Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, September 19, 1891

     5:10 P.M. After all, W. could not go out—had caught cold from the trip in the chair yesterday. (Said to me again, "Mary persuaded me to eat downstairs: it was a good meal.") Had gone out in shirt sleeves—sleeves even rolled up. Now looked pale and worn. "I woke up feeling like the devil." Had heard from Wallace again. Was sorry he could not go out. "The day seems almost perfect, too!"

     Signing name and being named W. said, "I like best my name in full—Walt Whitman—not Whitman alone nor Walt alone!" We spoke of books, printing, etc. "That's an item!" he exclaimed of one of the points of detail I gave him, "and I am glad to know it!" Called his attention to paragraph in Critic, to this effect: A young lady writes to me from Newport of "a rather good thing" a girl said there the other day. It was this: speaking of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and others, whose thoughts are extremely poetical, but whose verses expressing them have little rhythm and less rhyme, she said, "I don't call such writers poets exactly, and yet they are not, literally speaking, prose writers. There ought to be some other word to describe them—one of Lewis Carroll's 'portmanteau' words. Why not call them 'proets'?" My fair correspondent feels that this vocable meets a long felt want in our much-lacking language.

W. remarked, "Yes, and the name belongs, too, to the Bible writers—to the old Hebrews, all—to the Hindu scripturists—to many of the Greeks and so on. Almost all the earlier fellows, in fact. It would make a curious point to follow out—might

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involve important lessons, ideas."
And as this led to mention of Pope's Homer, W. said, "William O'Connor always called that a travesty—but I don't know—I would hardly use that word. There was once a craze for Drydenish lines—for dress—parade was to the fore—it was a fashion, to rebel against which was disastrous. Of course, Pope had his virtues—his verse had a certain lordly swing, power. But it was not Homer—was certainly not modern—not ours." Showed him the Conkling bit from J. R. Young in Star (got copy today). W. laughed after he had read it. "That is very characteristic—very representative. It is Dick Stoddard and Willie Winter over again." "But certainly without venom." "Yes, you are right, in that sense no venom at all. He simply don't see it."Walt Whitman.
Upon one occasion, having heard him at length, and in metre, about the burial of Moses, and "Had he not high honor!" declaimed with such majesty, and in prose about Bonaparte's Waterloo emotions, likewise declaimed, I ventured a word about Whitman. There was "The Burial Hymn of Lincoln," "Captain, Oh, My Captain," so praised by Swinburne. "Whitman! I cannot comprehend him. He makes my head ache." "But even the Captain?" "I have never read it." Never read it, I thought, and ceased to interrupt the theme, allowing it to revert to Moses and Napoleon. I resolved that when we met again Conkling should have no excuse for not knowing and appreciating that exquisite tribute to Lincoln—one of the few things done in these later years to give American literature a claim to immortality. Seeking out Whitman's books I copied "Captain, Oh, My Captain," with the pious purpose of reclaiming Conkling from the Moses rubbish. When we met, as fell at an early dinner, I recalled our Whitman talk and handed him the poem. He read it twice over, gravely folded the paper and returning it, said: "I cannot understand it. It has no meaning to me. That nor anything the author has written."

"But Young—yes, he is unmistakably friendly. I never knew him to miss any opportunities of friendship."


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     Camelot series has one volume, "Famous Reviews." Had W. read the review of Byron which brought out "English Bards"? Or the Keats quarterly, etc.? "No, but I have read the English Bards itself. But, Horace, I would like to read the reviews—they would have a value to me." "They make or made history?" "Yes, exactly—exactly." I remarked, "History's best lesson is not in guidance but avoidance." W. said, "That is very profound—very true, too. And the sooner we adjust ourselves to that fact, the better for all concerned." I had brought him proofs. He enjoyed. "Everything seems about right now—we have finally set things straight." Also new letters from Wallace to both of us. As to Morse's fear that tiresome iteration of the name of Whitman may prove injurious, "I see Sidney's idea. We know where we stand with regard to it—but it would be churlish, brutish, to slap them in the face—these good friends. We are serene in the knowledge of our position—that is enough." As to such notices as the Literary World's, "We must not count too much on them. We must go our own way, accepting but not expecting."


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