Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, December 30, 1889

     7.15 P.M. W. sitting in room reading in Current Literature. "I am looking into Waldorf Astor's story," he said—a chapter there from "Sforza"—and he added, "You see, I keep on reading this magazine as long as it is here." Was quite well— "comfortable, in my sense." Had looked carefully in all the papers for his "syndicate" poem, but so far it had not "showed up."

     I told him the Charles T. Brook story of "the great I am and the great I ain't"—and he was much amused, laughing a long

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while, and saying— "It is the best thing I have heard in a long while—entirely new to me" "with a pith and point quite obvious." We talked very freely for full half an hour, W.'s voice and whole manner easy, however deliberate. When I left, knowing I would not visit him tomorrow evening (work at the bank to be urgent and detaining me) I kissed him my New Year's wish—he holding my hand and exclaiming— "Good boy! good boy! And we will hope together for best things—the very best."

     I read Clifford Symonds' letter yesterday. Clifford had said: "It is good he is 3000 miles off: it saves him the disappointment of putting his questions to Walt and having them avoided."—And then he inimitably mimicked what would be W.'s manner of avoiding the dangerous ground. W. asked— "So Clifford has heard I dislike to be asked questions?" Not heard of, I said, but has observed it himself. W. thereupon: "Ah! and that is the truth, too! Some years ago there was a young Englishman came here—he was introduced by Mrs. Gilchrist—I liked him well. He told me that Mrs. Gilchrist had warned him before he came that if he wished to be at his best with Walt Whitman, he had beyond all things to avoid asking questions—that she had met many men in her time but no man more markedly set against the inquiries of the curious. And he wished to make a good impression. "Walt Whitman and I," she said, "have been the profoundest of friends, but even between us my inevitable questions have badly cracked the rope." Hicks had told me he always found W. so "reticent" when he came, and I suggested— "Perhaps you ask him too many questions?" But he was "not aware" of any marked reticence, say of Mr. Hicks— "I shouldn't wonder but that was the case! William O'Connor was probably the prince of conversationalists—in the high sense brilliant—not tawdrily so, as brilliancy is apt to be—but brilliant nobly, profoundly. He needed to be free, to have the right person with him—then all went well—probably just as he was that time you saw him." Then: "I laid Symonds' book out for you" but

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he could not find it in the "debris" as he calls the litter. "It has been to me a great resource—a great reservoir—time and time again, for years and years, it has afforded me wonders of release."

     Observing my interest in a copy of The Critic I picked up, he remarked: "It don't amount to much: once in a while there is a piece, a paragraph, of some interest—but as a rule, it don't amount to much—puffs, scissorings, pot-boilers, to little effect—weak, often, puerile—a review now and then by somebody who knows what he is talking about. There are several fellows connected with it, probably, of the Joe Gilder stripe. At the start Jennie Gilder had much to do with it, and she was the life of the paper—but she probably finds now that it don't pay her well enough, and she has withdrawn mainly to other quarters. Mind you, I don't tell this to you as a thing I know—it is only my guess." Had he thought there was a change of feeling towards him? Was the applause not fainter than of old? "Yes, I can say I have, but of that I do not absolutely know, and certainly do not care."

     Why did Emerson leave W. W. out of "Parnassus"? "I never knew why. All we can say to such a case is, if the fellows can afford not to do it, we can afford not to have it done. Bryant issued such a book, too—in the first edition omitting Leaves of Grass—but it seems—so I have been told—that in editions since Bryant's death—I have been represented." I quoted against this my own edition (1876)—which W. had not seen—in which W. appeared. At this he said: "Well—that accuses me—that makes me see it may have been rectified by Bryant himself. [C. A.] Dana, in his 'Household Book of Poetry' quotes me rather copiously." [Not in Eleventh edition of 1868.] Mention of R. H. Dana's "The Buccaneer"—which I had never read—I asking W. — "Do you think it would be worth my while to hunt it up?" "I certainly do—if you have not read it, it would certainly repay your search highly. It is a really noble poem in its class—has more the ring of Scott than any poem I know in English. Scott's is so free, so high—

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has itself so grandly the ring of balladry—is perennial. I did not know that side [of] Dana's at all."
But he had read "Two Years Before the Mast." "This Dana was a young man of consumptive tendencies—seems to have concluded that the thing for him to do to save himself was to go to sea—to ship before the mast—which he did, with the result that that book was written."

     I spoke of reading Noel's "Byron." W. then inquired: "Have you ever had occasion to read Macaulay's essay on Byron? I always liked that very much. And there, too, is Arnold's essay on Heine, on the same order—to me the best thing Arnold has written—the only thing among the essays having for me a deep and lasting influence, interest. It is here somewhere and I have looked into it more times than I could give account of."


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