Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 29] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Tuesday, April 16, 1889

     10 A.M. Stopped in on my way to town. W. reading the Record. He spoke of feeling better. "There is a lull in the torment—yet not much of a lull, either." But looked and talked as if more at east than yesterday.

     Tidings of Kossuth's bad health in papers today. Had he seen K? "Oh yes! And sure enough, he must be a very old man now." Thereupon reference to Lafayette. I asked if he had any vivid remembrance of his contact with the great Frenchman. He replied: "I don't know that you would call it vivid—yet it is quite clear, has quite well persisted all these years. My father

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 30] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
was a great admirer of Lafayette—and Lafayette was indeed a grand man. We went together—I don't know but my brother was with me.
I counted up—years six at the time. Hardly the brother. W. said: "That is so—none of my present brothers—but the older, he may have been there." Described Lafayette. "His was a fine appearance—not the appearance of beauty, but of expression. His face was fine as Jefferson's was fine, for what it told, what it held—fine as trees, waters, the deep seas, are fine: the genuine magnificence of elements. They were both of them homely, as facial judgments go—not ugly, to be sure—not even like Lincoln, who came as near being an ugly cuss as could be—but plain, depending wholly on the inner man for their attraction. Jefferson I think anyhow a much larger man than he is usually supposed to have been—not stout, thick—but rather tall, and slender." W. asked me if I had ever seen some "unusually fine" portrait of Lafayette "on exhibition in Philadelphia some years ago." And on learning I had not: "It was the best of him I had ever seen. I saw it somewhere, in one of the tony Chestnut Street galleries. The whole thing was so well done, it hit me as gem-like. It was as fine as the bronze of Jefferson there at Washington—the bronze by David, the French artist. Oh! this was always a deep delight to me. These works had the exquisite aesthetic taste—the faultless power—which so distinguished the old artists—which none or very few of our fellows have at all—which Herbert Gilchrist, for instance, has not—the deep deference to truth which will make a portrait a portrait—absolutely accurate at all hazards, whatever beauty may suffer by it." Touched then somehow upon simplicity of demeanor in great men. Was it not always characteristic? W. said: "Perhaps not always, but often—even mostly." Of Grant then. "I have seen him often in Washington in his little gig—his strong, but light rig—driving along, as if in deep joy of the pastime. I think Grant enjoyed getting away alone—absolutely alone: taking horse, and with it alone covering three or four hours of country.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 31] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
He would sit so—oh! I can see him still, as so often in those days."
W. sitting forward, his hands as if with reins— "he would be easy, but not back against the seat." Grant's simplicity always to be valued. "The soldiers used to tell me that at his work, on the field, he delighted in a blouse—would go about camp, easily attired, possessed, calm, unostentatiously, never with arrogant mien or stride. He would wear the stars, the three on the shoulder. I don't know but that was necessary—perhaps an absolute regulation. At any rate it was advisable." I mentioned Appomattox as giving great contrast, Lee and Grant for instance there. W. said "It is a pity no one with a vivid pen—a graphic pen—never takes that up. It is a picture that yet remains to be accomplished." So far but "glimpses, glints." As to Lee, he said: "I am very loth to talk of Lee—my tongue, (I do not know but my pen, too) is slow to touch him, even to mention him: perhaps in part from thought that we must show respect to the dead." But to tell truth, "Lee appears to me as not at all a first-rater, as you put it, not at all typifying our characteristic life—without, in fact, one elemental quality, so to speak." Struck off the difference between Scott and Grant on the side of system and display, and while saying nothing harsh of Scott, paying higher deference to the quiet qualities of his successor. The men of Jefferson-Lafeyette type, "get their beauty as the old houses theirs—beauty of color, time, history, association." We spoke of the fine old houses in the Park. He said, "They exceed on general points the best we can do in building; but that has natural reasons for being—deep reasons: time has trailed its exquisite colors across threshold and wall—the trees envelop it—the vines climb up its sides. Only age can impart that."

     Twisted his chair about. "Among my letters this morning," he explained, taking up a note from a chair, "was this" adding, "To judge from what is said there, something was reported of us in Sunday's World." The letter was from someone called Edminster. It was fulsome. In one place the writer spoke of

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 32] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
himself as suffering with Whitman the penalty of being ahead of his time. W. amused. "I did not read the note carefully—just looked close enough to find out what he said of the World. Tell me Horace—does it strike you there are any indications of insanity—an insane streak—in this letter?" He evidently had a strong suspicion. "But I want you to get me a copy of the paper—I want to see what it is all about." He leaned towards me again, took up a copy of The Camden Post, and pointed out an editorial paragraph therein—extract, it said, from The Herald of Saturday. W. said: "Look at that? What does it all mean?"

