Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, July 30, 1891

     7:55 P.M. Found W. reading "Liberty in Literature." Found it "always fresh—always with some new suggestion." Had he bought his lots on the outskirts yet? "No, the man has been here—left a postal for me to send for him again if I desired. Would take me out in a carriage to inspect. The day he came I was feeling pretty bad. Since then have not taken the matter up." Rained at intervals very hard this afternoon. This kept the Eakins party away. But W. said, "I could not have gone with them anyhow—I have spent a horrible day—horrible—am little better now." Looks especially benevolent, sitting under gas, looking at one over his spectacles. Complains that often "the mere exertion—so to speak—of lying down exhausts me," and asks "Don't you think that funny?" Had written Bucke "a letter." Long? "No, short: I had nothing of any account to write."

     He had sent Warren out for cream (chocolate) which he ate as he talked—inviting me to partake, which I declined to do. "You are welcome—indeed I want you to. Won't you take half?" He had sent out before I came. Half would leave him nothing. So I insisted on my refusal. Till then he would not start. Has been reading Lewis Morris' paper (essay) on the future of poetry. Generous words there about Whitman—the new noble things introduced with him. But W. puts "no high estimate on the piece—nor on Morris for that matter"—though feeling the sentiment and courtesy and "cuteness" of the piece. Mrs. Davis has been out to the tomb. They are just setting in the lock. Instead of sending Bucke's letter to the Post alone, I have made up a

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column or more, to include letters from Lancashire for birthday, Bucke's to W. and to me, the poem (song) and descriptions and comments. Will submit to Bonsall in the morning, but insist he print it intact. Among "the odds and ends that get nowhere," as W. put it, is this, autobiographical, "probably intended for something when I wrote it, but the purpose now lost."Walt Whitman was born May 31, 1819, in Huntington, New York. He moved early to Brooklyn and grew up and worked here and in New York fifteen years. Went off west and south about 1847, lived in New Orleans and Texas; went thence to St. Louis and other cities. Working a while and then moving on, he practically explored every state and city south and west. Was healthy, temperate and industrious; he worked as printer and reporter. The standing figure is a portrait of him from life, those times, aged about 30. The seated figure is also from life of later years, and looks much as he is at present. He had two or three paralytic strokes during and after the Secession War in which 1862-3 and '4 he put in three active years; was dismissed from his employment in one of the U.S. Departments (1870) and was medically ordered north. Has lived in Camden county New Jersey ever since. His principal literary work is "Leaves of Grass," over 400 pages: then there are two others "Specimen Days" and lastly "November Boughs." W. dresses in loosely cut gray clothes, will soon enter his 73d year, is sluggish in deportment, and weighs 190 pounds. He entertains ultra free trade opinions and believes the liberty of the common people of the globe bound together in common cause.

As he recuperated and still found himself alive, in Camden some years ago he came across a little wooden cottage for sale; and having nearly the money required for it, he bought it (he was aided by G. W. Childs) and has lived in it ever since and lives there now.

His special apartment or living and writing and sleeping place (has been likened to some big old cabin for a kinky sailor-captain of a ship) is a large room on the second floor front 20 by 22 feet in area with a couple of tables (one rough old mahogany one, a Whitman heirloom over 100 years old, and another made for him in Brooklyn by the poet's father), a stove, chairs, a good bed, several heavy boxes, and a big ample rattan-seated chair with timber-like legs, rockers and arms

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large as ship's spars with a huge wolf-skin spread over the back in winter, a plain but very comfortable and ponderous edifice-built retreat in which WW ensconces the greater part of his days and whence, using a tablet on his lap, he issues all his poems, essays and letters of late years. He has within reach a Bible (English ed'n), Homer, Shakspere, Walter Scott's Border Minstrelsy, Prof. Felton's Greece, Macmillan's ed'n of Burns, and Longfellow's Dante with the old few other volumes he still reads lingeringly and never tires of. All around where he sits spreads a great litter of newspapers, magazines, letters, MSS, proofs, memoranda, slips, on chairs, on the floor etc., with pen and ink handy, and one or two bunches of flowers. As he cannot walk, hardly move or get up without assistance, he has abandoned any attempt at apparent order and what strict housekeepers would call neatness, but lets his books and papers "lay loose." The only point he is particular about is careful ventilation. He writes a free and plain hand, is sparse in punctuation, and pretty strict about typography. His tastes, habits, looks, show more plainly in old age his farmer and Holland ancestry, with non-artificial and Quaker tendencies. No good sketch of him would hit the mark that should leave out the principal object of his whole life, namely, to compose and finish his magnum opus, the poems, "Leaves of Grass," consistently with their own plan. This has been his work, aim and thought from boyhood, and the proper finish of it remains still through his old age. He considers Wm O'Connor, the Englishwoman Mrs. Gilchrist, Dr. Bucke of Canada, John Burroughs, and W S Kennedy (the two first now dead) to have been his staunchest leading literary representatives and personal friends. Then the person in his way of estimating and describing it, is the spinal matter in books, in art, and in one's friendly support.


He destroys lots of these "ineffective" pieces—trial songs or trial bits of prose—burns some, tears some up—will reserve sides of some for other articles. Wish I could rescue these—seize, cherish them. When I tell him this he says, "You may—yes, you may"—adding— "But what good can they do you or anybody? They are but passing showers, shadows." But did they not go into soil and soul, for creative ends? Which he would grant and so drop. Yet I never knew him to refuse me slips or

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sheets when I ask. I have known him even to put them aside for me. Often, rejected lines of poems express superb sense and music, but "for reasons" he rejects them (rightly, no doubt). If I inquire "Why must they go?" he simply says, "I do not know why myself. That's so, why? I have no reason, only a feeling."

     Hartford Courant discussing of "Study of Nature in Verse," says at one point: "But when we come to this country we find Walt Whitman (as an example) at his most inspired when he chants of our night-singer, the hermit-thrush." W. calls this "kindly, with an eye set our way." Current Literature also says this: "William E. Henley is preparing an anthology for boys—a book wherein will appear what he considers all the finest fighting or heroic verse, between and including Shakespeare and Whitman."


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