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Saturday, April 27, 1889

Saturday, April 27, 1889

10.45 A.M. On mounting the stairs met W. just coming from the bathroom door. He laughed: "Oh! Horace! and just in time to help me across the ravine, too!" He was not particularly steady, though going part of the way alone. To my remark, "You walk pretty well, after all," he smiled—took hold of bed and table on his way to the chair. "Pretty well? Yes, as you see!"—with a good natured irony. He spoke at once his solicitude at the weather. "I hope it is not going to last over the celebration—to have a wet, sloppy, slumpy day, would have been—would be—bad indeed: would spoil things effectually." But still, "our best hope for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, is, that we are having rain—hard rain—now."

I asked him if Baker had stopped in last night? I had met him near the ferry. "I did not see him—he did not stop in on me. I see he is about to graduate." Then he asked me what I thought of the prospects of his settlement and where would he settle? And when learning, probably somewhere in the North-west, said: "It seems to me I should recommend it to young doctors—should observe it myself: that for a couple of years after graduating—after leaving the schools: it would be a wise course to stay in one of the big cities—in Philadelphia, for a doctor—stay in the swim of the big, best doctors, practices, publications. It would make up a priceless experience. One of the great elements in the character of the best doctors in unknowingness—to unknow, unload. Indeed, I think this might as well be said of all professional men—of the literary men, of the scientists, even: the quality of reserve, modesty." "It is my invariable test of a doctor, his not too-great certainty. I have had enough experience with them, or near them, to know just what is meant by that." Referred to Washington experiences. "I have known Doctors there—one Doctor in particular—by whom the best things have been done in deference to their modesty. I remember one case in particular there—a case in which all known resources had failed; the doctor had given the thing up—I suggested so and so—he weighed it—said to me: 'While I see nothing for it, neither can I see any objection' and he willingly adopted what I had suggested, and, as it proved, successfully." Huxley had somewhere spoken of Medicine as "chiefly experimental""and," said W.: "I believe it is—four-fifths of it!" "There was a celebrated doctor, surgeon, somewhere, not long ago, who always insisted, we must not treat this fever, what-not, simply as fever, for itself alone, but treat the whole man—not a bit of him forgotten!" "And that was very wise—very. I had a doctor once who wished to dose me with quinine—he thought it would help my head trouble. I don't know but I took a dose or several doses of it. But finally he saw, as I saw from the first, that while quinine for one section might do, quinine for the whole of me would not do at all." "Always, a man has to be treated for all there is of him—his stomach, lungs, legs, head, arms—his idiocrasies, idiosyncrasies—not a shred of him left uncared for." It was "the great doctor" who comprehended this—"no other was truly a doctor"—yet doctors of such an order were "scarce enough."

He talked of Washington—"its malarious tendencies." Was it a distinctly unhealthy city? "I should say so—at least, Washington itself is not. But beyond Washington, around it, are boggy, swampy, immensities—flats. Potomac superficies—great exposures at the out-tide. Probably no city in the world can beat Washington in respect to this malarial curse. Yet the town direct might be considered a fortunate place—fortunate in its soil—sandy, dry, not boggy or welly at all. I should say that Washington, if it continues to be for 50 years (and I am not so sure that it will), might loom up as a great town. It was well-planned—it was the creation of engineers who were not stinted on the money side—who had great ideas of what the city should be—who made everything, as they say vulgarly, bang up." Did he expect Washington to continue as the Capital? "Not at all—I have not the slightest notion that it will. I have no doubt myself, but by and by the capital will go west—somwhere along the Mississippi—the Missouri: that is the natural play of tendencies: eventually something like this result is inevitable."

On the table in a bottle is a bunch of violets. "They are our own—come out of our yard." Said he had "no mail—no letter—whatever, this morning." Sat a while with the window open, but as he closed it asked: "It has grown markedly cooler, hasn't it?" Afterward deliberately set to work and stirred up his fire—arranging his wood-coals with utmost care and piling new logs on top, soon having a blazing heat.

Gave me back the Appleton sheet—printed herewith: (note absurd mixtures in detail).


