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Complete Prose Works by Walt Whitman

Part 10 out of 13

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poor poet. He was indeed poor; often he had no certainty whether he
should be able to procure the next day's meals. And the poet knew
the beauty of truth, and adored, not in the abstract merely, but in
practice, the excellence of upright principles.

Night came. Lingave, wearied, lay upon his pallet again and slept. The
misty veil thrown over him, the spirit of poesy came to his visions,
and stood beside him, and look'd down pleasantly with her large eyes,
which were bright and liquid like the reflection of stars in a lake.

Virtue, (such imagining, then, seem'd conscious to the soul of the
dreamer,) is ever the sinew of true genius. Together, the two in one,
they are endow'd with immortal strength, and approach loftily to Him
from whom both spring. Yet there are those that having great powers,
bend them to the slavery of wrong. God forgive them! for they surely
do it ignorantly or heedlessly. Oh, could he who lightly tosses around
him the seeds of evil in his writings, or his enduring thoughts, or
his chance words--could he see how, haply, they are to spring up
in distant time and poison the air, and putrefy, and cause to
sicken--would he not shrink back in horror? A bad principle, jestingly
spoken--a falsehood, but of a word--may taint a whole nation! Let the
man to whom the great Master has given the might of mind, beware how
he uses that might. If for the furtherance of bad ends, what can
be expected but that, as the hour of the closing scene draws nigh,
thoughts of harm done, and capacities distorted from their proper aim,
and strength so laid out that men must be worse instead of better,
through the exertion of that strength--will come and swarm like
spectres around him?

"Be and continue poor, young man," so taught one whose counsels should
be graven on the heart of every youth, "while others around you grow
rich by fraud and disloyalty. Be without place and power, while others
beg their way upward. Bear the pain of disappointed hopes, while
others gain the accomplishment of their flattery. Forego the gracious
pressure of a hand, for which others cringe and crawl. Wrap
yourself in your own virtue, and seek a friend and your daily bread.
If you have, in such a course, grown gray with unblench'd honor, bless
God and die."

When Lingave awoke the next morning, he despatch'd his answer to his
wealthy friend, and then plodded on as in the days before.


"Lift up!" was ejaculated as a signal! and click! went the glasses in
the hands of a party of tipsy men, drinking one night at the bar
of one of the middling order of taverns. And many a wild gibe was
utter'd, and many a terrible blasphemy, and many an impure phrase
sounded out the pollution of the hearts of these half-crazed
creatures, as they toss'd down their liquor, and made the walls echo
with their uproar. The first and foremost in recklessness was a
girlish-faced, fair-hair'd fellow of twenty-two or three years. They
called him Mike. He seem'd to be look'd upon by the others as a sort
of prompter, from whom they were to take cue. And if the brazen
wickedness evinced by him in a hundred freaks and remarks to his
companions, during their stay in that place, were any test of his
capacity--there might hardly be one more fit to go forward as a guide
on the road of destruction. From the conversation of the party, it
appear'd that they had been spending the early part of the evening in
a gambling house.

A second, third and fourth time were the glasses fill'd; and the
effect thereof began to be perceiv'd in a still higher degree of noise
and loquacity among the revellers. One of the serving-men came in
at this moment, and whisper'd the barkeeper, who went out, and in a
moment return'd again. "A person," he said, "wish'd to speak with Mr.
Michael. He waited on the walk in front."

The individual whose name was mention'd, made his excuses to the
others, telling them he would be back in a moment, and left the room.
As he shut the door behind him, and stepp'd into the open air, he saw
one of his brothers--his elder by eight or ten years--pacing to and
fro with rapid and uneven steps. As the man turn'd in his walk,
and the glare of the street lamp fell upon his face, the youth,
half-benumb'd as his senses were, was somewhat startled at its
paleness and evident perturbation. "Come with me!" said the elder
brother, hurriedly, "the illness of our little Jane is worse, and I
have been sent for you."

"Poh!" answered the young drunkard, very composedly, "is that all? I
shall be home by-and-by," and he turn'd back again.

"But, brother, she is worse than ever before. Perhaps when you arrive
she may be dead."

The tipsy one paus'd in his retreat, perhaps alarm'd at the utterance
of that dread word, which seldom fails to shoot a chill to the hearts
of mortals. But he soon calm'd himself, and waving his hand to the
other: "Why, see," said he, "a score of times at least, have I been
call'd away to the last sickness of our good little sister; and each
time it proves to be nothing worse than some whim of the nurse or
physician. Three years has the girl been able to live very heartily
under her disease; and I'll be bound she'll stay on earth three years

And as he concluded this wicked and most brutal reply, the speaker
open'd the door and went into the bar-room. But in his intoxication,
during the hour that follow'd, Mike was far from being at ease. At
the end of that hour, the words, "perhaps when you arrive she may be
_dead_?" were not effaced from his hearing yet, and he started for
home. The elder brother had wended his way back in sorrow.

Let me go before the younger one, awhile, to a room in that home. A
little girl lay there dying. She had been ill a long time; so it was
no sudden thing for her parents, and her brethren and sisters, to be
called for the witness of the death agony. The girl was not what might
be called beautiful. And yet, there is a solemn kind of loveliness
that always surrounds a sick child. The sympathy for the weak and
helpless sufferer, perhaps, increases it in our own ideas. The
ashiness and the moisture on the brow, and the film over the
eyeballs--what man can look upon the sight, and not feel his heart
awed within him? Children, I have sometimes fancied too, increase in
beauty as their illness deepens.

Besides the nearest relatives of little Jane, standing round her
bedside, was the family doctor. He had just laid her wrist down upon
the coverlet, and the look he gave the mother, was a look in which
there was no hope. "My child!" she cried, in uncontrollable agony, "O!
my child!" And the father, and the sons and daughters, were bowed down
in grief, and thick tears rippled between the fingers held before
their eyes.

Then there was silence awhile. During the hour just by-gone, Jane had,
in her childish way, bestow'd a little gift upon each of her kindred,
as a remembrancer when she should be dead and buried in the grave.
And there was one of these simple tokens which had not reach'd
its destination. She held it in her hand now. It was a very small
much-thumbed book--a religious story for infants, given her by her
mother when she had first learn'd to read.

While they were all keeping this solemn stillness-broken only by the
suppress'd sobs of those who stood and watch'd for the passing away of
the girl's soul--a confusion of some one entering rudely, and speaking
in a turbulent voice, was heard in an adjoining apartment. Again the
voice roughly sounded out; it was the voice of the drunkard Mike, and
the father bade one of his sons go and quiet the intruder "If nought
else will do," said he sternly, "put him forth by strength. We want no
tipsy brawlers here, to disturb such a scene as this." For what
moved the sick girl uneasily on her pillow, and raised her neck, and
motion'd to her mother? She would that Mike should be brought to her
side. And it was enjoin'd on him whom the father had bade to eject the
noisy one, that he should tell Mike his sister's request, and beg him
to come to her.

He came. The inebriate--his mind sober'd by the deep solemnity of the
scene--stood there, and leaned over to catch the last accounts of one
who soon was to be with the spirits of heaven. All was the silence of
the deepest night. The dying child held the young man's hand in one of
hers; with the other she slowly lifted the trifling memorial she had
assigned especially for him, aloft in the air. Her arm shook--her
eyes, now becoming glassy with the death-damps, were cast toward her
brother's face. She smiled pleasantly, and as an indistinct gurgle
came from her throat, the uplifted hand fell suddenly into the open
palm of her brother's, depositing the tiny volume there. Little Jane
was dead.

From that night, the young man stepped no more in his wild courses,
but was reform'd.


Not many years since--and yet long enough to have been before the
abundance of railroads, and similar speedy modes of conveyance--the
travelers from Amboy village to the metropolis of our republic were
permitted to refresh themselves, and the horses of the stage had a
breathing spell, at a certain old-fashion'd tavern, about half way
between the two places. It was a quaint, comfortable, ancient house,
that tavern. Huge buttonwood trees embower'd it round about, and there
was a long porch in front, the trellis'd work whereof, though old and
moulder'd, had been, and promised still to be for years, held together
by the tangled folds of a grape vine wreath'd about it like a
tremendous serpent.

How clean and fragrant everything was there! How bright the pewter
tankards wherefrom cider or ale went into the parch'd throat of the
thirsty man! How pleasing to look into the expressive eyes of Kate,
the land-lord's lovely daughter, who kept everything so clean and

Now the reason why Kate's eyes had become so expressive was, that,
besides their proper and natural office, they stood to the poor girl
in the place of tongue and ears also. Kate had been dumb from her
birth. Everybody loved the helpless creature when she was a child.
Gentle, timid, and affectionate was she, and beautiful as the lilies
of which she loved to cultivate so many every summer in her garden.
Her light hair, and the like-color'd lashes, so long and silky, that
droop'd over her blue eyes of such uncommon size and softness--her
rounded shape, well set off by a little modest art of dress--her
smile--the graceful ease of her motions, always attracted the
admiration of the strangers who stopped there, and were quite a pride
to her parents and friends.

How could it happen that so beautiful and inoffensive a being should
taste, even to its dregs, the bitterest unhappiness? Oh, there must
indeed be a mysterious, unfathomable meaning in the decrees of
Providence which is beyond the comprehension of man; for no one on
earth less deserved or needed "the uses of adversity" than Dumb Kate.
Love, the mighty and lawless passion, came into the sanctuary of the
maid's pure breast, and the dove of peace fled away forever.

One of the persons who had occasion to stop most frequently at the
tavern kept by Dumb Kate's parents was a young man, the son of a
wealthy farmer, who own'd an estate in the neighborhood. He saw Kate,
and was struck with her natural elegance. Though not of thoroughly
wicked propensities, the fascination of so fine a prize made this
youth determine to gain her love, and, if possible, to win her to
himself. At first he hardly dared, even amid the depths of his own
soul, to entertain thoughts of vileness against one so confiding and
childlike. But in a short time such feelings wore away, and he made up
his mind to become the betrayer of poor Kate. He was a good-looking
fellow, and made but too sure of his victim. Kate was lost!

The villain came to New York soon after, and engaged in a business
which prosper'd well, and which has no doubt by this time made him
what is call'd a man of fortune.

Not long did sickness of the heart wear into the life and happiness of
Dumb Kate. One pleasant spring day, the neighbors having been called
by a notice the previous morning, the old churchyard was thrown open,
and a coffin was borne over the early grass that seem'd so delicate
with its light green hue. There was a new made grave, and by its side
the bier was rested--while they paused a moment until holy words had
been said. An idle boy, call'd there by curiosity, saw something lying
on the fresh earth thrown out from the grave, which attracted his
attention. A little blossom, the only one to be seen around, had grown
exactly on the spot where the sexton chose to dig poor Kate's last
resting-place. It was a weak but lovely flower, and now lay where it
had been carelessly toss'd amid the coarse gravel. The boy twirl'd it
a moment in his fingers--the bruis'd fragments gave out a momentary
perfume, and then fell to the edge of the pit, over which the child at
that moment lean'd and gazed in his inquisitiveness. As they dropp'd,
they were wafted to the bottom of the grave. The last look was
bestow'd on the dead girl's face by those who loved her so well in
life, and then she was softly laid away to her sleep beneath that
green grass covering.

Yet in the churchyard on the hill is Kate's grave. There stands a
little white stone at the head, and verdure grows richly there;
and gossips, some-times of a Sabbath afternoon, rambling over that
gathering-place of the gone from earth, stop a while, and con over the
dumb girl's hapless story.


