Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, April 5, 1889

     11.15 A.M. W. reading papers—or had been. Talking to Ed, who sat on the sofa. A beautiful day. I said: "The day is very mild: you ought to be out in your chair wheeling along in the sun." W. said: "If I only had the chair! yes: I believe I should make the break, if only to go two or three hundred yards." He asked: "But how about the chair? Isn't there a wheel-chair that you can work with a handle, so and so?"—indicating. Referred to Booth. "Nothing much seems really the matter, after all: Barrett was uselessly alarmed." I asked if he had done anything with the title page. "Yes: I have done this: I guess it will do"—exhibiting a sketch of what he wished the page to be. He had written: "A Backward Glance at Travel'd Roads." I looked at it suspiciously. He asked: "What ails it?" When I showed it to him he laughed: "My forgetter has been very active lately." Asked me: "You haven't the copy with you—the prose to go in here?" I had not. It was in Ferguson's safe. W. then: "Anyhow, let it go: I like to see such a thing en bloc—see how it impresses me: now I can wait for the proof—correct things there if necessary." How about the other matter? "The two pages? oh! I must try to get them up today: I have already started them." Several written sheets on the book piles on his left. "The Epilogue, you may call it: I started with writing that word but dismissed it: it does not express my ideas of the fitness of things. I have finally decided to put A Backward

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Glance last—put it there in spite of Doctor Bucke's vehement protest. I know that what the Doctor says is true—that from time immemorial the preface has been written last and everybody knows it is, even if printed first in order: I cannot, of course, answer his argument: there is in fact nothing to be said against it: yet I must live out my own idea—my whim, it may be called—as I have always been accustomed to doing: it's too late in the day to change me now."
As to the prefatory note: "I really don't know that I have anything to say, to add: everything is said in A Backward Glance: yet a word or two more may not hurt." As to title page: "Let Myrick follow his own taste: I can trust him far in that: we'll see what he brings forth: I have pretty well indicated the relative proportion of the letters." His imprint— "Portraits from Life. Autograph. special ed (200 copies only printed—$5 each)"—had caused him considerable labor.

     I asked W. about the corrections of plates. "There are very few," he replied: "I have only one or two: Doctor's were few indeed—none of them amount to much: 'harpooneer' I shall not touch at all: Doctor wants it 'harpooner,' but that does not satisfy me: I have heard the word too often: it is one of my earliest recollections: it has its own sound: 'harpooner' never would give that. Oh! many and many and many's the time I have heard it used—have myself tried to use it: 'the harpooneer poised himself in the boat ready to throw': 'the cast of the harpooneer on the rough seas, skilled and sure': always in that sense: no, no: it would not do to alter that."

     He joked a little about his own strange humors. "I delayed that long enough myself: now it is done I'm in a devil of a hurry to see it in type: yes, I would like it today if it can be done—if a man can be put on it at once: there should be a couple of proofs made so we may be sure to get the crooked thing straight." I put in: "You won't get the first proof anyway: the proof you get will be a clean one. Ferguson's man is a dandy." W.: "I believe you: our experience with him has been very comforting." He asked me questions about him. "And what a tribe the tribe of the proofreaders is! I think some men, some writers, owe a great part of their reputations to the excellence of their proofreaders—to their vigilance, their counsel. Who can do justice to the cute, keen intellects of men of this stamp—their considerate patience, far-seeingness? Little credit is done them: they are

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snubbed, quibbled over, made light of: for twenty years I have had it more or less in mind to say my say—tell what I know—about the proofreaders: it is a debt I should long ago have paid."
I said: "Don't forget that Kennedy was, is, a proofreader." He said: "I don't forget it: I've had it in mind from the first: he must be a good one: he is wonderfully well equipped: but even Kennedy is not the typical man." He said: "Age in a man is the quality that gives value to old wine." He asked: "Who was it who spoke contemptuously of the Herald's literary quality before Walsh went over there? Was it Doctor? Anyhow, it's a false notion: Habberton is on the Herald: isn't he quite a fellow?"

     Still no word from Washington. Gave me a letter from Garland, saying: "Harland writes me again." I protested: "You always drop down a letter with his name—make it Harland instead of Garland." He laughed. Talked of Harry Harland— "Sidney Luska." "I have met him: he came to the reception there in New York last year: was quite soft on me: evidently bright: rather young: a spectacled, German student sort of fellow." But W. had not read him. "I don't know his work at all: he had in some ways the journalistic manner." He said: "Robert Louis Stevenson is the man on top these days—most in vogue: popular, sellable, accepted." Did he read Stevenson? "The merest fragment of him here and there: I may say I don't read him at all." He said: "Read Garland's letter (I got it right then, didn't I?): read it to me."


