Commentary

Disciples

contents   |   previous   |   next
 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 556] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 

 
Friday, January 18, 1889.

     8 P. M. W. lying on bed: not asleep. Did not strike me as extra bright though he was willing to talk and did talk. Not up during my stay. Ed said W. appeared to be

 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 557] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 
as usual to-day, though complaining somewhat of great heaviness of feeling—"as if I was carrying seven or eight hundred pounds on the top of my head." He said nothing of this sort to me: spoke only of "jogging along feebly." Complains of "increased monotonousness": seems to require company to cheer him up: yet can't stand company, which draws too heavily on his nerve power. Said to me: "I made up a bundle of papers to-night intending to send them to Dr. Bucke: then thought you might like to look at them first: held them back. They are across there on the table—a delicate red string about them: rolled." And after I had secured them: "I did not want you to forget to take them—I want them all back: or if you like you may send them off to Bucke yourself: he will want them more than either you or I." He described the contents of the bundle uniquely: "A copy of Poet Lore for one thing: a sort of Browning-Shakespeare hystericality, transcendality, if I may so speak of it: you won't take much stock in it any more than I did: but you will want to read it: there is absolutely nothing in it: but it is a satisfaction sometimes to look into a thing if for no more than to see how valueless it is." Also in bundle a copy of San Francisco Bulletin containing a notice of November Boughs—"sent, evidently, by Charles Eldridge—a notice hardly of moment: one, however, well to know": for it is "about the best thing we can do: keep a sharp eye about to see where are our vulnerabilities." Third paper in bundle Springfield Republican, of the 15th. "It contains some talk about the big book: something Sanborn had done." But when I asked W. is S. had laid himself out on the job he appeared to think not. Said, just as he had said of S.'s letter in regard to the book: "It is pretty good but mild: Sanborn is bound not to be extravagant: keeps himself well in under all circumstances."

     In at McKay's to-day. Saw Boston Traveller containing another review. The Traveller quoted from Sands at Seventy: then said, in substance, "if you call this poetry,

 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 558] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 
well and good, but the Lord save us!" W. laughed: "Well, we must be glad we get off as easy as that." But did I not notice all around "a definite softening of the lines: if not endorsement, at least no longer, or, for the present, not violent assault? Perhaps it is only a truce—the flight to be resumed—but at any rate there is a lull now." It "baffles" W., as he puts it, that his "letters appear to arrive at Bucke's so irregularly.""He writes of three letters coming together. How could that be? Where could they be the time between? I never send them that way: always send them evenings. There was a time I wrote every day. I can't understand: I know the Canadian post officials are very prompt—appear to take a pride in their work." Spoke of Bucke's coming next week or week after—"now at last it would appear to be definitely settled."

     Fire bell up town ringing vigorously as we talked: I went to the window, raised the sash, opened the blinds, looked out: a great light northwest: W. asking me questions: could see nothing from the bed. "Where is it? Can it be serious? What do you make out of it?" &c. McKay already has some orders for complete W. W. Oldach does not appreciate our haste: said to-day, no sample book this week: next week, about Wednesday. McKay thinks Boston Herald review brought him orders. W. asked: "And he don't think the books we have here will do?" I answered that I thought Dave wished the others for the market—regarded them as more sellable. W.: "Well—I suppose so: and, as you say, we must keep Dave in our good graces. Though not eager or worried to sell the books, my chief satisfaction is in the fact that I have them now in that shape—authorized: a certain ideal, warrant, seal, accomplished." Still, he did not object to selling? "Oh no! that part must not be forgotten either: I want to come out whole on what I have put into the books." McKay still argues that the books should be numbered. W. not averse but suggesting that I should do the numbering. Perfectly willing. But I said we should number them, spelling

