Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, September 8, 1891

     Telegram came to house after I left. Bucke telephoned me from Harned's. Wallace to reach Philadelphia about eleven! I replied to Bucke I would be on wharf—where I did indeed appear, Bucke already there, but no boat in sight till nearly twelve—and not tied to wharf till about 12:20. I knew Wallace at once, leaning over the quarter-deck rail. But he was so near-sighted, it was some time before he recognized us. But when he did, he made a hurried exclamation and laugh, jumped to the front from the side rail, exclaimed to Doctor, "You arrived last Wednesday!" (Warrie had joined us. Bucke had sent word to W. and Anne.) Wallace seemed in strangely nervous condition—went from one to another with his remarks, till he seemed tired himself. Wore glasses. The boat high out of the water. Warrie exclaimed the minute he saw her, "Why, she's got nothing on her!" Bucke took a seat on some boxes and Warrie and I met Wallace as he stepped down the gangway. Some words, all of us, with Captain Noell, who said, "This is possibly my last trip." Wanted to see W. Goes out to Altoona for several days. We had Wallace's packages and trunk easily passed. Bucke exclaimed as soon as he saw J.W.W., "He looks a thousand percent better! The trip has done him good." And Wallace said he had not been in the least sea-sick. He is tall, slender, with a good head and fine mouth—eyes losing much expression by their defect—a

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good hand—nervous manner—voice quite weak—no solid tones—as if forced out over obstacles. Speech, however, accurate, embarrassed often by situation. After expressing goods we went out, I ahead with Warrie, Bucke and J.W.W. arm in arm, to Third Street where we took a car. J.W.W. thought "everything novel" to him—houses, people. Had made no intimate friendships shipboard "which lessens the pain of parting." Was very eager to know about W. "You see, I have not had any word for two weeks." Good passage. Stormy several days but no severe strokes.

     Warrie left us at Walnut. We got off at Chestnut, going up, Bucke and J.W.W going down Fourth to Bullitt building for lunch, I going to Bank, minus lunch. At 4:45 when I got to W.'s, I found the whole kit in the parlor—W. at the window, Wallace in the center of the room, Bucke at the west window, Mrs. Davis back on an armchair, Warrie floating about. I suppose we remained three-quarters of an hour after my arrival. W. received them upstairs, it seems—afterwards coming down and eating dinner in parlor. He looked wearied when I came—had evidently had some sense of pressure from the talk. Bucke said to me, "What do you think was the first thing he said to Wallace? He said, 'Well, here you are! And you have come to be disillusioned!' And," turning to Wallace (he told us this in my parlor), "the old man really meant it—really. For I am sure that he felt a little shaky, that your reverence, when you had once seen him, would all disappear!" But Wallace (who was packing his trunk) only looked up, smiled, chuckled an articulate laugh, shook his head, said "No" and went on with his work.

     W. exclaimed as I came, "Here is Horace now!" as if they had been talking of me—and to Wallace he said, "The important thing is, that you are here—that you are a fact. I have been saying to Warrie—damn the ships! Damn the ships. I suppose I bear out the idea that old men, old people, are eligible to fears, to suspicions, to imaginings." I asked him if he had prepared me the new "Leaves of Grass" yet? "No, yet it is mostly prepared,

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too. But I want to take another look—to give it a little more attention. There are a number of detail-bits to be set straight—must be handled carefully. But if Ferguson will put a good man on it, it ought to be done in a day."
I received a letter from Symonds this forenoon:
Davos Platz, Switzerland
August 24. 1891.

My dear friend & comrade

I am a brute beast before you. I have been thrilling to all your messages sent over sea and shadowy hill to me. I participated in your marriage, thanks to your kindness. And I sat at the feast with Whitman, when he spoke so like his grand old self about his friends—so simply falling like pure light upon their personalities, & giving them relief of sun & shadow.

All this I have had from you, & your portrait too, showing me what my friend Traubel is. It came to me in a high upper room at Florence, where I was ensconced, poor old man that I am, with my Italian "Warry."

Give Warry a good grip of the hand from me. Tell him that a fine young man must work his own life-drama through, but that he will not regret the time spent in assisting a hero so triumphant as our Walt, or even a poor fellow so inferior as one who does his best & comes to little. Love is fellow-service; & as Paul said, of these three Love lasts longest.

I have been so tired with the unremitting calls upon my force to write a Life of Michelangelo, when I am physically unequal to the task, that I have lived only in sympathy with my dear friends—absorbing too much of their affection, giving out too little, accumulating the whole produce in my own miserable egotism.

Forgive me, friends, take it not amiss. It is only the old worn workman's instinct to conserve his energy for what his present task is.

