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Complete Prose Works by Walt Whitman

Part 8 out of 13

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the sherry or the sherry the stewed eels, to eke out Mrs. A. B.'s
parlor-tableaux with monk, Jew, lover, Puck, Prospero, Caliban, or
what not, and to generally contribute and gracefully adapt their
flexibilities and talents, in those ranges, to the world's service.
But for real crises, great needs and pulls, moral or physical, they
might as well have never been born.

Or the accepted notion of a poet would appear to be a sort of
male odalisque, singing or piano-playing a kind of spiced ideas,
second-hand reminiscences, or toying late hours at entertainments,
in rooms stifling with fashionable scent. I think I haven't seen a
new-published, healthy, bracing, simple lyric in ten years. Not long
ago, there were verses in each of three fresh monthlies, from leading
authors, and in every one the whole central _motif_ (perfectly
serious) was the melancholiness of a marriageable young woman who
didn't get a rich husband, but a poor one!

Besides its tonic and _al fresco_ physiology, relieving such as this,
the poetry of the future will take on character in a more important
respect. Science, having extirpated the old stock-fables and
superstitions, is clearing a field for verse, for all the arts, and
even for romance, a hundred-fold ampler and more wonderful, with the
new principles behind. Republicanism advances over the whole world.
Liberty, with Law by her side, will one day be paramount--will at any
rate be the central idea. Then only--for all the splendor and beauty
of what has been, or the polish of what is--then only will the true
poets appear, and the true poems. Not the satin and patchouly of
today, not the glorification of the butcheries and wars of the past,
nor any fight between Deity on one side and somebody else on the
other--not Milton, not even Shakspere's plays, grand as they are.
Entirely different and hitherto unknown Classes of men, being
authoritatively called for in imaginative literature, will certainly
appear. What is hitherto most lacking, perhaps most absolutely
indicates the future. Democracy has been hurried on through time by
measureless tides and winds, resistless as the revolution of the
globe, and as far-reaching and rapid. But in the highest walks of art
it has not yet had a single representative worthy of it anywhere upon
the earth.

Never had real bard a task more fit for sublime ardor and genius than
to sing worthily the songs these States have already indicated. Their
origin, Washington, '76, the picturesqueness of old times, the war
of 1812 and the sea-fights; the incredible rapidity of movement and
breadth of area--to fuse and compact the South and North, the East and
West, to express the native forms, situations, scenes, from Montauk to
California, and from the Saguenay to the Rio Grande--the working out
on such gigantic scales, and with such a swift and mighty play
of changing light and shade, of the great problems of man and
freedom,--how far ahead of the stereotyped plots, or gem-cutting, or
tales of love, or wars of mere ambition! Our history is so full of
spinal, modern, germinal subjects--one above all. What the ancient
siege of Illium, and the puissance of Hector's and Agamemnon's
warriors proved to Hellenic art and literature, and all art and
literature since, may prove the war of attempted secession of 1861-'65
to the future esthetics, drama, romance, poems of the United States.

Nor could utility itself provide anything more practically serviceable
to the hundred millions who, a couple of generations hence, will
inhabit within the limits just named, than the permeation of a sane,
sweet, autochthonous national poetry--must I say of a kind that does
not now exist? but which, I fully believe, will in time be supplied on
scales as free as Nature's elements. (It is acknowledged that we of
the States are the most materialistic and money-making people ever
known. My own theory, while fully accepting this, is that we are the
most emotional, spiritualistic, and poetry-loving people also.)

Infinite are the new and orbic traits waiting to be launch'd forth in
the firmament that is, and is to be, America. Lately, I have wonder'd
whether the last meaning of this cluster of thirty-eight States is not
only practical fraternity among themselves--the only real union, (much
nearer its accomplishment, too, than appears on the surface)--but for
fraternity over the whole globe--that dazzling, pensive dream of ages!
Indeed, the peculiar glory of our lands, I have come to see, or expect
to see, not in their geographical or republican greatness, nor wealth
or products, nor military or naval power, nor special, eminent names
in any department, to shine with, or outshine, foreign special names
in similar departments,--but more and more in a vaster, saner, more
surrounding Comradeship, uniting closer and closer not only the
American States, but all nations, and all humanity. That, O poets! is
not that a theme worth chanting, striving for? Why not fix your verses
henceforth to the gauge of the round globe? the whole race? Perhaps
the most illustrious culmination of the modern may thus prove to be
a signal growth of joyous, more exalted bards of adhesiveness,
identically one in soul, but contributed by every nation, each after
its distinctive kind. Let us, audacious, start it. Let the diplomats,
as ever, still deeply plan, seeking advantages, proposing treaties
between governments, and to bind them, on paper: what I seek is
different, simpler. I would inaugurate from America, for this purpose,
new formulas--international poems. I have thought that the invisible
root out of which the poetry deepest in, and dearest to, humanity
grows, is Friendship. I have thought that both in patriotism and song
(even amid their grandest shows past) we have adhered too long to
petty limits, and that the time has come to enfold the world.

Not only is the human and artificial world we have establish'd in the
West a radical departure from anything hitherto known--not only men
and politics, and all that goes with them--but Nature itself, in the
main sense, its construction, is different. The same old font of type,
of course, but set up to a text never composed or issued before. For
Nature consists not only in itself, objectively, but at least just
as much in its subjective reflection from the person, spirit, age,
looking at it, in the midst of it, and absorbing it--faithfully sends
back the characteristic beliefs of the time or individual--takes,
and readily gives again, the physiognomy of any nation or
literature--falls like a great elastic veil on a face, or like the
molding plaster on a statue.

