Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, December 9, 1890

     7:55 P.M. Had a good 40-minute talk with W. At first not very vivacious but brightened up as our matter grew into interest. Seemed better than yesterday. I did not say a word about health. Will however do as Bucke suggests—have talked with Warren about it. Shall write to J. K. Mitchell for instructions. Sent Bucke today Scottish World and New Ideal. W. said, "I had a letter from Bucke—cheery as usual. And there was a letter from Johnston, too. Johnston wrote that your visit was a delight to him—that its only sorrow was in how it was cut short. He also sent me an order for a book for some lady—a five-dollar book—which I at once sent off. I wrote a letter telling him I had done so. And do you know, Horace, what I did? I asked him about that ten dollars. I am not at all certain he did not give it to me and I forgot it. It would be like me. The last two or three years I have had the worst memory ever made. It is just like this: if you, for instance, would pay me some money tonight, I would be apt as not to ask you tomorrow or next day, 'Why do you not pay me that money?' Johnston is honest—is determined

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to be honest."
At this point in our talk W. showed signs—the first since 1888—of mental confusion, getting the lecture (Ingersoll), the April Lincoln affair, the dinner May 31st woefully mixed—and there were traces left of this through the whole rest of his talk, which, however, was upon high themes. "I always remember the money you gave me from Ingersoll—the $25—but so much absolutely flies!" And then: "I have been reading today—more deliberately than before—that department of Ingersoll's lecture—'What is Poetry?' It has extraordinary significance—is scientific, philosophical—handling the subject—always so elusive—with wonderful power. The best thing about it is, that we have to go back to it again and again to get the best points. More and more I see the value of such special features." Ingersoll had said to me, "You must alter circumstances: in that way only could you elevate men." And W. cried when I told him this, "Just like O'Connor—just the same. Oh! the vehement debates we have had on that point! Choked with heat." He should debate it with Bob! Laughed and explained, "I am not so hot: I would be interested rather in finding out to the full his own opinion—that is more like what I am after now—to get the best evidence, impressions, of other men." I told him laughingly that I believed Mrs. Johnston held nothing against him except his severe arraignment of Collyer in her house, etc.—W. joining the laugh and adding— "I told him the day of ministers was gone, that they were superfluous. And no doubt Alma is right—it might have been omitted sure enough." Had he read Ingersoll's Burns piece I had left with him last week? "Yes—and I find I have read some portions of it before somewhere." Expressed "greatest pleasure" to have a chance "to read it again."

     We spoke of yesterday's proofs. W. remarked, "It would be a miracle if they set all our changes right." Had he read by the books? "No—only by my good sense." I reminded him that in several cases he had made minor changes. "Then I am wrong—for the book is right." At this he picked up a piece of paper from

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the floor—took big pen and wrote. "This is another error—I just hit it there in the book—there"—pointing to the bed where the book lay open. "The best time to make such a change is the immediate moment. I don't follow this rule always, but I know it is best." What had Baker said to me of the Arena? That on receipt of my note informing him of Flower's negative, he had written (not yet mailed) a decisive note. W. smiled. "It will do no good—is better as it is. He has acted up to as much as he saw: he does not see us. And that is reason sufficient for what he has done."

     Back again then to "What is Poetry?"—W. declaring, "What Ingersoll says of rhyme is very subtle, bold, daring. I would not have dared say as much myself—nor in such terms. But he sets it forth with the utmost courage, certitude." And further: "Yes—rhyme is the gilt, embroideration, show, of the poetic. And often comes the question: is it all past—can it be? Ingersoll's subtle unhesitating touch—it is a refreshment in these days when every man is apologizing for his thought—for what he sees."

     Gave me a cake for my mother. Had done it up in envelope and laid out on the bed for me. "Give it to her—or if you should come across a hungry youngster on your wanderings tonight, give it to him: tell her, tell him, it is for love's sake—from Walt Whitman."

     Learning I was to go to Club where Julia Ward Howe would speak, he counselled: "If you come within her radius, tell her, for me, I wish her well of all her years. I do not know much about her, but she has been a brave woman—I honor her. Don't go out of your road—but if a place occurs for the right word, put it in—put it in. Everything consists in the use of the right word. I shall have something to say about that in 'Good-Bye My Fancy.'" I asked, "Is the book ready?" "No—not quite—I am pegging away at it the best I can."

     Bush wished a piece of manuscript for remembrance, and W. very quickly said, "I certainly shall give it to him" and "will look it up the first time it occurs to me." I referred to Kurtz

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portrait of W. in Johnston's hallway—W. first inquiring, "Where is it kept?"—and assenting to my verdict that though a good piece of work it did not satisfy me as a just impression of Whitman. "That was my own opinion: I have seen it." And as to the Waters portrait: "It has virtues—some," adding, "But best of all is the Hine portrait: you saw that? There? He still hangs it up? My old opinion of it lasts—lasts." Johnston a "good man" to W.— "perfectly honest—upright—our good friend," but, "The women—I stick to the women: they are essence—purest essence—eligible for best things."


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