His chief work, "Leaves of Grass" (New York, 1855), is a series of poems dealing with moral, social, and political problems, and more especially with the interests involved in 19th century American life and progress. In it he made a new and abrupt departure as to form, casting his thoughts in a mould the style of which is something between rhythmical prose and verse, altogether discarding rhythm and regular meter, but uttering musical thoughts in an unconventional way which is entirely his own. Expecting the opposition and abuse with which his volume was assailed, he speaks of it as a sortie on common literary use and wont, in both spirit and form, adding that a century may elapse before its triumph or failure can be assured. For thirty years Whitman has been correcting and adding to this work, and he says that he looks upon "Leaves of Grass" "now finished, to the end of its opportunities and powers, as my definitive carte visite to the coming generations of the New World, if I may assume to say so." His experiences during this service (1862-5) are vividly recorded in "Drum Taps" (1865) and "Memoranda During the War" (1867). His admirers, especially in England, have been extravagant in their praise of his works, comparing him with the best of the classic writers, and in this country Ralph Waldo Emerson said on the appearance of "Leaves of Grass": "I greet you at the beginning of a great career." On the other hand, the peculiar form of his writings prevents their popularity, and their substance has been widely regarded as of no value. "Leaves of Grass" has been condemned for indecency on account of its outspokenness, and when a complete edition of the work was published (Boston 1881) the Massachusetts authorities objected to its sale in that state on the ground of immorality.

After detailing thus, it goes on to say: "besides the works already mentioned, Whitman has published 'Passage to India' (1870); 'After All, not to Create Only' (1871)"—and goes on to name others that have become part of the complete work, ending with this absurd memorandum " 'November Boughs' (1885) ; and 'Sands at Seventy' (1888)."

"A selection of his poems, by William M. Rosetti, was published (London, 1868). Besides the complete edition of 'Leaves of Grass' that has been mentioned, another, edited by Prof. Edward Dowden, has since been issued (Glasgow, Scotland)." From Appleton's Biographical Journal. Refers as authorities to O'Connor and Burroughs but no others.

"I read it all—got along very well with it." Had he any idea it had come from Hunter's hand? "Hardly—it is too full of misinformation. If Hunter wrote it, it must have fallen into the hand of the supervising editor before it got into type; you know, there's always a mess when supervising editors get to work." "The article does not impress me—not at all. Did you see how they did us up in the American supplement to the Encyclopedia Brittanica? That I call very good—that is the best yet."

Thought "the Oklahoma land grab" a "funny affair altogether"—but took no minute interest in it. I returned him Bucke's letter and the Tribune article. We talked somewhat about it. "Nothing has yet come to me, for or against," he said, "I simply let the matter rest and proceed its own way." I asked: "Did you notice, Doctor seems to think I might oppose?" He laughed: "Yes—I noticed: he evidently fears you would say no." And I said then to W. distinctively: "I neither oppose nor favor—I am willing in this thing to defer to those who may know better." W. cried: "Good! good!" And when I said further: "And as to the fund, I shall continue my work for it, whatever turns up, and you should be at ease on that point." His face took on more than its wonted emotion and he assured me: "Thank you, boy! I know! I know!" He is willing to say "if I must, I must"—that is—"if they make me, then there is no appeal," but the question is must he? Ed says W. suggested to him: "I should rather eat my crust on my own dung hill than a good meal on another's." And that W. had explained to him yesterday the substance of Doctor's proposition, then neither assenting nor opposing. He said to me again: "There is no doubt, as you say, but that is a wonderful, complete institution—taking in all the best experience of old and new ages, lands."

He advised me: "I see nothing in Brown's way now—he can go right on any time he chooses; he has plates, paper, instructions—nothing remains to delay him." He found on examination that, as I said last night, Dave has not returned us "the 70th year" plate. Must get it from him and take to Billstein. Matters assume better and better shape. W. is rather sensitive about such reports as Hinton's of the almost squalor of his surroundings. He said to Ed (so Ed reports to me—and it sounds like W.) the other day: "Some people think we live in poverty and dirt here—but it is not so; things are a little dusty" &c—but not more. I find Ed rather solicitous (though easily so) over the prospect of removal. But he is of the opinion that W. will not go. I am not certain myself—rather feel the same thing—but W. hearkens to the proposition rather more than I should have supposed he would. He says that when the conclusion comes, whether yes or no, "it will probably come of a sudden—all in a rush." His fondness for the books about him—the strange disorder of it—"I never was very orderly," he says—may outweigh all other considerations. My own hope is, that whatever is denied upon, may be justified in their results.

We talked of the proposed congressional appropriation to aid in the construction of a flying machine (some fellow with a plausible scheme)—and W. said: "I know many fellows who have a faith in the thing—think future navigation will be aerial." For his own part he was "no prophet," yet could conceive "almost anything possible to man."

