Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 220] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Saturday, May 23, 1891

     7:50 P.M. W. on his bed (alas—I always find him on his bed now!). Talked with me some time recumbent, then making vain attempts to get up. I reached forth my hand and literally, by a great effort, lifted him. What was new? There were an additional 25 copies of "Good-Bye" in sheets. Satisfied with it. I placed them under the table, along with those already here. He took

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 221] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
yesterday's picture from the table—scanned it again—said of it as he held it arm's-length, "It is better for me—better, better—as I study it—strikes out a new tune—gives us something we never had before. Yes, it is audacious—that's my word—and I have a curious story to tell you about that. You know the queer old lady who stays downstairs with Mary?" Yes, I knew her. She was the screamer, moaner, who had alarmed me on my entrance some days ago and of whom Mrs. Davis explained, "Oh! Nobody is sick—it is only the old lady, probably flopped to her knees praying. She is very religious." This excited W. to great laughter, after which, "Yes, you have nailed her—she is a cranky religionist—poor soul! Well, she has a way of saying when things happen—'I do say, that is audacious'—and when Mary showed her this picture, instantly she said again, 'That is audacious!'—exactly my word!" Further, "This is an artist's picture—an artist's picture in the best sense. Photographers could not take it if they wanted to—certainly would not want to." And again, "I can easily see that Tom Eakins should like it—just as you tell me he does—it is essentially his picture—after his heart." Went laboriously to table and gave me a little package, tied up—two papers—the Transcript (with editorial paragraph from Kennedy, and a marginal note, about "Good-Bye"): Cutting the leaves of advance sheets of another nosegay-bunch of prose and verse by Walt Whitman, we find many bits that will be relished by those who come to his pages for the first time. By far the strongest poem in this good-by collection (named, in fact, "Good-Bye My Fancy") is "To the Sunset Breeze," which was printed in the Transcript not long ago. It makes one gasp to know that this superb piece of mystic and sublimated emotion was rejected by the editor of Harper's Monthly as being "a mere improvisation," as if any lyric were not an improvisation. As for the old readers of Whitman, they will not find much up to the mark of old days, perhaps, in this "annex," but yet it is rooted in touching memories, and cannot be spared, were it only for such humorous bits as that in which the author describes himself as "each successive fortnight getting stiffer and stuck deeper, much like some hard-cased, dilapidated, grim, ancient shellfish or

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 222] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - time-bang'd conch (no legs, utterly non-locomotive), cast up high and dry on the shore sands."


[Boston Transcript, May 21, 1891]

(W.'s note in margin indicates the sentence beginning "It makes one gasp" and reads: "1st ed'n. In 2d ed. this sentence was cut out by some ed.")

     And a copy of the Trenton Times warmly noticing my New England Magazine piece: Our "Good, Grey Poet" of Camden and His Life.

The best, because the best written and the most interesting in delineation, of all the recent articles upon New Jersey's "good, grey poet," is to be found in the New England Magazine for May.

Those who admire Walt Whitman for his rugged verse and his terse, suggestive prose, will find no examples of either in the long article entitled "Walt Whitman at Date," which is the one to which we refer. There is not a line from his muse or his other writings and scarcely an offhand quotation from his remarkable mental laboratory. There is not even praise of his Leaves of Grass, about which something is told, though he is placed in company with the few great immortals in one single sentence.

It is simply a graphic pen-picture by one of his most intimate friends of how he spends his days, how he works, talks, instructs and acts; of what most interests him and how he receives visitors; of his ill days and his well days, his faiths and his intuitions, his manly manliness, his hatred of shams. His is an intense and unique personality, which well deserves the attention of his fellow-countrymen.

After reading this admirable and, ordinarily speaking, exhaustive account of one whose fame as a man is bound to brighten as the years roll on, we cannot help the thought that, whatever is to be said of his poetic genius, or his eccentricity of speech,it is neither which will most greatly attract the public attention after his death—which may it long be postponed. It will be, instead, his vivid, soul-intense leonine-ness; his many-sidedness; his own individual, peculiar, stimulating character.