_A Brooklyn fragment_

It is a beautiful truth that all men contain something of the artist
in them. And perhaps it is the case that the greatest artists live and
die, the world and themselves alike ignorant what they possess.
Who would not mourn that an ample palace, of surpassingly graceful
architecture, fill'd with luxuries, and embellish'd with fine pictures
and sculpture, should stand cold and still and vacant, and never be
known or enjoy'd by its owner? Would such a fact as this cause your
sadness? Then be sad. For there is a palace, to which the courts of
the most sumptuous kings are but a frivolous patch, and, though it is
always waiting for them, not one of its owners ever enters there with
any genuine sense of its grandeur and glory.

I think of few heroic actions, which cannot be traced to the
artistical impulse. He who does great deeds, does them from his innate
sensitiveness to moral beauty. Such men are not merely artists, they
are also artistic material. Washington in some great crisis, Lawrence
on the bloody deck of the Chesapeake, Mary Stuart at the block,
Kossuth in captivity, and Mazzini in exile--all great rebels and
innovators, exhibit the highest phases of the artist spirit. The
painter, the sculptor, the poet, express heroic beauty better in
description; but the others _are_ heroic beauty, the best belov'd of

Talk not so much, then, young artist, of the great old masters, who
but painted and chisell'd. Study not only their productions. There is
a still higher school for him who would kindle his fire with coal from
the altar of the loftiest and purest art. It is the school of all
grand actions and grand virtues, of heroism, of the death of patriots
and martyrs--of all the mighty deeds written in the pages of
history--deeds of daring, and enthusiasm, devotion, and fortitude.


"_Guilty of the body and the blood of Christ_."


Of olden time, when it came to pass
That the beautiful god, Jesus, should finish his work on earth,
Then went Judas, and sold the divine youth,
And took pay for his body.

Curs'd was the deed, even before the sweat of the clutching hand
grew dry;
And darkness frown'd upon the seller of the like of God,
Where, as though earth lifted her breast to throw him from her,
and heaven refused him,
He hung in the air, self-slaughter'd.

The cycles, with their long shadows, have stalk'd silently forward,
Since those ancient days--many a pouch enwrapping meanwhile
Its fee, like that paid for the son of Mary.

And still goes one, saying,
"What will ye give me, and I will deliver this man unto you?"
And they make the covenant, and pay the pieces of silver.


Look forth, deliverer,
Look forth, first-born of the dead,
Over the tree-tops of Paradise;
See thyself in yet continued bonds,
Toilsome and poor, thou bear'st man's form again,
Thou art reviled, scourged, put into prison,
Hunted from the arrogant equality of the rest;
With staves and swords throng the willing servants of authority,
Again they surround thee, mad with devilish spite;
Toward thee stretch the hands of a multitude, like vultures' talons,
The meanest spit in thy face, they smite thee with their palms;
Bruised, bloody, and pinion'd is thy body,
More sorrowful than death is thy soul.

Witness of anguish, brother of slaves,
Not with thy price closed the price of thine image:
And still Iscariot plies his trade.

_April, 1843_.



_"And one shall say unto him. What are these wounds in thy hands? Then
he shall answer Those with which I was wounded in the house of my
friends."--Zechariah, xiii. 6._

If thou art balk'd, O Freedom,
The victory is not to thy manlier foes;
From the house of friends comes the death stab.

Virginia, mother of greatness,
Blush not for being also mother of slaves;
You might have borne deeper slaves--
Doughfaces, crawlers, lice of humanity--
Terrific screamers of freedom,
Who roar and bawl, and get hot i' the face,
But were they not incapable of august crime,
Would quench the hopes of ages for a drink--
Muck-worms, creeping flat to the ground,
A dollar dearer to them than Christ's blessing;
All loves, all hopes, less than the thought of gain,
In life walking in that as in a shroud;
Men whom the throes of heroes,
Great deeds at which the gods might stand appal'd,
The shriek of the drown'd, the appeal of women,
The exulting laugh of untied empires,
Would touch them never in the heart,
But only in the pocket.

Hot-headed Carolina,
Well may you curl your lip;
With all your bondsmen, bless the destiny
Which brings you no such breed as this.

Arise, young North!
Our elder blood flows in the veins of cowards:
The gray-hair'd sneak, the blanch'd poltroon,
The feign'd or real shiverer at tongues,
That nursing babes need hardly cry the less for--
Are they to be our tokens always?


Vast and starless, the pall of heaven
Laps on the trailing pall below;
And forward, forward, in solemn darkness,
As if to the sea of the lost we go.

Now drawn nigh the edge of the river,
Weird-like creatures suddenly rise;
Shapes that fade, dissolving outlines
Baffle the gazer's straining eyes.

Towering upward and bending forward,
Wild and wide their arms are thrown,
Ready to pierce with forked fingers
Him who touches their realm upon.

Tide of youth, thus thickly planted,
While in the eddies onward you swim,
Thus on the shore stands a phantom army,
Lining forever the channel's rim.

Steady, helmsman! you guide the immortal;
Many a wreck is beneath you piled,
Many a brave yet unwary sailor
Over these waters has been beguiled.

Nor is it the storm or the scowling midnight,
Cold, or sickness, or fire's dismay--
Nor is it the reef, or treacherous quicksand,
Will peril you most on your twisted way.

But when there comes a voluptuous languor,
Soft the sunshine, silent the air,
Bewitching your craft with safety and sweetness,
Then, young pilot of life, beware.



_Past, Present and Future_

Welcome to them each and all! They do good--the deepest, widest, most
needed good--though quite certainly not in the ways attempted--which
have, at times, something irresistibly comic. What can be more
farcical, for instance, than the sight of a worthy gentleman
coming three or four thousand miles through wet and wind to speak
complacently and at great length on matters of which he both entirely
mistakes or knows nothing--before crowds of auditors equally
complacent, and equally at fault?

Yet welcome and thanks, we say, to those visitors we have, and have
had, from abroad among us--and may the procession continue! We have
had Dickens and Thackeray, Froude, Herbert Spencer, Oscar Wilde, Lord
Coleridge--soldiers, savants, poets--and now Matthew Arnold and Irving
the actor. Some have come to make money--some for a "good time"--some
to help us along and give us advice--and some undoubtedly to
investigate, _bona fide_, this great problem, democratic America,
looming upon the world with such cumulative power through a hundred
years, now with the evident intention (since the secession war)
to stay, and take a leading hand, for many a century to come, in
civilization's and humanity's eternal game. But alas! that very
investigation--the method of that investigation--is where the deficit
most surely and helplessly comes in. Let not Lord Coleridge and Mr.
Arnold (to say nothing of the illustrious actor) imagine that when
they have met and survey'd the etiquettical gatherings of our wealthy,
distinguish'd and sure-to-be-put-forward-on-such-occasions citizens
(New York, Boston, Philadelphia, &c., have certain stereotyped strings
of them, continually lined and paraded like the lists of dishes at
hotel tables--you are sure to get the same over and over again--it is
very amusing)--and the bowing and introducing, the receptions at
the swell clubs, the eating and drinking and praising and praising
back--and the next "day riding about Central Park, or doing the"
Public Institutions "--and so passing through, one after another,
the full-dress coteries of the Atlantic cities, all grammatical and
cultured and correct, with the toned-down manners of the gentlemen,
and the kid-gloves, and luncheons and finger-glasses--Let not our
eminent visitors, we say, suppose that, by means of these experiences,
they have "seen America," or captur'd any distinctive clew or purport
thereof. Not a bit of it. Of the pulse-beats that lie within and
vitalize this Commonweal to-day--of the hard-pan purports and
idiosyncrasies pursued faithfully and triumphantly by its bulk of
men North and South, generation after generation, superficially
unconscious of their own aims, yet none the less pressing onward
with deathless intuition--those coteries do not furnish the faintest
scintilla. In the Old World the best flavor and significance of a
race may possibly need to be look'd for in its "upper classes," its
gentries, its court, its _etat major_. In the United States the rule
is revers'd. Besides (and a point, this, perhaps deepest of all,)
the special marks of our grouping and design are not going to be
understood in a hurry. The lesson and scanning right on the ground are
difficult; I was going to say they are impossible to foreigners--but I
have occasionally found the clearest appreciation of all, coming from
far-off quarters. Surely nothing could be more apt, not only for our
eminent visitors present and to come, but for home study, than the
following editorial criticism of the London _Times_ on Mr. Froude's
visits and lectures here a few years ago, and the culminating dinner
given at Delmonico's, with its brilliant array of guests:

"We read the list," says the _Times_, "of those who assembled to do
honor to Mr. Froude: there were Mr. Emerson, Mr. Beecher, Mr. Curtis,
Mr. Bryant; we add the names of those who sent letters of regret that
they could not attend in person--Mr. Longfellow, Mr. Whittier. They
are names which are well known--almost as well known and as much
honor'd in England as in America; and yet what must we say in the end?
The American people outside this assemblage of writers is something
vaster and greater than they, singly or together, can comprehend. It
cannot be said of any or all of them that they can speak for their
nation. We who look on at this distance are able perhaps on that
account to see the more clearly that there are qualities of the
American people which find no representation, no voice, among these
their spokesmen. And what is true of them is true of the English class
of whom Mr. Froude may be said to be the ambassador. Mr. Froude is
master of a charming style. He has the gift of grace and the gift of
sympathy. Taking any single character as the subject of his study, he
may succeed after a very short time in so comprehending its workings
as to be able to present a living figure to the intelligence and
memory of his readers. But the movements of a nation, the, _voiceless
purpose of a people which cannot put its own thoughts into words, yet
acts upon them in each successive generation_--these things do not lie
within his grasp.... The functions of literature such as he represents
are limited in their action; the influence he can wield is artificial
and restricted, and, while he and his hearers please and are pleas'd
with pleasant periods, his great mass of national life will flow
around them unmov'd in its tides by action as powerless as that of the
dwellers by the shore to direct the currents of the ocean."

A thought, here, that needs to be echoed, expanded, permanently
treasur'd by our literary classes and educators. (The gestation, the
youth, the knitting preparations, are now over, and it is full time
for definite purpose, result.) How few think of it, though it is the
impetus and background of our whole Nationality and popular life. In
the present brief memorandum I very likely for the first time awake
"the intelligent reader" to the idea and inquiry whether there isn't
such a thing as the distinctive genius of our democratic New World,
universal, immanent, bringing to a head the best experience of the
past--not specially literary or intellectual--not merely "good," (in
the Sunday School and Temperance Society sense,)-some invisible spine
and great sympathetic to these States, resident only in the average
people, in their practical life, in their physiology, in their
emotions, in their nebulous yet fiery patriotism, in the armies (both
sides) through the whole secession war--an identity and character
which indeed so far "finds no voice among their spokesmen."

To my mind America, vast and fruitful as it appears to-day, is even
yet, for its most important results, entirely in the tentative state;
its very formation-stir and whirling trials and essays more splendid
and picturesque, to my thinking, than the accomplish'd growths and
shows of other lands, through European history, or Greece, or all the
past. Surely a New World literature, worthy the name, is not to be,
if it ever comes, some fiction, or fancy, or bit of sentimentalism or
polish'd work merely by itself, or in abstraction. So long as such
literature is no born branch and offshoot of the Nationality, rooted
and grown from its roots, and fibred with its fibre, it can never
answer any deep call or perennial need. Perhaps the untaught Republic
is wiser than its teachers. The best literature is always a result of
something far greater than itself--not the hero, but the portrait of
the hero. Before there can be recorded history or poem there must
be the transaction. Beyond the old masterpieces, the Iliad, the
interminable Hindu epics, the Greek tragedies, even the Bible itself,
range the immense facts of what must have preceded them, their _sine
qua non_--the veritable poems and masterpieces, of which, grand as
they are, the word-statements are but shreds and cartoons.