7.00 P.M. W. sitting at window. Had a fine talk with him covering full 45 minutes. He seemed very earnest, interested—and far more willing to let himself out than at some times. Of course, much talk of the celebration—its prospects—the rain still persisting. Mention of objections in some quarter to giving prominence to military in display—that America was spiritual and industrial, and these elements should be emphasized. W. reflected: "I am glad someone has had the courage to state be weighed." But he was not at all sure that there was danger or inappropriateness in the view ordinarily taken and adopted. "America—the United States—came into being through military prowess, forces, aids. Washington himself was really so introduced, sustained, built up. In fact, we might say even more than this: might say the United States came into existence not only with the Revolution of '76 but through our Rebellion of 1861-5. The blood, the fathomless experiences, emotions, of both, joined." And so he would say: "Let them make what they will of their military for the present—not too much, but enough." And then he monologued: "It is always to be remembered that we have been rarely fortunate in our militaries—in Washington, Grant—even in old Zach Taylor—good true, simple Zach Taylor. I hobnobbed much with him in New Orleans. He was a man accustomed to contact with assistants, hired men, slaves—accustomed to command, armies, placemen—yet wholly unspoiled—a wonderful tribute to the essential soundness of American life. And Lafayette, too—count him in: simple as any, a product of the aristocracy of aristocracies, but himself giving shame to all merely personal or class pretenses, whatever their worldly credentials." I suggested: "And never yet an adventurer among the great military men we have had!" W.: "That is so —profoundly so! Not one! all simple and inoffensive: men knowing America and subserving her. I do not include Scott and Lee—men of that stamp—men for whom I never make place among the high ones—not genuinely great in any sense. But Grant? him, freely and wholly. Washington was more stiff and stately." "But genuine," I suggested. Whereat: "Oh! entirely genuine: I did not mean to question that. I had rather in my mind the memory of his saturnine disposition—reserved, retiring. Washington was an American out and out." Mention of Lincoln. "I should not class Lincoln with the militaries, yet he was the man more than militaire who when they were wrong, quarrelling, doubtful, brought the militaries into right relations again, with each other, with surroundings."

McKay related to me today, the incident of his meeting Arthur Stedman in a New York library. A. S. congratulated him on the big W. W. book. McKay waived the applause, saying the book was wholly W.'s &c. I repeated this to W., who laughed heartily. "That is Dave: with a true publishers' instinct he took a dislike for the book at that start, and the Scotch in him will not yield—not even at the end. Of course I do not let my opinion of Dave be disturbed by such a little item as that." McKay made some inquiries as to terms for books going abroad. I suggested: "I wish it could go in the covers—I should like them to see your covers over there." W. then: "And I too: they would understand it." Clifford had seen the two covers together at my room one day, and at once expressed preference for the cheap one as being more characteristic. W.: "Yes, and it is just such an opinion as I should expect from a man of his strong original tastes." Afterwards: "I do not know that I am inclined to make any exception of foreign publishers—whether to give them the books for less than 4 dollars. I hardly think I shall. Do you know the cost of stitching? And that stitching—it is the good, isn't it? It might be well to find out, to fortify us." W. amused at things said to me by McKay about Hartmann. And then as to Hartmann's column: "Yes,—and they are such platitudes, too—stupidities. I wrote in one of my letters to Doctor that Stedman was mad. I did not go into the matter at any length—simply explained."

Harry Walsh at Dave's when I entered. McKay afterwards humorously described Walsh's picture of William's immense content in the litter of the Herald office. A place quite after his own heart. Walt said: "I did not know that of Walsh. Is W. S. Walsh such a fellow? He probably likes to get a couple of rooms somewhere and rig them up his own way. I can appreciate that disposition in any man. In that lies one of my cardinal objections to going into institutions to live—to going for instance, to the Baltimore hospital. That there would be much gained by making such a change, I am well aware—the best doctors, surgeons, rooms, nursing, medicines: the brave good Doctors! Apartments hygienically arranged: the best eating. But would there not be loss, too? The question for me is: have I not all these now—or if not all these, at least compensating gifts? Have I not already sufficient to invite content?—sweetest content?" I alluded to my father—his life-long resentment of all propositions to work on wages for others. W. approved by a nod of the head: "I can to the full accept and justify such an attitude in any man: it is the issue of the man's whole being—I may say, even its necessity. But I know how much can be said con to that: I know in my own case—and that is the case we are on—the probability that I am yet to be let down and down and down and down again—even lower, lower, lower, lower—and it might be, for that we should nicely prepare, arrange, adjust ourselves." He had been thinking of the matter much today but to no effect, really. "I do not face it—only let it come when it wills so to do. And I am fond of saying, no man will willingly abdicate his own dung hill. Allowing for all else, what can return to him the price of freedom but freedom? At any rate, boy"—(he said this fervently—his whole manner suffused with a feeling that ran into his simplest word this evening) "at any rate, boy, we will not for the present even consider the proposition to go to the Baltimore hospital. Now, while our book is pending—for the next month or so, while the 70th birthday is coming on—we must not let our way be blocked—ourselves worried, disturbed—by thoughts of removal, change. We must go right on, never tiring. I know everything in this world is a compromise—there is always an opposite word somewhere. Bye and bye this thing—if we do not settle it ourselves—will be settled for us."

