Commentary

Disciples

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Tuesday, January 1, 1889.

     7.35 P. M. W. spent an improved day. The cold, the cough, is gone. "I am very well: I call myself well if I am without any of the active symptoms." He felt "disappointed" at one thing. "I had hoped for a good bath to-

 
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day but did not get it: the demon did not move me: I am very obedient to the demon. I get to have a perfect horror of exerting myself—the day through am content to sit still—just to sit still." We discussed the old and new uses of "demon." Socrates was cited. Ed was in the room when I arrived. Sat on the sofa. W. was writing—his pad on his knee. Read much to-day—books, The Century, papers: had written some—a note to Bucke. Nothing from Bucke. Visitors few: Harned, Harry Wright, Ed Stafford and one of Warren's friends. W. had intended writing to Morse. Charged me: "Tell Sidney I am about to write him." I gave W. the cards sent from my sister: "Herbert Spencer Harned—Dec. 2d.""Ah! that is a good name to commune with! may the kid live to be worthy of it!"

     He had spent "a fine first day." How had I spent mine? Had a long walk. He asked me to tell him about it. "I suppose the people must have been out thick. It seems to me just the day—these days of days: I have never known in all my experience such a series of beautiful mild days as we had in December: the worst of it is that a fellow like me—who could so enjoy it—who feels he ought to get it—is compelled to be housed up in a room." As to the damp days: I allow for them: I don't think they are necessarily detrimental: I am sure that if a man fixed himself up warm—is warmly clad throughout—no danger can come to him." I put in: "And kept his bowels open!" W. repeated it: "Yes, that, too: for indeed much, everything, does come from that.""Good digestion is the base of a man"—the lack of it the "source of many if not all his woes." The physical woes. "There is a doctor somewhere—I read of him in The Transcript to-day—who declares that even consumption can be cured by diet." Said he had "finished reading the Carlyle letters." Advised me to take the book. "I confess I have had a treat—an unexpected treat: you seem to know what I like." Afterwards referring to Carlyle's "early" letters—often letters to his mother: "I am sure I would be interested in them." I said: "The print is

 
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not as good as this.""Well—no matter: bring it: I will get along: we can't expect heaven always: the print in this Goethe book is wonderful—simply the best, like the best, I have seen." He had "read the letters over with avidity": had found himself "wishing there were more." They "treat of such an interesting period of Carlyle's life—the removal to the farm at Craigenputtock: then the going to London: after that the sudden death of Goethe." His "initial rejoicing" lay in "the revelation of good things before unsuspected in Carlyle." It was "much to have got that." He had "often been advised not to read Carlyle," but he "pursued" his "own humor" and disobeyed the injunction. Referred to Greg's letter. I apologized. "Do you want it?" I had not brought it with me. W. said: "I am in no hurry." How was he affected by applause? We talked that over yesterday. "I have always cared little one way or the other." As for such enthusiasm as Greg's and McCarthy's: "I take it as a matter of course: I have suffered so much of the bitterest vituperation: I was never worried or disturbed by it. There are a few such messages which tickle me, but a very few—often for peculiar reasons."

     He had been looking over the newspapers. "What a frightful series of holocausts, murders, railroad accidents!" I said: "I rarely read them." W.: "Nor do I: but I read the account of the burning of the Bristol—the noble old Bristol: it was in the papers, morning, yesterday or day before." He had "personal reasons" for his regret over this boat. "I have often seen the Bristol—admired her, loved her: she was a Newport steamer: now burned." Was she old? "Not very: I suppose twenty years: a beautiful creature. I would be on the lookout for the Bristol of late afternoons: she would start out at four or five from the Battery: I would walk out on one of the long piers, or take the ferry boat, and watch her as she swept around into the East River. We have no boats here like her—there is no call for them." Yet he felt "every ship has its splendor." He had "been on the qui vive for the American steamers

 
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here—the Pennsylvania, the Ohio (Ohio is right, is n't it?)." He would watch for announcements of departing and arriving boats—"then be on hand to see them coming in, going out: the haughty big hearted ships going up stream or down under full steam, with the tide or even without.""There is something grand in a boat of full-sailed, careless of criticism—passing on and on and on—nobly on and on." It is always the homely incidents that appeal to him. I told him something about a trip I took on a canal boat years ago. He insisted that I should tell him definitely about it in detail. Was not satisfied till he had pumped me dry.