 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 559] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 
the numbers out: it would give the books more market value. W. said: "I can see no argument against it." I could see no sensational sale for the book anyhow. W.: "Yes—it is not a volume to rush through with a hurrah." McKay asked me to-day what I thought of W.'s invitation to him to bring over his children. I advised yes. W. always intensely interested in Harned's youngsters. McKay remarked great evident change in W. "Noticeable to anyone seeing him only occasionally." Bucke not confident W.'s present condition can last much longer. Told W. a story of last evening. I went directly from him to the boat. I was in the rear, ladies' cabin: no others there: writing my W. notes (did not tell W. what notes). Suddenly a shadow fell on my paper: I did not look up: I was conscious of some one regarding me: then of a sweep about as a man landed in the seat next me on the left: a man full of rum and tobacco: a no-care sort of a fellow. I kept on writing. He spoke to me. He wanted ten cents for lodging, &c. I stopped long enough to say: "You see I am writing: I would rather be let alone"—then to work again: he persisting, however, equally, after I repeated: "I told you I was writing and would rather you let me alone." He now grasped my meaning, got up, went across the cabin to stare at me, then reeled out. I felt disturbed and sad about it afterwards. It seemed to me I was a bit priggish. "Ah!" said W.,—"that is one of the graphic incidents out of life that one cannot well drop or disregard." I asked: "Was I harsh?""Oh no! no! I was not thinking of that: only that it was a temperance lecture among the profoundest that I have known."

     I had read Paumanok this evening. We talked of the poems of that period. "Is there indeed somehow in those poems a weakening of the fibre as Bucke believes?" I dissented: "You are still the same man wrestling with other conditions," I said: "still equally firm, even through Sands at Seventy." W. said that was what he wished it to be. "'Transference,' is the word: not changed—only trans-

 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 560] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 
ferred.""The War deeply engaged me: enlisted all my powers, thoughts, affection: the doubts, anxieties, dubiosities: the tos and fros, the ups and downs, the heres and theres: the sad visions, ever approaching, ever appealing: deeply, unreservedly, commanded me. Life anyhow, particularly life as we live it these modern days—is a going rapidly from one thing to another—incidents, people: a great melange: there is no doubt Leaves of Grass partakes of the character of the time: but whatever the change of position, the man is the same—nothing more is signified for it than transfer, entrance upon other outward contingencies." And again he said: "It means nothing but transfer—simply transfer: I was transferred: perhaps transferred myself."

     Ed had a scare the other day. While at breakfast, about eight, he heard W. knocking vehemently on the floor with his cane. Ed hurried upstairs, wondering if something had happened to W. He asked W.: "How are you this morning, Mr. Whitman?""All right, Eddy: what time is it?" That was all he wanted—the time. Ed relieved. "I thought it was long after nine!" said W. W. on bed this evening during my whole stay. He gave me a couple of "scrap things" as he called them. Directed me to the table to find them. There was a thin string about the papers. I asked: "Shall I take them without reading them?" He shook his head. "No—take them after reading them: reading them to me—aloud." He said: "I wrote things for The Graphic back there, you know. Croly was really good to me." Then he laughed: "See what he says about my proof revisions: he was sore: I don't blame him—do you?" I said: "No editor ever said you wrote bad, did he?""No—they only said I revised too much: that was Croly's grouch: read." I did.


The Daily Graphic, January 19, 1874.




      Walt Whitman: We enclose the proof of your second article; but would much prefer that you should get the

 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 561] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 
copy straight the first time. Such very heavy corrections in proof cause great embarrassment and expense in a newspaper office. We are quite willing to give proofs for verbal corrections; but we do not like to reset and readjust so largely. So please have a care to fix your copy before sending it in.


Yours very truly,


D. S. Croly.

     I said to W.: "I have read you the wrong note. There is your draft of a note to A. K. Butts on the other side of the sheet." W. said: "Neither side is the wrong side, though I have pencilled Croly out. I meant you to read both. The letter to Butts will give you some data on editions." I read again:


Camden Feb. 8, '74.




      To A. K. Butts, O'Kane has undoubtedly sent you all the copies of my books remaining in his possession—he received originally (April 28 '73 from Doolady) 239 Leaves of Grass, 100 As a Strong Bird, 92 Democratic Vistas, 45 Notes by John Burroughs, &c. And since then he has delivered about 30 Leaves of Grass to my order—leaving only 30 or 40 more to be accounted for as sales &c. so that, as just said, he has unquestionably retained none in his possession. As said in my note, you know, (with the exception of about 350 copies As a Strong Bird, which are at my printer's in N. Y., & which I can send you an order for,) you now have all my books in the market. (The last edition you have, L. of G. only consisted of 500 copies, when issued, over a year and a half ago.) Will write you again early this week, anent of your yesterday's letter, offer, &c.