What is Nature? What were the elements, the invisible backgrounds and
eidolons of it, to Homer's heroes, voyagers, gods? What all
through the wanderings of Virgil's Aeneas? Then to Shakspere's
characters--Hamlet, Lear, the English-Norman kings, the Romans? What
was Nature to Rousseau, to Voltaire, to the German Goethe in his
little classical court gardens? In those presentments in Tennyson (see
the "Idylls of the King"--what sumptuous, perfumed, arras-and-gold
Nature, inimitably described, better than any, fit for princes
and knights and peerless ladies--wrathful or peaceful, just the
same--Vivien and Merlin in their strange dalliance, or the death-float
of Elaine, or Geraint and the long journey of his disgraced Enid and
himself through the wood, and the wife all day driving the horses,) as
in all the great imported art-works, treatises systems, from Lucretius
down, there is a constantly lurking often pervading something, that
will have to be eliminated, as not only unsuited to modern democracy
and science in America, but insulting to them, and disproved by

Still, the rule and demesne of poetry will always be not the exterior,
but interior; not the macrocosm, but microcosm; not Nature, but Man.
I haven't said anything about the imperative need of a race of giant
bards in the future, to hold up high to eyes of land and race the
eternal antiseptic models, and to dauntlessly confront greed,
injustice, and all forms of that wiliness and tyranny whose roots
never die--(my opinion is, that after all the rest is advanced, _that_
is what first-class poets are for; as, to their days and occasions,
the Hebrew lyrists, Roman Juvenal, and doubtless the old singers of
India, and the British Druids)--to counteract dangers, immensest ones,
already looming in America--measureless corruption in politics--what
we call religion, a mere mask of wax or lace;--for _ensemble_, that
most cankerous, offensive of all earth's shows--a vast and varied
community, prosperous and fat with wealth of money and products and
business ventures--plenty of mere intellectuality too--and
then utterly without the sound, prevailing, moral and esthetic
health-action beyond all the money and mere intellect of the world.

Is it a dream of mine that, in times to come, west, south, east,
north, will silently, surely arise a race of such poets, varied,
yet one in soul--nor only poets, and of the best, but newer, larger
prophets--larger than Judea's, and more passionate--to meet and
penetrate those woes, as shafts of light the darkness?

As I write, the last fifth of the nineteenth century is enter'd upon,
and will soon be waning. Now, and for a long time to come, what the
United States most need, to give purport, definiteness, reason why, to
their unprecedented material wealth, industrial products, education
by rote merely, great populousness and intellectual activity, is
the central, spinal reality, (or even the idea of it,) of such
a democratic band of-native-born-and-bred teachers, artists,
_litterateurs_, tolerant and receptive of importations, but entirely
adjusted to the West, to ourselves, to our own days, combinations,
differences, superiorities. Indeed, I am fond of thinking that the
whole series of concrete and political triumphs of the Republic are
mainly as bases and preparations for half a dozen future poets, ideal
personalities, referring not to a special class, but to the entire
people, four or five millions of square miles.

Long, long are the processes of the development of a nationality
Only to the rapt vision does the seen become the prophecy of the
unseen.[38] Democracy, so far attending only to the real, is not for
the real only, but the grandest ideal--to justify the modern by that,
and not only to equal, but to become by that superior to the past.

On a comprehensive summing up of the processes and present and
hitherto condition of the United States, with reference to their
future, and the indispensable precedents to it, my point, below all
surfaces, and subsoiling them, is, that the bases and prerequisites
of a leading nationality are, first, at all hazards, freedom, worldly
wealth and products on the largest and most varied scale, common
education and intercommunication, and, in general, the passing through
of just the stages and crudities we have passed or are passing through
in the United States.

Then, perhaps, as weightiest factor of the whole business, and of the
main outgrowths of the future, it remains to be definitely avow'd
that the native-born middle-class population of quite all the United
States--the average of farmers and mechanics everywhere--the real,
though latent and silent bulk of America, city or country, presents
a magnificent mass of material, never before equal'd on earth. It is
this material, quite unexpress'd by literature or art, that in every
respect insures the future of the republic. During the secession war I
was with the armies, and saw the rank and file, north and south, and
studied them for four years. I have never had the least doubt about
the country in its essential future since.

Meantime, we can (perhaps) do no better than to saturate ourselves
with, and continue to give imitations, yet awhile, of the esthetic
models, supplies, of that past and of those lands we spring from.
Those wondrous stores, reminiscences, floods, currents! Let them flow
on, flow hither freely. And let the sources be enlarged, to include
not only the works of British origin, as now, but stately and devout
Spain, courteous France, profound Germany, the manly Scandinavian
lands, Italy's art race, and always the mystic Orient. Remembering
that at present, and doubtless long ahead, a certain humility would
well become us. The course through time of highest civilization, does
it not wait the first glimpse of our contribution to its kosmic train
of poems, bibles, first-class structures, perpetuities--Egypt and
Palestine and India--Greece and Rome and mediaeval Europe--and so
onward? The shadowy procession is not a meagre one, and the standard
not a low one. All that is mighty in our kind seems to have already
trod the road. Ah, never may America forget her thanks and reverence
for samples, treasures such as these--that other life-blood,
inspiration, sunshine, hourly in use to-day, all days, forever,
through her broad demesne!

All serves our New World progress, even the bafflers, head-winds,
cross-tides. Through many perturbations and squalls, and much backing
and filling, the ship, upon the whole, makes unmistakably for her
destination. Shakspere has served, and serves, may-be, the best of

For conclusion, a passing thought, a contrast, of him who, in my
opinion, continues and stands for the Shaksperean cultus at the
present day among all English-writing peoples--of Tennyson, his
poetry. I find it impossible, as I taste the sweetness of those lines,
to escape the flavor, the conviction, the lush-ripening culmination,
and last honey of decay (I dare not call it rottenness) of that
feudalism which the mighty English dramatist painted in all the
splendors of its noon and afternoon. And how they are chanted--both
poets! Happy those kings and nobles to be so sung, so told! To run
their course--to get their deeds and shapes in lasting pigments--the
very pomp and dazzle of the sunset!

Meanwhile, democracy waits the coming of its bards in silence and in
twilight--but 'tis the twilight of the dawn.


[35] A few years ago I saw the question, "Has America produced any
great poem?" announced as prize-subject for the competition of some
university in Northern Europe. I saw the item in a foreign paper and
made a note of it; but being taken down with paralysis, and prostrated
for a long season, the matter slipp'd away, and I have never been able
since to get hold of any essay presented for the prize, or report of
the discussion, nor to learn for certain whether there was any essay
or discussion, nor can I now remember the place. It may have been
Upsala, or possibly Heidelberg. Perhaps some German or Scandinavian
can give particulars. I think it was in 1872.

[36] In a long and prominent editorial, at the time, on the death of
William Cullen Bryant.

[37] Whatever may be said of the few principal poems--or their best
passages--it is certain that the overwhelming mass of poetic works,
as now absorb'd into human character, exerts a certain constipating,
repressing, indoor, and artificial influence, impossible to
elude--seldom or never that freeing, dilating, joyous one, with which
uncramp'd Nature works on every individual without exception.

