Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, May 25, 1891

     7:56 P.M. To W.'s expecting to stay only a few minutes—yet it came full 9:17 ere I left. Latest longest stay for a long time. Talked round the whole calendar. For more than half an hour he continued on his bed, where I had found him—talking freely there—then rose and went to his chair, where he talked again and easily. Dr. Harrison Allen over today. "He is au fait—I liked him. He came at Longaker's suggestion, with special reference to the ear business—catarrh. Quite an elaborate examination—a very long talk. I found he had the virtue of all the first-rate fellows—the first first-raters—namely, that he was not too damned certain—had no arrogance—listened, advised, inquired. And I talked with him readily—like a house afire. I am surprised myself, now, that I expounded so many things—made such a full exhibit—with an ordinary doctor. I would not have done so, but it was mostly about myself—almost wholly that." What had Allen told him? "Little—he inquired, inquired, inquired. A clever, bright fellow—younger than I had expected."


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     He seemed curiously doubtful whether I "could assemble a dinner." Caterer had been over today. I saw him late in afternoon at Reisser's. He could seat 30. W. asked, "Where will you get them? Look out that you don't spread your dishes and find nobody to eat them." And then, "This world—this part of it—is full of philistines—and you must not forget that this is held Sunday." I laughed. "Why do you laugh?" And then even asked me about Morris, "Has he any such objections? Will Sunday stagger him?" But my confidence and laughter finally got him laughing too. I named some of the women who would be there. "Will they come? Well, that will be the triumph of the feast! Your sister, Mrs. Harned? And you will bring your girl, Anne Montgomerie, won't you, Horace?" I said, "Yes, we start housekeeping this week." "Eh! to be married?" Rose on his elbows on bed— "You are not married yet?" And then, "Where will you locate?" "In Camden." "Good, good!" and dropt his head on the pillow again. "Well, then Anne will be here. And another—your mother. She should be asked, though I doubt if she can come. But do you ask her, Horace, for me." And Bush's wife— "Yes, she ought to be here." Discussed in that strain for some time—counsel, etc., from him. He seemed to think it should be eight to nine— "and plain food and plenty to drink." We arranged for six o'clock—plain dinner and drink as ordered. He named several who "should not be forgotten." I promised to write Donaldson and Tucker—all the others were listed. Said of Tucker, "I noticed he took Trumbull by the ears! Well, he was always one of us—would be a big help if we had him here—a lift. A healthy nature—powerful—throughout." No "further or more hopeful" word from Bucke. "Perhaps he won't be here—but that's not natural, either!" W. was questioning, to know if Frank Williams' wife is to come. He had heard inimical words about her. "But I dismiss all that: what have I to do with it? Besides, she is what she is. Which is what my dear parents used to say of our friends, to close criticism. I wonder who, if a strong enough light is cast, can stand such tests?" He was acquiescent when I told him I had invited Miss Porter and Miss Clarke. "I like Miss Porter—like her well. And she ought to be here."


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     I received this note from Roden Noel today:
9. St Aubyns
West Brighton
May 15. 1891

Dear Sir

Your letter has been forwarded to me to my present, (& more or less) permanent address. Hence delay. I most heartily send salutations to the Bard on this auspicious occasion, & hope he may have happiness to enjoy many more birthdays. I send also greeting to all his wellwishers.

I seem to have been left out of the list of his English friends in such notices of them as I have seen. Still I have always been a friend & wellwisher. Perhaps the handle to my name has been against me in America! But in politics I am felt much of a socialist—though I do not go quite so far as some who are called socialists would do—wishing to safeguard the legitimate claims of individualism, of which I take Walt Whitman to be one of the most eminent preachers.

I hope you saw what I wrote about him in "Time" apropos of Mr. Swinburne's attack. I have also said that I wish to go to America to see Walt Whitman, & Niagara. Believe me

Yours fraternally,

Roden Noel


W. said, "Very likely I forgot him—perhaps others—as we will forget best notes of a song, do what we will. But I have always realized, acknowledged, his friendly spirit—his support." Rhys sends me note and poem:
Llantysilio / Llangollen.
N. Wales.
16 May 1891

Dear Traubel,

Many thanks for your good reminder of Walt's birthday & your other previous friendly remembrances! including the notable paper by you in Lippincott's. Would I could be of the birthday company in Mickle St. on the 31st. Here are a few lines of greeting in default.

Yours very sincerely

Ernest Rhys



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To Walt Whitman
31st May 1891

To-day, oh poet, at your birthday board
Sit many viewless guests, who cross the seas,
(Their talisman, imagination's spell!)
Ambassadors of many lands & tongues,
Who come to hear your voice, to hold your hand
And wish you health, once more upon the earth,
And break the birthday bread of love once more!
(So viewlessly, across the foreign seas,
Your songs went out erewhile, the welcome guests,
At hearth & board that you have never seen.)
Among your viewless guests, who come to-day, dear host
To break the birthday bread, count with them, Ernest Rhys

W. denoting his pleasure, "How loyal all the fellows are! None to say us no in emergency." Acquainted him also with substance of a letter from Morse. "What! The noble Sidney! And heard from again!" Would send him a copy of the book. "We must show him we love him." Josephine Lazarus likewise writes me a good word. Law seems a little doubtful about coming. W. says, "He ought to be with us: he has proved both his faith and his courage."

