Commentary

Disciples

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Sunday, April 7, 1889

     1.30 P.M. Stopped in on my way to catch train. To Primos. W. just finished writing his "day's postals." Bucke, Kennedy, O'Connor, Heyde. Said: "No: I don't feel wholly well: I am passing through a dull, sluggish mood, during which I'll not be able to do any work of consequence." Color good. "I have just had a few visitors," he said: "Tom, Mrs. Harned—with them, Mr. Moorhouse: Moorhouse looks a good deal like Gosse, don't you think?" I had not met him. W. then: "I don't know that he talks like Gosse—indeed, know that he does not: but in looks, manner, there is a great resemblance." He asked me about Boulanger. "The papers are full of him: he seems to be making a great noise: what it's all about—that I don't know." But he gave me a more interesting piece of news. "Did you see the baseball boys are home from their tour around the world? How I'd like to meet them—talk with them: maybe ask them some questions." I said: "Baseball is the hurrah game of the republic!" He was hilarious: "That's beautiful: the hurrah game! well—it's our game: that's the chief fact in connection with it: America's game: has the snap, go, fling, of the American atmosphere—belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly, as our constitutions, laws: is just as important in the sum total of our historic life."

 
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     W. was a little worried about the title page. "Myrick seems to have done his worst—his very worst—here: I confess that after the other work I have had from him I am greatly surprised at this." He was irritated and disturbed. "It is spread, sprawled, splashed, all over the page." I said: "But you must not forget your own gospel—that the good things don't come because we expect them but as surprises and because they should." This seemed to restore all his good humor. "That's so: I'm glad you stopped me right where I was: what you say I say should not be lost sight of." Then he added: "Well—tell him to try some more: tell Myrick to reshape the page, bringing the dissevered elements together: he may have an inspiration on the second try: we'll have to persevere till we get what we want." He produced a Burroughs letter. "See this," he said: "It's an old stager." A yellowed single sheet of paper without an envelope "which has floated up and down on the tides of this room for six years or so," he said. He took another tack with this letter. He didn't ask me to read it to him. He read it to me.


West Park, May 20, 1883.


Dear Walt:

     We have been back from Roxbury some weeks, and thoroughly at ease again in our old shoes. I am thinking every day how much I should enjoy a visit from you and what good times we could have. What do you say? Can you not be persuaded to turn your face and steps this way? I could arrange it so you could spend the summer here if you would. We shall probably be away in July and August, but there is a family here in the other house with whom you could board as cheaply as you do in Camden. The young man is a good fellow and keeps our school, and the daughter is a sweet girl. The mother is a widow and a good beautiful woman. I think you would enjoy yourself here. If you preferred you could have your bed here in my shanty—a large comfortable room on the brink of the hill, fifty yards from the house, where my books and papers are, and where I spend most of my time. Drop me a line if you will come and when.

     I am feeling pretty well. Julian grows finely. His mind runs much in strange channels. He has already got to the point where he wants to know who made God. One day he asked me who took care of the first pair of birds—"the first little birds what had no papa nor

 
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mama." Yesterday as he lay here on the sofa in a brown study, he said: "Papa, the Heaven-world owns this world."

     My Carlyle article goes into the August Century. I am adding a page about Mrs. C. as revealed by her letters. How about Dr. Bucke's book? I hear nothing. How is Jenny O'Connor? Kindest remembrances to George and his wife. With much love


John Burroughs.

     "There's something about John," said W., "which I greatly like: his total lack of effusion: he never slops over: I have every reason for believing his love for me to be fundamental: yet he is calm, composed, equable, in his tempered fraternities. I am afraid of the 'enthusiastikers,' as a German friend of mine in Washington called them: I shrink from them: I have spoken to you about Mrs. Moulton—good woman as she is: it is her defect—to gush: nothing so inevitably knocks me out. Some day you'll be saying things about me: say them—God bless you! But whatever you say or don't say I want you to testify for me that I was never an enthusiastiker: whatever I was I never was that: make that clear: say it so that it can't be misunderstood. John knows it: he observes the mandates of reticence in himself, he respects them in others."