For to-day and the States, I think the vividest, rapidest, most
stupendous processes ever known, ever perform'd by man or nation,
on the largest scales and in countless varieties, are now and here
presented. Not as our poets and preachers are always conventionally
putting it--but quite different. Some colossal foundry, the flaming
of the fire, the melted metal, the pounding trip-hammers, the surging
crowds of workmen shifting from point to point, the murky shadows,
the rolling haze, the discord, the crudeness, the deafening din, the
disorder, the dross and clouds of dust, the waste and extravagance
of material, the shafts of darted sunshine through the vast open
roof-scuttles aloft-the mighty castings, many of them not yet fitted,
perhaps delay'd long, yet each in its due time, with definite place
and use and meaning--Such, more like, is a symbol of America.

After all of which, returning to our starting-point, we reiterate, and
in the whole Land's name, a welcome to our eminent guests. Visits like
theirs, and hospitalities, and hand-shaking, and face meeting face,
and the distant brought near--what divine solvents they are! Travel,
reciprocity, "interviewing," intercommunion of lands--what are they
but Democracy's and the highest Law's best aids? O that our own
country--that every land in the world--could annually, continually,
receive the poets, thinkers, scientists, even the official magnates,
of other lands, as honor'd guests. O that the United States,
especially the West, could have had a good long visit and explorative
jaunt, from the noble and melancholy Tourgueneff, before he died--or
from Victor Hugo--or Thomas Carlyle. Castelar, Tennyson, any of the
two or three great Parisian essayists--were they and we to come face
to face, how is it possible but that the right understanding would


I suppose one cannot at this day say anything new, from a literary
point of view, about those autochthonic bequests of Asia--the Hebrew
Bible, the mighty Hindu epics, and a hundred lesser but typical
works; (not now definitely including the Iliad--though that work was
certainly of Asiatic genesis, as Homer himself was--considerations
which seem curiously ignored.) But will there ever be a time or
place--ever a student, however modern, of the grand art, to whom those
compositions will not afford profounder lessons than all else of their
kind in the garnerage of the past? Could there be any more opportune
suggestion, to the current popular writer and reader of verse, what
the office of poet was in primeval times--and is yet capable of being,
anew, adjusted entirely to the modern?

All the poems of Orientalism, with the Old and New Testaments at the
centre, tend to deep and wide, (I don't know but the deepest and
widest,) psychological development--with little, or nothing at all, of
the mere esthetic, the principal verse-requirement of our day. Very
late, but unerringly, comes to every capable student the perception
that it is not in beauty, it is not in art, it is not even in science,
that the profoundest laws of the case have their eternal sway and

In his discourse on "Hebrew Poets" De Sola Mendes said: "The
fundamental feature of Judaism, of the Hebrew nationality, was
religion; its poetry was naturally religious. Its subjects, God and
Providence, the covenants with Israel, God in Nature, and as reveal'd,
God the Creator and Governor, Nature in her majesty and beauty,
inspired hymns and odes to Nature's God. And then the checker'd
history of the nation furnish'd allusions, illustrations, and subjects
for epic display--the glory of the sanctuary, the offerings, the
splendid ritual, the Holy City, and lov'd Palestine with its pleasant
valleys and wild tracts." Dr. Mendes said "that rhyming was not a
characteristic of Hebrew poetry at all. Metre was not a necessary mark
of poetry. Great poets discarded it; the early Jewish poets knew it
not." Compared with the famed epics of Greece, and lesser ones since,
the spinal supports of the Bible are simple and meagre. All its
history, biography, narratives, &c., are as beads, strung on and
indicating the eternal thread of the Deific purpose and power. Yet
with only deepest faith for impetus, and such Deific purpose for
palpable or impalpable theme, it often transcends the masterpieces of
Hellas, and all masterpieces.

The metaphors daring beyond account, the lawless soul, extravagant
by our standards, the glow of love and friendship, the fervent
kiss--nothing in argument or logic, but unsurpass'd in proverbs, in
religious ecstasy, in suggestions of common mortality and death, man's
great equalizers--the spirit everything, the ceremonies and forms
of the churches nothing, faith limitless, its immense sensuousness
immensely spiritual--an incredible, all-inclusive non-worldliness
and dew-scented illiteracy (the antipodes of our Nineteenth Century
business absorption and morbid refinement)--no hair-splitting doubts,
no sickly sulking and sniffling, no "Hamlet," no "Adonais," no
"Thanatopsis," no "In Memoriam."

The culminated proof of the poetry of a country is the quality of its
personnel, which, in any race, can never be really superior without
superior poems. The finest blending of individuality with universality
(in my opinion nothing out of the galaxies of the "Iliad," or
Shakspere's heroes, or from the Tennysonian "Idylls," so lofty,
devoted and starlike,) typified in the songs of those old Asiatic
lands. Men and women as great columnar trees. Nowhere else the
abnegation of self towering in such quaint sublimity; nowhere else
the simplest human emotions conquering the gods of heaven, and
fate itself. (The episode, for instance, toward the close of the
"Mahabharata"--the journey of the wife Savitri with the god of death,

"One terrible to see--blood-red his garb,
His body huge and dark, bloodshot his eyes,
Which flamed like suns beneath his turban cloth,
Arm'd was he with a noose,"

who carries off the soul of the dead husband, the wife tenaciously
following, and--by the resistless charm of perfect poetic
recitation!-- eventually redeeming her captive mate.)

I remember how enthusiastically William H. Seward, in his last days,
once expatiated on these themes, from his travels in Turkey, Egypt,
and Asia Minor, finding the oldest Biblical narratives exactly
illustrated there to-day with apparently no break or change along
three thousand years--the veil'd women, the costumes, the gravity and
simplicity, all the manners just the same. The veteran Trelawney said
he found the only real _nobleman_ of the world in a good average
specimen of the mid-aged or elderly Oriental. In the East the grand
figure, always leading, is the _old man_, majestic, with flowing
beard, paternal, &c. In Europe and America, it is, as we know, the
young fellow--in novels, a handsome and interesting hero, more or less
juvenile--in operas, a tenor with blooming cheeks, black mustache,
superficial animation, and perhaps good lungs, but no more depth than
skim-milk. But reading folks probably get their information of those
Bible areas and current peoples, as depicted in print by English and
French cads, the most shallow, impudent, supercilious brood on earth.

I have said nothing yet of the cumulus of associations (perfectly
legitimate parts of its influence, and finally in many respects the
dominant parts,) of the Bible as a poetic entity, and of every portion
of it. Not the old edifice only--the congeries also of events and
struggles and surroundings, of which it has been the scene and
motive--even the horrors, dreads, deaths. How many ages and
generations have brooded and wept and agonized over this book!
What untellable joys and ecstasies--what support to martyrs at the
stake--from it. (No really great song can ever attain full purport
till long after the death of its singer--till it has accrued and
incorporated the many passions, many joys and sorrows, it has
itself arous'd.) To what myriads has it been the shore and rock of
safety--the refuge from driving tempest and wreck! Translated in all
languages, how it has united this diverse world! Of civilized lands
to-day, whose of our retrospects has it not interwoven and link'd
and permeated? Not only does it bring us what is clasp'd within its
covers; nay, that is the least of what it brings. Of its thousands,
there is not a verse, not a word, but is thick-studded with human
emotions, successions of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, of
our own antecedents, inseparable from that background of us, on which,
phantasmal as it is, all that we are to-day inevitably depends--our
ancestry, our past.

Strange, but true, that the principal factor in cohering the nations,
eras and paradoxes of the globe, by giving them a common platform
of two or three great ideas, a commonalty of origin, and projecting
kosmic brotherhood, the dream of all hope, all time--that the long
trains gestations, attempts and failures, resulting in the New World,
and in modern solidarity and politics--are to be identified and
resolv'd back into a collection of old poetic lore, which, more than
any one thing else, has been the axis of civilization and history
through thousands of years--and except for which this America of ours,
with its polity and essentials, could not now be existing.

No true bard will ever contravene the Bible. If the time ever comes
when iconoclasm does its extremest in one direction against the Books
of the Bible in its present form, the collection must still survive in
another, and dominate just as much as hitherto, or more than hitherto,
through its divine and primal poetic structure. To me, that is the
living and definite element-principle of the work, evolving everything
else. Then the continuity; the oldest and newest Asiatic utterance and
character, and all between, holding together, like the apparition of
the sky, and coming to us the same. Even to our Nineteenth Century
here are the fountain heads of song.


I have never heard but one essentially perfect orator--one who
satisfied those depths of the emotional nature that in most cases go
through life quite untouch'd, unfed--who held every hearer by spells
which no conventionalist, high or low--nor any pride or composure, nor
resistance of intellect--could stand against for ten minutes.

And by the way, is it not strange, of this first-class genius in
the rarest and most profound of humanity's arts, that it will be
necessary, (so nearly forgotten and rubb'd out is his name by the
rushing whirl of the last twenty-five years,) to first inform current
readers that he was an orthodox minister, of no particular celebrity,
who during a long life preach'd especially to Yankee sailors in an old
fourth-class church down by the wharves in Boston--had practically
been a seafaring man through his earlier years--and died April 6,
1871, "just as the tide turn'd, going out with the ebb as an old salt
should"? His name is now comparatively unknown, outside of Boston--and
even there, (though Dickens, Mr. Jameson, Dr. Bartol and Bishop Haven
have commemorated him,) is mostly but a reminiscence.

During my visits to "the Hub," in 1859 and '60 I several times saw and
heard Father Taylor. In the spring or autumn, quiet Sunday forenoons,
I liked to go down early to the quaint ship-cabin-looking church where
the old man minister'd--to enter and leisurely scan the building,
the low ceiling, everything strongly timber'd (polish'd and rubb'd
apparently,) the dark rich colors, the gallery, all in half-light--and
smell the aroma of old wood--to watch the auditors, sailors, mates,
"matlows," officers, singly or in groups, as they came in--their
physiognomies, forms, dress, gait, as they walk'd along the
aisles--their postures, seating themselves in the rude, roomy,
undoor'd, uncushion'd pews--and the evident effect upon them of the
place, occasion, and atmosphere.

The pulpit, rising ten or twelve feet high, against the rear wall, was
back' d by a significant mural painting, in oil--showing out its bold
lines and strong hues through the subdued light of the building--of a
stormy sea, the waves high-rolling, and amid them an old-style ship,
all bent over, driving through the gale, and in great peril--a vivid
and effectual piece of limning, not meant for the criticism of artists
(though I think it had merit even from that standpoint,) but for its
effect upon the congregation, and what it would convey to them.

Father Taylor was a moderate-sized man, indeed almost small, (reminded
me of old Booth, the great actor, and my favorite of those and
preceding days,) well advanced in years, but alert, with mild blue or
gray eyes, and good presence and voice. Soon as he open'd his mouth
I ceas'd to pay any attention to church or audience, or pictures or
lights and shades; a far more potent charm entirely sway'd me. In the
course of the sermon, (there was no sign of any MS., or reading from
notes,) some of the parts would be in the highest degree majestic and
picturesque. Colloquial in a severe sense, it often lean'd to Biblical
and Oriental forms. Especially were all allusions to ships and the
ocean and sailors' lives, of unrival'd power and life-likeness.

Sometimes there were passages of fine language and composition, even
from the purist's point of view. A few arguments, and of the best, but
always brief and simple. One realized what grip there might have been
in such words-of-mouth talk as that of Socrates and Epictetus. In
the main, I should say, of any of these discourses, that the old
Demosthenean rule and requirement of "action, action, action," first
in its inward and then (very moderate and restrain'd) its outward
sense, was the quality that had leading fulfilment.

