Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, July 15, 1891

     5:49 P.M. W. returned me Current Literature. Sonnet there by Realf. "Yes, I read it—it is fine. I always read Realf, poor fellow!" But, "I never met him—our ways never crossed." He wondered, "Do you suppose Lippincott's has a larger clientage than we would be apt to set down for it? I feel it—feel it with a sort of positiveness. Anyway, they treat us handsomely—frank, noble, generous. And, Horace, shouldn't we testify to it every way? These days, when others are shutting us out, it has a great significance, value. I want every way to show Walsh and Stoddart how thoroughly all this filters through—becomes a part—of us. Why shouldn't we send them over one of our big books? One for Walsh, one for Joe. Yes, let us do it—do it now: go to the box if you will—take them yourself." And so I took two. But he would not write in them, "It might be, they would not like it—no, it must get very chestnutty to them—books of all kinds, from all points of the compass, with all sorts of inscriptions."

     On the table a beautiful photo of the bust—O'Donovan at its side—certainly evidencing great improvement. W. said, "It seems to me too hunched. Of course, I don't know how I look—yet as I know myself, if I know myself, my head don't set so on my shoulders." I said, "I felt as I looked at the bust as I feel now, to see it here—that the head is too intellectual." W. at once, "Yes, that is so—a sort of Theodore-Parkerish look. I am quite confirmed to that view. And again, don't the head seem too

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broad—too much of it this way"
—lifting his hands up to his cheeks. "But O'Donovan claims he is not done yet—will work out the rest of the month—put many touches more on it. Warrie was over today—O'Donovan sent this picture by him. Warrie saw Tom's picture, too—says it is a great hit." But "whatever the me, that is an excellent picture of O'Donovan himself—excellent." Hopes the word left with Moore, that when the fellows go to photo the tomb they will have the door shut, "will be sacredly regarded"—for— "somehow, it is my superstition that it more fits the case, door shut than open." Counselled, "Try to get in from time to time—see the bust, advise with it—you ought to be able to do some good, knowing me as you do."

     W. exclaimed in our talk, recalling Ingersoll's "to be" (yesterday's), "That is bedrock—that is truth absolute: the right arm of God!" Said to me, "Some time ago, someone—I think his name Chace—wrote to me asking for some sentence, communication, note, what-not, about America. He was getting up a brace of opinions—a whole series—here and there. And they were to appear in the Herald. I sent about a finger-full, no more—a sentence or two—but have heard nothing directly about it from that day to this. Last week I got a note from some fellow up that way—I think, Newark—who says, 'I see you remark so and so in the Herald,' etc. Which suggests to me that the matter has appeared. Can you look it up a little? I haven't much curiosity—yet have some, too." This reminded me of the Record, which I had bought, containing the "fling" he had spoken of.

     He laughed, "Well, that's odd—queer—and it's just as well to know how you stand with these fellows—though knowledge have no other value."

     I had made up a sheet of clippings for him to examine. One item the Swinton Tribune paragraph—another the Toronto Mail's republication of "The Midnight Visitor"—third the New York Observer's (Presbyterian's) print of same poem with the following stupid comments:

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THE MIDNIGHT VISITOR

"Whose steps are those? Who comes so late?"
"Let me come in—the door unlock."
"'Tis midnight now; my lonely gate
I open to no stranger's knock.

"Who art thou? Speak!" "Men call me Fame;
To immortality I lead."
"Pass, idle phantom of a name."
"Listen again, and now take heed.

"'Twas false. My names are Song, Love, Art.
My poet, now unbar the door."
"Art's dead, Song cannot touch my heart,
My once Love's name I chant no more."

"Open then, now—for see, I stand,
Riches my name, with endless gold—
Gold and your wish in either hand."
"Too late—my youth you still withhold."

"Then, if it must be, since the door
Stands shut, my last true name do know.
Men call me death. Delay no more;
bring the cure of every woe."

The door flies wide. "Ah guest so wan,
Forgive the poor place where I dwell—
An ice-cold hearth, a heart-sick man,
Stand here to welcome thee full well."

Walt Whitman

There is something very sad in the foregoing lines of Whitman, and they stand in striking contrast with the thrilling words of Pope in his "Vital Spark of Heavenly Flame," and of other poets who have uttered words that were more than a welcome to death, being suggestive rather of conscious triumph in life's last hours. In reading the closing

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stanza of Whitman's poem one recalls the pathetic wail of Byron's "My Days are in the Sere and Yellow Leaf." How different is the effect produced on the reader by the words of Young:

"The chamber where the good man meets his fate
Is privileged beyond the common walk
Of virtuous life, quite in the verge of heaven!"

Cheerfully does Longfellow sing:

"There is no death! What seems so is transition;
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life Elysian,
Whose portal we call Death!"



I remarked, "Some day someone will want to know why this is not printed with your poems." "Yes, I suppose so." "And a hundred explanations won't settle the case," I continued. W. then, "True, too—that is usually the history of such a mistake." As to the Observer's remarks W. said nothing. When I said, "If 'Leaves of Grass' is remarkable for anything, it is its celebration of death," only saying, "That's what we think—but they don't, or won't—see it so."

     The following paragraph quoted in Critic. [See paragraph re "The Midnight Visitor," pages 304-305.] W. says it is undoubtedly from John Swinton. "That's the good Swinton—his tone, fact. No one else could have written just to that effect."

     Word from Baker again, who expects Ingersoll back in New York. Shall I go over? Problem. W. said, "He is a bird of passage."


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