Commentary

Disciples

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Monday, December 10, 1888.

     7.45 P. M. Ed admitted me. Reported W. as not waking up well but rallying in the afternoon. Doctor had not been here. I had with me two bundles each containing four copies of the complete W. W. got from Oldach at last this evening. Upstairs to W. who had lain down on his bed though not sleeping. Said he "had not been so well through the day""a sort of sinking—weakness—all along in the forenoon." But he had "shaken it off—at least partly." Talked well: I have not for a long time found him so ready to talk. W. greatly gratified: he fondled the books. "Now we can send Bucke's!" I told Bucke we would send him the book in a day or two. W.: "I have been thinking—should we not send more than one?—three? even four? I want to deposit a solid nest egg with the Doctor." W. will have the rest of the hundred and fifty sent to Camden and piled up in his room here until used.

     McKay showed me to-day The Literary World of the 8th containing a column and a half or so on W. I summarized it for Walt (sent for copy to-day). W. said: "The Literary World started out years ago with being friendly—almost fulsome, eulogistic: its head man was Abbot: I had several letters from Abbot, written in a friendly temper: displaying a friendly feeling for me. The other man, the money man, on The World, was Hines"—spelling it out for me: "At that time they wanted me to send them something for an Emerson number of The World: I remember it well: it was five years ago: I sent them the piece—you know it—there in the Collect: it was with them that I first printed it. But this friendly disposition came to an end. There was a time

 
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when the question of W. W. came up—Abbot must have been overborne: yet, whatever the policy of the paper, more recent letters from Abbot—personal letters—have in substance repeated his original judgment. Yet what you say of The World is significant enough: it shows that time is having its effect. It is with The Literary World much as with The Tribune: they occupy the same comparative position. For instance, let me give you a case. Whitelaw Reid—I have spoken to you of it—was, years ago, exceedingly well disposed towards me—towards Leaves of Grass, it was said, too: greatly so: personally he was always very kind to me. When I was in New York—the trip seven or eight years ago—he called on me, put a cab at my disposal: was courteous in that way, in orther ways: I was lame: he respected it. Yet in spite of this apparent good feeling, when the change in ownership came—Reid's father-in-law becoming a heavy owner—the stock running into a million or millions I should say—a conference of the staff was called: it was decided then that the paper should pursue a certain policy: that any tendency towards too great a freedom—social, sexual, religious freedom—should be frowned down, should not be encouraged: that the Mrs. Grundyisms should be cultivated—the conventional, traditional, appealed to." He knew "this was not a novel procedure.""I was informed that among other things it was asked how Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, the man, his writings, where to be treated. It was then settled that Reid's favorability should be toned down greatly—that while nothing should be said absolutely adverse, neither should anything positive be said in the way of applause. This caution seemed to pervade Sunday's piece. It is true there is a cessation, a lull, in the old method of attack: not the same bitterness anywhere, nor the poison, the venom, that characterized the older critics. Indeed, The Tribune's is the animating spirit of all that class in New York: Stoddard, William Winter—these others—such men: yet none of these men are men to be merely sneered
 
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at: bitter as was their warfare—resentment: particularly is Stoddard not to be so dismissed: R. H. Stoddard: Stoddard has native good quality—started well—has written good things—grazes against genius though yet not a genius."

     W. said that the opposition among some of these people was "a mean low unprincipled spirit of jealousy," while with others it was "an incapacity to understand" his "purposes.""The trouble is, these men—the literary class—the second, third, fourth, fifth raters—do not understand: for Walt Whitman, for Leaves of Grass, for what he declares, they grant nothing—cannot see. It makes Dr. Bucke mad—oh! mad three times over!—that they all make so much of the trifles—criticise, attack, the trivial features, yet fail utterly to consider what is essential to the scheme—the very vital special power precedent to all." W. here broke out into vehement eloquence: "Yet not one of them comprehends—not one of them—not one of them all—(the whole batch who have written, criticised, annulled)—has grasped the truth, the principle: has come into contact with, and prized, what is the first essential. Oh! it is a shallow, shallow brood!" He criticised the reviews of November Boughs: how rarely they mastered its import: "I still stick by Oscar Wilde's Boston declaration: I still say, it is not your applause, flattery, acceptance even, we seek: but we seek to be understood—to have you recognize what we stand for: what underlies our utterance: what we first defer to and last and all the time as the explanation, the justification, of what we do."

