Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, December 2, 1890

     5:20 P.M. W. of course in his room—the wood crackling in the stove—the temperature comfortable after the damp and cold of the out-of-doors. A paper on bed—Great Thoughts (English)—the Sarony picture of W. which the Illustrated News had used gracing (W. thought "disfiguring") the opening page. As I remarked it in this rapid way, W. exclaimed: "You are lynx-eyed, if man ever was! I do not wonder you are at home in the Bank—that is where you belong. Certainly you are gifted with observation of a superior kind." I brushed all this aside by talking of the picture itself (duplicated as it was inside)—W. admitting: "It looks better as you see it there than as it appeared in the News. Johnston sent the paper to me"—it containing Mercer's long paper on W.— "and he sent some of his own pamphlets, too. Look at this," leaning forward to the table and taking one light brown-covered pamphlet out of a number and handing to me. Johnston's title-page relates that here are "notes of visit to Walt Whitman" etc.—and that it is only "printed for private circulation." They just came today. He had given one to

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Warren, who was reading it downstairs aloud to one member of the family.

     I had received further proofs from Somerby this morning and sent to W. as before. He had them ready for me—changes few—and only this in margin: "proof-reader and maker-up: look out for proper spaces between the paragraphs and passages." He complained that Somerby "persists in sending the galley-proofs," yet that these "under necessity" will do—at any rate "are better than the jumbled mass sent before."

     Hereupon showed W. the following note from Baker (received early evening):


New York, Nov. 30. 1890.

My dear Traubel:

First, business. I received from W. W. the necklace of poems for The Arena, and immediately mailed it to Mr. B. O. Flower, the Editor. I have not had a line from him in response—which makes me think that he must have replied, as I requested him, to W. W. personally and directly. I wish you wd. let me know whether W. W. has heard from it—if not, I will at once take steps to find out.

As to the Ingersoll Lecture and the proof. I have repeatedly written to C. P. Somerby, Publisher of The Truth Seeker, requesting him to send galley proofs to you, saying that you and W. W. wd. make only the needed corrections, and that you wd. not delay the matter but return it at once. I have also written him, for the Colonel, and repeated the request on the Colonel's behalf, for the Col. said: Certainly, he not only had no objections, but wished it done, as it was W. W.'s right not only to have his work correctly quoted, but it was his, the Col.'s, desire, of course, and he is thankful to know that you will see that it is accurately done. I presume, in the absence of any positive assurance from Somerby, that he has acceded to our and your joint & repeated requests.

As to the little personal souvenir you are getting up, I don't know what to say or to do. I have called the Col.'s attention to it, and he has promised both yourself & me that he wd. do as you wish—but he doesn't seem to get at it. I hate to keep prodding him—but he is really very peculiar off & on,—has the oddness of genius, takes his

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own time & way—despises business limitations, the necessity of doing anything but just that thing he has in mind & that the mood of the moment spurs him to do. Let it rest awhile. He will do it, means to do it, wants to do it—but time never seems to him important, either for himself or others—unless it is a positive engagement made and a time absolutely set.


I have read our friend Morris's critique. I must say that it is a surprise to me. At the same time, I do not know why it shd. be, as I have had little opportunity of entering intimately into his arcana, & therefore could not know more than I have guessed from surface indications. Of course our friend—or your friend—for we only met as you know and touched lightly on the edges here & there in our brief acquaintance—has written sincerely what he believed to be facts. But he is sadly mistaken in his facts, and therefore in the use he makes of them. His deductions are wrong—unwholesomely wrong—all the way through. He coarsely misjudges the Colonel. He cannot speak from his own knowledge of what the Colonel is. He must therefore be simply the echo of prejudices & mistakes with which the Col.'s flippant and mentally dishonest enemies have filled the air. At the same time, if he is convinced he is right & has a call to put his views in print, it is his liberty to do so. "The Freedom to Write & Print," as you so earnestly and philosophically put it in your "Poet-Lore" essay—for which thanks—must not be abridged, and it is perhaps better said than unsaid, if it is an honest expression. That is, so far as Morris's attitude is concerned. But who is he, that to express his causticisms, he should trifle with the reputation of a man of great character and noble characteristics? Must every youngling who can find a platform yawp his say about others? Must every apprentice in ink-slinging bedirt with printer's ink the moral or mental garments of his superiors or inferiors? I despise and pity those speakers and those writers who in the paucity of argument resort to personal detraction. Anyhow, I think the writing of the day has gone mad, in tagging after persons—after egos—and failing to follow thoughts, ideas, arguments. Only when, and if, individualism is so inwrought in expression to be inseparable from the emanations, have we a right to analyze it and insist on its being inseparable. What I am, what you are, what he is—are not the exalted themes to which the world's eye must be directed. What I say to the world, what you

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do for the world, what he gives to the world are the factors of power. These are to be cognized, to be criticised, to be accepted or rejected.


Friend Morris, too—to touch upon the other and weightier—the only part of his writing worthy to be considered—is strangely awry as to the Col.'s views. He does not comprehend them—fails utterly to grasp them—consequently, as I said above, misrepresents them more and further far than the parrot misgives the human voice in his thin and acrid squeaks.

