Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday June 25, 1889

     7.40 P.M. W. at the window, as usual, and the evening very cool. He had been out, though for a brief space only. He felt and talked very well. He asked me: "How do you progress with your piece for the book? I wish you would let me see it before it goes to the printer: I think I should like to add something to it—little things that have more and more impressed me as I have thought the matter over." Was it something he desired to print as his own? "No—it could be put into the general piece—and there serve perhaps quite a place." Why should he not put them down now, independent of my article? "I could do that, of course—but can do it more efficiently upon spur of reading what you have written. I prefer as a

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whole to let it go in on its merits and take its chances."
Anything more definite than this he did not say.

     I received today, a letter from Sarrazin, written from London. In it was a note added for W.'s private ear. The rest for publication.
67, George Street,
Sutton Road,
London, N. W.,
June 12, 1889.

Dear Sir:—

Kindly excuse me for not having yet answered the letter by which you let me know that Walt Whitman's sixty-fifth birthday had just been celebrated in Camden. Your message reached me in London where I am spending a month and I should have liked writing to you immediately after receiving it, but my health is not always good and does not always let me do right away what I should like to do.

If I had been with you on the 31st of May last, here is in substance what I should have said and what sums up my opinion of the work of the noble poet:

Walt Whitman is, in my opinion, one of the only two living contemporaries—the other is Count Leo Tolstoi—to whom the word apostle can be applied. If I were to permit myself to make a comparison between these two very great men, I should not hesitate to place Whitman one degree above Tolstoi. In spite of the evangelistic goodness of the latter, there remains in him too much pessimistic philosophy, and Whitman seems to me to have a larger and surer outlook. He is really the only one who has clearly seen that man is an indivisible fragment of the Universal Divinity, that the heart of a really pious person must prostrate itself without argument before the veneration of the Cosmos and, instead of getting lost in useless dissertations of the superiority of such and such a tradition, one religious dogma over another, it would be infinitely better to love and serve our equals. That is all the Divinity; he who loves his fellowmen loves God. This view of which Whitman has been in this century the practicing apostle, this view will renovate the world.


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This, my dear Sir, is what I should have said, had I been this last 31st May among you: and then I should have raised in my turn my glass wishing a very long life to the august old man and assuring him of all my love.

Kindly convey, dear Sir, to all Walt Whitman's friends in Camden my very best regards and believe me

Most sincerely yours,

Gabriel Sarrazin

R. S. V. P.

I recently received a postal card from Walt Whitman himself. Would you kindly tell him that I have not yet answered him because I have not been well lately. I shall leave for Paris in a few days but I shall probably spend the whole summer in the country where I shall be more at ease.


Harrison Morris had translated the letter for me, it having been written in French. [Lacking this early translation, the one here given was made by Arthur W. L. Basy] W. was much pleased with the translation. "I should say, the fellow who Englished that, as I call it, ought to be able to do good work altogether." I asked: "How would it do to have Morris translate the Sarrazin essay and then get Curtz to print it?" W. seized on the notion at once. "A capital idea—only, would he? I have no doubt he could do it." And when I said, "Well, I shall suggest it to him," W. responded, "Do—and see what he has to say in regard to it." The letter itself struck deep into W. He made me read it several times—especially certain passages. His exclamation after I had finished was this: "Well—that's the Frenchman once more—once more comes out ahead, clear ahead. Isn't that the best letter yet?—the most clean-cut, the most direct, and to the purpose? And struck bravely out on new lines, too, don't you think?—not another has touched the same phase: what I call the religious phase—the cosmic. And see how he does it, too—the adroit Frenchman, through and through—the finesse superb: yet the man

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with a great deal more than adroitness, finesse, gifted as he is in these. See how he starts off, too—just that alone: no one else would have had the same thing suggested: a few simple words—'if I had been there in Camden, that day, that event, this is what I should have said,' &c.;—and now, how delicate, how informal, that is, yet how close upon the mark!"
And then he continued: "It is not to be gainsaid—this man has said the best things yet about us—about Leaves of Grass grandesque things, and—though saying them always with the superb French polish, never drops into senility, weakness—is always giving evidence of vast reserve strength." And he said still again: "Yes, if Morris will translate the essay, I'll have it printed: tell him so." He had a great desire to see Sarrazin's "phiz," "and I am sure we shall, some day—perhaps not having to wait long for it, either!" And he continued: "That whole book of Sarrazin's would interest me—fill my knowledge of him with new light, stronger light. And I am very curious, too, knowing how he regards me, to know how he regards the others on his list there." He was much struck with Sarrazin's discovery of resemblances between him and Tolstoi: referred, in this connection, to my own repeated arguments in the same direction.

