Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, September 11, 1891

     5:10 P.M. W. making up some papers for the mail. Had also written a letter to Johnston at Bolton. Was in cheery mood—yet said, "I have had one of my bad head days—everything heavy, uncomfortable." After some pause, "Mrs. Bush came down today—came with Tom"—I found it was Gussie, not Tom— "but I did not see them—I could not—I was feeling like the devil." But when he learned Mrs. Bush was going home tomorrow or Sunday he had "a wish to send her something," I finally bringing him a copy of "As a Strong Bird" from the other room, and he endorsing simply "Emma Bush" after asking her name. Heard ring at the bell and the dog bark—Mrs. Davis a minute after into the room. Visitors—two women—from Connecticut—one a Miss Raymond, one a Miss Jennings. W. asked, "Do they want anything particular, Mary?" I put in with a laugh, "You! They think you're pretty particular." He laughed, "But I mean, do they want anything, Mary?" "Only to see you, I suppose, Mr. Whitman." At which he positively, "Well, say no, Mary—say it kindly, but say no. Tell them I am sick, old, prohibited—that I am closeted here. Make as good a story as you can, Mary." She forthwith going and he turning to say, "I am getting more and more impatient with the notion of being toted out—paraded—set up or down for strangers to look at. I don't know what it indicates—but my spirit is getting into rebellion. And yet I see them, too—why they come!"

     I had been in today to see Dave. Repeated to W. the purport of my discussion with McKay. Latter rather opposed to new shaping of "Leaves of Grass." Indeed said, "I think it nonsense." W. exclaimed to me, "What the devil has Dave to do with that—whether it's nonsense or sense—anything at all in the critical way? Does he suppose I am to be deterred—moved—damned into or from any course, by him, by anyone, in fact? No, no, no, Dave—take another tack—this will not answer. This new book—the clinching, riveting, of the whole cycle of poems—the final word, touch—yes, my finale in fact (yes, Horace,

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it is that: day by day I feel, realize, it is that)—this book, utterer of life, my life (God knows! and more than that, if anything!)—stands for more than publishers, purveyors, can know! But go on, Horace. Tell me the rest. Did he come into our idea?"
"No, he made me—or you—a counter-proposition. He suggests that we have two editions of 'Leaves of Grass'—one, in fact the Boston edition, bound and priced as at present—the other with our new green cover, to contain 'Sands at Seventy' and 'Good-Bye' and 'A Backward Glance,' title-page autographed, selling at three dollars." W. instantly said, "No, my disposition is immediately to say no, to negative him. I do not see why there should be two editions—especially with one of them incomplete." W. was much amused when I told him one of my retorts to McKay, "You must remember that the book is ours—that we are going on to make it after our own ideas—that we are not submitting the shape of the book to you, but its sale!" W. quickly, "Did you tell him that?" "Exactly." "Well, I am glad you did—that is our position in a nutshell. I have not worked my life through to have the book emerge at this day and be denied by a publisher. However, Dave will come around. He is bound to see it our way at last. I have made changes in 'Leaves of Grass,' some minor, some vital—but none to tamper with the general purpose. And I think that by and by, with me gone, you will all feel I was justified. You know well enough I never act on the impulse of a day. I have waited long and long and long to pronounce my determination. But once it is pronounced—" I exclaimed, "Stand from under!" And between his laughs W. repeated, "Stand from under! Sure enough!" Then he asked, "What else did Dave say?" "He wanted to know how many copies you would sign." "Any reasonable number?" "Ten thousand!" "No indeed—that would be indecent!" How had Dave regarded the cover? "Very well—he admitted it, in fact." W.: "That is one important point gained." I spoke of the stamping as "chaste," which made W. laugh heartily. "That is an odd use of the word. You know we don't altogether like the word. It has stood for so many stupidities." "Well, suppose it were used as

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Ralph Moore used 'immodest' for the monuments?"
"Oh!" he admitted, "that would excuse it, of course. And the lettering is chaste, after that sense." Said he owned the stamp, but could not lay his hands on it. We had better have another made.

