Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, August 3, 1891

     5:45 P.M. Had just met Longaker on the street, L. reporting, "I think Mr. Whitman is all right—passing the season wonderfully well." Indeed W. looked improved over the darker days of last week. I had under my arm a big bundle of Saturday's Posts just got from Bonsall. W. asked me to send copies to Burroughs, Kennedy, and one or two others, asking me for four for his own use— "for my own immediate folks only," he said. Telling him of Current Literature quotes, he remarked, "It is something gained, sometime, even to be talked about—though I don't know." Then, "I have heard from Doctor at last. He was with Forman when he wrote. But you might as well have the letter for yourself." Leaning over the table, "Here it is—and it's a good one, too."

     Then, "And now, what's the news from Baker? Tell me that?" But there was no news beyond what was in the morning papers. However, I showed him my yesterday's letter from Baker, which he read, looked at, grew pathetic over. "The noble fellow! And now he is as he is!—low, low!—and with almost all the chances of life against him! What do you make out of it all, Horace? To me, it is inexplicable—strange he should even have got in it." I said, "Certainly it showed him no Quaker," at which W. replied, "Well, no matter about that Horace. Let a man go to New York with whatever, soon he is a changed being. Everybody going to New York, getting into the swim of its affairs, is born again, remade—seems given a new lease, but not a better. And its secret —what is its secret? To me a horrible show, strain—disgusting, ruinous, promising nothing. The very bottom principle corruption itself. Think of it—the games they play—the travesty! To them life is but a game—a play, a frolic, devil-take-the-hindmost business. Who can get on top? All wrong—all set on the wrong track. To a New Yorker life is not lived a success if it be not planted in a background of money, goods: curtains, hangings, tapestries, carpets, elegant china. As if life had to be tied to these. Yes, it changes everybody, Horace—except me, I

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always conceit—and changes them not for good. Even Burroughs—swayed, moved, by it. Yet John is a rustic, body and mind—that is his quality, with all the glory and shame of rusticity. Though I don't know about the shame, either. That's New York—there it has an undisputed throne. And yet it is not New York in any special, or exclusively special, sense. I might say, it is America—the land, time—speculative, prone to display, to count success in dollars. Yet I do not mean to say that other things do not go with these—objects, refinements, superb things certifying to evolution. And the New Yorker, the American, is radical, progressive—has that to be said for him."
But he thought all that darkness would pass—day would come at last? "Yes, I see signs of it now—things will take their right order eventually. And what I say is extreme, anyhow, intended to set forth one side—to throw it out in strong relief, so that people will see, acknowledge the great danger we must avoid." Yet "a money civilization can never last. We must find surer foundations. Not to disdain goods, yet not to be ruled by them—not to dawdle forever in parlors, with luxury, show."

     Had not Bonsall's editorial a perfunctory sound? If Dr. Bucke's enthusiasm for Whitman had not been brought up to its highest pitch at the Camden supper two months since, before his departure for England, his reception by the English "College" of Whitman's admirers would have intensified it. Few men have been so bitterly and basely criticised as our poet, and it is within the bounds of the cautious use of language to say that none has been so glorified. There is no happy mean in this. The critics have decreed that Whitman is altogether great and good or altogether bad. Time may modify both conceptions, and death will prove the leveler or exalter. He has lived long enough to get a foretaste of the wordy war that will ensue on his demise, and probably no one is more unconcerned about the verdict than himself.... When men come to realize that the religion of humanity is not necessarily more ignoble than that practiced at any mystical shrine, and is, in fact, the only religion for men, whatever sort may have been vouchsafed to or kept in reserve for saints and etherealized essences, the problem will not seem so perplexing to those who

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carry a lantern around in the day time in search of something they would find should they only shut their eyes and "loaf their souls" long enough to make them receptive.


"It is queer—don't seem to lead anywhere. But warm, loyal, true." For my own Saturday's notes W. could say, "I liked them—they were successfully joined. They go connectedly over the ground started out for."

     Again and again referred to the "horror" of the Baker episode. "I ascribe that—much else—to our strained, straining civilization. Oh! the horror of it! the misplacements! And do you suppose O'Connor saw the change in Burroughs? Yes, yes. I remember what you said after the trip." O'Connor had asked, "Has Walt made any account of a change in John?" I asked, "In loyalty to Walt? None." "No, in John himself." "Yes, and charges it to New York influences." O'Connor then to his wife, who sat there, "There! My same complaint, my same reason!" This interested W. "Poor Baker, gone under by the same current. Poor fellow! I suppose his chances of life few, low. That rush, inhumanity—the devil's own who gets left. Oh! It leads to hell!" One of his "loves for the Colonel," he said, that the Colonel realized the dangers and evils of metropolitan life— "the dangers with its glories—for glories it has."

     Among remembrances to W., friend Howells, and he always curiously addresses me as Doctor.


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