What you tell me about Walt's daily life now, is infinitely precious. He teaches us, in his latest years, as in his youngest, how to deal with life. In the long run, this will be his real mission.

Tell him from me that his sick-bed, his death-bed, is the seal of the magnetic inspiration he has sent to quicken spiritual life in others. I am sure of this. He ascends sublimer, as the mere material force of life

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declines. And I believe that in this he clinches the whole of the philosophy he gave us. We need not look beyond the grave. But Whitman teaches us to live and die.


The Universe is responsible for those who live and die. The Universe sends men, from time to time, to show us how to live & die.

Whitman is the last of these Avatars.

I am writing just as though I were talking; tired out with my day's work. But I mean every word of what I have said above. And when Whitman joins "the majority", he leaves a rule of sane & social conduct for the disciples lingering round his grave—not with tears, that spirit needs no sign of sorrow; rather with acceptation of the destiny, which he taught us to face bravely & hopefully.

Dear friend, from the remote Alps to you, I am writing these words, very late & tired. Please take them in good comradeship. And do not be vexed with me, if they seem to you stupid or simple. The heart speaks sometimes; & then it asks too little from the head. The heart wants eyes.

You tell me you would like to have something from my pen about Whitman, to put into a volume of essays.

What I should like to put there is a poem in Terza Rima I once wrote, about his prophecy of Comradeship. He got it, & responded to it in a letter, wh. I have religiously preserved.

Elsewhere I have not published it. But I stand by the opinions & feeling I expressed in verse there.

Could you make use of this poem, I am able to send you a (privately) printed copy of it. And I do not think I could add anything to your volume more characteristic of what I feel about our master's influence.

Give him my dear dear love, & show him this letter.

I am yours in fellowship

J. A. Symonds

Aug. 25. I think I may, on the whole, send you straight off this poem.

If you use it please let it appear that it was written in 1871 & has not been published.

I add inside this, a few notes to explain my meaning to you as you read.

J.A.S.


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Symphony on Love & Death
Written to Whitman about the year 1871.

The whole was suggested by his teaching of comradeship as the guiding
emotion of the nation & in particular by some poems out of Calamus.
(Scented Herbage. I dream'd a dream. Primeval my love)

First Movement. The address to Whitman as the Poet-prophet of a new
chivalry, & to the God in man's heart revealed by him, are blent
together like two motifs.

Second Movement. Example from the history of two comrades, who in the
early age of Athenian liberty, voluntarily devoted their lives to save
the city from a plague.

Third Movement. Vision of the Future, when Whitman's teaching on
comradeship & Democracy shall have imbued the nation with
a new religion & a new audacity.



Though the 20 years wh. have passed since I wrote this ode have damped youthful ardour, I still believe Whitman's doctrine to have the essence of a great possibility for human expansion in it.

I read it to Bucke on the wharf while we waited for J.W.W. Bucke now had told W., who suddenly cried out before I had been there long, "Horace! You have a letter from Addington Symonds! Won't you leave it with me?" I had learned Bucke was determined to take J.W.W. west tomorrow, so I said, "I want Wallace to see it before he goes. Suppose I bring it down tonight?" But no, he was impatient as a child, "I think not—no, leave it now. I want to take it by myself—read it—read it carefully, composedly. I can send it up by Warrie tonight." But I did not wish to give him that trouble, so it was arranged that Bucke and Wallace should get the letter tomorrow afternoon when they came to bid W. good-bye. We all had a good hearty laugh over W.'s simple eagerness. When I handed out the letter he put it in the pocket of his big wrapper—himself laughed—said quietly (almost whispered), "The noble Symonds!" Then looked up and questioned, "Do you understand the letter,

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Horace, as Doctor does—that Symonds is in a pretty bad way—is down, down—pretty neary submerged—in fact, is dying?"
His tone curiously pathetic in its inquiringness. (Bucke argues, "I always think it best to tell the old man the worst. Then if he finds things better than he had expected, he is rejoiced." And I have noticed how W. will say to me, after discovering the inaccuracy of a bad report, "I would like to contradict that—to take issue with it"—his eye showing how much he felt the pleasure of cheerier intelligence.) I think he will read more light into this letter than Bucke did.

