Commentary

Disciples

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Friday, January 4, 1889.

     8 P. M. W. reading. Ed stretched out on sofa lazily regarding him. Everything went well to-day. W. had a

 
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bath. Visitors few. Harry Stafford. One other. Health just about as it has been for a week past. I addressed Ed: "Are you trying to see how he does it?" W. said: "I hope not, I think not: I don't believe Ed is going to worry himself much about writing—literary matters." To W.: "Did you? I guess you did not worry.""No—I cannot say I did: I never prodded myself on: I just let things come—on the fly. Like Topsy in Uncle Tom's Cabin, I just growed." Then he continued: "That made a wonderful good play in its time, did n't it?" It contained "half a dozen good characters," had "very distinct virtues," was "to be credited with a history." W. asked what particular persons or things" I had seen to-day?. Not many. But I had The Ethical Record in my pocket (January issue). Adler's address on The Influence of Manual Training on Character there. W. put on his glasses and looked it over. "That is genuine—that is pointed." It contained an account of the Sunday at Harned's when W. asked: "But what kind of men are you raising here?" Did he remember the day? "Oh—well—well! It was a memorable day." Had he met Adler before that day? He rather thought so: "but if so it was but casually."

     I reminded W. of Adler opposite W. in the parlor: Dudley grown earnest, standing up—back towards the fire—Walt holding his cane: W.'s searching question after Dudley's statistical boasts. "Oh I see it all!" he exclaimed. Asked me about The Record. Was it Adler's "personal mix-up mainly?"—then of the Ethical societies: their purposes, &c. Back again to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Had he ever met her? "No—nor those who knew her, either"—adding, on my reminder, however: "Yes, Henry Ward, of course": and as for the latter: "I have every reason for believing he was a great absorber of Leaves of Grass—that perhaps quite unconsciously he imbibed, accepted, its spirit: molded many of its formulas into his own work. I think I met dozens of people in New York and Brooklyn those days who said to me (it was of a Monday or Tuesday):

 
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'I heard Henry Ward Beecher last night (or night before) and his whole sermon was you, you, you, from top to toe.' I have always said to myself then: Well, this is a sign that we are growing."

     W. asked me to "look out" for The Critic to-morrow. "If you can see it anywhere look if it contains a little poem of mine." I said: "I usually get my copy Saturday anyhow." W.: "Well, look in that: you need not buy me a copy: I shall get one anyhow Sunday or Monday. What I want to know is simply this—whether the poem is there. It is a little matter of eight or nine lines. I am anxious to have Doctor see it: I have slips of it here: if I find it has turned up I shall send a slip to Doctor—not otherwise. It is a point of honor: I argue that the man who pays for an article owns it till it appears: I never till then give copies to any one: never break the rule." Says little to me even about what he writes till it has appeared in print. I suppose this is his strong New Year's poem. I did not ask him.

     Frances Emily White speaks at the Club next Tuesday on the Evolution of Ethics. W.: "You should have Bucke come before you and talk on that subject: give you twenty minutes or so. It would be worth while: he knows it: is full up." I said: "Unfortunately he won't be here till next week." W.: "Well—some other meeting then: arrange for it." I said: "I would rather have him speak on Walt Whitman: Rhys did not treat you radically enough." W.: "No: Rhys could not: I do not count Rhys among my out and out endorsers: Rhys wants the lilt—whatever that is: insists upon it: I have not the lilt, therefore I am not his man." Gilchrist, however, is more positive. "Herbert gets it probably from his mother: there was no compromise in Mrs. Gilchrist's position: it was clean—cut: and she never abandoned it. Did I ever give you a copy of The Radical containing her Woman's Estimate?" He had. I think the first time I took Clifford to see him. "Well—then you know it: it has never been beaten: it stands at the top still." I said: "I think the only thing in you at which

 
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Herbert's admiration halts is your opinion of Shakespeare.""What opinion is that?""The doubt of the Shakespearean authorship.""Oh! I see! I am sorry but it cannot be helped—facts is facts!" He attributed "much of the English feeling on the subject" to "a wholesale patriotism: it is like rushing to the defense of the household: and the defense is often by no means a milk and water one: They get angry: they try to crowd you out: how dare you? what right have you?" Is it necessary to know who wrote the Plays? "No! nor is it. Remember the old Homeric debates: they are about as trivial. I suppose, however, that all such controversy helps things along—some things, anyhow."

