Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 130] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Friday, September 19, 1890

     4:40 P. M. Good half hour's talk with W. Just finished dinner, Warren coming in for the tray—had not been out yet—Warren just setting chair out before the door. Looks well, talks well.

     Much interested in Harper's Weekly and Bazar I had with me. I left former with him as he enjoys the pictures. Says of them, "Each week they seem to overpass the week previous."

     Asked me if anything new had transpired in the Ingersoll matter. No. Nor new with him. He thought he still felt New York to be the place, though "satisfied" to have us "proceed in Philadelphia if that might seem advisable." He speaks of Ingersoll as prepared "with an address, lecture, essay, oration, whatnot"—is enjoying the prospect, I think, and all that comes in its train.

     Spoke about questioners: "They are my abomination: I'd as lief be buffeted so and so and so—right in the mouth—as be constantly submitted to catechism. It is always: what do you think of Blaine? or, what do you think about religion? or, what are your opinions about politics? or, do you believe in immortality? and so on, with a list that sets me sick, offered by nearly everyone who comes. And they will ask about the latest book, the latest picture, the latest everything—of none of which could I know anything at all. Some people are born lawyers: are born to question, to get on the track of the last fact with the last question, to let no man escape their inquisition." Was this not Yankee? "Yes, in part, but not in its abuse." Or the habit of science, in its search? "I should not so place it to the scientific men: some of it, it may be, but not in its cheaper phase."

     I had "The Kreutzer Sonata" with me. He noticed and said, "It is a mighty book, a vast book: it has property from the highest sources." And further, "And it is true, too, yes: its sketch of marriage in high life, of everyday formal marriages, hits to the life. It's throbbing, vital with fidelity."

     How far was "Leaves of Grass" teaching a higher lesson? Did

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 131] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
W.'s affirmative attitude—simply declaring the sacredness of body and soul—emphasizing it everywhere, yet not denunciating—produce results of greater compass? W. looked at me. "What do you think? Does it? I had not thought. But affirmation! It is a great spirit: we have a right to look to it for highest effects."

     How much had W. in common with Buddhism? For instance, in his insistence upon the holiness of all life, all material—taking in particularly the sphere of lower life, so tenderly regarded in the East. W. replied, "I can see union, agreement at some points, perhaps many, but one point of differentiation seems to be here: that whereas, the Buddhist puts stress—primary stress—upon absorptive, final loss of individuality, I put the contrary emphasis, upon, if so to say it, an extreme individuality, identity—that the individual is crown, master, god of all. It is not the Buddhist alone who has that instinct, but the Christian, too. And too often I find it in men of science. But the mission of 'Leaves of Grass' is to stand against all that—to take the extreme stand in opposition."

     He laid the Atlantic out for me. "Holmes is a cute fellow. He sees a point sometimes with unexpected capacity. I have read that piece carefully again, and think more of it, too, after a second reading. You will see that whatever happens, I am determined to take compliments out of it. The point that flatters me"—this with a laugh— "is where he classes Emerson and Walt Whitman together as men determined upon the freedom of literature, with their declaration of independence, and then says that after all we are not the original Jacobs in that cause, but that honors all belong to Lord Timothy Dexter, born and died long ago." W. spoke, as so often before, of "the gentle Emerson," and that Holmes after all had struck a truth when he perceived, even in the passing view of a joke, that Emerson and W. W. had made some stroke for liberty: "However, Walt Whitman, for his part, may have failed in what he undertook." And then, "I ought to say all this to Dr. Bucke, but I suppose

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 132] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I never shall. If I could remember it till he came on, it might be repeated, or perhaps you will carry some of it to him if you go up there in October."

     W. in trying to remember something to tell me, suddenly exclaimed, "My memory is very bad and becoming worse! The most tantalizing habit it has is of remembering just enough of a thing to remind me of how much is forgotten." I gave him what I thought were peculiar features of his memory. He admitted, "Yes, they may be true, but my memory is bad, always has been bad. I have no such memory as you have." Adding, "My memory is more a memory of impressions than of facts. I could always hold well in hand memorable events, memorable days—but everthing else was like to go." I asked, "But how about the vast accumulation of fact, detail out of active life, in 'Leaves of Grass'?" "Yes, I have quite a volume of them: but it is more from early habit than good memory," and as to remembering his own poems, "I don't suppose I can repeat one of them. They go utterly, utterly—in fact, do not even do that, for I never have them in the sense we are speaking of."


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.