Commentary

Disciples

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Saturday, November 10, 1888.

     7.40 P. M. W. reading Boston Transcript. They told me down stairs that he had had a shaky day. Now better. Bright and willing to talk. I had brought along proofs of Notes. The Notes went each in a page. W. highly gratified. "It elates me to be the beneficiary of such good luck: I hardly expected Myrick would be able to push things through so promptly." W. said: "We should lengthen the Note at End a bit so as to carry it over to the next page. I shall go over it to-morrow—probably add something." Then asked: "How did they strike you? Did it seem like too much?" I answered: "Not too much: too little: don't be afraid to add to the Note at End: your friends, the world, will always welcome all that kind of stuff you choose to give out." He responded fervently: "I am glad to hear you say that: I had some fear in the matter, as if I was possibly getting a little vaporously garrulous: I assure you that your acquiescence has great weight, is about conclusive, with me." Is still reading the Cæsar. "It is very fascinating: though I get along with it very slowly that is merely because I am in no shape to do much continuous reading: in the old days if I had got hold of it I would not have laid it down till I had finished the last page." Again: "I had a letter from a Chicago fellow asking about Leaves of Grass—enclosing two dollars for it:

 
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I sent the book off several days ago: to-day I received his acknowledgment: very warm—gushing, in fact. What an advantage it would be all around if an author could sell his own books!"

     He had laid aside a Garland letter for me. "You will find it significant enough to go into good company: you have the good company: put it with Rossetti, Rhys, the rest." Garland wrote:


Jamaica Plain, Nov. 9, '88.


Dear Mr. Whitman:

     I talked last night to my Waltham class (of forty ladies) about your work and read to them. I wish you could have seen how deeply attentive they were and how moved by Out of the Cradle, To Think of Time, Sparkles from the Wheel, and others. Many of them will now read your works carefully and understandingly. I told them to come at you through Specimen Days. I always advise my pupils so. After reading your prose they are better prepared to sympathize with your poetic views. I am much pleased with November Boughs and expect to do quite a good review soon. Mr. Clement of The Transcript is a personal friend and is quite kindly disposed towards your work. Indeed, all the leading men on The Transcript are. Baxter is away. Kennedy I have not seen. Chamberlain is in the Library as usual. I think I told you of the good letter I had from Burroughs. I hope Mr. Howells will succeed in doing something for November Boughs in the December number, it is such a great number usually.

     It rejoices me to think you are gaining. I hope the winter will not be too severe for you, though I believe you stand the cold better than the heat. I hope to hear a word from you occasionally.


Very sincerely,


Hamlin Garland.

     I asked: "What is your theory about Garland's tactics in introducing the prose first?" He said: "I have no

 
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theory: Garland seems to be very firm in that notion: he always speaks of it: is determined to test it out: I have doubts of it myself: I think on the whole, usually, it 's best to let the people take the plunge at once. Of course Garland will say he has the evidence of his own eyes and that that is enough—is conclusive: I don't say it 's not—for Garland: but for me? Well, while what Garland says seems profoundly probable in special cases, I am not convinced of the rule: I like best the idea of trusting the people at once to the full programme—not being afraid that they can't stand the dose. I of course respond heartily to Garland's beautiful brotherliness: that takes right hold of me—that is wholly convincing."

     Bucke writes me referring to the proposal that he should speak in Clifford's church. W. said: "That would make Clifford's church the church of churches: I am doubtful about my figuring in it: as for the rest, it seems both proper and wise. That is Doctor's thunder anyway: the evolution of the race from low to high, good to better, slowly, surely, inevitably: Bucke is primed—full to the brim: can sit down by the hour, anytime—talk the best talk about big things. Now, keep at him: don't let him evade you." Letter from Bucke to W. quoting London Advertiser: "Walt Whitman, according to The Star of London, has an English cousin, a Miss Whitman, who lives at Putney." Bucke asks: "Have you ever heard of the said Miss W.? I fancy not." W. laughed: "I fancy not, too: I know not." Bucke says in the same note: "With your physique you ought to have been a hearty man at ninety." This hit W. He said: "No doubt: or at a hundred and twenty: but my ought-to-have-been, like most ought-to-have-beens, is upset, made light of, scattered, put to rout, by what is: the what-ares are harder to contend with than the ought-to-have-beens."

