Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, February 23, 1890

     9.45 A.M. Stopped in but briefly. W. just done breakfast. The letter-carrier especially favored him by bringing in his mail. A letter from Bucke and a copy of the Osceola Gazette.

     W. asked me about my seeing Richelieu (Booth) last night. Then of actors in general. "I don't think this matter of acting absorbingly important. I don't feel as if civilization, progress, life (American or other), hangs in any way upon the existence of theatres, actors. There was a time when the stage held a rarer place in human life, but now other factors enter in—share the feast, the gifts."

     Expressed gladness to learn from the papers that Tennyson was better. "It is good to hear."

     Showed him a short article headed Walt Whitman—on obverse traces of a cut, inscribed WALT WHITMAN. "A sweet poet and true." We could neither of us imagine from what paper.

WALT WHITMAN.

Walt Whitman, a descendant of an old Puritan family of Long Island farmers, but on the mother's side of Dutch ancestry, was born on May 31, 1819, at Huntington, in that island, thirty miles from New York City. He was brought up in the town of Brooklyn, where he learnt the trade of printer in a local newspaper office. He was much in the great city, employed both as printer and newspaper writer or editorial assistant. In 1850, with his brother, he went to the Southern and Western States, working some months at New Orleans. Returning to Brooklyn, he edited the Freeman, a

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daily and weekly paper, and produced a volume of poetic rhapsodies called Leaves of Grass. The contents of this singular book are neither verse nor prose, but a series of ejaculations and aphorisms presenting many original ideas, and appealing to the common feelings of mind in favor of the natural enjoyment of life, the healthy exercise of the active powers of mind and body, and the frank reception of wholesome influences. It was designed, he says, "to emanate buoyancy and gladness"; and it soon became a favorite book with many readers in England, as well as in America. But we doubt whether its author would have obtained a firm and wide reputation if events had not associated him with some thrilling incidents of the great military struggle that went on from 1861 to 1865. He volunteered, in the second year of the Civil War, as a relief agent in the army hospitals, which he joined in Virginia at the end of 1862, and worked indefatigably during three years, making over six hundred tours or visits, and personally attending on 80,000 or 100,000 sick or wounded soldiers. Experiences like these, in camp and hospital, in the field and on the march, could not fail to be instructive to the poet and philospher, who learned more with his heart than with his head. Yet he was not the man to seek in such terrible miseries of his fellow-creatures the materials of literary effect. His notes or diaries, part of which were published, give many touching anecdotes of the brave sufferers, who were of both sides in the war. After this, Walt Whitman held a clerkship in the Attorney-General's Department at Washington, till in 1873 he was stricken with paralysis, and retired to live at Camden, New Jersey, his home from that time. Dwelling with friends in a farmhouse, and spending most of his days in contemplative repose among rural scenes, he has been a minute observer of Nature, studying the trees and flowers, insects and birds, like Thoreau, with the affectionate intimacy of a comrade and disciple.


Walt Whitman's merits are entire sincerity; an intense love of nature, including human nature, in its broadest, homeliest, and commonest manifestations; a genuine patriotism and love of freedom; a manly individuality which rejects all compromises with fashionable prejudices and mere conventional assumptions; and a spirit of benevolence, which shines through his life as through his writings.—(See page 5.)


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     Mrs. Burleigh, from whom I got it, had received it from another and was herself in the dark. W. laughingly said— "It is very tantalizing."

     I stayed out briefly. He looked ruddy. Complains of his sight.


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