Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, May 2, 1891

     7:58 P.M. With W. a little more than half an hour, though I had intended staying but a few minutes. Lying down again. But now went to his chair. I brought him Truth, which he put on the bed.

     Gave me copy of [Christian] Register— "the great Unitarian organ"—and with it a postal from Kennedy. "Kennedy seems to have been moved by the Register program—the literary studies—to find us included."The paper I send (Xn Register) has that which justifies yr prediction in L. of Grass—that the West wd prove the place where yr poems wd

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be understood and accepted most completely. Traubel's article in the Boston Mag. is noticed by the papers I see. Frau & I have bad colds.


W. S. K.


Likewise gave me a letter from Bucke dated 30th.

     Had the wine turned out well? "Very well—I took a couple of small glasses at dinner today. It is the genuine stuff—I can tell it—all such stuff has a sweet, non-metallic taste, which cannot be described, but goes the whole way. We have been lucky in our man." Longaker not over. I had a note from him that he was sick— "under the weather." Lilacs on the table. Had I noticed the odor? And many downstairs, too, gloriously perfuming and beautifying the parlor. "And they are our own—right out of our own domain—picked by Mary, here, in the back yard."

     Had bought—now gave him—a copy of Truth. The piece had just filled a column. W. said, "I thought to add a good deal to it—make it a page (had plenty: it has gone into the book), but after the first delay was afraid to risk it—had a fear that I would never get it back"—alluding to proof so long delayed in the first place.

     No New England Magazine yet. W. expressed disappointment. "We come in on the tag-end of supplies." Commenting on this writing again: "The great virtue of your piece—its power—is, it is Plutarchian. Plutarch was great in power of simple narrative. And you threaten him sharp!"

     Referred to O'Connor: "He was the lightest breeze—the grace of storm and flowing sea. Oh! I wish you could have seen him as he walked!—the swift sure step, light, easy—up and down—like a doe—yet with a majesty no doe could justify."

     From today's Press as a queer result of my interception of the reporter last evening: SUN PICTURE OF WHITMAN.
Photographing the Poet to Assist the
Sculptor of His Bust

Walt Whitman, affectionately known wherever the English language is known as "the good gray poet," had his photograph taken

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yesterday at his home in Camden. It was an ordeal for the poet to come down from his snug arm-chair in his cozy bedroom on the second story to the parlor, but he bravely accomplished it.


Mr. O'Donovan, the New York sculptor, who is at work on a bust of Mr. Whitman, has wanted a couple of photographs, and chose yesterday to take them. He went over from this city with a photographer, and at noon Mr. Whitman came down stairs, slowly and with pain, and seated himself in a big arm-chair in a corner of the parlor, at a window overlooking Mickle Street. A couple of good negatives were secured, and then the old man was assisted back to his bedroom, his books, his writing, and the contemplation of fresh green trees in the little plot back of his modest home....

While the old poet is very weak physically, his mentality seems as vigorous as ever. Hardly a day passes but that he writes a short sketch or poem, all of which are hurried off to the publishers of his forthcoming book, called "Good-by, my Fancy." This he says will be his last volume, but Horace L. Traubel, his close companion, says he does not think it will be the last work he will do. In fact, he is constantly mapping out new work that he expects to accomplish in the future. Mr. Whitman is 71 years old and protests himself that he is a very sick man.

Told him of debate at Unity Church last night on the future of American literature—Morris, Harned, Jastrow, H.L.T. Jastrow said something to the effect that the great future American poets would no doubt be built on some great English model. This curiously aroused W. into the following:

      "Damn the Professor! Damn the model! Build on hell! No, no, no—that is not what we are here for—that is not the future—that's not 'Leaves of Grass'—opposite to all that—opposite, antagonist—to fight it, if need be, to a bloody end—stands life, vitality, the elements. And on this must everything, everything that belongs to our future, appear, be justified. But how can anyone understand 'Leaves of Grass,' the new genius, nature—the principles, if we may call them such, by which we came—except by knowing the certain background out of which Walt Whitman appeared? Here, Horace—here in 'Leaves of Grass'—are 400, 430 pages, of let-fly. No art, no schemes, no fanciful,

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delicate, elegant constructiveness—but let-fly. A young man appears in the Western world—the new world—is born in the free air, near the sea—lives an early life in the early life of a big city—absorbs its meanings, the past, history, masses of men, whores, saints, sailors, laborers, carpenters, pilots—goes liberal-footed everywhere—has no erudition—reads books, reads men—prepares in himself a great ground—travels—takes everywhere—every sign a sign to him, every treasure his treasure—nothing denied—lives the life of a war—unmistakably the greatest war of history—passes through camps, enters the hospitals—using gifts of penetration (Horace, they told me my penetration would damn me!)—accumulates, accumulates—then lets fly—lets fly—no art—no, damn art!"
Here he stopped to laugh. "No, I must not say that—I take that back—it would be like to say, damn the Bible, which—though I understand, accept, all the Ingersollian positions—I am not prepared to do. For I have a respect myself for anything respected through so many centuries—and so with art. But apart from that, art is not entitled to much. I deny it everything. The amount of all which is, that to know 'Leaves of Grass,' to read the future, these things must be understood—for out of these was the early statement, the challenge, long battle, old age, disease—next, death." I asked him if the idea was not just what I had used in New England Magazine, comparing Lowell's ode and the Lincoln poem. "Yes, that is the idea. Lowell is a palace—plate-glass windows, curtains, prettinesses—built—unexceptionable. 'Leaves of Grass' is a seashore, a mountain, floating cloud, sweeping river, storm, lightning, passion, freedom—and all the tremendous, vital, throbbing, resistless, overwhelming, stupendous forces (I hope) included in, implied by, these. When you get in such a talk again, Horace, give out these ideas, give them as from me—authoritatively—let your note be heard. For here is the kernel—this is the seat of the explanation: the tremendousest let-fly in this, our history here, perhaps in all literature. Understand me, I mean that men shall proceed in all they do out of a knowledge of life—as great actors act, orators speak,

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singers sing—as in Alboni's voice, perhaps the greatest singer ever breathed—as in Booth—the old Booth—I don't know but the grandest actor the world has seen or will see—as in Ingersoll—voice, vitality, and so on—full—overflowing—with accumulation of fact, feeling, actual palpitating experience—crowded into them, as crowded into me, by resistless forces of a proud pure ancestry—intricately woven from hardy, to hardy, purposes—splendid effects."
And at this moment, after throwing all this out in a voice and with gesture powerful and fine, he sank back in his chair, closed his eyes, "And now I have talked too much! But you know, Horace, a man can't always be good. And I want you to take this with you—assert it anywhere for me—make it felt as my message, declaration."

     And as I said my good-bye, he picked up Truth—waved his hand as I went out the door—and turned towards the light.


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