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Friday, March 29, 1889

Friday, March 29, 1889

10.30 A.M. Found W. running through the leaves of a big book of which he instantly spoke to me. "It is from Stedman: it is only one of seven: the rest are there in a box"—pointing towards Ed's room. The open box over there on a trunk by the door. Library of American Literature. "And there was a note, too—a big one"—reaching forward towards a pile of books between two of which (on the floor) his morning's mail was tucked. "Sit down there on the sofa and read it." Stedman letter covered twelve pages. W. said: "It's a whole essay." Again: "He likes the big book: I had the notion he would: he says a lot about this Library series: and so forth." In general: "It is a very good letter: very warm—I may say eulogistic: don't you think it is a little too much so? It is very scholarly: in spite of himself Stedman is in the shadow of the traditions, rules: he does not mean to be, but is."

W.'s pleasure in the books was undoubted. He ran through the volume in his hand, commenting as he went along. "I like the way he puts me there: look at these portraits, too—steels: one of Lowell—this; and another, Holmes—do you like it? I think the wood cuts fine"—turned to his own: "This certainly comes up as well as ours—I don't know but better." Hit upon the Thoreau plate which did not much impress him: then the Holland, at which he paused. "This is good but I know a better. Did you ever see Wyatt Eaton's beautiful head? I should say it was made four or five years ago: it was about so large"—measuring with his fingers—"it was noble." Then commenting on the book once more: "I like the make-up of it—the type." Portrait of Herman Melville: "I know little about him but they make much of him here." To Stedman's letter again, in which something was said of "a chap" who had been to see W. and reported him as saying of Stedman that S. would not take his hat off to Apollo if he appeared—at which S. was "consumedly" amused.

W. protested: "I am not guilty with the feeling of having said that: I know nothing about Stedman's chap—if possible, too, less than nothing of that remark." I said I had heard him speak of Stedman in all sorts of humors but never in that strain. Said W.: "Nor have I: but the 'chaps,' as he calls them, often come and report me so—put words into my mouth that I never uttered. They are not always liars: sometimes simply don't understand: come, hear something said, hear it badly—then carry off an impression positively the opposite of what I intended to impart." He fingered the book. "It's a scholar's book: it's also a man's book." Then: "Stedman is very generous—full of the milk of human kindness: he wants to do me justice: yet, in spite of all, Stedman has his peculiar limitations—is like the fellow at the feast, who must have the silver, china, finger bowls, napkins, fine company, if the meal's not to go wrong"—which was "the other pole" to which W. considered "that stronger type of manhood which when it had a bit of meat fresh killed and a good fire near and a pinch of salt was satisfied—spent no time yearning for the delicacies of rich pantries." W. adding: "Which might be said to be living in the backwoods: and so it is, with all that that implies."

W. was pleased with S.'s pleasure over the cover of the big book. "That fateful—to Dave hateful—cover!" He quoted Stedman's statement that he would rather know how his book "strikes" W. than any other living person. W. asked: "What does he mean? He certainly can't mean what his words signify." I took him a slip cut from the Home Journal of a letter Rhys had written the Transcript (Boston) about the German W.W. Had he seen it? "I never met with it before. I do get the Transcript: Kennedy sends it: that must have slipped me." I said: "You have a mysterious friend on the Home Journal." He thought so too. "I have no idea who it can be." I told W. I had an answer from the Chicago News. "An answer to what?" I said: "To my inquiry as to who wrote that fine piece there about you." W.: "Oh yes! Well—who was it? is the veil withdrawn?" I read him this note:

The Chicago Daily News Editorial Rooms, Chicago, March 26, 1889. Mr. H.L. Traubel— Dear Sir:

The managing editor has handed me your note of the 23d instant. In reply permit me to say that as literary editor of the News I printed the notice of Walt Whitman's November Boughs to which you refer. My address is the Daily News office.

Truly yours, Francis M. Larned.

W. thought it would be advisable to send a copy of the big book to Larned. W. said: "It's a modest quiet shrinking sort of note: it's a little vague, dubious too. What does he mean by 'I printed'? He means 'I wrote'—don't you think? The name is familiar: there's Augusta Larned: but I know nothing about Francis: anyway, our double-dyed curiosity is satisfied: now we can go about our normal business again." Jovially. "However, we must send him the book first." He nodded. "Yes—we will do that."

7.30 P.M. Took W. the book of The Valkyr. He put on his glasses and looked it over instantly. "I know it'll be a treat to me," he said. Has not yet found the pictures he's looking for. Ed came upstairs once yesterday and found W. in the little room mounted on a chair and in quite a stew over the orderly arrangement of things on his shelves. Ed said: "He was cursing and swearing to beat hell." W. said: "Mrs. Mapes has an enlarged bump of order: she arranged my things so I didn't know where a damn thing was: her heart is in the right place, though she has put everything in the next room in the wrong place."

