Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, December 16, 1889

     8.35 P. M. Detained late in town. When I entered W.'s room, he was resting his feet in a basin of water, saying to me

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about it: "This is one respect in which I follow the Biblical counsels—I do not always do that, but here is one case."

     Asked me about the night. "Do the stars shine?" And "how is the air?" I supposed "it was his bed-time, nearly," but he responded: "No—I have no bed-time: I go when I get tired, irrespective of the hour." Harned, he said, had just left the house. Had I not met him? "He brought me down a dozen copies of your book. It seems Judge Garrison is to take them, and wants my signature. Oh yes! I shall sign them—sign them for Tom and for the Judge, both—for their sakes." Referred to Tennyson's book again. "I see it is called 'Demeter'"—spelling it— "and from what the papers say, these poems—most of them little poems—are as good as ever. I read something to that effect in The Transcript." Adding— "I have several papers here on the table for you—the Press, The Transcript, another"—handing them to me—I at the same time handing him yesterday's New York Times.

     Said he: "I have been laying the timbers of a new piece. I have called it this: 'Old Poets,' then, dash, and in parenthesis 'and other things.' I am not quite sure about the title—it may be defective, misleading—I have not absolutely adopted it yet. A literalist would object to it and say 'Poets and other things'—how could that be,—poets are not things—but after all that would be a narrow construction to tie to." I laughed slightly and said I had no fear of his head-lines, under any circumstance, and W. to that: "Which would be all the more reason for us to look out now that we keep up our standard—though the pitcher was taken to the well a thousand times unharmed, now last comes the hour of ruin! There was 'Leaves of Grass': what a fight I had for that name"—and to my interposed idea that time had settled in its favor,— "Well—for 15 or 20 years, everybody objected to it—even my friends." Even O'Connor? "No—not William—but about all the rest. I remember one ardent friend I had—Theodore something or other—a poet, a man of parts. He asked, 'Who

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ever knew of a Leaf of Grass? There were spears of grass—but leaves?—Oh! no!'
There was one night the question came up: a very erudite—a scientific man—a botanist, in fact,—having stood it as long as he could—spoke out—set me quite up—said that, whatever was the case in literature, in science leaves of grass there were and doubtless would be."
And he added: "My critic gave all the intellectual reasons in the calendar, but of the emotional, the sympathetic, he could say nothing—nothing!" And further— "A headline should be large—capacious—expansive—should cover its subject, explicitly—then something more."

     I had Roden Noel's book with me, under my arm—and he asking me "How do you get along with it?" I responded, "It does not fascinate me." W. laughing: "It does not gripe you, eh? I should rather say, grip you—nor does it me. That is sad news indeed," he said, of that which had been brought from Stedman, "but now that I have had time to think over it, I can see that it is just Stedman—men of his nervous makeup—whom such a thing would attack. . . . A good deal of it all, I reckon, comes of the damnability of possessions—of houses, carpets, 2 or 3 thousand a year—these to be kept up, whatever goes—even if health goes. Poor Ed! A noble, affectionate fellow, too!"


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