Commentary

Disciples

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Friday, December 7, 1888.

     7.55 P. M. Fine night. Cool and clear. W. still holding his head up. "All right at the top": that is his favorite assurance. He sat near the light (the room very cosy). Pad on his knee. Writing to Bucke. Stopped upon my entrance. Talked freely at once. "What news do you bring?" Returned him the soft dummy I got from Oldach to-day. Oldach incorrigible: would not yield: Monday will be the day—not before, but then sure, though: even then only half a dozen books at best. W. was merry over it. "Well, like the fellow whose whole wardrobe was stolen but his hat: it 's not worth much, it 's not of much practical benefit, but thank God something is left!" Then added: "I suppose

 
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there 's nothing for us to do but resign ourselves—wait: I am convinced that old Oldach will have his way." Yet was "exceedingly anxious to send copies of the book out to Bucke and others.""It is chiefly for that I have grown impatient." He described his day as "busier": had read papers (opened several of Kennedy's Transcripts: Press, Record, the Camden papers): "tried to write a little: felt, for me, really comfortable. The bladder trouble has subsided, if not withdrawn: the pains are not what they were—the gnawings, the heat: I have hours of the day, have had them to-day, as bad as could be, but the day as a whole has been better: the overwhelming pressure gone: and when evening comes (this evening especially) there is wont to come with it a real good feeling of security." Then he questioned me about my "day's doings.""I suppose Philadelphia is all alive—every nerve of her?" Spoke of "life going on no matter who stayed or who recked it not.""It is strange anyhow how many big things go along their ways and we know nothing of them: I was reading something about The Youth's Companion to-day: its circulation must be immense, its business value great: probably a matter of hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is phenomenal." He spoke of the Gartenlaube. "What does the word mean?" He had seen it—looked it over: called it "high class" with "illustrations and make-up admirable indeed." He does not read German.

     Boozer said to-day pointing to the '55 W. W.: "I still think this the best of the pictures." W.: "It is good: something is to be said for it: but I feel that the best picture is the frontispiece, the title-page"—the complete W. W.— "but not only as a piece of art (where it is effective, refined), but because so thoroughly characteristic of me—of the book—falls in line with the purposes we had in view at the start." As he sat there, pen in hand, his hair free off his head, he made me think of some of the operatic Fausts I had seen. I said so. He laughed: "I am not troubling myself with Faustian problems: I have heard

 
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all the Fausts, I may say: Gounod's, others: Faust plays: but never was moved fundamentally—never was attracted." Was it because the legend itself failed to touch him? "Yes—even that: I guess my time for it is yet to come: I am yet to read it—read it as I should: Bucke says so: I think he must be right."

     Tom stopped in on his way down to a church entertainment. Got W.'s Contemporary card. Stayed only a few minutes. W. replied to a question about his health: "I 'm better, I own: I can say I 'm decidedly better—better than better this evening." Harned pleased. More color. Voice stronger. W.'s first question to Tom was: "How is the madame? how the boy?" and afterwards: "I shall be very curiously set about to see that boy: I guess I'll tell the Doctor about it: he likes to hear all about us here: Mrs. Bucke, too: I 'm writing to him now—was when you came in: I'll write some here to-night, then finish to-morrow to close the record of the week: it will half fill up this side of the sheet." Did he never turn over—write on the reverse of the sheet? Always go to the second sheet? He smiled waggishly: "Oh! I would go to the second sheet but don't find occasion to: write with pencil generally: if when I get here""I find I have too much left to say, I crowd it: then, when I get here at the foot, stop, sign it—conclude that I must not prolong the affliction." He ended this with a gay chuckle: "Even the Doctor would growl if I went on too far."

     Sent a book to Carpenter to-day. "I could do that much, at the least." The letter went off with the book. I told him of Henry George's trip abroad: his meeting with a Philadelphia high protectionist on ship, with wife, children, servants, going to Europe for medical treatment: the proposition of this man (see Standard, Dec. 8): drop a tube two hundred feet below the surface of the sea for traffic, &c. &c.: George suggesting: But what good, with any army guarding both ends, &c.? W. highly interested: "What could he

 
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say to that? À propos of that I may say our Philadelphian would only need to go to the end of a telephone or telegraph wire and get all the medical treatment he needs (and more than he needs)—all he goes abroad for: summon the best the world affords—surgeons, wise, skilled, as learned as science can make them: right here in Philadelphia: in New York: none better: in fact I think it is even acknowledged." W. "more and more regretted the tendencies towards legislation.""Restriction! restriction! everywhere restriction!""Among other things," W. said, "Tom Donaldson thinks he knows something about pictures—has been in Washington helping to fix up the tariff on art. There are some of the fellows who could extend a welcome to everything but books. They send me a book from England: our postmaster sends me word I must send him fifty or sixty or seventy or eighty cents to secure it: I send books abroad (sent one to Carpenter to-day): the simple postage put on: they go without question. This is one of the beautiful contrasts."