[38] Is there not such a thing as the philosophy of American history
and politics? And if so, what is it?... Wise men say there are two
sets of wills to nations and to persons--one set that acts and works
from explainable motives--from teaching, intelligence, judgment,
circumstance, caprice, emulation, greed, etc.--and then another set,
perhaps deep, hidden, unsuspected, yet often more potent than the
first, refusing to be argued with, rising as it were out of abysses,
resistlessly urging on speakers, doers, communities, unwitting to
themselves--the poet to his fieriest words--the race to pursue its
loftiest ideal. Indeed, the paradox of a nation's life and career,
with all its wondrous contradictions, can probably only be explain'd
from these two wills, sometimes conflicting, each operating in its
sphere, combining in races or in persons, and producing strangest

Let us hope there is (indeed, can there be any doubt there is?) this
great unconscious and abysmic second will also running through the
average nationality and career of America. Let us hope that, amid
all the dangers and defections of the present, and through all the
processes of the conscious will, it alone is the permanent and
sovereign force, destined to carry on the New World to fulfil its
destinies in the future--to resolutely pursue those destinies, age
upon age; to build, far, far beyond its past vision, present thought;
to form and fashion, and for the general type, men and women more
noble, more athletic than the world has yet seen; to gradually, firmly
blend, from all the States, with all varieties, a friendly, happy,
free, religious nationality--a nationality not only the richest, most
inventive, most productive and materialistic the world has yet known,
but compacted indissolubly, and out of whose ample and solid bulk,
and giving purpose and finish to it, conscience, morals, and all the
spiritual attributes, shall surely rise, like spires above some group
of edifices, firm-footed on the earth, yet scaling space and heaven.

Great as they are, and greater far to be, the United States, too, are
but a series of steps in the eternal process of creative thought.
And here is, to my mind, their final justification, and certain
perpetuity. There is in that sublime process, in the laws of the
universe--and, above all, in the moral law--something that would make
unsatisfactory, and even vain and contemptible, all the triumphs of
war, the gains of peace, and the proudest worldly grandeur of all the
nations that have ever existed, or that (ours included) now exist,
except that we constantly see, through all their worldly career,
however struggling and blind and lame, attempts, by all ages, all
peoples, according to their development, to reach, to press, to
progress on, and ever farther on, to more and more advanced ideals.

The glory of the republic of the United States, in my opinion, is
to be that, emerging in the light of the modern and the splendor of
science, and solidly based on the past, it is to cheerfully range
itself, and its politics are henceforth to come, under those universal
laws, and embody them, and carry them out, to serve them. And as only
that individual becomes truly great who understands well that, while
complete in himself in a certain sense, he is but a part of the
divine, eternal scheme, and whose special life and laws are adjusted
to move in harmonious relations with the general laws of Nature, and
especially with the moral law, the deepest and highest of all, and the
last vitality of man or state--so the United States may only become
the greatest and the most continuous, by understanding well their
harmonious relations with entire humanity and history, and all their
laws and progress, sublimed with the creative thought of Deity,
through all time, past, present, and future. Thus will they expand
to the amplitude of their destiny, and become illustrations and
culminating parts of the kosmos, and of civilization.

No more considering the States as an incident, or series of incidents,
however vast, coming accidentally along the path of time, and shaped
by casual emergencies as they happen to arise, and the mere result
of modern improvements, vulgar and lucky, ahead of other nations and
times, I would finally plant, as seeds, these thoughts or speculations
in the growth of our republic--that it is the deliberate culmination
and result of all the past--that here, too, as in all departments of
the universe, regular laws (slow and sure in planting, slow and sure
in ripening) have controll'd and govern'd, and will yet control and
govern; and that those laws can no more be baffled or steer'd clear
of, or vitiated, by chance, or any fortune or opposition, than the
laws of winter and summer, or darkness and light.

The summing up of the tremendous moral and military perturbations of
1861-'65, and their results--and indeed of the entire hundred years of
the past of our national experiment, from its inchoate movement down
to the present day (1780-1881)--is, that they all now launch the
United States fairly forth, consistently with the entirety of
civilization and humanity, and in main sort the representative of
them, leading the van, leading the fleet of the modern and democratic,
on the seas and voyages of the future.

And the real history of the United States--starting from that great
convulsive struggle for unity, the secession war, triumphantly
concluded, and _the South_ victorious after all--is only to be written
at the remove of hundreds, perhaps a thousand, years hence.


"All is proper to be express'd, provided our aim is only high enough."
--_J. F. Millet._

"The candor of science is the glory of the modern. It does not hide
and repress; it confronts, turns on the light. It alone has perfect
faith--faith not in a part only, but all. Does it not undermine the
old religious standards? Yes, in God's truth, by excluding the devil
from the theory of the universe--by showing that evil is not a law in
itself, but a sickness, a perversion of the good, and the other side
of the good--that in fact all of humanity, and of everything, is
divine in its bases, its eligibilities."

Shall the mention of such topics as I have briefly but plainly and
resolutely broach'd in the "Children of Adam" section of "Leaves of
Grass" be admitted in poetry and literature? Ought not the innovation
to be put down by opinion and criticism? and, if those fail, by the
District Attorney? True, I could not construct a poem which declaredly
took, as never before, the complete human identity, physical, moral,
emotional, and intellectual, (giving precedence and compass in a
certain sense to the first,) nor fulfil that _bona fide_ candor
and entirety of treatment which was a part of my purpose, without
comprehending this section also. But I would entrench myself more
deeply and widely than that. And while I do not ask any man to indorse
my theory, I confess myself anxious that what I sought to write and
express, and the ground I built on, shall be at least partially
understood, from its own platform. The best way seems to me to
confront the question with entire frankness.

There are, generally speaking, two points of view, two conditions of
the world's attitude toward these matters; the first, the conventional
one of good folks and good print everywhere, repressing any direct
statement of them, and making allusions only at second or third
hand--(as the Greeks did of death, which, in Hellenic social culture,
was not mention'd point-blank, but by euphemisms.) In the civilization
of to-day, this condition--without stopping to elaborate the arguments
and facts, which are many and varied and perplexing--has led to states
of ignorance, repressal, and cover'd over disease and depletion,
forming certainly a main factor in the world's woe. A nonscientific,
non-esthetic, and eminently non-religious condition, bequeath'd to us
from the past, (its origins diverse, one of them the far-back lessons
of benevolent and wise men to restrain the prevalent coarseness
and animality of the tribal ages--with Puritanism, or perhaps
Protestantism itself for another, and still another specified in the
latter part of this memorandum)--to it is probably due most of the ill
births, inefficient maturity, snickering pruriency, and of that human
pathologic evil and morbidity which is, in my opinion, the keel and
reason-why of every evil and morbidity. Its scent, as of something
sneaking, furtive, mephitic, seems to lingeringly pervade all modern
literature, conversation, and manners.