I remember I felt the deepest impression from the old man's prayers,
which invariably affected me to tears. Never, on similar or any
other occasions, have I heard such impassion'd pleading--such
human-harassing reproach (like Hamlet to his mother, in the
closet)--such probing to the very depths of that latent conscience and
remorse which probably lie somewhere in the background of every life,
every soul. For when Father Taylor preach'd or pray'd, the rhetoric
and art, the mere words, (which usually play such a big part) seem'd
altogether to disappear, and the _live feeling_ advanced upon you and
seiz'd you with a power before unknown. Everybody felt this marvellous
and awful influence. One young sailor, a Rhode Islander, (who came
every Sunday, and I got acquainted with, and talk'd to once or twice
as we went away,) told me, "that must be the Holy Ghost we read of in
the Testament."

I should be at a loss to make any comparison with other preachers or
public speakers. When a child I had heard Elias Hicks--and Father
Taylor (though so different in personal appearance, for Elias was of
tall and most shapely form, with black eyes that blazed at times
like meteors,) always reminded me of him. Both had the same inner,
apparently inexhaustible, fund of latent volcanic passion--the same
tenderness, blended with a curious remorseless firmness, as of some
surgeon operating on a belov'd patient. Hearing such men sends to the
winds all the books, and formulas, and polish'd speaking, and rules of

Talking of oratory, why is it that the unsophisticated practices often
strike deeper than the train'd ones? Why do our experiences perhaps
of some local country exhorter--or often in the West or South at
political meetings--bring the most definite results? In my time I have
heard Webster, Clay, Edward Everett, Phillips, and such _celebres_
yet I recall the minor but life-eloquence of men like John P. Hale,
Cassius Clay, and one or two of the old abolition "fanatics" ahead of
all those stereotyped fames. Is not--I sometimes question--the first,
last, and most important quality of all, in training for a "finish'd
speaker," generally unsought, unreck'd of, both by teacher and pupil?
Though may-be it cannot be taught, anyhow. At any rate, we need to
clearly understand the distinction between oratory and elocution.
Under the latter art, including some of high order, there is indeed no
scarcity in the United States, preachers, lawyers, actors, lecturers,
&c. With all, there seem to be few real orators--almost none.

I repeat, and would dwell upon it (more as suggestion than mere
fact)--among all the brilliant lights of bar or stage I have heard in
my time (for years in New York and other cities I haunted the courts
to witness notable trials, and have heard all the famous actors and
actresses that have been in America the past fifty years) though I
recall marvellous effects from one or other of them, I never had
anything in the way of vocal utterance to shake me through and
through, and become fix'd, with its accompaniments, in my memory, like
those prayers and sermons--like Father Taylor's personal electricity
and the whole scene there--the prone ship in the gale, and dashing
wave and foam for background--in the little old sea-church in Boston,
those summer Sundays just before the secession war broke out.


[Our friends at Santa Fe, New Mexico, have just finish'd their
long-drawn-out anniversary of the 333d year of the settlement of their
city by the Spanish. The good, gray Walt Whitman was asked to write
them a poem in commemoration. Instead he wrote them a letter as
follows:--_Philadelphia Press_, August 5, 1883.]

CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY, _July 20, 1883_.

_To Messrs. Griffin, Martinez, Prince, and other Gentlemen at Santa

DEAR SIRS:--Your kind invitation to visit you and deliver a poem for
the 333d Anniversary of founding Santa Fe has reach'd me so late that
I have to decline, with sincere regret. But I will say a few words

We Americans have yet to really learn our own antecedents, and sort
them, to unify them. They will be found ampler than has been supposed,
and in widely different sources. Thus far, impress'd by New England
writers and schoolmasters, we tacitly abandon ourselves to the notion
that our United States have been fashion'd from the British Islands
only, and essentially form a second England only--which is a
very great mistake. Many leading traits for our future national
personality, and some of the best ones, will certainly prove to have
originated from other than British stock. As it is, the British and
German, valuable as they are in the concrete, already threaten excess.
Or rather, I should say, they have certainly reach'd that excess.
To-day, something outside of them, and to counterbalance them, is
seriously needed.

The seething materialistic and business vortices of the United States,
in their present devouring relations, controlling and belittling
everything else, are, in my opinion, but a vast and indispensable
stage in the new world's development, and are certainly to be follow'd
by something entirely different--at least by immense modifications.
Character, literature, a society worthy the name, are yet to be
establish'd, through a nationality of noblest spiritual, heroic
and democratic attributes--not one of which at present definitely
exists--entirely different from the past, though unerringly founded on
it, and to justify it.

To that composite American identity of the future, Spanish character
will supply some of the most needed parts. No stock shows a grander
historic retrospect--grander in religiousness and loyalty, or for
patriotism, courage, decorum, gravity and honor. (It is time to
dismiss utterly the illusion-compound, half raw-head-and-bloody-bones
and half Mysteries-of-Udolpho, inherited from the English writers
of the past 200 years. It is time to realize--for it is certainly
true--that there will not be found any more cruelty, tyranny,
superstition, &c., in the _resume_ of past Spanish history than in the
corresponding _resume_ of Anglo-Norman history. Nay, I think there
will not be found so much.)

Then another point, relating to American ethnology, past and to come,
I will here touch upon at a venture. As to our aboriginal or Indian
population--the Aztec in the South, and many a tribe in the North and
West--I know it seems to be agreed that they must gradually dwindle
as time rolls on, and in a few generations more leave only a
reminiscence, a blank. But I am not at all clear about that. As
America, from its many far-back sources and current supplies,
develops, adapts, entwines, faithfully identifies its own--are we to
see it cheerfully accepting and using all the contributions of foreign
lands from the whole outside globe--and then rejecting the only ones
distinctively its own--the autochthonic ones?

As to the Spanish stock of our Southwest, it is certain to me that we
do not begin to appreciate the splendor and sterling value of its
race element. Who knows but that element, like the course of some
subterranean river, dipping invisibly for a hundred or two years, is
now to emerge in broadest flow and permanent action?

If I might assume to do so, I would like to send you the most cordial,
heartfelt congratulations of your American fellow-countrymen here.
You have more friends in the Northern and Atlantic regions than you
suppose, and they are deeply interested in the development of the
great Southwestern interior, and in what your festival would arouse to
public attention.

Very respectfully, &c.,



We all know how much _mythus_ there is in the Shakspere question as it
stands to-day. Beneath a few foundations of proved facts are certainly
engulf d far more dim and elusive ones, of deepest importance--
tantalizing and half suspected--suggesting explanations that one dare
not put in plain statement. But coming at once to the point, the
English historical plays are to me not only the most eminent as
dramatic performances (my maturest judgment confirming the impressions
of my early years, that the distinctiveness and glory of the Poet
reside not in his vaunted dramas of the passions, but those founded on
the contests of English dynasties, and the French wars,) but form, as
we get it all, the chief in a complexity of puzzles. Conceiv'd out
of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism--personifying in
unparallel'd ways the mediaeval aristocracy, its towering spirit of
ruthless and gigantic caste, with its own peculiar air and arrogance
(no mere imitation)--only one of the "wolfish earls" so plenteous in
the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem
to be the true author of those amazing works--works in some respects
greater than anything else in recorded literature.

The start and germ-stock of the pieces on which the present
speculation is founded are undoubtedly (with, at the outset, no small
amount of bungling work) in "Henry VI." It is plain to me that
as profound and forecasting a brain and pen as ever appear'd in
literature, after floundering somewhat in the first part of that
trilogy--or perhaps draughting it more or less experimentally or by
accident--afterward developed and defined his plan in the Second and
Third Parts, and from time to time, thenceforward, systematically
enlarged it to majestic and mature proportions in "Richard II,"
"Richard III," "King John," "Henry IV," "Henry V," and even in
"Macbeth," "Coriolanus" and "Lear." For it is impossible to grasp the
whole cluster of those plays, however wide the intervals and different
circumstances of their composition, without thinking of them as, in a
free sense, the result of an _essentially controling plan_. 'What was
that plan? Or, rather, what was veil'd behind it?--for to me there was
certainly something so veil'd. Even the episodes of Cade, Joan of Arc,
and the like (which sometimes seem to me like interpolations allow'd,)
may be meant to foil the possible sleuth, and throw any too 'cute
pursuer off the scent. In the whole matter I should specially dwell
on, and make much of, that inexplicable element of every highest
poetic nature which causes it to cover up and involve its real purpose
and meanings in folded removes and far recesses. Of this trait--hiding
the nest where common seekers may never find it--the Shaksperean works
afford the most numerous and mark'd illustrations known to me. I would
even call that trait the leading one through the whole of those works.

All the foregoing to premise a brief statement of how and where I get
my new light on Shakspere. Speaking of the special English plays, my
friend William O'Connor says:

They seem simply and rudely historical in their motive, as aiming
to give in the rough a tableau of warring dynasties,--and carry to
me a lurking sense of being in aid of some ulterior design, probably
well enough understood in that age, which perhaps time and criticism
will reveal.... Their atmosphere is one of barbarous and tumultuous
gloom,--they do not make us love the times they limn,... and it is
impossible to believe that the greatest of the Elizabethan men could
have sought to indoctrinate the age with the love of feudalism which
his own drama in its entirety, if the view taken of it herein be true,
certainly and subtly saps and mines.

Reading the just-specified play in the light of Mr. O'Connor's
suggestion, I defy any one to escape such new and deep utterance-
meanings, like magic ink, warm' d by the fire, and previously invisible.
Will it not indeed be strange if the author of "Othello" and "Hamlet"
is destin'd to live in America, in a generation or two, less as the
cunning draughtsman of the passions, and more as putting on record the
first full expose--and by far the most vivid one, immeasurably ahead of
doctrinaires and economists--of the political theory and results, or the
reason-why and necessity for them which America has come on earth to
abnegate and replace?

The summary of my suggestion would be, therefore, that while the more
the rich and tangled jungle of the Shaksperean area is travers'd and
studied, and the more baffled and mix'd, as so far appears, becomes
the exploring student (who at last surmises everything, and remains
certain of nothing,) it is possible a future age of criticism, diving
deeper, mapping the land and lines freer, completer than hitherto, may
discover in the plays named the scientific (Baconian?) inauguration
of modern democracy--furnishing realistic and first-class artistic
portraitures of the mediaeval world, the feudal personalities,
institutes, in their morbid accumulations, deposits, upon politics and
sociology,--may penetrate to that hard-pan, far down and back of the
ostent of to-day, on which (and on which only) the progressism of the
last two centuries has built this Democracy which now hold's secure
lodgment over the whole civilized world.

Whether such was the unconscious, or (as I think likely) the more
or less conscious, purpose of him who fashion'd those marvellous
architectonics, is a secondary question.


The most distinctive poems--the most permanently rooted and with
heartiest reason for being--the copious cycle of Arthurian legends, or
the almost equally copious Charlemagne cycle, or the poems of the Cid,
or Scandinavian Eddas, or Nibelungen, or Chaucer, or Spenser, or
_bona fide_ Ossian, or Inferno--probably had their rise in the great
historic perturbations, which they came in to sum up and confirm,
indirectly embodying results to date. Then however precious to
"culture," the grandest of those poems, it may be said, preserve and
typify results offensive to the modern spirit, and long past away. To
state it briefly, and taking the strongest examples, in Homer
lives the ruthless military prowess of Greece, and of its special
god-descended dynastic houses; in Shakspere the dragon-rancors and
stormy feudal Splendor of mediaeval caste.

Poetry, largely consider'd, is an evolution, sending out improved
and-ever-expanded types--in one sense, the past, even the best of it,
necessarily giving place, and dying out. For our existing world,
the bases on which all the grand old poems were built have become
vacuums--and even those of many comparatively modern ones are broken
and half-gone. For us to-day, not their own intrinsic value, vast as
that is, backs and maintains those poems--but a mountain-high growth
of associations, the layers of successive ages. Everywhere--their own
lands included--(is there not something terrible in the tenacity with
which the one book out of millions holds its grip?)--the Homeric and
Virgilian works, the interminable ballad-romances of the middle ages,
the utterances of Dante, Spenser, and others, are upheld by their
cumulus-entrenchment in scholarship, and as precious, always welcome,
unspeakably valuable reminiscences.