The farther away the view of it becomes the more colossal will his personal and private character appear. He is too close to our own

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 223] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
doors for Jersey-men to know what is hid beneath an apparently rough exterior. A slouch hat and a long, grey beard; his body in Summer unenveloped with coat or vest; abounding with parental love for all children, though never having set up a home for himself where there could be prattling innocents of his own blood; looking as if he neither loved nor feared, yet with a heart as tender as a woman's and a courage which never stood back to danger, he has proven, in hospital and in the author's den, on the platform and in private letters, in verse, in prose, in monologue, in conversation, a man of valor, of dignity, of strength; an oak, a rock, a tower, an oracle.


Here and there only in America have there been grand, single personalities, looming up above other men as a rock in the desert. Washington was such, Lincoln, Grant; Emerson also. These very names Whitman suggested, according to the article referred to, when once asked "what three or four names of absolute greatness he thought America had so far offered." Is it too much for us to believe, that with these men, and Greeley and Beecher, will one day tower up our venerable Camden friend?

We cannot answer; we dare not affirm; but it is the judgment of not a few great lights over the water, Tennyson among them, and their end of the telescope is the small one which looks farther into the future than we.

[The Times, Trenton, N. J., May 20, 1891]

I produced the letter I yesterday received from Forman. He read. It was written with pencil. When done he laid it on his lap. "I had to struggle through it. But do you know, Horace, though I will do this for Forman, I do it under protest—hating like the devil to do so. My name has no place there—it is not my book—I have nothing to do with it. But Forman is a good fellow—something goes to him. But it is a kind of business that rubs me hard. Bucke once got me in a hell of a hole. Wrote asking me to interpose for an autograph of Longfellow—wished it for some great lord somebody up there—a man he was under—a man whose favor he particularly wanted—indeed, he owned as much to me—and would have me write, which I did. And the gentle amiable sweet Longfellow acquiesced. But I was ashamed of myself—thousands of dollars would not have bought it. This

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 224] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
thing with Forman amounts to about the same. I do it but hate myself for surrendering."
"You do not want the sin to be charged after you are gone?" He laughed, "They will have plenty of company—plenty will be charged." Then musingly turned over the two sheets of "Imprints" and said, "This first article was by Skilton—no, not Skilton—Stillman, the art man, W. J. The whole book was no affair of mine."

     I called his attention to the Critic's assault this week upon Ingersoll's lecture on W. Gave him its substance (had not the paper with me). He asked, "Tell me that again: what was the exact thing said? Repeat it." Which I did. He smiled, "I see—I see it well: motive, charge, result. I have been quite aware from the very first of the mincing, squirming, squealing of some of our friends and would-be friends over the fact of the Colonel's rally for us. I had actual suggestions of it, vague, indirect. But I don't know that it ever caused me to budge an inch—a hair—from the line of my recognition. I am conscious that some things upon which he speaks with great decision—some judgments, views—are not mine, could not be mine, should not be mine. But what does that show? Not anything but our difference. In all essential things we join hands, are on the same road, travel loyally together. Yes, yes—I see, I see—the point of attack, the philistinism—the puerile cries. It don't become us—them—anyone—to lift a protest so thin." I asked him what he thought of the Critic's literal interpretation of Ingersoll's statement that "in the year 1855 the American people knew but little of books." "It is a damnable piece out of the book Miss Nancy—a stupid critical literalism. And besides, the statement is substantially true—I endorse it to the full—it is not Colonel's view alone—it is mine. It has an indirect meaning—the real meaning—which is entirely lost on these people. Who would take it that the American people absolutely read no books—none? Why, it is hell's own stupidity! But of course the Colonel is not to be blown away by such whiffets."

     Asked me to bring him Critic down in the morning. I saw Brinton today (he came in Bank)—approved ideas—would

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 225] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
preside at table—had already talked with chef (Falkenberg) at Reisser's. We arranged for meeting at 4:15 Thursday next at Frank Williams'. Brinton said he thought he could get us a private room in Philadelphia if we wished. Later I went to see Falkenberg. He will go to Camden Monday—estimate capacity of room.

     I received a letter from Gilder today.


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.