Skip to main content

Sunday, June 16, 1889

Sunday, June 16, 1889

W. came in at Harned's about one o'clock, Ed, of course, wheeling him. He got up the front steps with considerable difficulty, saying, "I am considerable more cumbersome than I thought I was," and afterwards, in being led to the dining room, joking: "I am not for getting prizes for agility—for foot-races—any longer!" He stayed several hours, and talked all along freely and vigorously, on all sorts of subjects. Rejoiced exceedingly in having the baby on his lap. As the boy played with his beard, he said: "Never mind—he is only trying to discover what kind of a critter I am—let him pull whatever he chooses." And he continued: "The dear babies! It is the Whitman trait to love women, babies, and cattle: that is a demonstrated feature. My mother used to tell us often about my father—that his love for the youngsters and for cattle was marvellous—simply marvellous: that often on returning from town he would load his wagon up with children he would pick indiscriminately up on the road." Was this love of cattle characteristic of his brother? "Oh yes! Characteristic of the whole breed!" Said he had been reading the papers. "Tom brought in the Tribune—I had the Press there." And as to Tom's portrait in the Press: "It was an affliction—wasn't it? The question comes up, was it not somebody else's picture in masquerade?" Gutekunst had argued with Harned to persuade W. to take a trip over to his galleries and submit for some special portraits. One suggested was colossal. W. not averse—may still consent. Said: "I suppose I have had at least a hundred and fifty taken—quite that many—perhaps a good many more. They would make a big gallery of themselves!"

Says that the baby "seems always to be wondering what sort of a wild critter I am." At the table W. ate rather sparely, though taking a great delight in some late asparagus that was there. He drank joyantly—with his accustomed good humor. Said at one moment, when Tom spoke of Bucke's mixing Madeira and Champagne, "What a pity!" then explained, "I have a spice of wickedness in me—a vein that makes me rejoice to tell Bucke of my exploits with the wine now and then!" Discussed prohibition, anent the election Tuesday next. "Why not?" W. asked, "Why not let drink be free?" And to some arguments of Tom's that he listened to attentively: "Ah! I don't know but that clinches the whole case: and that is Libertad! and oh! for Libertad all is glory! I hold it dear, so dear!" The world of restriction was not the world for which he craved. We must not force our position: what grows, of its own innate necessities—"Well and good: but the policy that takes hostile possession of me—that I resist." Was very earnest, humorous and intense by turns. He doubted if the saloon would ever wholly disappear. Explained to one of the children's questions, how did he come to be called Walt?—"It was to distinguish me from my father originally and then the name held. 'Walt'—it is a good name,—to me! But Mr. Whitman does not surprise or startle me: I take quite naturally to that, too—though my friends, young and old—the real intimates—those, as I say it, of the inner circle,—all call me Walt—and there is no better way!"

One of his notable little expressions was this: "Oh! I hope that is the keystone of the arch of my teachings—allowing a place for every man's personality, idiosyncracy." He spoke again of "my good old friend Davezac" and explained his New York legislative sarcasm [I have recorded it]—and—"Oh! I have had the good fortune to fall in with the noblest fellows—not only Davezac, who was every way a high and genuine man—but Gurowsky, sharp and severe and wise among men—and then Flynn, too, my Irish friend, in some respects the grandest man I have personally come in contact with." Don't restrict men till they are the mere machines of law, but "give them freedom—all the freedom there is; if they violate rights, the statues, snake 'em in then—but don't anticipate their sins."

Said some one had sent him "Willie Winter's pamphlet about the plays—the address delivered at the playhouse three or four months ago"—and he had "duteously looked it over." But Winter was "a poor, puny sort of a fellow—worthy of the New York crowd," which was "a mean one indeed at the best—not worthy of America—of its great future, its aspirations." And with reference to Edwin Booth (so much become an idol to Winter)—"To anyone who knew the father—saw him act—realized his power—Junius Brutus Booth,—Edwin, though he has parts and good high ones, is wholly and forever inadequate. Junius Brutus was the Homer, the Aschylus—Edwin is the Virgin, the Dryden,—is of a different type,—has no direct elemental touch."

I asked him about the report that the negro waitress who so effusively greeted him at the hall the night of the dinner had had a husband nursed by W. at Washington. He replied: "I don't know. Does she say so? I could not tell: every now and then a case turns up—some such claim is made: but with me, knowing so many instances—thousands, tens of thousands—special cases (only the few remembered) are swept seawards—no more met, or recognized if met." Referred to hospitals. "There was a hospital for the negroes down there, one at Culpepper, I think: and I was frequently there. I had no bars up against my freedom—always went whither I list. There was a special hospital for the treatment of venereal diseases—a place usually regarded as the most obnoxious of all—but I went there, too, and it was wonderfully well managed, with noble doctors and wise gentlemen at the very doorstone!"

I read W. and Tom the paragraph from Bonsall's speech, which hit at Tennyson's attitudinizing at a clubhouse window in London. W. was highly opposed to its use. "You see Harry," he said, "and tell him for me that it would not please me to have this go in—to have such a thing said in any pamphlet that discussed me. It is not true—it is its own refutation—it is a vulgar rumor, somehow caught up and given currency. I remember now that Harry once privately communicated that to me—I did not believe it then. The only thing I have heard of Tennyson at that point is, that he shies at attention—on the street, seeing a probably embarrassment of attention ahead, that he would turn off, using avoidance as his shield. But this!—this cannot be the truth. Then Tennyson has been so kind, so generous, towards me, this would be an ungracious return indeed!" I did not stay till W. departed. Had a mission in Philadelphia. The last thing he said to me, as we shook hands, was this: "Keep a sharp eye on the World: I have heard nothing of the poem yet!" W. regarded Herbert's eye with a great tenderness and intention. "Certainly," he said, "It is the most beautiful I have ever seen." I was at Hunt's in the forenoon, experimenting with the bust. It was much to W.'s pleasure that I did so. "We may hit it this time," he remarked, "and I should think Hunt's own judgment would be of importance." At dinner no strangers—Agnes there—the children—and Ed remained.

Back to top