Commentary

Disciples

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Sunday, May 20, 1888.

     A Carol closing Sixty-nine in today's Herald. W. said: "The list grows but what's the use of it?" [See note p182.2] Spoke of his health. "I'm going down hill—not hurrying at all, but going." Asked me about John Stuart Mill: "I have just been reading a little squib here that mentioned Mill. Tell me about him. What did he stand for, teach, saliently promulge? I have never read Mill—I know nothing about him but his name." [See note p182.3] I talked for some time, describing Mill. W. frequently broke in on my descriptions to say: "Well, that is beautiful to hear!" When I was through he said: "I see I ought to know Mill—but then, what oughtn't I to know?" I remarked to him: "I hear you were at the Unitarian church last night." He laughed quietly. "Yes—they wanted me to go: Tom particularly wanted me to go: so I went and saw all the pictures." But what of the sermon? "There was not much to it: the audience liked it: the room was crowded." [See note p182.4] But what of W. W. Did he like the sermon? "Not a bit: all preaching is a weariness to me—Corning's as much as any other's. We have the stock phrases in books—the stock canvases in art: well, so we have the stock stupidities in sermons. Corning is all right—the man Corning: I can like him, I do like him: but the Corning in the pulpit last night tried my corns. I am always impatient of the churches—they are not God's own—they rather fly in the face of the real providences."

      [See note p182.5] Ingram came in—an old Quaker who keeps a tea store in Philadelphia. Ingram is a man who frequents the prisons out of a really philanthropic motive which W. respects and with which he co-operates. Ingram brought a message of

 
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love from some Moyamensing prisoners whom W. knew. W. was visibly moved. [See note p183.1] "I have some books and papers to send by you, William," he said. Ingram brought with him a volume of selections from Jean Paul Richter, which he had promised W.: also, Thomson's Seasons, from a prisoner, and Clodd's Childhood of Religions. W. kept the Richter, passed the Thomson volume back without comment, and said with reference to the Clodd: "I see—I see: but I have never allowed myself to drift into such discussions: I have deliberately steered clear of them—of all theological, mystical, waggeries, respectable or not respectable: I am oppressed enough by the fact that men quarrel about their religions (as they do for that matter about their loves, strange to say) to wish to discuss them. Why should I addle the egg?" [See note p183.2] But Clodd was affirmative—not a quarreler: what of that? "Well, perhaps I wrong that particular man: he may be exempt: but I am not mistaken about the thing. [See note p183.3] To any man who thinks—to any man alive to the revelations of modern science—it is an insult to offer the doctrines of the church: it is as if you approached him to say: 'What a damned fool you are, anyway!'" Ingram had also brought W. on a former occasion Winwood Reade's Martyrdom of Man, which W. returned unread, taking care to repeat the fact of his distaste for literature of the polemical sort. "It is pessimistic, is it not?" he asked.  [See note p183.4] In reply to a question W. said he had never read William Morris' Earthly Paradise. "This is not because I do not honor Morris, for I do, but because—well, because. You see, I am not a constitutional reader: I do not apply myself to reading in the usual way. I have read, to be sure—read a good deal since I have been tied up indoors—but after all that has never been the chief thing with me." [See note p183.5]

     W. again: "We all hate the idea of the king, the emperor, but sometimes a good king, emperor, happens, who almost seems to excuse the tribe—just as a minister comes occa-

 
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sionally so good he excuses his tribe—yes, just as Emerson excused the literary tribe, in spite of all their frailties. Take the Emperor Frederick William—I have wished him to live—for years—to live to do his work, which is very important. [See note p184.1] His son is reactionary and dangerous." He talked of his experiences with editors. "Who has had more experience of the nether kind than I have? I think everything that could happen to a rejected author has happened one time or another to me. [See note p184.2] I could tell you some interesting stories. I just thnk of this one. John Swinton came to see me soon after I had settled in Camden—urged me to offer something to Dr. Holland for Scribner's—was very strenuous about it. [See note p184.3] I demurred but John persisted. 'Do it, do it!' he said. 'Why should I do it?—why?' I asked John. He still insisted. 'For certain reasons' he said. I sent a poem, which was rejected—not rejected mildly, noncommitedly, in the customary way, but with a note of the most offensive character. I was sick and blue at the time: the note provoked me: I threw it into the fire. I was always sorry I destroyed it: had I been well I should not have done so: it was a good specimen insult for the historian—for Horace, here, who likes something that piques in his sauce now and then. [See note p184.4] Of course this ended my relations with Holland. I never kenw John's mysterious 'reasons,' either. The Century under Gilder has always accepted my pieces and paid for them. Gilder is quite a different man—noway of the Holland type. Holland is a dead man—there's hardly anything of him left today: he had his strut and is passed on: he was a man of his time, not possessed of the slightest forereach." [See note p184.5] "Back of him everything, before him nothing." I said. "Exactly, exactly: the style of man who is adept in one two three—who can tell the difference between a dime and a fifty cent piece—but is useless for occasions of more serious moment. But Holland was all right: he did his deed in the Holland
 