     I left copy with Myrick at Ferguson's. Myrick exclaimed, "It does me good to see the old man's writing again! You haven't buried him yet!" W. went off the handle to hear this. "You ought to tell it to Warrie. When I am most despondent Warrie is most cheerful—rallies me— 'You ain't dead yet for a good while, Mr. Whitman!' Tell him about Myrick, Horace! And yet, though the old man ain't buried yet, it's a close shave—close enough!" And several times, finding him laughing, I knew it was Myrick's several pleasantries—one of them, "You remember, Mr. Traubel, you buried the old man three years ago!" W. gave me a bill for special big books sent over to McKay—$33 in all. I have been at him several days to give it to me. We discussed paper edition of "Leaves of Grass" again. McKay objects, W. remarking, "Dave measures everything by our past—seems to think there has not been the least shifting of the scenes. But his publisherial canniness don't see the whole panorama" for "there are certainly paper editions of the poets—ought to be—and they might be made to pay."

     Report in Ledger that W. would have a poem for the Pan-American Congress (Philadelphia) in October. "That is a mistake—it is not authoritative. I have had fully half a dozen applications for poems lately—poems for public occasions—to none of which have I even replied." And the report further speaks of Ingersoll as one of the speakers, W. saying of this, "I think it likely that is true—authoritative. For the Colonel is more or less enlisted for such movements. And no man could say better things. But I have not written the poem and shall not. Though I am intensely interested in their aims—think them noble—'Leaves of Grassy'—what we have always aimed at. It would be funny for us to go back on our principles at this late day. This Congress really represents an advance step—a serious step: and I in fact take it with them—took it, rather, a long time

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ago. Yes, solidarity—evolution—that is 'Leaves of Grass.'"
When I told him what Maud Ingersoll had told me—that her father intended to study astronomy and that he was marvellously quick to perceive bearings and lines, W. acquiesced, "I can easily believe that—in fact know it—it is one of the great possessions of the Colonel—intuition—oh! lightning itself! I doubt if another man in America, our time, has it in the same degree. He don't take in a particular, a piece—he seizes whole bundles, areas, at a flash!" He wants to send Ingersoll a copy of "Good-Bye" but is doubtful if he is back in New York. W. sent to New York for copies of last week's Critic and is sending them out. One goes to his niece, another to Bolton. Wallace had never seen big book till I showed him one of my copies. W. asked, "Is that so? Certainly he ought to see it. I supposed they had copies. Before he goes we must give him a gift book!" Among various papers left me on her recent visit, Mrs. O'Connor has called my attention to this:
Washington, November 24, 1868.

My dear Mr. Fields:

I intended of course to ask Mr. Whitman upon my return here for the MS you desired for the Harvard book, but after reading Mr. Lowell's review of Piatt's poems in the last North American, in which Mr. Whitman is elaborately insulted through two pages and pointedly referred to as "a sham hero" and "a satyr in masquerade" I really haven't the face to approach him on the subject, and shall not.

Don't misunderstand me unkindly, for I mean no offence, and write more in sorrow than in anger: but this fresh assault is worse even than the one the Quarterly had a few months ago in which Mr. Whitman was styled a New York rowdy; and you must see that I cannot ask a favor of a gentleman for anyone through whose periodicals he is thus publicly advertised as a vile and low person, and defamed and slandered constantly and in various ways.

You will see also, I hope, that I don't willingly say this, but only to explain why the promise I made cannot be redeemed.

Faithfully yours,

W. D. O'Connor




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I hadn't this letter with me but gave W. substance of it, to which, "I think that was a mistake. I would have given him the manuscript. Fields was always my friend—thoroughly generous and warm." Did O'Connor know this? "I do not think he did. But Fields had taken many ways to indicate his friendship—always connected 'Leaves of Grass' and Walt Whitman—made it obvious he knew what he was about. Yes, his wife was kind—is—and friendly—but not so markedly so as was Fields himself. No, no, I think William overpassed necessity that time." But the letter was characteristic? "Thoroughly so—nobly so. There were no two ways about William—he was always at danger-places, in the midst of perils—a knight—loyalty, courage, daring, made into man!"

     Found an old yellowed dirtied bit of manuscript on floor—proved to be "After the Supper and Talk," here appearing under line "So Loth to Depart." W. said, "Take it along. It has no value for me anymore." A curiously patched and mangled specimen.


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