     I asked W. how he liked some of the recent innuendoes on November Boughs. "W. W. is an old man, is very sick, therefore we will say no unkind word of him," &c. W. asked: "You too have noticed that?" Then: "I have too—am quite conscious of it—of what it means: yet I can reply to it all—Walt Whitman spits it out, refuses to accept it: takes it at its right measure: is not to be bribed by it.""The world's intellectual classes so-called fail to take

 
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in the character of our work: they want their sonatas, songs, odes—yet I would not turn on my heel for any one of them: not even for the ode—not for an instant acquiesce in them. We are after something not to be stated in terms of restriction, of art, simply. America means above all toleration, catholicity, welcome, freedom—a concern for Europe, for Asia, for Africa, along with its concern for America. It is something quite peculiar, hardly to be stated—evades you as the air—yet is a fact everywhere preciously present. Bryant had a whiff of it—Longfellow not the first sign: Emerson had universality—intellect, heart: Whittier distinctly the flavor of it—though for him, while sweetly human in his main current, it was narrow, a New England patriotism, therefore not satisfying and competent." I argued: the future of L. of G. is assured in the nature of its present upholders: no cause, no person, so sustained, was ever destined to failure: I had no more doubt of this than that the sun and light go together, &c. Referred to John Burroughs' faith, restated while here: also quoted others: then Clifford: W. exclaiming: "Yes, Clifford—such a man as Clifford: that is very significant." Then: "It is sweet, good, to hear you say all that: it makes up, atones for so much else."

     I asked W. if he had read The Christian Union piece. He said: "Yes indeed; all of it: carefully. I was especially interested in the lines you underscored—the bits you marked one, two, three, four, five." Here are the lines:

     (1) The man who sees nothing in Byron but obscenity, nothing in Swinburne but blasphemy, nothing in Whitman but indecency, betrays a defect of vision in himself which renders his judgment valueless to those who see not only these things, but noble poetic qualities besides.

     (2) Because one loves Longfellow, by reason of some natural affinity, he need not, therefore, decide that there is nothing in Browning but obscurity, and nothing in Whitman but verbose absurdity.

     (3) To be able to enter into new conditions, to be ready

 
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to accept unfamiliar forms of art, to be eager for the perfection that is alien to our native aptitude, to thirst supremely for beauty and light, are the qualities which he who longs to enter into life fully and deeply will cultivate with unwearied resolution.

     (4) A generous faculty of admiration unlocks the secrets of art which elude all efforts at mastery by the purely critical spirit.

     (5) No real poet ever sang who has not much for those who are willing to learn.

     W. said: "They are all you say of them: I can only repeat what I said last night when you read them to me—they show the right drift—are generous, broad: if they do not absolutely yield a result they point the way to it." He was "curious.""What are The Christian Union's theological connections?" he asked me. I went towards the light to look for the paper (he on the bed still) when suddenly he made a motion as if to get up. I protested—I would find it or wait. "Well I want to—there is something else, top heavy, it may be, yet beautiful: I want you to see it, take it with you, tell me what you make of it." I helped him across the room: very poorly on his legs: leaned heavily on my arm. Poked about floor—finally fished out two loose leaves of The Christian Register. There was a sermon from Corning on one page. I pointed to it. You don't mean this?" He turned it over almost impatiently: "Oh! no—not that: this"—indicating Augusta Larned's Some Thanksgiving Thoughts. Said: "Surely that sums up our case: I have never known it better stated: I like it so much—was so greatly attracted—I got up this evening awhile to finish it, to read part of it again, though I was feeling little like doing so. I wish you would run over it carefully—show it to your father: it would come home to him: then bring it back, report to me. One of my chief delights in it is for this—that here is a woman who shows a capacity for diving down to the bottom of the stream—who gets

 
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to the marrow of the matter. The spinal thought of her piece is this—that she has been abroad, has taken with her her best eyes—has seen much, learned, reflected—concludes that Thanksgiving—the Thanksgiving she meets here on her return—the national holiday—would have no meaning in Europe—the soldier-ridden, the poverty-suffering, Europe." W. conceded that her case "needed to be qualified here and there," but that on the whole it "nobly stated a notable truth."

     I spoke again of my letter to Bucke to-day: I had said, if Oldach gave me the expected books to-day, no doubt W. would send him one to-morrow. W. promised he would regard this. Did not open the package while I stayed. Would rest till morning. "I must fill one in for Doctor—one for you."

     Had thought to give me checks to-night. Would again defer, &c. I had insurance renewed to-day on $300 for one month. W. said: "I have not written the Doctor to-day nor heard from him."

     Just as I was about to leave W. handed me a bunch of letters. "Here is some Rossetti correspondence of a sort: I want it to go into your collection: it takes up more of the phases of that English publication—of the Rossetti edition: I wish you to go over it. If there are any questions you want to ask about it you'd best ask them now: I rely upon you to get these things straight, and some day, if there is a reason for it, you will put them on record in some such shape as to make them intelligible: I am getting so fidgety about myself—am so uncertain about the future—there seems so little hope for me for long—that I am disposed to trust myself more and more to your younger body and spirit, knowing, as I do, that you love me, that you will not betray me—more than that (and in a way better than that), that you understand me and can be depended upon to represent me not only vehemently but with authority." I turned the bundle over in my hands. "It 's an important looking package of papers," I said. W. assent

 
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ing: "Yes—from our standpoint, very important. Well: we will talk about them some other time."
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