     I told him Bucke had finished his W. W. address and would deliver it at Germantown while here. I spoke of it as three quarters of an hour long. "That 's to much," W. said: "cut 'im down! cut 'im down!"—then after a laugh: "I suppose half an hour 's as little as any man could ask and three quarters is not much more." He asked me some questions regarding Bucke's position on W.'s diet. Was Bucke a teetotaler? "Up to two years ago I know he was not—but it may be that he is now: Bucke has always been a temperate man, however—temperate in the real sense." Later: "In fact, I am obeying most of the Doctor's injunctions: I don't eat much—overcrowd: don't drink much—in fact never did: but I do take some—a swig now and then—a swig of sherry: I know the Doctor would not approve of that: I realize that Doctor is right: he has his science reasons for declaring his objections." Here W. paused—looked doubtingly at me. "But still—but still"—which I knew to mean, "but I can't make any absolute rule": told him so: he laughed: acknowledged that was "about the amount of it." Had Walsh recommended the sherry? "No: I don't think he means to: he did at the time I was down: a sherry and milk: but I can only infer now: I know nothing about his present opinions. The Doctor's main purpose now is to give me

 
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strength: to build up the system: and indeed I feel as if it was building up—but very slowly—slowly—slowly. I had my fine bath to-day: no bad results from it—not even weariness: I can well go to the bathroom: the trouble, difficulty, clumsiness, in getting about—it 's rather that than pain."

     W. stopped talking for a while. Then he said: "The big bottle of sherry Harned brought me was downstairs: somebody made love to it: when the bottle came back there was hardly anything in it." Spoke of the comfortable lap-robe: made by George's wife: then described George's occupation—inspector of pipes, &c. "He has been solely occupied with that: years and years now: even to—day New York is putting up some new reservoir: George is inspecting the pipes furnished. It is important: the interests are immense: one of the conditions usually being (or always) that an inspector may be placed on the ground: many of the biggest contracts were given to the Starrs out here."

     W. handed me an old Redpath letter which he said I "might keep." He said: "Redpath was one of the men in at the birth: just see when that was—1860: I had few friends back there: I was practically alone. What Redpath was then he was always: he stayed so: he helped me in many ways: he was not only loyal—he was militantly so: he was a perpetual challenge: he would say: if you don't like this Walt Whitman I'd like to know the reason why: yes, why? why? and he would hold people up—make them stand and deliver. I was never of that sort myself—always felt rather like slinking away: it did not seem to me I could say yes when another man said no: I could live yes, as you say: but I was not disposed to put my confidence in myself into blatant affirmations." I said: "Walt, some people think you blew your own horn a lot—wrote puffs on yourself—sort of attitudinized and called attention to yourself quite a bit." He was quizzy over this. "Do they say so? Do they? Who are some people? What are puffs? I have often talked of myself: I talked of myself

 
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as I would of you: blamed and praised just the same: looked at myself just as if I was somebody else: I am not ashamed of it: I have never praised myself where I would not if I had been somebody else: I have merely looked myself over and repeated candidly what I saw—the mean things and the good things: I did so in the Leaves, I have done so in other places: candidly faced the life in myself—my own possibilities, probabilities: reckoned up my own account, so to speak. I know this is unusual: but is it wrong? Why should not everybody do it? You, anybody? If you did it for the sake of aggrandizing yourself that would be another thing: but doing it simply for the purpose of getting your own weight and measure is as right done for you by yourself as done for you by another." All this time I held the Redpath letter opened in my hand. W. said now: "Read Redpath: it 's playful: it 's valuable for its data and for the unequivocal note it strikes."

Malden, June 25th, 1860.


O rare Walt Whitman!

     I said I would write to you about your Book when I found time to read it as it was written to be read. But I take back my promise. For if you are not sane what will writing avail? and if you are sane your writings are alive with richest sanity. Now, if I do not understand them, or any parts of them, what good will it do to say so—silence, it seems to me, is a duty till I do understand them; and then again, if I do understand them, or when I shall do so, what good will it do to tell you of the fact? It is a waste of breath for my friend to tell me I am healthy when my pulse records the circumstance so often every minute.

     I love you, Walt! A Conquering Brigade will ere long march to the music of your barbaric jawp. Ever and truly




James Redpath.

     Redpath's letter was addressed to W. in Brooklyn. W. said: "It 's a jolly letter: underneath its little pleasantry,

 
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jokiness, was a conviction: Jim held on to that—was loyally my friend when I had no friends to spare." I asked: "Have you friends to spare to-day?" He said: "No friends: a few flatterers, perhaps." Then: "Jim brings in his little fun about my sanity: well, so it goes: I got a letter from a doctor up in New England—a small town—he was an elietist or something: he assured me that there was a screw loose in me somewhere: he said I was a subject for a pathologist—that he had gone into Leaves of Grass definitively: that nothing else could explain its jumble of sense of nonsense, of the sublime and the ignoble: that I assuredly had a squirt or two of talent but that on the whole I was simply a verbose windbag. I was amused over his letter: I 'll find it some day: I want you to have it. He said he had once talked with Emerson about his theory and that Emerson said it was very likely true. In one of my meetings with Emerson I alluded to the thing in an airy sort of way: he denied all knowledge of such a person. Emerson said: 'I have been so often called insane myself I always feel very closely drawn to the insane': which was very cute." No letter from Bucke. Had read neither Tolstoy nor Carlyle to-day.
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