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CHAPTER XVII THE SECOND BOSTON EDITION
After a winter in Camden, Philadelphia and the country, among friends old and new, Whitman paid his second visit to Boston. The house-tied stationary years of 1873 to 1876 had been succeeded by a period of considerable activity, both mental and physical.

On the 14th of April, he gave his lecture on the “Death of Abraham Lincoln,” at the Hawthorn Rooms.[608] It was the third year of its delivery; on the two previous occasions it had been read in New York and Philadelphia; and he purposed thus annually to commemorate an event which appeared to him as perhaps the most significant of his time, an event which the American people could ill afford to forget.

In Whitman’s view, as we have noted, the assassination of the great President had sealed the million deaths of the war, and cemented, as could nothing else, the union for whose sake they had been given. He believed that future ages would see in it the most dramatic moment of the victorious struggle of the nation against slavery. Rarely hereafter, in spite of increasing feebleness, did he miss the occasion as the season came round; though it was often with difficulty that even a small audience could be gathered for the anniversary.

Among the friends and notables whom he met in Boston was Longfellow, who had already called on him in Camden; and Whitman was warm in eulogies of the[Pg 279] old poet’s courteous manner and personality.[609] Something of the burden of his first prophetic message had lifted from Walt’s shoulders, and with it some of his wrath against the popular poets of America. He had consequently become better able to express his sense of the real value of work like theirs when its secondary place was recognised.

There were others in Boston whom he also now discovered for the first time; notably the women of middle and later life, among whom he rejoiced to find some of those large, vigorous personalities whose absence he had lamented in the West.

In earlier days he had been alienated by the academic and Puritan qualities which still gave its principal colour, especially when seen from New York, to intellectual Boston. But both Boston and Whitman had changed—alike with the war and with the advance of time; the provincialism of the former had given place to broader views, and the nobler identification of New England with the whole interests of the nation; while the latter was now able more generously to estimate even New England’s shortcomings, and to recognise among its people that ardour and yearning for the ideal which had always been theirs, but warmed now and humanised, as he thought, by a new joyousness and breadth of tolerance.[610] He felt a sunshine in the streets, which radiated from the men and women who traversed them. This effusive ardour of public spirit set him thinking of Athens in her golden days; and for the first time he, who had so much of the Greek in his nature, felt himself at home in Boston.

The visit was also memorable to him because it introduced him to the works of Millet, and, one may add, to the emotional significance of painting as an art.[611] As I have before noted, New York only became a centre of art collections in comparatively recent years; and it was probably not till Whitman had sat for two hours before some of the Breton artist’s finest studies in the[Pg 280] house of a Bostonian, that he recognised Painting as the true sister of music and of poetry.

It was fitting that this revelation should have come to the poet of Democracy from such canvasses as that of the first “Sower” and the “Watering the Cow”. Surcharged as they are with a primitive emotion new to modern art, the works of Millet reveal the inner nature of that great Republican peasant people whom Whitman always loved.

Much of the early summer, after his return, was spent at Glendale, whither the family from Whitehorse had now removed, Mr. Stafford having taken the store on the cross-roads, some three or four miles from his old home. Directly opposite to it there stands a Methodist chapel, and often on a Sunday morning the young people would laugh as they heard Walt, in the room above, angrily banging down his window sash at the first clanging of the bell. But behind the chapel is a dense wood, and here he spent many a long, happy day.

The heat of July was, as usual, very trying to him; and at the end of the month he accompanied Dr. Bucke on a visit to his old breezy haunts in Long Island. The farm at West Hills had passed out of the family; Iredwell Whitman, the last of Walt’s uncles to hold it, seems to have sold out about 1835. In the little burying ground there is a stone erected to his daughter Mahala, who died eight years later.[612]

While in Boston he seems to have received propositions from the firm of Osgood and Company for the publication of a definitive edition of the Leaves, and about the beginning of September, after completing his manuscript at the home of his friends, Mr. and (the second) Mrs. Johnston, at Mott Haven, New York,[613] he settled down in the New England capital to read proofs and to enjoy himself.