Even the one who at present reigns unquestion'd--of Shakspere--for all
he stands for so much in modern literature, he stands entirely for
the mighty esthetic sceptres of the past, not for the spiritual
and democratic, the sceptres of the future. The inward and outward
characteristics of Shakspere are his vast and rich variety of persons
and themes, with his wondrous delineation of each and all,--not only
limitless funds of verbal and pictorial resource, but great excess,
superfoetation--mannerism, like a fine, aristocratic perfume, holding
a touch of musk (Euphues, his mark)--with boundless sumptuousness and
adornment, real velvet and gems, not shoddy nor paste--but a good
deal of bombast and fustian--(certainly some terrific mouthing in

Superb and inimitable as all is, it is mostly an objective and
physiological kind of power and beauty the soul finds in Shakspere--a
style supremely grand of the sort, but in my opinion stopping short of
the grandest sort, at any rate for fulfilling and satisfying modern
and scientific and democratic American purposes. Think, not of growths
as forests primeval, or Yellowstone geysers, or Colorado ravines, but
of costly marble palaces, and palace rooms, and the noblest fixings
and furniture, and noble owners and occupants to correspond--think of
carefully built gardens from the beautiful but sophisticated gardening
art at its best, with walks and bowers and artificial lakes, and
appropriate statue-groups and the finest cultivated roses and lilies
and japonicas in plenty--and you have the tally of Shakspere. The low
characters, mechanics, even the loyal henchmen--all in themselves
nothing--serve as capital foils to the aristocracy. The comedies
(exquisite as they certainly are) bringing in admirably portray'd
common characters, have the unmistakable hue of plays, portraits, made
for the divertisement only of the elite of the castle, and from its
point of view. The comedies are altogether non-acceptable to America
and Democracy.

But to the deepest soul, it seems a shame to pick and choose from
the riches Shakspere has left us--to criticise his infinitely royal,
multiform quality--to gauge, with optic glasses, the dazzle of his
sun-like beams.

The best poetic utterance, after all, can merely hint, or remind,
often very indirectly, or at distant removes. Aught of real
perfection, or the solution of any deep problem, or any completed
statement of the moral, the true, the beautiful, eludes the greatest,
deftest poet--flies away like an always uncaught bird.


What the future will decide about Robert Burns and his works--what
place will be assign'd them on that great roster of geniuses and
genius which can only be finish'd by the slow but sure balancing of
the centuries with their ample average--I of course cannot tell. But
as we know him, from his recorded utterances, and after nearly one
century, and its diligence of collections, songs, letters, anecdotes,
presenting the figure of the canny Scotchman in a fullness and detail
wonderfully complete, and the lines mainly by his own hand, he forms
to-day, in some respects, the most interesting personality among
singers. Then there are many things in Burns's poems and character
that specially endear him to America. He was essentially a
Republican--would have been at home in the Western United States,
and probably become eminent there. He was an average sample of the
good-natured, warm-blooded, proud-spirited, amative, alimentive,
convivial, young and early-middle-aged man of the decent-born middle
classes everywhere and any how. Without the race of which he is a
distinct specimen, (and perhaps his poems) America and her powerful
Democracy could not exist to-day--could not project with unparallel'd
historic sway into the future.

Perhaps the peculiar coloring of the era of Burns needs always first
to be consider'd. It included the times of the '76-'83 Revolution
in America, of the French Revolution, and an unparallel'd chaos
development in Europe and elsewhere. In every department, shining
and strange names, like stars, some rising, some in meridian, some
declining--Voltaire, Franklin, Washington, Kant, Goethe, Fulton,
Napoleon, mark the era. And while so much, and of grandest moment, fit
for the trumpet of the world's fame, was being transacted--that little
tragi-comedy of R. B,'s life and death was going on in a country
by-place in Scotland!

Burns's correspondence, generally collected and publish'd since his
death, gives wonderful glints into both the amiable and weak (and
worse than weak) parts of his portraiture, habits, good and bad luck,
ambition and associations. His letters to Mrs. Dunlop, Mrs. McLehose,
(Clarinda,) Mr. Thompson, Dr. Moore, Robert Muir, Mr. Cunningham, Miss
Margaret Chalmers, Peter Hill, Richard Brown, Mrs. Riddel, Robert
Ainslie, and Robert Graham, afford valuable lights and shades to the
outline, and with numerous others, help to a touch here, and fill-in
there, of poet and poems. There are suspicions, it is true, of "the
Genteel Letter-Writer," with scraps and words from "the Manual of
French Quotations," and, in the love-letters, some hollow mouthings.
Yet we wouldn't on any account lack the letters. A full and true
portrait is always what is wanted; veracity at every hazard. Besides,
do we not all see by this time that the story of Burns, even for its
own sake, requires the record of the whole and several, with nothing
left out? Completely and every point minutely told out its fullest,
explains and justifies itself--(as perhaps almost any life does.) He
is very close to the earth. He pick'd up his best words and tunes
directly from the Scotch home-singers, but tells Thompson they would
not please his, T.'s, "learn'd lugs," adding, "I call them simple--you
would pronounce them silly." Yes, indeed; the idiom was undoubtedly
his happiest hit. Yet Dr. Moore, in 1789, writes to Burns, "If I were
to offer an opinion, it would be that in your future productions you
should abandon the Scotch stanza and dialect, and adopt the measure
and language of modern English poetry"!

As the 128th birth-anniversary of the poet draws on, (January, 1887,)
with its increasing club-suppers, vehement celebrations, letters,
speeches, and so on--(mostly, as William O'Connor says, from people
who would not have noticed R. B. at all during his actual life, nor
kept his company, or read his verses, on any account)--it may be
opportune to print some leisurely-jotted notes I find in my budget.
I take my observation of the Scottish bard by considering him as an
individual amid the crowded clusters, galaxies, of the old world--and
fairly inquiring and suggesting what out of these myriads he too may
be to the Western Republic. In the first place no poet on record so
fully bequeaths his own personal magnetism,[39] nor illustrates more
pointedly how one's verses, by time and reading, can so curiously fuse
with the versifier's own life and death, and give final light and
shade to all.

I would say a large part of the fascination of Burns's homely, simple
dialect-melodies is due, for all current and future readers, to the
poet's personal "errors," the general bleakness of his lot, his
ingrain'd pensiveness, his brief dash into dazzling, tantalizing,
evanescent sunshine--finally culminating in those last years of his
life, his being taboo'd and in debt, sick and sore, yaw'd as by
contending gales, deeply dissatisfied with everything, most of all
with himself--high-spirited too--(no man ever really higher-spirited
than Robert Burns.) I think it a perfectly legitimate part too. At any
rate it has come to be an impalpable aroma through which only both the
songs and their singer must henceforth be read and absorb'd. Through
that view-medium of misfortune--of a noble spirit in low environments,
and of a squalid and premature death--we view the undoubted facts,
(giving, as we read them now, a sad kind of pungency,) that Burns's
were, before all else, the lyrics of illicit loves and carousing
intoxication. Perhaps even it is this strange, impalpable
_post-mortem_ comment and influence referr'd to, that gives them their
contrast, attraction, making the zest of their author's after fame. If
he had lived steady, fat, moral, comfortable, well-to-do years, on his
own grade, (let alone, what of course was out of the question, the
ease and velvet and rosewood and copious royalties of Tennyson or
Victor Hugo or Longfellow,) and died well-ripen'd and respectable,
where could have come in that burst of passionate sobbing and remorse
which well'd forth instantly and generally in Scotland, and soon
follow'd everywhere among English-speaking races, on the announcement
of his death? and which, with no sign of stopping, only regulated and
vein'd with fitting appreciation, flows deeply, widely yet?

Dear Rob! manly, witty, fond, friendly, full of weak spots as well as
strong ones-essential type of so many thousands--perhaps the average,
as just said, of the decent-born young men and the early mid-aged, not
only of the British Isles, but America, too, North and South, just the
same. I think, indeed, one best part of Burns is the unquestionable
proof he presents of the perennial existence among the laboring
classes, especially farmers, of the finest latent poetic elements in
their blood. (How clear it is to me that the common soil has always
been, and is now, thickly strewn with just such gems.) He is
well-called the _Ploughman_. "Holding the plough," said his brother
Gilbert, "was the favorite situation with Robert for poetic
compositions; and some of his best verses were produced while he was
at that exercise." "I must return to my humble station, and woo my
rustic muse in my wonted way, at the plough-tail." 1787, to the Earl
of Buchan. He has no high ideal of the poet or the poet's office;
indeed quite a low and contracted notion of both:

"Fortune! if thou'll but gie me still
Hale breeks, a scone, and whiskey gill,
An' rowth o' rhyme to rave at will,
Tak' a' the rest."

See also his rhym'd letters to Robert Graham invoking patronage; "one
stronghold," Lord Glencairn, being dead, now these appeals to "Fintra,
my other stay," (with in one letter a copious shower of vituperation
generally.) In his collected poems there is no particular unity,
nothing that can be called a leading theory, no unmistakable spine or
skeleton. Perhaps, indeed, their very desultoriness is the charm
of his songs: "I take up one or another," he says in a letter to
Thompson, "just as the bee of the moment buzzes in my bonnet-lug."

Consonantly with the customs of the time--yet markedly inconsistent in
spirit with Burns's own case, (and not a little painful as it remains
on record, as depicting some features of the bard himself,) the
relation called _patronage_ existed between the nobility and gentry
on one side, and literary people on the other, and gives one of the
strongest side-lights to the general coloring of poems and poets. It
crops out a good deal in Burns's Letters, and even necessitated a
certain flunkeyism on occasions, through life. It probably, with its
requirements, (while it help'd in money and countenance) did as much
as any one cause in making that life a chafed and unhappy one, ended
by a premature and miserable death.

Yes, there is something about Burns peculiarly acceptable to the
concrete, human points of view. He poetizes work-a-day agricultural
labor and life, (whose spirit and sympathies, as well as
practicalities, are much the same everywhere,) and treats fresh, often
coarse, natural occurrences, loves, persons, not like many new and
some old poets in a genteel style of gilt and china, or at second or
third removes, but in their own born atmosphere, laughter, sweat,
unction. Perhaps no one ever sang "lads and lasses"--that universal
race, mainly the same, too, all ages, all lands--down on their own
plane, as he has. He exhibits no philosophy worth mentioning; his
morality is hardly more than parrot-talk--not bad or deficient, but
cheap, shopworn, the platitudes of old aunts and uncles to the
youngsters (be good boys and keep your noses clean.) Only when he
gets at Poosie Nansie's, celebrating the "barley bree," or among
tramps, or democratic bouts and drinking generally,

("Freedom and whiskey gang the gither.")

we have, in his own unmistakable color and warmth, those interiors
of rake-helly life and tavern fun--the cantabile of jolly beggars
in highest jinks--lights and groupings of rank glee and brawny
amorousness, outvying the best painted pictures of the Dutch school,
or any school.