W. said he had a letter from Burroughs. "I have just written him a postal: he has got back to his home again." I asked: "Do you think John will succeed in renting his house?" W. seemed to think my question amusing. "If he can find a fellow who bites, then he may do so—but where is the man who will bite?" Had he read Burroughs' article on Arnold in the Christian Union? "I cannot say that I have: I take an interest in John but I really take little interest in Arnold." Then W. said: "Here's John's letter itself: take it along." I sat there and read it.

West Park, N.Y., March 28, 1889. Dear Walt:

A paper from you last night reminds me that it is time I again reported myself. We are back home and I am busy about my farm work. The spring is early, the robins are calling the old call about the place, the sparrows are singing the old songs, and nature seems as fresh and young as ever. My plough seems to find as much fat on the ribs of old mother earth as ever it did, and it looks just as sweet. I am very glad to be back again and to get at some real work. On the fifth of March I went to N.Y. for a week; stayed with Gilder and then with Johnston; had a pretty good time, saw some of the small literary fry, dined with Gilder at the Fellowcraft Club, of which he is president; met George Kennan, of whom I think highly, with Mrs. Custer and Mrs. Cleveland—both charming women. Charles DeKay is married and is stout and handsome. Gilder is very busy; goes out a good deal, but finds time to write some poetry still. He owns a house now in Clinton Place (Eighth Street). Walked down about City Hall and was astonished to see the Times building towering up and quite overshadowing the Tribune building. Its architecture is fine, and makes the spotted and clumsy character of the building of its rival look cheap enough.

I am to have a new book this spring—a collection of Indoor Essays; rather a piece of bookmaking business—not much worth.

I hope you are comfortable these spring days, and can really get a glimpse of the spring. I am well, but not very cheerful for some reason. Any news from O'Connor or yourself will be very welcome. With the old love

John Burroughs.

"Though John says he's not himself feeling cheerful," said W., "his letter somehow cheers me." Then: "He says: 'with the old love': I say 'with the old love' too: if you write him repeat that for me. John seems to get down to New York occasionally—among fellows there, the literati: I wonder if it does him any good? I wish he could prolong his journeys—come here: Washington, West Park, Camden, are so far apart!"

I ordered paper of Hamilton today. W. offered me a check for it. But we only pay on delivery. Ingram was in this evening just ahead of me. W. gave me Bucke's letter of 27th. "There is nothing in it—except some belated advice about the birthday book: we've anticipated his sage counsel in our own wisdom." Laughed. Gave me an old English (Eliot and Fry, London) photo of Carlyle which Morse had left here. Morse started a Carlyle in Camden. W. said: "I like it almost better than any other picture of the sour-sweet old man: it emphasizes the gentler side of his crotchety nature." W. also gave me an announcement card of his N.Y. Lincoln lecture, 1887. It reads this way: "Walt Whitman on Abraham Lincoln. Mayor Pond has the pleasure of announcing a Lecture on Abraham Lincoln, by Walt Whitman, to be delivered on the 22d Anniversary of the Assassination, Thursday, April 14th, at 4 o'clock P.M., in the Madison Square Theatre, New York. Reserved Seats, $1.50. Admission, $1.00. Tickets for sale at the Theatre. Orders may be sent to Maj. J.B. Pond, Everett House; E.C. Stedman, 66 Broadway, and 44 E. 26th Street, J.H. Johnston, Lotus Club; R.W. Gilder, 33 E. 17th St.; Brentano's, Union Square." The card also contained a J. Reich line drawing of Lincoln at the left.

W. said: "That card is worth while as a Whitman item, if such a thing has any value at all, as showing where we had arrived, who had welcomed us, all that, in 1887—thirty years, more than thirty, after the start of the voyage." I said: "Voyage—yes, it's that, Walt. That voyage is not yet over and never will be over." W. said: "You can say that but I can't say it." Then W. resumed gently: "Stoddard once said to Stedman—I think it was Stedman—about me: 'Whitman still keeps himself afloat, but it's by pure and unadulterated cheek: his brass won't last forever: he's destined for an ignominious disappearance in the end.'" I said: "The end is not yet." W. still in good humor: "But Dick would still say: 'Wait and see: give it time!'"

When I got up to go W. asked: "Where are you going?" I said: "Across the river for a long walk." He cried: "I quite enviges you!" I said: "Why should you envy me? you had all those walks before I was born." He assented. "That is true: I should not forget that: but when you said walk—when you not only said walk but said 'long' walk—something in my blood was stirred: oh! I am not ungrateful!" I kissed him good night. He asked: "Is the moon shining? is it colder?" As I was closing his bedroom door behind me he called out: "God bless you! have a good time: I know you will!"

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