     I strolled up Second Street last night into the retail shopping district. The Saturday crowds were very interesting. W. asked me about it all. "I am an outdoors man serving an indoor sentence." Again: "A little breeze blows into the room and carries me away with it God knows where." He said: "Tell me about things—don't tell me theories. I have theories of my own." He also spoke of perfumes—"rose odors, the flavor of the strawberry"; "they are a great comfort: they give me dream-hours as I sit here alone." I said: "You will be an outdoor man to the end: being accidentally or incidentally tied up here makes no change in your temperament." He said: "That is so: I am conscious of it every minute: I am always grateful for the whiffs of fresh air you bring to me out of your very active experience: you are getting about for both of us these days."

     W. has not yet found the lost photos. "They are about here somewhere: I know it: you see the confusion has been worse confounded since they cleaned up: I must manage to find the pictures within a day or two or provide something in their place." The work corner of his room is now as bad as ever. Things are weltered all

 
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about. Not a week since the sweeping up. W. himself said: "Our quarters would not satisfy an old maid, but we are clean in our persons." W. said: "Here's some jimcrack I've laid aside for you: I was for putting it into the fire when your protesting face appeared to me: it seems to be disconnected stuff—yet connected, too: there are figures in it for your records, too, if that is what you want: look them over." There were some sheets of manuscript pinned together and a little stained envelope with an enclosure. He had tied them together with a string. I looked them over. "I have sometimes autobiographized for the papers at their request: have done it time and again: these are some autobiographical notes." On the first sheet W. had written: "for Sunday paper of May 29. Send proof to 328 Mickle at Camden." He had headed the stuff: "A poet's 68th year." I started to read. He said: "As long as you're going to stop and read it now read it to me as well as to yourself." This I did. He interrupted me a few times only.

     "Walt Whitman, 68th year is about completed, as he was born May 31, 1819. This article is intended to give a realistic, authentic, account of the period and the poet. He still lives in Mickle Street, Camden, in his little old wooden house, not far from the Delaware river; and Mrs. D., continues to cook and housekeep for him, as for some years past. ["The same Mickle Street and little house and the same Mary Davis still!" W. exclaimed: "and for how much longer I wonder?"] He is jolly in spirit as ever, and keeps up his usual mentality, giving out an occasional poem, and more frequently an essay or prose composition or reminiscence; but is a paralytic badly wrecked in body. The just concluded year of his life has not been an eventful one. He wrote the two-column piece, How I made a Book or Tried to, and sold it to the New York newspaper syndicate for $80 last June. A shorter companion piece, My book and I, $50, appeared in Lippincott's Magazine lately. Together they lead into and explain much of his writings, peculiarity and intentions. ["Tried to! that's all it was—ever has been: a try to! Will it ever get beyond that? I used to say—I've said to you—so many pages of let-fly: I might amend that: so many pages of try to!"]

     "We are permitted to extract from his journal or loose memorandum book for the past year.

     "'June 16th—drove by myself down to Clementon to see Walter Borton (third time)—he is dying—consumption.

 
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     "'June 26th—paid back-taxes of 1884. $23.43.

     "'July 3d to 7th—went down to Sea Isle City on the Jersey coast, 64 miles from Camden, at invitation of J.O. Bentley—had a good time.

     "'July 26—sent Hospital article to Century magazine—accepted—p'd $150.

     "'Aug. 3: sent Burns as Poet and Person to North American Review. Accepted and paid for ($70).'"

     I said to W.: "There seems to be break in the dates here: did you notice it?" He: "Yes: there must be a sheet missing: I jostled about a little looking for it: it didn't turn up." I continued reading.

     "'Jan. 12 '87—Cold—ground covered with snow. Good sleighing all about here. Went out a couple of hours midday yesterday, with horse and wagon; went to Brown Bros, bankers, Chestnut St. Phila., to cash the New Year's present £81:6:6 ($393.61) sent over to me so kindly by Pall Mall Gazette people, England; went to bank to deposit money and checks. Am very feeble, especially in walking power: don't go out doors to walk at all; pretty fair appetite; sit here in the little front room, well bundled up this weather; read and write rather aimlessly. How considerate, gentle and generous my British friends are! [I said: "Walt, sometimes your references to your British friends are so peculiar they and others get an idea that you have no friends on this side of the water at all." He asked: "Could they be induced to imply that?""I have had people so construe it: yet you have had quite as powerful and devoted friends here as there." He assented: "So I have: I must not, do not, forget it!"]

