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Complete Prose Works by Walt Whitman

Part 12 out of 13

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the outguards of the king's army at Kingsbridge, and proceeded to
Westchester. We afterwards attended meetings at Harrison's Purchase,
and Oblong, having the concurrence of our monthly meeting to take
some meetings in our way, a concern leading thereto having for some
time previously attended my mind. We pass'd from thence to Nine
Partners, and attended their monthly meeting, and then turn'd our
faces towards Philadelphia, being join'd by several others of the
Committee. We attended New Marlborough, Hardwick, and Kingswood
meetings on our journey, and arriv'd at Philadelphia on the 7th day
of the week, and 25th of 9th month, on which day we attended the
yearly meeting of Ministers and Elders, which began at the eleventh
hour. I also attended all the sittings of the yearly meeting until
the 4th day of the next week, and was then so indispos'd with a
fever, which had been increasing on me for several days, that I was
not able to attend after that time. I was therefore not present when
the subject was discuss' d, which came from our yearly meeting but I
was inform'd by my companion, that it was a very solemn opportunity,
and the matter was resulted in advising that the money should be
return'd into the office from whence it was receiv'd, accompanied
with our reasons for so doing: and this was accordingly done by the
direction of our yearly meeting the next year.

Then, season after season, when peace and Independence reign'd, year
following year, this remains to be (1791) a specimen of his personal

I was from home on this journey four months and eleven days; rode
about one thousand five hundred miles, and attended forty-nine
particular meetings among Friends, three quarterly meetings, six
monthly meetings, and forty meetings among other people.

And again another experience:

In the forepart of this meeting, my mind was reduc'd into such a
state of great weakness and depression, that my faith was almost
ready to fail, which produc'd great searchings of heart, so that I
was led to call in question all that I had ever before experienc'd.
In this state of doubting, I was ready to wish myself at home, from
an apprehension that I should only expose myself to reproach, and
wound the cause I was embark'd in; for the heavens seem'd like
brass, and the earth as iron; such coldness and hardness, I thought,
could scarcely have ever been experienc'd before by any creature, so
great was the depth of my baptism at this time; nevertheless, as I
endeavor'd to quiet my mind, in this conflicting dispensation, and
be resign'd to my allotment, however distressing, towards the latter
part of the meeting a ray of light broke through the surrounding
darkness, in which the Shepherd of Israel was pleas'd to arise, and
by the light of his glorious countenance, to scatter those clouds of
opposition. Then ability was receiv'd, and utterance given, to speak
of his marvellous works in the redemption of souls, and to op
the way of life and salvation, and the mysteries of his glorious
kingdom, which are hid from the wise and prudent of this world, and
reveal'd only unto those who are reduc'd into the state of little
children and babes in Christ.

And concluding another jaunt in 1794:

I was from home in this journey about five months, and travell
by land and water about two thousand two hundred and eighty-three
miles; having visited all the meetings of Friends in the New England
states, and many meetings amongst those of other professions; and
also visited many meetings, among Friends and others, in the upper
part of our own yearly meeting; and found real peace in my labors.

Another 'tramp' in 1798:

I was absent from home in this journey about five months and two
weeks, and rode about sixteen hundred miles, and attended about one
hundred and forty-three meetings.

Here are some memoranda of 1813, near home:

First day. Our meeting this day pass'd in silent labor. The cloud
rested on the tabernacle; and, although it was a day of much rain
outwardly, yet very little of the dew of Hermon appear'd to distil
among us. Nevertheless, a comfortable calm was witness'd towards the
close, which we must render to the account of unmerited mercy and

Second day. Most of this day was occupied in a visit to a sick
friend, who appeared comforted therewith. Spent part of the evening
in reading part of Paul's Epistle to the Romans.

Third day. I was busied most of this day in my common vocations.
Spent the evening principally in reading Paul. Found considerable
satisfaction in his first epistle to the Corinthians; in which he
shows the danger of some in setting too high a value on those who
were instrumental in bringing them to the knowledge of the truth,
without looking through and beyond the instrument, to the great
first cause and Author of every blessing, to whom all the praise and
honor are due.

Fifth day, 1st of 4th month. At our meeting to-day found it, as
usual, a very close steady exercise to keep the mind center'
where it ought to be. What a multitude of intruding thoughts
imperceptibly, as it were, steal into the mind, and turn it from its
proper object, whenever it relaxes its vigilance in watching against
them. Felt a little strength, just at the close, to remind Friends
of the necessity of a steady perseverance, by a recapitulation of
the parable of the unjust judge, showing how men ought always to
pray, and not to faint.

Sixth day. Nothing material occurr'd, but a fear lest the cares of
the world should engross too much of my time.

Seventh day. Had an agreeable visit from two ancient friends, which
I have long lov'd. The rest of the day I employ'd in manual labor,
mostly in gardening.

But we find if we attend to records and details, we shall lay out an
endless task. We can briefly say, summarily, that his whole life was
a long religious missionary life of method, practicality, sincerity,
earnestness, and pure piety--as near to his time here, as one in
Judea, far back--or in any life, any age. The reader who feels
interested must get--with all its dryness and mere dates, absence of
emotionality or literary quality, and whatever abstract attraction
(with even a suspicion of cant, sniffling,) the "Journal of the Life
and Religious Labours of Elias Hicks, written by himself," at some
Quaker book-store. (It is from this headquarters I have extracted the
preceding quotations.) During E. H.'s matured life, continued from
fifty to sixty years--while working steadily, earning his living
and paying his way without intermission--he makes, as previously
memorandized, several hundred preaching visits, not only through Long
Island, but some of them away into the Middle or Southern States, or
north into Canada, or the then far West--extending to thousands of
miles, or filling several weeks and sometimes months. These religious
journeys--scrupulously accepting in payment only his transportation
from place to place, with his own food and shelter, and never
receiving a dollar of money for "salary" or preaching--Elias, through
good bodily health and strength, continues till quite the age of
eighty. It was thus at one of his latest jaunts in Brooklyn city I saw
and heard him. This sight and hearing shall now be described.

Elias Hicks was at this period in the latter part (November or
December) of 1829. It was the last tour of the many missions of the
old man's life. He was in the 8lst year of his age, and a few months
before he had lost by death a beloved wife with whom he had lived in
unalloyed affection and esteem for 58 years. (But a few months after
this meeting Elias was paralyzed and died.) Though it is sixty years
ago since--and I a little boy at the time in Brooklyn, New York--I can
remember my father coming home toward sunset from his day's work
as carpenter, and saying briefly, as he throws down his armful of
kindling-blocks with a bounce on the kitchen floor, "Come, mother,
Elias preaches to-night." Then my mother, hastening the supper and the
table-cleaning afterward, gets a neighboring young woman, a friend of
the family, to step in and keep house for an hour or so--puts the two
little ones to bed--and as I had been behaving well that day, as a
special reward I was allow'd to go also.

We start for the meeting. Though, as I said, the stretch of more than
half a century has pass'd over me since then, with its war and peace,
and all its joys and sins and deaths (and what a half century! how it
comes up sometimes for an instant, like the lightning flash in a storm
at night!) I can recall that meeting yet. It is a strange place
for religious devotions. Elias preaches anywhere--no respect to
buildings--private or public houses, school-rooms, barns, even
theatres--anything that will accommodate. This time it is in a
handsome ball-room, on Brooklyn Heights, overlooking New York, and in
full sight of that great city, and its North and East rivers fill'd
with ships--is (to specify more particularly) the second story of
"Morrison's Hotel," used for the most genteel concerts, balls,
and assemblies--a large, cheerful, gay-color'd room, with glass
chandeliers bearing myriads of sparkling pendants, plenty of settees
and chairs, and a sort of velvet divan running all round the
side-walls. Before long the divan and all the settees and chairs
are fill'd; many fashionables out of curiosity; all the principal
dignitaries of the town, Gen. Jeremiah Johnson, Judge Furman, George
Hall, Mr. Willoughby, Mr. Pierrepont, N.B. Morse, Cyrus P. Smith,
and F.C. Tucker. Many young folks too; some richly dress'd women;
I remember I noticed with one party of ladies a group of uniform'd
officers, either from the U.S. Navy Yard, or some ship in the stream,
or some adjacent fort. On a slightly elevated platform at the head of
the room, facing the audience, sit a dozen or more Friends, most of
them elderly, grim, and with their broad-brimm'd hats on their heads.
Three or four women, too, in their characteristic Quaker costumes and
bonnets. All still as the grave.

At length after a pause and stillness becoming almost painful, Elias
rises and stands for a moment or two without a word. A tall,
straight figure, neither stout nor very thin, dress'd in drab cloth,
clean-shaved face, forehead of great expanse, and large and clear
black eyes,[42] long or middling-long white hair; he was at this time
between 80 and 81 years of age, his head still wearing the broad-brim.
A moment looking around the audience with those piercing eyes, amid
the perfect stillness. (I can almost see him and the whole scene
now.) Then the words come from his lips, very emphatically and slowly
pronounc'd, in a resonant, grave, melodious voice, _What is the chief
end of man? I was told in my early youth, it was to glorify God, and
seek and enjoy him forever._

I cannot follow the discourse. It presently becomes very fervid, and
in the midst of its fervor he takes the broad-brim hat from his head,
and almost dashing it down with violence on the seat behind, continues
with uninterrupted earnestness. But, I say, I cannot repeat, hardly
suggest his sermon. Though the differences and disputes of the formal
division of the Society of Friends were even then under way, he did
not allude to them at all. A pleading, tender, nearly agonizing
conviction, and magnetic stream of natural eloquence, before which
all minds and natures, all emotions, high or low, gentle or simple,
yielded entirely without exception, was its cause, method, and effect.
Many, very many were in tears. Years afterward in Boston, I heard
Father Taylor, the sailor's preacher, and found in his passionate
unstudied oratory the resemblance to Elias Hicks's--not argumentative
or intellectual, but so penetrating--so different from anything in
the books--(different as the fresh air of a May morning or sea-shore
breeze from the atmosphere of a perfumer's shop.)

While he goes on he falls into the nasality and sing-song tone
sometimes heard in such meetings; but in a moment or two more as if
recollecting himself, he breaks off, stops, and resumes in a natural
tone. This occurs three or four times during the talk of the evening,
till all concludes.

Now and then, at the many scores and hundreds--even thousands--of his
discourses--as at this one--he was very mystical and radical,[43] and
had much to say of "the light within." Very likely this same inner
light, (so dwelt upon by newer men, as by Fox and Barclay at the
beginning, and all Friends and deep thinkers since and now,) is
perhaps only another name for the religious conscience. In my opinion
they have all diagnos'd, like superior doctors, the real in-most
disease of our times, probably any times. Amid the huge inflammation
call'd society, and that other inflammation call'd politics, what is
there to-day of moral power and ethic sanity as antiseptic to them and
all? Though I think the essential elements of the moral nature exist
latent in the good average people of the United States of to-day,
and sometimes break out strongly, it is certain that any mark'd or
dominating National Morality (if I may use the phrase) has not only
not yet been develop'd, but that--at any rate when the point of view
is turn'd on business, politics, competition, practical life, and in
character and manners in our New World--there seems to be a hideous
depletion, almost absence, of such moral nature. Elias taught
throughout, as George Fox began it, or rather reiterated and verified
it, the Platonic doctrine that the ideals of character, of justice,
of religious action, whenever the highest is at stake, are to be
conform'd to no outside doctrine of creeds, Bibles, legislative
enactments, conventionalities, or even decorums, but are to follow the
inward Deity-planted law of the emotional soul. In this only the
true Quaker, or Friend, has faith; and it is from rigidly, perhaps
strainingly carrying it out, that both the Old and New England records
of Quakerdom show some unseemly and insane acts.

