Commentary

Disciples

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Saturday, December 29, 1888

     7.30 P.M W. improved to-day: sitting reading as I entered. He had received a circular of Poet Lore—a new monthly. Held it up to me after I had shaken hands. "Didst see this?"—mockingly—"Well—listen!"—thereupon reading. Would he subscribe? "No, I will not"—laughing heartily: "I was just wondering what to do with it—whether to put it here with the waste paper or save it for you. I know you are interested in all that 's going." Left with him copy of the current Stage. Did it interest him? "I don't know: I only know I read it through from the beginning to end." The Carlyle-Goethe letters open. Had he started reading them? "O yes! I slipped into them, but have not gone far." It had not impressed him. W. said: "Why, Horace—that Herald notice is very good: a very generous one: I have read every word of it: while they make few comments—only quote—the comments are extremely good and the quotations apt." Had also read the little note in Publisher's Weekly. "It, too, is very fair—very distinctly favorable." W. said: "I have been busy— reading, writing, sitting up—everything but moving about. I wrote Doctor—sent a letter off to him to-day." Had enclosed a Kennedy letter. He asked: "You still think the Sanborn letter good? Still are content with it?" Said nothing about it himself.

     I trod on a package: picked it up: found it to be a Post directed to Mrs. Fairchild: should n't it have gone off with the others? W.: "What is it? Oh, certainly: I thought it gone two days ago." I took it with me to mail over the river. Ed had brought two letters—the one Poet Lore: the other W. now opened. I saw at once what it was. "For an autograph?" He read a few lines. "Yes, yes—merely that: listen"—reading lines closing: "I am a little girl and would so value your autograph." He laughed. "Do

 
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you believe it?""It is very doubtful—an old subterfuge." He took the letter, reaching forward: saying as he dropped it in the wood box: "Here she goes"—then was about to cut the stamp from the corner of the return envelope enclosed—"oh a good card"—taking a card out of the envelope, laying it on the table carefully—removing the stamp also. "It is a weariness to be besieged: but they come every day—sometimes in squads." He tried to explain my good health: "I explain it by your large intuitional gifts: you have intuitive ways of knowing what to do, what not to do. There is no better safeguard than that. I have made up my opinion from our frequent talks: it seems to explain and justify you fully."

     I returned his Lippincott's. "Well," he asked: "What of Stoddard?" I had read the paper on Poe on my way over in the morning. I was very vehemently against S.'s point of view. Enlarged on it. W. leaned forward in his chair: "Oh you are right, boy: you are right—right—right! Oh! how that sounds like William O'Connor!—almost his very words: I can hear him in the very tones of your voice. What you have said, what you have been saying: that is just what he would say: I have heard it often and often: the same eloquent forgivingness: better, the same refusal to judge, condemn." W. went on insisting upon this resemblance. He considered Stoddard "sour, dissatisfied, disgruntled: it has been so with him—that has been his humor—for many years. Poor Poe! Poor Poe! who shall say he did not have failings, defects, weaknesses: serious weaknesses—grave, oh! so grave!—from which he suffered?" But why stop with them? "It seems to be Stoddard's principle to pull men down"—I said: "I suppose he would rake you over with the same vim?""He has done it already. Oh! I am sure when I kick the bucket he will be ready with some columns of obituaries just as vinegary, fault-finding, mean." W. felt that S.'s character was "warped.""Stoddard is determined certain things should be even if they are not. I remember the time I spent at St. Louis years ago—some

 
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years ago: I would go into the schools—the kindergarten, others—there. The children always insisted on a story—on hearing me talk—say something. I liked a little fancy—a fable of the cats: I repeated it—then—often here"—he closed his eyes an instant then resumed interestingly—simply, as a child—himself—and with much feeling: "The two cats went on a trip from home, then back again —along the same road, under the same conditions: the same sky overhead, the same influences about. When they returned they were asked what they had seen. Oh how different the stories! They had gone the same road, met with the same experiences: one had to tell of the most wonderful adventures—had seen the most wonderful things: the road, the fields, the clouds above—tenderly, lovely, fascinating, compassionating: the other had realized nothing but horrors—had met reptiles, stagnant pools, poisons, despairs." He stopped here—looked at me: "I interpret this as exhibiting a habit of mind—the morbid, the healthy, so to speak. Stoddard is determined to see the bad, the dark, the venomous: it is his habit of mind: he is the second cat." I read W. a passage from the Poe piece: Stoddard—a rainy day in New York—seeing Poe standing on the street corner: S. had not offered umbrella—P. heroic, defiant, self-reliant, proud: S. saw him so still—always would. I said: "The man who saw him so still would not write this article." W. feverently: "Nor would he! Oh boy! If only William O'Connor could hear you talk so!" I said: "I alluded to Stoddard in my letter to Doctor this morning." W.: "Did you? Should we send him the magazine?" Then after a pause during which I must have looked doubtful: "No, I guess he would not care for it: you can take it along with you if you wish."