Suddenly he broke away from that strain, which more or less disturbs him at best. "I see that Edward Emerson's book is out—the book about his father there at Concord" adding:—"I suppose we will in some way come upon it." I spoke of Emerson's Journal—that in the extracts Cabot gave, W. W. was not mentioned. W. said: "It seems to be a principle with some of the fan-dams of literature to treat me right (as they think) by not treating me at all. They look on me as a passing phase—that soon Walt Whitman will be done, his work done: that silence is therefore wisely imposed." But also said: "I know nothing of Cabot"—and he certainly could not go on record as impugning him. He said what he did in response to my remark that I believed if we had Emerson's Journal entire, Whitman would be found sharing mention with the others. In looking about for a Linton picture to sign and send by to Mrs. Fels (on whom I had mentioned I was to call this evening), W. took up a copy of the greenpaper (1871) edition Passage to India. "Take this book to your Mother or Aggie," he said, "either one. And do you want another?—this?—for yourself?" Copies in which, across the title page, he had written "Walt Whitman 1889"—and pasted in which was a copy of the steel with this inscription

W. W. from life 
  one hot July forenoon 1855 
  Brooklyn N Y 
in which I wrote on going, in pencil.

W. much struck with these views, reported of Von Bülow, herewith:

Von Bülow's Views.—Interviewed by a reported of the Mail and Express as to the relative merits of the various composers, and specially as to his views on Wagner, Dr. Von Bülow said:—"I am not ultra-Wagnerian, and I deprecate the attempt to place his works on a pedestal above many other composers. I knew Richard Wagner well, and helped to advance the Wagnerian school in Germany, but I am sensible and unprejudiced enough to believe there are other composers. I appreciate his greatness and recognize the compliment paid him in America, but I want it distinctly understood that I am not an ultra-Wagnerian.

I believe that Bach is the father of music, Beethoven is his son, and Brahms I consider its spirit. To Brahms I owe my redemption from the ultra-Wagnerian school. The fact is I renewed my musical youth by his acquaintance. He taught me that there are many composers, many musicians, not one, and I owe him much for bringing me out of the sloughs of prejudice where the one-man worship prevails. He is broad and catholic in his musical views.

* * * Whom do I consider the master instructor on the piano, now that Liszt is dead? Prof. Henry Ehrlich, of Berlin. He is sixty-four years of age and I consider him the best teacher, musical thinker and writer in Germany. None can approach him. I find the great fault with pianists is that they do not learn to phrase properly. Every pianist should learn to sing and play the violin; then their ears would hear more critically the sound they produce and thereby teach them how to phrase. But the average pianist plays by sight only, and has no ears. He sees the keys, and tries to execute correctly; but the sound he produces, the effect of his work, is not apparent to him. My advice to young pianists—old ones won't take advice—is to cultivate their ears and strive to obtain beauty and expression in what we term phrasing. It is the real beginning to greatness as a performer."

"Oh! how grand that is—a keyword—the keyword—word inclusive of all other words. I don't know but the explication of the highest art—literature. Expression! Expression! Oh! the man who could say that—say it that way,—deserves immortality!"

I left with him a copy of Scribners and copy of Bazaar. "Oh!" he exclaimed, "what a day I'll have tomorrow! I'm laying in a fine store!" And on looking at an English shore piece in the magazine—a marvellous photo-engraving reproduction: "Will they never stop—will they never stop?" Secured the 70th year cut from McKay and took it to Billstein. Told B. to hold it till I inquired of W. if there was any inscription intended for either cut. W. now: "I never thought of it." And after turning it over in a few minutes of silence: "Now I do think of it, I am disposed to let 'em go plain."

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