Jamaica Plain, April 3, 1889.

Dear Mr. Whitman:

I saw lately that you were not so well, but hope it is a newspaper report merely and that you are continuing to gain. I saw Mrs. Dr. Spaulding recently. She is doing all she can for the acceptance of L. of G. By the way, I found a lover where I least expected it, in Hezekiah Butterworth, of the Youth's Companion, who said when I invited him to hear me lecture upon your work: "I shall come by all means. I think Whitman one of the greatest if not the greatest of our American poets." He is not afraid of your work, but wishes some of it were left out of it, for a popular volume. [ "If the some of it he means was left out of it the thing for which the book was written would be discredited."] He would think it all right in itself, I

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presume. [ "They always think it's the people who are afraid of you, Walt: the swells are more afraid of you than the people." W. cried: "That's gospel—every word of it!"]


Mrs. Moulton has gone south for a month. Returns in May. I hope she may be able to see you before she sails for England in June. Kennedy I never see now. Don't know what he is doing. I should like to see him very much. [ "So should I! and Hamlin too!"] I am digging away in a fair way to earn a living.

I gave two evenings to your work before my class at the New England conservatory. My class is composed of about fifty bright young girls studying music. You see, I am not afraid to carry your word to anyone. To me there is not a line that has a downward tendency. [ "I hope not! I hope not!"] Still, I recognize the fact [ "There should be no 'still,' but no doubt there is!"] that to many people A Woman Waits for Me is wholly inadmissible [ "Not only to many—to most people!"], and I know that the rest of the book is a sealed book to them; perhaps it would be anyway—there's consolation there. I shall have Specimen Days in my class during spring time. With greatest esteem

Hamlin Garland.


     Beautiful last night. Wonderful clarity of atmosphere. I spoke of it to W. Then he asked about it—more questions. I said: "The moon and stars were strangely near." I was down by the river, loafing some. Then went across on the boat. "Ah!" he exclaimed: "I know all that: it is the day after the storm: always the best time: the atmosphere is always fresh then—most delicate, propitiating: after two or three days of disturbance: it always comes round so: peace—such peace!" He asked further: "How is the moon? how far towards full is it?" I called it "a bit of a thumb-nail." He understood: "Yes—it's a sort of a virgin stage." Again: "It must have been a night to remember." Talked of Herschel. "He seems to have lived outdoors." I stood by his chair and read him this, the full text of Clifford's reference to him in Sunday's sermon, which C. had copied off for me. W. said: "Yes: read it while I listen at mine ease: you have no idea how much joy I get out of simply sitting in my chair here, folding my hands on my lap, and having you do my work! It's a selfish, though, I acknowledge, a profound, joy!" I read:


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"Scarcely have our own sober prophets dared so much [as Bright] in trust and expectation for this land. Gladstone, whom now we so applaud, said in his haste that in the South 'a new nation had been born.' Bright answered him: 'The Chancellor of the Exchequer...believes the cause of the North to be hopeless, and that their enterprise cannot succeed....I have another and a far brighter vision before my gaze. It may be but a vision, but I will cherish it. I see one vast confederation stretching from the frozen North in unbroken line to the glowing South, and from the wild billows of the Atlantic westward to the calmer waters of the Pacific main; and I see one people and one language, and one law, and one faith; and, over all that wide continent, the home of freedom, and a refuge for the oppressed of every race and of every clime.' [Speech at Birmingham, Dec. 18, '62.]

"Among all the prophetic voices concerning America which have come from other lands, there is none to give us greater cheer than this. We may be proud to place beside these glowing words a passage from that Home Prophet (not without honor abroad) and Poet of our own, whom some seem half afraid to name, and some, perhaps, too much extol, but whose work done awaits its Judgment Day, while he himself is waiting as the shadows gather, yonder across the Delaware, severely patient and all-trusting still. In the new 'lands of the western shore' Walt Whitman sees '...certain to come, the promise of thousands of years, till now deferr'd,



Promis'd to be fulfill'd, our common kind, the race.
The new society at last, proportionate to Nature,
In man of you, more than...mountain peaks or stalwart trees
         imperial,

In woman more, far more, than all your gold or vines, or even
         vital air.