     Still talks politics: "I am willing to see the election face to face—to consider, weigh it, unprejudicedly: I am glad the solid South was broken: West Virginia sets a good example:

 
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but that was not all the election suggested—indeed was almost its smallest item. As to free-trade, one thing is fixed: the deck is cleared. The argument so far has been tentative, coarse, partisan, slanderous: now the real battle will commence—we will have the higher statements. Go under the surface, study the undertones. For instance, have you thought, there may be five or six or eight of the Southern States almost unanimously opposed to the new administration? Hasn't that a peculiar, a sinister, significance? almost an ominousness?" I said: "The Republicans make a good deal of the negro vote—the suppressed vote.""So they do," said W., "and that they have a right to do: I, too, emphasize that: it 's a point not to be dodged or trifled with: but after every allowance is made this fact still remains true: the white people of a number of States are nearly unanimous in their antagonism. This is one of the dark spots, the puzzles, in our system of government: all our Presidents now are elected by minorities—a fact of unfortunate import: on a popular vote the parties, the two parties, are nearly balanced—at a standstill: yet we see the sectional supremacy of one party ensuing. Now, let this not be driven too far! America is yet to achieve things of which these men little dream! All the real problems, the fundamentals, are yet ahead of us—will have to be tackled by us or by our children or theirs: not skin-ticklers, like the tariff, but life and death challenges which will line us up fiercely on this side or that."

     W. asked me: "Did you see by the papers that Tennyson is very ill? I 'm afraid! I 'm afraid! They call it gout—rheumatic gout—which often has swift, fatal endings. You know, Horace, Tennyson is pretty far along: has been going down hill for some time—is eighty years old or so: things go hard with a man at that stage of the game." W. spoke of sudden deaths. "A man gets sick: some célèbre: we hear that he is taken sick: then we hear that he is dead: it 's all over as soon as it 's commenced." Then further: "It was so of Darwin, so of Arnold

 
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—Matthew Arnold." I asked about Carlyle. W. answered: "I was kept informed about Carlyle: his death was not a surprise: Moncure Conway wrote me often about him—his condition: he was in London then—Conway was: I understood that Carlyle ailed, ailed, ailed—gradually grew weaker: so his end was no shock, was not unexpected, by me." W. reflected. Then: "And Darwin—the sweet, the gracious, the sovereign, Darwin: Darwin, whose life was after all the most significant, the farthest-influencing, life of the age." He drifted back to Carlyle: "Poor Carlyle! Poor Carlyle! the good fellow! the good fellow! I always found myself saying that in spite of my reservations. Some years ago Jennie Gilder wrote me in a hurry for some piece about Carlyle. I said then that to speak of the literature of our century with Carlyle left out would be as if we missed our heavy gun: as if we stopped our ears—refused to listen: resenting the one surest signal that the battle is on. We had the Byrons, Tennysons, Shelleys, Wordsworths: lots of infantry, cavalry, light artillery: but this last, the most triumphant evidence of all, this master stroke: this gun of guns: for depth, power, reverberation, unspeakably supreme—this was: Carlyle. I repeat it now: have made no change of front: to-day, here, to you, I reaffirm that old judgment—affix to it the seal of my present faith." Here he reached forward and picked a sheet of paper off the table handing it to me: "See this: this from Carlyle: characteristic words: I wrote them here probably intending to use them for something or other—but never did." He had written on this sheet:

     "'No good book," says Carlyle (article on Novalis)—"no good book—no good thing of any sort—shows its best face first. Nay, the commonest quality in a true work of Art, if its excellence have any depth and compass, is that at first sight it occasions a certain disappointment; perhaps, even, mingled with its undeniable beauty, a certain feeling of aversion.'"

 
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     Then he advised me: "You seem to enter into the spirit of that: take it along."

