Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, February 9, 1891

     6 P.M. Spent a half hour of significant joy with W. He sat in his room, writing, the crazy quilt tied about his neck. Mrs. Davis had told me at the door that W. spent a good day, but he shook his head and said: "This has been one of my worst days. I may have said little about it, but this was the fact." And: "It is best

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not to dwell too much on the evil—if it is evil,"
etc. Then: "I had a purchaser here today—he bought a pocket-copy. I did not see him—Warren caught name as J. B. Lippincott, but I shouldn't wonder if that was a mistake." Had been working on manuscript of book. The Sarrazin essay on bed: had "worked it up some," etc. Referred to [death of] Windom: "Kennedy puts it down to tobacco and high-pressure. I shouldn't wonder: this high-pressed excitement, to coin a word, is dreadful—hell itself. Yet it dominates in American life."

     Gave me a pack of letters—containing two from Bucke, one from Stoddart, one from Somerby. W. said: "You may go to see Stoddart—you will find it written there—he has a proposition to make to us—you go do what you think best." Stoddart wrote:


Philadelphia, Feb. 7th, 1891

Dear Mr. Whitman:

During my absence your note of the 4th, inst was left here by Mr. Traubel. I have a suggestion to make which will be much more satisfactory, in reference to what you suggest, than what you propose, and will either see you or give you the information before the publication of the number containing it, which will be the 20th of this month.

Very likely next week I will be over to see you, or if Mr. Traubel will take the trouble to call in I will explain it to him.

Yours truly,

J. M. Stoddart


     W. wrote on the foot of the letter:

Horace T:

You call on Mr. S. & act & settle it in my place. I hereby empower you fully.

Walt Whitman

     I wrote Stoddart that I would be in to see him tomorrow after four. W. alluded to the death of great men, that "an unusual number of them seem to drop off."

     Letter from Stedman to me:


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February 8th, 1891.

Dear Mr. Traubel,

Your favor of the third instant and the "Conservator" found father quite unwell with the grippe & resulting pleurisy, so that he is now in bed and has asked me to thank you for both. He has looked over the article with great interest.

What Mr. Aldrich wanted was a a page of manuscript (poetry preferred) to represent Mr. Whitman in his collection of American poets. He did not wish to put Mr. Whitman to the trouble of copying anything off, but thought the latter might find a stray sheet that would not be missed.

Dempster Sherman went down this week to speak before the Pegasus Club. Perhaps you heard him.

Father says Mr. Whitman must not think of writing.

With kind regards from him, in which I heartily join,

Very sincerely yours,

Arthur Stedman


     W. said, "It is the damnable life we lead: no ease—no real ease—no rest—death."

     He had read Julian Hawthorne's article on Heywood (in Twentieth Century). "I enjoyed it a good deal: Julian's heart is in the right place. The only thing I know against his chance is that he is in New York—and that atmosphere!" I interrupted to say, "But he is not—he lives in Sag Harbor—seems to be altogether a fresh out-of-door man." W. replying, "I know Sag Harbor—have been there: it is on the extreme end of Long Island, right in the point of the angle of the fork"—indicating with his fingers. "It is not a desolate place—is quite a town—has several dozen stores. No doubt Julian is a healthy fellow, and as we know, from best stock—brains, body. His daughter, who was here—came with Stoddart—was herself a fine specimen—unconventional—tall as I am—kissed me warmly, as all the unconventional girls do." Laughing— "Even her dress was plain." And, "Certainly, Julian's protest for Heywood is manly and ought to create a change." Several places Hawthorne had

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coupled allusions to W. and Ingersoll. W. said: "Yes—that is right. I do not object in the least. In the letters there you will see the first Symonds note to Johnston—the copy. Poor Symonds! But do you know, Horace, I consider the friendship of men like Symonds and Ingersoll a great plume in our cap—great. Symonds is the quintessence of culture: he is the culture of culture of culture—the essence of an essence. And Bob—I might say he represents the doctrine—if I may speak of it that way—of 'one world at a time.' Men and women, sense, love—all in a majestic high sense, too. If I had any difference with him at all, it would be at this point: 'Leaves of Grass' would say, the stamp has been put on these things for something deeper yet—for something yet to come. If there is any lesson nestling down, down—it is that." We spoke of health in connection with "Leaves of Grass." I said, "It fortifies us with cheer whatever may come." He replied, "That sets the standard very high—that requires a long leap—the bars are up—up"—looking at me—I responding, "I know it, but a man who knows 'Leaves of Grass' is prepared to take the leap."