Fresh come, to a new world indeed, yet long prepared,
I see the genius of the modern, child of the real and ideal,
Clearing the ground for broad humanity, the true America, heir
         to the past so grand,

To build a grander future.'"

     Clifford had not copied the quote. He only indicated what it was. I hunted it up. W. was much moved. "It's so like the beautiful Clifford to go on in that way: I enter into its spirit: tell him, tell him for me, that I respond to it—every word of it: tell him he honors me—

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he does me rare honor: I consider no honor greater than this—that such a man includes me and considers my innocent verses fit for association with the noble words of Bright: for, Horace, they are noble words indeed—foreseeing, farseeing, glowing words: they are words that apply on the earth what I only said in the air: John Bright, immortal man, lover of freedom, comrade of people!"
Here he paused. I said: "Bright means Canada and Mexico as well as the States: that we are to be welded into one nation." W. said: "Yes: why not? it is inevitable: Doctor sees it: every man of insight sees it: I would be inclined to distrust the subtlety of the man who came to any other conclusion." "No matter what the pro-Canadians are saying and all that?" He nodded: "Yes: no matter for them all: the thing is being taken care of in the nature of things, not by cabinets, on battlefields, in legislative halls." "You mean evolution is taking care of it?" W. then with great emphasis: "Yes, evolution: evolution is not the created but the creator of governments, systems." Did he think Canada and Mexico would be included in the United States of America eventually? "Nothing can stop it." I said; "Things don't seem to be going that way now." I wanted to get his definitive opinion. "I know: but appearances are deceptive: the underlying forces are at work: they can't be gainsaid: the end may be some distance off but nothing can thwart it."

     He got back to Clifford again. "He has done it nobly—but we might have expected him to do that: it was worthy of him." The Bright thing was new to him. "It is a part of the man—it is a thing we ought to engrave here in letters of gold, everywhere—cherish, consider, adopt!" Bright had the universal soul. "The typical Englishman could not have said that: there is a sort of jealousy in some of them which cannot admit success: in America, for instance—territory, possessions, achievements, multifarious wonders: they would be damned rather than see them. And indeed, I do not so much wonder at it: there are reasons for it—some innate, some political: the anti habit is more or less active in all of it: it plays hell with the racial fraternities." As to Gladstone: "He has always been the spokesman for average things: he is not prophetic: he makes no real departures: he's the idol on a certain plane of current English life: in him the national dominates the universal."

     7.20 P.M. W. sitting in the dark room with Ed, talking. A clear

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beautiful night—the stars unutterably bright, the moon off towards the west. W. asked of it all—was interested: I went to the window, north—but the merest edge of the moon visible. Ed rose, but before going lighted the gas. W. did not look well. Had not yet succeeded in finishing the copy for the printer. W. advised me: "I have here the Doctor's annual report: he says he has only a limited number—that you should take this if you cared to: show it to others if you think it worthwhile."

     Asked me what I had done today. Myrick would not give me proof till tomorrow. Then talk of Ferguson's place—his questions (his hunger for details insatiable) leading me into a full description, so far as I could, of the establishment. I spoke of F.'s big edition of Ladies' Home Journal—over half a million copies per month. W.: "That shows how little a fellow knows of the affairs of the world: the Ladies Home Journal, new, a monthly, printing over half a million copies: yet I don't even know the name of it! So a fellow is passed by—absolutely passed by." Spoke of the big circulation of Youth's Companion. Had he been asked to write for it? "I have often been solicited: solicited at times when I did not feel disposed—was not in the mood: whether for this I could not tell, though I guess not. Isn't this the sheet from which Tennyson got his thousand dollars for a poem? I don't know who edits it: I have always supposed they would have none of me, had no room for me—that they are after big guns who will boost them." Yet this may be an error. How does Garland's letter bear on it? But W. only says again: "If so, then the old word comes in true again" "more fellows know Tom Fool than Tom Fool knows" so often quoted by him. I referred to old copies of The Radical in which I had found a review (favorable) of Drum-Taps, and a Whitman poem. W.: "It has all slipped me—no doubt I saw them at the time: Morse, Tucker, those fellows up there—some of 'em: they knew me from the start—seem at once to have seen me as their own." Critic last week noted Richardson's unfavorable mention of W. W. said to me anent: "Yes, I saw it—read it: he seems to have given us a whack: but what do you know of Richardson? I know nothing—except that he's a professor of something or other." I spoke of my delight in looking over old magazines and papers and seeing early W.W. discussions: finding some who spoke well of him when most spoke ill. He said: "If that is so, then one or two of the

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things in that pocket will interest you."
He had given me early in the evening, with the remark: "I came upon these in looking up something today"—a pamphlet vindicating Paine, by Ingersoll; two O'Connor letters (April and June, 1888); a slip of Going Somewhere; a letter from Ford as to a lecture trip abroad; some old Leaves of Grass loose sheets.

