Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, February 25, 1891

     5:30 P.M. With W. more than half an hour. Very much better than yesterday. Talked freely and well. "The magazines have come," he said. "I think they must have come by express, and how well it all looks! I have gone carefully over all the pages: everything is in place—all the snarls straightened out. And do you know, Horace—I like your piece? Oh! I like it much. After all, it is the best of the lot there—draws all the rest along with it. We ought to congratulate ourselves that things have been so squared for us!" Had already made up a copy for Bernard O'Dowd, Melbourne—which he wished me to mail, having

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guessed 15 cents postage, and written on the face "by way of San Francisco or otherwise"—which I thought naïve. I gave him Harper's Weekly—will leave it overnight—and he said, "I will give you something in exchange—Black and White, the new English paper, which Wallace sent me," but forgot, as I did, when I left. Had he copy of Review of Reviews (I had) from Wallace this morning? "Yes, and I saw the portrait. It is the News portrait over again—with variations. And as you know, I don't like it. I suppose they use it because it's all they have, but it has a look of horror for me. There's in it that thing which I least crave—which I in fact despise—which has gone a good way towards the marrow of the American character—to injure it. The craft, smartness, dupishness—to overreach, to humbug, entail, steal—to put on tariffs (to protect us, they say)—to array us against solidarity. No, no: that is not me. But the facsimile of the postal: that is very good—I acknowledge it—it is all over finger-marked Walt Whitman. I suppose it was to Stead. Stead, you know, has been very friendly to me—generous—in act, deed, thought: has sent money, applause, life. You know the gift some years ago—the Christmas gift, several hundred dollars—which he collected and sent? He is a very active man—bright, a Yankee—has the Yankee, not English, look. The portrait we have had here has the flavor of our own land. But whatever, he is a man." And again, "I like all the Lippincott's stuff but the portrait: that rather staggers me—I like it much less now than I did. Stoddart must have fished it up out of some auction store."

     I had with me proofs of preface of book—first proofs. "The start at last!" W. exclaimed—even in the dark looking at the pages. "How it raises a fellow to have this evidence in hand!"—merrily. Ferguson promised again today to do all he could to accommodate us with the complete proof of the poems. W. said, "It is essential. There's no great hurry about it—yet there is a hurry too. You can never tell what damned thing will happen—I am like as not to drop off any day now—so if there's to be done, now's to do it! I have no other anxiety—that leaves out the whole string." I questioned, "And now, about the book

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Bucke and I propose to get out—what do you think?"
"Oh! that is in your hands—I can see the breadth, even nobility, of the plan: it appeals to me." Would he yield the Sarrazin matter to us? "I must—and I gladly do it, anyhow. My main point has been, to get it out. It seems a part of the explication of 'Leaves of Grass.' What it tells, what it exhales, belongs to our atmosphere—will clear up many things." And again, "Bob's lecture—how splendidly he handles the sensual arguments! He sees, overthrows, the demon."

     I told him I had seen the Eakins portrait in line last night—a laborer each side—a doctor and a plain girl of the masses beneath. W.: "I am glad you got there—your word convinces me"—and asked for most detailed description of the other heads. When I spoke of complaints of Eakins' "coarseness," he said, "I see—I understand it fully. The boys over there must have got it from Herbert—at least, it would hardly do to say that, for it is a prevalent notion—but shared it with him. I have talked with Herbert time and again—that is his philosophy. Yes, I read your paragraph—it is just—I endorse it—it is my view, too. The cry, coarse—it is the cry of all the schools all codes, literary as well as art. You know it, I know it. I know just where to trust its heart." And then, quizzically, "Has it a heart?" Afterwards, "Bob touches it with his lance—in the lecture—in your letter, too, the other day. And what about his characterization of Burns! 'A child of nature of whom his mother was both ashamed and proud'! What could penetrate deeper than that!"The Academy debate over one of Eakins' pictures recalls an evening long ago when a group of writers and artists discussed his graphic portrait of Doctor Agnew, then hanging in Haseltine's galleries. These critics felt an offense in the cruel naturalness of the scene. First, they said, beauty—finesse and aesthetics—then truth. The sleeve of an uplifted arm, the turn of a finger, the simple drapery and attitude that belonged to the act and moment, were frankly made evidence against the power of the artist. It is foolish to spend all wrath on priests who would stand between truth and the integrity of the individual. Art,

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politics, literature, parlors, equally subdue or accuse rebellion. There is no shield but the defiance of isolation.