The second point of view, and by far the largest--as the world in
working-day dress vastly exceeds the world in parlor toilette--is the
one of common life, from the oldest times down, and especially in
England, (see the earlier chapters of "Taine's English Literature,"
and see Shakspere almost anywhere,) and which our age to-day inherits
from riant stock, in the wit, or what passes for wit, of masculine
circles, and in erotic stories and talk, to excite, express, and dwell
on, that merely sensual voluptuousness which, according to Victor
Hugo, is the most universal trait of all ages, all lands. This second
condition, however bad, is at any rate like a disease which comes to
the surface, and therefore less dangerous than a conceal'd one.

The time seems to me to have arrived, and America to be the place, for
a new departure--a third point of view. The same freedom and faith and
earnestness which, after centuries of denial, struggle, repression,
and martyrdom, the present day brings to the treatment of politics and
religion, must work out a plan and standard on this subject, not so
much for what is call'd society, as for thoughtfulest men and
women, and thoughtfulest literature. The same spirit that marks the
physiological author and demonstrator on these topics in his important
field, I have thought necessary to be exemplified, for once, in
another certainly not less important field.

In the present memorandum I only venture to indicate that plan and
view--decided upon more than twenty years ago, for my own literary
action, and formulated tangibly in my printed poems--(as Bacon says an
abstract thought or theory is of no moment unless it leads to a deed
or work done, exemplifying it in the concrete)--that the sexual
passion in itself, while normal and unperverted, is inherently
legitimate, creditable, not necessarily an improper theme for poet,
as confessedly not for scientist--that, with reference to the whole
construction, organism, and intentions of "Leaves of Grass," anything
short of confronting that theme, and making myself clear upon it as
the enclosing basis of everything, (as the sanity of everything was to
be the atmosphere of the poems,) I should beg the question in its most
momentous aspect, and the superstructure that follow'd, pretensive
as it might assume to be, would all rest on a poor foundation, or no
foundation at all. In short, as the assumption of the sanity of birth,
Nature and humanity, is the key to any true theory of life and the
universe--at any rate, the only theory out of which I wrote--it is,
and must inevitably be, the only key to "Leaves of Grass," and every
part of it. _That_, (and not a vain consistency or weak pride, as a
late "Springfield Republican" charges,) is the reason that I have
stood out for these particular verses uncompromisingly for over twenty
years, and maintain them to this day. _That_ is what I felt in my
inmost brain and heart, when I only answer'd Emerson's vehement
arguments with silence, under the old elms of Boston Common.

Indeed, might not every physiologist and every good physician pray
for the redeeming of this subject from its hitherto relegation to the
tongues and pens of blackguards, and boldly putting it for once at
least, if no more, in the demesne of poetry and sanity--as something
not in itself gross or impure, but entirely consistent with highest
manhood and womanhood, and indispensable to both? Might not only every
wife and every mother--not only every babe that comes into the world,
if that were possible--not only all marriage, the foundation and _sine
qua non_ of the civilized state--bless and thank the showing, or
taking for granted, that motherhood, fatherhood, sexuality, and all
that belongs to them, can be asserted, where it comes to question,
openly, joyously, proudly, "without shame or the need of shame," from
the highest artistic and human considerations--but, with reverence be
it written, on such attempt to justify the base and start of the whole
divine scheme in humanity, might not the Creative Power itself deign a
smile of approval?

To the movement for the eligibility and entrance of women amid new
spheres of business, politics, and the suffrage, the current prurient,
conventional treatment of sex is the main formidable obstacle. The
rising tide of "woman's rights," swelling and every year advancing
farther and farther, recoils from it with dismay. There will in my
opinion be no general progress in such eligibility till a sensible,
philosophic, democratic method is substituted.

The whole question--which strikes far, very far deeper than most
people have supposed, (and doubtless, too, something is to be said on
all sides,) is peculiarly an important one in art--is first an ethic,
and then still more an esthetic one. I condense from a paper read
not long since at Cheltenham, England, before the "Social Science
Congress," to the Art Department, by P. H. Rathbone of Liverpool, on
the "Undraped Figure in Art," and the discussion that follow'd:

"When coward Europe suffer'd the unclean Turk to soil the sacred
shores of Greece by his polluting presence, civilization and morality
receiv'd a blow from which they have never entirely recover' d, and
the trail of the serpent has been over European art and European
society ever since. The Turk regarded and regards women as animals
without soul, toys to be play'd with or broken at pleasure, and to be
hidden, partly from shame, but chiefly for the purpose of stimulating
exhausted passion. Such is the unholy origin of the objection to the
nude as a fit subject for art; it is purely Asiatic, and though not
introduced for the first time in the fifteenth century, is yet to be
traced to the source of all impurity--the East. Although the source of
the prejudice is thoroughly unhealthy and impure, yet it is now shared
by many pure-minded and honest, if somewhat uneducated, people. But I
am prepared to maintain that it is necessary for the future of English
art and of English morality that the right of the nude to a place in
our galleries should be boldly asserted; it must, however, be the nude
as represented by thoroughly trained artists, and with a pure and
noble ethic purpose. The human form, male and female, is the type and
standard of all beauty of form and proportion, and it is necessary to
be thoroughly familiar with it in order safely to judge of all beauty
which consists of form and proportion. To women it is most necessary
that they should become thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of the
ideal female form, in order that they should recognize the perfection
of it at once, and without effort, and so far as possible avoid
deviations from the ideal. Had this been the case in times past,
we should not have had to deplore the distortions effected by
tight-lacing, which destroy'd the figure and ruin'd the health of so
many of the last generation. Nor should we have had the scandalous
dresses alike of society and the stage. The extreme development of the
low dresses which obtain'd some years ago, when the stays crush'd
up the breasts into suggestive prominence, would surely have been
check'd, had the eye of the public been properly educated by
familiarity with the exquisite beauty of line of a well-shaped bust.
I might show how thorough acquaintance with the ideal nude foot would
probably have much modified the foot-torturing boots and high heels,
which wring the foot out of all beauty of line, and throw the body
forward into an awkward and ungainly attitude.