By America and her democracy such a poet, I cannot too often
repeat, must be kept in loving remembrance; but it is best that
discriminations be made. His admirers (as at those anniversary
suppers, over the "hot Scotch") will not accept for their favorite
anything less than the highest rank, alongside of Homer, Shakspere,
etc. Such, in candor, are not the true friends of the Ayrshire bard,
who really needs a different place quite by himself. The Iliad and the
Odyssey express courage, craft, full-grown heroism in situations of
danger, the sense of command and leadership, emulation, the last and
fullest evolution of self-poise as in kings, and god-like even while
animal appetites. The Shaksperean compositions, on vertebers and
frame-work of the primary passions, portray (essentially the same as
Homer's,) the spirit and letter of the feudal world, the Norman lord,
ambitious and arrogant, taller and nobler than common men--with much
underplay and gusts of heat and cold, volcanoes and stormy seas. Burns
(and some will say to his credit) attempts none of these themes. He
poetizes the humor, riotous blood, sulks, amorous torments, fondness
for the tavern and for cheap objective nature, with disgust at the
grim and narrow ecclesiasticism of his time and land, of a young
farmer on a bleak and hired farm in Scotland, through the years and
under the circumstances of the British politics of that time, and
of his short personal career as author, from 1783 to 1796. He is
intuitive and affectionate, and just emerged or emerging from the
shackles of the kirk, from poverty, ignorance, and from his own
rank appetites--(out of which latter, however, he never extricated
himself.) It is to be said that amid not a little smoke and gas in his
poems, there is in almost every piece a spark of fire, and now and
then the real afflatus. He has been applauded as democratic, and with
some warrant; while Shakspere, and with the greatest warrant, has been
called monarchical or aristocratic (which he certainly is.) But the
splendid personalizations of Shakspere, formulated on the largest,
freest, most heroic, most artistic mould, are to me far dearer as
lessons, and more precious even as models for Democracy, than the
humdrum samples Burns presents. The motives of some of his effusions
are certainly discreditable personally--one or two of them markedly
so. He has, moreover, little or no spirituality. This last is his
mortal flaw and defect, tried by highest standards. The ideal he never
reach'd (and yet I think he leads the way to it.) He gives melodies,
and now and then the simplest and sweetest ones; but harmonies,
complications, oratorios in words, never. (I do not speak this in any
deprecatory sense. Blessed be the memory of the warm-hearted Scotchman
for what he has left us, just as it is!) He likewise did not know
himself, in more ways than one. Though so really fret and independent,
he prided himself in his songs on being a reactionist and a
Jacobite--on persistent sentimental adherency to the cause of the
Stuarts--the weakest, thinnest, most faithless, brainless dynasty that
ever held a throne.

Thus, while Burns is not at all great for New World study, in the
sense that Isaiah and Eschylus and the book of Job are unquestionably
great--is not to be mention'd with Shakspere--hardly even with current
Tennyson or our Emerson--he has a nestling niche of his own, all
fragrant, fond, and quaint and homely--a lodge built near but outside
the mighty temple of the gods of song and art--those universal
strivers, through their works of harmony and melody and power, to ever
show or intimate man's crowning, last, victorious fusion in himself of
Real and Ideal. Precious, too--fit and precious beyond all singers,
high or low--will Burns ever be to the native Scotch, especially to
the working-classes of North Britain; so intensely one of them, and so
racy of the soil, sights, and local customs. He often apostrophizes
Scotland, and is, or would be, enthusiastically patriotic. His country
has lately commemorated him in a statue.[40] His aim is declaredly
to be 'a Rustic Bard.' His poems were all written in youth or young
manhood, (he was little more than a young man when he died.) His
collected works in giving everything, are nearly one half first drafts.
His brightest hit is his use of the Scotch patois, so full of terms
flavor'd like wild fruits or berries. Then I should make an allowance
to Burns which cannot be made for any other poet. Curiously even the
frequent crudeness, haste, deficiencies, (flatness and puerilities by
no means absent) prove upon the whole not out of keeping in any
comprehensive collection of his works, heroically printed, "following
copy," every piece, every line according to originals. Other poets might
tremble for such boldness, such rawness. In "this odd-kind chiel" such
points hardly mar the rest. Not only are they in consonance with the
underlying spirit of the pieces, but complete the full abandon and
veracity of the farm-fields and the home-brew'd flavor of the Scotch
vernacular. (Is there not often something in the very neglect, unfinish,
careless nudity, slovenly hiatus, coming from intrinsic genius, and not
"put on," that secretly pleases the soul more than the wrought and
re-wrought polish of the most perfect verse?) Mark the native spice and
untranslatable twang in the very names of his songs-"O for ane and
twenty, Tam," "John Barleycorn," "Last May a braw Wooer," "Rattlin
roarin Willie," "O wert thou in the cauld, cauld blast," "Gude e'en to
you, Kimmer," "Merry hae I been teething a Heckle," "O lay thy loof in
mine, lass," and others.

The longer and more elaborated poems of Burns are just such as would
please a natural but homely taste, and cute but average intellect, and
are inimitable in their way. The "Twa Dogs," (one of the best) with
the conversation between Cesar and Luath, the "Brigs of Ayr," "the
Cotter's Saturday Night," "Tam O'Shanter"--all will be long read and
re-read and admired, and ever deserve to be. With nothing profound in
any of them, what there is of moral and plot has an inimitably fresh
and racy flavor. If it came to question, Literature could well afford
to send adrift many a pretensive poem, and even book of poems, before
it could spare these compositions.

Never indeed was there truer utterance in a certain range of
idiosyncrasy than by this poet. Hardly a piece of his, large or
small, but has "snap" and raciness. He puts in cantering rhyme
(often doggerel) much cutting irony and idiomatic ear-cuffing of
the kirk-deacons--drilygood-natured addresses to his cronies, (he
certainly would not stop us if he were here this moment, from classing
that "to the De'il" among them)--"to Mailie and her Lambs," "to auld
Mare Maggie," "to a Mouse,"

"Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie:"

"to a Mountain Daisy," "to a Haggis," "to a Louse," "to the
Toothache," &c.--and occasionally to his brother bards and lady or
gentleman patrons, often with strokes of tenderest sensibility,
idiopathic humor, and genuine poetic imagination--still oftener with
shrewd, original, sheeny, steel-flashes of wit, home-spun sense,
or lance-blade puncturing. Then, strangely, the basis of Burns's
character, with all its fun and manliness, was hypochondria, the
blues, palpable enough in "Despondency," "Man was made to Mourn,"
"Address to Ruin," a "Bard's Epitaph," &c. From such deep-down
elements sprout up, in very contrast and paradox, those riant
utterances of which a superficial reading will not detect the hidden
foundation. Yet nothing is clearer to me than the black and desperate
background behind those pieces--as I shall now specify them. I find
his most characteristic, Nature's masterly touch and luxuriant
life-blood, color and heat, not in "Tam O'Shanter," "the Cotter's
Saturday Night," "Scots wha hae," "Highland Mary," "the Twa Dogs,"
and the like, but in "the Jolly Beggars," "Rigs of Barley," "Scotch
Drink," "the Epistle to John Rankine," "Holy Willie's Prayer," and in
"Halloween," (to say nothing of a certain cluster, known still to a
small inner circle in Scotland, but, for good reasons, not published
anywhere.) In these compositions, especially the first, there is much
indelicacy (some editions flatly leave it out,) but the composer
reigns alone, with handling free and broad and true, and is an artist.
You may see and feel the man indirectly in his other verses, all of
them, with more or less life-likeness--but these I have named last
call out pronouncedly in his own voice,

"I, Rob, am here."

Finally, in any summing-up of Burns, though so much is to be said in
the way of fault-finding, drawing black marks, and doubtless severe
literary criticism--(in the present outpouring I have "kept myself
in," rather than allow'd any free flow)--after full retrospect of his
works and life, the aforesaid "odd-kind chiel" remains to my heart and
brain as almost the tenderest, manliest, and (even if contradictory)
dearest flesh-and-blood figure in all the streams and clusters of
by-gone poets.


[39] Probably no man that ever lived--a friend has made the
statement--was so fondly loved, both by men and women, as Robert
Burns. The reason is not hard to find: he had a real heart of flesh
and blood beating in his bosom; you could almost hear it throb. "Some
one said, that if you had shaken hands with him his hand would have
burnt yours. The gods, indeed, made him poetical, but Nature had a
hand in him first. His heart was in the right place; he did not pile
up cantos of poetic diction; he pluck'd the mountain daisy under his
feet; he wrote of field-mouse hurrying from its ruin'd dwelling. He
held the plough or the pen with the same firm, manly grasp. And he was
loved. The simple roll of the women who gave him their affection and
their sympathy would make a long manuscript; and most of these were of
such noble worth that, as Robert Chambers says, 'their character may
stand as a testimony in favor of that of Burns.'" [As I understand,
the foregoing is from an extremely rare book publish'd by M'Kie, in
Kilmarnock. I find the whole beautiful paragraph in a capital paper on
Burns, by Amelia Barr.]

[40] The Dumfries statue of Robert Burns was successfully unveil'd
April 1881 by Lord Rosebery, the occasion having been made national
in its character. Before the ceremony, a large procession paraded the
streets of the town, all the trades and societies of that part of
Scotland being represented, at the head of which went dairymen and
ploughmen, the former driving their carts and being accompanied by
their maids. The statue is of Sicilian marble. It rests on a pedestal
of gray stone five feet high. The poet is represented as sitting
easily on an old tree root, holding in his left hand a cluster of
daisies. His face is turn'd toward the right shoulder, and the eyes
gaze into the distance. Near by lie a collie dog, a broad bonnet half
covering a well-thumb'd song-book, and a rustic flageolet. The costume
is taken from the Nasmyth portrait, which has been follow'd for the
features of the face.


Beautiful as the song was, the original "Locksley Hall" of half a
century ago was essentially morbid, heart-broken, finding fault with
everything, especially the fact of money's being made (as it ever must
be, and perhaps should be) the paramount matter in worldly affairs;

Every door is barr'd with gold, and opens but to golden keys.

First, a father, having fallen in battle, his child (the singer)

Was left a trampled orphan, and a selfish uncle's ward.

Of course love ensues. The woman in the chant or monologue proves a
false one; and as far as appears the ideal of woman, in the poet's
reflections, is a false one--at any rate for America. Woman is _not_
"the lesser man." (The heart is not the brain.) The best of the piece
of fifty years since is its concluding line:

For the mighty wind arises roaring seaward and I go.

Then for this current 1886-7, a just-out sequel, which (as an
apparently authentic summary says) "reviews the life of mankind during
the past sixty years, and comes to the conclusion that its boasted
progress is of doubtful credit to the world in general and to England
in particular. A cynical vein of denunciation of democratic opinions
and aspirations runs throughout the poem in mark'd contrast with the
spirit of the poet's youth." Among the most striking lines of this
sequel are the following:

Envy wears the mask of love, and, laughing sober fact to scorn,
Cries to weakest as to strongest, 'Ye are equals, equal born,'
Equal-born! Oh yes, if yonder hill be level with the flat.
Charm us, orator, till the lion look no larger than the cat:
Till the cat, through that mirage of overheated language, loom
Larger than the lion Demo--end in working its own doom.
Tumble Nature heel o'er head, and, yelling with the yelling street,
Set the feet above the brain, and swear the brain is in the feet,
Bring the old dark ages back, without the faith, without the hope.
Beneath the State, the Church, the Throne, and roll their ruins down
the slope.

I should say that all this is a legitimate consequence of the tone and
convictions of the earlier standards and points of view. Then some
reflections, down to the hard-pan of this sort of thing.