     At one moment chancing to remark something about Lincoln Eyre's knowledge of the Italian language, W. remarked: "I must note that down, so he can avail me when I am in need. I have friends over there in Italy—they often send me papers—of course I can't read them—so here's a way out!" In talking of a description of the scene of the dinner W. said: "I am not at all sure but the Lord made me for a reporter, I seem to have the reporter faculty—rather accept it—just to state the bare facts of cases, then to stop, let them be. But I don't know—perhaps there's more than that to me,—more than that. But I have often run away with such a conceit." I happened to say to him that McKay had gone off to New York, at which— "Oh! if I had only known it, I

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should have sent a package of books in his charge. There are a number I have been ready to send there; but I guess I shall send all in care of Johnson—let him distribute them."
I left the order for engraving with Brown today.

     We discussed reading aloud. W. thought that "it arouses people—arouses the reader." Did it ever arouse him? "I could not say that it did—at least in any extreme sense. But I know I did my best reading when I was alone that way—off in the woods or on the shore. Long ago, when I was a young man, Coney Island was a favorite spot. At that time Coney Island had not the reputation it has now—it was then a desert island—nobody went there. Oh yes! when I read, it was in solitude, never in frequented places—except perhaps, Broadway, on the stage-coaches, where a little more noise more or less made no difference. Have you never tried it? You have heard of Legouve, the Frenchman, who wrote a book about the voice, &c.? There was a passage or more about Rachel—why it was she was so aroused when going to her room and reading aloud her plays, whatnot. Whether it was voice, manner, solitude, silence, what it was!" W. did not believe "the voice alone explains it, though that goes some way towards doing so." But "there are some who contend that no one can get a full or adequate idea of a poem till it is heard rendered aloud—the human voice to give it its free scope ring!"—and "I don't know but there's a vast deal to be said to that effect."

     Somehow we drifted into a reference to Savage again, when I read W. the following I had from Corning (date 23d, who was much aroused by the matter:—
413 Benson St June 23 / 89

Dear Mr Traubel

Mr Savage's words (p 228 in 'the Religion of Evolution') are these. "Human thought is one: that is, it is all alike the product of human brains, & differs only in quality and degree: do I therefore

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Somebody should mildly hint to Savage that he is not a master in literary discrimination. Truly yours

J Corning


W. remarked— "It is rather an extraordinary classification. Still we all know Savage carries very little weight—his cargo is very small and light—especially his critical faculty, as this indicates." I had told someone today, who asked me what I thought of it, that it was unmitigated stupidity,—that "whatever Walt Whitman is, he is nothing like Tupper—that he may be a fool but is not that kind of a fool!" W. laughed a great time when I told him this. "That is very good—very good: and surely true—no defect in the logic at all."

     Discussing the artificial and natural himself, W. contended: "There's no difference between Homer and Virgil—oh no!—and yet there's every difference: there is, what is there?—nothing at all, people will say: but that nothing is everything—it is the whole gap between the fellow who sings because he is moved to, and the fellow who sets out deliberately to sing, and so sings!" Then he added: "I don't think you would agree to it, but I think Emerson has a good deal of Virgil in him—a big dash of him—a long tail: not that that's all. Emerson had enough in his own right to brace him forever: but Emerson was a good deal cultivated—though, Lord knows!—that's not to say much, for who is not cultivated? Of course I would not make an extreme charge against Emerson, because in him there's a whole world, independent of cultivation, that bubbles up, evolutes, is cast forth, naturally, superbly." As to Savage: "Shall we leave him to Ingersoll's sermon [?] article?" To which W. quickly responded: "No—he's not worthy of Bob—the Colonel deals with bigger game."


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