Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, October 20, 1891

     Wallace met me by engagement at 4:15 at McKay's. He had been to Gutekunst's and purchased a photo and at McKay's had got some books. I gave McKay an order on Ferguson for plates. McKay had been over to see W.—result of which is, that book is to remain as it is in price and binding (binding by and by to be changed) and the new pages duly added. At 9th and Market somebody clapped me on the shoulder, I looking about and finding Morris at my elbow. Introductions. Together to Billstein's, then to Eakins'. But E. not in—Murray, however, greeting us. Had come to see the Eakins picture. Queerly, he said, "I don't know whether it is here." But on my insistence found it and brought out, Wallace inspecting for some time. Here happened an odd thing. O'Donovan was in front room on lounge, but never came out, though he saw us (once strode across the room). Got a paper and seemed to wish to shield himself. Knowing Morris and me well, this was mystifying. Nor during all our stay did he come out. Morris very angry, though quiet, wishing instantly to go, which we did after J.W.W. was satisfied with his seeing. I asked Murray, "How about the bust?" And he smiled and said, "It is not done yet," its tin box case still is covering its secret. After leaving Morris at Broad Street, we went to Union League, where Littlefield had this morning registered us but where we found no one to take us around. Wallace meanwhile said to me, "I don't mind saying, frankly, I don't like the picture at all. It is no way a representative picture of Walt." But I argued for its growth, that it would undoubtedly add to itself, as more deeply regarded. But he would hardly admit it gave even one phase of W. To Portuondo's next to meet or see Law. While we waited for him (he was off in the factory) we both wrote short notes to Dr. Johnston (I had an unsealed envelope, containing my day's letter,

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along, not yet mailed). Soon, however, Law, and fresh introductions and talk, he meeting us later on at 10th and Market and going to Camden with us. Law made immediate impression on Wallace. Thence home. We want to arrange to have an evening together. Wallace wrote a number of letters to England today, the first, I think, since coming to Camden. Said he had today seen little of W., who seemed sick, said he was having a bad time, etc. J.W.W. says, "I read the 'Good-Bye' poems with a new feeling, now I have seen Walt." We have arranged, a few of us—three or four—to dine Wallace at Reisser's Friday, at six—same room as our dinner 1890, which will interest him. But I am not to prepare him for it.

     8:35 To W.'s, late. But I felt I must see him. He was writing on the flyleaf of a book. Quite bright, too. We had full half an hour's talk. "Wallace was here—could not have made much out of me today. But I have felt almost submerged—almost gone under—most of the day. But here I am tonight, feeling better, better. And when you go home (you are going straight up?), give my love to both the others and tell them what I tell you now. This bladder business troubles me." Was the catheter not able to attend to that? "It seems not—no, it does not. And my head gets such queer whirlings, like chestnuts in a pot—jumping, turning. So that it is no circus, no very pleasant procession of sensation." Then, "And Dave was here, too, having a long talk with me. The upshot of it all being, that the book will take in the new pages and remain in its present shape, for its present price—a facsimile autograph to go on the title-page. Dave fought me like the devil on that dollar edition—would not have it on any terms. And what do you think he suggests? Why, that if we have the dollar edition, then let's set the other at four dollars. Which I would not hear to at all—no, no!" I had seen Dave. W. asked with a laugh, "He was satisfied? I suppose! It all went his way today. But about the actual and facsimile autographs, I don't care much or anything." Again, "Dave did not come alone. He had his preacher with him—a Presbyterian—

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up tonight. And do you know, Horace"
—laughing merrily— "I believe the old man came to me with a set purpose to deliver a speech—to question me about the 'Leaves,' about my philosophy, politics, what I thought of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Burns. But when he got into the room, the debrisity"—what a word!— "of things—the confusion, the air of don't care, the unusual look and atmosphere—must have struck him, abashed him, staggered him. For he hardly said a word beyond greetings!" W. made merry with this, to an extent which showed that the old man must have thrown out some inarticulate hint of the purpose W. detected. As W. fingered the book he was writing on on my entrance, he explained, laughing, "This is my old Virgil—you have seen it? It is the book I had in my carpet bag and burst a bottle of wine over in one of my trips to the army in Virginia. I am writing that in the margin here." I said, "It makes a history." "I suppose it does: it is badly soiled—the wine was good!" Was Virgil any way a favorite? "No, but I often read him. I never could make him out, probably because I only had the translation. But somehow he did not seem for me. Not only did I read the 'Aeneid' but the 'Georgics.' This is a little rendering, too, which ought to help it." He turned to title-page. "Davidson's. Who was Davidson? Do you know? I often had this book with me—it has done a good deal of travelling, sometimes as my only companion."

     W. had put a noble autograph on the Falkenan picture. (I took it along.) Someone had given me an announcement of a book which starts to prove Lincoln a spiritualist. W. greatly amused, "Lincoln is like the Bible—you can read anything in him. One man will say, 'Here, here, Uncle Abe was so and so—I have the text for it,' and another with an opposite notion will say, 'See, he was with us: I have the text for it.'" "And good books, good men, the universe, prove too much for specialists!" "You are right, Horace. Lincoln was boundless—his character would furnish arguments for any good thing under the sun!"


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     W. mentioned a thing to me which had escaped my own observation—that the last Critic quotes me anent "The Midnight Visitor" thus: Mr. Horace L. Traubel thinks we have not made Walt Whitman's connection with the translation of Murger's "Midnight Visitor" sufficiently clear. He writes: "Whitman knows nothing of French. The English of the poem is impressional. Translated for him off-hand, he (perhaps with assistance or counsel from others) put it into shape as now found and made current. It is curious to find the Observer quoting the poem in citation of the fact that Whitman compares unfavorably with Young and others in cheerful and serene faith—in welcome—of death. This is so out of line with what is the plainest testimony of 'Leaves of Grass' as to indicate his critic's ignorance of that work." We reproduced the poem partly to show that Mr. Whitman can make rhymes and conventional rhythms, if only in translating. [Then follows the poem.]