     I had written Chubb about the two books—sheets—of "Good-Bye" and "November Boughs"—charged $2.25. W. exclaiming, "That was too much—too much." But I protested, "Too much? Garland does not think so—he sends me five dollars with this note":
My Dear Traubel—

I'm very sorry I live so far away that I can be at your dinner to Walt Whitman only in ink and paper. I don't know what I can add to express my regard and admiration for a man who has dared to be himself native and unaffected. In these days of apparent drift toward centralization of power, his doctrine of the Individual, comes to have majesty like that of Ibsen's, surpassing it indeed for with equal weight of unswerving resolution Whitman has a more fervent humanity. He is a

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natural lover of men and does not forget the wounded and crippled even in his moments of hottest warfare.


I need only add that prejudice against our most American of poets is rapidly passing away in Boston. There is very little of it remaining among our most thoughtful critics. Our papers deal kindly and with regard to his great name and were it possible for him to come to Boston once more the truth of what I write would be made manifest by deeds and words of greeting, by clasp of hands and by smiling lips. Men (and women too) begin to understand that he stands for the strength of wisdom and not the weakness of ignorant innocence. That he stands for self-government, for individual development, for liberty, love and justice.

The free and individual form of his verse is reaching wider circles of readers each year. It will have incalculable effects upon future verse forms not by way of imitation but by its power to educate the ear to freer forms and subtler rhythms.

Once more I make salutation to a great personality, a powerful poet and a serene prophet of a glorious America and faithful American literature to come.

Hamlin Garland


This touched W., "Let's send him two copies—he deserves them and more." Commenced handling the books— "In spite of Dave, I will put these two in one." (I had brought copies "November Boughs" and he took up a copy of "Good-Bye" and clapped them together.) "Why not? They belong so. It has always been my idea that my proper works are of three periods: 'Leaves of Grass' in one volume, 'Specimen Days' in another, these two to make a third—then you get a wise connection—for there is connection, though differentiation, too. Then I want to have 'Leaves of Grass' fuller than now—to include 'Sands at Seventy,' 'Good-Bye,' and 'A Backward Glance'—making a solid volume of nearly 450 pages. And indeed, I shall insist on it. I know Dave opposes it, but that cannot be helped." I suggested, "Sell him the 750 copies of 'Good-Bye'—let us keep 'November Boughs.'" W. then impulsively, "I'll sell him all—sheets, plates, copyright, everything." But I declared, "That would be foolish

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—they will be valuable to your people after you are gone."
"Do you think so?" "Undoubtedly." "But they are getting to be a great burden—I must unload." "Let me take charge of them: I'll gladly do it." "Would you do it?" "Yes, indeed." He looked at me, smiled, "Take care what you undertake!" Then after a pause—handling the printed sheets, "At any rate this book is a great success—printing, arrangement, everything. To whom am I indebted? I feel as if I ought to treat the fellows—give them a meal, what-not. You set to and fix it for me." And further, "I should think any man with a sense of beauty would see the attraction of these pages—the printed matter shoved to the top and corner." And he told me again, "I can put the screws on Dave anytime—we go along now without any contract whatever—and he knows it—the rascal—and for that reason probably, printed that big edition of 'Leaves of Grass'—2000—a year ago." And W. said further, "I think the time has come for me to make a new move with 'Leaves of Grass'—to give it a new cover. This present cover never pleased me, either as to color or stamping. In fact, I consider it damnable. It was a fad of one of the Osgood designers—and I did not wish at the time to raise a riot with the people there—so let it go. And when Dave took hold of the book, I easily understood his motive in making it an exact counterpart in every respect of the tabooed New England edition. But that old necessity is gone—much gone with it—my approval, among other things." I liked best of all the green, gilt-top 1883 edition and he, "So do I, on the whole, and I have in mind now much such a book." The "Good-Bye/November Boughs" volume might be like the big book, with a paper label. I asked, "How about a red label?" He was struck with it, "I carry the notion favorably in my eye." And, "Since the big dude English publishers, buyers, have come round to the label-book, we threaten to get into the swim." Dave wanted the steel-plate to have copies of the portrait run off for new copies of "Leaves of Grass." Found it and took along. Endorsed and gave me a set of sheets of "November Boughs." "I shall send copies abroad instantly to several of the fellows." Discussed Eakins' idea to sell

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his picture of W. to Harned. I had told Eakins W. had promised Bucke first choice. W. said, "Yes, I am glad you reminded him of it—that is so." But I suggested, "To make sure of the ownership of the picture, why not sell it now to, say, Tom—with the understanding that if Bucke wishes it, the old promise holds good?" W. agreed, "Suppose we say $400, of which half would be Eakins' and half mine?" He smiled over some of Eakins' criticisms of Gilchrist's Whitman but shook his head, "Herbert has his virtues, too: as I said before, he is what he is—his picture is not the worst I know." Yet, "I understand Eakins' view, too: it is the view of a big man, mastering an art. All that Eakins does has the mark of genius." Referring to Mrs. Frank Williams again, "I remember the Smiths used to feud themselves against her—she was too urgent, demonstrable—but I always liked her—liked her velvety, soft, even if eager, voice—strong, yet musical—not boisterous."


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