Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, July 1, 1891

     8:00 P.M. Again W. on bed. "I was just going to get up. Yes, Warrie"—Warrie just entering the room— "help me over to the

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chair."
And, "We will want a light—a little one anyhow." W. reports again, "This has been a horribly poor day, one of my worst—even now I am little if any better." Edelheim came in Bank with Prang (Boston) in course of the day. They were on their way to W. I wrote a little note. But they did not see him, anyhow—he "felt too far gone," as he told it to me. Their beautiful basket of fruit, lain on the table, was untouched. "Are you going straight home? Yes? Well, I will make you up something to take." Picking a big bit of his yellow paper from the floor and putting in it a couple of cookies and some apricots, a peach, a banana, an orange— "These are for the mother and for Anne. Take them—take them with my love." Warrie quite determined to go to New York to meet Bucke. W. asks, "There's no danger the sea-fever will seize the boy again—no danger he will ship again, desert us?"—even saying this with a serious tone.

     I was curious to know how he liked—as I had caught—the Bardsley note in the Conservator: I have heard Walt Whitman say: "The worst aspect of this Bardsley business is, that it is indicative—that it has roots down in a state of society—that it specifies, names, not a person, not an eddy, but a class, a main current."

He said at once, "It was very good—faithful. I saw myself in it—my idea. I am not afraid but you go straight to my intention in such reports." This has an importance in connection with these notes, and the much given direct from his lips—of which he knows nothing.

     I picked up Century from the floor. Frontispiece of Greeley. "Have you never seen him?" W. asked. "No." "Well, you see him there! That is really the old man. I knew him some—saw him often—a great figure there in New York at one time. And that piece there in the magazine—the Lincoln piece (Joel Benton—do you know him?—edited it). I have read every word—it is the only thing in the magazine I have read. But it is empty—contributes nothing—adds nothing to what we easily know by other ways—is less than insignificant. And even dry

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as a recital. But of course all that is natural: Greeley was not a first-classer—never got behind outer walls. This lecture—this estimate of Lincoln—I should think would be about the estimate of Wendell Phillips—says about what Phillips would have said—did say—on Lincoln—neither of them being able to justify their daring—for it is a daring thing to brave the commonplace, even if only by way of attempt to do something better."
Yet, "I do not see why this lecture is resurrected now. It can do little good."

     Bok writes this story to the Boston Journal about W. LITERARY LEAVES

...A literary friend of mine who is very intimate with Walt Whitman recently went over to see the "Good, Gray Poet," to induce him to write something for his magazine.

My friend understands Whitman thoroughly, and has known him for years.

"Walt," he said, "I want to get something from you for my next issue. Can you let me have some copy?"

"What shall it be?" asked the poet. "Prose or verse?"

"Well, I don't care much," said the literary man. "Either will do. The public won't know the difference, anyway."

And my friend, in telling me the story, said he saw his mistake at once, but Whitman never noticed it....

W. says, "I of course don't remember it at all—doubt if it happened—at least as it is put there. He undoubtedly means Wendell Phillips." And again, "This man Bok is an irresponsible paragrapher, anyway, never excited my respect—is in for a story, whether or no—and that finishes him—his importance, anyway."

     A Western writer has been saying, "If Walt Whitman objects to being called the good gray poet, he should dye his whiskers." W. says, "That is another Bok-ian—another smart man. They are plenty—they spring up anywhere—they come without much preparation." And to this—

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"We see the birthday of Walt Whitman, 'the good, gray poet,' was celebrated yesterday. Now, Walter is good and gray, but he is not a poet. Language should not be wasted in this way."

—he says the same thing, "Another, still another—they come in a parade." This shows the origin of the Critic's absurd paragraph about the dinner: WALT WHITMAN'S BIRTHDAY

Camden, N. J., May 31.—The seventy-second birthday of Walt Whitman, "the good gray poet," was celebrated at his home in this city this evening. About forty friends and admirers sat down to a dinner, the poet occupying the seat of honor at the head. He was in good health and spirits and entertained his guests with selections from his own works and comments on literary affairs. Letters were read from Lord Alfred Tennyson, Richard Watson Gilder, Edmund Stedman, and others.

W. thinking, "I would marvel at the thing if I marvelled at anything found in the newspapers. But all is one to them—everything turns into this one mush."

     But these two from the Boston Herald pleased him better— "indicate a better spirit—humor, not smartness. And there is a great gap between the two things—you need not be told." It looks as if Walt Whitman's obituary, which has been so long standing on the galleys of the newspaper offices of the country, had better be distributed. The good gray poet insists in being on hand to assist in celebrating all his recurring birthdays.

Read no newspapers, avoid politics and absorb Walt Whitman. That is Robert Buchanan's recipe for awakening the higher intelligence of the young American. It is consistent with itself, anyhow.

Here was a sheet, too (William L. DeLacey, Poughkeepsie)—printed [a form letter request for an autograph]— "the most impertinent autograph request yet. Why, the fellow absolutely

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makes a business of it—probably gets the sheets printed by the hundreds."


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