     Took up proof of bastard title from table. "I don't like it," he said. Then reached and put his writing pad on his knee, but stopped again. "No, I shall not. I was going to write out what I think about it, but that is not necessary. It is enough that I don't like it." Would not say how to change it, only change. "I leave it mainly to his taste—to Myrick's: what he may think the best thing, let him do." Had prepared the little note herewith, and now while I sat, he wrote steadily this by way of instruction on foot of same brown sheet:

*As there are now several editions of
L. of G., different texts and dates,
I wish to say that I prefer and recommend
the present one, 422 pages complete, for
further printing, if there should be any
___________________________________________
Put this in small type for a note at bottom
with a rule over it) on 2d page of the
Backward Glance—I will mark the * on
the proof when I receive it tonight


     Thought also: "It is almost time we are having our pictures printed." Of the several new notes going with the pocket edition he was ready I should have manuscript if I liked. Did not now have them together. One sheet we found was in pencil. W.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 33] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
explained: "It seems to me I had a better copy than that—that I transcribed it carefully. I must look it up."

     Papers much occupied with invasion of Lower California by American raiders who try to annex it. W. was dubious. "I consider that least of least things among things in the paper." Gave me the Gutekunst picture of the old Emperor William: "Take it along: left here, it will surely get spotted and you might care to save it." With it the Register in which he had read the Larned extract and the Bright piece entire. Said of the last: "I found it quite interesting; it repaid reading." Alluded still to "the quiet at Washington," not a word. Offered me the 5 cents for paper (World) and when I hesitated: "Oh! take it—I should prefer it so!" Added: "I have another mission for you—a mission to Dave's. You remember I have been gunning after two copies of them. I should like three now—Will you stop in and secure them?"

     7 P.M. W. sitting at middle window, much as last evening when I came. We entered at once into an animated talk. I had secured a copy of The World as he had advised, and with it a copy of The Herald (Sunday). In this last found a column of so-called "odd fancies," written up as direct from W. W.'s lips, by that arch-fool Sadakichi Hartmann. They had proved of such a mean stupid, ignorant nature,—bad English, worse thought, unuterrably sad taste—that the idea of having them thrown out as W.'s raised my ire. W. realized at once that I was mad,—asked, "What is it about?" I had said when I shook hands with him: "I am glad to get near the real Walt Whitman again." He asked: "What do you mean?" I said: "It is the Herald there—Sunday's Herald." Then his query: "What is it about?" I described Hartmann's deliverance. To satisfy W. I went across near and in front of him, stood by the table there in the waning light, and read here and there of the "odd fancies" attributed to him by this man. At first he was inclined to laugh—then to condemn. The passage which most

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 34] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
touched us both was that in which S. H. reports W. as saying that "Stedman after all is nothing but a sophisticated dancing master"—and goes on further in that strain. I half-spoke of an intention to write S. in regard to that. W. said: "I wish you would write to him—would be glad to have you do so—that the whole thing appears to me an outrageous astonishing farrago—from beginning to end a statement of things which, even if they had been believed (as they have not been) could not have been said in that manner by me. You may tell him that. My friends know well enough that I am incapable of so mean, dirty, sneaking, cowardly, a blow." But he laughed again a little (though not as much as at first) at my high wrothiness. "I am used to it—to even worse than that. I have suffered from the like for 30 years—am consequently hardened to it." Yet he was "not only willing but glad" to know I would "send some word of this—of our talk here"—to Stedman. "Not that I wish to make it a public denial, though it may amount to that, but that I am agreed to Stedman should know my own feelings in the matter." I spoke of my amazement, not so much that Hartmann should construct, but that the Herald should print, such utter and transparent trash—the "odd fancies" of H. rather than of W. W. Yet the Herald had not only printed this, but announced it on the editorial page Saturday, and dwelt upon it Sunday in a special editorial notice, pointing out that here were W.'s opinions of Poe, Emerson, Stedman—and mentioning others. W. said: "I think there is more than you put into your explanation: I imagine the Herald delights to get in a dab at Stedman if it can—and here was the opportunity." I protested: "but you don't enjoy having them stab Stedman by driving their poniard through you?" And at once, "No indeed—and especially now, after the affair of his big book, in which he has set up as we were never set up before—generously, affectionately, even nobly. No! No! especially not now, if ever—though never—for never, that I know, has anything I have said of S. amounted in the least to a justification of such a comment, criticism, as is put there for me."


