Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, September 17, 1891

     5:30 P.M. W. in bathroom when I came. After remaining in room a while I went down and chatted in parlor with Mrs. Davis. But soon we heard him call—went out to hallway—found him sitting on a step at the head of the stairs. "Ah Mary! And Horace, too! Well, both! I meant to come downstairs, Mary. Give me your arm, won't you?" And she hastened up. On way returning he said, "You are pretty strong, Mary, but you're not Warrie. His arm is as hard, sure, as metal. I can trust it absolutely." "Never mind, Mr. Whitman, I could hold you if you fell." "I am not sure about that, Mary—I rather think not." But could Warrie? "Yes, I would be willing to trust him. He has the solid strength of a horse." Once in the parlor W. seemed very bright. We talked freely, about much of everything.


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     Told him about Gordon, which aroused his curiosity. "What can he be doing? I suppose it will develop—but what?" Then asked, "You spoke over the telephone?" And when I mentioned Gordon's "manly voice," W. asked, "Can you tell that, too? Tell me about the telephone. You can hear every word? And easily? Is there an art about it? No? It has a curious meaning to me—a curious meaning indeed." Had he never used one? "Not in the least—not once. I haven't any idea of its manipulation—of its mystery. But you seem to think it a success. How as to long distances—New York, Chicago?" And so on with questions. He had heard of someone who said—wipe out steam, telegraphs and telephones and our civilization would go with it. W. exclaimed, "That sounds like an extraordinary statement. Very much as if it was said, wipe out butter and we'll all starve to death."

     Discussed book again. Dave is away for a week. W. insists, "It is our idea—to plant ourselves on the two editions of the same book—the three dollar and the one dollar editions. I know Dave has it in him to get mad—to see it his way—but no matter; when he finds the determination is sealed—that the thing is insuperable—he will have to come round. He ought to look at the matter broadly. And he does come round in the end—has in our past experiences. It might be possible to keep the bound book at two dollars by shaving down—or make it fine at three dollars by adding to, enriching, it. These of course all details. My own position is the writer's, not the publisher's. First of all, the book must be put in the shape I have evoluted it to—with the final touches, the last data, memoranda. All is secondary to that." I had brought him part of the proofs. He seemed annoyed I had not brought all. "Tell Brown," he said, "that Walt Whitman is mad—has gone on in a frightful way about it!" Then a laugh, "But anyway, Horace, this ought to be done—all done. I hate to be put back by a lot of lally-gagging printers!"

     We had quite a heated discussion over the bastard title for "Good-Bye." First he said, "We won't have any at all—it is not needed," but I convinced him it was. Then he said he was satisfied to use the title of the book itself. But again I objected,

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"It is not in good shape—'Sands at Seventy' and 'Backward Glance' have some point—this would not, with your name and the publisher's appearing midway in the book." "But I am not after form in this book." "Yes, you are—your own form, anyway: in fact it's for form's sake, yours, that you are putting it together now." He laughed, "That trips me, I admit! Well, what do you want?" And he listened and wound up with, "Well, do it—I see the point." One other of my suggestions about the grading of lettering of contents pages of "Leaves of Grass" (the general page) he instantly accepted. "That did not suggest itself to me, but I see it plainly enough at your suggestion."

     Baker writes me a letter—dictates it to his wife:
Cairo, Greene Co. New York
Sep. 16. 1891.

My Dear Traubel,

Your tender letter of sympathy reached me in due course. I need not say that I appreciated it as coming from a loving and loyal heart. Such words at such a time mean more to me than I can adequately respond to. The sincere outpouring of true and tested friendships are worth more to a responsive heart than millions of prayers to the unresponsive heavens.

I thank you and your dear wife in my own behalf, and in the behalf of my own precious wife.

How weirdly strange this event has been. So sudden—so unlooked for—so tragic—as the outcome of an arrangement into which we entered less than six months ago so full of happiness. Rest assured that we have the consciousness on our part of honorable upright and peaceful purpose and action throughout the whole affair. Why such an issue should come out of such a purpose is one of the mysteries the world of moral philosophers have not yet solved.

To us the whole event seems like a horrid dream from which we have scarcely yet awaked. That I am alive is however the tangible thankful fact.

You will be glad to learn that what was thought at first to be a fatal wound has healed beyond probable danger. My lungs which were pierced by the cruel bullet have so far resisted the approach of pneumonia or other serious symptoms. And thanks to the careful nursing

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of my dear wife, and the pure and healthful air of the mountains, my general condition seems to improve each day. My shattered right arm is still however a cause of great anxiety. The fracture is one of the worst possible kind and it will take months before the arm can be restored to its full use, if ever again [...] patiently enduring until the end. Meantime let me have a continued interest in your best sympathies and affections.


