Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, November 7, 1891

     8:25 P.M. To W.'s with Gilbert. Splendid talk, full half hour of it. Nine o'clock when we left. W. disappointed that I had not got sheets from Sherman or McKay. Will not be ready till Thursday next. But pleased with copy of "Three Tales" I brought with me (had bought volume for T.B.H.). I said, "They don't seem to think your name on the title-page would help matters. They did not put 'with preface by Walt Whitman.'" He laughed, "I don't suppose they have any such feeling. Probably the feeling

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of convention is a good deal stronger than any feeling in favor of 'Leaves of Grass.' And then, who knows but the old Osgood affair—Oliver Stevens—has laid something over, something subtle, of which they are not conscious, but which is real?"
But of the book itself, "It is very handsome of its kind—good type, paper, cover—leaded, too. And everything in taste, handsome. I notice a peculiar order to the stories—how is that? 'The Ghost,' 'The Brazen Android,' 'The Carpenter.' Oh! Chronological? And 'The Ghost' first? Well, it ought to be first: it is the best of the stories, I guess." And so on with further endearing words of O'Connor. "And what has become of Nellie O'Connor, Horace? I haven't had a word in a long while." Nor had I. He asked cost of book, and when I said, "A dollar twenty-five—35 cents discount," he seemed surprised. And when I further said all books were nowadays discounted at published prices, he seemed to regard it as a seriously-merry subject of jest, and said, "That is another exhibition of protectionism, Harrisonism. Fictitious statements, prices. A show of something, and all unnatural. Protectionism is as if one fellow in a crowd mounted on a chair, and then another, and then a third, and then a fourth and a fifth. And so on and on, till at last all are mounted on chairs—all are on artificial heights. As long as one stood there alone, or even two or three, he, they, enjoyed a sort of eminence. But when all were up, the novelty was gone, even appearance gone, and all could realize what a sham fame they enjoy. That is protectionism. And of course you know I am against all that. You know me, 'Leaves of Grass,' bitter fighters to the end of the fight. We do not stop short of the world, of absolute human solidarity—no false elevations, depressions—the grand, great average, rather, and all it brings with it, good and evil." That was George's idea: George had said something greatly like that to me yesterday. W. then, "Good for George, then! A noble idea! The workingmen all brothers—world brothers! It leads forth to a great triumph!"

     I picked up a book from the bed—calf, elegant—W. explaining, "That's Young's book: he sent it to me after he was here last week. I have been reading it—it has many a curious

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touch, description, which interests me. John can tell a good story—is in the main faithful, close to fact; and of course by temperament genial, affectionate, inclined every way to human good will."
Then after a pause, "I gave him a copy of my big book—gave away three copies, in fact—one to each of them. Arnold one, with the others." This recalled: Mail and Express, New York, publishes the substance of the Press account of the visit of Sir Edwin to W. with varied additions. W. half-laughed, half-teased, over it. "With expansions, you say? Yes, I suppose so—likely, devilish expansions. And that whole lie will travel its circle. But, Horace, I want you sometime to face that whole thing—face it down. The curious characteristic of all that stuff is, that so far as it touches Arnold it is comparatively correct, and only when it comes near me, Walt Whitman, does it go wrong, indulges its silliness. And that is in fact the worst about these reports: they are so damned silly. I am made to appear a fool by them." Some of the fellows thought Arnold opened himself too freely to the reporters, but W.: "I do not charge Arnold with complicity, even unconscious complicity. But somehow everything is shaped wrong when they are ground out of the mill. Some occasion will probably arise soon, some chance for you to set it all straight, and I authorize you to set it straight—not only authorize but urge you. I would not lug it in—would not make a great deal of it—but put a good deal of emphasis in what you may say. I did not read a word from Arnold—do not know a word (and would not have read if I did know). And as for my own? No, never! I need not say, for you know, that I was pleased to have them come, that it was a gratification to have three good fellows come in that way. Young himself a handsome, honest, loving character. And the others—well, all welcome, and I happy to have them. But as for Sir Edwin, as for weeping over, weeping with him—as for any excess of gesture, feeling (at least on my part): it was impossible. I was no more to them, then, than I am to you, now—you two as you sit here. Not as much, in fact, for you, Horace, and I have relations together impossible to any

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other. And feelings, too."
Here he stopped, was quiet a minute, then went on, "But we will not talk of that. Only, I was about to say, I was impassive enough—engaged them quietly—demonstrated no unusual emotion. In fact, I am not a demonstrable being, even to my intimate friends. I think well enough of Sir Edwin—yes, well enough: realize the importance of his work, his attitude—am grateful for his good words of me, spoken everywhere (from the Lotos Club a week ago down)—respond to it, too. But I do not make more of him than that implies. It is not a part of me: demonstration." I put in, "I have often said of you, that while you felt emotion and all that, even your intimate friends (or mostly your intimate friends) knew the expression of it was always in other than usual channels, by evidences hardly of the senses." W. asked, "Do you say that? Have you said it?" And to my "yes" he added, "Then you have said truth. God forbid I should be sans it—have lost it, fail it! But somehow, as you say, it goes forth its own way. But enough! I am getting devilish garrulous. Only, it is necessary to the contradiction of that story that this feature should be taken in. Edwin himself is demonstrative enough. It has interested me—instructed me—in the English character, to find that it is undergoing radical changes—that on the old immobility, impassivity, stolidity, is being super-imposed demonstrability, a warm effusiveness (in some individuals almost an effervescence). In Sir Edwin, this becomes Oriental—it is a part of him (I think as natural a part of him, as other things of other people). And his drift towards the Orient, his liking for its peoples (its salaams, infinite courtesies, amenities) is quite plain, explained, to me. I am not surprised. Of course this accounts for the peculiarities which some of our fellows here don't like or think artificial. I know they say he likes adulation—likes to be flattered—attentions, lionizing, all that, but"—with a laugh— "so do we all, if it comes from the right people!" And with a warmer word, "I often find myself, when I scratch beneath the surface, under the skin, guilty—oh! guilty! —of unsuspected crimes. And this may be one of

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them."
And as parting admonition W. urged, "I leave that thing in your hands, Horace. But I think it ought to be done, somehow. These false notions are getting pretty common."

     Longaker over today. W. asked when we got up to leave, "Are you going right home? Ah! I wish I had something here to send to Anne!" Looked about—brushed his hand on the papers on the table. "I guess I'll have to pass her this time, darling girl! All the fruitses and candies are gone, and everything else! Give her my love, anyway."


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