Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, September 1, 1891

     5:00 P.M. Found W. puzzling over a piece in the Post—a clipping from the Buffalo Express, which handles the New York Advertiser with cudgels for a bitter criticism of "Good-Bye": AS TO WALT WHITMAN.

How the Old Philosopher Greets an Inevitable Change.

In the natural abundance of Lowell literature which has graced the columns of the daily press, during the past few days, many references have been made to Walt Whitman, and his place in American letters. Among the least flattering of these the Buffalo Express copies from the New York Advertiser a fair sample of the jocular blackguarding which the old man has to put up with:

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"Our esteemed and venerable friend, Walt Whitman, has just published a booklet which he calls 'Good Bye My Fancy.' It is partly in prose and partly in what the good, gray Whitman calls poetry. The publication is intended as a sort of leave-taking to the Muse. Many will claim that Mr. Whitman and the Muse are so slightly acquainted that the booklet is wholly a work of supererogation. Still, it is worth while to have Mr. Whitman's ante mortem statement to the effect that he has a fancy, and so long as he seems to think he has, no one should wish to deny him the harmless privilege of bidding it good-by, believing, as he does, that it is fully entitled to this gentle courtesy."


Probably Mr. Whitman neither knows nor cares about most of the paragraphs which are written in the above vein. The deplorable thing is that capable writers should stultify their own judgment and prejudice their public by these efforts at deprecatory humor.

Among scholars, among literary critics, among honest and competent readers of American poetry, Walt Whitman's place is as clearly fixed as Emerson's, or Longfellow's or Lowell's. No poet ever held more steadfastly to a definite idea and plan of work, from youth to old age, than he; his excellences and his faults have been pointed out, over and over again, and with entire agreement, too, so far as the main judgments go, by our best recognized literary censors, such as Lowell, Richardson, and Stedman....

[Camden Post, Sept. 1, 1891]

I had read it on boat. W. asked, "Who wrote it? Not you? I tried to see if it was a hand I knew—but no, I got no clue, no hint." I pointed out to him that it must be from the Express. "Yes, now you show me, I see it. Though Harry prints it a little vaguely here. I did not suppose it could be Harry's own. Yes, it is distinctly favorable, though the fellow they go for is badly against. But there have been so many of the enemies, one more or less matters little. Besides these are one and one! No, I care nothing about the criticisms—they affect me little—never did affect me—now, if anything, less than at any other time. Isn't it someone in Shakespeare who says, 'I knew him little enough at the start, and time has made that little less and less'? Something to that purpose. Sometimes I wonder if it had not been better for me to be a little more sensitive, though I don't know, I don't

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know. For my purposes—having my schema—I had almost to go ignorant of anything else. However, whatever is made of that, I have done some things—missed some—gone, on the whole, kept, to speak more carefully—the road I started out on."
Then going back to the Post piece, "It sounds very well, very—and warm enough to be Harry's, though it is not his." And again, "You see, Horace, many, many, many, many even yet refuse to take us at our own estimate!" Laughing, "And what other will we allow them?" I put in, "Why not remember that if the Advertiser scorned the Express prayed? You might easily say—as I heard a fellow say once of two others who disputed over him—'Go on, John! Give me the devil! That's all the invitation Tom wants to show his friendship for me!' We would never have had O'Connor but on such terms." W. first laughed—cried, "Good! Good!" —and then added, "True, too, which is the best point of all." Told him I had just been reading O'Connor's "Who wrote 'Rock Me to Sleep'?" W. said, "It is in some respects the wittiest, drollest, subtlest of all William's printed pieces. The mere memory of it, now, after all particular memory is gone, is a joy to me."

     No word of the Majestic yet. W.: "I examined the paper this morning—there was not a word—no sign. But there ought to be now. And Wallace must still hang out, out, out, at sea. I wonder when he will turn up?" Says he "momently" expects Bucke. "He may even get here to surprise us tonight." I told him Mrs. O'Connor and I had separated a big pile of Whitman reviews for Bucke. He said, "I have found some here, too. It is best for him to have them—to keep them together in one collection. Though the question would come up—why keep them at all?" His package was full of clippings, small and big. He disengaged a pamphlet from the top. It was marked "This bundle for Dr. Bucke," and in brackets was the following: "Is not this particular piece, 'Keep Off the Grass,' by Geo. Charney (W. spells it Cheney) worth printing in the book?" And he repeated to me, "Look it over—see if anything can be taken out of it. I only

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accidentally turned it up in the papers here today."
I reminded him that it was this pamphlet that had aroused O'Connor to "To-bey or Not To-bey." "Indeed, indeed, I remember it well—having so good a cause! Well, I leave it in your hands."

     A story travelling about in the papers took W. capture when I narrated it: a poor Catholic, denied admission at heaven's door, because he had not had absolution before death—St. Peter pitying but helpless—the claimant meanwhile arguing it unfair to bar him out. "We tried all we could to get a priest—scoured the neighborhood for one." Nevertheless St. Peter relentless, "We cannot help that."—"But I was a devoted lover of the Church all my days on earth."—"I am sorry for you, but you see the situation." The exasperated petitioner finally suggesting, "Why not have a priest brought out from heaven, to administer it to me here, now?" St. Peter himself not thinking this a bad idea, retiring and closing door—but after a long time returning, thrusting a mournful face out the half-open door, "I have looked in vain: there's not a priest to be found in heaven!" W. laughed again and again and again when I had finished. "How rich and subtle! How good for the Colonel himself! He would make much of it. I have gone a long time without anything as subtle as that!"

     Reminded me when I left that if I got "any word of any sort about the pilgrims" to come to him— "sharing all"—post-haste. Mrs. O'Connor not yet in to see W. today. But went later in afternoon—not finding W. very well (he came downstairs) but full of questions as to O'Connor's California trip. Complains that the sudden cold has hurt him somewhat.


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