     Passed to another subject. What did he think of gorgeous architecture—high luxurious living—as an aesthetic inspiration to the masses? He laughed but said, "I can see why it should be urged—it is a legitimate argument. I think even Emerson held it to some extent—used to put it beautifully—that even royalty, even the kings, aided in the process by which civilization gained its dignity. It is a subject admitting of two sides: it is like the question of Christianity—the doubt often comes to me, as they say it did to Elias Hicks, whether it has not done more harm than good in the world. I have never been quite prepared to answer that. Sometimes I have thought this—that nothing is more to the credit of the human critter than that it crept to Christianity, adopted it, used it, climbed it over and over, possessed it with that instinct, so wonderful in the vine, which crawls, crawls, crawls along the ground as if it knew that nearby was a post which it must make its own." I said, "That

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is the right order of the process: but the average Christian will have it that the post crept towards the vine!"
W. laughed very heartily. "Well said: but what have we to do with what the damned parsons have to say—the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, pleading their cases?" I questioned, "And you think the vine will by and by pass on, to possess other posts?" "Oh! boy! I do—I do!—that is evolution: and 'Leaves of Grass' and evolution are one." And again: "We can't know what we are bound to—but bound to something?—we can't doubt it—no, can't."

     Left last proof of Kennedy's piece with him. He sent it up late in the evening. W. informed me that I would find the first Symonds letter in one of the Bucke letters.

     Also had put Somerby bill in package. "He sends me payment today."


[To Dr. John Johnston]
Am Hof, Davos Platz, Switzerland
Dec. 22nd, 1890

My dear Sir,

I want to send you very hearty and very kindly greetings, with thanks for your "Notes of a Visit to Walt Whitman." I appreciate the little book in the first place for its own sake. Among the many attempts to delineate Whitman as he is, none have brought him so freshly and livingly before me as this. The moderate compass and the unaffected unegoistic simplicity of the narrative give it a high place in the Gospel of the Good Grey Poet. It is like a bit of literature descending from a purer, less affected age than ours, and will play a very considerable part in the formation of that tradition which Whitman is destined to hand down to the future.

Next, I am touched by his request that you should send it to me, and by the fact that in your first colloquy with the man I venerate so deeply, you should have handed him the reprint of my humble essay on Dante. For a broken and aging man of letters up here among the Alpine snows, these particulars have an almost tender, pathetic interest. They bring a film before the eyes, through which

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swims so much of life, of the irrecoverable past, of the unequal battle with circumstance, of the spiritual forces which have sustained, and of the failures which have saddened.


I do not know whether you have ever seen a lost piece of writing by me, in which I said that Whitman's work had influenced me more than anything in literature except the Bible and Plato. This expresses the mere fact, so far as I can read my inner self, though perhaps my own industry in life, on the lines of author mainly may not seem to corroborate my statement.

I owe to him a great debt and had I not been fettered by the chains of an unpardoning disease, consumption, with which it has been my duty to fight, I would long ago have crossed the seas to visit him.

So you see anything that brings him near to me is dear to me. And you have done this so vitally that I am writing to you more in his own spirit of comradeship, than with the measured terms of ceremonious courtesy.

I wish I could see a copy of the photograph you took of him and Warry. Even were it imperfect I am trained to see—an artist of any kind sees more than the uninitiated can.

Whitman himself sent me a sheet of very interesting portraits of himself, taken at various periods of his manhood. These, with his permission, I am trying to get reproduced by a Munich artist who has great skill in such matters. He is doubtful whether he can succeed. But should the result prove worthy in any degree, I will give myself the pleasure of sending you copies.

Believe me meanwhile to be very sincerely, and in Whitmanly friendship.

Yours,

John Addington Symonds



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