In one of the lives of Ralph Waldo Emerson is a list of lessons or
instructions, ("seal'd orders" the biographer calls them,) prepar'd by
the sage himself for his own guidance. Here is one:

Go forth with thy message among thy fellow-creatures; teach them that
they must trust themselves as guided by that inner light which dwells
with the pure in heart, to whom it was promis'd of old that they shall
see God.

How thoroughly it fits the life and theory of Elias Hicks. Then in
Omar Khayyam:

I sent my soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that after-life to spell,
And by-and-by my soul return'd to me,
And answer'd, "I myself am Heaven and Hell."

Indeed, of this important element of the theory and practice of
Quakerism, the difficult-to-describe "Light within" or "Inward Law, by
which all must be either justified or condemn'd," I will not undertake
where so many have fail'd--the task of making the statement of it for
the average comprehension. We will give, partly for the matter and
partly as specimen of his speaking and writing style, what Elias Hicks
himself says in allusion to it--one or two of very many passages.
Most of his discourses, like those of Epictetus and the ancient
peripatetics, have left no record remaining--they were extempore, and
those were not the times of reporters. Of one, however, deliver'd in
Chester, Pa., toward the latter part of his career, there is a careful
transcript; and from it (even if presenting you a sheaf of hidden
wheat that may need to be pick'd and thrash'd out several times before
you get the grain,) we give the following extract:

I don't want to express a great many words; but I want you to be
call'd home to the substance. For the Scriptures, and all the
books in the world, can do no more; Jesus could do no more than to
recommend to this Comforter, which was the light in him. "God is
light, and in him is no darkness at all; and if we walk in the
light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another."
Because the light is one in all, and therefore it binds us together
in the bonds of love; for it is not only light, but love--that love
which casts out all fear. So that they who dwell in God dwell in
love, and they are constrain'd to walk in it; and if they "walk in
it, they have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus
Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin."

But what blood, my friends? Did Jesus Christ, the Saviour, ever have
any material blood? Not a drop of it, my friends--not a drop of it.
That blood which cleanseth from the life of all sin, was the life of
the soul of Jesus. The soul of man has no material blood; but as the
outward material blood, created from the dust of the earth, is the
life of these bodies of flesh, so with respect to the soul, the
immortal and invisible spirit, its blood is that life which God
breath'd into it.

As we read, in the beginning, that "God form'd man of the dust of
the ground, and breath'd into him the breath of life, and man became
a living soul." He breath'd into that soul, and it became alive to

Then, from one of his many letters, for he seems to have delighted in

Some may query, What is the cross of Christ? To these I answer, It
is the perfect law of God, written on the tablet of the hear
and in the heart of every rational creature, in such indelible
characters that all the power of mortals cannot erase nor obliterate
it. Neither is there any power or means given or dispens'd to the
children of men, but this inward law and light, by which the true
and saving knowledge of God can be obtain' d. And by this inward law
and light, all will be either justified or condemn'd, and all made
to know God for themselves, and be left without excuse, agreeably to
the prophecy of Jeremiah, and the corroborating testimony of Jesus
in his last counsel and command to his disciples, not to depart from
Jerusalem till they should receive power from on high; assuring them
that they should receive power, when they had receiv'd the pouring
forth of the spirit upon them, which would qualify them to bear
witness of him in Judea, Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the uttermost
parts of the earth; which was verified in a marvellous manner on the
day of Pentecost, when thousands were converted to the Christian
faith in one day.

By which it is evident that nothing but this inward light and law,
as it is heeded and obey'd, ever did, or ever can, make a true
and real Christian and child of God. And until the professors
of Christianity agree to lay aside all their non-essentials in
religion, and rally to this unchangeable foundation and standard of
truth, wars and fightings, confusion and error, will prevail, and
the angelic song cannot be heard in our land--that of "glory to God
in the highest, and on earth peace and good will to men."

But when all nations are made willing to make this inward law and
light the rule and standard of all their faith and works, then we
shall be brought to know and believe alike, that there is but one
Lord, one faith, and but one baptism; one God and Father, that is
above all, through all, and in all.

And then will all those glorious and consoling prophecies recorded
in the scriptures of truth be fulfill'd--"He," the Lord, "shall
judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they
shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into
pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up the sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. The wolf also shall dwell
with the lamb; and the cow and the bear shall feed; and the lion
shall eat straw like the ox; and the sucking child shall play
the hole of the asp, and the wean'd child put his hand on the
cockatrice's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy
mountain; for the earth," that is our earthly tabernacle, "shall be
full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."

The exposition in the last sentence, that the terms of the texts are
not to be taken in their literal meaning, but in their spiritual one,
and allude to a certain wondrous exaltation of the body, through
religious influences, is significant, and is but one of a great number
of instances of much that is obscure, to "the world's people," in the
preachings of this remarkable man.

Then a word about his physical oratory, connected with the preceding.
If there is, as doubtless there is, an unnameable something behind
oratory, a fund within or atmosphere without, deeper than art, deeper
even than proof, that unnameable constitutional something Elias Hicks
emanated from his very heart to the hearts of his audience, or carried
with him, or probed into, and shook and arous'd in them--a sympathetic
germ, probably rapport, lurking in every human eligibility, which no
book, no rule, no statement has given or can give inherent knowledge,
intuition--not even the best speech, or best put forth, but launch'd
out only by powerful human magnetism:

Unheard by sharpest ear--unformed in clearest eye, or cunningest
Nor lore, nor fame, nor happiness, nor wealth,
And yet the pulse of every heart and life throughout the world,
Which you and I, and all, pursuing ever, ever miss;
Open, but still a secret--the real of the real--an illusion;
Costless, vouchsafed to each, yet never man the owner;
Which poets vainly seek to put in rhyme----historians in prose;
Which sculptor never chisel'd yet, nor painter painted;
Which vocalist never sung, nor orator nor actor ever utter' d.

That remorse, too, for a mere worldly life--that aspiration towards
the ideal, which, however overlaid, lies folded latent, hidden, in
perhaps every character. More definitely, as near as I remember (aided
by my dear mother long afterward,) Elias Hicks's discourse there in
the Brooklyn ball-room, was one of his old never-remitted appeals to
that moral mystical portion of human nature, the inner light. But it
is mainly for the scene itself, and Elias's personnel, that I recall
the incident.

Soon afterward the old man died:

On first day morning, the 14th of 2d month (February, 1830,) he was
engaged in his room, writing to a friend, until a little after ten
o'clock, when he return'd to that occupied by the family, apparently
just attack'd by a paralytic affection, which nearly deprived h
of the use of his right side, and of the power of speech. Being
assisted to a chair near the fire, he manifested by signs, that the
letter which he had just finish'd, and which had been dropp'd
the way, should be taken care of; and on its being brought to him,
appear'd satisfied, and manifested a desire that all should sit down
and be still, seemingly sensible that his labours were brought to a
close, and only desirous of quietly waiting the final change. The
solemn composure at this time manifest in his countenance, w
very impressive, indicating that he was sensible the time of his
departure was at hand, and that the prospect of death brought no
terrors with it. During his last illness, his mental faculti
were occasionally obscured, yet he was at times enabled to give
satisfactory evidence to those around him, that all was well, and
that he felt nothing in his way.

His funeral took place on fourth day, the 3rd of 3rd month. It was
attended by a large concourse of Friends and others, and a solid
meeting was held on the occasion; after which, his remains were
interr'd in Friends' burial-ground at this place (Jericho, Queens
county, New York.)

I have thought (even presented so incompletely, with such fearful
hiatuses, and in my own feebleness and waning life) one might well
memorize this life of Elias Hicks. Though not eminent in literature or
politics or inventions or business, it is a token of not a few, and is
significant. Such men do not cope with statesmen or soldiers--but I
have thought they deserve to be recorded and kept up as a sample--that
this one specially does. I have already compared it to a little
flowing liquid rill of Nature's life, maintaining freshness. As if,
indeed, under the smoke of battles, the blare of trumpets, and the
madness of contending hosts--the screams of passion, the groans of the
suffering, the parching of struggles of money and politics, and all
hell's heat and noise and competition above and around--should come
melting down from the mountains from sources of unpolluted snows, far
up there in God's hidden, untrodden recesses, and so rippling along
among us low in the ground, at men's very feet, a curious little brook
of clear and cool, and ever-healthy, ever-living water.

_Note.--The Separation_.--The division vulgarly call'd between
Orthodox and Hicksites in the Society of Friends took place in 1827,
'8 and '9. Probably it had been preparing some time. One who was
present has since described to me the climax, at a meeting of Friends
in Philadelphia crowded by a great attendance of both sexes, with
Elias as principal speaker. In the course of his utterance or argument
he made use of these words: "The blood of Christ--the blood of
Christ--why, my friends, the actual blood of Christ in itself was no
more effectual than the blood of bulls and goats--not a bit more--not
a bit." At these words, after a momentary hush, commenced a great
tumult. Hundreds rose to their feet.... Canes were thump'd upon the
floor. From all parts of the house angry mutterings. Some left the
place, but more remain'd, with exclamations, flush'd faces and eyes.
This was the definite utterance, the overt act, which led to the
separation. Families diverg'd--even husbands and wives, parents and
children, were separated.

Of course what Elias promulg'd spread a great commotion among the
Friends. Sometimes when he presented himself to speak in the meeting,
there would be opposition--this led to angry words, gestures, unseemly
noises, recriminations. Elias, at such times, was deeply affected--the
tears roll'd in streams down his cheeks--he silently waited the close
of the dispute. "Let the Friend speak; let the Friend speak!" he would
say when his supporters in the meeting tried to bluff off some violent
orthodox person objecting to the new doctrinaire. But he never

A reviewer of the old dispute and separation made the following
comments on them in a paper ten years ago: "It was in America, where
there had been no persecution worth mentioning since Mary Dyer was
hang'd on Boston Common, that about fifty years ago differences arose,
singularly enough upon doctrinal points of the divinity of Christ and
the nature of the atonement. Whoever would know how bitter was the
controversy, and how much of human infirmity was found to be still
lurking under broad-brim hats and drab coats, must seek for the
information in the Lives of Elias Hicks and of Thomas Shillitoe, the
latter an English Friend, who visited us at this unfortunate time, and
who exercised his gifts as a peace-maker with but little success. The
meetings, according to his testimony, were sometimes turn'd into mobs.
The disruption was wide, and seems to have been final. Six of the
ten yearly meetings were divided; and since that time various
sub-divisions have come, four or five in number. There has never,
however, been anything like a repetition of the excitement of the
Hicksite controversy; and Friends of all kinds at present appear to
have settled down into a solid, steady, comfortable state, and to be
working in their own way without troubling other Friends whose ways
are different."

