Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, August 18, 1891

     8:05 P.M. Delightful talk with W. till nearly nine. Very bright. Admitted to me, "I feel much better—eat better. Last night I had a splendid sleep, the best for a long time." Warrie brought in some chocolate ice cream which he ate with considerable

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enjoyment, almost insisting I should share it with him. Had laid out on the bed copy of the Boston Herald, Sunday, containing editorial "American Poets." "It is written by Baxter, I am sure—has a firm ring—is evidently not afraid to say its say—is kindly to me, almost fervently so." Wrapper marked "for Horace for Dr. Bucke."

     Have received note from Mrs. Baker at last. W. greatly moved as he read. "Noble fellow! Grand news! It is happy as a word out of the sea. Don't you see him well again? Well and well? I can look ahead—see the whole transaction laid out before my mind. This is the best news in weeks."

     W. now read the letter of 15th from Mrs. O'Connor. When reached the dinner passages—stopped—shook his head, "No, no, no better—could not have been better. This was freedom itself—no high-falutin'—no discussions of Byron, the unknowable, nothing—plain strong chat, every way." And again, "William would have seen it himself—yes, would have gone straight to the heart of it." "I wrote Johnston a long letter today," I said. "The Bolton Johnston?" "Yes, and I said to him, Walt never has any complaint to make of the Lancashire 'church' except when it puts him into a too close relationship with saints. He wants you to leave him a little bit of the rascal." W. laughed heartily, "Good! Good! And you may say that to them again and again and again. I have never said a word on that subject myself to them, not a word, nor would I—but you can well do it. I do not mind saying to you that it grows unpleasant to me—is too much of me—an adulatory strain—me as a person. After all, boy, I am only a person, eh? It curiously illustrates what you several times said to me—what I always thought striking, true—that that would be impossible to us here in America. Our fellows never fall in that vein—never burn incense. Yet over there in Europe it seems to be a part of their creed—Catholic-like—the boys, the swinging of the censors this way and that, the fumes. But that is not 'Leaves of Grass.' Ours here is a simple comradeship—you and me—you and me—one, one, another one—not more, not less. They might see a good

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example in Doctor himself. What reconciles me to the Bolton fellows is the genuineness of it—the spontaneous nature of the adulation—it is a part of them—it probably must be. And it would seem very ungracious for me to make any fuss about it—to protest in any way. I would advise you, however, to make it understood, yet without lugging it in—but I can trust you for that. There seems to me—though it has a hard ring to it—a morbid touch in Wallace. I ought not to say that, remembering, as I do, the steadfastness of their friendship, how they advocate our cause, turning neither to right nor left—at a time when, God knows! kicks and cuffs were mostly our portion."
Referring to the same subject, "We are bad enough in America—have enough sins to answer for—but we are free of incense-burning—we have got beyond that."

     The odd movements of the Emperor William, Germany, excited W.'s interest. "He seems an odd critter. I am baffled by his going this way and that—his apparently wavering purposes. I read the stories about him. Can it be, there's to be a crazy king again?" In the Costelloe matter W. said, "I am far past that now—far. Indeed, I resent it. That after all our sweet relationships—the affections, confidences—the fat is taken up, thrown into the fire. No, no, no. My greatest interest now is to know how Doctor fared with Tennyson. The Smith girls were cuter—they forwarded my letter several days before, with it some word—modest enough, I guess, not adulatory—suggesting they might call if it chanced to be pleasant to him. And soon a letter, summons—and they went. I don't put much faith in Doctor's despair—it is queer for him to feel it, anyway. By and by we will know." Perhaps Doctor would have many new things to tell about the Bolton fellows? "I hardly think so. He could hardly make things plainer to us than the letters themselves."

     Drifted into a long discussion anent my statement that Bucke was in favor of a chronological arrangement of "Leaves of Grass." W. spoke freely, "What was the ground you took?" "That the spiritual—the present—was better than any chronological arrangement—that you wished the book to remain in the

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form you have put it yourself."
He then, "That was right—I do wish it as kept—it is my final request. All my close friends have taken a lick at this chronological business—Mrs. Gilchrist for one, now Bucke. But I charge that matters be left where they are. When I went to Boston in '81, I put things together, knit them, gave them adherence, succession. Yet I have since thought that even that was unnecessary. The unitary principle is there—was there from the start—the scheme—the rest followed. I take it—want it—that the latest poem embraces the first, as the first the last. All is in an order, a vital connection, sequence. I had the determination from the first to do nothing literary—to tell the story I started out for—to let ornament go. The power of 'Leaves of Grass,' if it have any, being in its atmosphere, its characterization. It has no gems, such as we find in the other men—no points at which you can put your finger and say, this shines with a double lustre. And now I want to ask you, Horace. 'A Backward Glance'—does it seem to you out of place—should it be dismissed from 'Leaves of Grass' entirely? No? Not any such sense? I have had a lot of qualms about it. Years ago, the Smith girls spoke about it—Alys said, make it the epilogue. I held the idea in my mind a long time—but she was a wonderful cute girl, I gave the notion good attention. Finally, after even years, I cast the die—put it in. Most of this you know. Yes, I know the nature of Bucke's objections—would like to have heard you discuss it. I know he wants it front." I put in, "One of my arguments was, I don't know any reason why an epilogue should come at the head of a book—except the reason that custom supports it." "And that is a very ripe summation, too—I accept it, like it. 'A Backward Glance' is a survey—just what its name implies, as you have well said. And it is the best argument in defense of the '81 edition—I have (I did then seek) taken pains to mark out the spiritual order of the poems. The book—my book, 'Leaves of Grass'—as it now stands—is the massing together of important groups of poems through six stages or so, with the schema eminent from the first step. It is not necessary to go back of the present order—indeed, I do not

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desire it. For what has been arranged has been done with reference to the entire case—in the face of—after the study of—every objection. I am slow to make up my mind—like to let things simmer—and this thing has grown out of the most deliberate understanding and determination."
And further, "I suppose every man has his purposes. I had mine—to have no purpose—to state, to capture, the drift of a life—to let things flow in, one after another, take their places, their own way. My worst struggle was not with ideas, anything of that sort, but against the literariness of the age—for I, too, like all others, was born in the vesture of this false notion of literature, and no one so born can entirely—I say entirely—escape the taint. Though, as for me, looking back on the battleground, I pride myself I have escaped the pollution as much as any." There were "essential things" which were "primary to the study of 'Leaves of Grass,'" among them "these about which we have been speaking tonight." And to me, H.L.T., he would say, "Solemnly, I put it down I may say as a charge, I trusting to you (to speak for me long long long after I am dead): 'Leaves of Grass' asks to be left as I made it—to remain undisturbed—to escape editorial hands—emendation—arbitrary rearrangement. For if I am remembered at all—if 'Leaves of Grass' continues—I am sure it will be for just the things which I was most clear of myself—what I perceived, stated, wrote, uttered. As, now, to you, as we sit here, face to face."

     Gave me copy of "Good-Bye" in sheets to mail to Karl Knortz.


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