W.: "It is detailedly and satisfiedly correct as you put it there, Horace. But somehow they seem determined to nail me to it, too. Your name is there, full swing: Horace L. Traubel. And they seem to think the matter has some importance. I had only thought to say to you, I liked, endorsed, the way you put the protest: it hit the case exactly." W. has reminded me of the duplicate title to "Leaves of Grass." I should get from Ferguson's. He wanted it in Camden. As to Wallace's distaste for the Eakins picture, "Tell him to wait, to not be too quick, to let it filter into him. As Bacon somewhere says, the world, confronted with anything elemental, always kicks, cuffs, outlaws—is shocked, starts back in horror: here is too much blood, power—it is brutal, coarse. But there comes time, or men, when nothing but such fury of force could, can, save us, our race—and people then wake up." Still, it might be that Eakins had caught one phase?—which J.W.W. not inclined to grant. I said, "Wallace told me Sunday that Bucke told him he was too subjective." W. asked, "Well, what did he say to that?" "Oh! admitted it." "Well, is it true? Do you think it is?" "Yes, I do." W. then, "So

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do I—I see it all. But he is wonderfully cute, too. He grows on me, as I see him day after day. It would probably be hard to fool him."
I explained, "I think he is not inclined to realize the concrete physical side of you—that you make much of that—that you are an animal, with passions, as well as a philosopher with thought." "Good—splendid, Horace. How could it be better said than by that? Let me tell you—you have the heft of it. Do not spare the rod now. Drive the weapon in, in, in—turn it!"—with a laughing vigorous lunge and turn of the arm— "I make no claims for what is called the spiritual by churches, formal penalistic arguers. Indeed, I am quite staggered, shocked, to have it attached to me. I dislike it, even—will not have it. There is no delicatesse, no aestheticism, about the 'Leaves': they are bits out of life, words, hints, coarse, direct, unmistakable. They must be, can only be, understood as the states must be, can only be, understood—with the traces of their material origin clinging everywhere on them. They emerge out of, with, the material—tally all the great shows of our civilization—stand for them—yet for these, not only as they exist, in pride of material splendor—but in their heroic entanglements. The heroic animality of the 'Leaves'—it is before all necessary to grapple with, absorb, that quality—for it comes before all the rest. I think Bucke perceives this. There's nothing more to please me, Horace, than for you to take Wallace in hand—to drive him, drive at him, till this is understood, thoroughly understood." "How does Wallace eat?" he asked. "Fairly, but not well." "How does he sleep?" "Fairly, but not well." W. then, "Sleep and food, then, for Wallace!" And to me, "Your reports about yourself always almost intoxicate. What a fortune you carry about with you in your good health." I laughingly said, "I horrified a pious man a while ago when I said, I eat because I love to eat." W. asked, "What does he eat for?" "For the love of the lord—because he must!" This made W. almost uproarious, "How these damned saints affect a carriage of anti-animality! Well, our 'Leaves' stand against all that: we are solidly for healthy appetite!"


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     I told W. about our wanderings today. He was pleased—and especially pleased to find I had set myself in Wallace's way and against his home-going. As to O'Donovan, "There is a mystery about all that. O'Donovan has not been here for weeks. I have suspected he was disgruntled about something—but what can it be?" Bust evidently so far fiasco. "Yes, it must be. Do I like him as a man? Yes and no—I don't like him, I don't dislike him—if inclined any way I was inclined to like him. But I was moved to give him the opportunities he asked to make the bust—to put nothing in his way."

     I left with him postal from Mrs. Fels ordering two copies of the complete Whitman and giving names for inscription: Mila F. Tupper, a Unitarian woman preacher in the West, and a Miss Wilson, New York I took a blue pencil from my pocket and underscored the names. He asked quickly, "What's that? Is that a blue pencil?" "Yes." "Why don't you get me a pencil like that?" "I will—a dozen of them if you say so." "Well, I do say so. Let me try it." And try it he did. "Just the thing I am after! You know where to get them?" And from pure delight he scribbled and wrote all about the edge of a newspaper which he picked up. "Splendid—splendid! It is the very thing we were in search for and never could deliberately find. Now it comes by accident—if we can call it that!"

     He apologized, his way, for not giving me the Emerson letter. "You shall surely have it tomorrow. And I'll strike a bargain with you, Horace: you bring me the plate and the pencils tomorrow and I'll give you the Emerson letter! Fair? Eh?" and laughed. "I'll try to bring the plate." "Well, try! I guess we won't quarrel about the rest." Touching again upon war times, "That peculiar phase of life down there—the struggle over Lincoln—the doubt, espousal, the murk, smirk, hypocrisy (courage, too, holy heroism), those early years—have never been told. I often think to take up pencil and tell it—or hint, suggest it—my own, William's, part in it. For it has intense meaning, interest, and belongs with the history of

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the time, yet may never have a hand to write it!"
And again referring to Wallace's "unnecessary gratitude" for the hospitality shown him here, "He should remember it is but turn about: we felt that we participated in their welcome to Bucke—could do no less than do as well, if that be possible—even that."

     Spent rest of evening at home with J.W.W. We read proofs of Conservator together. Wallace's eyes easily gave out. Anne likes him greatly. Modest, quiet. As yet, no signs of creative powers. But they may come. Splendid faculty, absorption—to appreciate, accept, take in.

     W. said, "I do not forget the old man who came with Dave. He seemed disillusioned."


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