_Note_.--Old persons, who heard this man in his day, and who glean'd
impressions from what they saw of him, (judg'd from their own points
of views,) have, in their conversation with me, dwelt on another
point. They think Elias Hicks had a large element of personal
ambition, the pride of leadership, of establishing perhaps a sect that
should reflect his own name, and to which he should give especial form
and character. Very likely. Such indeed seems the means, all through
progress and civilization, by which strong men and strong convictions
achieve anything definite. But the basic foundation of Elias was
undoubtedly genuine religious fervor. He was like an old Hebrew
prophet. He had the spirit of one, and in his later years look'd like
one. What Carlyle says of John Knox will apply to him:

He is an instance to us how a man, by sincerity itself, becomes
heroic; it is the grand gift he has. We find in him a good, honest,
intellectual talent, no transcendent one;--a narrow, inconsiderable
man, as compared with Luther; but in heartfelt instinctive adherence
to truth, in _sincerity_ as we say, he has no superior; nay, one
might ask, What equal he has? The heart of him is of the true
Prophet cast. "He lies there," said the Earl of Morton at Knox's
grave, "who never fear'd the face of man." He resembles, more than
any of the moderns, an old Hebrew Prophet. The same inflexibility,
intolerance, rigid, narrow-looking adherence to God's truth.

_A Note yet. The United States to-day_.--While under all previous
conditions (even convictions) of society, Oriental, Feudal,
Ecclesiastical, and in all past (or present) Despotisms, through the
entire past, there existed, and exists yet, in ally and fusion with
them, and frequently forming the main part of them, certain churches,
institutes, priesthoods, fervid beliefs, &c., practically promoting
religious and moral action to the fullest degrees of which humanity
there under circumstances was capable, and often conserving all there
was of justice, art, literature, and good manners--it is clear I say,
that, under the Democratic Institutes of the United States, now and
henceforth, there are no equally genuine fountains of fervid beliefs,
adapted to produce similar moral and religious results, according to
our circumstances. I consider that the churches, sects, pulpits,
of the present day, in the United States, exist not by any solid
convictions, but by a sort of tacit, supercilious, scornful suffrance.
Few speak openly--none officially--against them. But the ostent
continuously imposing, who is not aware that any such living fountains
of belief in them are now utterly ceas'd and departed from the minds
of men?

_A Lingering Note_.--In the making of a full man, all the other
consciences, (the emotional, courageous, intellectual, esthetic, &c.,)
are to be crown'd and effused by the religious conscience. In the
higher structure of a human self, or of community, the Moral, the
Religious, the Spiritual, is strictly analogous to the subtle
vitalization and antiseptic play call'd Health in the physiologic
structure. To person or State, the main verteber (or rather _the_
verteber) is Morality.

That is indeed the only real vitalization of character, and of all the
supersensual, even heroic and artistic portions of man or nationality.
It is to run through and knit the superior parts, and keep man or
State vital and upright, as health keeps the body straight and
blooming. Of course a really grand and strong and beautiful character
is probably to be slowly grown, and adjusted strictly with reference
to itself, its own personal and social sphere--with (paradox though
it may be) the clear understanding that the conventional theories of
life, worldly ambition, wealth, office, fame, &c., are essentially but
glittering mayas, delusions.

Doubtless the greatest scientists and theologians will sometimes find
themselves saying, It isn't only those who know most, who contribute
most to God's glory. Doubtless these very scientists at times stand
with bared heads before the humblest lives and personalities. For
there is something greater (is there not?) than all the science
and poems of the world--above all else, like the stars shining
eternal--above Shakspere's plays, or Concord philosophy, or art of
Angelo or Raphael--something that shines elusive, like beams
of Hesperus at evening--high above all the vaunted wealth and
pride--prov'd by its practical outcropping in life, each case after
its own concomitants--the intuitive blending of divine love and faith
in a human emotional character--blending for all, for the unlearn'd,
the common, and the poor.

I don't know in what book I once read, (possibly the remark has been
made in books, all ages,) that no life ever lived, even the most
uneventful, but, probed to its centre, would be found in itself as
subtle a drama as any that poets have ever sung, or playwrights
fabled. Often, too, in size and weight, that life suppos'd obscure.
For it isn't only the palpable stars; astronomers say there are dark,
or almost dark, unnotic'd orbs and suns, (like the dusky companions of
Sirius, seven times as large as our own sun,) rolling through space,
real and potent as any--perhaps the most real and potent. Yet none
recks of them. In the bright lexicon we give the spreading heavens,
they have not even names. Amid ceaseless sophistications all
times, the soul would seem to glance yearningly around for such
contrasts--such cool, still offsets.


[42]In Walter Scott's reminiscences he speaks of Burns as having the
most eloquent, glowing, flashing, illuminated dark-orbed eyes he ever
beheld in a human face; and I think Elias Hicks's must have been like

[43] The true Christian religion, (such was the teaching of Elias
Hicks,) consists neither in rites or Bibles or sermons or Sundays--but
in noiseless secret ecstasy and unremitted aspiration, in purity, in a
good practical life, in charity to the poor and toleration to all. He
said, "A man may keep the Sabbath, may belong to a church and attend
all the observances, have regular family prayer, keep a well-bound
copy of the Hebrew Scriptures in a conspicuous place in his house, and
yet not be a truly religious person at all." E. believ'd little in
a church as organiz'd-even his own--with houses, ministers, or with
salaries, creeds, Sundays, saints, Bibles, holy festivals, &c. But
he believ' d always in the universal church, in the soul of man,
invisibly rapt, ever-waiting, ever-responding to universal truths.--He
was fond of pithy proverbs. He said, "It matters not where you live,
but how you live." He said once to my father, "They talk of the
devil--I tell thee, Walter, there is no worse devil than man."


While we are about it, we must almost Inevitably go back to the origin
of the Society of which Elias Hicks has so far prov'd to be the most
mark'd individual result. We must revert to the latter part of the
16th, and all, or nearly all of that 17th century, crowded with so
many important historical events, changes, and personages. Throughout
Europe, and especially in what we call our Mother Country, men were
unusually arous'd--(some would say demented.) It was a special age of
the insanity of witch-trials and witch-hangings. In one year 60 were
hung for witchcraft in one English county alone. It was peculiarly an
age of military-religious conflict. Protestantism and Catholicism were
wrestling like giants for the mastery, straining every nerve. Only to
think of it--that age! its events, persons--Shakspere just dead, (his
folios publish'd, complete)--Charles 1st, the shadowy spirit and the
solid block! To sum up all, it was the age of Cromwell!

As indispensable foreground, indeed, for Elias Hicks, and perhaps sine
qua non to an estimate of the kind of man, we must briefly transport
ourselves back to the England of that period. As I say, it is the time
of tremendous moral and political agitation; ideas of conflicting
forms, governments, theologies, seethe and dash like ocean storms, and
ebb and flow like mighty tides. It was, or had been, the time of the
long feud between the Parliament and the Crown. In the midst of
the sprouts, began George Fox--born eight years after the death of
Shakspere. He was the son of a weaver, himself a shoemaker, and was
"converted" before the age of 20. But O the sufferings, mental and
physical, through which those years of the strange youth pass'd! He
claim'd to be sent by God to fulfill a mission. "I come," he said, "to
direct people to the spirit that gave forth the Scriptures." The range
of his thought, even then, cover'd almost every important subject of
after times, anti-slavery, women's rights, &c. Though in a low sphere,
and among the masses, he forms a mark'd feature in the age.

And how, indeed, beyond all any, that stormy and perturb'd age! The
foundations of the old, the superstitious, the conventionally poetic,
the credulous, all breaking--the light of the new, and of science and
democracy, definitely beginning--a mad, fierce, almost crazy age!
The political struggles of the reigns of the Charleses, and of the
Protectorate of Cromwell, heated to frenzy by theological struggles.
Those were the years following the advent and practical working of the
Reformation--but Catholicism is yet strong, and yet seeks supremacy.
We think our age full of the flush of men and doings, and culminations
of war and peace; and so it is. But there could hardly be a grander
and more picturesque and varied age than that.

Born out of and in this age, when Milton, Bunyan, Dryden and John
Locke were still living--amid the memories of Queen Elizabeth and
James First, and the events of their reigns--when the radiance of that
galaxy of poets, warriors, statesmen, captains, lords, explorers, wits
and gentlemen, that crowded the courts and times of those sovereigns
still fill'd the atmosphere--when America commencing to be explor'd
and settled commenc'd also to be suspected as destin'd to overthrow
the old standards and calculations--when Feudalism, like a sunset,
seem'd to gather all its glories, reminiscences, personalisms, in one
last gorgeous effort, before the advance of a new day, a new incipient
genius--amid the social and domestic circles of that period--indifferent
to reverberations that seem'd enough to wake the dead, and in a sphere
far from the pageants of the court, the awe of any personal rank or charm
of intellect, or literature, or the varying excitement of Parliamentarian
or Royalist fortunes--this curious young rustic goes wandering up and
down England.

George Fox, born 1624, was of decent stock, in ordinary lower life--as
he grew along toward manhood, work'd at shoemaking, also at farm
labors--loved to be much by himself, half-hidden in the woods,
reading the Bible--went about from town to town, dress'd in leather
clothes--walk'd much at night, solitary, deeply troubled ("the inward
divine teaching of the Lord")--sometimes goes among the ecclesiastical
gatherings of the great professors, and though a mere youth bears
bold testimony--goes to and fro disputing--(must have had great
personality)--heard the voice of the Lord speaking articulately to
him, as he walk'd in the fields--feels resistless commands not to be
explain'd, but follow'd, to abstain from taking off his hat, to say
_Thee_ and _Thou_, and not bid others Good morning or Good evening-was
illiterate, could just read and write-testifies against shows, games,
and frivolous pleasures--enters the courts and warns the judges that
they see to doing justice--goes into public houses and market-places,
with denunciations of drunkenness and money-making--rises in the
midst of the church-services, and gives his own explanations of the
ministers' explanations, and of Bible passages and texts--sometimes
for such things put in prison, sometimes struck fiercely on the mouth
on the spot, or knock'd down, and lying there beaten and bloody--was
of keen wit, ready to any question with the most apropos of
answers--was sometimes press'd for a soldier, (_him_ for a
soldier!)--was indeed terribly buffeted; but goes, goes, goes--often
sleeping out-doors, under hedges, or hay stacks--forever taken before
justices--improving such, and all occasions, to _bear testimony_, and
give good advice--still enters the "steeple-houses," (as he calls
churches,) and though often dragg'd out and whipt till he faints
away, and lies like one dead, when he comes-to--stands up again, and
offering himself all bruis'd and bloody, cries out to his tormenters,
"Strike--strike again, here where you have not yet touch'd! my arms,
my head, my cheeks,"--Is at length arrested and sent up to London,
confers with the Protector, Cromwell,--is set at liberty, and holds
great meetings in London.

Thus going on, there is something in him that fascinates one or two
here, and three or four there, until gradually there were others who
went about in the same spirit, and by degrees the Society of Friends
took shape, and stood among the thousand religious sects of the
world. Women also catch the contagion, and go round, often shamefully
misused. By such contagion these ministerings, by scores, almost
hundreds of poor travelling men and women, keep on year after
year, through ridicule, whipping, imprisonment, &c.--some of the
Friend-ministers emigrate to New England--where their treatment
makes the blackest part of the early annals of the New World. Some
were executed, others maim'd, par-burnt, and scourg'd--two hundred die
in prison--some on the gallows, or at the stake.