     No letter from Garland yet saying what he thinks of the big book. W. said: "I have had a note acknowledging—that is all. Garland is a very active man—a man determined to have his hand on things: you have never seen him?" Described Garland—depicted his "earnestness.""Garland is one of the fellows determined to be in the fight: in manner he is extremely quiet: has a low voice—speech toned down, way down. He does not give you the impression of a belligerent man at all, yet in his writing he is very aggressive." G. expressed "polish, some little""then some little college bred man," but was "genuine—full of conviction": "this espousal of the single tax is a very good representative illustration of his mental daring—likewise his Whitmanic endorsement and adhesion." I said: "A man can't be an upholder of W. W. and be altogether a man of peace." W. laughingly: "Not? Not? I suppose not." Then: "No one knows better than I do the difficulties that beset such a course." I said: "You seem to have hopes of Garland.""I do: yes: why should n't I? He seems started all right: is dead set for real things: is disposed to turn himself to the production of real results. Will he keep on or get discouraged by and by? So many of the fellows do go all right for awhile then suddenly stop—are arrested—develop no further—or go back, retreat: so many of them: the brilliant men particularly: those who have no faith—

 
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who have only cleverness: the smart fellows, the gaudy glittering showy men and women whose main idea in writing is to surprise, startle, transfix, the reader, instead of filtering into people gradually, subtly, by the mere force, vehemence, of an exalted faith. Garland looks like a man who is bound to last—to go on from very good to very much better: but you never can tell: there are so many dangers—so many ways for the innocent to be betrayed: in the clutter, clatter, crack of metropolitan ambitions, jealousies, bribes, so many ways for a man, unless he is a giant, unless he is possessed of brutal strength and independence—so many ways for him to go to the devil. I look for Garland to save himself from his fate."

     I write daily to Bucke and to others. W. said: "I only ask you to take care of that thing for me—to supply for my shortcomings." He eats well—too well, perhaps, for a man who sits in one spot all day. Seems stronger. W. asked me: "You will write some day: have you any plans? I know you write now. What I mean is, that you will write some day to great purpose: it seems to be in you, though I think you will mature slowly." Then to my look of inquiry: "I don't mean anything negative by that: it 's mainly the slow maturers who mature to stay—mature to grow." After I had said a few things to him: "I suppose the best plan is to have no plan—to keep fluid, to let the influences possess you for what they may: of course you want to know in general where you 're going, but apart from that I doubt if trying to live life on some mathematical basis can help a man to fulfill himself." I said: "You talk like Emerson." He nodded: "I suppose I do: I feel as he must have felt: in some things there is nothing beyond Emerson—he is (he can be said to be, though it is not strictly true: could n't be) ultimate."

     Talking about "marriage forms" W. said to-night: "Some time they will have to yield—give way." I asked: "To what?" W. said: "I don't know to what—to something bigger than themselves."Then you don't consider

 
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the present laws on the subject ideal." He laughed heartily: "Ideal? Far from it: far, far from it." Was is to go utterly—the system? Were we to have free love? He asked me: "What do you call free love? There 's no other kind of love, is there? As to the next step—who knows what it means? I only feel sure of one thing: that we won't go back: that the women will take care of sex things—make them what they choose: man has very little to do with it except to conform." I laughed as I asked him: "What will become of the foundations of society if our mothers are mothers for love rather than for some other reason?""You are cute—that is well said: yes: what will become of them? Why, the mothers are the foundations of society: mothers need no law." I asked W.: "When you and Emerson had that talk on Boston Common about the Children of Adam poems did the free love matter so-called come up?""O yes! it did: Emerson said: 'For one thing you are in danger of being tangled up with the unfortunate heresy.' I told him that had already occurred: that worse heresies than that were charged to me: that nothing I could do now would mend matters.""Did Emerson appear to be shocked at the poems, or at free love, or at your defense of the book?""Not at all: he was calm, equable, agreeable: he was as he himself said only putting up a worldly argument: he wanted my book to sell—thought I had given it no chance to be popularly seen, apprehended: thought that if I cut out the bits here and there that offended the censors I might leave a book that would go through editions—perhaps many editions. He did not urge this for my sake but for the sake of the people: he seemed to be arguing that I did n't need the people so much as the people needed me. I said: 'You think that if I cut the book there would be a book left?' He said: 'Yes.' Then i asked: 'But would there be as good a booke left?' He looked grave: this seemed to disturb him just a bit. Then he smiled at me and said: 'I did not say as good a book—I said a good book.'That 's where he left it. Emerson was not a man to be scared or
 
