Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, March 28, 1890

     5.45 P.M. W. in his bedroom, having just finished the local papers. Said he had "started out today—but was forced

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quickly home again."
A terrific gale and storm at 3.20 in the afternoon. Just preceding it W. had been out in his chair. Warren, pushing him, was dubious, but W. said, "Let's push on to the river." But by and bye, meeting a couple of men whom he knows, one of whom said to him— "Old man—you'd better be going home"—he consented to a return. Thought this trip had given him some cold.

      "Not a letter for two days," he reported. "There seems a lull, even with the autograph people." No list yet. Exclaims aloud over his memory. Commented on Bismarck's weeping over demonstrations of the populace in Berlin. "Bismarck has his position [?]: history will pay a big account to him." Punch's cartoon—representing the Emperor as dropping his pilot overboard, W. thought "exceedingly happy—keen; and it is not wonderful [that] it has created a stir in Europe."

     W. entered upon further questions about the Whitman meeting the other night. The affair seemingly had a unique interest for him. There was the subject of "Calamus," which had been much discussed—Sulzberger questioning the comradeship there announced as verging upon the licentiousness of the Greek. W. took it seriously, saying thereto: "He meant the handsome Greek youth—one for the other?—Yes I see! and indeed I can see how it might be opened to such an interpretation. But I can say further, that in the ten thousand who for many years now have stood ready to make any possible charge against me—to seize any pretext or suspicion—none have raised this objection; perhaps all the more reason for having it urged now. 'Calamus' is a Latin word—much used in Old English writing, however. I like it much—it is to me, for my intentions, indispensible—the sun revolves about it, it is a timber of the ship—not there alone in that one series of poems, but in all, belonging to all. It is one of the United States—it is the quality which makes the states whole—it is the thin thread—but, oh! the significant thread!—by which the nation is held together, a chain of comrades; it could no

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more be dispensed with than the ship entire. I know no country anyhow in which comradeship is so far developed as here—here, among the mechanic classes. It is for the possession of this that I own such a warm affection for the Russians—comeraderie [sic.] has gone a great way with them—yes, and with the German—anywhere under the History [?] influence—though I don't know why I should say this, for in Oriental countries there is an ample expression of the same spirit. The American is not demonstrative, as a rule, but I have seen the boys down in the war, in the hospitals, embrace each other, cry, weep."
—But he still admitted: "It is fortunate we may have these strictures—not veneer, did you say?—no cynicism? That was most extraordinary. I am all the more convinced I should have been near—to overhear in a way. These young men (or old) are certainly on the right road. A great man—somebody, has said: in trying to judge individuals, we are continually balked, but in judging men in masses, things adjust themselves, which is the substance of his judgement. Leaves of Grass is an iconoclasm, it starts out to shatter the idols of porcelain worshipped by the average poets of our age—not ruthlessly—not wantonly—but to do it seriously, as having a great purpose imposed. I love to go along through the land, taking in all natural objects, events,—noting them. For instance, watching the cow crunching the grass—I can hear its melodious crunch—crunch—its bovine music: the lips, soul, of song as much there as anywhere. And the mother at home knitting her children's stockings: not forgetting the yarn—not omitting the needle. The poet would not have that—it would lack in sound, elegance, what he calls poetic evidence. But for me it is my necessity—it is all music—the clef of things—to discriminate—not so much to produce an effect, or that at all—but to state the case—the case of the universe: to seize upon its typical phasings."

     This was all said with a great vehemence as if it came of deep and long rumination.


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