George Fox himself visited America, and found a refuge and hearers,
and preach'd many times on Long Island, New York State. In the village
of Oysterbay they will show you the rock on which he stood, (1672,)
addressing the multitude, in the open air--thus rigidly following the
fashion of apostolic times.--(I have heard myself many reminiscences
of him.) Flushing also contains (or contain'd--I have seen them)
memorials of Fox, and his son, in two aged white-oak trees, that
shaded him while he bore his testimony to people gather'd in the
highway.--Yes, the American Quakers were much persecuted--almost as
much, by a sort of consent of all the other sects, as the Jews were
in Europe in the middle ages. In New England, the cruelest laws
were pass'd, and put in execution against them. As said, some were
whipt--women the same as men. Some had their ears cut off--others
their tongues pierc'd with hot irons--others their faces branded.
Worse still, a woman and three men had been hang'd, (1660.)--Public
opinion, and the statutes, join'd together, in an odious union,
Quakers, Baptists, Roman Catholics and Witches.--Such a fragmentary
sketch of George Fox and his time--and the advent of "the Society of
Friends" in America.

Strange as it may sound, Shakspere and George Fox, (think of them!
compare them!) were born and bred of similar stock, in much the same
surroundings and station in life--from the same England--and at
a similar period. One to radiate all of art's, all literature's
splendor--a splendor so dazzling that he himself is almost lost in
it, and his contemporaries the same--his fictitious Othello, Romeo,
Hamlet, Lear, as real as any lords of England or Europe then and
there--more real to us, the mind sometimes thinks, than the man
Shakspere himself. Then the other--may we indeed name him the same
day? What is poor plain George Fox compared to William Shakspere--to
fancy's lord, imagination's heir? Yet George Fox stands for something
too--a thought--the thought that wakes in silent hours--perhaps the
deepest, most eternal thought latent in the human soul. This is
the thought of God, merged in the thoughts of moral right and the
immortality of identity. Great, great is this thought--aye, greater
than all else. When the gorgeous pageant of Art, refulgent in the
sunshine, color'd with roses and gold--with all the richest mere
poetry, old or new, (even Shakespere's) with all that statue, play,
painting, music, architecture, oratory, can effect, ceases to satisfy
and please--When the eager chase after wealth flags, and beauty itself
becomes a loathing--and when all worldly or carnal or esthetic,
or even scientific values, having done their office to the human
character, and minister'd their part to its development--then, if
not before, comes forward this over-arching thought, and brings its
eligibilities, germinations. Most neglected in life of all humanity's
attributes, easily cover'd with crust, deluded and abused, rejected,
yet the only certain source of what all are seeking, but few or none
finding it I for myself clearly see the first, the last, the deepest
depths and highest heights of art, of literature, and of the purposes
of life. I say whoever labors here, makes contributions here, or best
of all sets an incarnated example here, of life or death, is dearest
to humanity--remains after the rest are gone. And here, for these
purposes, and up to the light that was in him, the man Elias Hicks--as
the man George Fox had done years before him--lived long, and died,
faithful in life, and faithful in death.



In the domain of Literature loftily consider'd (an accomplish'd and
veteran critic in his just out work[44] now says,) 'the kingdom of the
Father has pass'd; the kingdom of the Son is passing; the kingdom of
the Spirit begins.' Leaving the reader to chew on and extract the
juice and meaning of this, I will proceed to say in melanged form what
I have had brought out by the English author's essay (he discusses
the poetic art mostly) on my own, real, or by him supposed, views and
purports. If I give any answers to him, or explanations of what my
books intend, they will be not direct but indirect and derivative. Of
course this brief jotting is personal. Something very like querulous
egotism and growling may break through the narrative (for I have been
and am rejected by all the great magazines, carry now my 72d annual
burden, and have been a paralytic for 18 years.)

No great poem or other literary or artistic work of any scope, old or
new, can be essentially consider'd without weighing first the age,
politics (or want of politics) and aim, visible forms, unseen
soul, and current times, out of the midst of which it rises and is
formulated: as the Biblic canticles and their days and spirit--as the
Homeric, or Dante's utterance, or Shakspere's, or the old Scotch or
Irish ballads, or Ossian, or Omar Khayyam. So I have conceiv'd and
launch'd, and work'd for years at, my 'Leaves of Grass'--personal
emanations only at best, but with specialty of emergence and
background--the ripening of the nineteenth century, the thought and
fact and radiation of individuality, of America, the secession war,
and showing the democratic conditions supplanting everything that
insults them or impedes their aggregate way. Doubtless my poems
illustrate (one of novel thousands to come for a long period) those
conditions; but "democratic art" will have to wait long before it is
satisfactorily formulated and defined--if it ever is.

I will now for one indicative moment lock horns with what many Think
the greatest thing, the question of _art_, so-call'd. I have not seen
without learning something therefrom, how, with hardly an exception,
the poets of this age devote themselves, always mainly, sometimes
altogether, to fine rhyme, spicy verbalism, the fabric and cut of the
garment, jewelry, _concetti_, style, art. To-day these adjuncts are
certainly the effort, beyond all else, yet the lesson of Nature
undoubtedly is, to proceed with single purpose toward the result
necessitated, and for which the time has arrived, utterly regardless
of the outputs of shape, appearance or criticism, which are always
left to settle themselves. I have not only not bother'd much about
style, form, art, etc., but confess to more or less apathy (I believe
I have sometimes caught myself in decided aversion) toward them
throughout, asking nothing of them but negative advantages--that they
should never impede me, and never under any circumstances, or for
their own purposes only, assume any mastery over me.

From the beginning I have watch'd the sharp and sometimes heavy and
deep-penetrating objections and reviews against my work, and I hope
entertain'd and audited them; (for I have probably had an advantage in
constructing from a central and unitary principle since the first, but
at long intervals and stages--sometimes lapses of five or six years,
or peace or war.) Ruskin, the Englishman, charges as a fearful and
serious lack that my poems have no humor. A profound German critic
complains that, compared with the luxuriant and well-accepted songs
of the world, there is about my verse a certain coldness, severity,
absence of spice, polish, or of consecutive meaning and plot. (The
book is autobiographic at bottom, and may-be I do not exhibit and make
ado about the stock passions: I am partly of Quaker stock.) Then
E.C. Stedman finds (or found) mark'd fault with me because while
celebrating the common people _en masse_, I do not allow enough
heroism and moral merit and good intentions to the choicer classes,
the college-bred, the _etat-major_. It is quite probable that S. is
right in the matter. In the main I myself look, and have from the
first look'd, to the bulky democratic _torso_ of the United States
even for esthetic and moral attributes of serious account--and refused
to aim at or accept anything less. If America is only for the rule
and fashion and small typicality of other lands (the rule of the
_etat-major_) it is not the land I take it for, and should to-day feel
that my literary aim and theory had been blanks and misdirections.
Strictly judged, most modern poems are but larger or smaller lumps of
sugar, or slices of toothsome sweet cake--even the banqueters dwelling
on those glucose flavors as a main part of the dish. Which perhaps
leads to something: to have great heroic poetry we need great
readers--a heroic appetite and audience. Have we at present any such?

Then the thought at the centre, never too often repeated. Boundless
material wealth, free political organization, immense geographic
area, and unprecedented "business" and products--even the most active
intellect and "culture"--will not place this Commonwealth of ours
on the topmost range of history and humanity--or any eminence of
"democratic art"--to say nothing of its pinnacle. Only the production
(and on the most copious scale) of loftiest moral, spiritual and
heroic personal illustrations--a great native Literature headed with
a Poetry stronger and sweeter than any yet. If there can be any such
thing as a kosmic modern and original song, America needs it, and is
worthy of it.

In my opinion to-day (bitter as it is to say so) the outputs through
civilized nations everywhere from the great words Literature, Art,
Religion, &c., with their conventional administerers, stand squarely
in the way of what the vitalities of those great words signify, more
than they really prepare the soil for them--or plant the seeds, or
cultivate or garner the crop. My own opinion has long been, that for
New World service our ideas of beauty (inherited from the Greeks,
and so on to Shakspere--_query_--perverted from them?) need to be
radically changed, and made anew for to-day's purposes and finer
standards. But if so, it will all come in due time--the real change
will be an autochthonic, interior, constitutional, even local one,
from which our notions of beauty (lines and colors are wondrous
lovely, but character is lovelier) will branch or offshoot.

So much have I now rattled off (old age's garrulity,) that there is
not space for explaining the most important and pregnant principle of
all, viz., that Art is one, is not partial, but includes all times and
forms and sorts--is not exclusively aristocratic or democratic, or
oriental or occidental. My favorite symbol would be a good font of
type, where the impeccable long-primer rejects nothing. Or the old
Dutch flour-miller who said, "I never bother myself what road the
folks come--I only want good wheat and rye."

The font is about the same forever. Democratic art results of
democratic development, from tinge, true nationality, belief, in the
one setting up from it.


[44] Two new volumes, "Essays Speculative and Suggestive," by John
Addington Symonds. One of the Essays is on "Democratic Art," in which
I and my books are largely alluded to and cited and dissected. It
is this part of the vols. that has caused the off-hand lines
above--(first thanking Mr. S. for his invariable courtesy of personal


Poetry (I am clear) is eligible of something far more ripen'd and
ample, our lands and pending days, than it has yet produced from
any utterance old or new. Modern or new poetry, too, (viewing or
challenging it with severe criticism,) is largely a-void--while the
very cognizance, or even suspicion of that void, and the need of
filling it, proves a certainty of the hidden and waiting supply.
Leaving other lands and languages to speak for themselves, we can
abruptly but deeply suggest it best from our own--going first to
oversea illustrations, and standing on them. Think of Byron, Burns,
Shelley, Keats, (even first-raters, "the brothers of the radiant
summit," as William O'Connor calls them,) as having done only their
precursory and 'prentice work, and all their best and real poems being
left yet unwrought, untouch'd. Is it difficult to imagine ahead of
us and them, evolv'd from them, poesy completer far than any they
themselves fulfill'd? One has in his eye and mind some very large,
very old, entirely sound and vital tree or vine, like certain hardy,
ever-fruitful specimens in California and Canada, or down in
Mexico, (and indeed in all lands) beyond the chronological
records--illustrations of growth, continuity, power, amplitude
and _exploitation_, almost beyond statement, but proving fact and
possibility, outside of argument.

Perhaps, indeed, the rarest and most blessed quality of transcendent
noble poetry--as of law, and of the profoundest wisdom and
estheticism--is, (I would suggest,) from sane, completed, vital,
capable old age.