     Talk took still another turn. "Do you know anything about Burns—John Burns—a writer: he is a London man—seems to be a labor agitator—an anarchist—something of that sort: that is his portrait you have in your hands now. Some one sends me some of his poems: they

 
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seem to imagine a likeness between us—seem to see some suggestions of me there, of Leaves of Grass." W. took the Burns picture in his hand: B wore a hat making him look not unlike the W. of the '55 edition. I remarked it. W. said:"It is a noble remarkable face, I think: does it not seem so to you?" I asked him if Burns was not the man arrested with Morris in one of the Socialist troubles in London? "I do not know: I forget even about Morris: tell me." Added: "When I have gone through with them you had better take them in hand. I confess I have n't read the letter there that came along with it to see what it is all about." Not sent from London but from Marshall B. Williams, Philadelphia. M. B. W.'s letter with portrait, &c. on the table. More talk about Stoddard. W. said: "That type of man is particularly devilish to me: is not big, ample, inclusive: rather drives away than invites. He hates Poe not because Poe is hateful but because he—Stoddard I mean—is full of hate. Stoddard has pursued me with a sort of venom always: he said to Stedman—so Stedman told me: It is your duty to stamp out, not to encourage, such influences as Whitman in literature. Gilder has told me of similar things said to him by Stoddard: always against me—always (or my work, which is me, after all): saying severe things to Gilder on occasions: on one occasion especially, on Broadway, up there in front of his office—Gilder's office: somewhere—I think there: said to Watson, if it was not for the sympathy he, Walt Whitman, gets from a few of you men who really stand for something, he would have no currency whatever—would disappear: said that to the gentle Gilder, who, though always my friend—God bless 'im!—was never rabidly bitten by Whitman, as you are, as Symonds is. When I read Stoddard on Poe I think of Stoddard on Walt Whitman: I understand his quarrelsome, querulous, disposition better than ever. Sometime when you are over there in New York you must quiz Gilder, Stedman (even others: they all say the same thing about him) as to this point in Stoddard's history. I never quite
 
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know whether Dick is simply agin some of us come-outers on general principles or whether underneath it all in him towards us there may not lurk some ingredient of jealousy. When he first knew of me he seems to have said: He 's only vulgar, only indecent: let him alone: he 'll come to nothing. In the later days, when I seem to have come to something—when he at least thinks I have come to something—he tells the fellows: 'He has not kept himself alive—you have kept him alive.'"

     W. gave me a Carpenter letter. The signature was cut out. Consequently some of the writing on the other side of the sheet is gone. I asked W." "Who mutilated the letter?" He said: "It was mutilated for reasons: some one wished the signature, I suppose: I am not quite clear about it: the autograph fiend is omnipresent: he turns up everywhere and is irrefusable: there may have been another reason: I guess it was that." He called it "one of Carpenter's early fine letters"—adding: "He was never nobler than then, in that period of interrogating enthusiasm." He had me read the letter aloud.


Brunswick Sq., Brighton, 3 Jan., 1876


Dear Friend:

     A few weeks ago I sent you a book of mine—Moses: a drama. It is an effort to represent the character of one who, being far beyond his time, has conceived a new idea, a new development for mankind, and by the very force with which he has conceived it wills to shape out, and shapes out, the way of its realization—standing himself all the while alone, solitary, upon earth. I hope it may be some pleasure to you to read it, if only that I may pay part of the debt I owe you for your writings.

     I write this, having just had put into my hands a letter from Moncure Conway written after a visit to you at Camden. Is it true that no American publisher will issue your works? When reading your writings I have thought the future for which you looked quite close, but then one goes

 
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out into the world and hears such things as this and sees the general drift of men's minds towards commonplaces and conventional estimates of things, and then the future looks far—beyond all attainment as indeed I believe in some sense it is—and it seems only cruel that men (some) should be born to breathe their lives out after a mere visionary beauty. Will it ever be that human love—strong to meet with adventurous joy all chance and change—will cease to be a mere name? that men will "understand"—eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and so be immortal? How strange it is! I know that it must be, I see it everywhere—in face after face in the streets, in the sound of men's voices and in their silence—clear, unmistakable, as if just about to be disclosed, the divine "everywhere-equal" life; and yet the children die, hardly knowing what they have sought yet knowing that they have not found it, and their dreams fade away, and to long suffering succeeds rest, and still the distance remains immeasurable. All is resumed. As soon as I remember what the end is—however great the distance—I do not doubt. It is quite true—even as it is truly present with us now underlying all thought and these words. Dear friend, you have so infused yourself that it is daily more and more possible for men to walk hand in hand over the whole earth. As you have given your life, so will others after you—freely, with amplest reward transcending all suffering—for the end that you have dreamed. In the midst of the ferment of this age of material and mechanical intercommunion you have planted the seed of a spiritual union and identity above all space and time, which yet shall use the spaces and times of this earth (while it endures) for its manifestation and expression. What have we dreamed? a union which even now binds us closer than all thought high up above all individual gain or loss—an individual self which stands out free and distinct, most solid of all facts, commensurate with all existence—love disclosing each ever more and more. See, you have made the earth sacred for me.

