Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, April 4, 1891

     7:50 P.M. W. rather better tonight, though he still complains that he constantly realizes a sense of weariness. "As I told it to Longaker the other day—in the phrase of the lumbermen, when the logs all clutter up the river—and continually more and worse—I feel choked, oppressed, almost suppressed, in fact." He was now reading proof. I left new pages with him. We have now reached 51. W. was astonished. "I never had any idea we would go so high. I shouldn't wonder but we'd make it 60 before we are done!" Then with a laugh, "But that scoundrel on Truth hasn't sent me a proof yet. I wonder if he'd have the cheek to print it without sending me a proof? I had a proof of the poems. No, no, I am not afraid—and yet I shall not feel relieved till I actually see it in the types—unmistakably concreted." And further, "It is probably the scrappiest prose piece I have ever written—about the old actors, you remember. I mention, I suppose, the matter of 50 names—and if I have no proof, I'm sure this will be a hell of a mess." When he had quieted from the laugh this caused him he asked me, "If you will, go to a stand Monday, see Truth, see with your own eyes whether we have been sent through unacquainted"—for— "after all, I never believe in the impossible. I accept the saying of some witty Frenchman—that the impossible is the likeliest thing to happen." I had a copy of

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the Illustrated American (April 4th) containing portrait of W. and article on "Our Poet Laureate" discussing the Tennyson-Columbian matter in a frank way: OUR POET-LAUREATE.—That was a very foolish thought of the managers of the World's Fair—to ask a poem from Lord Tennyson in honor of the occasion.

Tennyson is a great man. But his day is over. His recent work—especially the last song, "To Sleep"—has detracted from rather than added to his reputation. Better, far better, he should relapse into silence. Moreover, he is a foreigner—a member, too, of the nation which scorned Columbus and refused his proffer of a new world. A Spaniard, even an Italian, would be better. Among the exponents of the latter-day renaissance of song in either country, it might be possible to find one who could do justice to Columbus, to Chicago, to America.

But best of all would be an American poet. The children of the New World, which Columbus revealed to the Old, are best fitted to celebrate the glories of the new dispensation.

Walt Whitman would be the ideal choice. He is an American, a democrat in the largest and best sense of the word, a son of the soil. He could give us a splendid chant, full of virility and breadth and wisdom. But we have not yet reached the ideal stage where we can appreciate him at his true worth. Lowell is a choice that would better please the more finical and dainty and scholarly mind....


W. said, "The thing appears to have been in today's Press—I sent my copy to Bucke. They call it, 'Our National Poet.' You think it was written by William Walsh? Probably, more than probably—it certainly is by a sure, friendly hand—takes us up with no apologies. If you can get occasion, I wish you would thank Walsh for me—tell him of my gratitude. I noticed, yes, that he spoke of Lowell as finicky, a scholar—or to that effect. But however, it was a manly recognition."

     Had he read "The Brazen Android"? "Yes, and beautiful it is, too. I can see William all through it. No, I never saw it before—it is quite new to me—never read it, or heard it read—but

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I know all that it came out of. All the history of the centuries from 12th to 16th—and what are called the Elizabethan group, literature—were at William's fingers' and tongue's end. This literature has a species of artificialization—a shade of it—but an artificialization which is nature itself."

     Ingersoll lectures in Brooklyn tomorrow night ("Shakespeare"). W. remarked, "It arouses all my dormant desires. What a treat to go over! But there's no use—no use. I suppose 50 years from now it will be so that a fellow can take up stakes at five or six in the afternoon—get to New York—having everywhere perfect independence—composedly, easily—and home the same night. Do you know, I feel quite sure of that—indeed, wonder why we haven't had it already!"

     I expressed to W. my doubts about naming the magazines which had rejected him (in a note entitled "Two Questions"). It was a taste—a feeling—perhaps a question whether it comported with W.'s usual strength and reserve. He responded, "I am very glad to hear you say that—it is frank—I like to hear it—I have been waiting to hear it. Such a criticism is always very welcome to me, especially when I know it is from one of the fellows in touch with my work." And after pause and reflection, "Yes indeed, it is a great question for us. I shall take it up seriously—perhaps decide for the very attitude you urge on me. I have not felt any over-arching supreme reason either way, but now you present it to me, I see it in a new light."

     Miss Porter gave me in some detail an account of a talk with an English actress now here—a "Belle" somebody (name escaped)—and when I referred to the fact tonight W. said, "That reminds me: she sent a card over and I sent word that I was too sick—that for the past few days I had been seriously broken and weak—which is a fact." The statement the stranger had made was, that while all English people of weight or mark had an enthusiasm for W., she had noticed on coming to America an entirely other atmosphere. W. put in, "A 'pooh! pooh!'" And then, "But that is no surprise to us: haven't we long known all that?" I assented, "Yes, but not from her—it is worth putting down—

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is another observation."
W. then, "You are right—and it is true, too, wholly true."

     Showed W. this letter, received today from Mrs. Fairchild:
April 2

Dear Mr. Traubel,

Spring is really here by the almanac if not by the skies which with us at least, have no shade of tenderness yet. But I hope that with you it is different and that our dear friend can get away from his fireside to a more benignant warmth in the open air very soon. I enclose the little cheque on which I hang so much pleasure every month, with heartiest wishes that Walt may share the throbbing new life of the earth—he long ago felt the new life of the new era pulsing through his breast and to him I owe more than to any other my own vital thrills.

Best regards to you also; & a common wish for us all.

Very truly yrs

Elisabeth Fairchild


He exclaimed as he read, "She writes like a man! Such a hand! Such a strong searching verbal certainty!" And again, "She is a rare woman—she is an honor to us!"

     Would send (or if I came, give) me new copy (appendix) tomorrow. Laughingly: "I even dictated to the Truth fellows the date on which to print my piece, but they took no notice of it." Further, "We can't all be masters of the same situation!"


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