He stayed at the Bullfinch, close to Bowdoin Square, and frequented the water-side.[614] Often he would take[Pg 281] the cars which run through South Boston to City Point, whose pebbly, crescent beach is lapped forever by the Atlantic ripple. And to this place the lover of Whitman may well follow, for it holds memories of him.

On a summer’s evening, after dark, thousands of young Bostonians gather under the lamps, laughing and talking and listening to the band; but, beyond the zone of lights and mirth and music, one finds oneself at once in a mystical solitude. A long bridge or pier stretches out into the bay, terminating in Castle Island and grim Fort Independence; and wandering out along it, surrounded in every direction by distant lights, the illuminated dome of the State House rising afar in the west, and lights moving to and fro mysteriously upon the water, you feel the night wind blowing cool across the black gulf of sea as it carries to you distant sounds of merry-making. Very far away they seem, thus encircled in mysterious spaces which are peopled by sea voices and the stars. The light surf makes upon the shore its constant and delicious murmur—“death, death, death, death, death”[615]—and the lights and the noises of life, with all its passing show, are mysteriously related in that murmur to the sane, star-lighted silence of eternity.

Whitman walked daily on the Common, watching the friendly grey squirrels, and becoming acquainted with each one in turn of the American elms under which he sat.[616] Timber Creek had deepened his knowledge of the life of trees and little creatures since last he walked here with Emerson.

Emerson, too, he saw once again. Mr. Sanborn, the friend at whose trial he had been present on that former visit,[617] took him out through the suburbs and the wooded country to Concord. It was Indian-summer weather, and the meadows, that late Saturday afternoon, were busy and odorous with haymaking; all things spoke of peace. Emerson came over for the evening to Mr. Sanborn’s house, and the two old friends sat silent in the midst of the talk.

[Pg 282]

Bronson Alcott, who had brought Thoreau to Brooklyn and had once compared Whitman with Plato,[618] was of the company of illustrious and charming neighbours. The others talked, but Emerson leaned back in his chair under the light, a good colour in his old face, and the familiar keenness; and near by sat Walt, satisfied to watch him without words.

On Sunday the Sanborns and he went over to dinner. His place was by Mrs. Emerson, who entertained him with talk of Thoreau, but though he listened with interest, most of his attention belonged to his beloved host. More than ever, if that were possible, did Whitman lovingly recognise the character of his friend. He had not always been just to Emerson,[619] nor had Emerson always maintained his first generosity;[620] each had said of the other words one cannot but regret, but deeper than such words of partial criticism was the comrade-love which united them.

In a letter, written immediately after this visit to his friend Alma Calder, who had recently become the second Mrs. J. H. Johnston, Whitman wrote: “I think Emerson more significant and glorified in his present condition than in any of his former days”.[621]

The whole family was present, and sitting quietly among them Whitman could understand the natural limitations which his household entailed upon the philosopher, and acknowledging these, felt the personal bond stronger than ever. The relation of the two men had been singular as well as noble, for it was the elder who had sought the younger out and affectionately acknowledged him, and through the years that followed the advances had been made by him.

Whitman’s attachment to Emerson had been one of love and reverence for his person, much more than of intellectual affinity. “I think,” he wrote a few years later to his Boston friend, Mr. W. S. Kennedy, “I think I know B. W. E[merson] better than anybody else knows[Pg 283] him—and love him in proportion.”[622] The evidence does not indicate a similar understanding on Emerson’s part, though the love between them was not unequal. To Emerson, as to Tennyson, Whitman remained “a great big something” of undetermined character.