I thank you, dear Traubel, for all your kind words and literary attentions. I wish I could command more time to follow you fully, and enter more deeply into your rich mentality—but I fear I shall only in my busy, practical life, nowadays, have the pleasure of catching the glimpse and glow. My literary and thought delving days are more a memory than a possession kept bright by use. I do not write for the press now. Circumstances have put both knees upon my former aspirations and hold me down to the necessary choice of mending my many times broken fortunes. I am doing this thing—in the fond hope, however, of an evening time of leisure when I may write and think for others.

Yours always,

I. N. Baker

I want you to call in on me, and want you to arrange to spend a social evening with me and my good wife at our home No. 19 E. 80th St.

B.


     When W. opened he exclaimed: "God bless him for his handwriting! It's as clear as light itself!" At the second paragraph he cried out vehemently: "So it is really Somerby in that Truth Seeker!—the damned sanctified sleek scoundrel! Yes—I know him: long, long ago, he was one who had no shame about swindling me. And out of several hundred dollars at a time when ten cents was a boon! No—I shall not forget it. And the paper is the Truth Seeker, too!" And later he said: "I should like to put some lawyer on his track—not a big fellow—but some hound, who'll scent him up—drive him to his hole—make him game at last. I do not mind if you tell Baker this—

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or the Colonel. It belongs to them to know as to me to suffer it."
And then he went on with the letter, saying, finally, as he folded it up: "Not the least of the many merits of this letter, however, is the writing itself. It is a joy to read—to look at merely. And Baker is right, too—only, he should remember what stuff critics are made of—should remember the Heinesque theory of criticism. When did critics do anything else than growl at, belittle, decry, curse, hound, denounce, the fellows—the bigger the fellows, the worse—not so much for what they have done as for what they have not done? The critic is yet to come who penetrates to the purpose of a book, what-not—is content with that, content to know what the writer started out to prove and whether he did prove that."

     Several Whitman notes in current Critic (29th). The one under general head—"Of Making Many Books"—messages from various walkers on literary fields— "is all from" his "hand," he says, "and on its way it would give William's" (O'Connor's) "book a boost." "I liked the whole farrago, so to call it—John's (Burroughs') with the rest." And, "I think the public like this sort of thing—are eligible to be impressed with it."

     Showed him letter from Bush, which he liked. "A noble fellow—we ought to love him: do, too." Remarked that he had not made many changes in my manuscript. "There were not many to make—hardly any. Only a word to add in several places." Had he word yet from Arena? "No—not the first sign—tell Baker that: he wants to know." Asked: "And the financial storm? Does it still blow?" For the present a lull. Said he was glad. We then dicussed Parnell. He "certainly will be deposed." "Yet," continued W., "I can't get out of my mind what Carlyle said cynically of Gladstone—that he was a man not so much concerned about men in themselves as about the clothes they wore. Oh! how subtle searching! and how cynical, too—and so Carlylean! And, to make it more effective—how true! I have no doubt Gladstone always has at least one eye on Mrs. Grundy."


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     Not out today—too cold, snow on the ground, etc. But looked better and admitted he was more comfortable. Somerby had sent notes to me and to Baker about dilatoriness in proofs:


Truth Seeker Company
Booksellers and Publishers
28 Lafayette Place,
New York, Nov. 29 1890

My dear Baker,

Both of your communications regarding the proof of "Liberty in Literature" being sent to Whitman—or Traubel—were rec'd. We are willing to do this but they are very dilatory about returning proofs we have sent. In fact none of them have been returned at all. In order to facilitate matters I have instructed our proof-reader to read it from the latest edition of "Leaves of Grass" carefully and then send these corrected proofs to them in pages. They surely could not find much if any changes to make after a careful revision. If they have sent any of these proofs to you, will you please forward them at once to me.

And oblige

Yours always,

C. P. Somerby


     This quite angered W.: "He is a damned scamp! We have been prompt enough with him, but how was he with me? That is on another leg! Let him beware!" W. asked, "What have you decided? Will you go to New York Friday?" And to my "probably" "Well, I shall be glad: your package is ready." "The specifications of locale" in Bush's note, he said, "moved" his "memory." And he went over some old corners he had "favored in the great town."

     Had he ever read Ingersoll's essay on Burns? "No—I have never even heard he delivered on that subject: how does it rank?" And when he heard that it was in my scrap-book (some newspaper report of it) he asked that I "bring the book down—anytime soon you can."


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     He heard, he said, "that Edward Everett Hale is to withdraw—has withdrawn—from the New England Magazine"—and characterized Hale as "a man like Disraeli's Gladstone—respectable to the last degree, timid, excellent, refined—valuing, judging men by the clothes they wear, the front they present." And, "It is more than likely he was an ornament in the magazine anyhow. I cannot conceive that he could be useful in any other capacity: Mead probably has done all the work." There was always "a great noise" "splurge"—about Hale's connection with this or that—but he thought it was the connection of his respectability—no more.