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shocked: he was too wholesome, too clean, too well balanced, to be worried by the small fry moralities, the miniature vices."
I asked W.: "Don't you think that maybe Emerson was as glad in the end as you were that you refused to expurgate your book?" W. replied: "Horace, there—that 's it: you've hit the nail on the head: I think he was—yes, just as glad: he liked me better for not accepting his advice. He must have known as well as I knew that it would have been decenter to throw the book away than to mutilate it."

     W. gave me one of Ernest Rhys' letters. First had me read it. Then he spoke of it. He broke in with powerful emphasis upon the Christmas Eve cry of the crowd told of by Rhys:


London, 5th Jany, 1888.


Walt Whitman.

     Your card of the 24th came two days ago, not a little to my relief. I was beginning to fear lest you were not so well again. This year ought to treat you well, and give you the wind and weather and everything that you love, seeing that in it you attain three score and ten. If good wishes of friends were of any direct use, physically, I mean, as well as in other ways, it would be the happiest year of your life. It seems very right and fit that in it you should publish the edition definitive in this vol. of your "complete works," which we all so eagerly expect.

     The last few weeks have brought nothing perhaps that is very remarkable to the surface here. I have been jogging along quietly enough,—but absorbing always a great deal humanly from the endlessly wonderful life of this great London. One of the most striking episodes I have lately had any share in was the midnight meeting of the unemployed of London on Christmas eve. It was held at the foot of Cleopatra's Needle, round the base of which the various speakers were grouped, faced by the motley throng of men, who cheered hoarsely with hungry throats as the speechifying went on. Through the day it had been wet and foggy in turn, but now the sky was of an American clearness, the half

 
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moon shining bright behind the shaft of Cleopatra's Needle, contrasting strangely with the red torches held to light the orators. Altogether an impressive scene; and when the Christmas bells rang out, and one of the speakers called out—"Peace on earth, good will towards men! If Jesus were in London to-day would he be in those churches?"—and the crowd shouted back, "No! he 'd be here!—here with us!"—the effect was dramatic in the extreme.

     When I had been standing in the crowd for some time, I discovered Jo Pennell, the artist, standing near me, and we presently went home together. He lives in the next street to Cowley Street, from which, by the way, I may have to move shortly, as a sister (whom you know) is coming up to town to study music at the Academy.

     I am writing this at the reading room of the British Museum. I must end it rather hurriedly. Don't let me forget to tell you that last night I saw Edward Carpenter—the first time in three years—at a meeting of the Fabian Society, where he lectured. He looks older than he did—more nervous lines in his face. As he is staying in town we shall probably meet again.

     The Scottish Art Review wants me to write an article on The Portraits of Walt Whitman, with portrait reproductions. Can you send any new pictures of yourself? For the present time, so long!




Ernest Rhys.

     The Christmas Eve story hit W. hard. He said: "Its glorious! oh to have been there! Rhys was lucky—that was one sublime moment in a lifetime: think of it! there in the crowd, among the people, with the bells ringing, and that fierce great cry! I can think of nothing to quite match it: it cuts me like a knife: it was something elemental: a tempest call: cyclonic, masterful—yes, threatening. I say threatening: it was most of all that. Some day that tremendous force, now tied up, now held down by its ignorance, will break loose—will overflow everything: sweeping

 
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all opposition before it. Then where will all the king's horses and all the king's men be? all the millionaires' horses and all the millionaires' men? where will they be then? where? where?" He was silent. It was beautiful to hear this strong tender outburst.
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