It is argued that the effect of nude representation of women upon
young men is unwholesome, but it would not be so if such works were
admitted without question into our galleries, and became thoroughly
familiar to them. On the contrary, it would do much to clear away
from healthy-hearted lads one of their sorest trials--that prurient
curiosity which is bred of prudish concealment. Where there is mystery
there is the suggestion of evil, and to go to a theatre, where you
have only to look at the stalls to see one-half of the female form,
and to the stage to see the other half undraped, is far more pregnant
with evil imaginings than the most objectionable of totally undraped
figures. In French art there have been questionable nude figures
exhibited; but the fault was not that they were nude, but that they
were the portraits of ugly immodest women. Some discussion follow'd.
There was a general concurrence in the principle contended for by the
reader of the paper. Sir Walter Stirling maintain'd that the perfect
male figure, rather than the female, was the model of beauty. After a
few remarks from Rev. Mr. Roberts and Colonel Oldfield, the Chairman
regretted that no opponent of nude figures had taken part in the
discussion. He agreed with Sir Walter Stirling as to the male figure
being the most perfect model of proportion. He join'd in defending
the exhibition of nude figures, but thought considerable supervision
should be exercis'd over such exhibitions.

No, it is not the picture or nude statue or text, with clear aim, that
is indecent; it is the beholder's own thought, inference, distorted
construction. True modesty is one of the most precious of attributes,
even virtues, but in nothing is there more pretense, more falsity,
than the needless assumption of it. Through precept and consciousness,
man has long enough realized how bad he is. I would not so much
disturb or demolish that conviction, only to resume and keep
unerringly with it the spinal meaning of the Scriptural text,
_God overlook'd all that He had made_, (including the apex of the
whole--humanity--with its elements, passions, appetites,) _and behold,
it was very good_."

Does not anything short of that third point of view, when you come to
think of it profoundly and with amplitude, impugn Creation from the
outset? In fact, however overlaid, or unaware of itself, does not
the conviction involv'd in it perennially exist at the centre of
all society, and of the sexes, and of marriage? Is it not really an
intuition of the human race? For, old as the world is, and beyond
statement as are the countless and splendid results of its culture and
evolution, perhaps the best and earliest and purest intuitions of the
human race have yet to be develop'd.


_deliver'd in New York, April 14, 1879--in Philadelphia, '80--in
Boston, '81_

How often since that dark and dripping Saturday--that chilly April
day, now fifteen years bygone--my heart has entertain'd the dream, the
wish, to give of Abraham Lincoln's death, its own special thought and
memorial. Yet now the sought-for opportunity offers, I find my notes
incompetent, (why, for truly profound themes, is statement so idle?
why does the right phrase never offer?) and the fit tribute I dream'd
of, waits unprepared as ever. My talk here indeed is less because
of itself or anything in it, and nearly altogether because I feel a
desire, apart from any talk, to specify the day, the martyrdom. It is
for this, my friends, I have call'd you together. Oft as the rolling
years bring back this hour, let it again, however briefly, be dwelt
upon. For my own part, I hope and desire, till my own dying day,
whenever the 14th or 15th of April comes, to annually gather a few
friends, and hold its tragic reminiscence. No narrow or sectional
reminiscence. It belongs to these States in their entirety--not the
North only, but the South--perhaps belongs most tenderly and devoutly
to the South, of all; for there, really, this man's birth-stock. There
and thence his antecedent stamp. Why should I not say that thence his
manliest traits--his universality--his canny, easy ways and words upon
the surface--his inflexible determination and courage at heart? Have
you never realized it, my friends, that Lincoln, though grafted on
the West, is essentially, in personnel and character, a Southern

And though by no means proposing to resume the secession war to-night,
I would briefly remind you of the public conditions preceding that
contest. For twenty years, and especially during the four or five
before the war actually began, the aspect of affairs in the United
States, though without the flash of military excitement, presents more
than the survey of a battle, or any extended campaign, or series, even
of Nature's convulsions. The hot passions of the South--the strange
mixture at the North of inertia, incredulity, and conscious power--the
incendiarism of the abolitionists--the rascality and grip of the
politicians, unparallel'd in any land, any age. To these I must
not omit adding the honesty of the essential bulk of the people
everywhere--yet with all the seething fury and contradiction of their
natures more arous'd than the Atlantic's waves in wildest equinox. In
politics, what can be more ominous, (though generally unappreciated
then)--what more significant than the Presidentiads of Fillmore and
Buchanan? proving conclusively that the weakness and wickedness of
elected rulers are just as likely to afflict us here, as in the
countries of the Old World, under their monarchies, emperors, and
aristocracies. In that Old World were everywhere heard underground
rumblings, that died out, only to again surely return. While in
America the volcano, though civic yet, continued to grow more and more
convulsive--more and more stormy and threatening.

In the height of all this excitement and chaos, hovering on the edge
at first, and then merged in its very midst, and destined to play a
leading part, appears a strange and awkward figure. I shall not easily
forget the first time I ever saw Abraham Lincoln. It must have been
about the 18th or 19th of February, 1861. It was rather a pleasant
afternoon, in New York city, as he arrived there from the West, to
remain a few hours, and then pass on to Washington, to prepare for
his inauguration. I saw him in Broadway, near the site of the present
Post-office. He came down, I think from Canal street, to stop at
the Astor House. The broad spaces, sidewalks, and street in the
neighborhood, and for some distance, were crowded with solid masses of
people, many thousands. The omnibuses and other vehicles had all been
turn'd off, leaving an unusual hush in that busy part of the city.
Presently two or three shabby hack barouches made their way with some
difficulty through the crowd, and drew up at the Astor House entrance.
A tall figure stepp'd out of the centre of these barouches, paus'd
leisurely on the sidewalk, look'd up at the granite walls and looming
architecture of the grand old hotel--then, after a relieving stretch
of arms and legs, turn'd round for over a minute to slowly and
good-humoredly scan the appearance of the vast and silent crowds.
There were no speeches--no compliments--no welcome--as far as I could
hear, not a word said. Still much anxiety was conceal'd in that quiet.
Cautious persons had fear'd some mark'd insult or indignity to the
President-elect--for he possess'd no personal popularity at all in New
York city, and very little political. But it was evidently tacitly
agreed that if the few political supporters of Mr. Lincoln present
would entirely abstain from any demonstration on their side, the
immense majority, who were anything but supporters, would abstain on
their side also. The result was a sulky, unbroken silence, such as
certainly never before characterized so great a New York crowd.