The course of progressive politics (democracy) is so certain and
resistless, not only in America but in Europe, that we can well afford
the warning calls, threats, checks, neutralizings, in imaginative
literature, or any department, of such deep-sounding, and high-soaring
voices as Carlyle's and Tennyson's. Nay, the blindness, excesses,
of the prevalent tendency--the dangers of the urgent trends of our
times--in my opinion, need such voices almost more than any. I should,
too, call it a signal instance of democratic humanity's luck that it
has such enemies to contend with--so candid, so fervid, so heroic.
But why do I say enemies? Upon the whole is not Tennyson--and was not
Carlyle (like an honest and stern physician)--the true friend of our

Let me assume to pass verdict, or perhaps momentary judgment, for the
United States on this poet--a remov'd and distant position giving some
advantages over a nigh one. What is Tennyson's service to his race,
times, and especially to America? First, I should say--or at least not
forget--his personal character. He is not to be mention'das a rugged,
evolutionary, aboriginal force--but (and a great lesson is in it) he
has been consistent throughout with the native, healthy, patriotic
spinal element and promptings of himself. His moral line is local and
conventional, but it is vital and genuine. He reflects the uppercrust
of his time, its pale cast of thought--even its _ennui_. Then the
simile of my friend John Burroughs is entirely true, "his glove is a
glove of silk, but the hand is a hand of iron." He shows how one can
be a royal laureate, quite elegant and "aristocratic," and a little
queer and affected, and at the same time perfectly manly and natural.
As to his non-democracy, it fits him well, and I like him the better
for it. I guess we all like to have (I am sure I do) some one who
presents those sides of a thought, or possibility, different from our
own--different and yet with a sort of home-likeness--a tartness and
contradiction offsetting the theory as we view it, and construed from
tastes and proclivities not at all his own.

To me, Tennyson shows more than any poet I know (perhaps has been a
warning to me) how much there is in finest verbalism. There is such
a latent charm in mere words, cunning collocutions, and in the
voice ringing them, which he has caught and brought out, beyond all
others--as in the line,

And hollow, hollow, hollow, all delight,

in "The Passing of Arthur," and evidenced in "The Lady of Shalott,"
"The Deserted House," and many other pieces. Among the best (I often
linger over them again and again) are "Lucretius," "The Lotos Eaters,"
and "The Northern Farmer." His mannerism is great, but it is a noble
and welcome mannerism. His very best work, to me, is contain'd in the
books of "The Idylls of the King," and all that has grown out of them.
Though indeed we could spare nothing of Tennyson, however small or
however peculiar--not "Break, Break," nor "Flower in the Crannied
Wall," nor the old, eternally-told passion of "Edward Gray:"

Love may come and love may go,
And fly like a bird from tree to tree.
But I will love no more, no more
Till Ellen Adair come back to me.

Yes, Alfred Tennyson's is a superb character, and will help give
illustriousness, through the long roll of time, to our Nineteenth
Century. In its bunch of orbic names, shining like a constellation
of stars, his will be one of the brightest. His very faults, doubts,
swervings, doublings upon himself, have been typical of our age. We
are like the voyagers of a ship, casting off for new seas, distant
shores. We would still dwell in the old suffocating and dead haunts,
remembering and magnifying their pleasant experiences only, and more
than once impell'd to jump ashore before it is too late, and stay
where our fathers stay'd, and live as they lived.

May-be I am non-literary and non-decorous (let me at least be human,
and pay part of my debt) in this word about Tennyson. I want him to
realize that here is a great and ardent Nation that absorbs his songs,
and has a respect and affection for him personally, as almost for no
other foreigner. I want this word to go to the old man at Farringford
as conveying no more than the simple truth; and that truth (a little
Christmas gift) no slight one either. I have written impromptu, and
shall let it all go at that. The readers of more than fifty millions
of people in the New World not only owe to him some of their most
agreeable and harmless and healthy hours, but he has enter'd into
the formative influences of character here, not only in the Atlantic
cities, but inland and far West, out in Missouri, in Kansas, and away
in Oregon, in farmer's house and miner's cabin.

Best thanks, anyhow, to Alfred Tennyson--thanks and appreciation in
America's name.


View'd freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of
every dialect, race, and range of time, and is both the free and
compacted composition of all. From this point of view, it stands for
Language in the largest sense, and is really the greatest of studies.
It involves so much; is indeed a sort of universal absorber, combiner,
and conqueror. The scope of its etymologies is the scope not only of
man and civilization, but the history of Nature in all departments,
and of the organic Universe, brought up to date; for all are
comprehended in words, and their backgrounds. This is when words
become vitaliz'd, and stand for things, as they unerringly and soon
come to do, in the mind that enters on their study with fitting
spirit, grasp, and appreciation.

Slang, profoundly consider'd, is the lawless germinal element, below
all words and sentences, and behind all poetry, and proves a certain
perennial rankness and protestantism in speech. As the United States
inherit by far their most precious possession--the language they talk
and write--from the Old World, under and out of its feudal institutes,
I will allow myself to borrow a simile even of those forms farthest
removed from American Democracy. Considering Language then as some
mighty potentate, into the majestic audience-hall of the monarch ever
enters a personage like one of Shakspere's clowns, and takes position
there, and plays a part even in the stateliest ceremonies. Such is
Slang, or indirection, an attempt of common humanity to escape from
bald literalism, and express itself illimitably, which in highest
walks produces poets and poems, and doubtless in pre-historic times
gave the start to, and perfected, the whole immense tangle of the old
mythologies. For, curious as it may appear, it is strictly the
same impulse-source, the same thing. Slang, too, is the wholesome
fermentation or eructation of those processes eternally active in
language, by which froth and specks are thrown up, mostly to pass
away; though occasionally to settle and permanently crystallize.

To make it plainer, it is certain that many of the oldest and solidest
words we use, were originally generated from the daring and license of
slang. In the processes of word-formation, myriads die, but here and
there the attempt attracts superior meanings, becomes valuable
and indispensable, and lives forever. Thus the term _right_ means
literally only straight. _Wrong_ primarily meant twisted, distorted.
_Integrity_ meant oneness. _Spirit_ meant breath, or flame. A
_supercilious_ person was one who rais'd his eyebrows. To _insult_ was
to leap against. If you _influenced_ a man, you but flow'd into him.
The Hebrew word which is translated _prophesy_ meant to bubble up and
pour forth as a fountain. The enthusiast bubbles up with the Spirit of
God within him, and it pours forth from him like a fountain. The word
prophecy is misunderstood. Many suppose that it is limited to mere
prediction; that is but the lesser portion of prophecy. The greater
work is to reveal God. Every true religious enthusiast is a prophet.

Language, be it remember'd, is not an abstract construction of the
learn'd, or of dictionary-makers, but is something arising out of the
work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of
humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground. Its
final decisions are made by the masses, people nearest the concrete,
having most to do with actual land and sea. It impermeates all, the
Past as well as the Present, and is the grandest triumph of the human
intellect. "Those mighty works of art," says Addington Symonds, "which
we call languages, in the construction of which whole peoples
unconsciously co-operated, the forms of which were determin'd not by
individual genius, but by the instincts of successive generations,
acting to one end, inherent in the nature of the race--Those poems of
pure thought and fancy, cadenced not in words, but in living imagery,
fountain-heads of inspiration, mirrors of the mind of nascent nations,
which we call Mythologies--these surely are more marvellous in their
infantine spontaneity than any more mature production of the races
which evolv'd them. Yet we are utterly ignorant of their embryology;
the true science of Origins is yet in its cradle."

Daring as it is to say so, in the growth of Language it is certain
that the retrospect of slang from the start would be the recalling
from their nebulous conditions of all that is poetical in the stores
of human utterance. Moreover, the honest delving, as of late years, by
the German and British workers in comparative philology, has pierc'd
and dispers'd many of the falsest bubbles of centuries; and will
disperse many more. It was long recorded that in Scandinavian
mythology the heroes in the Norse Paradise drank out of the skulls of
their slain enemies. Later investigation proves the word taken for
skulls to mean _horns_ of beasts slain in the hunt. And what reader
had not been exercis'd over the traces of that feudal custom, by which
_seigneurs_ warm'd their feet in the bowels of serfs, the abdomen
being open'd for the purpose? It now is made to appear that the serf
was only required to submit his unharm'd abdomen as a foot cushion
while his lord supp' d, and was required to chafe the legs of the
seigneur with his hands.

It is curiously in embryons and childhood, and among the illiterate,
we always find the groundwork and start, of this great science, and
its noblest products. What a relief most people have in speaking of
a man not by his true and formal name, with a "Mister" to it, but by
some odd or homely appellative. The propensity to approach a meaning
not directly and squarely, but by circuitous styles of expression,
seems indeed a born quality of the common people everywhere, evidenced
by nick-names, and the inveterate determination of the masses to
bestow sub-titles, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes very apt. Always
among the soldiers during the secession war, one heard of "Little Mac"
(Gen. McClellan), or of "Uncle Billy" (Gen. Sherman.) "The old man"
was, of course, very common. Among the rank and file, both armies, it
was very general to speak of the different States they came from by
their slang names. Those from Maine were call'd Foxes; New Hampshire,
Granite Boys; Massachusetts, Bay Staters; Vermont, Green Mountain
Boys; Rhode Island, Gun Flints; Connecticut, Wooden Nutmegs; New York,
Knickerbockers; New Jersey, Clam Catchers; Pennsylvania, Logher Heads;
Delaware, Muskrats; Maryland, Claw Thumpers; Virginia, Beagles; North
Carolina, Tar Boilers; South Carolina, Weasels; Georgia, Buzzards;
Louisiana, Creoles; Alabama, Lizards; Kentucky, Corn Crackers; Ohio,
Buckeyes; Michigan, Wolverines; Indiana, Hoosiers; Illinois, Suckers;
Missouri, Pukes; Mississippi, Tadpoles; Florida, Fly up the Creeks;
Wisconsin, Badgers; Iowa, Hawkeyes; Oregon, Hard Cases. Indeed I am
not sure but slang names have more than once made Presidents. "Old
Hickory," (Gen. Jackson) is one case in point. "Tippecanoe, and Tyler
too," another.

I find the same rule in the people's conversations everywhere. I heard
this among the men of the city horse-cars, where the conductor is
often call'd a "snatcher" (i. e. because his characteristic duty is to
constantly pull or snatch the bell-strap, to stop or go on.) Two young
fellows are having a friendly talk, amid which, says 1st conductor,
"What did you do before you was a snatcher?" Answer of 2d conductor,
"Nail'd." (Translation of answer: "I work'd as carpenter.") What is a
"boom"? says one editor to another. "Esteem'd contemporary," says the
other, "a boom is a bulge." "Barefoot whiskey" is the Tennessee name
for the undiluted stimulant. In the slang of the New York common
restaurant waiters a plate of ham and beans is known as "stars and
stripes," codfish balls as "sleeve-buttons," and hash as "mystery."

The Western States of the Union are, however, as may be supposed, the
special areas of slang, not only in conversation, but in names of
localities, towns, rivers, etc. A late Oregon traveller says:

"On your way to Olympia by rail, you cross a river called the
Shookum-Chuck; your train stops at places named Newaukum, Tumwater,
and Toutle; and if you seek further you will hear of whole counties
labell' d Wahkiakum, or Snohomish, or Kitsar, or Klikatat; and
Cowlitz, Hookium, and Nenolelops greet and offend you. They complain
in Olympia that Washington Territory gets but little immigration; but
what wonder? What man, having the whole American continent to choose
from, would willingly date his letters from the county of Snohomish
or bring up his children in the city of Nenolelops? The village of
Tumwater is, as I am ready to bear witness, very pretty indeed; but
surely an emigrant would think twice before he establish' d himself
either there or at Toutle. Seattle is sufficiently barbarous;
Stelicoom is no better; and I suspect that the Northern Pacific
Railroad terminus has been fixed at Tacoma because it is one of the
few places on Puget Sound whose name does not inspire horror."

Then a Nevada paper chronicles the departure of a mining party from
Reno: "The toughest set of roosters that ever shook the dust off any
town left Reno yesterday for the new mining district of Cornucopia.
They came here from Virginia. Among the crowd were four New York
cock-fighters, two Chicago murderers, three Baltimore bruisers,
one Philadelphia prize-fighter, four San Francisco hoodlums, three
Virginia beats, two Union Pacific roughs, and two check guerrillas."
Among the far-west newspapers, have been, or are, _The Fairplay_
(Colorado) _Flume, The Solid Muldoon_, of Ouray, _The Tombstone
Epitaph_, of Nevada, _The Jimplecute_, of Texas, and _The Bazoo_, of
Missouri. Shirttail Bend, Whiskey Flat, Puppytown, Wild Yankee Ranch,
Squaw Flat, Rawhide Ranch, Loafer's Ravine, Squitch Gulch, Toenail
Lake, are a few of the names of places in Butte county, Cal.

