Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, November 23, 1891

     7:55 P.M. When I went into W.'s room, I found him sitting in front of the fire in a small chair. Evidently nursing the rather diminutive flame, which soon, however, blazed up and induced him to go back to the rocker. He took my hand and went across the room toilsomely. He will often sit thus by the fire, a poker handy, when the room seems cold and the stove seems to shirk its duties. Said to me right quickly, "Tom was here—here half an hour or an hour ago. He said I should tell you the Reinhalters—two of them—were over, but that they did not settle: in effect, in substance, that they would settle tomorrow. He entered into no particulars, nor did I ask them, but seems confident things will all be satisfactorily wound up."


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     W. quite readily entered into talk from that time on, but he did not look well, and said, "I have spent a couple of dreary depressed days. Dismally blue straight along. This confinement is horrible, but nothing else is within range. I quite cheerfully resign myself to the discomforts." Bright enough in his manner, however, whatever appearance.

     I had letters. I mentioned a postal from Johnston and a letter from Wallace, both this morning. Very brief—merely notice of Wallace's arrival. W. says, "I have a letter to the same effect—just as short, I suppose. But I suppose they have since had a great pow-wow." I had written Brentano's ordering Nouvelle Revue and had told them I could probably put them in the way of a first edition of "Leaves of Grass" (meaning Harned). But W. says, "I can't imagine why anyone should want that book. Yes, there seem to be more of them afloat in England than here. For one thing there are more gatherers of curios there than here—more people collect first or limited editions of books. We have them here, too, but they are here by reflection: the original breed is English. I can see why such folks should look up our first edition, but I can't see why we should."

     Now he suddenly asked me, "What of the Poet-Lore piece. Has it gone yet?" "No, I am to go home and work on it tonight." "Ah! Then I am in time. Which is good, after my trouble." "Time for what? Have you suggestions to make? I hope so." Then he leaned forward to the bed, handing me from it a copy of my August Lippincott's and Bucke's "Whitman," with passages marked in each (in magazine from his own piece, in the book from Kennedy and Mrs. Gilchrist), and with manuscript slips thrust in the pages. "I am quite ready in my own work when I find a good thing I want to say said by another, to use him—quote him. It is wise for many ways. Perhaps you will like to do so in this. Anyway, I offer this to you. As to the August note, I should advise, use it last."

     Then he went on earnestly, "As to 'Leaves of Grass' I can say—with all its spirit and naturalness, and as the thing blows—the wind blows—that is not the whole story. Spontaneity—

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spontaneity: that's the word, yet even that word needing to be used after a new sense. I am quite clear that I have broken a way—that I have indicated a path—a new, superiorally new, travel-road heretofore not trod by man. Some one of the German philosophers had said, life is not an achieved fact, but a becoming. And 'Leaves of Grass' is much like life in that respect. And indeed, old earth herself is still becoming and always will be the same. The old poets had spontaneity, too, but it was a spontaneity not of the sort we are after. 'Leaves of Grass' attempts the unattempted. Other poets have written and written with unmistakable power, grandeur, but my mark has been a distinct one—must be so recognized. I have no doubt but I have done what I say I have done, whatever else is uncertain and insecure. But you need not put this down. It is better said in those extracts than I am saying it now. O yes! The Nibelungen! They are grand poems, thrown out in utter disregard for traditions. Those fellows felt they might be as bloody as they chose."
I remarked, "In a dispute the other night I said: the main question is not, what you are or have achieved, but which way are you tending?" W. at once, "That is another statement—a splendid one—to the same effect. Which way are we tending? That is the kernel of many a hard nut." W. read letter I showed him from Bucke. "So he thinks he will be here after Christmas! Will we? I wonder!" A rather dreary prognostic. But he said also, "Bucke is of a quick, exuberant nature: he seems to invite labor and excitement."

     Up to Harned's later on, but he was not at home.


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