     Harned left at this point. H. is a tariff man. W. said: "That 's one of the things in Tom it 's best not to try to explain: the whole tariff business is a robbery—a highwayman's job: sort of police's commerce—interferes with the normal everyday freedom of one man treating with another. Tom ought to know better." Was curious: learned I often wrote on trips: cars, boats, &c.: "Do you carry little books about with you?" he asked. He was "never without them: two or three sheets of the best paper folded, stitched together." I reminded him of his promise to give me one of his note-books. "One of the War time?" and when I said: "Yes—that"—he replied: "Surely if you want it: well and good." Then he laughed in his quiet kindly way: "I guess I'll have to do for you what I 've often threatened to do to Bucke—I'll get a trunk here: put into it the things I want you to have." Then: "The trunk I mean would be a box. Ed has been very anxious to have something done: the boy thinks the room has too littery a character: I told him to-day that it should be definitively, dis-

 
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tinctively, finally, fully, set down as our purpose to get at this matter to-morrow and sort it out." Ed afterwards told me that W. had "not felt well enough"to-day, and explained how the "religion" piece I had picked up from the floor (singed all along the edges) had come into that state. Ed had gone into the room one evening after W. had retired: "found considerable smoke there": on investigation discovered that a whole pile of papers had been pushed against the stove there—were smouldering. W. has made three or four such narrow escapes.

     I had a copy of the Bazar with me. W. regarded the pictures with considerable interest—for one, Otto Zimmerman's picture (1881) of Christ and the Fisherman. W. thought "its most remarkable feature the absence of the aureola about the head of Jesus here"—pointing with finger: "It is a wonderful powerful portrayal—this"—indicating Jesus— "a very significant face." Afterwards happened upon some illustrations of a story. "These are good, too: pictures of another sort: not like the Christ picture—but important, for their place." Greatly attracted by a picture, The Yoke of Misery, painted by J. Geoffroy, French: a man and boy harnessed to a cart of household movables, &c. He looked at it "long and long," as he puts it— "a touch of common life" which greatly "appealed" to him. He thought: "What a strange power our men are getting—the artists: nothing eludes them—defeats them." The Christ picture: "The engraving itself is noteworthy: as you say, there 's something in it never expressed by a steel engraving—something that steel can't compass." A reference some way to Eschylus. W. said: "He wrote his plays in trilogies (I have a friend—he always amuses me—calls them trillogies): Eschylus thought it consistent with nature that he should do so: but by and by came along fellows who broke the traces." I said Eschylus had interested me as a boy more than Homer. W.: "That is because you must have come upon Pope's translation of Homer." I owned up. "I thought so: and

 
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think it the most damnable that ever was conceived.""Almost inexcusable?" I put in. He looked over at me:— "I should say 'inexcusable' without the 'almost.'" I confessed an equal lack of affinity with Milton, Dryden, Pope, Gray. W.: "I can see it—share it: I can see why it should be: why it must be: they tell the story themselves—they are their own refutation: not one of them free: heavy, stilted, sticky: without ability, any of them, to soar: soar gracefully, freely—take wing into highest altitudes: I should say they are to be remembered now (not to be emulated) but as warnings.""That is one of my favorite notions," I said: "that the most important lessons of history are lessons of avoidance not of guidance." W.: "Which strikes me very forcibly—which is really profound: how can it be escaped?"

     Was Tennyson exempt from the shackles of form and precedent? "Yes: oh! yes! Tennyson is exempt: his work, all of his work, is free from taint: polite, refined, polished, rich in color—but nature's own, after all, at bottom, in essence." I mentioned The Relief of Lucknow and The Revenge. "I agree with you: they are great emotional utterances—both of them: I felt them so at the time: I do not withdraw my opinion now." Adler said in a letter to me to-day: "Remember me most cordially to our dear friend." W. said: "Thanks! thanks! write to him: tell him Walt Whitman thanks him." I met Hunter with his daughter on the boat this evening. H. is unsteady on his feet: does not go out on evenings; sent his love to W. W. said: "Thanks: thanks again!" I described Hunter's designation of W.: "A noble good mon he is!"—the Scotch of it—and, "a cheerful mon is that!" W. pleased. "It is characteristic—it is Scotch: the 'mon' greatly Scotch: it does me good merely to hear such a man talk." We discussed the point—why not some time issue an edition of L. of G. in small vols, for pocket wear and tear? Song of Myself, Children of Adam, &c. &c., in separate books? W. believed in it. "It has long been my ambition to bring out