Perhaps indeed no place or term gives more luxuriant illustrations
of the fermentation processes I have mention'd, and their froth and
specks, than those Mississippi and Pacific coast regions, at the
present day. Hasty and grotesque as are some of the names, others are
of an appropriateness and originality unsurpassable. This applies to
the Indian words, which are often perfect. Oklahoma is proposed
in Congress for the name of one of our new Territories. Hog-eye,
Lick-skillet, Rake-pocket and Steal-easy are the names of some Texan
towns. Miss Bremer found among the aborigines the following
names: _Men's_, Horn-point; Round-Wind; Stand-and-look-out;
The-Cloud-that-goes-aside; Iron-toe; Seek-the-sun; Iron-flash;
Red-bottle; White-spindle; Black-dog; Two-feathers-of-honor;
Gray-grass; Bushy-tail; Thunder-face; Go-on-the-burning-sod;
Spirits-of-the-dead. _Women's_, Keep-the-fire; Spiritual-woman;
Second-daughter-of-the-house; Blue-bird.

Certainly philologists have not given enough attention to this element
and its results, which, I repeat, can probably be found working every
where to-day, amid modern conditions, with as much life and activity
as in far-back Greece or India, under prehistoric ones. Then the
wit--the rich flashes of humor and genius and poetry--darting out
often from a gang of laborers, railroad-men, miners, drivers or
boatmen! How often have I hover'd at the edge of a crowd of them, to
hear their repartees and impromptus! You get more real fun from half
an hour with them than from the books of all "the American humorists."

The science of language has large and close analogies in geological
science, with its ceaseless evolution, its fossils, and its numberless
submerged layers and hidden strata, the infinite go-before of the
present. Or, perhaps Language is more like some vast living body, or
perennial body of bodies. And slang not only brings the first feeders
of it, but is afterward the start of fancy, imagination and humor,
breathing into its nostrils the breath of life.


After the close of the secession war in 1865, I work'd several months
(until Mr. Harlan turn'd me out for having written "Leaves of Grass")
in the Interior Department at Washington, in the Indian Bureau. Along
this time there came to see their Great Father an unusual number of
aboriginal visitors, delegations for treaties, settlement of lands,
&c.--some young or middle-aged, but mainly old men, from the West,
North, and occasionally from the South--parties of from five to twenty
each--the most wonderful proofs of what Nature can produce, (the
survival of the fittest, no doubt--all the frailer samples dropt,
sorted out by death)--as if to show how the earth and woods, the
attrition of storms and elements, and the exigencies of life at
first hand, can train and fashion men, indeed _chiefs_, in heroic
massiveness, imperturbability, muscle, and that last and highest
beauty consisting of strength--the full exploitation and fruitage of
a human identity, not from the culmination-points of "culture" and
artificial civilization, but tallying our race, as it were, with
giant, vital, gnarl'd, enduring trees, or monoliths of separate
hardiest rocks, and humanity holding its own with the best of the said
trees or rocks, and outdoing them.

There were Omahas, Poncas, Winnebagoes, Cheyennes, Navahos, Apaches,
and many others. Let me give a running account of what I see and hear
through one of these conference collections at the Indian Bureau,
going back to the present tense. Every head and face is impressive,
even artistic; Nature redeems herself out of her crudest recesses.
Most have red paint on their cheeks, however, or some other paint.
("Little Hill" makes the opening speech, which the interpreter
translates by scraps.) Many wear head tires of gaudy-color'd braid,
wound around thickly--some with circlets of eagles' feathers.
Necklaces of bears' claws are plenty around their necks. Most of the
chiefs are wrapt in large blankets of the brightest scarlet.

Two or three have blue, and I see one black. (A wise man call'd "the
Flesh" now makes a short speech, apparently asking something. Indian
Commissioner Dole answers him, and the interpreter translates in
scraps again.) All the principal chiefs have tomahawks or hatchets,
some of them very richly ornamented and costly. Plaid shirts are to
be observ'd--none too clean. Now a tall fellow, "Hole-in-the-Day," is
speaking. He has a copious head-dress composed of feathers and narrow
ribbon, under which appears a countenance painted all over a
bilious yellow. Let us note this young chief. For all his paint,
"Hole-in-the-Day" is a handsome Indian, mild and calm, dress'd in
drab buckskin leggings, dark gray surtout, and a soft black hat. His
costume will bear full observation, and even fashion would accept
him. His apparel is worn loose and scant enough to show his superb
physique, especially in neck, chest, and legs. ("The Apollo
Belvidere!" was the involuntary exclamation of a famous European
artist when he first saw a full-grown young Choctaw.)

One of the red visitors--a wild, lean-looking Indian, the one in the
black woolen wrapper--has an empty buffalo head, with the horns on,
for his personal surmounting. I see a markedly Bourbonish countenance
among the chiefs--(it is not very uncommon among them, I am told.)
Most of them avoided resting on chairs during the hour of their "talk"
in the Commissioner's office; they would sit around on the floor,
leaning against something, or stand up by the walls, partially wrapt
in their blankets. Though some of the young fellows were, as I have
said, magnificent and beautiful animals, I think the palm of unique
picturesqueness, in body, limb, physiognomy, &c., was borne by the old
or elderly chiefs, and the wise men.

My here-alluded-to experience in the Indian Bureau produced one very
definite conviction, as follows: There is something about these
aboriginal Americans, in their highest characteristic representations,
essential traits, and the ensemble of their physique and
physiognomy--something very remote, very lofty, arousing comparisons
with our own civilized ideals--something that our literature, portrait
painting, &c., have never caught, and that will almost certainly never
be transmitted to the future, even as a reminiscence. No biographer,
no historian, no artist, has grasp'd it--perhaps could not grasp it.
It is so different, so far outside our standards of eminent humanity.
Their feathers, paint--even the empty buffalo skull--did not, to say
the least, seem any more ludicrous to me than many of the fashions I
have seen in civilized society. I should not apply the word savage (at
any rate, in the usual sense) as a leading word in the description of
those great aboriginal specimens, of whom I certainly saw many of the
best. There were moments, as I look'd at them or studied them, when
our own exemplification of personality, dignity, heroic presentation
anyhow (as in the conventions of society, or even in the accepted
poems and plays,) seem'd sickly, puny, inferior.

The interpreters, agents of the Indian Department, or other whites
accompanying the bands, in positions of responsibility, were always
interesting to me; I had many talks with them. Occasionally I would go
to the hotels where the bands were quarter'd, and spend an hour or
two informally. Of course we could not have much conversation--though
(through the interpreters) more of this than might be supposed
--sometimes quite animated and significant. I had the good luck to be
invariably receiv'd and treated by all of them in their most cordial

[Letter to W. W. from an artist, B. H., who has been much among the
American Indians:]

"I have just receiv'd your little paper on the Indian delegations.
In the fourth paragraph you say that there is something about the
essential traits of our aborigines which 'will almost certainly never
be transmitted to the future.' If I am so fortunate as to regain my
health I hope to weaken the force of that statement, at least in so
far as my talent and training will permit. I intend to spend some
years among them, and shall endeavor to perpetuate on canvas some of
the finer types, both men and women, and some of the characteristic
features of their life. It will certainly be well worth the while.
My artistic enthusiasm was never so thoroughly stirr'd up as by the
Indians. They certainly have more of beauty, dignity and nobility
mingled with their own wild individuality, than any of the other
indigenous types of man. Neither black nor Afghan, Arab nor Malay (and
I know them all pretty well) can hold a candle to the Indian. All of
the other aboriginal types seem to be more or less distorted from the
model of perfect human form--as we know it--the blacks, thin-hipped,
with bulbous limbs, not well mark'd; the Arabs large-jointed, &c. But
I have seen many a young Indian as perfect in form and feature as a
Greek statue--very different from a Greek statue, of course, but as
satisfying to the artistic perceptions and demand.

"And the worst, or perhaps the best of it all is that it will require
an artist--and a good one--to record the real facts and impressions.
Ten thousand photographs would not have the value of one really finely
felt painting. Color is all-important. No one but an artist knows how
much. An Indian is only half an Indian without the blue-black hair and
the brilliant eyes shining out of the wonderful dusky ochre and rose



I can myself almost remember negro slaves in New York State, as my
grandfather and great-grandfather (at West Hills, Suffolk county, New
York) own'd a number. The hard labor of the farm was mostly done by
them, and on the floor of the big kitchen, toward sundown, would be
squatting a circle of twelve or fourteen "pickaninnies," eating
their supper of pudding (Indian corn mush) and milk. A friend of my
grandfather, named Wortman, of Oyster Bay, died in 1810, leaving
ten slaves. Jeanette Treadwell, the last of them, died suddenly in
Flushing last summer (1884,) at the age of ninety-four years. I
remember "old Mose," one of the liberated West Hills slaves, well. He
was very genial, correct, manly, and cute, and a great friend of my

CANADA NIGHTS--_Late in August_--

Three wondrous nights. Effects of moon, clouds, stars, and
night-sheen, never surpass'd. I am out every night, enjoying all. The
sunset begins it. (I have said already how long evening lingers here.)
The moon, an hour high just after eight, is past her half, and looks
somehow more like a human face up there than ever before. As it grows
later, we have such gorgeous and broad cloud-effects, with Luna's
tawny halos, silver edgings--great fleeces, depths of blue-black in
patches, and occasionally long, low bars hanging silently a while,
and then gray bulging masses rolling along stately, sometimes in long
procession. The moon travels in Scorpion to-night, and dims all the
stars of that constellation except fiery Antares, who keeps on shining
just to the big one's side.


_Sept. 30, '82, 4.30 A.M._--I am down in Camden county, New Jersey, at
the farmhouse of the Staffords--have been looking a long while at
the comet--have in my time seen longer-tail'd ones, but never one so
pronounc'd in cometary character, and so spectral-fierce--so like some
great, pale, living monster of the air or sea. The atmosphere and sky,
an hour or so before sunrise, so cool, still, translucent, give the
whole apparition to great advantage. It is low in the east. The head
shows about as big as an ordinary good-sized saucer--is a perfectly
round and defined disk--the tail some sixty or seventy feet--not a
stripe, but quite broad, and gradually expanding. Impress'd with the
silent, inexplicably emotional sight, I linger and look till all
begins to weaken in the break of day.

_October 2_.--The third day of mellow, delicious, sunshiny weather.
I am writing this in the recesses of the old woods, my seat on a
big pine log, my back against a tree. Am down here a few days for a
change, to bask in the Autumn sun, to idle lusciously and simply, and
to eat hearty meals, especially my breakfast. Warm mid-days--the other
hours of the twenty-four delightfully fresh and mild--cool evenings,
and early mornings perfect. The scent of the woods, and the peculiar
aroma of a great yet unreap'd maize-field near by--the white
butterflies in every direction by day--the golden-rod, the wild
asters, and sunflowers--the song of the katydid all night.

Every day in Cooper's Woods, enjoying simple existence and the
passing hours--taking short walks--exercising arms and chest with the
saplings, or my voice with army songs or recitations. A perfect week
for weather; seven continuous days bright and dry and cool and
sunny. The nights splendid, with full moon--about 10 the grandest
of star-shows up in the east and south, Jupiter, Saturn, Capella,
Aldebaran, and great Orion. Am feeling pretty well--am outdoors most
of the time, absorbing the days and nights all I can.

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