Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, June 28, 1889

     8 P.M. W. was out when I arrived, but shortly came along under Ed's charge. He did not appear well nor was he well. "I have had a very bad day of it," he explained, "very bad: in fact, a very bad yesterday, too—two days way down in the valley; but this evening I feel much changed and relieved." Several children came up, and for some time he kept his arms about two of them and held them there, even as he talked. As usual he asked me: "What news?" and added— "And it has been quiet with me, too." Inside was a bundle on which he had pasted an inscription: :Two books: one for Frank Williams and one for Herbert Gilchrist." These were the pocketbooks, so much urged by me, which he had finally dedicated.

     He suddenly remarked: "I got a letter and paper from Germany today—have them here." Went fumbling in his pocket—drew forth a blue envelope. "Perhaps your father will render it for me—the article. The letter is in English as it is. I shall want the paper back so I can send to Dr. Bucke, who is a German scholar. It is interesting to me to know what they think of us way over there. It comes from Berlin, which is a center, I suppose, an important center." I read the letter, which was addressed to "Mr. Walt Whitman, the Poet," and was as follows:
Dear Sir,

Dear Poet, Friend, and Master,

To celebrate your seventieth birthday, I your grateful and devoted admirer, have written some words of sympathy and congratulation, and published them in the issue of June 2nd of the paper I am editing just now, viz. the 'Deutsche Presse,' the official organ of the league of German authors (Deutschen Schriftsteller-Verband). I trust I may be able some day to devote to you and your work in a serious essay better suited to do justice to your

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genius than was possible in that aphoristic article. However, those few lines will at least serve as an unambiguous testimony of my deep and true devotion to you, and as it may give you pleasure to hear of an unknown German friend of yours, I take the liberty to send you that birthday paper, hoping you will look upon it in kind and indulgent eyes.


Ever yours sincerely and affectionately

Edward Bertz


W. remarked: "I am well aware of it, that my work has no currency in Germany. This letter is very warm, to be sure." Adding: "See what your father can make of it, if he will." I translated passages for him as he sat there, and he listened gravely., and thought them "probably significant of the whole article."

     I had with me, a rough manuscript of my book matter, and read to him from it, here and there. He listened intently. At the "non-literary" passage he exclaimed, "Oh! that is very good—it is a great point—and a great thing to have somebody make it!" And to the closing paragraph exclaimed— "Strong! Noble!" I did not linger. Going down Federal Street I met Gilchrist and Harned; Gilchrist turned back and went to town with me. Harned and he had taken tea together. Gilchrist argued with me against the use of Morse's bust for frontispiece. I guess I made it plain, that, while open to counsel, I had fully determined upon using it, provided a good reproduction was secured. Gilchrist's line of argument did not impress me as broad and generous, while his manner was more or less offensive. He said W. was "self-willed," that "his judgment of a portrait was of no value whatever," that he "liked Morse's bust because it was the latest thing" and that I ought to defer "to competent judges that knew." He was sure the "Morse bust would not please the British readers," and I replied that in making up the volume I was not seeking to please anybody—that my plan was, the matter having been put in my charge, to give what I thought the most fitting record of the event. He spoke of Harned's approval of his

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position and I retorted that Harned had just dined with Gilchrist—that Harned had never before expressed such objection to me. The whole manner of Gilchrist's argument was supercilious. He raised the objection to having any portrait. But who supposes he would have objected if his wretched and untrue presentment of W. had been solicited?


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