     "'Jan. 19: Still cold. Yesterday's papers' Congressional proceedings say Mr. Lovering, of Mass., introduced a bill for a pension to me, $25 a month. A month or so ago, I wrote to Sylvester Baxter, Boston, a friend of Lovering's, positively declining to apply for such a pension, and that I did not deserve it. (But it was very kind of Mr. L. and my New England friends. The Pension Committee U.S.H. of R. reported in favor of the bill, but it did not pass, and nothing at all came of it.)

     "'Feb. 22: Went over to the Contemporary Club, Philadelphia; read the Mystic Trumpeter and (against my will) A Word Out of the Sea. Horace Traubel, Dr. Brinton, and the cab-driver, Mark Elder. I was paid $20.

     "'24th: Sick today—brain like lump of heavy dough. Indeed half

 
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sick, or more than half most of this month. Bad, sulky weather; cold. O'C.'s illness and journey to Southern California; a gloomy affair.

     "'Feb. 25: Am I not having a happy hour or as near an approximation to it (the suspicion of it) as allowed? See p. 92 Specimen Days. Is it not mainly a really good condition of the stomach, liver, and excretory apparatus? I was quite ill yesterday. How quickly the thermometer slides up or down.

     "'Saturday afternoon: went over to Philad. to see Clito—Wilson Barrett and Miss Eastlake. Young Kersley and Danney came for me in a carriage at 1, and bro't me back at 5; enjoy'd the ride, the play, the acting, and everything. Mary Davis went with me.

     "'March 8: sent MS preface to English ed'n. Specimen Days—two pages print.

     "'April 13th, went on to New York city—R.P. Smith my convoyer and host—to Westminster Hotel, Irving Place. Evn'g. Stedman, Johnston, Gilder and John Burroughs. Next afternoon, April 14th, read my Death of Abraham Lincoln piece at Madison Square Theatre. Good audience. Next day, 15th, sat to G.C. Cox, photographer, and Dora Wheeler, portrait painter. Good time. Felt middling well; rather overwhelmed with friends and gadding about, and pulling and talk. R.P.S. very kind, faithful and liberal. Wm. Ducket with me. A grand ovation to me Thursday evn'g—two to three hundred friends call'd—Westminster Hotel. Parlors fill'd with them. Return'd to Camden, April 16th, every way satisfied. My lecture netted me over $600. Andrew Carnegie paid $350 for his seat.

     "'April 22: to 1307 Arch St. Phila. to R.P. Smith's.

     "'28th: To Wm. Thompson's Gloucester, N J., to a noble dinner of baked shad and good champagne galore. T.B. Harned. Drove over and back with Nettie. Here is a bit from an Italian poem about an old warrior:

'Age does not chill his valor—no;
His helmet sets on locks of snow.'"

     I said: "I wish I had more extended records of this sort, Walt: they'd be very important data to me." He said: "You'll find many of them in the two big diaries I have kept for so long: these"—tapping two fat books lying one on top of the other on the table. "That New York jamboree was about the biggest you ever got into, wasn't it?""The biggest with me as the first person—yes.""Did you enjoy being starred in that way?""Up to a certain point—perhaps:

 
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it's pleasant to feel yourself to be among friends: yet I am the sort of man who, however stubborn, is yet never oversure of himself: I am still only on the edge of the world—the margin of its margin, so to speak: I haven't solidified myself: a little push and I would be over again: I do not feel that I have achieved what might be called a standing: far from that." I quoted John Swinton: "You have at last got foundations under your feet." W. was doubtful. "John may see them: I do not feel them." I turned my attention to the last of the things he had given me. The little old envelope. He watched me. He had written these words on the outside: "Mother's last lines." I took out the little sheet and read what was on it in trembling letters. I could not say anything. I put it back, holding it irresolutely in my hand: "Yes: I wished you to take it: it is safer in your hands than in mine." He was very grave. I still said nothing. "I was afraid you would ask me something about it," he said chokingly. I kissed him good night and left. This was his mother's message:
"farewell my beloved sons farewell i have lived
beyond all comfort in this world dont mourn for
me my beloved sons and daughters farewell my dear
beloved Walter"
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