Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, April 7, 1890

     5.30 P.M. W. in his room, on the bed. Insisted on getting up. I helped him to the chair. Is stronger than for several days. We talked together for half an hour.

     He returned to me Kennedy's friend's translation of Schmidt. I showed him an extract from "Point of View" in the current Scribner's which I had copied out: "If Walt Whitman, for example, were what his admirers' defective sense of style fancies him, he would be expressive." W. laughed and said— "Let him go to hell: that's all I have for him!" I exclaimed— "That's 'expressive,' anyway!"—to which, after some further laughter, W. explained that the writer probably did not know what he was writing about and for that reason was trapped. Much and anything might be said against W. W., but this sentence was put together "ignorantly." W.'s cough quite violent but loosened greatly.

     He would have it, (upon my reminder, that he was going to send Brinton his book): "I'll give it to you now." So I got a copy of the Complete Works from the box and W. inscribed it with Brinton's name and "from the author." Upon my saying that Brinton's stock was Quaker far back, W. said: "Ah! that explains in part why he likes me, likes the book!" And upon my remarking, with the heavy book in my arms— "It is a great institution"—W. continued: "It ought to be—it takes up a tremendous period—assumed an immense task—essayed to glimpse 50 of the biggest years in history: and if it only here and there hits the life it met, it has its deserving. I often reflect, that one ought to have been glad to be born into such a voyaging—such a series of giantesque circumstances."

     W. asked me if I had found the postage correct on the Dowden book the other day, and to my "yes" he laughed— "I supposed

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it was—but like the fellow who pops the question to his girl—he knows she will say 'yes'—yet finds it essential to hear her say it!"

     Questioned him if he was inclined to abandon the Club exploit next week—but found him determined not. "No: I doubt if even you or Doctor Bucke know just the egotism that backs me in such an undertaking as this. It is in part the explanation of my work—of Leaves of Grass. There is a chance I cannot come, but on the whole I shall fight it out: if I can get there I shall. I feel pledged to it—not to you but to myself. It will probably be its last deliverance. I hope to be identified with the man Lincoln, with his crowded, eventful years—with America as shadowed forth into those abysms of circumstance. It is a great welling up of my emotional sense: I am commanded by it: only a severe chastisement could hold me from my contract." So I was to "tell the boys—if Walt Whitman can hold his head up he will be with them."

     Talk of abolitionism—W. saying: "The abolitionists have always exaggerated the importance of that movement: it was not by any means the beginning or end of things. It was a pimple, a boil—yes, a carbuncle—that's it—out of the nation's bad blood: out of a corpus spoiled, maltreated, bruised, poisoned. The Southerners, by acts of folly—acts like that of beating down Sumner—added to the fuel. That was the subject of one of my differences with O'Connor: he was hot for abolition—would not hear to my objection that a man should save some heat for something else. But something besides the abolitionists brought the matter finally to success. I was close to the life [?] of the mechanic truth [?]: I could get at its first notes: I knew it well—in Brooklyn—in New York. And although at one time four-fifths of the country was for slavery, yet slavery seemed doomed. A great something, uncaught yet by writers, explainers, expositors of our history, worked out the great end." It was "a case of bad blood: it had to come out—and out it came: a great flood, leading upwards!"


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     Gave me some newspaper Whitman scraps. I suggested: "Bucke might come down and read your Lincoln."—but he quickly said: "No, not Bucke—nobody: it is a mass of notes—broken—and no one could handle them."


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