     Law had sent me copy of Scottish World with some kindly paragraphs (probably his own) about Ingersoll lecture. W. had me promise to bring down.

     Told him Bucke had sent me Johnston's picture of W.'s bedroom—"study"—thinking though it was not first-rate, it was sufficiently good to convey an idea of the "den." W. said, "Do as you choose: I do not like it."

     Long letter from Bucke discussing W.'s condition:


30 Nov. 1890

My dear Horace,

I have your letters of 25th, 26th and three of 27th. The latter three came in a lump last evening and rather frightened me at first—thought there might be some serious changes which you felt called upon to report. Do not be afraid of worrying me with the number of your letters, I am always glad to hear from you and nothing you write about is without interest to me. I lectured 2 hours yesterday and have to do the same tomorrow so that my time for writing is somewhat limited, but a couple more weeks will finish the course and then I shall have more time. I will now look through your five unanswered letters and reply seriatim to them as well as I can. I have not yet seen the Lippincott poem which you think so much of—have sent to N.Y. for Dec. L. I suppose that is right? but it is strange that neither W. nor you sent me the poem or directions where to get

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it. W. mentioned to me that Dr. Mitchell (Jr.) had been over, but nothing more. I am still quite unsatisfied and anxious about W.'s condition—hope to hear something more definite from you about it very soon—hope you will see Mitchell, but I doubt very much whether Mitchell made much of an examination—doubt if W. gave him the chance to do so. It would have been much better if an older man had gone.


I knew nothing about J[eff] W[hitman]'s death until I received yours of 27th. Have not heard from W. since he heard of the death. J. was his favorite brother and he will feel this death terribly—he may (and probably will) try to hide it, but it will cut deep. I knew (from W.) that J. had not been in first-rate health for the last few years but I had no idea of anything serious being the matter. Neither, I am pretty sure, had W. Horace, I fear we are coming to deep waters—I have a most gloomy foreboding—but I will not give way to it nor show it to anyone but you and you must keep a steady front. I do not by any means laugh at W.'s notion of "catarrh of the stomach" (I could easier cry). I think it not all unlikely, but if he has C. of S. he has something else with it most likely much more serious even than that (though C. of S. at his age would be serious enough itself). W. has no ordinary dyspepsia from an improper diet. He has been far more careful of his diet this last summer than before, and if his diet a year ago did not upset him that of today can not. I believe that lately W. has been as careful of his diet as need be and that no change in this respect will relieve him because no change is really needed. I note Mitchell's address but will not write him at present. Will wait for your report of what he tells you. The fact that W. thinks he is "in a bad way" is a most serious one—he is almost sure to know (by his feelings) if anything serious is going on. I greatly fear that the death of J. too will favor and hasten the morbid processes which we so much dread. As you say "it is hard to know what to do," but I would lay down this rule absolutely "do not try to force W." Watch him, attend him, advise him, comfort him in every way but do not go beyond gently urging when he does not do what we want. You may be about certain that his life will not be shortened by his carrying out his own ideas—he is very wise at bottom and is as likely to act (or not act) for the best of his own head as if he followed the advice of any of us.


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I do not think W. is the least likely to condemn your piece on W. W. (if he does it will be a great surprise to me), but if he does, do not you do anything rash and foolish—keep it in any case (if not printed) it will be wanted—no fear of that. Yes, get me a proof like a good fellow if you can—I shall be very anxious to read it. Do not be down-hearted about your work, I am as sure of the exceeding great importance of it as I am about the fact of my actual life—you will see by & by. You are too close to W. to see now.

Now about Johnston and the Ingersoll money and the fund, I think I have told you already what I think, but for fear of mistake I say it again. The Ingersoll money has nothing to do with the fund or with any of us. It is between I. and W. entirely—we will keep up the fund (please God) as long as W. lives. Let anyone who will step out, & if you need more from me than $3 a month, I will send it. About the $10 given to J[ohnston] for W. by Beers—J. showed the $10 to Ingersoll (I being close to I. talking to him and Mrs. I. at the time) and said to him "see what Beers has given me for his ticket tonight." I. said "that is good" or something to that effect. Johnston put the $10 bill in his pocket (as I supposed meaning to give it to the treasurer in Phila.). I think Johnston should be written to about it, because he may have given it to someone for W. and we may be blaming him wrongly. No, it is not cold here—we have had a lovely November and it is still pleasant, cool (not cold) weather. No frost of any account yet.

Yes, I will tell you what W. says to me about the death of J. (no doubt he will mention it when he writes me next). There is no fear about the receipt of a telegram by me—it would come instanter. If what you have to send is very important insist on an immediate answer from me and make the Phila. operator get it—or if not from me from Dr. Beemer (in case I should be away). I will go down at once if needed, but recollect I am not free to go as often as I might like so do not bring me down unless necessary. I want to see W. alive if possible (in case of the worse happening), but do not have me go down unless you have the very best advice that W. cannot get better.

I think this is all at present. Keep me advised,

Love to you,

RM Bucke



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