fit in any place outside of the pulpit." Harned said: "Wait till you're dead, Walt: then they'll concede that you fit somewhere." W.: "Fit in a grave, Tom: yes: after I'm dead: that'll be my last and only fit!" Harned said: "I had no idea, Walt, that you'd give such a ghastly turn to my innocent remark."

     W. dropped the jockeying here by saying: "Tom: tell me about the meter business: Doctor says everything would have been all right if you'd kept your engagements!" Harned cried: "Doctor be hanged! he's no sort of a business man: he's all right every other way, but as a promoter he's the deadest failure I ever came up against. My people refused to put up the money without adequate protection: I'd defy Bucke to go to New York or anywhere and raise money on the conditions he tried to exact here. Moreover, he had an imperfect machine: it needs a lot more done with it before it becomes mechanically negotiable: I don't know whether it's in Gurd to complete his invention—to make it trial-proof: there'll nothing ever come of the thing in God's world if those people don't change their notions of an organization and don't produce a better meter than they have

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today."
W. said: "That sounds reasonable: tell me some more: is there more to tell?" Harned went more into detail. W. wound up with the remark: "Tom, I say frankly, having heard both sides, that I'm afraid the Doctor got going wrong this time."

     I gave W. a slip from the Ledger containing an account of Winter's attack on Coquelin. W. then: "So this is Billy? and Billy on Coquelin? it is like the fly on the wheel of the locomotive planning to smash the locomotive!" But: "Leave it: I want to read it anyhow." Here was a bit from Wasson, in The Radical, 1867, out of a review of Emerson's May Day: "He is as aboriginal as Walt Whitman: nay, more so, for Walt has only taken the fig leaves, and in somewhat market manner, but the nakedness is here only that of a noble spirit, clothed upon with the grace of self-forgetfulness." I never saw this before today. W. went over it carefully. "It's a trifle vague: it is a thing to be lingered over, chewed upon—not dismissed hastily, in annoyance."

     Harned asked W.: "How about the civil service? Did you see how it has come out that Cleveland was after all a great reformer in that line?" W. said: "When the new people went in last month they discovered that Cleveland's professions were backed up by his deeds: the departments were full of Republicans left over. One of the best illustrations I know of is William's own case—his department: Kimball, the head there, and O'Connor: both radical Republicans: and there is Arnold Wilkinson, too, in the lighthouse service: I knew him well—and a good fellow he was, too: and many others: holding over, all of them, as if there had been no change at all." And as to Republican sneers at Mugwumps: "It seems to me the Mugwump is now the hope of the nation." I said: "It's a mild hope: I welcome it: but it's got no red blood to spare." W. then: "There you are once more, Mister Skeptic, taking my wisdom to pieces!" Then: "I suppose you see how the Press handles the Mugwumps? Can you tell me why I read that damned paper? The Press: the most ignominious of all ignominious examples of what a decent newspaper should not be! I cannot account for the fact that I read it day after day except by the thought that I haven't the energy enough to stop it: the Press: the most venomous, the most trivial, of all the so-called organs of public opinion: an illustration par excellence of the evil possibilities of journalism: to me the ideal of the traitorous, the superficial, the

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gross, the low—yet with a certain almost impressive brazenness of demeanor."

     W. had "skimmed through" Albert Shaw's tribute to John Bright in today's Press. Shaw quoted Bright's expression of regret that so many millionaires got into our Senate. W. said: "Yes, I read that paragraph—read it all: of course I liked it: but we may say of that, that we are as conscious of it as Bright was, and regret it as much or more: except that to us it does not present itself in the shape of a fear: we know what it threatens—but we also know that we will survive its terrors: we may have to go through some black darkness to get beyond to the light—but we'll get there." Harned said: "Walt, Mat Halstead was rejected." W. said: "Horace and I were talking about it yesterday: I said to Horace 'it makes Mat a great man.'" Had read the long Abe Lincoln story quoted by the Press from N. Y. Tribune. "It sounds all right: is undoubtedly authentic." A story of a widow for whom he got a pension. W. said: "Look it over, Tom: we want your opinion." While Harned read we said nothing. "You're right, Walt," H. said: "it sounds as if it had to be true." W. then: "I think, Tom, the crowning characteristic, the final glory, of our age is in this—that it is an age of inquiry: inquiry that enters everything—everything sacred or profane: with no spot anywhere but someone wants to explore it. I know every age is in some measure an age of inquiry, but I don't think there ever was an age that so daringly, so persistently, everywhere, insisted upon its right to investigate."

     W. complained of the "almost remissness" of Nelly in not "writing us oftener about William." "I don't get nearly as much as I want from that quarter (I don't say, entitled to): have been ignored mostly this whole week." Asked me: "What have you done in town today in our interest? anything?" And when I said: "Nothing can be done—we are waiting for you"—he declared: "If that is so then I'll have to set promptly to work, put on the screws, all steam—get things into shape." Turned to Tom: "And now, Tom, how are all the rest of 'em?" T. said: "That was rather sudden, Walt: but all the rest of 'em are well." W. then: "That's good news, anyway: thank God for that: we have been getting so much bad news lately, we are ourselves such bad news, we're almost afraid of any good news when it comes!" He then asked: "Who has heard from Tom Donaldson lately? I sent him a big book more than three weeks ago: before the

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inauguration, in fact: I have never had a word from him with regard to it. I suppose he is head and ears in politics at Washington—in the double-double trouble-trouble down there."

     Harned left. I stayed a few minutes longer. W. said: "I'm glad Tom told me what he did about the meter: it thoroughly enlightened me: it left me without any further question." I picked up a smeared sheet of paper off the floor written under the letter head of the Office of the Secretary of the Board of Managers, 40th Annual Exhibition American Institute. W. scanned it. "Yes: it's memoranda: take it." This:


New York, Sept. 11th, 1871.

Walt Whitman, Esq.

At a meeting of the Board of Managers of the Amer. Inst. Natl. Exhibition held this evening the following resolution was unanimously adopted:

Resolved, That the Board of Managers of the American Institute respectfully tender their earnest thanks to Walt Whitman for the magnificent original Poem with which he favored them at the opening of their National Industrial Exhibition in New York Sept 7th 1871.

Respectfully yours,

John W. Chambers

Sec.


     W. said: "'Magnificent original poem' is putting it on pretty thick: sometimes we're just splashed with glory: then again we get mud for our pains."


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