     "What a sweat I used to be in all the time," said W., "over getting my damned books published! When I look back at it I wonder I did n't somewhere or other on the road chuck the whole business into oblivion. Editions!

 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 562] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 
Editions! Editions! like the last extra of a newspaper: an extra after an extra: one issue after another: fifty-five, fifty-six, sixty-one, sixty-seven—oh! edition after edition. Yes, I wonder I never did anything violent with the book, it has so victimized me!" I broke out into a broad "Ha! ha!" He lifted his head—leaned on his elbow. "What the hell! What are you breaking loose about now?""Oh! I was only thinking how the poor victim is still making edition after edition: now, even, in eighty-eight—thirty-three years after fifty-five." W. chuckled over this too. "It does seem rather laughable, don't it? But the fact is, the bug bites: we can't help ourselves: we are in a web—we are moths in flames: all of us: you, too, damn you! you 'll have your bug some day: then maybe you 'll have some sympathy for me!" After a pause: "But you still have another letter: why don't you read it?""You mean O'Connor's letter? Ain't it too long?" He asked: "Was an O'Connor letter ever too long?" I said "no" at once. He added: "William is one of the fascinators: you can't escape him: he fixes his eye on you like the Ancient Mariner: then you are his subject—you do his will. If William had gone like Bob—gone into the cities—talked—well, there would have been another great orator for the world to take account of. Do you ever stop to think how many sorts of greats William might have been if he had not chosen to settle down onto that job at Washington? Oh! this is a wonderful letter. The world does not know William: that 's because the world rarely seems except by and by to know its real inhabitants. The world goes daffy after phantom great men—the noisy epaulette sort: a man has got to set up a howl if he wants people to take him right off: if you have the real stuff in you you've got to wait for it to be recognized: and you are far more likely to die than to live in waiting. But read, Horace: read: I want to hear William: read! read!"
 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 563] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 

Providence, R.I. Mar. 27, 1883.




      Dear Walt: Your gratifying letter of the 25th instant was received last evening. I return the proof herewith. The only corrections I have seen to make are —

     1. Striking out the quotation marks from the declaration of Novalis, which I think was without the quotation marks in The Tribune. I never meant to attribute those words—"the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost"—to Novalis, but only to indicate in that phrase the sense of what he says. The phrase is St. Paul's (I Corinthians, Chap. VI, verse 19) and I think it happily expresses, in epigrammatic form, what Novalis says very grandly, at length, in one of his Fragments. When I get back to Washington, I will get the German book out of the Congressional Library (it has never been translated) and send you a version of some of his splendid sentences; and when I collect my letters into a pamphlet, as I still mean to (much work and Jeannie's illness having prevented) I think I shall put in a note to the passage about Novalis, giving these sentences, lest some one should accuse me of having made the bull of attributing to von Hardanberg what belongs to Paul.

     [W. broke in on my reading: "Stop right there: Horace: there: you notice what he says: that should be done: William's letters should be collected—the Leaves of Grass letters: they would make a marvellous book—an eloquent book. It 's of no importance that they should have been written about me: it 's of every importance that they should have been written by William. Whatever happens to William—whatever to me—God knows, Horace, we are both nearly through with this life—our accounts are nearly closed: whatever happens to us, do you bear O'Connor's desire in mind: you may some day be able to collect these pieces together out of their many forgotten depositories and relight them in a book—make them live again in a book. Bear it in mind, Horace: bear it in mind!" He had lifted himself up on his elbow. He dropped back in the bed. "Go on!" he said.]

 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 564] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 

     II. "The poet, using nuptial imagery, as Isaiah, as Ezekiel," etc. I have changed this to sexual imagery, which is truer to the fact as regards Isaiah and Ezekiel. The word "nuptial" was not well chosen originally.

     ["That 's right, William!" exclaimed W. from the bed: "get right down to the facts—the truth: don't gloss things over: don't beg the supreme questions: there 's no better word than sex when you mean sex!"]

     III. I have put in a row of stars (******) to indicate a break in the extracts. You can strike them out if you choose, for I don't stick on them, but they seem justified.

