Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 219] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Saturday, May 25, 1889

     7:45 P.M. Harned stood in front of the house, talking with W., who occupied his chair and spoke as though in unusually good condition. His voice was strong and his manner animated. They had been discussing the dinner. W. had been turning his speech upon the joy of the old days with Harned, and "those famous dinners." W. jokingly reminded him of Bucke's "feeling" that those dinners had much to do with W.'s present condition. W. exclaimed: "Oh! the doctor be damned! On the contrary, those dinners helped me—did me a vast deal of good, the best proof of which is in this, that the next day I always felt better than before—at the worst as good." It was true. "I ate hearty dinners there—good, square, tempting dinners—but how could they harm? They did not. In fact, if I had the means of doing so here I should break a bottle of champagne every day. It does me no harm." He had some hope of getting up to Harned's tomorrow, the day being clear. "I will if I can: and I want to get in, too." Tom said something about bringing the champagne down, but W. laughed at the idea. "No—don't bring it down—I want to go for it myself, I've been craving for it for a month." (After Harned had gone he asked me: "I wonder how I will get in if I reach Tom's? by the side way? But we'll find a way—take the front way, boldly, if no other offers.") They discussed the question whether there should be any drink at all at the dinner. As to lemonade, W. exclaimed: "It is a damnable drink, I wouldn't have it—nor anything—only some punch." He seriously raised the problem how he was to get in the hall. "I think I should like to be taken in, Tom, just as you suggested—if that can well be arranged." That was, to carry chair and him together, up the broad stairs at the hall. It seems easily

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 220] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
feasible. "And as to the dinner—I don't know how much of it I shall see. Of course I must be there, at least through part of it. When my friends gather from all parts in my honor, it would be a cruel, an inexcusable, slight, for me to stay away for anything short of necessity. And [replying to Tom] I shall say something, too, no doubt. What I shall say, or how, or how much, that remains undeveloped—is nebulous enough still. I guess the moment itself will finally decide that." He afterwards declared to me, when we were alone, that even the coming in any shape "might be clouded over" if there happened Friday "one of my miserable sick spells." I told him that I had in all my letters, when speaking of his presence at all, spoken of it as contingent. He said: "That was right—that was as I could have wished you to do: I should not have liked a promise to go forth when all I can give is a promise not to promise." Tom told him Charles Emory Smith would positively attend the dinner. I looked lugubriously at W., who laughed heartily. "I see, boy," he said in a chiding sort of way: "But though Charles Emory is himself a hell of a fellow, and his paper about as bad as they make 'em—even Charles Emory is welcome—our arms will open even for him." Then he continued, still on these engrossing affairs: "Do you know," looking at Tom, then at me, as if addressing both, "I like Herbert's speech a good deal: he was here again today—I met him around the corner, against the Methodist Church: as we went along he gave me the substance of it. It says many things I particularly shall enjoy having said, by him and there." Later in our talk after Harned had gone, W. referred to Gilchrist again. "Herbert has a good deal more of the democratic in him than he is given credit for—than even he knows himself—a dash even of the Anarchist—enough of it to establish him, to brace him. No one can know this as I do—you could not know it, neither could any other, nor Herbert himself, who little suspects its proportions. I have had talks about it with his mother, with Talcott Williams—controversies—at least, if not controversies, strong statements in self defense. I mean

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 221] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
controverting in the customary understanding of that word."

     Mention was made by me of Gilder's notice in the Critic that I had just read. W. said: "It is easily explained—Jo is still in the toils. That paragraph is even weaker than we care to say—written by someone determined not to be mistaken as one of us—who wants it very plainly understood that Walt Whitman's poetry is not the be-all and end-all of American art." He suddenly reached for his breast pocket and brought forth a rubber-fastened packet for me. "There are several things—Kennedy's postal for one thing—then the checks—one for Ferguson, one for the plate printer." Ferguston's bill was for $36.10 and Billstein's for $7.65. He said: "And I want you to tell Ferguson again that I am not at all satisfied with the printing—that here, at the point where we set most hope, where we were willing to give most to effect our end, there has been a serious set-back. I know it is not his fault—that it is Brown's. If this printing is to be taken seriously, then I am afraid Ferguson has done his last printing for us. If he were sitting here now, I should tell him all this just as I am telling it to you now,—candidly, composedly, but frankly. Yet his printing of the big book was very good—satisfactory—I was looking at it again today." Kennedy's postal was that spoken of last evening (as follows) and touched also upon my invitation for him to write a letter for the dinner.
Walt Whitman
Camden, New Jersey