     Before I have passed it entirely: yesterday, Bucke present, we had a discussion of cover of "Leaves of Grass." We have long urged W. to change it. I have always been for a green. I am sure McKay himself is not averse. W. said yesterday, "I am tired of it—tired. I think the time has about come for a change. In fact, I never did care for the cover: it was not a good color—not simple enough—did not seem somehow to make inside and outside agree. Horace and I have often talked about it. Surely Dave ought to welcome it—it might have a tendency to help the sale of the books. And if it didn't, well, it would help me—which is the important point. My eye never quite even tolerates the old form. Of course we must not make any change that would injure Dave." W. had always promised Bucke the only copy of 1872 (green cover) edition he had. Bucke needs it—will make his collection complete. Bucke now asked if he had not better take it along? W. seemed to part with it with some pain. "I suppose you might as well, Maurice, but—well, I confess, I feel a twinge—I sort of shrink from it—it being the last copy I have. Yes, Maurice, it is like as if the old man's last hope was gone"—laughing half-seriously, half-merrily. "But take it, Maurice. Yes, Horace"—I had started towards the square table (east) to find it. "You will see it under the paper there"—a newspaper spread over table. I found and handed him the dusty book and he duly inscribed it for Bucke. Then the question arose—should we use this cover as a model? And we all agreed, yes. Instead of taking to Canada, Bucke will leave this with me till the new copies are

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out. Several times Bucke said to W., noticing his feeling on the subject of the book, "I won't take it, Walt—I guess I'll leave it." But W. insisted, "It is all right, Maurice—take it—you might as well." We discussed the shape and beauty of various editions, but this seemed to most nearly affect our taste. Finally it was decided I should see, discuss and arrange the matter with McKay.

     Now to go on with today's. We got into some talk of Canadian politics (W. not participating). Bucke described certain Canadian systems of political corruption. W. exclaimed, "How American!" He seemed perfectly content to have Wallace go west. "The main point is that you are safe, are here." He said that over several times. He got more quiet as he grew tired—finally reaching for his cane and calling Warrie—shaking hands with me first, then Wallace (Doctor did not rise). "I feel dull, heavy, stupid. I think I must have eaten too much." But he had not put the quart in that pint bottle? He laughed heartily, leaning upon the door-jam as he did so, "No, not that, Horace. But I feel tired, anyhow—feel it best to go up. Good-bye all! Do not hurry"—seeing Bucke and I rise— "stay down here, talk a little." And, "You shall have your letter tomorrow. The good Symonds! The good Symonds!" And so left, taking the local papers (which had been handed in at the window to Bucke) with him. W. told Wallace to go take the rocker— "see how easy it is." But Wallace, who went directly over, felt he could only take it, not fill it—at which I let out that irreverent Americanism, "Well then, you can rattle around in it!"—which excited his interest and merriment. Before long a cab drove up and we all went to my house together.

     As the folks proposed a ride out most of tomorrow, they had to do their packing tonight: it was an interesting process. Wallace talked meanwhile. He spoke of the "novelty" of everything with which he met—people, houses, landscapes—of our "beautiful blue skies." He is curious about every little fact connected with W. Is very quiet—apt to listen to discussions—to take no part except when asked a question. Then

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speaks quietly; when done stops. A valuable trait. These, of course, all early judgments, incident to his newness. Showed him a few of my Whitman possessions, but no time to go into them. Seemed surprised at busts of Carlyle and Emerson in parlor. Had I touch with them? "That gives us another thing in common. They were my best men till I knew Whitman. Now they occupy a quite subordinate position." Doctor and I packed and talked. Wallace sat in the parlor, with paper and pencil, and wrote notes of the talk with W. Once he asked Bucke, "What word was it he used when he said, Symonds had buffeted the current, borne up against it," etc. And so wrote and wrote. And long after Bucke had gone to bed and was heard snoring and I sat in my room writing, the light was to be seen under J.W.W.'s door and I knew he was perseveringly at his notes. He said, "I find I remember very little of what was said—very little." The noble fellows over there had made J.W.W. the bearer of various gifts, tokens—some to W., to Warrie, to Mrs. Davis, to me. For Anne, a beautiful bed coverlet—for me a copy of the Johnston book, beautifully bound—and pictures (loose), a number of them. Delightful to see how Wallace felt them all—handed them forth—spirit full of grace and faith and fellowship. Something of spirit about this fellow—I don't know what. I think he seemed blued from having to go off tomorrow, almost without a breath's-taking here. But sweet. "I am in your hands," he says continually. "I don't want to do anything which in any way disturbs your arrangements." Seems the lover, filled with the fine new chivalry. He seemed drawn to all evidence of Whitmanic atmosphere. The Morse bust: he put his hand on it. "Since seeing Whitman, I can understand this better. Yes, it is striking" Picture of Morse, the Whitman medallion, Whitman (Washington) picture—all affected him. Discussed W.'s personality—story, all intimate facts, interspersed. Much humor—W.'s kissings, Wallace's hesitancy, Hawthorne's daughter, etc., etc.


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