Almost in the same neighborhood I distinctly remember'd seeing
Lafayette on his visit to America in 1825. I had also personally seen
and heard, various years afterward, how Andrew Jackson, Clay, Webster,
Hungarian Kossuth, Filibuster Walker, the Prince of Wales on his
visit, and other celebres, native and foreign, had been welcom'd
there--all that indescribable human roar and magnetism, unlike any
other sound in the universe--the glad exulting thunder-shouts of
countless unloos'd throats of men! But on this occasion, not a
voice--not a sound. From the top of an omnibus, (driven up one side,
close by, and block'd by the curbstone and the crowds,) I had, I say,
a capital view of it all, and especially of Mr. Lincoln, his look and
gait--his perfect composure and coolness--his unusual and uncouth
height, his dress of complete black, stovepipe hat push'd back on the
head, dark-brown complexion, seam'd and wrinkled yet canny-looking
face, black, bushy head of hair, disproportionately long neck, and his
hands held behind as he stood observing the people. He look'd with
curiosity upon that immense sea of faces, and the sea of faces
return'd the look with similar curiosity. In both there was a dash
of comedy, almost farce, such as Shakspere puts in his blackest
tragedies. The crowd that hemm'd around consisted I should think
of thirty to forty thousand men, not a single one his personal
friend--while I have no doubt, (so frenzied were the ferments of
the time,) many an assassin's knife and pistol lurk'd in hip or
breast-pocket there, ready, soon as break and riot came.

But no break or riot came. The tall figure gave another relieving
stretch or two of arms and legs; then with moderate pace, and
accompanied by a few unknown-looking persons, ascended the
portico-steps of the Astor House, disappear'd through its broad
entrance--and the dumb-show ended.

I saw Abraham Lincoln often the four years following that date. He
changed rapidly and much during his Presidency--but this scene, and
him in it, are indelibly stamp'd upon my recollection. As I sat on the
top of my omnibus, and had a good view of him, the thought, dim and
inchoate then, has since come out clear enough, that four sorts of
genius, four mighty and primal hands, will be needed to the complete
limning of this man's future portrait--the eyes and brains and
finger-touch of Plutarch and Eschylus and Michel Angelo, assisted by

And now--(Mr. Lincoln passing on from this scene to Washington, where
he was inaugurated, amid armed cavalry, and sharpshooters at every
point--the first instance of the kind in our history--and I hope it
will be the last)--now the rapid succession of well-known events,
(too well known--I believe, these days, we almost hate to hear them
mention'd)--the national flag fired on at Sumter--the uprising of the
North, in paroxysms of astonishment and rage--the chaos of divided
councils--the call for troops--the first Bull Run--the stunning
cast-down, shock, and dismay of the North--and so in full flood the
secession war. Four years of lurid, bleeding, murky, murderous war.
Who paint those years, with all their scenes?--the hard-fought
engagements--the defeats, plans, failures--the gloomy hours, days,
when our Nationality seem'd hung in pall of doubt, perhaps death--the
Mephistophelean sneers of foreign lands and attaches--the dreaded
Scylla of European interference, and the Charybdis of the tremendously
dangerous latent strata of secession sympathizers throughout the free
States, (far more numerous than is supposed)--the long marches in
summer--the hot sweat, and many a sunstroke, as on the rush to
Gettysburg in '63--the night battles in the woods, as under Hooker
at Chancellorsville--the camps in winter--the military prisons--the
hospitals--(alas! alas! the hospitals.)

The secession war? Nay, let me call it the Union war. Though whatever
call'd, it is even yet too near us--too vast and too closely
overshadowing--its branches unform'd yet, (but certain,) shooting too
far into the future--and the most indicative and mightiest of them yet
ungrown. A great literature will yet arise out of the era of those
four years, those scenes--era compressing centuries of native passion,
first-class pictures, tempests of life and death--an inexhaustible
mine for the histories, drama, romance, and even philosophy, of
peoples to come--indeed the verteber of poetry and art, (of personal
character too,) for all future America--far more grand, in my opinion,
to the hands capable of it, than Homer's siege of Troy, or the French
wars to Shakspere.

But I must leave these speculations, and come to the theme I have
assign'd and limited myself to. Of the actual murder of President
Lincoln, though so much has been written, probably the facts are yet
very indefinite in most persons' minds. I read from my memoranda,
written at the time, and revised frequently and finally since.

The day, April 14, 1865, seems to have been a pleasant one throughout
the whole land--the moral atmosphere pleasant too--the long storm,
so dark, so fratricidal, full of blood and doubt and gloom, over and
ended at last by the sun-rise of such an absolute National victory,
and utter break-down of Secessionism--we almost doubted our own
senses! Lee had capitulated beneath the apple-tree of Appomattox. The
other armies, the flanges of the revolt, swiftly follow'd. And could
it really be, then? Out of all the affairs of this world of woe and
failure and disorder, was there really come the confirm'd, unerring
sign of plan, like a shaft of pure light--of rightful rule--of God? So
the day, as I say, was propitious. Early herbage, early flowers, were
out. (I remember where I was stopping at the time, the season being
advanced, there were many lilacs in full bloom. By one of those
caprices that enter and give tinge to events without being at all a
part of them, I find myself always reminded of the great tragedy of
that day by the sight and odor of these blossoms. It never fails.)

But I must not dwell on accessories. The deed hastens. The popular
afternoon paper of Washington, the little "Evening Star," had
spatter'd all over its third page, divided among the advertisements in
a sensational manner, in a hundred different places, _The President
and his Lady will be at the Theatre this evening_.... (Lincoln was
fond of the theatre. I have myself seen him there several times. I
remember thinking how funny it was that he, in some respects the
leading actor in the stormiest drama known to real history's stage
through centuries, should sit there and be so completely interested
and absorb'd in those human jack-straws, moving about with their silly
little gestures, foreign spirit, and flatulent text.)

