- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 138] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Thursday, April 9, 1891

     7:55 P.M. Took W. quite a substantial batch of proofs, which he took with a smile. Not looking very bright. "Longaker was over today. He thinks he is doing me good, and I don't know but he is. And yet I do not feel well—am far from well—comfortable. Last night was a very happy one—easy in every way. And tonight I hoped to have another, but the signs are less favorable." I gave him his new $20 bill, which he examined with warmth of commendation. "This is certainly the most beautiful note I have ever seen—the very thing you last night said it was. And this head—whose did you say it was?" Daniel Manning's. "Oh! yes! And how Western it is—royally American—sharp, bright, compact, nervy, positive, agile. It is a characteristic head." And to the figure of a mechanic in the design, "It is beautiful, masterful—yes, as you say, has an Indian flavor, almost—fresh odors of woods, rivers, the grass!" And so on, winding up with, "Now I hope they will know when they have a good man and will continue him. This hand ought to be at work always—it gives in beauty the palpablest of its sort I have ever known." Took out his pocket book—folded away the new note—gave me a ten—saying, "One good turn deserves another"—with a laugh. "I am going to ask if you will not get me five twos for that—the crisp new twos if you can. It is for money to send away." Only yesterday I noticed on his table three or four little packages—each one with a ribbon about it and inside the ribbon, on little yellow slips, the names of persons to whom he wished to send. The woodman yesterday tried to overcharge W., which made him wroth, "I am subject to all that, mainly because rather than make a fight I submitted to the exaction. That was some time ago—and now it occurs again." I inquired of W. what truth there was in Press story of "Wilfred Besant" this morning:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 139] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
How an English Imposter is Fleecing American Literary Men.
The Fraud Disclosed by a Cablegram from Novelist
Walter Besant, Who Denies the Existence of Any Such Brother.

Several weeks ago there appeared in this city a man who announced himself as the brother of Walter Besant, the London novelist. He gave his name as Wilfred H. Besant. This stranger was tall and well-built, with ruddy cheeks, and long tawny mustache, and apparently between 25 and 30 years of age. His costume was unusual, if not grotesque, and at once would attract attention in this section of the world. He wore a light Summer hat and corduroys of light yellowish brown, and used no top coat. A cablegram from Walter Besant yesterday said that the man is an imposter.

The bogus Besant played a bold game and kept a shrewd front. The tale of distress which he told in this city, as well as in other cities and towns of the East, has brought him much money. The persons whom he has duped are of the highest literary and business circles, who granted him audience because he was the brother of Walter Besant. Here he seemed to know all the prominent literary men, and when he called at their offices, asked for them by name. His cool, English air made an impression, and he was able to gather money here and there....

It is not generally known how many people in this city the man succeeded in getting money from, but from all reports he must have left with a good roll of bills. Before he departed he wanted to see Walt Whitman, the poet.

"My brother thinks so much of Mr. Whitman," said he, "that I would like to grasp his hand and talk to him a while."

It is said that the meeting between the poet and Walter Besant's "brother" took place. After leaving Philadelphia the man went to Princeton where he told the same story of misfortune, and secured financial help. He then went to New York.

[Philadelphia Press, April 9, 1891.]

He replied, "It is substantially true—the man was here—I had a talk with him." Had he suspected anything? "I think I did—though in an indefinite hazy way which never would

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 140] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
have occurred to me again but for this story. But I did not see anything 'grotesque' about the man. One thing I noticed: he was too glib—too confidential. No, he did not ask me for money, though I think he opened himself for it—for instance, by saying he was all broke up and all that—but I did not bite. I suppose I might have been more suspicious but for my dislike for one of our liveliest American qualities—suspicion: to suspect this, that, the other, everything—and this leads me to in the main take men for what they seem till other things occur. The man, Besant (as he called himself) was, as I said, too glib, and full of gush, too—standing there and pouring out the most extravagant laudations. But still, I have heard that, too, at other times, from perfectly honest men. On the whole, however, I was not moved—I suspected him, some—and to whatever hints about money was dumb."
And still again, "He was a thoroughly good-looking fellow—good eye, all that—easily to be deceived with, perhaps—but so far as I saw him, warm, straightforward, acceptable." Not a harsher word than this.

     A rather disrespectful allusion to W. from Cavazza in last Unitarian Review. W. remarked, "I have said many positive things about the Unitarians—they would think them hard—and have never been in good color with them, so this is no wonder."

     I had seen that the two poems, "As in a Swoon" and "After an Interval," were from printed copy. Where printed? "Never in any magazine or paper," he explained, "but in a slip—I think to go into the Centennial edition—but from that day to this I never managed to include them in any edition of 'Leaves of Grass.' For my own satisfaction I went deliberately through 'Leaves of Grass' several times, but no sign! I don't know why I dismissed them at the time—whether I really thought them not worth while—but I am sure I like them now." He had a manuscript copy of "As in a Swoon" on which was written in pencil: "Is this pub'd? is it in L. of G. or annex?"

     This is the way, he said, he first thought to write the "Gay-Heartedness" paragraphs on page 43:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 141] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Gay-hearted ?man or woman
(who shall be one?)
Washington D.C. with a companion*
Walking on the Navy Yard bridge with Mr. Marshall, a great traveler and observer from England. As the [manuscript cut off here.]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.