Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, February 28, 1891

     7:50 P.M. W. reading paper—in his bedroom, which was rather cold, he remarking that he was conscious of the chill. Weather, however, moderating. He had my list—over 50—the main body foreign. Had the sheets marked "Addresses for HLT"—tied with a string—under which he had thrust his today's letter from Bucke, dated 25th.


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     I utterly forgot all the time I was with him to ask about the powder—its action and the response. But he seemed improved. I had the first proof of the poems in my pocket—gave to him. He said, "I will read them tomorrow and send them up to the house—or you can come for them Monday morning. I may not be able to read them before evening—evening is my best time: from eleven to five are my worst sensations—the oppression is on me full-weight." Gave me copy of New Yorker Tagblatt containing translations by Knortz from "Leaves of Grass." Wishes my father to see them. Shall forward to Bucke. I had letter from Bucke dated 25th.

     Showed W. following from Elizabeth Porter Gould—dated 24th. Book came same mail:
Chelsea, Mass.
February 26, 1891.

My dear Mr. Traubel,

I feel sure it will be no intrusion to tell you how much I enjoyed reading your fine article in the last Lippincott's on our dear Walt Whitman. One of my deep joys is to see my own thought well expressed by another, hence I am grateful to you for an added joy. It is possible you have seen my little collection of "Gems from Walt Whitman." Whether you have or not, it will be a pleasure to me to send you one with my compliments. I like to think that the little offering finds a home among the lovers of the poet, not because they need it as the great multitude does (as an introduction to him), but because it expresses in a small, though sincere way, a woman's tribute to the power and wealth of his personality. Would it could introduce many to the work as a whole! In my work of "Topic Clubs" among our society ladies in Boston and the vicinity, I often speak a half hour on the poet's work and life. I did today to a most interested number of ladies on Newbury Street Boston, not one of whom knew anything especially intelligent of the poems or the poet. So the good work goes on, and some day the whole world will follow in our footsteps.

Most sincerely

Elizabeth Porter Gould.




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W. said, "How steadily the good woman stands to her guns! It is refreshing!" Adding, "It is invariable, that a wind of applause brings along its acid. The Transcript comes on with a notice of Lippincott's in which the writer says it is sad to see the old man—that is, me, Walt Whitman—as more and more he wanes: alluding particularly to the poems. That was one of the enemy got on top in the office. I wonder how Kennedy will like?" Laughing heartily. "That is our story: the threads are mixed." Critic quotes W. at about a column's length. W. said, "I'll bet they selected the description of this room?"—as indeed they had.

     Rather disparaging touch in current (March) Scribner's: "And it is curious to note how prone are all apologists for formlessness, including Mr. Higginson in the present instance, and the admirers of Walt Whitman, passim, for example, to insist that what to the convention-steeped sense appears amorphous is in reality the very acme of form." But W. was not at all disturbed. "How could they take any other view? The cloud, sunset, river, tree—freedom, spontaneity—these are inimical to their art—are outside the demesne of their ambitions."

     Asked me, "What do you know of the Mennonite aversion to buttons?" His tone mock and I laughed—whereat he urged more seriously, "It has a funny side—but I ask it for an answer. I never could guess a reason for it and never had anyone tell me." Started into a history of Mennonism—then drew himself up with a laugh. "I had better not go on garrulously with stuff you know as well as I do, but the buttons, the buttons?"—and so humorously continued, questioning about members of the sect I had seen—their dress, speech, appearance, etc.

     What did he think of the Bryant portrait in Century? (Engraved by T. Johnson from a daguerreotype.) He rather negatived it. "I never knew him that way—though that is no argument, but there's something to it not Bryant. Some of the other pictures in the number—the touch and go pictures—are better, both as portraits and works of art. Look at the Bishop's there—Bishop Potter: a few lines—a drop of ink—it is all

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done!"
And spoke of "the tendencies towards over-refinement" as "injuring art as well as everything else in the current life."


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