On this occasion the theatre was crowded, many ladies in rich and gay
costumes, officers in their uniforms, many well-known citizens, young
folks, the usual clusters of gas-lights, the usual magnetism of
so many people, cheerful, with perfumes, music of violins and
flutes--(and over all, and saturating all, that vast, vague wonder,
_Victory_, the nation's victory, the triumph of the Union, filling the
air, the thought, the sense, with exhilaration more than all music and

The President came betimes, and, with his wife, witness'd the play
from the large stage-boxes of the second tier, two thrown into one,
and profusely drap'd with the national flag. The acts and scenes of
the piece--one of those singularly written compositions which have
at least the merit of giving entire relief to an audience engaged in
mental action or business excitements and cares during the day, as it
makes not the slightest call on either the moral, emotional, esthetic,
or spiritual nature--a piece, ("Our American Cousin,") in which, among
other characters, so call'd, a Yankee, certainly such a one as was
never seen, or the least like it ever seen, in North America, is
introduced in England, with a varied fol-de-rol of talk, plot,
scenery, and such phantasmagoria as goes to make up a modern popular
drama--had progress'd through perhaps a couple of its acts, when in
the midst of this comedy, or non-such, or whatever it is to be call'd,
and to offset it, or finish it out, as if in Nature's and the great
Muse's mockery of those poor mimes, came interpolated that scene, not
really or exactly to be described at all, (for on the many hundreds
who were there it seems to this hour to have left a passing blur, a
dream, a blotch)--and yet partially to be described as I now proceed
to give it. There is a scene in the play representing a modern
parlor in which two unprecedented English ladies are inform'd by the
impossible Yankee that he is not a man of fortune, and therefore
undesirable for marriage-catching purposes; after which, the comments
being finish'd, the dramatic trio make exit, leaving the stage clear
for a moment. At this period came the murder of Abraham Lincoln.

Great as all its manifold train, circling round it, and stretching
into the future for many a century, in the politics, history, art,
&c., of the New World, in point of fact the main thing, the actual
murder, transpired with the quiet and simplicity of any commonest
occurrence--the bursting of a bud or pod in the growth of vegetation,
for instance. Through the general hum following the stage pause, with
the change of positions, came the muffled sound of a pistol-shot,
which not one-hundredth part of the audience heard at the time--and
yet a moment's hush--somehow, surely, a vague startled thrill--and
then, through the ornamented, draperied, starr'd and striped space-way
of the President's box, a sudden figure, a man, raises himself with
hands and feet, stands a moment on the railing, leaps below to the
stage, (a distance of perhaps fourteen or fifteen feet,) falls out of
position, catching his boot-heel in the copious drapery, (the American
flag,) falls on one knee, quickly recovers himself, rises as if
nothing had happen'd, (he really sprains his ankle, but unfelt
then)--and so the figure, Booth, the murderer, dress'd in plain black
broadcloth, bare-headed, with full, glossy, raven hair, and his eyes
like some mad animal's flashing with light and resolution, yet with a
certain strange calmness, holds aloft in one hand a large knife--walks
along not much back from the footlights--turns fully toward the
audience his face of statuesque beauty, lit by those basilisk eyes,
flashing with desperation, perhaps insanity--launches out in a firm
and steady voice the words _Sic semper tyrannis_--and then walks with
neither slow nor very rapid pace diagonally across to the back of the
stage, and disappears. (Had not all this terrible scene--making the
mimic ones preposterous--had it not all been rehears'd, in blank, by
Booth, beforehand?)

A moment's hush--a scream--the cry of _murder_--Mrs. Lincoln leaning
out of the box, with ashy cheeks and lips, with involuntary cry,
pointing to the retreating figure, _He has kill'd the President._
And still a moment's strange, incredulous suspense--and then the
deluge!--then that mixture of horror, noises, uncertainty--(the sound,
somewhere back, of a horse's hoofs clattering with speed)--the people
burst through chairs and railings, and break them up--there is
inextricable confusion and terror--women faint--quite feeble persons
fall, and are trampl'd on--many cries of agony are heard--the broad
stage suddenly fills to suffocation with a dense and motley crowd,
like some horrible carnival--the audience rush generally upon it, at
least the strong men do--the actors and actresses are all there in
their play-costumes and painted faces, with mortal fright showing
through the rouge--the screams and calls, confused talk--redoubled,
trebled--two or three manage to pass up water from the stage to the
President's box--others try to clamber up--&c., &c.

In the midst of all this, the soldiers of the President's guard, with
others, suddenly drawn to the scene, burst in--(some two hundred
altogether)--they storm the house, through all the tiers, especially
the upper ones, inflam'd with fury, literally charging the audience
with fix'd bayonets, muskets and pistols, snouting _Clear out! clear
out! you sons of_----.... Such the wild scene, or a suggestion of it
rather, inside the play-house that night.

Outside, too, in the atmosphere of shock and craze, crowds of people,
fill'd with frenzy, ready to seize any outlet for it, come near
committing murder several times on innocent individuals. One such case
was especially exciting. The infuriated crowd, through some chance,
got started against one man, either for words he utter'd, or perhaps
without any cause at all, and were proceeding at once to actually hang
him on a neighboring lamp-post, when he was rescued by a few heroic
policemen, who placed him in their midst, and fought their way slowly
and amid great peril toward the station house. It was a fitting
episode of the whole affair. The crowd rushing and eddying to and
fro--the night, the yells, the pale faces, many frighten'd people
trying in vain to extricate themselves--the attack'd man, not yet
freed from the jaws of death, looking like a corpse--the silent,
resolute, half-dozen policemen, with no weapons but their little
clubs, yet stern and steady through all those eddying swarms--made a
fitting side-scene to the grand tragedy of the murder. They gain'd the
station house with the protected man, whom they placed in security for
the night, and discharged him in the morning.

And in the midst of that pandemonium, infuriated soldiers, the
audience and the crowd, the stage, and all its actors and actresses,
its paint-pots, spangles, and gas-lights--the life blood from those
veins, the best and sweetest of the land, drips slowly down, and
death's ooze already begins its little bubbles on the lips.

