Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, November 12, 1889

     7.15 P.M. W. reading the paper. Laid it down—then talked readily. Said at once that he had been out today. "And we had a breakdown—one of the springs of the chair gave way. We had to stop in the blacksmith shop and have it fixed. The fellow hammered and fussed a great while and we had to wait. I sat down—enjoyed it. We seemed to be an object of curiosity." This led to reference to trades generally. "I sat there—learned a few new words—words of trades and they are poems to me—a word is a poem of poems! In my early years I had a great fondness for names in trade—names among carpenters, bricklayers, transportation men—always learned, always retained them. If I knew one and forgot it, I would be much worried. But as time wore on, while my curiosity remained, its direction changed somewhat. Instead of minor names—names of objects—I now hungered for names of trades themselves, occupations: so much so that Dr. Bucke now vaunts that he knows no trade or occupation that is not in some way mentioned in Leaves of Grass—though I do—many of them. But Bucke declares he has tried to detect one, but never found it." Of course, it was this which had led to what so many of W.'s critics called his cataloguing. "But I am not in the least disturbed by that. Do you know, of all the charges that have been laid at my door, this has affected me least—has not affected me at all, in fact. I have gone right on—my bent has remained my bent,—everything remained as it would have remained otherwise. In Doctor Bucke, all this—this peculiarity of mine—falls like seed on good ground—he has caught the significance of it. Bucke is a Doctor himself, a scientist, free, exuberant—and he has happily comprehended

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(and this is essential, the crowning requisite) the physiological Leaves of Grass—the Leaves of Grass nursed in these native occurrences, facts—the occupations, habits, habitats, of men."
"For instance, Doctor would never stumble over the word diarrhoea, to which the Saturday Review so objected. Doctor would see it naturally falls into its place, a part of the sequence of affairs—would see it as a necessary factor—while the Review came to the word as a word—came from traditions, stock rules, and contended that poetic it could not be, was not, and no man but at his peril would dare to stake it as poetry." Talked on thus interestingly of his own practice.

     On the table was a brown-grey sheet pencilled with notes of Aaron Burr. I asked: "So you have found the lost Burr piece?" But he shook his head: "No—I have not—that is new to me. I have for a couple of days been trying to get my hand down to the work of jotting my impressions—my childish impressions—of some of the men I met in our early New York—of Burr and Lafayette, at least. I don't know what will come of it—how well the memories will revive and my pencil stay them. But the work is begun, as you see. What will come of it is altogether in the air—is like next year's weather." I put in laughingly: "But we know there will be weather next year!" W. responding: "That's so! And perhaps the article—but what of the article, who can tell?"

     At this instant Warrie came in, saying: "There was no mail for you at the Post Office, Mr. Whitman!" W. asking him merrily: "Oh! and are you certain you did not bring me bad luck?" Warrie retiring with a laugh and W. explaining to me: "That was a touch you did not understand—Warrie did. Last night I had him here telling me sailor-stories—stories of the big steamers. He has served on 'em—on the Adriatic, the Etruria. He was describing to me the manner of diversion—what the passengers occupied themselves with—gambling among other matters. There was a game going on one day, the sailors, working about, could see it through a window—some of

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them gathered there, interested—gazed through. There was a man inside losing bravely—getting rapidly mad: suddenly he spies the boys up at the window, seizes a bottle of wine, hands it up this way"
—indicating— "and says, 'Here you fellows—you give me bad luck: take this—away with you—drink to my good fortune!' That was in substance what Warrie told me—only told it better than that—and that is why he laughed at my question."

     Asked me to be sure to send a copy of the dinner book to Stedman. Said he had sent one to his brother Jeff. "On my trip out today, I stopped and left a copy of the leather book for Sam Grey. I wanted to give him one." And here I reminded him: "Would it not be a happy thing to give a book of some sort to Harrison Morris?" W. then: "Yes indeed—I intended to—you are right—I consider that in the translation he did us quite a decided friendship. Which shall it be—the leather book, the big book?" Would endorse one for me to deliver. "It seems sometimes as if the spirit of professions led to noble developments—the doing of positive generosities—like this in Morris." Had a letter from Bucke. "Not significant."

     Thinks he still weighs his 200 lbs.: "My 200 lbs. helped break down the vehicle today—and the jolting together." Said too: "If any friends at the club tonight enquire after me, tell them I am not yet utterly broken down, though our chair was. Like the chair, a bit mended—but for how long?" I received a letter from Weir Mitchell sending 25 dollars for the fund. W. in handing me some string said: "It is genuine flax and I have trouble in getting it—Ed always had a siege. The world is bent on shoddy, in string and [everything] else!"


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