     That is all. The extracts pleased me greatly. They never seemed less mine than when I read them in this proof, nor ever before so powerful. If ever lighting went into sentences, it is there—although I say it, as should n't! That Tribune letter did good to Leaves of Grass, and I hope so to do good. Dick Spofford told me Oliver Stevens felt "perfectly withered" when he read it. Apropos, he told me that his wife, Harriet Prescott Spofford, says always and everywhere, that you are the only poet that ever lived who has done justice to woman.

     I have drawn a mark and made a ? beside the passage in which Bucke eulogizes me, just to make you consider it. I read it with deep mental acknowledgment to him, but not without some misgivings. Still, it is his tribute, and it is not for me to make objections. I only wish to consider your interests, and should deprecate the introduction of any express statement, which might challenge successful attack by our enemies. I doubt the truth of the statement that I am "a scholar." ["Don't be so sure of that, William! You are not a scholar as scholars go: you are a scholar as scholars do not go, thank God! No, William: you are not that scholar—the dried up mouthpiece of the dead, as our Horace here has said: no: you are the trumpet call of the living: Horace says that of you: God knows you are entitled to it!" W. very earnest. I waited thinking

 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 565] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 
he might say more, but he did n't. I started again.] Alas! I am not, and have had many a moment of bitter sorrow because I am not—because I have never had the chance to be more than a somewhat omniverous and desultory reader. I am afraid, too, that the Doctor overstates my efficiency in Elizabethan letters. I have had some new insight, some novel views, of those books; no more. However, you must judge of the effect of the passage. As I read it my main thought was whether it would do good or harm, and I am still in dubiety on this question.

     I am glad I am to have a revise, for there is one brief correction I want to make, being afraid to let the passage stand as I have it. It is where I mention Bacon as loving to ride at night, uncovered, that he might feel "the spirit of the universe upon his brow." This is from an old note of mine, which I forgot to ascribe to its source, and am unable to verify, though I cannot see how I could have mistaken the matter in my notation. The nearest I can come to it is Aubrey's gossip that he loved to ride, uncovered, in the spring rains, that he might feel upon him the universal spirit of the world—a magnificent anecdote, I think, and quite in keeping with the Shakespeare ideal (isn't it?), but not quite like my version; and I must alter the latter accordingly, for we are going to run a sweet gauntlet of criticism, and must not be laid open any more than can be helped.

     Should n't wonder if the book, and especially my share in it, would make an enormous row!

     ["It did, William!" said W., "and the noise of it has not yet all died out!"]

     The title page is very handsome, and the Lucretian motto delights my soul. I only wish a good prose translation of the lines (Munro's would do) could be slipped in somewhere in the book, (or probably it is better to have the Latin alone on the title page). I have no doubt, as you suggest, that I shall like the book typographically and every other way.

 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 566] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 

     To-day is the day set for Heywood's trial, and cold shivers run over me as I think of it. I can't help some sympathy for the devilish fool, despite the mischief he is likely to do us. ["O William! William! not devilish fool: not that: after all a brave man—a man more sinned against than sinning: I did honor him—yes I did: he was under a cloud not of his own making!"] Dr. Channing and I have concocted a move toward getting a nolle pros, though with small hope of success. In case of conviction, I mean to attempt, with Ashton's help, to get him promptly pardoned, which will break the force of the finding, and paralyze Comstock in his designs against your book. ["And he 's not paralyzed yet!" exclaimed W.: "it 's six years, nearly, and he 's still loose in the country seeking whom he would devour!"] I am horribly anxious. Heywood is a stupendous jackass ["O William! how often I have been called by that pleasant name!"], and has contrived to render almost nugatory the clean victory we won by The Tribune letters. It is too bad.

     More anon. I am glad you keep well.


Faithfully,


W. D. O'Connor.

     W. asked: "Did you ever see anything, anybody, liver than William is when he gets a-goin'? He is beyond being reined in—beyond being nullified. He is not a man, then: he is a force—a driving blast. I suppose you know about that fellow Heywood? He was a free lover: I don't know whether he 's still alive or not: Sidney said he was a brother-in-law or cousin or something of the Concord Hoars: he was really an important man—brave in his view: he was unqualified—went to jail—suffered.""I don't care what idea a man goes to jail for," I said, "going to jail for an idea makes a man: the idea may be false but the man is true." W. said: "Amen to all chapters like that! Well said!" I leaned over W.'s pillow and kissed him goodnight. "God love you!" he said.

contents   |   previous   |   next

Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.