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way: why should we ask or expect him to do more? Oh, I was talking of the editors. [See note p185.1] The Harpers once accpeted a poem, which induced me to send them others, but five or six were rejected in succession, some of them accompanied on their return with palliating notes: then I saw I was not wanted: I shut the door and withdrew. That was years ago. Latterly I have had verses in the Weekly. [See note p185.2] I never have any fight with the editors—they know what they are about—they know what they want: if they don't want Walt Whitman who can blame them?"
"They don't like to see you loafing around the throne.""That's so: and why should I criticise them for that? I don't blame myself for being Walt Whitman—neither do I blame them for thanking God they are not as I am! [See note p185.3] Some of my friends have quarrelled with the editors but they have never done it with my consent. The fact is I have been about as well received as I expected to be, considering the proposition I set forth in the Leaves, considering the rumpus I made, considering my refusal to play in with the literary gang."

     Ingram left. W. said of him: "He is a man of the Thomas Paine stripe—full of benevolent impulses, of radicalism, of the desire to alleviate the sufferings of the world—especially the sufferings of prisoners in jails, who are his proteges. [See note p185.4] He is single-minded—morally of an austere type: not various enough to be interesting—yet always so noble he must be respected. He is a questioner—a fierce interrogator: I am disturbed by his boisterous questions: rattled by them, as the boys say: I am not fond of being catechized—indeed, rather run from it: I am not fond of questions—any questions, in short, that require answers. [See note p185.5] Ingram plies me with his anti-theological questions—asks, asks, will not stop, let go." Ingram had said to W. about Reade's book: "It will show you how a man who was in got out." [See note p185.6] W. was merry over the matter. "I never was in," he said, "therefore I had no reason to come out. I never read books

 
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that have to do with such controversy, the more to muddy my brain."

      [See note p186.1] W. was hilarious over the Standard's witty assertion that Edward Everett Hale had "ceased being a Christian and had become a protectionist." W. broached the subject of November Boughs. "I have determined at last to start on the book: I shall need to enlist you as my co-worker. I am physically helpless. [See note p186.2] I could not do this work alone: I seem every day to be losing something—some atom of power. Now I feel as if we should commence, before the cloud that seems to threaten me falls—before I am bodily a total wreck—before I get beyond the power to follow my guides—to finish the work I have planned to do. [See note p186.3] I do not seem to lose my mental grip—I have myself that way well in hand: but the other me, the body me, has little to expect for itself in the future. Any day the slender thread may be cut—any day. Horace, we will take the book up and see it through—eh?" He looked out the north window: there was no sorrow in his grave face. Then he turned my way again and added: "November Boughs will probably keep within two hundred pages of printed matter—one quarter of it verse, to be used supplementally in later editions of Leaves of Grass, and to be called Sands at Seventy. [See note p186.4] I am glad you fellows like the title so much. I am well satisfied with my success with titles—with Leaves of Grass, for instance, though some of my friends themselves rather kicked against it at the start—particularly the literary hairsplitters, who rejected it as a species of folly. 'Leaves of Grass,' they said: 'there are no leaves of grass'; there are spears of grass: that's your word, Walt Whitman: spears, spears.' [See note p186.5] But Spears of Grass would not have been the same to me. Etymologically leaves is correct—scientific men use it so. I stuck to leaves, leaves, leaves, until it was able to take care of itself. Now it has got well started on its voyage—it will never be displaced."

 
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     W. stopped a few minutes. Neither of us said anything. Then he resumed: "When you come tomorrow you will probably find I have drawn up plans for the book. [See note p187.1] I am a very slow worker—I take my work easy—but when I get going I am quite steady and accomplish a good deal. This will mean a lot of extra work to you—it will tie you down every day to some routine. Are we to make a regular engagement? I haven't much money but such money as I have I ought to share with you. How can we get this delicate matter into the right shape?""I wouldn't be interested in doing the work for money." [See note p187.2] "It's not hire—it's only a sort of communism: why shouldn't we arrange that amiably together?""The arrangement was made a long time ago before money was mentioned.""What do you mean by that?""I appeal to the original arrangement!" W. looked at me and reached out both his hands: "By God, boy! By God!" He took me in his arms and kissed me and said: "This is a solemn pact to be ratified by love. You have saved my books: I could not do these books without assistance. [See note p187.3] Of all the people I have known or know you are the most fitted to help me just now. You know books, writers, printing office customs—best of all you know me—my ways and what I need to be humored in." As I was passing out the door W. waved his hand to me and cried: "I'm not saying things—but you know, you know! Good-night! Come tomorrow!"

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