Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, November 8, 1889

     7.45 P.M. W. in his room, reading Scott—laying the volume face down, on my entrance. Conversed then for full half an hour together, he seeming to be much freeer in feeling than last night. In going over the news of the day he said: "Things are always very quiet here, I depend on you generally to bring the outside world in. I got a wholly unimportant letter from Dr. Bucke today, and I wrote Mrs. O'Connor—addressing her still in Massachusetts. But I have sent Frank Stockton his book—his autographed book. I found I still had a copy of the Osgood autographed edition, which I sent him."

     I said I had been rather surprised last night by Herbert's remark that he liked my introduction in the book very much. W., amid his raillery of me, exclaimed— "That was praise from St. Hubert indeed—from veriest St. Hubert!" Adding then: "The book is the book, whatever the boys may say of it: and it is not only a force as it stands, but a greater force in the sense that the acorn is a force, or Hercules a force—for their

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potentialities—their high promise—future. I remember O'Connor's great touch—the baby Hercules in the cradle—strangling."
W. ending in this strange way—assuming I knew the rest, and saying: "O'Connor rarely indulged in a figure [of speech] but when he did so, he did it with a trip-hammer effectiveness." I quoted Emerson's description of Carlyle: "A trip-hammer with an Aeolian attachment." W. saying— "Yes—it is very great—very Emersonian: I would have recognized it." Going on reflectively: "In the big metal works, with their trip-hammers—I have spent many a long, fascinated, informing hour!—many!"

     Writing to Sanborn last week acknowledging his letter about the book, I had asked what he knew of the Whitman footnote in Edward Emerson's book. To this today the following reply came:

Seventeenth National Conference
of
Charities and Correction

Concord Nov 6, 1889

Dear Sir:

I had forgotten the allusion to Whitman in Dr. Emerson's life of his father until someone in your book cited it. Doubtless it expresses one view taken by Emerson of the poetic form in which Whitman chose to write. Emerson took views of his subject, whatever it might be, from more than one point; and that which he expressed to Whitman himself in 1855 was his more constant way of looking at Whitman's genius. He thought less highly of Whitman's War verses than I did or than he did of Leaves of Grass, which he told me in 1855 was "a combination of the Bhagavat Ghita and the New York Herald." His son never took much interest in Whitman, and was perhaps not unwilling to cite an utterance which seemed to agree with his own opinion. The whole note is too much in the de haut en bas style, and does not represent the real feeling of Emerson towards Whitman, as I have heard him express it often. He was, in fact, greatly annoyed by W's printing his letter of commendation, and he disliked the too frequent mention of the organs

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of generation. But he had a much higher estimate of Whitman than of a "healthy and vigorous young mechanic" and he would never have used that tone in mentioning him.


I do not suppose you will need to show this letter to Whitman, but you may communicate its substance freely to him as something you have learned from me, but not to be published anywhere. There are good reasons why I should not appear as the critic of Edward Emerson, however much I may differ with him.

Yours truly

F. B. Sanborn


     I read this to W., knowing no better way to give him its "substance." He listened with great attention—had me re-read certain passages. I said: "That is a valuable letter, for me carefully to hold." W.: "Yes indeed—like the cards held in reserve by the great Emperors, Kings, premiers: a power unknown, but great. I think Edward Emerson is constitutionally my enemy. Power strangely goes by alternations—now great strength, now great weakness: first Oliver Cromwell, then Richard—an ass! First Emerson père, then Edward and Ellen. It only goes to say again what I said to you more fully a couple of weeks ago. Now do you still persist in your notion of writing to Edward Emerson?" And to my yes, "What?" And to my explanation what, "Let me predict, then, that it will be of no avail. Edward Emerson is a determined liar—determined. Those children—Edward, Ellen—are a bad lot—bad. Two successive generations of a family are rarely alike—of equal power, nobility. He will not satisfy you." I confessed, probably not, but he would answer—and be forced to give extracts from his father's journal if there were any. W., "He will invent them." I objected— "I do not think he would do it." W. then: "No—not deliberately. But invention is as much in the air of an utterance as it is in its words. Take the very paragraph there in the book—as dirty and lying a paragraph as ever was written." I remarked, "Clifford will be gratified with this letter." And W.: "Yes—he will and ought. I may be

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a little mad in talking of this thing, Horace, but I know, as no one of my friends know—not one—the bitterness of attack—the virus of these past years—the story of Leaves of Grass."
He spoke of Sanborn's "temperate statement—a native caution in him which holds ` him slow to confess himself and moderate in his tone." I said: "Well—we'll speak of him in this way then, to the critical world: 'Look you now, we admit we are extremists—Whitmaniacs—but here is a man—poised, deliberate, sane: what have you got to say of his opinion?" W. laughed. "That is well put." And when I added— "It is as natural for Sanborn to be that as for others to be radical, and he is just as firm in that as others in their Radicalism." He exclaimed— "That hits the nail on the head! I feel that to be true!" Likewise, when I held— "This letter of Sanborn's is just for Emerson's sake rather than yours" he at first looked incredulous—then said: "Yes—I see: it never occurred to me to look at it that way before, but now you point the way, I allow it to the full. But then," he added— "for my sake too—for all our sakes!"


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