Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, November 10, 1891

     5:30 P.M. With W. half an hour. He on bed. Room dark. A bright busy fire in stove. Excessive heat. I asked him, after we had shaken hands, "Is it to be a roast or a boil?" He laughed, "Neither—if for me! Do you find the room hot? Perhaps you'd

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better open the door into Warrie's room."
Which I did. George in to see me (at Bank) again today. "Do you think Whitman would like to have a book from me? I thought to send him a copy of my last book." I replied, "Send it—he will be glad to have it, if for no more than to have your salutation. I won't guarantee that he will read it, but that he will like it—and you for sending it—I am sure." W. now responds, "I think a good deal of him—he has a good deal of the new American in him." And again, "I will be glad, of course, to have the book: I try to keep in touch with everything. But of course I can't read all the books that are sent me." George wondered if W. could see him sometime?— "I have always understood him to be a man of remarkable presence." W. now says, "He would be welcome anytime."

     W. diverted the talk. "I have read the Mail and Express you left me yesterday. That stuff seems worse and worse. I sent several copies of the paper away today." "What, the Mail and Express?" "No, our Press here. I got some of them, and up in the margin of the paper I wrote 'fishy—fishy—fishy.' Yes, I sent a copy to Johnston and wrote that on it, 'fishy—fishy—fishy.' And fishy it is, too. All that stuff which represents me as overwhelmed by the visit is bosh, ridiculous bosh—yes, even worse. Its tendency, drift, being to show me (as your friend said the other day) in a dotage. How could I have demonstrated anything towards a man to whom I felt demonstration impossible—for whom I had all natural human feeling, but no more—of whom I knew nothing, except that he had everywhere, on occasion, spoken favorably of us, our cause (and this puts a claim upon us, to be sure). And that hit about embracing—oh! it is all stupid—hardly a choice between parts. I could not have produced a line of his poems—not a line: I know nothing about them—never had them—never read them (no more than to get glimpses, bits). Now, I care for Arnold all that I should care out of regard for his human warming eligibilities. But beyond that, nothing, nothing. I want you somehow to take a hand in the contradiction of these stories, Horace. They are doing us damned bad service. Of course everybody reads

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them: if they were wise to read, nobody would think to see them—but being what they are, not a newspaperee but will take it up, dwell upon it."
Then after a pause, "I should like to get at the truth of the authorship of this particular affair. Are you on good enough terms with Talcott Williams to get it from him? Even to speak to him about it? I doubt if I should like to ask, but perhaps you can." Did he still suspect that Arnold had a hand in it? "I am afraid it's something like—something entirely possible." Seemed to lose his first faith in Arnold. "But I should like to know who furnished the thread of the story: if you can get that from Talcott without seeming to push good will too far, do so."

     Bush writes me of some long Whitman matter in Sunday's Herald. W. knew nothing of this, but "Joe Howard has sent me a big batch of stuff from the Recorder—his own: taking up three jolly men, or good-natured men (I think that's it!), Walt Whitman being one of them. I am getting into all sorts of masquerades, you see. And not always in the way of the imbecilities." I can see that he is annoyed by the Press story more and more. "It is one of the misfortunes I have learned to bear, but I hate it like the devil." But "life is not all bad, not all good—is bundled close, a mass of passions, lights, shades." Here, for example, was "an old Brooklynite—an anti-slavery man, I think—Thaddeus Hyatt," who had sent him today $25. "I have written him an acknowledgment. Noble, noble man! These are flowers—tender, appealing salutations, as we go along—aromas of true hearts." And again, "It touched me, the sweet unsolicited remembrance."

     Warrie came in while I sat there, took up the mail from the table—but at W.'s suggestion gave it to me. "Horace will as well take it—is going up that way." Two letters (one for Mrs. Heyde, the other Hyatt's)—two papers. I went over to the washstand—groped about for a match—but just as I did so, the fire in the stove shot out increased light. I laid down the match—went to the middle of the room. "I have a letter to read you, Walt!" "Eh! Who from?" "From the Colonel—from him to Bucke. Bucke

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sends it to me."
I dropped my open sheet so that the springing and lapsing light from the stove shone full upon it—then read.

