Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, October 6, 1889

     9.35 A.M. Stopped in on the way to Philadelphia to leave the New England Magazine with him. He was in his room, eating his breakfast. Laid down the towel he was using as a

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napkin—took the book—commented on it: "Yes—there it is—the Old South Church—the very essence, culmination, of New England Presbyterianism. Cotton-Matherism and everything that is damnable." "But then," he added after a pause, "even these things had their place, and today they serve at least as curios, if not for more." Spoke of the morning as "an ill one" for him. "I got up rather bad, all over." Still, his color stood its own. Had been reading a Century piece about Olin Warner, the sculptor. "Do you know of him?" he asked—adding "He is a new man to me."

     8.30 P.M. In for about 20 minutes with Fred May. W. talked very well, though expressing the fact that he had spent a very bad day. I introduced Fred. W. then asked— "What did you say his name was? May? Oh! that name takes you into a world of reformers, anti-slaveryists, radicals, progressists."

     Remarked that Tom had not been in today.

     I had with me the following extract from the Boston Herald—caught on the fly by [Joe] Fels in Boston the other day (Oct. 6, 1889).

WALT WHITMAN.

The Good Gray Poet Since His 70th Birthday.

The latest tidings from Walt Whitman are that he is now more of an invalid than ever. He is no longer able to drive out, his legs having failed him so that he cannot get in and out of a carriage. On pleasant days, however, he goes out in a wheel-chair, and passes considerable time on the river bank enjoying the air and scenery. He is carefully attended by a male nurse, sent by his friend Dr. Bucke of London, Ont. The nurse is a strong and sympathetic young Canadian, and the expense is met by a number of Whitman's friends, who make monthly contributions for the purpose. Mr. Horace L. Traubel, a young gentlemen of Camden, who has been of great service to the venerable poet, is looking after the matter.

Whitman now no longer sits in the front room on the ground floor of his humble house on Mickle Street, where his face at the

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open window in mild weather has long been a familiar sight to passers, and whence he was wont to pass a cheery word with neighbors, or with the children in the street, who were much attached to him. He keeps chiefly to his room on the second floor, where he sits, surrounded by a pile of books and papers, strewn confusedly around, doing a little desultory reading now and then. He receives calls from numerous friends and admirers, many strangers from Europe coming to pay their tributes of esteem; among the recent ones was Sir Edwin Arnold, who, like Tennyson and many other distinguished men of letters in Great Britain, has a profound admiration for Whitman, and did him the honor of paying him the second visit which he made in the United States, his call upon the President, as the head of the American nation, being the first.


The poet also does a little writing when the mood seizes him, and keeps up a correspondence with some of his friends, chiefly by means of postal cards, upon which he jots down fragmentary thoughts without formality. His handwriting is as firm and vigorous as ever, showing no trace of infirmity. Among those with whom he keeps in regular correspondence is Mr. W. Sloane Kennedy of Belmont, who has written several critical essays on Whitman, which are soon to be issued in book form, together with a concordance of his poems and a list of the various articles and essays which have been written on Whitman that show that he has been more the subject of literary discussion than any poet of this century since Goethe.

The proceedings at the banquet in Camden last May, at which Whitman's friends celebrated his 70th birthday, are to be published in a little memorial volume by a committee appointed for the purpose, Mr. Traubel being in charge. Whitman calls it "Traubel's dinner book."

Still another edition of Whitman's poems has appeared in the shape of a most attractive issue of "Leaves of Grass" with the addition of "Sands at Seventy" and "A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads." It makes a dainty looking small volume, bound in pocketbook shape, with fine dark green leather. The edges are gilt, and there is a receptacle for keeping scraps and memoranda. The following characteristic words on the title page tells its story:


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May 31, 1889.
Today, finishing my 70th year, the fancy comes for celebrating it by a special, complete final utterance, in one handy volume of " L. of G." with their "Annex" and "Backward Glance," and for stamping and sprinkling all with portraits and facial photos, such as they actually were, taken from life, different stages. Doubtless, anyhow, the volume is more a PERSON than a book. And for testimony to all (and good measure), I here with pen and ink append my name.
WALT WHITMAN.


The edition is limited to 300 copies only, and the volumes, which are sold at $5 each, may be obtained by sending direct to the poet, 328 Mickle street, Camden, N.J. The autograph, together with [missing] number of copies make them particularly valuable to bibliophiles as well as the friends of Whitman.

     Gave it to W. who said, "Will you leave this with me, or do you wish me to read it now?" He read it at once, putting on his glasses and saying when done, in answer to my question, "Yes—it is wonderfully accurate—every word of it—a marvel of newspapery. Baxter certainly typifies the ideal reporter. I have been very fond of saying that Emerson redeems the whole literary guild—the man himself—out of the fact of what he was; and so I may say of Baxter, he redeems the whole tribe of reporters. I read his article on Edward Bellamy in the New England Magazine there. He is very radical—progressive, he is enthusiastic over Bellamy's book, I knew this in fact when he was here—he was warm to espouse it. But no—no—no—we are not going to be reformed in this way, by parcels—not by Henry Georgian Socialism, Anarchism, Schools—any one agency. Our human nature is like the weather—it comes from all quarters—and while all these suggestions, reforms, doctrines, may help, certainly belong, no one of them can do the business for us. It is too long a story. The great feature is, everybody is occupied with it nowadays—even the millionaires, who if they have a few millions at death, leave a little of it—a million or so for ameliorative

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purposes."
May expressed some surprise that W. read the newspaper clippings so easily. But W. himself said: "My sight, like my hearing, is gradually going: I feel it from time to time markedly."

     He turned to me suddenly: "Your article, Horace, if it fills 10 pages in the Magazine, will have to be 8500 words—I counted a page today—got at it that way." I laughed at the idea and he added— "That is an old habit—I have done it before—it is the only absolute measurement." Then he continued— "I freely give my consent to the use of the Gutekunst portrait if you care to use that. I would suggest that you have it printed on a sheet by itself." He also had a photograph of the house he said I might use. "I shall doubtless have a little piece in the next number of the Century—a few lines," he remarked, "and so we appear to be booming everywhere in unexpected ways."

     May said something about reading W.'s book—W. asking him then curiously— "Well—could you take hold of it? Was it clear sailing? Could you make anything of it?" Said he had read Coquelin's Century paper on Molière and Shakespeare. "It is very interesting—very smart—but there's an end: it is not profound—he does not send his plummet very deep."

     Ed told me he finally had decided to go to Canada. Saw Huidekoper, but was not satisfied, also fears uncertainty of tenure here.


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