     Turned up a copy of the Thayer and Eldridge Leaves in the next room. He said, pointing to the frontispiece: "There 's the portrait Blauvelt had in mind, for one." I said to W.: "I am not wholly convinced that I like that head." W. replied: "Nor am I that I am: the original, however, is fine: Johnston, the jeweller, over there in New York, has it." After a pause, adding: "At least I think he has." I have a copy of Scribner's Book Buyer containing a portrait of Mrs. Ward. Would he like to see it? "Yes, indeed: bring it—let me see the picture: I always enjoy them—every portrait has an interest, some have an extraordinary interest." He expressed himself as always considerably attracted by Humphrey Ward himself: "I have so often heard of him from his friends: he is an editor on the London Times: Costelloe declared that Ward was the writer of the articles in The Times some years ago on Longfellow, Bryant—Poetry in America: his friend took exception to it: they visited me: I am myself much mystified." He described Costelloe. "He was here, years ago: three of them: collegers—bright." He "clearly remembered" Costelloe's statement: "He said he knew the authorship of the articles by signs he could not convey, yet could feel and did not doubt of: but then the other fellow said no to all that: and I was impressed at the time. I felt that he knew—that he understood what he was talking about.""Well," I said: "that leaves a mystery: were you ever enlightened?""No, not in the least: but I have always held that the article was wonderfully good—better than I could have written myself"—this with a laugh. "I think Costelloe even felt that Robert Elsmere had been written by Ward instead of by his wife: Costelloe intimated as much: then his friend objected again." W. spoke of the "policy of anonymity" in newspapers: "It seems more insisted upon in Europe than here—nowhere more than on The Times." I said: "The Times has got itself into a pretty mess with Parnell." W.

 
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vigorously: "So it has: a damned pretty mess: it has made a mistake—a grave outrageous mistake: my sympathies are all with Parnell—with the Irish—in that fight: I hope Parnell is right—believe he is: without having gone into the affair in all its detail my faith, my sympathy, all leans to the one side." Said of the Whitechapel murders: "They take me back to the Middle Ages."

     W. took a package off the table and dropped it on his lap. He had written on it: "Good photos, &c." He slowly untied the string. He picked up the Washington (hatted) portrait, 1864. W. said: "Mrs. Gilchrist and Herbert (the artist of that picture there)"—pointing to the wall—"always liked this." Then he asked: "Do you perceive a suspicion of theatricality in it?" I said "No." He, going on: "Possibly not: yet it has always seemed to me that there was. I have no great admiration for the picture myself: it is one of many, only—not many in one: the sort of picture useful in totaling a man but not a total in itself. Now, take 'the laughing philosopher' picture—the Cox picture: that is the picture I sent over to Tennyson: he liked it much—oh! so much—I am told: that picture was more like a total—like a whole story: and this picture too is not permanent—will not last: it is too self satisfied." I said: "You do not allow for, may not be aware of, your natural picturesqueness." He asked: "Do you think you see that?" Again, concerning the Cox picture: "Do you think the name I have given it justified? do you see the laugh in it? I 'm not wholly sure: yet I call it that. I can say honestly that I like it better than any other picture of that set: Cox made six or seven of them: yet I am conscious of something foreign in it—something not just right in that place."

     W. gave me a draft for $14.43 from Trübner (London) to get cashed. Referred to Thomas G. Shearman: "I know about him: never met or knew him personally: he is a man of wonderfully nimble faculties: he is a free-trader: I am with him heart and soul in that." Very much interested

 
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in the Notes. Went to work on them at once. "Leave the copy here with the proofs: I like to have it by when I read proofs, though I rarely, practically never, consult it." I picked a sheet of paper up from under my feet. It was written over in W.'s handwriting. I said after reading it: "That 's the first and last of the matter." He laughed. "What is? What have you got there?" I read aloud:

     "A modern 'poem' is as if a proper and fashionable suit of clothes, well made, good cloth, fair linen, a gold watch, etc., were to walk about, demanding audience. The clothes are all well enough; but the objection would be, there is no man in them—no virility there."

     "Yes," said W., after hearing me: "that 's about the substance of it: I see nothing to add and nothing to take off: the literary majorities always prefer the traditional to the initiative.""Always choose rather to start old than to start new," I suggested. "Exactly," W. said.

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