     Meanwhile, they say that your writings are "immoral":

 
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and you have to defend yourself against people who will misunderstand your defence as they misunderstood your original words. Need I say that I do not agree with them in the least? I believe on the contrary that you have been the first to enunciate the law of purity and health which sooner or later must assert itself. After ages perhaps man will return consciously to the innocent joyous delight in his own natural powers and instincts wich characterized the earlier civilizations. I do not understand what it is to be "shocked" by these things: it seems to me childish. But in the meantime it is certain that people do not understand. In some way or other our modern civilization has become narrowed and one-sided. People's minds are dwarfed: one portion of their nature grows up in the dark (and ceases to be healthy). Men have lost the freedom (free masonry) of Nature and are plagued with insane doubts of their Duty. For a time I suppose men must grow up in swaddling bands of morality, and a certain instinct makes them cling to them till they have grown to be greater than, and the masters of, morality. But I think indeed the time has come for people to learn to unwrap these bands, and that from this time there will be a world-wide growth in the direction you have pointed out. So while I regret sometimes that there are things in your writings which make it difficult, sometimes impossible, to commend them to some who might otherwise profit by them, yet I feel it is best that they should be there. Their presence delays the understanding and acceptation of your message, but your message would not be complete without it, and slowly, gradually, increasingly, without end, its grandeur will dawn upon men.

     You are saying something on this subject in your Two Rivulets which I look forward to seeing. Can I obtain a copy through you, or have you an agent in London?

     I feel that my work is to carry on what you have begun. You have opened the way: my only desire is to go onward with it. Though it is out of all question to suppose that one generation or ten generations will make such a difference

 
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in men's minds in the direction of the ideal state, still—to contemplate that ideal and to live slowly translating it into real life and action is quite certainly the only good—and is sufficient. I do not think of anything that I have done except as preparation: on all hands the words seem to me to be flowing in but in exactly what shape they will issue forth again I am not quite clear, and I think it is my business to wait yet. Meanwhile there is a wonderful new life springing up here in England. I have been this and last winter at Leeds doing something in the way of lecturing and teaching, and have seen a certain amount of the working artisans, &c. There is undoubtedly an entirely new (social) state of affairs coming about through their rise, and I hail it with delight, for the wealthier classes though they struggle for light are hopelessly bound in conventionality, and the rough experience of their contact with the rude unaccommodating life below them (during the next few years) will be salvation to them. I am very anxious to see America, partly for my own sake—in order to breathe a less conventional atmosphere—partly for the sake of seeing the people and appreciating the life that is growing up in them, for I find that no general account, or seeing through other men's eyes, helps me towards that, and I have no friend whose opinion I am willing to judge by in the matter. Should I go it will probably be this next April, if it were not for the Philadelphia Exhibition—which makes me hesitate: partly because it will increase the expense considerably and partly because on account of the turmoil one will perhaps not see so much either of people in general and their ways or of individuals as at another time. If I thought that one occasion would give me a better chance of seeing you than another I should be guided by that, but on the other hand I fear to plague you—and I dare say you are tormented enough by people already. . . .

     I think or fancy that you are happy in your surroundings, and am glad to think so. Will you tell me—you see I am not satisfied yet—where a photograph of yourself is ob-

 
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tainable? I am very anxious to have one; and will you forgive me for wearing you—if I have done so—with perhaps needless talk about myself, and believe me


Yours with continual remembrance


Edward Carpenter.

     W. said: "Carpenter seems to have been just a bit dubious about the Children of Adam poems then: just a trifle: staggers, reels, wonders, just a little: comes back at once, of course: recovers—stands up: but the question was there—whether certain things were advisable or not: the suspicion was there. I liked what he said of the mechanics at Leeds: I put my faith in them—in the crowd of everyday men—in the rise, the supremacy (not the rule) of the superb masses: the men who do things—the workers: they are our hope—they will lead us on if we are led on: not the kid-gloved nobses—the women and the men who dress, who shine, whose life is not love but toilet: I don't see what they can do for us except lead wrong ways—to the devil—yes, lead us into a hole. Edward was mistaken if he thought I had been making explanations—putting up defences—trying by an argument, an appeal, to make my position clear: I have always left that to take care of itself: have kept the work going, kept my hands on the wheel, steered the ship, not worrying about the results: for I always saw that explications did not explicate—that certain people were eligible to understand me, would understand me—that certain other people were not to be reached—would only negative me whatever—that no sort of a plea, no figures quoted, even, would affect them—reduce the quality, quantity, vehemence of their prejudice. Edward was beautiful then—is so now: one of the torch-bearers, as they say: an exemplar of a loftier England: he is not generally known, not wholly a welcome presence, in conventional England: the age is still, while ripe for some things, not ripe for him, for his sort, for us, for the human protest: not ripe though ripening. O Horace, there 's a hell of a lot to be done yet: don't you

 
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see? a hell of a lot: you fellows coming along now will have your hands full: we're passing a big job on to you."
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