     Suggestions picturesque. Several times W. interrupted, asked me to re-read lines (I could see him on the bed—his eyes open). When I was done exclaiming, "How magnificent that is! How the Colonel is coming out in his old days. I need not say, I do not agree with it, but it is splendid, yes, splendid. Full of heart—vibrant. And conclusive, too, starting from his individuality. I can see how necessary that view is—how infinitely it carried weight and meaning with it. I am more and more impressed with the enrichening of the Colonel's nature, with the conviction that he grows—grows—grows with every day, sending feelers out into richer soils, under deeper seas. I want you to send him my love for that letter when you write." And he said something about "Ingersoll's splendid affirmations." I laughed slightly. He asked, "What do you laugh at?" "Why, everybody else, all the pious bodies and even broad-clothed liberals declare there's no affirmation in Ingersoll." W. took the thread up with vigor, "Bosh! All bosh, I can assure 'em. I remember that man Richardson, at London. We sat one day on Doctor's porch there. Richardson vehemently condemning Ingersoll. What! Would I apologize for Ingersoll, for his heresies, for his rough hand—the hand which would rob the world of its best comforts, its shrines, all it had to yield left any value—and give no substitutes, nothing but emptiness, vacancy—would I, Walt Whitman, enter the lists for this? Which he seemed to think conclusive—and perhaps new—unanswerable, anyway. But after thrust and parry and play and a good deal of real fire, my own wind up was positive enough. Namely this: But, Mr. Richardson, after all we can say—you or I, or anyone—isn't the real question whether your doctrines are true, not whether they are comfortable? And isn't our friend, the Colonel—'Bob' Ingersoll—isn't he after truth, with the rest of us: what else is his question but my question and yours?"

     Johnston's World question had been to ask whether it was true that W. could not even rise without the assistance of a nurse? "Shall I tell Johnston that when we can no more rise, we

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will announce that fact?"
W. laughed, "Yes, tell him we will issue a proclamation."

     I read W. a letter from Mrs. Fairchild. "What a noble cheery woman—she always lifts me way up, sort 'o in loving arms—what a birth is the care of woman!"

     Of Bush's Sunday note W. had many pleasant words to say—of Bush's "simple ways," again and of "the reminder of brother Jeff—dear Jeff."

     Was to see "The Rivals" tonight—Jefferson, Florence, Mrs. Drew in cast. W. exclaimed, "That will be glad, that takes me back in my past—into the New York days—the Park (old Park) Theatre!" And, "I wish I could go with you: it would stretch my old legs!" I had sheets of new pages for him, and left them. He was pleased. Asked me if I thought Ingersoll would deliver his Shakespeare lecture here? I hoped he would. Would W. go? He was bright instantly, "If I could! If I could! Do you know, Horace, I feel somehow as if I must get out of this room: I sleep in it, wake in it. I live my days through here—get nowhere (to the washroom, nowhere else). Here is light and darkness—no sunshine but the little that creeps in here in spite of the walls. And it is a curious question, problem. I am between two fires. I don't feel inclined to go out yet want to go—if you can understand such a contradiction." He laughed, "Anyway, it is a puzzle: I don't give it up, neither do I settle it."

     Is inquiring again about William Swinton, "I wish I could hear a little about him, and about John, too. William is a complex fellow—has swayed over to the side of worldliness long and long—is confirmed there (dropt there). But a healthy, solid sort of nature, too. And lovable, however you put it." "William suffers from insomnia," I said to W. "That English horror!" exclaimed W. "I think it is more persistent there than here, even." And when I spoke of dreamless nights my own, W. exclaimed, "How grand! It is a report, the best! None nowhere, nohow, better!"

     Among papers to mail, stamp came from one—blew off on street. I picked it up. Clerk at Post Office said, "I'll put it on

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gladly. Do that and more for Walt Whitman. Great old man—I am afraid he won't have so long with us!"


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