Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, August 12, 1890

     5:10 P.M. Found W. making up a lot of Posts for mailing—giving a copy to me. It contained editorial unsigned paragraph herewith, all marked and corrected by W. I had mailed matter for him to Bonsall yesterday.


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A person named Woodberry says in a just published book that R. W. Emerson told him how Walt Whitman appeared at a dinner party, in New York, coatless, in his shirt sleeves. Of course and certainly Walt Whitman did not so appear, and quite as certainly, of course, Emerson never said anything of the sort. The extreme friendliness of a few critics toward Walt Whitman is met by the extremer malignance and made-up falsehoods of other critics. One of the latter printed in a New York weekly that Whitman always wore an open red flannel shirt. Another story was that Washington, D.C., police "run him out" from that town for shamelessly living with an improper female. In a book of Edward Emerson's, a full account of his father's opinion of Walt Whitman is sneaked in by a footnote. The true fact is, R. W. Emerson had a firm and deep attachment to Whitman from first to last, as person and poet, which Emerson's family and several of his conventional literary friends tried their best in vain to dislodge. As Frank Sanborn relates, Emerson was fond of looking at matters from different sides, but he early put on record, that to his mind, "Leaves of Grass" was "the greatest show of wit and poetry that America had yet contributed," and to this mind he steadily adhered throughout.

     Had "not been able to write anything about O'Reilly," he said. "Today I got a telegram from the Pilot, asking if I had anything to say. I have not answered it—probably shall not. I could hardly explain why. For today, for one thing, I have been unwell—that may have had something to do with it. I see the papers are full of him, and all they say is bright and affectionate. He seems to have been a famous friend, comrade, lover—liked by all who could recognize a true emotional, sympathetic man. When all say so much why need I say anything?—though I hardly know why I should take that ground. The plain matter is, I have not so far been moved to write. Magnetism? Yes, I think he had magnetism, as it is called—must have had it—indeed, I know he had it—markedly, grandly. Magnetism is the popular word, and has the advantage of direct meaning," though he doubted if for him "it fully answers its end." I said I could myself write something about

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O'Reilly and told him what, to which he said, "That is fine—that ought to be said—you ought to say it." And as to the letter I had from O'Reilly May 22nd and would include, "I had no remembrance of it in that strain. It is a great note—characteristic—the breath of the man."

     Called my attention to last volume of Stedman's book. "Did you know that Morris was mentioned there? It is a feather for him. And there is a poem too—I have not read it yet, but laid it aside to read." Then would have that I look at a masterpiece—a steel engraving of F. Marian Crawford. He thought "very fine of its sort." Book just come today—still mostly uncut.

     Had written notes for my New England Magazine article today. "I give it to you, to do with what you like: to use of its substance or not—what you choose or think best. It is hastily jotted down, but correct as to fact and date."

     Referred to death of Cardinal Newman with, as he said, "wonder at his great age—his 90 years," asking me then after the brother Francis Newman—what he had done—his "main current of work," admitting that he "knows little about either."

It would be an easy matter to spin out a two-column review of The New Spirit, a volume of critical essays by Mr. Havelock Ellis. But the length of the review would be due to the thoughts suggested by the title, and not to any inherent importance in Mrs. Ellis's treatment of his theme. Is there a "new spirit," which differentiates later literature from earlier, and threatens, like the "theory of moulds" in Burnand's Happy Thoughts, to "upset everything," and modify or possibly reconstruct art, ethics, and society itself? Mr. Ellis thinks that there is, and accordingly groups together, as chief representative subjects for his essays in exposition of the general theme, Diderot, Heine, Whitman, Ibsen, and Tolstoi.... As far as the author turns our thoughts—wittingly or unwittingly on his own part—to Diderot and the encyclopædists, to Heine's lyrical expressions of sorrow, to Whitman's imperfect humanism and neglect of the spiritual and the ideal, to Ibsen's or Tolstoi's arraignments of marriage without love, he does well; but he is too much the special pleader to be reckoned

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a sage or helpful critic. To mention but a single point: Why is it that Whitman's vociferous English public fails to see that the "representative American mind" is not recognized as their own leader by any class in his native land? Longfellow, Emerson, Poe, Hawthorne, Whittier, Webster, Calhoun, John Brown, Jefferson Davis, even William Miller and Joseph Smith, were allowed to prophesy and gather their bands of devoted followers; must there not be something amiss in his claims if Whitman, alone among our great company of reformers, is regarded as an interesting curiosity rather than a pioneer, and finds his public in English club-rooms rather than on our own wharves, factories, and praries?


     Read W. the above from Sunday School Times, Philadelphia. He laughed—thought it "a bit of the old plank" and "a view to be taken," however it "might prove error or stupid."


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