The final proof of song or personality is a sort of matured, accreted,
superb, evoluted, almost divine, impalpable diffuseness and atmosphere
or invisible magnetism, dissolving and embracing all--and not any
special achievement of passion, pride, metrical form, epigram,
plot, thought, or what is call'd beauty. The bud of the rose or the
half-blown flower is beautiful, of course, but only the perfected
bloom or apple or finish'd wheat-head is beyond the rest. Completed
fruitage like this comes (in my opinion) to a grand age, in man
or woman, through an essentially sound continuated physiology and
psychology (both important) and is the culminating glorious aureole of
all and several preceding. Like the tree or vine just mention'd, it
stands at last in a beauty, power and productiveness of its own, above
all others, and of a sort and style uniting all criticisms, proofs and

Let us diversify the matter a little by portraying some of the
American poets from our own point of view.

Longfellow, reminiscent, polish'd, elegant, with the air of finest
conventional library, picture-gallery or parlor, with ladies and
gentlemen in them, and plush and rosewood, and ground-glass lamps, and
mahogany and ebony furniture, and a silver inkstand and scented satin
paper to write on.

Whittier stands for morality (not in any all-accepting philosophic
or Hegelian sense, but) filter'd through a Puritanical or Quaker
filter--is incalculably valuable as a genuine utterance, (and the
finest,)--with many local and Yankee and _genre_ bits--all hued with
anti-slavery coloring--(the _genre_ and anti-slavery contributions all
precious--all help.) Whittier's is rather a grand figure, but pretty
lean and ascetic--no Greek-not universal and composite enough (don't
try--don't wish to be) for ideal Americanism. Ideal Americanism would
take the Greek spirit and law, and democratize and scientize and
(thence) truly Christianize them for the whole, the globe, all
history, all ranks and lands, all facts, all good and bad. (Ah this
_bad_--this nineteen-twentieths of us all! What a stumbling-block it
remains for poets and metaphysicians--what a chance (the strange,
clear-as-ever inscription on the old dug-up tablet) it offers yet for
being translated--what can be its purpose in the God-scheme of this
universe, and all?)

Then William Cullen Bryant--meditative, serious, from first to last
tending to threnodies--his genius mainly lyrical--when reading his
pieces who could expect or ask for more magnificent ones than such
as "The Battle-Field," and "A Forest Hymn"? Bryant, unrolling,
prairie-like, notwithstanding his mountains and lakes--moral enough
(yet worldly and conventional)--a naturalist, pedestrian, gardener and
fruiter--well aware of books, but mixing to the last in cities and
society. I am not sure but his name ought to lead the list of American
bards. Years ago I thought Emerson pre eminent (and as to the last
polish and intellectual cuteness may-be I think so still)--but, for
reasons, I have been gradually tending to give the file-leading place
for American native poesy to W. C. B.

Of Emerson I have to confirm my already avow'd opinion regarding his
highest bardic and personal attitude. Of the galaxy of the past--of
Poe, Halleck, Mrs. Sigourney, Allston, Willis, Dana,

John Pierpont, W. G. Simms, Robert Sands, Drake, Hillhouse, Theodore
Fay, Margaret Fuller, Epes Sargent, Boker, Paul Hayne, Lanier, and
others, I fitly in essaying such a theme as this, and reverence for
their memories, may at least give a heart-benison on the list of their

Time and New World humanity having the venerable resemblances more
than anything else, and being "the same subject continued," just here
in 1890, one gets a curious nourishment and lift (I do) from all those
grand old veterans, Bancroft, Kossuth, von Moltke--and such typical
specimen-reminiscences as Sophocles and Goethe, genius, health, beauty
of person, riches, rank, renown and length of days, all combining and
centering in one case.

Above everything, what could humanity and literature do without the
mellow, last-justifying, averaging, bringing-up of many, many years--a
great old age amplified? Every really first-class production has
likely to pass through the crucial tests of a generation, perhaps
several generations. Lord Bacon says the first sight of any work
really new and first-rate in beauty and originality always arouses
something disagreeable and repulsive. Voltaire term'd the Shaksperean
works "a huge dunghill"; Hamlet he described (to the Academy, whose
members listen'd with approbation) as "the dream of a drunken savage,
with a few flashes of beautiful thoughts." And not the Ferney sage
alone; the orthodox judges and law-givers of France, such as La
Harpe, J. L. Geoffrey, and Chateaubriand, either join'd in Voltaire's
verdict, or went further. Indeed the classicists and regulars there
still hold to it. The lesson is very significant in all departments.
People resent anything new as a personal insult. When umbrellas were
first used in England, those who carried them were hooted and
pelted so furiously that their lives were endanger'd. The same rage
encounter'd the attempt in theatricals to perform women's parts by
real women, which was publicly consider'd disgusting and outrageous.
Byron thought Pope's verse incomparably ahead of Homer and Shakspere.
One of the prevalent objections, in the days of Columbus was, the
learn'd men boldly asserted that if a ship should reach India she
would never get back again, because the rotundity of the globe would
present a kind of mountain, up which it would be impossible to sail
even with the most favorable wind.

"Modern poets," says a leading Boston journal, "enjoy longevity.
Browning lived to be seventy-seven. Wordsworth, Bryant, Emerson, and
Longfellow were old men. Whittier, Tennyson, and Walt Whitman still

Started out by that item on Old Poets and Poetry for chyle to inner
American sustenance--I have thus gossipp'd about it all, and treated
it from my own point of view, taking the privilege of rambling
wherever the talk carried me. Browning is lately dead; Bryant, Emerson
and Longfellow have not long pass'd away; and yes, Whittier and
Tennyson remain, over eighty years old--the latter having sent out
not long since a fresh volume, which the English-speaking Old and New
Worlds are yet reading. I have already put on record my notions of T.
and his effusions: they are very attractive and flowery to me--but
flowers, too, are at least as profound as anything; and by common
consent T. is settled as the poetic cream-skimmer of our age's melody,
_ennui_ and polish--a verdict in which I agree, and should say that
nobody (not even Shakspere) goes deeper in those exquisitely touch'd
and half-hidden hints and indirections left like faint perfumes in the
crevices of his lines. Of Browning I don't know enough to say much;
he must be studied deeply out, too, and quite certainly repays the
trouble--but I am old and indolent, and cannot study (and never did.)

Grand as to-day's accumulative fund of poetry is, there is certainly
something unborn, not yet come forth, different from anything now
formulated in any verse, or contributed by the past in any land--
something waited for, craved, hitherto non-express'd. What it will be,
and how, no one knows. It will probably have to prove itself by itself
and its readers. One thing, it must run through entire humanity (this
new word and meaning Solidarity has arisen to us moderns) twining all
lands like a divine thread, stringing all beads, pebbles or gold, from
God and the soul, and like God's dynamics and sunshine illustrating
all and having reference to all. From anything like a cosmical point
of view, the entirety of imaginative literature's themes and results
as we get them to-day seems painfully narrow. All that has been put
in statement, tremendous as it is, what is it compared with the vast
fields and values and varieties left unreap'd? Of our own country,
the splendid races North or South, and especially of the Western and
Pacific regions, it sometimes seems to me their myriad noblest Homeric
and Biblic elements are all untouch'd, left as if ashamed of, and only
certain very minor occasional _delirium tremens_ glints studiously
sought and put in print, in short tales, "poetry" or books.

I give these speculations, or notions, in all their audacity, for the
comfort of thousands--perhaps a majority of ardent minds, women's and
young men's--who stand in awe and despair before the immensity of suns
and stars already in the firmament. Even in the Iliad and Shakspere
there is (is there not?) a certain humiliation produced to us by the
absorption of them, unless we sound in equality, or above them, the
songs due our own democratic era and surroundings, and the full
assertion of ourselves. And in vain (such is my opinion) will America
seek successfully to tune any superb national song unless the
heart-strings of the people start it from their own breasts--to be
return'd and echoed there again.


In dreams I was a ship, and sail'd the boundless seas,
Sailing and ever sailing--all seas and into every port, or out
upon the offing,
Saluting, cheerily hailing each mate, met or pass'd, little or big,
"Ship ahoy!" thro' trumpet or by voice--if nothing more, some
friendly merry word at least,
For companionship and good will for ever to all and each.


_An American arbutus bunch to be put in a little vase on the royal
breakfast table May 24th, 1890_.

Lady, accept a birth-day thought--haply an idle gift and token, Right
from the scented soil's May-utterance here, (Smelling of countless
blessings, prayers, and old-time thanks,)[45] A bunch of white and
pink arbutus, silent, spicy, shy, From Hudson's, Delaware's, or
Potomac's woody banks.


[45] NOTE.--Very little, as we Americans stand this day, with our
sixty-five or seventy millions of population, an immense surplus in
the treasury, and all that actual power or reserve power (land and
sea) so dear to nations--very little I say do we realize that curious
crawling national shudder when the "Trent affair" promis'd to bring
upon us a war with Great Britain--follow'd unquestionably, as that war
would have, by recognition of the Southern Confederacy from all
the leading European nations. It is now certain that all this then
inevitable train of calamity hung on arrogant and peremptory phrases
in the prepared and written missive of the British Minister, to
America, which the Queen (and Prince Albert latent) positively and
promptly cancell'd; and which her firm attitude did alone actually
erase and leave out, against all the other official prestige and Court
of St. James's. On such minor and personal incidents (so to call
them,) often depend the great growths and turns of civilization. This
moment of a woman and a queen surely swung the grandest oscillation
of modern history's pendulum. Many sayings and doings of that period,
from foreign potentates and powers, might well be dropt in oblivion by
America--but never _this_, if I could have my way. W. W.


_Is there any such thing--or can there ever be?_

So you want an essay about American National Literature, (tremendous
and fearful subject!) do you?[46] Well, if you will let me put down
some melanged cogitations regarding the matter, hap-hazard, and from
my own points of view, I will try. Horace Greeley wrote a book named
"Hints toward Reforms," and the title-line was consider'd the best
part of all. In the present case I will give a few thoughts and
suggestions, of good and ambitious intent enough anyhow--first
reiterating the question right out plainly: American National
Literature--is there distinctively any such thing, or can there ever
be? First to me comes an almost indescribably august form, the People,
with varied typical shapes and attitudes-then the divine mirror,

As things are, probably no more puzzling question ever offer'd itself
than (going back to old Nile for a trope,) What bread-seeds of printed
mentality shall we cast upon America's waters, to grow and return
after many days? Is there for the future authorship of the United
States any better way than submission to the teeming facts, events,
activities, and importations already vital through and beneath them
all? I have often ponder'd it, and felt myself disposed to let it go
at that. Indeed, are not those facts and activities and importations
potent and certain to fulfil themselves all through our Commonwealth,
irrespective of any attempt from individual guidance? But allowing
all, and even at that, a good part of the matter being honest
discussion, examination, and earnest personal presentation, we may
even for sanitary exercise and contact plunge boldly into the spread
of the many waves and cross-tides, as follows. Or, to change the
figure, I will present my varied little collation (what is our Country
itself but an infinitely vast and varied collation?) in the hope that
the show itself indicates a duty getting more and more incumbent every

In general, civilization's totality or real representative National
Literature formates itself (like language, or "the weather") not from
two or three influences, however important, nor from any learned
syllabus, or criticism, or what ought to be, nor from any minds
or advice of toploftical quarters--and indeed not at all from the
influences and ways ostensibly supposed (though they too are adopted,
after a sort)--but slowly, slowly, curiously, from many more and more,
deeper mixings and siftings (especially in America) and generations
and years and races, and what largely appears to be chance--but is
not chance at all. First of all, for future National Literature in
America, New England (the technically moral and schoolmaster region,
as a cynical fellow I know calls it) and the three or four great
Atlantic-coast cities, highly as they to-day suppose they dominate the
whole, will have to haul in their horns. _Ensemble_ is the tap-root
of National Literature. America is become already a huge world
of peoples, rounded and orbic climates, idiocrasies, and
geographies--forty-four Nations curiously and irresistibly blent and
aggregated in ONE NATION, with one imperial language, and one unitary
set of social and legal standards over all--and (I predict) a yet to
be National Literature. (In my mind this last, if it ever comes, is
to prove grander and more important for the Commonwealth than its
politics and material wealth and trade, vast and indispensable as
those are.)

