Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, April 6, 1891

     5:35 P.M. W. looked himself again in more ways than one, and I felt overjoyed. And his talk was quick (for him) and decisive. Will it last? Remarked at once, "Doctor Longaker was over today! How much I like the man! More and more he grows in my favor. He has solid virtues—is wise—knows his trade. And Bucke seems to have as good an opinion as I have—probably through you—or through you in part—and partly, perhaps, from their correspondence together. At any rate I am satisfied." And further, "There has been a visitor, too: Herbert—Herbert Gilchrist—and he looks hearty and happy. He has taken board near here somewhere, in Camden, and will stay a few days. He tells me Morris is getting ready to pay him a visit." What had W. heard since of O'Donovan? "No one seems to know who he is. He went back to New York—we have not seen him since. But I guess he is all right—he came from Childs—and I have confidence in that." O'Donovan not impressed with the Morse head. Said W. quickly, "So much the worse for him"—and with a laugh— "I wonder if we will be impressed with his?" He shook his head over Truth. "Not a word yet—not a word. I wonder if they mean to wait till I die, then print the piece with a hurrah? with great trumpeting of heads?" I protested and W. then, "Well, I did not urge that—only mentioned it. The pages 79 to 85 in manuscript—which you missed—were the pages I sent to Truth. I had them ready to go into the book when the idea struck me to send to them first." Young Stoddart told me today that he had received $25 for his Truth interview (one column), while W. had only been paid $16 for his matter, which, he said, "I thought might take up a whole page." W. had set his price too low. He joked about it and said, "That only shows that in the future I must set my price to a higher key."


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     Book to page 51 now. W. thought, "I aim to make it strike 60 or 64, anyhow—and how this comes will by and by appear." I asked if he could not add some notes? "Yes indeed, I could go on ad infinitum—but the trouble would be, that just as I had fairly got into the thing, I would find that was just the thing I should have done long ago—and will want to do it with a good deal more care. I can readily see that somebody, sometime, should think all this very important—especially if 'Leaves of Grass' continues—becomes a part of the living universal message of our land, time." I had noticed that he had not cut out the names of magazines which had rejected him. "No, but I weighed what you said. I have felt uncertain about it, but not enough to yield. It is quite clear to me—clear to my own mind, that I should here and there flash clear light—give a vivid touch here and there—on the critter himself, as he lives, moves, these days, among men and women, above the earth. It is in line with all my old determined purposes—to set free the currents of sympathy—to reach out unto other ages, a hand of recognition—to let such as can see, see in me (as indeed they might in any man of the time) the peculiar life that throbs and is vital in the trial democracy."

     I wrote to Walsh yesterday, conveying W.'s gratitude for the Illustrated American notice, and to Talcott Williams, asking after the Ingersoll colloquy.

     Mrs. Davis came in to hand W. the local papers, and before she could go, he insisted that she should take some return—handing her some papers he hastily grabbed from the loaded chair, and saying, "It must not be all on one side." One of these papers happened to be the Path—and he turned to me when Mrs. Davis was gone and said, "I get the queerest papers and letters. Judge, from New York—this Path man—sends me many and quotes 'Leaves of Grass' every once in a while. Then I get another Theosophist paper from the Pacific coast. And the editor appears to be a 'Leaves of Grasser' in a wild sense, too. He recently said that he had read all Colonel Bob's speech—read it carefully, read it minutely—yet that Bob was all, all

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wrong—that he nowhere touched the heart of our philosophy, that whatever the superficial appearance, at bottom Walt Whitman was spiritual—even a religioso—kin and kind to religious heroes, all peoples, ages."
Adding after a pause, "Which sounds crude, in some ways—has the youngish ring—but is bold, however crudely stated."

     I made some comparison of "Good-Bye My Fancy" and "Sands at Seventy." Of my good words for the former W. exclaimed, "Is it so? Is that the feeling?" I alluded to its indirection. "It is grand not in what it tells or shows, but in what it leads out to." And when I spoke of true power as "a note in a song—what it stirs up, rather than the force of simple description," W. cried, "Exactly! Exactly! The secret at last: the note in a song! What it stirs up—all the indefinable things—beauty, courage—the most real thing of all, yet defying statement, explication. That is the key to 'Leaves of Grass'—that opens every door—explains its history—throws light in dark places! The note of a song!" And he gazed out on the skies and repeated the innocent little phrase several times.

     I was to hear Campanini tonight, and W.: "What! The great fellow again! I envy you—envy you! Now you have a double duty—to take it for me as well as for yourself."

     Said he had read the Critic abstract. "I think you are right about it, too: it must have been written by someone who meant to avoid Walt Whitman—who at any rate ignores him by force of habit. Dick Stoddard, my first guess—I would be willing to swear to it—or one like him. The abstract is very scrappy, anyhow—very much cut into bits—very tantalizing in that respect. Nothing, of course, will be right, but the printed book—and for that we must wait." And further, "The lectures, as I read them there, convey no distinct, definite, coherent idea—but I attribute that to the reporter wholly—not to Stedman."

     W. told me with great gusto a Washington story related to him by Tom Donaldson. "Tom tells an inimitable tale—he knows how to do it—to keep its first nature—and he mimics to great perfection."


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     I gave him my ideas as to extract of O'Connor's reports: to try to have the book issued by subscription—say by Webster, New York—have it vividly illustrated—call it "Shipwreck and Storms" or by such a general title. This would put money in Mrs. O'Connor's pocket? W. listened intently—questioned—then, "I am completely captured by that idea—completely—and have only this suggestion to make—that in the title of the book you give it a distinct American focus—make it plain at once where it belongs. And Horace, what can I do for it? Anything I can do I will do." I said, "You write an introduction and I will write a sketch of O'Connor—then we can let all the rest of the book be his, absolutely." W. very quickly said, "I will do it—do it all. Yes, write you the introduction—and I like the idea of the sketch, too. The whole scheme is very attractive to me—and William would have an absolute monopoly of the field—a clear way out, perhaps to some just recognition. I do not know, anyhow, but that is the best, most characteristic work he ever did. The best work of its kind (I think it of a high order) ever done—and to be preserved, rescued, as you put it."


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