Whitman met many friends, new and old, upon this visit, but of the old, Thoreau had long been dead; and the strong, homely sailor’s face of Father Taylor drew Boston no longer to the Seamen’s Bethel. Whitman himself attracted much attention as he sauntered along among the fashionable shoppers on Washington Street; tall, erect and noble, one could not pass him without notice. I have heard a lady tell how, being familiar with his portraits, she recognised him at once. Seeing him mount a car she followed, taking a seat where for several miles she could, without rudeness, study and enjoy that splendid ruddy face, through which, lamp-like, there shone and glowed an inner light of spiritual ecstasy.

And for Whitman himself, those were happy days.[623] The paralysis and the other ailments, more or less serious and painful, by which it had been enforced, troubled him less than usual. In his little room at Messrs. Rand & Avery’s printing house, or out-of-doors in the woods with a fallen tree for his table,[624] he was revising the proofs of his Leaves with a deliberation and particularity worthy of their final form.

For now this singular book, slowly built up through the continual inspiration, thought and labour of a quarter of a century, had come to its completion, and the final plates were to be cast. Or better, we may say that for the first time it was to be really published, all other efforts in that direction having been but tentative, and more or less unsuccessful. Hitherto, despised and rejected of publishers, it had issued with an innocent air from strange places, unvouched by any name which was recognised by the bookselling world. The edition[Pg 284] of 1860 is the only exception; and almost immediately after its publication, the enterprising house which guaranteed it sank into ruins.[625]

Now at last, the plan of the book had been, as far as health and strength permitted, brought to completion[626]—a plan amended since the previous Boston visit, and qualified to admit those poems which had since been written, and at first designed for a supplementary book. The cargo was filled, and the good ship ready to sail.

After a visit to the Globe Theatre to see Rossi in “Romeo and Juliet,”[627] and a supper with his co-operators, the printers and proof-readers, whose aid he was always eager to acknowledge, Whitman set out again for New York, returning home about the beginning of November. Late in the same month, the book, his vessel as he loved to think of it, set out upon its voyage; but in spite of favourable presages and a happy commencement, it was soon shrouded about in fog, which only yielded to a storm.

Some 2,000 copies were sold during the winter, but early in the New Year (1882)[628] the trouble, which seemed to have passed over when the Postmaster-General decided that the book was not so obscene as to be “unmailable,” began to threaten anew. The Boston District Attorney,[629] urged by certain agents of the Society for the Suppression of Vice—as though, forsooth, vice could be “suppressed”!—objected to the publication, and demanded the withdrawal of certain passages.

Whitman was hardly surprised. He had discussed these passages, or a certain number of them, with his own judgment; and it is possible that Mrs. Gilchrist’s view of them had also appealed to him. In his own judgment they were right, but he seems to have been willing to omit five brief items, amounting in all to nearly a page, from the incriminated “Children of Adam” section, if it would save the edition from further[Pg 285] molestation.[630] These he suggested might be cut out of the plates, and replaced by other cancelling lines which he would substitute. This was early in March.

But the Attorney was not to be so easily satisfied. He demanded the omission of lines in all parts of the volume, amounting to a total of eight or ten pages.[631] This, Whitman emphatically refused; and as neither party would give way, Messrs. Osgood, without testing the case further, threw up their publication on the 9th of April. Their action was scathingly contrasted with that of Woodfall, the publisher of the letters of Junius, and of Mr. Murray, Lord Byron’s publisher, by W. D. O’Connor, in a letter to the New York Tribune. His indignant sense of literary justice had brought him once more to the side of his old friend, and although the former cordial relations seem hardly to have been re-established, the phantasmal but rigid barrier between them was crumbling away.

That Whitman was sorely disappointed by the issue of the affair, goes without saying, for he had counted much upon this edition. But District Attorneys and Societies for the Suppression of Vice were not likely to daunt him.