Dear W. W.—

No, I haven't sent St. the card. I had rather not on second thought. It would only make matters worse. I fear I can't get to Camden on the 31. But am going to send a note for Traubel, for the dinner speech dept. Wish you would tell him so for me, please. I much fear that the excitement will be too much for you. Look out!

Affec. as ever

W. S. K.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 222] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     W. asked me: "Did you know we drank the health of the Queen here last night? Well, we did! There were seven or eight of us—we were there together—in the back room—I at the head—took that big wine bottle from my table—drank good luck to the good Queen's 70th year. Yes indeed, we did it with a vim." The Childs letter he had sent to the Post, along with the Longfellow note. "It was very genuine." I spoke of it as "stronger than Longfellow's usual style." W. said: "That was what I was about to say—Longfellow is usually more interlineated, literary, but I think I feel in this a genuine heartbeat." W. said, in the room, (to which we after a while assisted him)— "I sent a copy of the Post to Mary Costelloe." Spoke of Pearsall Smith: "Did I put him on your list? He ought to be there." Referred also to Roden Noel as another. I promised to write him. Last night I sent off notes to Rhys, Carpenter, Pearsall Smith, Dowden, Rolleston, Symonds, Sarrazin, Schmidt, Rossetti, Forman. W. expressed himself as "glad to know it."

     We spoke of my good luck in seeing O'Connor, and striking a day which found him in condition to see us. I described to W. again, as I had before, O'Connor's emotional greeting of me—the second handshaking when we were alone. W. spoke pathetically: "I can see him doing it—it is so thoroughly like him. So like the man I always knew. Oh! it was all the opportunity—the opportunity: you grasped it, and were victors. That was what I thought so fine in Longfellow's letter—life, he says is opportunity—and it is, profoundly and profoundly again! Edward Emerson uses something like that for the motto of his book—a line from his father."I want to tell you something, Gentlemen. Eternity is very long. Opportunity is a very little portion of it, but worth the whole of it. If God gave me my choice of the whole planet or my little farm, I should certainly take my farm.

Mr. Emerson's Journal for 1852



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 223] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
After W. had gone over it, he said: "How wonderfully that rings in one's sense! It is hard to catch at first glance—needs to be chewed on—but finally enforces its intense meanings!" After then he concluded: "So it was opportunity that so happily gave you that first and only glimpse of O'Connor. I am sure you will never forget it. O'Connor is not a man whom anybody can forget."

     Mrs. Davis came up while we were out front, Ed with her. "Ah!" exclaimed W., "here are the truants!" They had been off on a boat together. last night an English seaman was here—a friend with whose family Warren stopped in Liverpool—a splendid ruddy man. He had joined them in drinking to the queen. The vessel is down the river—English, with a crew of Hindus. The folks had gone off to bring W. one of them, so now he asked: "Where is the Hindu?" But they explained, his father would not let him come for fear he would be spirited away for a museum! W. laughed: "I am not a good subject to spirit anybody away just now!" W. explained to me: "There's a young fellow down there in the boat—not a Hindu, I suppose an Englishman—who knows something about Walt Whitman and his works and wants to know more. So I sent down by Mrs. Davis a copy of Leaves of Grass—an old copy, an old edition—I had about here. Perhaps he will come to see me." Much to W.'s interest, Mrs. Davis described the garb and habits of these Hindus, as she had seen them. W. always fully alive for such details. When I got up to go: "You should get a copy or two of the Post as you go along. That Longfellow note is worth keeping—worth studying: for, little as it is in word—extent—it is great in meaning."


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.