Think a moment what must, beyond peradventure, be the real permanent
sub-bases, or lack of them. Books profoundly considered show a great
nation more than anything else--more than laws or manners. (This is,
of course, probably the deep-down meaning of that well-buried but
ever-vital platitude, Let me sing the people's songs, and I don't care
who makes their laws.) Books too reflect humanity _en masse_, and
surely show them splendidly, or the reverse, and prove or celebrate
their prevalent traits (these last the main things.) Homer grew out of
and has held the ages, and holds to-day, by the universal admiration
for personal prowess, courage, rankness, _amour propre_, leadership,
inherent in the whole human race. Shakspere concentrates the
brilliancy of the centuries of feudalism on the proud personalities
they produced, and paints the amorous passion. The books of the Bible
stand for the final superiority of devout emotions over the rest, and
of religious adoration, and ultimate absolute justice, more powerful
than haughtiest kings or millionaires or majorities.

What the United States are working out and establishing needs
imperatively the connivance of something subtler than ballots and
legislators. The Goethean theory and lesson (if I may briefly state
it so) of the exclusive sufficiency of artistic, scientific, literary
equipment to the character, irrespective of any strong claims of the
political ties of nation, state, or city, could have answer'd under
the conventionality and pettiness of Weimar, or the Germany, or even
Europe, of those times; but it will not do for America to-day at all.
We have not only to exploit our own theory above any that has preceded
us, but we have entirely different, and deeper-rooted, and infinitely
broader themes.

When I have had a chance to see and observe a sufficient crowd of
American boys or maturer youths or well-grown men, all the States, as
in my experiences in the secession war among the soldiers, or west,
east, north, or south, or my wanderings and loiterings through cities
(especially New York and in Washington,) I have invariably found
coming to the front three prevailing personal traits, to be named
here for brevity's sake under the heads Good-Nature, Decorum, and
Intelligence. (I make Good-Nature first, as it deserves to be--it is
a splendid resultant of all the rest, like health or fine weather.)
Essentially these lead the inherent list of the high average personal
born and bred qualities of the young fellows everywhere through the
United States, as any sharp observer can find out for himself. Surely
these make the vertebral stock of superbest and noblest nations! May
the destinies show it so forthcoming. I mainly confide the whole
future of our Commonwealth to the fact of these three bases. Need
I say I demand the same in the elements and spirit and fruitage of
National Literature?

Another, perhaps a born root or branch, comes under the words
_Noblesse Oblige_, even for a national rule or motto. My opinion is
that this foregoing phrase, and its spirit, should influence and
permeate official America and its representatives in Congress,
the Executive Departments, the Presidency, and the individual
States--should be one of their chiefest mottoes, and be carried out
practically. (I got the idea from my dear friend the democratic
Englishwoman, Mrs. Anne Gilchrist, now dead. "The beautiful words
_Noblesse Oblige_," said she to me once, "are not best for some
develop'd gentleman or lord, but some rich and develop'd nation--and
especially for your America.")

Then another and very grave point (for this discussion is deep,
deep--not for trifles, or pretty seemings.) I am not sure but the
establish'd and old (and superb and profound, and, one may say, needed
as old) conception of Deity as mainly of moral constituency (goodness,
purity, sinlessness, &c.) has been undermined by nineteenth-century
ideas and science. What does this immense and almost abnormal
development of Philanthropy mean among the moderns? One doubts if
there ever will come a day when the moral laws and moral standards
will be supplanted as over all: while time proceeds (I find it so
myself) they will probably be intrench'd deeper and expanded wider.
Then the expanded scientific and democratic and truly philosophic
and poetic quality of modernism demands a Deific identity and scope
superior to all limitations, and essentially including just as well
the so-call'd evil and crime and criminals--all the malformations, the
defective and abortions of the universe.

Sometimes the bulk of the common people (who are far more 'cute than
the critics suppose) relish a well-hidden allusion or hint carelessly
dropt, faintly indicated, and left to be disinterr'd or not. Some
of the very old ballads have delicious morsels of this kind. Greek
Aristophanes and Pindar abounded in them. (I sometimes fancy the old
Hellenic audiences must have been as generally keen and knowing as any
of their poets.) Shakspere is full of them. Tennyson has them. It is
always a capital compliment from author to reader, and worthy the
peering brains of America. The mere smartness of the common folks,
however, does not need encouraging, but qualities more solid and

What are now deepest wanted in the States as roots for their
literature are Patriotism, Nationality, Ensemble, or the ideas of
these, and the uncompromising genesis and saturation of these. Not the
mere bawling and braggadocio of them, but the radical emotion-facts,
the fervor and perennial fructifying spirit at fountain-head. And at
the risk of being misunderstood I should dwell on and repeat that a
great imaginative _literatus_ for America can never be merely good and
moral in the conventional method. Puritanism and what radiates from it
must always be mention'd by me with respect; then I should say, for
this vast and varied Commonwealth, geographically and artistically,
the puritanical standards are constipated, narrow, and non-philosophic.

In the main I adhere to my positions in "Democratic Vistas," and
especially to my summing-up of American literature as far as to-day is
concern'd. In Scientism, the Medical Profession, Practical Inventions,
and Journalism, the United States have press'd forward to the glorious
front rank of advanced civilized lands, as also in the popular
dissemination of printed matter (of a superficial nature perhaps, but
that is an indispensable preparatory stage,) and have gone in common
education, so-call'd, far beyond any other land or age. Yet the
high-pitch'd taunt of Margaret Fuller, forty years ago, still sounds
in the air: "It does not follow, because the United States print and
read more books, magazines, and newspapers than all the rest of the
world, that they really have therefore a literature." For perhaps
it is not alone the free schools and newspapers, nor railroads and
factories, nor all the iron, cotton, wheat, pork, and petroleum, nor
the gold and silver, nor the surplus of a hundred or several hundred
millions, nor the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, nor the last
national census, that can put this Commonweal high or highest on the
cosmical scale of history. Something else is indispensable. All that
record is lofty, but there is a loftier.

The great current points are perhaps simple, after all: first, that
the highest developments of the New World and Democracy, and probably
the best society of the civilized world all over, are to be only
reach'd and spinally nourish'd (in my notion) by a new evolutionary
sense and treatment; and, secondly, that the evolution-principle,
which is the greatest law through nature, and of course in these
States, has now reach'd us markedly for and in our literature.

In other writings I have tried to show how vital to any aspiring
Nationality must ever be its autochthonic song, and how for a really
great people there can be no complete and glorious Name, short of
emerging out of and even rais'd on such born poetic expression, coming
from its own soil and soul, its area, spread, idiosyncrasies, and
(like showers of rain, originally rising impalpably, distill'd from
land and sea,) duly returning there again. Nor do I forget what we all
owe to our ancestry; though perhaps we are apt to forgive and bear too
much for that alone.

One part of the national American literatus's task is (and it is
not an easy one) to treat the old hereditaments, legends, poems,
theologies, and even customs, with fitting respect and toleration, and
at the same time clearly understand and justify, and be devoted to and
exploit our own day, its diffused light, freedom, responsibilities,
with all it necessitates, and that our New-World circumstances and
stages of development demand and make proper. For American literature
we want mighty authors, _not_ even Carlyle- and Heine-like, born and
brought up in (and more or less essentially partaking and giving out)
that vast abnormal ward or hysterical sick-chamber which in many
respects Europe, with all its glories, would seem to be. The greatest
feature in current poetry (perhaps in literature anyhow) is the
almost total lack of first-class power, and simple, natural health,
flourishing and produced at first hand, typifying our own era. Modern
verse generally lacks quite altogether the modern, and is oftener
possess'd in spirit with the past and feudal, dressed may-be in late
fashions. For novels and plays often the plots and surfaces are
contemporary--but the spirit, even the fun, is morbid and effete.

There is an essential difference between the Old and New. The poems of
Asia and Europe are rooted in the long past. They celebrate man and
his intellections and relativenesses as they have been. But America,
in as high a strain as ever, is to sing them all as they are and are
to be. (I know, of course, that the past is probably a main factor in
what we are and know and must be.) At present the States are absorb'd
in business, money-making, politics, agriculture, the development of
mines, intercommunications, and other material attents--which all
shove forward and appear at their height--as, consistently with modern
civilization, they must be and should be. Then even these are but
the inevitable precedents and providers for home-born, transcendent,
democratic literature--to be shown in superior, more heroic, more
spiritual, more emotional, personalities and songs. A national
literature is, of course, in one sense, a great mirror or reflector.
There must however be something before--something to reflect. I
should say now, since the secession war, there has been, and to-day
unquestionably exists, that something.

Certainly, anyhow, the United States do not so far utter poetry,
first-rate literature, or any of the so-call'd arts, to any lofty
admiration or advantage--are not dominated or penetrated from actual
inherence or plain bent to the said poetry and arts. Other work, other
needs, current inventions, productions, have occupied and to-day
mainly occupy them. They are very 'cute and imitative and proud--can't
bear being left too glaringly away far behind the other high-class
nations--and so we set up some home "poets," "artists," painters,
musicians, _literati_, and so forth, all our own (thus claim'd.) The
whole matter has gone on, and exists to-day, probably as it should
have been, and should be; as, for the present, it must be. To all
which we conclude, and repeat the terrible query: American National
Literature--is there distinctively any such thing, or can there ever


[46] The essay was for the _North American Review_, in answer to the
formal request of the editor. It appear'd in March, 1891.


_Last of October_.--Now mellow, crisp, Autumn days, bright moonlight
nights, and gathering the corn--"cutting up," as the farmers call it.
Now, or of late, all over the country, a certain green and brown-drab
eloquence seeming to call out, "You that pretend to give the news, and
all that's going, why not give us a notice?" Truly, O fields, as for
the notice,

"Take, we give it willingly."

Only we must do it our own way. Leaving the domestic, dietary, and
commercial parts of the question (which are enormous, in fact, hardly
second to those of any other of our great soil-products), we will just
saunter down a lane we know, on an average West Jersey farm, and let
the fancy of the hour itemize America's most typical agricultural show
and specialty.

Gathering the Corn--the British call it Maize, the old Yankee farmer
Indian Corn. The great plumes, the ears well-envelop'd in their husks,
the long and pointed leaves, in summer, like green or purple ribands,
with a yellow stem line in the middle, all now turn'd dingy; the
sturdy stalks, and the rustling in the breeze--the breeze itself well
tempering the sunny noon--The varied reminiscences recall'd--the
ploughing and planting in spring--(the whole family in the field, even
the little girls and boys dropping seed in the hill)--the gorgeous
sight through July and August--the walk and observation early in the
day--the cheery call of the robin, and the low whirr of insects in the
grass--the Western husking party, when ripe--the November moonlight
gathering, and the calls, songs, laughter of the young fellows.