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 35] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     I digested to W. the substance of a letter I had written S. some time ago, explaining what I thought of W.'s full but affectionate criticism—a criticism the past year grown more and more affectionate. W.: "I am glad you wrote him that, Horace—and will be glad if you write him again. I remember well the incident of the Scribner essay—I was indignant—Stedman seemed to me there (and this was the one point that troubled me) to unjustifiably dwell upon what people call my filth, sexuality, all that—seemed not only to give it undue weight, prominence, but to twist it, as I thought—twist it. I said all this at the time—don't know but I said it to him—at any rate, said it to his friends, and he must have known of it. But I know Stedman has himself modified all that: especially during the past year or so has he come nearer and nearer. I could not say I was at any time drawn towards him—deeply drawn—but that he was a genuine man (body, mind, generosities, affections)—a patriotic American—Oh! patriotic from the core!—and cute (indeed, remarkable in a sense, intellectually) I have never doubted—never doubted at all. That Apollo expression I have somewhere come upon before. Stedman himself heard something of it—mentioned it in his letter—and I think Hartmann offered it to Kennedy." As to Hartmann: "I can see now that he is a dangerous fellow. He has been here to see me—I have met him more than once—I cannot say I ever really disliked him—but when he attempted to that Whitman Club in Boston—you know of it—I put my foot down on him heavily—did this through Baxter and Kennedy, who are the fellows up there now most generously my espousers."

     I read him an amusing Emerson paragraph. He laughed: "I not only never said that, but never thought it—never could have said it that way if I had thought it. As to H.'s Taine's English Literature "is one of the productions of our age," W. laughed— "Of course—so are we all!" "The whole business," he said again, "is projected from the camel of his imagination: indeed, I should not say that—a worse animal than the poor, quiet, contained camel—a worse far! I can see easily enough

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 36] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
from the samples you have given me that the matter is purely and simply fabricated, beginning to end. Even if I had believed such stuff, I never could have slipped into such a statement of it>"
But the point that most troubled him was the Stedman paragraph. To this again. Referred to S.'s tilt at one time with Holland in which the latter took ground against S.'s references, writing, about W. W. "The point was, that I should not be mentioned within the pages of the magazine. But S. was in high dander, wrote to—sent word to—Holland, that if such a decision was persisted in, he, Stedman, would not only draw the present series to an abrupt close, but would never contribute a damned line more to the magazine; perhaps with more oaths than that, too. This was brave, manly. How could I feel other than kindly towards little Stedman for this—the good, affectionate Stedman. A sturdy defense, and one for me. Of course it appealed to me, awoke my response. Besides I have long known him—never had any but the best feelings towards him. I can easily see how such notions as those of Hartmann's should arise—should get abroad. My friends, a great many of them—friends who, having been kind and near to me have entertained a far more hostile feeling towards S. than ever could have been possible to me; and so, their opinions have been reflected upon me, or taken even as mine." "You know, I took Stedman's clerkship at Washington—knew him while I was there. He came back once to the city, I was introduced to him, I think O'Connor introduced him, and our relations were wholly pleasant." I referred to O'Connor's acceptivity—that he seemed to me much more catholic in his literary judgments than Bucke, for instance. W. said: "You must not wonder at that, Horace—O'Connor is a wonderfully catholic man—of all my friends, he most clearly sees and admits. He is far more catholic than I am, though not more catholic than I want to be. We have had the greatest fights together and he never knew—never can know—but I know, how deep, noble, subtle, has been his influence upon me—his power to soften where I might show unjust asperity." And he pursued: "But

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 37] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
O'Connor is a rare man, and O'Connor, I think always had hope of Stedman."
I spoke of O'Connor's talk with me to that effect. W.: "Yes,—and he feels it profoundly—has in the past year or two written me often, fully, about it."

     Discussion of policy of American journalism: that it will sacrifice truth for interest. W.: "It seems to my thinking that the papers abroad, though it may be we only get the best of them, are distinctly superior in the respect—more accurate, scrupulous." Instanced the fine little article by Summers (M.P.) last year describing visit to W. W. The World article was of three columns, and by Hinton—distinctly superior to S. H.'s and of course more truthful—rather descriptive and general than a report of conversation. W. looked and laughed at portrait. Asked what was my impression of this report. I gave a more favorable review than of the other. Had not yet read, only glanced over it. Also brought him proofs. He laid all together. As we sat there in the dark Ed came in for mail, which W. groped for on chair and found, handing to Ed. "Three postals and one letter, isn't that the count?"

     W. said again: "We could sum it up in this way, that I am responsible for nothing—nothing whatever—except what I have written by my own hand—what stands there now in the two books." Spoke of his intention to use the Gutekunst phototype pictures in the pocket edition. "I find they will do—will stand the cutting. You know the picture? the picture with the hat on?" I kissed him good-night and left him there, the shadows now darkened into absolute night.


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.