Binding a number of copies in green cloth, he issued them himself; for Messrs. Osgood had made over to him the printed sheets and plates. At midsummer, he transferred the latter to a Philadelphia firm—afterwards Mr. David McKay—who immediately brought out an edition which sold in a single day.[632] Persecution had, as usual, assisted the cause, and for some months the sale continued brisk, bringing Whitman at the year’s end royalties to the amount of nearly £300.[633]

The Osgood disaster was not the only menace to Whitman’s slender income during these years. The plates of the original Boston edition of 1860 were still[Pg 286] extant, having been bought at auction by a somewhat unscrupulous person, who, in spite of Whitman’s protest, succeeded in putting a number of copies upon the market.

This affair was already worrying Whitman when he lay ill at St. Louis, and it was not till just before the publication of Messrs. Osgood’s edition that some sort of settlement with this Mr. Worthington was effected. The author seems to have accepted a nominal sum by way of royalty,[634] and was dissuaded from seeking the legal redress for which at first he had hoped. The surreptitious sale of this spurious edition was, however, continued till his death.
Picture of Glendale Store, 1904.

GLENDALE STORE, 1904: WHITMAN OCCUPIED ONE OF THE ROOMS LOOKING OUT OVER THE VERANDAH

Much of the winter of 1881 to 1882 had been spent at Glendale; and during the following autumn he was busy with the proofs of Specimen Days and Collect, a volume of about the same size as the Leaves, and similar in appearance, which embraced the bulk of his prose writings up to that time, including a selection from the early tales and sketches. The plan of separation adopted in the Centennial edition, in which the supplementary volume consisted of both prose and verse, was now abandoned, and the whole of Whitman’s verse—with the exception of rejected passages which are numerous—was re-arranged and fitted together into the enlarged scheme of the Leaves.

This new arrangement is not without interest. First comes the prefatory section intended to prepare the reader, and to indicate the character of the book—it belongs largely, in order of time, to the later, more explanatory period. There follows the original poem, now known as “The Song of Myself,” with its assertion of the Divine and final Me—the inherent purpose and personality of the All—and its gospel of Self-Realisation. After this we have the poems of Sex—life’s reproductive energy—by which self-assertion is carried out towards society; and then of comradeship and the social passion.[Pg 287] These complete the first section of the book, and, as it were, bring the individual to his or her majority. Henceforward he is a man and citizen.

There ensues a group of a dozen powerful poems—“The Open Road,” “The Broad-axe” and others—in which the life of ideal American manhood is celebrated, and the conception of America and her needs becomes more and more complete. In “Birds of Passage,” the loins are girded for noble perils, and here the middle of the volume is reached. There follows, “Sea-Drift” and “By the Road-side”; the former, a group of poems contemplative, in middle life, of the mysteries of bereavement and of death; the latter, full of questions, doubts and warnings, leading up to the “Drum-taps,” poems of war, of national consciousness and of political destiny.

“Autumn Rivulets” are discursive and peaceful after the storm; they introduce a group, including “The Passage to India,” in which the unity of the world is emphasised, a unity which is declared simultaneously by Whitman with the utterance of his thoughts of death. In “Whispers of Heavenly Death,” he gives expression to many moods, to insurgent doubts and to triumphant faith. They are followed by an Indian-summer of miscellaneous poems, “From Noon to Starry Night,” and the volume closes with the “Songs of Parting,” and the identical words which in 1860 he had set at the end.

There is little new in the book beyond the arrangement, and careful and final revision and readjustment of all the items to the unity of the whole. The main lines of the edition of 1860 are still followed; but since that version, most of the political poems have been added, and many of those which sing of battle and of death, with a considerable mass of the explanatory and philosophical material natural to later life.

All this has necessarily qualified the earlier work, and has made the task of revision and adjustment necessary. For Whitman had a profound sense of congruity and character, and his alterations were dictated by his original purpose of creating a book which his own soul[Pg 288] might forever joyfully acknowledge and attest, and even perhaps in future ages continue.[635] The book was his body, projected, out of his deepest realisation of himself, into type and paper, and it changed somewhat in all its parts as it grew to completion and became more perfect.


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