Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, March 30, 1891

     5:35 P.M. W. was very cordial and seemed almost happy. "You are a stranger," he said. "I missed you yesterday." Brought him

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much proof, which we examined in a general way and I left with him. W. gave me a letter of Bucke's (27th March) saying, "You should read it: Doctor claims that we have not sent him a report of the Colonel's Shakespeare address. We haven't, have we? But we can't send what we had not got. Doctor is impatient. Funny—oh! it is very curious!—how the boy in him persists—how all his experience, intellect, disappointment—have not taught him to be patient—to take things as they are! The good Doctor!" And further, "You will like what he says there of the doctor, of Longaker. He seems to have fancied him. You might show this letter to Longaker if you like."

     As to Doctor's urging that "Death's Valley" should go into the book, "Perhaps it should, but it can't! It is a point of honor: for the present, the poem is theirs, not ours." Then with an impatient shrug of the shoulders, "God damn Kennedy, I say! The scoundrel writes, writes, writes, but the very thing I want him to say, he won't touch. Several times I asked him about the 'Ship Ahoy!' piece: had the Youth's Companion yet printed it? And I told you what his vague answer was—that my four lines had appeared—that I came out there in company with all my friends—Chamberlain, Boyle O'Reilly—naming others. But what did all that convey to me? It was a mere drag on the edges of what I wanted—hardly innuendoed it even. He is usually explicit enough, too. I send money to some poor friends—relatives, some of them—my sister, others—but, as I have told you, they thank me for my 'affectionate' letter and all that, but either evade any direct mention of the money or float way off into the clouds—fine sentiment. Just as Sloane with his vagaries." Then he laughed and added, "To make the Youth's Companion business worse, I wrote to the paper direct last week, asking about the poem and if I could not have two or three copies of the paper—and not a word from them, either. That's success with a vengeance. Anyhow, we have made our throw: the poem is in the book."

     We discussed further matter for the book. "For one thing, I am waiting for proof of the Truth piece: that is to precede all the other

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copy I have here. I got a check today, as they promised (Blakely Hall) last week, paying for both pieces—but no proof. Perhaps it will come in a day or two, which will open a way for us."

     I spoke of a letter I had written Wallace, and W. said, "Good! Yes, write them, they like to hear, deserve to hear." Afterward saying, "They are affectionate, true, best coin out of the best mint. But I was thinking today how few of us but are more or less possessed by the spirit of technique: even our fellows—Wallace, even Symonds—who throw it away, disdain it, spit upon it, yet keep, maintain, battle for its kernel. I find the struggle hard, even in myself." I put in, "And that is an argument that the other fellows use—that even you cannot get away from it, that this therefore attests its validity." W. exclaimed, "O damn 'em! I hate the whole thing more and more: the older I get, the fuller my conviction. I think of Jesus—outcast, anarchist, no family, free, despised, stoned—everything that is low and vile in the eye of the average. Then of the preachers in his name, swearing to the technique at 10,000 or 20,000 a year, living sumptuous lives. What are they to each other? No, no, no: the whole temptation, backed by 40 generations of mistakes (let it have all the advantage of that), I despise—yes, hate, will defy, in all the ways I can." Would he write more autobiographical notes? "Perhaps a few. I give myself free rein: if the notes come, I'll welcome them—I never buffet their salutations: they have their own right as guests."

     Called W.'s attention to this from Hugh Pentecost in a recent address: Every poet knows that if he should sing the truth nobody would buy his poems; he knows, indeed, that if he should sing the truth it would not be poetry. The reason why Walt Whitman is so poor, and that his poems are not poetry, is because he writes so much that is true. Poetry is one thing, and truth is an exactly opposite thing. You can make truth rhyme, but you cannot turn it into poetry. Every artist knows that if he should paint pictures that are true he could never sell them, and that is why nearly all art exhibitions are so little worth seeing. If you go to an art exhibition you will see several groups of cows, several

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streams of water, several bits of sea, several portraits of a lady, several girls pouring tea, and such inconsequent things, but rarely one that has a true thought in it, because the artist that paints what is true paints what the people do not want.


[Hugh Pentecost—from "The Clown with the Broken Heart"
—20th Century, March 26, 1891]



He said, "How bitter that sounds! It is like the condemnatory word of a doctor: it goes straight to the marrow. There is a daring ring to it."

     Johnston (NY.) had sent him a beautiful Knickerbocker Souvenir spoon—for oranges—in which he took an active interest and questioned me.

     Had received two rival Contemporary Club tickets. "Which one shall I vote?" he asked. "I want you to tell me. Brinton for President—that's the one?" He was "willing to go the whole radical length." The first ticket (sent out by the nominating committee and antagonized by ours) "has too many ministers on it"—two names— "I am against that." We are making an issue, whether "to break with fashionable, dilettante, tendencies of the Club."

     As I supposed he would, McKay returned me four of the six sheets as "soiled and blotted." W. said, laughing, "I was quite aware of their condition, but these are just the sheets I should select if I was after a curio."

     Again, he picked up a magazine, "I have been reading this—it came from Wallace—the National Review, containing an article by William Sharp on 'American National Literature.' What a lot of damned trash it is, too: dry, stupid, valueless. It is wonderful, the amount of that stuff we stand without protest. I don't know how much Wallace sympathizes with Sharp, but Sharp himself sees little, nothing."

     W. every day asks me about my copy of the Atlantic. Anne Montgomerie now has it.

     W. greatly moved by Mrs. O'Connor's last letter to me:

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112 M St. NW
March 26, 1891

Dear Mr. Traubel,

I don't yet hear from you that you actually have the "reports" in hand—but when you get them please let me know; & if you don't get them soon, I also want to know, as some mischance may have sent them the wrong way, or not sent them. As Mr. K. wrote you that he had sent them, if you have not rec'd them, you better let him know at once.

I sent you my letter from him, which you may return when you get ready, & I hope you got the photograph all safe.

And now to-day, when I got home, I found the Atlantic had been sent me with the first part of the "Brazen Android." I have just cut the pages.

If you write for any paper or can get into any, will you speak a good word for it? The more it is noticed, the more chance of the book in the fall.

I saw that they meant this as a feeler.

Love to Walt, I wish I had a copy to send him, but they have sent me only this one.

Yours cordially,

Ellen M. O'Connor


"I hope we can do a good deal for her. How can we?"

     Bucke's letter of 27th to me mentions Longaker favorably. Speaks also of "Death's Valley."


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