Not to forget, hereabouts, in the Middle States, the old worm fences,
with the gray rails and their scabs of moss and lichen--those old
rails, weather beaten, but strong yet. Why not come down from literary
dignity, and confess we are sitting on one now, under the shade of a
great walnut tree? Why not confide that these lines are pencill'd
on the edge of a woody bank, with a glistening pond and creek seen
through the trees south, and the corn we are writing about close at
hand on the north? Why not put in the delicious scent of the "life
everlasting" that yet lingers so profusely in every direction--the
chromatic song of the one persevering locust (the insect is scarcer
this fall and the past summer than for many years) beginning slowly,
rising and swelling to much emphasis, and then abruptly falling--so
appropriate to the scene, so quaint, so racy and suggestive in the
warm sunbeams, we could sit here and look and listen for an hour?
Why not even the tiny, turtle-shaped, yellow-back'd, black-spotted
lady-bug that has lit on the shirt-sleeve of the arm inditing
this? Ending our list with the fall-drying grass, the Autumn days

Sweet days; so cool, so calm, so bright,

(yet not so cool either, about noon)--the horse-mint, the wild carrot,
the mullein, and the bumble-bee.

How the half-mad vision of William Blake--how the far freer, far
firmer fantasy that wrote "Midsummer Night's Dream"--would have
revell'd night or day, and beyond stint, in one of our American
corn fields! Truly, in color, outline, material and spiritual
suggestiveness, where any more inclosing theme for idealist, poet,
literary artist?

What we have written has been at noon day--but perhaps better still
(for this collation,) to steal off by yourself these fine nights,
and go slowly, musingly down the lane, when the dry and green-gray
frost-touch'd leaves seem whisper-gossipping all over the field in
low tones, as if every hill had something to say--and you sit or lean
recluse near by, and inhale that rare, rich, ripe and peculiar odor
of the gather'd plant which comes out best only to the night air. The
complex impressions of the far-spread fields and woods in the night,
are blended mystically, soothingly, indefinitely, and yet palpably to
you (appealing curiously, perhaps mostly, to the sense of smell.) All
is comparative silence and clear-shadow below, and the stars are up
there with Jupiter lording it over westward; sulky Saturn in the east,
and over head the moon. A rare well-shadow'd hour! By no means the
least of the eligibilities of the gather'd corn!


_Pick'd Noontime, early January, 1890_

Death--too great a subject to be treated so--indeed the greatest
subject--and yet I am giving you but a few random lines about it--as
one writes hurriedly the last part of a letter to catch the closing
mail. Only I trust the lines, especially the poetic bits quoted,
may leave a lingering odor of spiritual heroism afterward. For I am
probably fond of viewing all really great themes indirectly, and by
side-ways and suggestions. Certain music from wondrous voices or
skilful players--then poetic glints still more--put the soul in
rapport with death, or toward it. Hear a strain from Tennyson's late
"Crossing the Bar":

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The floods may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

Am I starting the sail-craft of poets in line? Here then a quatrain of
Phrynichus long ago to one of old Athens' favorites:

Thrice-happy Sophocles! in good old age,
Bless'd as a man, and as a craftsman bless'd,
He died; his many tragedies were fair,
And fair his end, nor knew he any sorrow.

Certain music, indeed, especially voluntaries by a good player, at
twilight--or idle rambles alone by the shore, or over prairie or
on mountain road, for that matter--favor the right mood. Words are
difficult--even impossible. No doubt any one will recall ballads or
songs or hymns (may-be instrumental performances) that have arous'd
so curiously, yet definitely, the thought of death, the mystic, the
after-realm, as no statement or sermon could--and brought it hovering
near. A happy (to call it so) and easy death is at least as much a
physiological result as a pyschological one. The foundation of it
really begins before birth, and is thence directly or indirectly
shaped and affected, even constituted, (the base stomachic) by every
thing from that minute till the time of its occurrence. And yet here
is something (Whittier's "Burning Driftwood") of an opposite coloring:

I know the solemn monotone
Of waters calling unto me;
I know from whence the airs have blown,
That whisper of the Eternal Sea;
As low my fires of driftwood burn,
I hear that sea's deep sounds increase,
And, fair in sunset light, discern
Its mirage-lifted Isles of Peace.

Like an invisible breeze after a long and sultry day, death sometimes
sets in at last, soothingly and refreshingly, almost vitally. In not
a few cases the termination even appears to be a sort of ecstasy. Of
course there are painful deaths, but I do not believe such is at all
the general rule. Of the many hundreds I myself saw die in the fields
and hospitals during the secession war the cases of mark' d suffering
or agony _in extremis_ were very rare. (It is a curious suggestion
of immortality that the mental and emotional powers remain to their
clearest through all, while the senses of pain and flesh volition are
blunted or even gone.)

Then to give the following, and cease before the thought gets

Now, land and life, finale, and farewell!
Now Voyager depart! (much, much for thee is yet in store;)
Often enough hast thou adventur'd o'er the seas,
Cautiously cruising, studying the charts,
Duly again to port and hawser's tie returning.
--But now obey thy cherish'd, secret wish,
Embrace thy friends--leave all in order;
To port and hawser's tie no more returning,
Depart upon thy endless cruise, old Sailor!



Stating it briefly and pointedly I should suggest that the human voice
is a cultivation or form'd growth on a fair native foundation. This
foundation probably exists in nine cases out of ten. Sometimes nature
affords the vocal organ in perfection, or rather I would say near
enough to whet one's appreciation and appetite for a voice that
might be truly call'd perfection. To me the grand voice is mainly
physiological--(by which I by no means ignore the mental help, but
wish to keep the emphasis where it belongs.) Emerson says _manners_
form the representative apex and final charm and captivation of
humanity: but he might as well have changed the typicality to voice.

Of course there is much taught and written about elocution, the best
reading, speaking, &c., but it finally settles down to _best_ human
vocalization. Beyond all other power and beauty, there is something in
the quality and power of the right voice (_timbre_ the schools call
it) that touches the soul, the abysms. It was not for nothing that
the Greeks depended, at their highest, on poetry's and wisdom's vocal
utterance by _tete-a-tete_ lectures--(indeed all the ancients did.)

Of celebrated people possessing this wonderful vocal power, patent
to me, in former days, I should specify the contralto Alboni, Elias
Hicks, Father Taylor, the tenor Bettini, Fanny Kemble, and the old
actor Booth, and in private life many cases, often women. I sometimes
wonder whether the best philosophy and poetry, or something like the
best, after all these centuries, perhaps waits to be rous'd out yet,
or suggested, by the perfect physiological human voice.


Let me send you a supplementary word to that "view" of Shakspere
attributed to me, publish'd in your July number,[47] and so
courteously worded by the reviewer (thanks! dear friend.) But you have
left out what, perhaps, is the main point, as follows:

"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." (See pp. 55-58 in "November
Boughs," and also some of my further notions on Shakspere.)

The Old World (Europe and Asia) is the region of the poetry of
concrete and real things,--the past, the esthetic, palaces, etiquette,
the literature of war and love, the mythological gods, and the myths
anyhow. But the New World (America) is the region of the future, and
its poetry must be spiritual and democratic. Evolution is not the rule
in Nature, in Politics, and Inventions only, but in Verse. I know our
age is greatly materialistic, but it is greatly spiritual, too, and
the future will be, too. Even what we moderns have come to mean by
_spirituality_ (while including what the Hebraic utterers, and mainly
perhaps all the Greek and other old typical poets, and also the
later ones, meant) has so expanded and color'd and vivified the
comprehension of the term, that it is quite a different one from the
past. Then science, the final critic of all, has the casting vote for
future poetry.


[47] This bit was in "Poet-lore" monthly for September, 1890.


The N. Y. _Critic_, Nov. 24, 1889, propounded a circular to several
persons, and giving the responses, says, "Walt Whitman's views
[as follow] are, naturally, more radical than those of any other
contributor to the discussion":

Briefly to answer impromptu your request of Oct. 19--the question
whether I think any American poet not now living deserves a place
among the thirteen "English inheritors of unassail'd renown" (Chaucer,
Spenser, Shakspere, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Gray, Burns, Wordsworth,
Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats,)--and which American poets would
be truly worthy, &c. Though to me the _deep_ of the matter goes down,
down beneath. I remember the London _Times_ at the time, in opportune,
profound and friendly articles on Bryant's and Longfellow's deaths,
spoke of the embarrassment, warping effect, and confusion on America
(her poets and poetic students) "coming in possession of a great
estate they had never lifted a hand to form or earn"; and the further
contingency of "the English language ever having annex'd to it a lot
of first-class Poetry that would be American, not European"--proving
then something precious over all, and beyond valuation. But perhaps
that is venturing outside the question. Of the thirteen British
immortals mention'd--after placing Shakspere on a sort of pre-eminence
of fame not to be invaded yet--the names of Bryant, Emerson, Whittier
and Longfellow (with even added names, sometimes Southerners,
sometimes Western or other writers of only one or two pieces,) deserve
in my opinion an equally high niche of renown as belongs to any on the
dozen of that glorious list.


As America's mental courage (the thought comes to me to-day) is so
indebted, above all current lands and peoples, to the noble army
of Old-World martyrs past, how incumbent on us that we clear those
martyrs' lives and names, and hold them up for reverent admiration,
as well as beacons. And typical of this, and standing for it and all
perhaps, Giordano Bruno may well be put, to-day and to come, in our
New World's thankfulest heart and memory.

W.W. CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY, _February 24th, 1890_.


While I stand in reverence before the fact of Humanity, the People, I
will confess, in writing my L. of G., the least consideration out of
all that has had to do with it has been the consideration of "the
public"--at any rate as it now exists. Strange as it may sound for
a democrat to say so, I am clear that no free and original and
lofty-soaring poem, or one ambitious of those achievements, can
possibly be fulfill'd by any writer who has largely in his thought
_the public_--or the question, What will establish'd literature--What
will the current authorities say about it?

As far as I have sought any, not the best laid out garden or parterre
has been my model--but Nature has been. I know that in a sense the
garden is nature too, but I had to choose--I could not give both.
Besides the gardens are well represented in poetry; while Nature (in
letter and in spirit, in the divine essence,) little if at all.

Certainly, (while I have not hit it by a long shot,) I have aim'd at
the most ambitious, the best--and sometimes feel to advance that aim
(even with all its arrogance) as the most redeeming part of my books.
I have never so much cared to feed the esthetic or intellectual
palates--but if I could arouse from its slumbers that eligibility
in every soul for its own true exercise! if I could only wield that

Out from the well-tended concrete and the physical--and in them and
from them only--radiate the spiritual and heroic.

Undoubtedly many points belonging to this essay--perhaps of the
greatest necessity, fitness and importance to it--have been left out
or forgotten. But the amount of the whole matter--poems, preface and
everything--is merely to make one of those little punctures or eyelets
the actors possess in the theatre-curtains to look out upon "the
house"--one brief, honest, living glance.


