Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, August 7, 1891

     Wrote Bucke and J. W. W. last night. Then sat up till two o'clock writing the article for Bonsall which appears in today's Post ("Walt Whitman Abroad"). Left article with Bonsall on my way to Philadelphia. Wrote in course of day to Johnston, to Open Court (fence with Trumbull), Joe Gilder (Critic: about "Midnight Visitor"). Found at Oldach's he had 181 copies of complete Whitman, 175 copies of pocket edition (all in sheets).

     8:00 P.M. To W.'s—found him eating a bowl of ice cream. "Oh! Why didn't you come ten minutes earlier! I had too much cream and here I have forced myself to eat it. So runs the world—its two evils: too much or too little!" Then quite quickly, "Good news from Baker today—he seems undoubtedly better, undoubtedly. And do you know, Horace, I intended putting the question to you—I see a great likeness between Baker and Wallace—our English, Lancashire, Wallace? It is unmistakable." (Note papers today—Baker stronger—perhaps may have to have arm amputated.) "Ingersoll is expected back. The great fellow! He is one of the men whom New York cannot touch—he is not spoiled—all these years, and yet he is safe—he is unspoilable!" He had heard "the Colonel is as simple a manner of man as when he started out in the West. And his digestion—perfect. Oh! How much this tells! How much explains! It is perhaps the sine qua non! And his buoyancy, hope, cheer—all belong to him as matter of course."

     Told him of the Oldach count. He explained, "It is my intention to have them all bound up—to have them brought here. I know there is a risk, with them deposited in such a place—a furnace—and all the autographed sheets are there, too. No, no—it is safer here."


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     How had he passed the day? "It has been a blue day, blue—I have felt weak, pushed-down, depressed—now and then a hush, relief—now, something like comfort again." Should we go out for a drive tomorrow? "I do not feel to promise: indeed, feeling as I do today, I could not go at all. But the morning may bring a change, and then we may go. But I am yielding, Horace—I feel it almost day by day." Bush's mother worse. W. says, "Poor woman—poor Bush—poor both!" Bush may be over tomorrow. No definite information. We then developed our talk to the Smith episode. W. very generous in his comments. "It is curious—and all is mystery, too. I suppose there are reasons why, but I do not know them. The estrangement is a fact, as Doctor says, and that is enough. Yet it would seem as if we should go to the bottom of it. Though, as for me, I shall neither ask nor give explanations—not a word, not a sign of it. For one thing, it is too trifling; for another, it is against my habit, my confirmed determinations. Whether it could have been the Lippincott's matter or not, I am at a loss. I don't know whether you noticed, but in the March article, mentioning the names of friends, I left out the Smiths. It was entirely an accident, you know that. At the last moment I sent over about 20 additional names, the Smiths among them—but it was too late—the magazine had gone to press. Can this omission have made the trouble? I don't know what to think of Forman's explanation—or guess—for it is only a guess. As you know, my list was never given out as perfect—as including all who have served—been friendly to—me, only of such as came into my mind at the moment. Many were necessarily missed. Yes, the fund men—generous , constant—and others. Mrs. Smith has always been inimical to me—suspicious—questioning, but the rest—Pearsall, Mary, Alys, Logan—they have always been markedly affectionate. As for Costelloe, I don't know: he came here once, and I met him—was not especially loving towards him, yet not the least cool or discourteous, either. Is it the London swine? Or stories—the damnable stories that float round—that they may hear, there as here. I have that sort of enemies.

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This man Johnson, for instance—the Colonel, here in Camden—filthy, corrupt, rotten, with his base instincts active—active—active. Once a time ago—long, some years—I was mixed up with the Colonel. I think the Smiths got hold of that, somehow—someone had been present at one instance. In some saloon—Sansom Street—the Colonel was there, already drunk. Someone had said, here was Walt Whitman—Whitman, the poet—and another said, is that Whitman? I want to be introduced to him. And afterwards drinks together, with Walt Whitman along, never disavowing. And out of an incident like that—with more I do not care to recite—were stories, that Walt Whitman loafed, drank, in taverns, telling filthy and obscene stories, delighting in dirt, wallowing in the excretions of virtue. And you remember the Washington story—I can see O'Connor now as he tells it—with his vehement eye, voice, gesture. Oh! he said, it was asserted with such emphasis, you had almost to believe it true. What was his word? Oh! I forget it, but a sharp incisive word, dipped in fire and contempt! The story was, that Walt Whitman had been driven out of Washington—that was the very statement, driven out of Washington—for living with a lone woman, a notorious loose woman, a notorious whore—in defiance of social, statute, religious—every—convention, virtue. Such stories have pursued me for many years—many, many—and in all forms. So far as I am affected by them, I care nothing—have no defense to make—no word, not the least. They must go as they came—my hand, word, knowing nothing of birth or death. I use them now—tell of them—because I regard them as illustrations—think they may have crept to London—or stories like—perhaps have affected the Smiths. However, we must make it none of our affair."
But I said, "In writing to Bucke last night I said—if I were in your place I would go to the Smiths direct and question them. I always do that: when I hear anything about a friend I go to him instantly for his own version." W. at once, "That is a very good plan, very—and honest—ought always to have the best results. I could not advise the Doctor to

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anything, but if he chooses it might be a very handsome settlement. The tantalizing feature is the mystery of it all."

     I told him of my further word to Open Court, from which he was moved to remark, "The long and short of it is this: I would not ask for, I would not take, I would not persist, I do not believe in, a pension. I would not ask for it, would not take it, do not believe in it! My friends quite well understood this the time they made their stir, but Lovering pushed it—I think it went through Committee—after which it disappeared. But I was quite clear, had it gone all the way through, by whatever éclat, I would not have accepted it. Therefore, Horace, always say for me: Walt Whitman himself stands the final immovable obstacle to any pension schemes—knows his own mind on the subject—asserted it—is prepared to assert it again." Adding, however, "It is likely all this would be entirely lost on Trumbull—probably there's no way we could put it to satisfy him." "Evidence is evidence to such a man," I said, "only when it comes his color." W.: "That's the point—there are men of that build—I have met them in many."

     Laughed when I told him the purport of one feature of my letter to Joe Gilder—that the editor on the Observer, comparing Whitman's "Midnight Visitor" with Young to show how less was W. in face of death and sorrow (less faith), said it could only be accounted for by the thought that in the Observer's sanctum the reading and criticism of books were distinct matters, one not necessary to the integrity of the other—W. being acknowledged for his glorification of death and cheer in the front of disaster. "That is a good thought, well set down: but you know—know me, the book."

     Was "greatly pleased" with the Post letter—with the quote from Wallace— "especially with the 'harvest-note.' It is a great word."


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