Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 433] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Monday, January 26, 1891

     5:30 P.M. Went to W.'s and talked with him three-quarters of an hour. He appeared in fine condition, for him—outwardly—but still complains that his troubles persist. The quilt pinned about his shoulders. Kissed him—entered at once into recital of my trip. He first asked me about the terrible storm Saturday night and the ruin it had brought. What had I seen of it? He said, "I knew it was on: in the dark of the night, alone here, awake, I heard the windows rattle, the wind whistle, the patter of rain—then the silence—snow." I gave him what he called "the pen-salver from Stedman." Very pleased. Spoke of him as "the good Stedman," of his generosity, etc. Asked description of him and his surroundings, and was apparently interested in it all—as interested, too, in Conway—who, to his view, "is no mean mind either." But he spoke quite at length of "the New York literary fellows"—Stedman most of all. "I like Stedman—he undoubtedly means us well; is honest, affectionate, true. He is an impetuous, impulsive fellow—of course sees everything by that light—but bravely, too, so far as it is in him. But of course he is not a first-classer—is more or less bitten by the New York atmosphere. Though I always feel that he is its best specimen. In affairs of that sort—literary knowledges, all that—he is at the top, and uses his influence well. I do not remember him at Pfaff's at all, though no doubt he was there, as all the fellows more or less frequented it. I remember Tom Aldrich

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 434] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
quite well."
When I told him Stedman's "Yes, Tom, I have seen (or read) your little tinkle" story as having occurred at Pfaff's, W. said, "I do not in the least remember it—nor believe it, either. That is not Stedman's story, anyhow—it is Harry Clapp's, and it has now travelled about—done service—for years. It is one of the stories which, being often repeated, people believe true. And I believe Stedman himself forgets. I always liked Tom: he was a clean, attractive fellow—all our men would like that kind of a man anytime—a little dandified, or easy. But healthy, magnetic, so to speak. But I don't believe I ever turned to him when asked such a question and said, yes—I had read the tinkle—or anything of the sort. The story is like Woodbury's shirt-sleeve story—it is entitled to no credit." Then further, "I think we are justified in accepting Stedman, so far as he goes, as in the nature of a triumph: he has come to us, over all that hundred-fold storehouse of prejudice. He is genuine, loving—differentiated from the mass with which he is most confused. Yes, I have known he knew Stoddard—they are friends—and it is not to be denied to Stoddard that he possesses talent, but in these later days all his milk has turned sour. Take Stoddard, Willie Winter, such fellows—I know by all the evidence of the calendar that down deep in the marrow—in the spinal bases, explications—they despise me—will have none of me—and this for reasons. Why should they? How could they? They do not see! Sorrow or complain of their enmity? O no! Never! How could we sorrow when it is for this enmity that we come! Stoddard's own venom is of the meanest. I have just been reading his piece on Reid—T. Buchanan—in Lippincott's: it is full of the snarl and bite of dogs—full. Unworthy, cowardly, I was going to say. The whole atmosphere—literary atmosphere—there in New York is charged with it. I can understand perfectly your perception of it, even with Stedman—noble fellow he is." I had said I left Stedman with a sense of depression, yet always left Ingersoll and Burroughs and Bucke and O'Connor and Morse and such free characters exhilarated and helped. "Yes,

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 435] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I can share it fully—I know exactly what it is—means, and I am glad you feel it. These fellows long ago set their rules—the ends of things—art, the earth—and live within doors: close, bolt—disdain open air—the skies. Stoddard is a good type: once of good build, now turned, disappointed. They are like the curs on the street: you pass along, thinking the best of their intentions, when suddenly they have you by the leg."
As to Stedman's reference to Bucke as a "lunatic," W. replied, "I know where that came from: that ought to be marked 'Gilder'; it came from Gilder. But to me it is very much as if they were to say—he was a lunatic because he was the sanest man of them all." Stedman had embarrassed me so much by repeated assurances that I did not "understand" W., or understand him as well as he did, that finally I had broken out to say, "You know, Mr. Stedman, I have not said I understood Walt Whitman. I understand what I understand—no more." W. responded to recital of this. "Yes, and it was a very good and sufficient reply to make. Stedman was not justified to try to drive you in that corner." And to Stedman's several questions (I refusing to answer) whether I "honestly" believed W. capable of such personal devotion as I had shown him and whether W. had ever helped brother-authors, and whether W. was in fact "any better than you or I—honestly now," etc., W. said, "That certainly is a curious argument, to say the least, and you did right to reserve your replies. Indeed, they do not call for replies." Stedman had explained W.'s character by its relationship rather to humanity than to individuals. W. responded, "I am surprised: how can Stedman know? It is an area he never treads." As to Stedman's protest that W. had not been mistreated by American authors, W. said, "It is news to me—the same old story. Gilder, too, holds to it firmly—everywhere asserts it. But we know what we know." Expressed his gladness that Stedman "seems in more or less good trim," called him "poor fellow" for his hard work—asking too, in an affectionate way, after Arthur. "We like the boy here a good deal." And then, "All we now know of Stedman

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 436] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
confirms what we have known. He is a noble fellow—generous—would do us good things. When I consider his history, surroundings, that New York drag, drag—I am astonished he bears up as he does. He is a conquest, as far as he goes—a true one, and we must value him: for back of his effusions, nervousness, is a strong heart."
When I had referred to Hartmann affair—Stedman had asked somewhat after Hartmann, who he was, etc., and then had said, "Oh! the matter never concerned me in the least. It was Howells who came around in great dudgeon," etc. But Stedman must forget—since his letters to me at the time, and his after-silence, showed considerable disturbance. W. verified this: "I remember too. I guess he forgets, forgets. In life, in these trifling affairs, principally, things run, in time, one into another, so that all distinct evidence of them is effaced."

     W. asked after the Johnstons, Bush, Baker. "Sorry," he said, I had "missed the Colonel." Wished to send by me some letters of introduction to Bush "for some of the Brooklyn engineers: Horace Tarr for one. I want Bush to know them, meet them." Gave me letter from Bucke, dated 24th, remarking, "You will like it: it is true, too." I did not know at the moment what he referred to. Probably reference to my piece.

     Asked me if I had a set of Lippincott's proofs to "swop-off for the set left the other night?" Gave him same from bag I had with me, and he handed me the others. "I have written a word in it—for you. Take it—keep it: it is meant not only for what it says but for what comes by indirections, between the lines." Later I found he had worked with red ink one line of the piece, and had written also with red ink at the end.

     Would tell him more of the trip again. Hurried off. He has asked me about the Ingersoll books: had they come yet? Had sent order Friday night. Had not been home since Saturday morning. After leaving W. now found the whole order home, and on my way to Philadelphia took 20 to him. Will take others tomorrow.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 437] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     Three notes from Bucke at home—discussing W.'s birthday, Lippincott's piece, etc.—W.'s sickness, etc.

     Gave me this memorandum written on a slip of colored paper: "Get me some paper like this—I prefer it to white to write my copy on for printing. It comes in long sheets (for wrapping) and I cut it up. This color if possible." Wished it "tomorrow if you can—though—take your time," etc.

     I read this to W. Saturday from Friday's Bulletin: "An Australian play-bill announces among its attractions 'Walt Whitman's Whimsical Wheezes' and a San Francisco paper wants to know when 'the good grey poet went into the business.'" And he laughed most heartily over it.


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.