     Referred to Bucke's report again. "It is anti-drink: very strong, all, for that—but from the professional standpoint, I have no doubt he is right—entirely right." W. asked me: "Who is this Sherman—is it Bucke's Sherman? Is it Bucke's Sherman? Is he a George man?" Then ensued his many old questions and my answers as to the personnel of the George movement.

     W. had me read the Ford and O'Connor letters before I lit out. He interrupted me here and there over Ford but for the most part said nothing to O'Connor. Ford came first.


New York, April 13, 1888.
Mr. Walt Whitman,
Camden, New Jersey.

My dear Sir:

Would you be willing to entertain a proposition to cross this Autumn to England and deliver a course of lectures in a few of the larger cities?

From facts in my possession I am quite sure that you would be very successful [ "I'd like to see some of his facts! I have my doubts about the facts!"] for the cultured class of Great Britain [ "God save the mark! what are we coming to?"] have an abiding interest in you [ "All the worse for me!"] and everything which concerns you. [ "Oh you flatterer!"] I should be willing to guarantee you a stated sum [ "How I'd enjoy seeing a 'stated sum' that was all my own!"] or if you would prefer it star you [ "At last! at last! I have achieved the end of all flesh!"] on a percentage. My friend and yours, R. Macaulay Stevenson of Glasgow, perhaps better known to you as "Calamus," thinks that your reception throughout Scotland would partake of the character of an ovation. [ "That certainly is piling it on! an ovation! why, Horace, we may after all ride our golden chariot before we are checked off for good—who knows?"]


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Pray let me hear from you, and you believe me, with sentiments of the deepest respect,

Faithfully yours,

Sheridan Ford.


     W said: "That sort of a proposition would horrify me under any conditions: Ford meant it well: it sounds half genuine—half and half real. Think of me as being courted by the lords and ladies of Great Britain!" I put in: "Not the lords and ladies, Walt: the cultured classes." He nodded: "It's all one: the lords and ladies of culture: they're as abhorrent to me as the lords and ladies of titles." Then he said: "Read William's letters: they're more refreshing."


Washington, D.C., April 14, 1888.

Dear Walt:

All echoes are delightful, especially such as this one: I was sitting at breakfast yesterday morning, when the lines came into my head which someone has written of Milton:

"Chief of organic numbers,
Old poet of the spheres—"
And I thought how much more applicable they were to you than to Milton. Just then the postman rang and left me your letter of the 12th! This may have been an Irish echo, but all the same an echo.


I was very glad to hear from you. I have been longing to send you a word, but you can't imagine how hard it is for me to rouse myself to write, in my condition of lameness and lethargy. I have lately been undergoing massage, and it certainly was doing me good, but about the first of the month my poor massager, a sturdy young German, fell ill with typhoid fever, and I am now sliding backward.

Today is your day for talking about Mr. Lincoln, but I suppose you will not. [ "Mr. Lincoln! how strange that sounds!"]

April 16.—I was interrupted here, and could not resume until now. I must certainly try to write to Dr. Bucke. His visit here en route to Florida was very pleasant. I am glad to hear that Kennedy's book is to come out. I tried to get him some subscribers here, but, alas! my wretched lameness prevents me from exerting myself as I want to. Stedman was here during the Authors' week, and told me he had

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subscribed, which was good of him. He spent an evening with us and spoke of you with enthusiasm. [ "Enthusiasm? I have not associated enthusiasm with Stedman—especially enthusiasm for me!"] I read over lately, for the first time, his article on you as it appears in the book, and find he has greatly improved it, making many excisions and modifications. It gratified me to see that my talk with him after the magazine article came out had impressed him. His face is Zionward, and he will be a credit to the family yet. [ "Welcome! thrice welcome, Edmund, to our bed and board!"] He gave me a beautiful account of your last reading of the Lincoln Memorial—the look at the theater, the magic scene of you on the stage inorbed by the light of the lamp on the table, the little girl coming up to you with the basket of flowers, &c., &c. It must all have been very charming.