Remember me to Mr. Walt Whitman and thank him for every sympathetic thought he has wafted to me. I little imagined that I should be running such a swift race with him toward the common goal. Col. Ingersoll has returned from his long absence west. Words cannot convey the height and depth of his great and overspreading love to me in this hour of my calamity. The telegrams and letters which he sent and the daily personal ministrations of Mrs. Ingersoll to us make us his hopeless debtors forever.

But I will not weary you, all I can do from my chamber of waiting is to wish you gladness in your newly made house, and success in all your career with its growing plans, and ambitions of useful service.

Remember me kindly to your brother-in-law Mr. Harned.

I hope that the pleasure is still reserved to us of seeing you all in some happy future day of reunion.

With my best love in which Mrs. Baker joins, to you and yours

I am as always

Your sincere friend

I. N. Baker


W. read it with a grave face—exclaimed at one point, "Why, he has a style—a strong one, too!" And murmured as he neared the end, "Beautiful! Beautiful!" As he finished and handed back, "A noble letter! Yes, all of that, Horace. But no nobler than the fellow! And no hard word in it at all! No bitterness! The best proof of the man!" And as he looked up, I found he had grown quite serious—that tears were in his eyes. O rare sight! "It is good to hear all that—to have the best news, best said! Why, Horace—the letter has a princely nobility, grace!" The letter touched him—was pathetic—yet made him "glad" too.

     Remarked, "In writing Doctor the other day, I said, if you have not a copy of the Critic of the 7th, I can send you one. I

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had sent to New York for several. And I have mailed Doctor the Literary World, too. No, I haven't a clue to the writer. It is singular, to have that appear in such a place. The editor of the paper is opposed to me, and the publisher is bitterly inimical. But I suppose Doctor Abbot may have written the notice, he having always demonstrated a sturdy friendship. Yet I have nothing but a guess to go by. The funniest things to me nowadays are the signs of coming-round in people always my enemies—always standing against me in the days of my worst struggle. It is almost comical—I am often inclined to laugh it out of face. Signs of surrender, or offers, even in the very citadel of opposition. How curious—how much it tells, yet how little, too! We can do no more than accept it—stand it the best way we can."
But Stedman was not willing to admit but that W. had all along received as good treatment as others. "Ned ought to know better. He is wonderfully cute—right in the rush of life there—knew Stoddard, Willie Winter—the whole ilk of critics. It is almost inconceivable that he should not know." How about Stedman's protest to me that he had always thought of Walt Whitman as he does now? "It is another of Ned's mistakes—another. Ask William O'Connor—or you have asked him. Ask William's letters—ask John Burroughs. Yes, appeal from Ned to Ned! This matter of opposition is nothing that even asked to be looked for: it came up, arrogant, everywhere, to everyone." Mrs. Baldwin told me today of a lady in New York who exhibited an autograph album which she boasted of as about complete (all American writers therein)—Mrs. Baldwin examining and saying, "But you haven't Walt Whitman!" —which raised a perfect storm. W. remarked, "Another fact for Ned—that is the type of the feeling of the parlors! O Horace! I have gone through too much of this to not know the thing when I see it—or feel when I am struck. I know affairs are modified, greatly, but the old seed is still put in the ground—the soil propitiates it." Referring to Dole W. asked, "Did you know him? No? He is a good refined fellow, but phantasmal—an Edmund Gosse-ish sort of critter"—laughing— "wall-flowers, I call them!"


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     W. has a letter from Wallace today. I, too. Wallace too much moved to outright adulation, W. not liking it. "Make it as plain as you can, knowing his love and worth—that it is better not! The noble fellow! I could not say a word to him, yet would like him, somehow, to know." What was the significance of Wallace's pilgrimage? Did it "forecast anything of the future"? W. "in doubt," but it was a question he had asked himself.

     One of our tellers said to me today, "I would not have Walt Whitman in my house." "I know, your house is too small for him." "But it holds me." "That shows the difference in your sizes." W. laughed when I told him this. "He laid himself squarely open to sharp retorts. It is not queer he got 'em!" W. a good deal amused to learn from Anne that Wallace thought W.'s poetic reference to the morning glory pointed to the glory of the morning—not the flower, the morning glory, which Anne pointed out on their ride. "Certainly the flower will hold its own with the morning!" commented W.


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