 
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an edition of Leaves of Grass with margins cut close, paper cover: some book rid of the usual cumbersome features. Everybody now wants margins. It is a theory to be seriously considered: now it is perhaps too late: but others may one day think of it—act on it." John Bright in a bad way— "about done for," W. says. W. again: "Yes indeed, that 's John Bright: good, pure, noble, high-souled." Ed says W. will not let him do anything for him that he can do for himself—especially in extreme personal directions. Letter to-day from Bucke (yesterday's) intimating that we can expect little physically from now on for Walt even if he should rally from the present attack. W. gave me this note for what he called my "bibliographic pigeon hole"to-night:

New York City, Aug. 9, 1867.


Friend Whitman:

     I publish in to-morrow's Citizen Rosetti's article. It may wake people up.

     I wish you would send me a copy of your book—a thing which I don't possess. I will mail you a copy of to-morrow's paper.


Very respectfully yours


W. L. Alden (Associate Editor).

     I said: "I suppose Alden is another one of your editor enemies, Walt." He was on to my point. "Well—he was warmer then than he was later on.""In spite of your many enemies on newspapers you also had friends there.""Yes—I know: sometimes I growl so much about the enemies I forget the friends, which is wrong." Gave me an old Burroughs letter. He called it "one of John's come-out letters." I asked: "What do you mean by that?" He answered: "Don't you know?""Yes, in general: but are not all John's letters come-out letters?" W. said: "They used to be: they are not so much so now.""What happened to him?""I don't know. I don't mean that he has turned tail and run: I mean only that he has

 
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lost color—it is not quite so definitely, I may say quarrelsomely, virile as he was: he has lost something—something: but read the letter." I started to do so. He said: "Read it aloud."

Roxbury, N. Y., Aug. 24th, 1879.


Dear Walt:

     Your letter came the other day and with the enclosure was very welcome. The papers came also. I am glad you keep well. I wish you here daily, it is so cool and salubrious. I imagined you off to some of the watering places. I was sorry I could not bring about the arrangement to have you come to our place, but Emma has not been very well, and though she said yes, I thought she was a little reluctant, and our own household was deranged by the cuttings up and running off of the girl. But I shall not rest till I have you up there.

     I was much interested in the letters you enclosed. I must write to the Gilchrists.

     I made the trip down the Delaware the last of June, all alone; went only to Hancock on the Erie Road, about fifty miles. Had a pretty good time, though lonely. I was not quite a week on the river. I slept in my boat or under it all the time. The next week after I returned home I wrote up my trip for the magazine, using the health and strength I gained on the voyage. Since I have been here I have written an article on Nature and the Poets, showing where our poets trip in their wood lore and natural history, and where they hit the mark. I catch them all napping. Emerson, Bryant, Whittier, Longfellow, &c. I shall have something to say about you, with extracts, but I cannot catch you in any mistake, as I wish I could, for that is my game. I wish I could also find a slip in Shakespeare or Tennyson, but I cannot according to my knowledge, except where Shakespeare follows the unscientific thought of his times, as in his treatment of the honey bee.

     Yesterday i wrote a sort of Pastoral Letter to The Tribune, but I doubt if they find it worth while, and it is

 
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no matter. I will send you the proof of the article on the poets before it goes into the magazine.

     There are two articles in the August Appleton's Journal that are worth glancing over—Arnold on Wordsworth and Earl D. on moosehunting. What simple good hearty fellows those English earls must be; not a false or conventional note in this one.

     The baby is doing well and completely fills my heart. Wife is about as usual.

     I find I cannot read Whittier and Longfellow and Lowell with any satisfaction. Your poems spoil me for any but the greatest. Coming from them to you is like coming from a hothouse to the shore or the mountain. I know this is so and is no pre-determined partiality of mine.


Faithfully


John Burroughs.

     When I stopped reading W. said: "Now you probably know what i meant by come-out: unequivocal: as in the last passage, just before closing: he there makes a declaration: is unqualified, wholesale, final: that 's what I call come-out: also back farther, where he speaks of our science—says he has so far not tripped me up but that tripping me up is his game." I said: "Brinton has said the same thing to me—that he has tried his best to find flaws in your science but has failed to do so.""Did Brinton say that? Well—Brinton ought to know: with John and with him on my side I am well defended. John's letter appeals to me because of its uncompromising red-blooded espousal of the book—of my code: I respond to John: I feel the eminent kindliness, love, of his declaration: John never slushes but is always on the spot."

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