I did not even know that you were writing little pieces for the Herald until some time after you had begun; then I got the back numbers as far as I could, and cut out the pieces, but could not get them all. So I shall be glad to see them in November Boughs. I should like to know what arrangement Bennett made with you, whether it still continues, &c. I am all in the dark about it. And what is the meaning of this onslaught that Tucker makes on you in Liberty—Tucker, who did such yeoman's service for us in the fight with Oliver Stevens and Company? I don't understand it at all. I hope you have not been writing anything in praise of that old dead werewolf, Emperor William. It would be an awful mistake. His was a black record. I cannot help thinking that Tucker has made some egregious blunder, but I have no light on the matter at all. [ "And when he got light he was as mad as Tucker!" exclaimed W.]

Donnelly's book is announced for May, the printer's strike in Chicago having delayed it. All is booming for him. He is now in England, and there is a good deal of excitement about him. The delay in publication has enabled him to translate about fifty pages more of the cipher for his volume, which is a decided gain for the true believer. Despite my illness and inanition, I am all agog for the result.

"O for the light of another sun,
With my Bazra sword in my hand!"
Donnelly has made lately a remarkable discovery—that the two folio

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editions of the plays following the edition of 1623, at intervals of nine and twelve years respectively, long after Bacon's death, are absolute facsimiles of the first, even the same number of words on each page being preserved. As stereotype did not then exist, these editions were manifestly in each case re-set, which could only have been done in this way with great painstaking: and it proves that somebody in the interest of Bacon was alive and busy in preserving carefully the form of the original folio! This is a swashing blow for the Shakespeareans!


What an idyl of your room you opened to me in your flash of description—you in the big chair, the window open to the sunset, the Easter lilies on the sill, and the little bird singing his furious carol! It was quite divine. How I wish you could get active and well!

If Nelly knew I were writing she would surely send you her love. She has not been very well this spring—colds being rampant with everyone.

Good-bye, dear Walt—that is, au revoir. I hope you will keep fairly well at any rate, and that I shall see you before long.

Always affectionately,

W. D. O'Connor.


     W. was warmed up by W.'s letter. "That Baconian business becomes more and more plausible," he said: "the evidences accumulate: I have never been what you would call a Baconian, but I have gone as far as anti-Shakespeare: there I take my stand: yet I acknowledge that as the new evidences come along, one scholar after another adducing theirs, I am more or less shaken out of my negative attitude—there is a decided Bacon twist given to my thinking." I asked W.: "There was Nicholas Bacon: what part did he perform in the mystery of the plays?" He asked: "Have you the idea that Nicholas was somehow intimately, dynamically, a party to the production of the plays?" I said: "Yes—either as a star or a leading man." He asked on what I "based such a notion." I told him. He said: "You have opened my eyes." He then said: "There's William's other letter: do you intend to read that?" I did.


Washington, D. C., June 13, 1888.

My dear Walt:

I see in the papers, with agitation and alarm, the reports about

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your illness, which, however, are so vague that I can hope they are exaggerations, and that you are no worse than when you sent me the postal card of the 18th of May. You were bad enough then, God knows, and I felt downcast at your condition, though trusting that it was no more than an ill turn, which would pass. I would have written to you earlier, but have had several hideous days myself, and been unfit to write.


One paper speaks of Mr. Bucke as being with you. I hope this is Doctor Bucke, and that he may have come down to you from Canada.

I wait anxiously to hear how you are. If I were not so badly crippled—especially the last few days—I would try to come and hear for myself. But I should be in the way, considering my condition.

If Doctor Bucke is with you, I hope he will pencil me a word, if he can.

Hurriedly, but with fervent hopes and wishes, always affectionately

W. D. O'Connor.


     W. said: "Doctor has been wrestling with Charles Brockden Brown, too: let me read you what he says about it." Put on his glasses. Picked Bucke's letter up from the table. "Doctor says: 'Am just finishing Wieland—Charles Brockden Brown: it's the first of his I ever read: got a set of his books from McKay more than a year ago but never looked at them till now: it is one of the most ghastly books conceivable—old (Castle of Otranto) style. No doubt you have read some of Brown's books if not all of them.'" "No," he said: "not all—though most all: Brown is not a center of interest to me: he only flourishes in reminiscence."


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