Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, April 16, 1891

     5:35 P.M. Found W. at work, putting up a number of copies of the Post, to which he had today sent this paragraph, editorially, unsigned: Walt Whitman got out in the mid April sun and warmth of yesterday, propelled in his wheel chair, the first time after four months of imprisonment in his sick room. He has had the worst winter yet from grippe, and gastric troubles, and threatened blindness; but keeps good spirits, and has a new little forthcoming book in the printer's hands.

"I am anxious to have Symonds, Johnston, and some of the fellows know—and this is a good way to tell them easily for me."

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Fully 20 papers—and was engaged upon them all the 20 minutes I stayed. Had he been out today? "No, not a step. I have spent a fearfully depressed day—one of my worst—everything heavy, uncertain, whirling. And to make it worse, I have had several visitors. Al Johnston was here—only for a few minutes—and I was glad to see him, and others, besides Longaker himself. How this Johnston friendship is getting to be a thing of long-standing! It is now a matter of 15 years—though you, Horace, have known me—I known you—even longer than that—nearer 20, in fact. Time goes and goes! And yet we are here!" Gave me copy of current Poet-Lore. "It appears to be a Shakespeare number entirely—all the articles are about Shakespeare." The next number is to be devoted to Browning. I joked with W., "And how about a Whitman number?" W. laughed, "Talk of that a hundred years from now. It is not a thing to be expected in our time." I insisted, but suppose it was so undertaken? Suppose I got them articles from Symonds, Dowden, etc.—say, used the birthday correspondence I hoped to have? But he still shook his head, though saying at the same time, "If you should do that, see to three or four brief representative articles." And then, "But I think they would be too supercilious for that." I objected to the word and he then said, "I see, I see—nor did I mean it in a harsh sense. I like the girls—they have independence, depth, breadth. But my idea is, that Shakespeare, Browning, unexpressibly grand as their work has been, are democrats rebellious against democracy—not made for this era, stage, America—answering other conditions, answering them well, but with something of hauteur towards common ways of average men—which is in fact America. I know it is small, carping, unworthy, to offer any word of criticism of a man like Shakespeare, who has done so much towards the richening of literature, of man—who was a luminary of the first order—perhaps the first in the first. And so I grant all that—yield it all. Only protest that these centuries of annotations have not succeeded in making Shakespeare answer to the modern—the democratic modern. And what I say of Shakespeare I always feel

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about Goethe, too. And I know, moreover, that some of the noblest of us all have stood reactionary on that question of democracy—of man in the average—the vital moving mass."
I suggested, "But who knows? By and by will he 'Leaves of Grass' expound on?" W. then quickly, "And that would spoil it all—spoil it all. I am often amazed to discover, when I read 'Leaves of Grass,' that it is written not only with reference to our own time but to time to come—new, far-off ages—made ripe and applicable, in fact to meet any age, any time, any land. And that is the heart of the story—the vital steady throb, if it have any touch and reason at all." He picked up Poet-Lore, spoke of his love for the printing. "It is the best I know—cover and all: handsome, powerful, a true solid stroke in art."

     No word yet from Mead (Boston, New England Magazine). W. said, "Of course we may be mistaken. Bonsall may be mistaken—but my guess now would be that it's a good sample of the damned sneaking editorial arrogance which prevails here and there. I have myself often had to fight for proofs—but not, of course, with a great magazine like the Century. They have always been ready enough." I told him of letter I had sent Mead. "You are right—it is an outrage." And I guessed that the thing had been cut and altered. "If you get no proof, I shall think that myself. We may be wrong—let us hope we are—but there's a bad, ominous look to things."

     I made some mention of Ingersoll's piece, that it was "sarcastic," which made W. laugh and say, "I suppose: that is one of Bob's noblest weapons, when he cares to!" I persuaded him that he should add six pages to book—making it 72—and he answered, "I shouldn't wonder but it came to that—I am inclined to that view myself, and I have things to say, though I don't know that I can say them."


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