In that condition the whole body is elevated to a state by others
unknown--inwardly and outwardly illuminated, purified, made solid,
strong, yet buoyant. A singular charm, more than beauty, flickers out
of, and over, the face--a curious transparency beams in the eyes, both
in the iris and the white--the temper partakes also. Nothing
that happens--no event, rencontre, weather, &c--but it is
confronted--nothing but is subdued into sustenance--such is the
marvellous transformation from the old timorousness and the
old process of causes and effects. Sorrows and disappointments
cease--there is no more borrowing trouble in advance. A man realizes
the venerable myth--he is a god walking the earth, he sees new
eligibilities, powers and beauties everywhere; he himself has a
new eyesight and hearing. The play of the body in motion takes a
previously unknown grace. Merely _to move_ is then a happiness,
a pleasure--to breathe, to see, is also. All the beforehand
gratifications, drink, spirits, coffee, grease, stimulants, mixtures,
late hours, luxuries, deeds of the night, seem as vexatious dreams,
and now the awakening;--many fall into their natural places,
whole-some, conveying diviner joys.

What I append--Health, old style--I have long treasur'd--found
originally in some scrap-book fifty years ago--a favorite of mine (but
quite a glaring contrast to my present bodily state:)

On a high rock above the vast abyss,
Whose solid base tumultuous waters lave;
Whose airy high-top balmy breezes kiss,
Fresh from the white foam of the circling wave--

There ruddy HEALTH, in rude majestic state,
His clust'ring forelock combatting the winds--
Bares to each season's change his breast elate,
And still fresh vigor from th' encounter finds;

With mighty mind to every fortune braced,
To every climate each corporeal power,
And high-proof heart, impenetrably cased,
He mocks the quick transitions of the hour.

Now could he hug bleak Zembla's bolted snow,
Now to Arabia's heated deserts turn,
Yet bids the biting blast more fiercely blow,
The scorching sun without abatement burn.

There this bold Outlaw, rising with the morn,
His sinewy functions fitted for the toil,
Pursues, with tireless steps, the rapturous horn,
And bears in triumph back the shaggy spoil.

Or, on his rugged range of towering hills,
Turns the stiff glebe behind his hardy team;
His wide-spread heaths to blithest measures tills,
And boasts the joys of life are not a dream!

Then to his airy hut, at eve, retires,
Clasps to his open breast his buxom spouse,
Basks in his faggot's blaze, his passions fires,
And strait supine to rest unbroken bows.

On his smooth forehead, Time's old annual score,
Tho' left to furrow, yet disdains to lie;
He bids weak sorrow tantalize no more,
And puts the cup of care contemptuous by.

If, from some inland height, that, skirting, bears
Its rude encroachments far into the vale,
He views where poor dishonor'd nature wears
On her soft cheek alone the lily pale;

How will he scorn alliance with the race,
Those aspen shoots that shiver at a breath;
Children of sloth, that danger dare not face,
And find in life but an extended death:

Then from the silken reptiles will he fly,
To the bold cliff in bounding transports run,
And stretch'd o'er many a wave his ardent eye,
Embrace the enduring Sea-Boy as his son!

Yes! thine alone--from pain, from sorrow free,
The lengthen'd life with peerless joys replete;
Then let me, Lord of Mountains, share with thee
The hard, the early toil--the relaxation sweet.


Walking on the old Navy Yard bridge, Washington, D. C., once with a
companion, Mr. Marshall, from England, a great traveler and observer,
as a squad of laughing young black girls pass'd us--then two copper-
color'd boys, one good-looking lad 15 or 16, barefoot, running after
--"What _gay creatures_ they all appear to be," said Mr. M. Then we
fell to talking about the general lack of buoyant animal spirits. "I
think," said Mr. M., "that in all my travels, and all my intercourse
with people of every and any class, especially the cultivated ones,
(the literary and fashionable folks,) I have never yet come across
what I should call a really GAY-HEARTED MAN."

It was a terrible criticism--cut into me like a surgeon's lance. Made
me silent the whole walk home.


As in a swoon, one instant,
Another sun, ineffable, full-dazzles me,
And all the orbs I knew--and brighter, unknown orbs;
One instant of the future land, Heaven's land.

L. OF G.

Thoughts, suggestions, aspirations, pictures,
Cities and farms--by day and night--book of peace and war,
Of platitudes and of the commonplace.

For out-door health, the land and sea--for good will,
For America--for all the earth, all nations, the common people,
(Not of one nation only--not America only.)

In it each claim, ideal, line, by all lines, claims, ideals,
Each right and wish by other wishes, rights.


A group of little children with their ways and chatter flow in,
Like welcome rippling water o'er my heated nerves and flesh.


Simple, spontaneous, curious, two souls interchanging,
With the original testimony for us continued to the last.


[Let me indeed turn upon myself a little of the light I have been so
fond of casting on others.

Of course these few exceptional later mems are far, far short of one's
concluding history or thoughts or life-giving--only a hap-hazard pinch
of all. But the old Greek proverb put it, "Anybody who really has
a good quality" (or bad one either, I guess) "has _all_." There's
something in the proverb; but you mustn't carry it too far.

I will not reject any theme or subject because the treatment is too

As my stuff settles into shape, I am told (and sometimes myself
discover, uneasily, but feel all right about it in calmer moments)
it is mainly autobiographic, and even egotistic after all--which I
finally accept, and am contented so.

If this little volume betrays, as it doubtless does, a weakening hand,
and decrepitude, remember it is knit together out of accumulated
sickness, inertia, physical disablement, acute pain, and listlessness.
My fear will be that at last my pieces show indooredness, and being
chain'd to a chair--as never before. Only the resolve to keep up,
and on, and to add a remnant, and even perhaps obstinately see what
failing powers and decay may contribute too, have produced it.

And now as from some fisherman's net hauling all sorts, and disbursing
the same.]


_New York, Great Exposition open'd in 1853._--I went a long time
(nearly a year)--days and nights--especially the latter--as it was
finely lighted, and had a very large and copious exhibition gallery of
paintings (shown at best at night, I tho't)--hundreds of pictures from
Europe, many masterpieces--all an exhaustless study--and, scatter'd
thro' the building, sculptures, single figures or groups--among the
rest, Thorwaldsen's "Apostles," colossal in size--and very many fine
bronzes, pieces of plate from English silversmiths, and curios from
everywhere abroad--with woods from all lands of the earth--all sorts
of fabrics and products and handiwork from the workers of all nations.


_Commencement of a gossipy travelling letter in a New York city paper,
May 10, 1879_.--My month's visit is about up; but before I get back
to Camden let me print some jottings of the last four weeks. Have you
not, reader dear, among your intimate friends, some one, temporarily
absent, whose letters to you, avoiding all the big topics and
disquisitions, give only minor, gossipy sights and scenes--just as
they come--subjects disdain'd by solid writers, but interesting to you
because they were such as happen to everybody, and were the moving
entourage to your friend--to his or her steps, eyes, mentality? Well,
with an idea something of that kind, I suppose, I set out on the
following hurrygraphs of a breezy early-summer visit to New York city
and up the North river--especially at present of some hours along

_What I came to New York for_.--To try the experiment of a lecture--to
see whether I could stand it, and whether an audience could--was my
specific object. Some friends had invited me--it was by no means clear
how it would end--I stipulated that they should get only a third-rate
hall, and not sound the advertising trumpets a bit--and so I started.
I much wanted something to do for occupation, consistent with my
limping and paralyzed state. And now, since it came off, and since
neither my hearers nor I myself really collaps'd at the aforesaid
lecture, I intend to go up and down the land (in moderation,) seeking
whom I may devour, with lectures, and reading of my own poems--short
pulls, however--never exceeding an hour.

_Crossing from Jersey city, 5 to 6 P.M._--The city part of the North
river with its life, breadth, peculiarities--the amplitude of sea and
wharf, cargo and commerce--one don't realize them till one has been
away a long time and, as now returning, (crossing from Jersey city to
Desbrosses-st.,) gazes on the unrivall'd panorama, and far down the
thin-vapor'd vistas of the bay, toward the Narrows--or northward up
the Hudson--or on the ample spread and infinite variety, free
and floating, of the more immediate views--a countless river
series--everything moving, yet so easy, and such plenty of room!
Little, I say, do folks here appreciate the most ample, eligible,
picturesque bay and estuary surroundings in the world! This is the
third time such a conviction has come to me after absence, returning
to New York, dwelling on its magnificent entrances--approaching the
city by them from any point.

More and more, too, the _old name_ absorbs into me--MANNAHATTA, "the
place encircled by many swift tides and sparkling waters." How fit a
name for America's great democratic island city! The word itself, how
beautiful! how aboriginal! how it seems to rise with tall spires,
glistening in sunshine, with such New World atmosphere, vista and


_Christmas Day, 25th Dec., 1888_.--Am somewhat easier and freer to-day
and the last three days--sit up most of the time--read and write, and
receive my visitors. Have now been in-doors sick for seven months
--half of the time bad, bad, vertigo, indigestion, bladder, gastric,
head trouble, inertia--Dr. Bucke, Dr. Osler, Drs. Wharton and
Walsh--now Edward Wilkins my help and nurse. A fine, splendid, sunny
day. My "November Boughs" is printed and out; and my "Complete Works,
Poems and Prose," a big volume, 900 pages, also. It is ab't noon, and
I sit here pretty comfortable.


_At the Complimentary Dinner, Camden, New Jersey, May 31, 1889_.--Walt
Whitman said: My friends, though announced to give an address, there
is no such intention. Following the impulse of the spirit, (for I am
at least half of Quaker stock) I have obey'd the command to come and
look at you, for a minute, and show myself, face to face; which is
probably the best I can do. But I have felt no command to make a
speech; and shall not therefore attempt any. All I have felt the
imperative conviction to say I have already printed in my books of
poems or prose; to which I refer any who may be curious. And so, hail
and farewell. Deeply acknowledging this deep compliment, with my best
respects and love to you personally--to Camden--to New-Jersey, and to
all represented here--you must excuse me from any word further.


_From Pall-Mall Gazette, London, England, Feb 8, 1890_ Mr. Ernest
Rhys has just receiv'd an interesting letter from Walt Whitman, dated
"Camden, January 22, 1890." The following is an extract from it:

I am still here--no very mark'd or significant change or
happening--fairly buoyant spirits, &c.--but surely, slowly ebbing.
At this moment sitting here, in my den, Mickle street, by the oakwood
fire, in the same big strong old chair with wolf-skin spread over
back--bright sun, cold, dry winter day. America continues--is
generally busy enough all over her vast demesnes (intestinal agitation
I call it,) talking, plodding, making money, every one trying to
get on--perhaps to get towards the top--but no special individual
signalism--(just as well, I guess.)


The gay and crowded audience at the Art Rooms, Philadelphia,
Tuesday night, April 15, 1890, says a correspondent of the Boston
_Transcript_, April 19, might not have thought that W. W. crawl'd out
of a sick bed a few hours before, crying,

Dangers retreat when boldly they're confronted,

and went over, hoarse and half blind, to deliver his memoranda and
essay on the death of Abraham Lincoln, on the twenty-fifth anniversary
of that tragedy. He led off with the following new paragraph:

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