Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, January 4, 1890

     7.50 P.M. In his room. Was out and at the shipyards today. I asked on entrance (he sitting there reading one of his old Customs diaries)— "And did you have your trip out of doors today?"—he replying, amused: "And here he enters with a

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question, knowing that of all abominations, that is the worst to me."
And asking after a slight pause— "And how is the weather now?" I saying— "Another question"—and he— "To give one question for another! I have heard of a man who said, I take treats but never give them. I did not know the man, but have heard of him."

     After all, he had "not inclined to make the whisky toddy today." Called my attention to the book in his hand. "This is one of my countless memorandum books—I have had hundreds of them—this is a Washington one—now 20 or 25 years old. I do not know by what combination of circumstances it has been preserved—but here it is, turned up after many days—old, grimed. Every name, every date in it, recalls a thousand scenes, multifold memories—persons, events—army incidents—those fruitful years. The written record but a drop in the bucket—I may say, a drop in the sea—to the whole story." And even the glimpses in "Specimen Days" were "but the most fugitive—the most slight—most brief." Bucke made some suggestions as to head-line for my Whitman essay thus:

     I hope great things from your Whitman paper. Yes, make it personal by all means, and put it in as simple a narrative form as possible. Yes, nothing could be better (as an illustration) than the last Aug. photo. (which looks across the room at me as I write). A photo of the "den" too (if it could be well done) wd. be most interesting (wonderfully so to those who have been in it more or less often).
"Walt Whitman at date" would do:
how would you like:
"W. W. as I know him"
But (after some hundreds of them) I am a little tired of papers, paragraphs, sonnets, &c. &c. &c. called "Walt Whitman" in any shape. How would something like one of the following titles do? (of course I have no pretention to name a paper I have not even seen):
"The Poet of the Modern"
"The First American Poet"
"The Avatar of Democracy"
"The Bard of the Dawning Era"


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     I read to W. who exclaimed: "No! no! I can say without hesitation, that, as far as I am concerned these would all be promptly rejected." I explained that they would not fall in line with the personal flavor of my paper. I had initial paragraphs of this with me, and read them to W.—who said when I had done: "Yes—that is good: but too eulogistic—too eulogistic! I should suggest—make it very concrete—even statistical—and then a close. But I ought to add of this, as I would of my own writing—you are the man who is writing it, or I am, as the case may be, and it is for you or for me, therefore, to follow our own bent, please oneselves, whatever the other fellow may believe."

      "And so poor George Boker is buried!" W. said at another juncture. "Come—gone—a true high man. And the years—oh! how they go and go! I am amazed: this little book here—this bunch of memorandums—already a quarter of a century old! It is hard to realize lapse after lapse the slipping away of time."

      "The papers appear to be full of society news, gossip, controversy—just now, the solid things all ignored, unheralded." I referred to the Thoreau-ish Herbert, gone out on Long Island from professional life in New York, to live as a recluse and farm an acre or two—having already written a book about it. —W. explaining the topographical and other character of Long Island—its "very jagged coasts at some points" and its "salt-marshiness," especially towards the east. "I know the whole shore well and well—have wandered it, I can almost say afoot."


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