[Horace Traubel, published on February 25th, 1891]


What about the copy of our new book? Did he wish to keep it? "No, you may have it. I don't know whether it doesn't belong to you anyway, if you want it. I shall keep the manuscript by me for the first proofs, then you may take it day by day." Further, "I had hoped for the Sarrazin piece for one thing to fill in with, but we'll get along without it."

     Spoke of having "had word from Bucke at last of a completed meter—not only of a meter done, but a meter put under special pressure—the damndest—to see what it can do, and it triumphed." Didn't this confirm Gurd's deliberateness? "It does—he has a remarkable grit—he shames us in our impatience." When I spoke of the difference between him and Bucke and of B. as "a war-horse, charging right and left," he laughed and exclaimed, "Yes, Greek—and the best—Greek from head to toe. Someone writes this question: here is the Greek, bawling like hell, laughing with the same gusto—a child of impulse, nature; here is the Scandinavian—suffering everything, never a whimper: which would you be? And he answers, 'The Greek—the Greek—what else fits the biggest man?' And I often think I second that—answer it in my own heart."

     Then on another track, "Tillie was down today—she brought me a cake from your mother, who sent word she was baking today and had not forgotten it. Give her my dear love —tell her I had it here at my supper—that it was my sweetest morsel—that it was more to me than its sugared particles." I reminded him of his frequent remembrance of her, but he said, "That was nothing—it was a trifle—but this—this was from a mother of men," uttered with rare pathos. Often his reverence for women will crop out in such unexpected expression. He had also autographed a picture for Aggie, saying he "would do anything for her." In talking proofs already proposes to give me "some money for Ferguson's man."


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     I proposed to go to McKay and make some proposition to him in regard to the Whitman essays. W. said, "It's a good idea, but wait a few days—say, till Saturday or next week—let us see what effect this Lippincott's matter has—it certainly will in impalpable ways affect the atmosphere." Should I use his name with McKay? "Yes, if it will do any good, but I do not see that it will." But when I insisted that it would he added, "Well, you have my warm espousal. Of course it is yours and the Doctor's book—you are the ones to prepare and issue it your own way."

     Referred again to Bob's lecture. "These Eakins critics ought to go to the lecture. I think that one of the strong points of the Colonel—truth—he sees clearly the dividing line, which is 'Leaves of Grass': the old school stood for what it called beauty—aesthetics, elegance—we stand for truth: the schools stood for it—not men necessarily—not the big fellows, anyhow. Truth, truth, truth—as the basis of the poetic—oh yes! the Colonel has it—it is all there!" I told him how deeply "Good-Bye My Fancy" had impressed me—in respects more deeply than "Sands at Seventy." W. asked, "So you read all the copy—at a sitting? You and Doctor must look out: it is one of the dangers of 'Leaves of Grass' that it takes you too far." I protested, "I was with a lot of people recently and one of them said, 'I wish to heavens Traubel could find somebody sometime whom he could unqualifiedly endorse!'" W. laughed and cried, "Bravo! Bravissimo! What a hit! And how significant for you, too. I am answered, sure enough."

     Talked a little about Harry Stafford—whether I could help him to a job at Ferguson's or Billstein's. "Though I don't know," W. said, "perhaps he would rather go into transportation work. He tried to get on one of the railroads." W. "did not know" but he "commended" Stafford for it.


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