Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 265] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Tuesday, November 11, 1890

     5:30 P.M. W. in the best of humor and condition, and we had the happiest chat. He said he had had a note from Tom about his mother: that she was to be buried from Tom's house, etc. Expressed tenderest sympathy.

     What was the news? We talked of many things. W. still felicitates himself and us on the political situation. He asked me about the Arena: wished to see a copy; had never seen one. "What is its character? Is it radical, generous, receptive? Is it a free trade or is it a protection paper? The North American is hospitable to new, strange views; invites, accepts, and that is a gift these days." I assured him of the nature of the Arena and he appeared satisfied. I had previously urged him to write something about free trade—freedom in trade in its truest sense: from moral standpoints, solidarity, America as a summons to the world—and we now discussed it. "I wondered if the editor would like it, or was rather a man such as was on the North American Review years ago and refused my articles—Metcalf—he is on the Forum now." And then he spoke of free trade itself: "I should of course largely discuss it from the standpoint you suggest—solidarity, America to lead the way and all that. I would, however, much rather write two articles than one—two short ones. It is easier for me, but we shall see how I am led on.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 266] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Ingersoll is a protectionist, isn't he? It is hard to explain in him. But however, my view will be extreme. I shall take the ground that it is a false ideal from the start—that it is never good. Infant industry? Why, it is to take the infant, put it in a warm room, curtain it, carpet it, sickly it—and then you have—what do you have? Everything but virility, self-dependence, the show of men and women. And that is protection—that only; and wrong from the start. I had a friend, who had a sickly son: a poor, pale, frail, useless creature, who even threatened not to live at all; coddled, having every wish gratified, cared for wherever he went, whatever he did. That is protection. But then along came another, a wiser, who said, 'If that boy is to live, he must be set free: must be sent into the fresh fields.' Before, they had hardly dared let him breathe the air of heaven. And the good advice was taken. They bought him an ass—a donkey—the queerest, shabbiest, dirtiest devil of a creature you ever saw, and set the boy free with him—and straightaway the youngster prospered; got strong, robust, almost lived with the animal. That was free trade, and free trade in the natural state. We must say that—our fellows—though we die!"
And finally, "I have not finally decided on a subject, but I may take this, treating it as I now do with you."

     While we sat talking Mrs. Davis brought in some mail: a letter from Bucke (written Sunday) among other things. As soon as he opened it he said, "Well, the trunk has arrived: that is good!" And then read the whole letter aloud. Bucke was warm in thanks for W.'s autographing, etc. Towards close, reminded W. of his (Bucke's) old suggestion that he should write autobiographical notes, etc. I thought "it would be almost farcical to write autobiography deliberately, when all 'Leaves of Grass' and the prose was autobiography if anything." W. laughed and said, "You are right about it—right: and I suppose, as you suppose." Merrily: "That after all is said by the others, I will pursue my own way; that the worm, the tortoise, the snake, the whatever, will leave its trail wherever it goes. The show of autobiography

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 267] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
everywhere in my work."
Then proceeded: "I read 'Old Poets' last night again, after passing it by several days, and I can see now why it should be an offense to some people. It's egotism—egotism: that is the trouble. It is somewhat scrappy, very gossipy and terribly egotistical—and that is its trouble with some. But it is my vein, and I must flow in it. All my work is set on the same plane—no other. I do not think even the Doctor sees that though he must feel it—all of you must feel it—and I know as no other how dead-set I am in that purpose." We talked prices. He thought both North American Review and Arena "very liberal and good. I can accept them for the generosity they indicate."

     I urged W. to send a portrait to Bob. "The Gutekunst," I said. He was at once favorable. Took up "The Laughing Philosopher" from table. "What do think of that? That is the picture I sent to Tennyson. I think often the best, and I heard he liked it." I said, "Doctor told me in London he was getting rather tired of it." W. laughed, "Well, no doubt, but I think it very good—with the best, though I acknowledge the Gutekunst picture is great, too." But after all "the Washington, Gardner, picture is the best—the one you have—no doubt has elements found in no other." But I continued to urge the Gutekunst picture as the picture of the now, and he acquiesced. "I am sure you are right. That is the picture to send. But, Horace, I must frame it. How would it do to take one to Neumeyer—have him put a handsome frame on it? And then, I should rather send it to the wife, to Mrs. Ingersoll—somehow that might please both best." I thought Ingersoll would feel complimented; that he was sensitive to such love and act, as all poets were—to which W. in a sweet tender tone, "You think that, boy? Well, so do I: so do I know it. I have always been sure Tennyson was open to it, liked the word of comrade, the light touch of friendship, the sign of companionship. The tribe welcome—are seized by—it. A true and necessary passport!" And so he promised me, if he could not take the picture for framing, he would let me do so.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 268] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     Half expect Bush over tomorrow.

     W. commenting upon Higginson, said, "He is poor water enough, but a handsome fellow to look at: erect, on his own feet!"

     Somehow turned back to night of the lecture. W. said, "The papers seem particularly to make me out weak, old, senile (almost)—trembling, supported." I rallied him on that, but told him what Bucke and I thought that night: that he would collapse. "It was the only time," I said, "that to my knowledge you ever seemed knocked out," etc. He laughed over that for quite a space, then pursued the thread of our talk: "I was dazzled, but not confused. For instance, it was with me as at this moment: I do not feel at all confused, troubled—I do feel as if there was a bushel basket of lead pressing, pressing on my brain, and I felt that the lecture night. And everything tended to produce it: the glare, the light, the people around before—the speech itself—the rapid life of those two hours—seized, penetrated me. I had certain things to say—indeed, had prepared to say two or three sentences—as on the printed slip, but the event itself partly frustrated me, but only part. Then there was some uncertainty about the place for my remarks. I had hoped to have them come in somewhere among Ingersoll's lecture, with some pause. But when I spoke to him about it, he seemed to prefer to have it come in last." Baker had told me this would undoubtedly be Bob's decision. W. now said, "And I respect it in him—you know how I do. It is part of the man!"

     The Higginson piece of which I have several times spoken in my notes is called "Literary High-Water Marks" (from the Independent) and his comment upon W. was this:

      In some cases, as in Whitman's O Captain, My Captain, the high-water mark may have been attained precisely at the moment when the poet departed from his theory and confined himself most nearly to the laws he was wont to spurn—in this case, by coming nearest to a regularity of rhythm. The praise generally bestowed on the admirable selection in the Library of American Literature by Mr. Stedman

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 269] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
and Mrs. Hutchinson is a proof that there is a certain consensus of opinion on this subject,"
etc.

     Does this apply to W. W. or to the selections in general?

     W. said, "If you should get a chance tonight to say a word to Harris, give him my greeting. Tell him I am still holding the fort, sorta, as I say. He was very kind to me when I was in St. Louis, and I shall not forget it. Came several times to see me, generally with a carriage, always with true consideration. He is so simple, natural a man, you would wonder where is the connection between him and his philosophy." Nearby a couple of copies of the Journal of Speculative Philosophy. W. thought I might take them, "If there's anything at all in them to interest you, you are welcome: I have not and shall not read them. They are not in my line—my habit, anyway."


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.