Thus the visible incidents and surroundings of Abraham Lincoln's
murder, as they really occur'd. Thus ended the attempted secession
of these States; thus the four years' war. But the main things come
subtly and invisibly afterward, perhaps long afterward--neither
military, political, nor (great as those are,) historical. I say,
certain secondary and indirect results, out of the tragedy of this
death, are, in my opinion, greatest. Not the event of the murder
itself. Not that Mr. Lincoln strings the principal points and
personages of the period, like beads, upon the single string of his
career. Not that his idiosyncrasy, in its sudden appearance and
disappearance, stamps this Republic with a stamp more mark'd and
enduring than any yet given by any one man--(more even than
Washington's;)--but, join'd with these, the immeasurable value and
meaning of that whole tragedy lies, to me, in senses finally dearest
to a nation, (and here all our own)--the imaginative and artistic
senses--the literary and dramatic ones. Not in any common or low
meaning of those terms, but a meaning precious to the race, and to
every age. A long and varied series of contradictory events arrives at
last at its highest poetic, single, central, pictorial denouement.
The whole involved, baffling, multiform whirl of the secession
period comes to a head, and is gather'd in one brief flash of
lightning-illumination--one simple, fierce deed. Its sharp
culmination, and as it were solution, of so many bloody and angry
problems, illustrates those climax-moments on the stage of universal
Time, where the historic Muse at one entrance, and the tragic Muse at
the other, suddenly ringing down the curtain, close an immense act in
the long drama of creative thought, and give it radiation,
tableau, stranger than fiction. Fit radiation--fit close! How the
imagination--how the student loves these things! America, too, is to
have them. For not in all great deaths, nor far or near--not Caesar
in the Roman senate-house, or Napoleon passing away in the wild
night-storm at St. Helena--not Paleologus, falling, desperately
fighting, piled over dozens deep with Grecian corpses--not calm old
Socrates, drinking the hemlock--outvies that terminus of the secession
war, in one man's life, here in our midst, in our own time--that seal
of the emancipation of three million slaves--that parturition and
delivery of our at last really free Republic, born again, henceforth
to commence its career of genuine homogeneous Union, compact,
consistent with itself.

Nor will ever future American Patriots and Unionists, indifferently
over the whole land, or North or South, find a better moral to their
lesson. The final use of the greatest men of a Nation is, after all,
not with reference to their deeds in themselves, or their direct
bearing on their times or lands. The final use of a heroic-eminent
life--especially of a heroic-eminent death--is its indirect filtering
into the nation and the race, and to give, often at many removes, but
unerringly, age after age, color and fibre to the personalism of the
youth and maturity of that age, and of mankind. Then there is a cement
to the whole people, subtler, more underlying, than any thing in
written constitution, or courts or armies--namely, the cement of a
death identified thoroughly with that people, at its head, and for its
sake. Strange, (is it not?) that battles, martyrs, agonies, blood,
even assassination, should so condense--perhaps only really, lastingly
condense--a Nationality.

I repeat it--the grand deaths of the race--the dramatic deaths of
every nationality--are its most important inheritance-value--in some
respects beyond its literature and art--(as the hero is beyond his
finest portrait, and the battle itself beyond its choicest song or
epic.) Is not here indeed the point underlying all tragedy? the famous
pieces of the Grecian masters--and all masters? Why, if the old Greeks
had had this man, what trilogies of plays--what epics--would have been
made out of him! How the rhapsodes would have recited him! How quickly
that quaint tall form would have enter'd into the region where men
vitalize gods, and gods divinify men! But Lincoln, his times, his
death--great as any, any age--belong altogether to our own, and our
autochthonic. (Sometimes indeed I think our American days, our own
stage--the actors we know and have shaken hands, or talk'd with--more
fateful than anything in Eschylus--more heroic than the fighters
around Troy--afford kings of men for our Democracy prouder than
Agamemnon--models of character cute and hardy as Ulysses--deaths more
pitiful than Priam's.)

When, centuries hence, (as it must, in my opinion, be centuries hence
before the life of these States, or of Democracy, can be really
written and illustrated,) the leading historians and dramatists seek
for some personage, some special event, incisive enough to mark with
deepest cut, and mnemonize, this turbulent Nineteenth century of
ours, (not only these States, but all over the political and social
world)--something, perhaps, to close that gorgeous procession of
European feudalism, with all its pomp and caste-prejudices, (of whose
long train we in America are yet so inextricably the heirs)--something
to identify with terrible identification, by far the greatest
revolutionary step in the history of the United States, (perhaps the
greatest of the world, our century)--the absolute extirpation and
erasure of slavery from the States--those historians will seek in vain
for any point to serve more thoroughly their purpose, than Abraham
Lincoln's death.

Dear to the Muse--thrice dear to Nationality--to the whole human
race--precious to this Union--precious to Democracy--unspeakably and
forever precious--their first great Martyr Chief.




_Camden, N.J., U.S. America, March 17th, 1876._ DEAR FRIEND:--Yours of
the 28th Feb. receiv'd, and indeed welcom'd. I am jogging along still
about the same in physical condition--still certainly no worse, and I
sometimes lately suspect rather better, or at any rate more adjusted
to the situation. Even begin to think of making some move, some change
of base, &c.: the doctors have been advising it for over two years,
but I haven't felt to do it yet. My paralysis does not lift--I cannot
walk any distance--I still have this baffling, obstinate, apparently
chronic affection of the stomachic apparatus and liver: yet I get out
of doors a little every day--write and read in moderation--appetite
sufficiently good--(eat only very plain food, but always did
that)--digestion tolerable--spirits unflagging. I have told you most
of this before, but suppose you might like to know it all again, up to
date. Of course, and pretty darkly coloring the whole, are bad spells,
prostrations, some pretty grave ones, intervals--and I have resign'd
myself to the certainty of permanent incapacitation from solid work:
but things may continue at least in this half-and-half way for months,
even years.

My books are out, the new edition; a set of which, immediately on
receiving your letter of 28th, I have sent you, (by mail, March 15,)
and I suppose you have before this receiv'd them. My dear friend, your
offers of help, and those of my other British friends, I think I fully
appreciate, in the right spirit, welcome and acceptive--leaving the
matter altogether in your and their hands, and to your and their
convenience, discretion, leisure, and nicety. Though poor now, even to
penury, I have not so far been deprived of any physical thing I need
or wish whatever, and I feel confident I shall not in the future.
During my employment of seven years or more in Washington after the
war (1865-'72) I regularly saved part of my wages: and, though the sum
has now become about exhausted by my expenses of the last three years,
there are already beginning at present welcome dribbles hitherward
from the sales of my new edition, which I just job and sell, myself,
(all through this illness, my book-agents for three years in New York
successively, badly cheated me,) and shall continue to dispose of the
books myself. And that is the way I should prefer to glean my support.
In that way I cheerfully accept all the aid my friends find it
convenient to proffer.

To repeat a little, and without undertaking details, understand, dear
friend, for yourself and all, that I heartily and most affectionately
thank my British friends, and that I accept their sympathetic
generosity in the same spirit in which I believe (nay, know) it is
offer'd--that though poor I am not in want--that I maintain good heart
and cheer; and that by far the most satisfaction to me (and I think
it can be done, and believe it will be) will be to live, as long as
possible, on the sales, by myself, of my own works, and perhaps, if
practicable, by further writings for the press.

W. W.

I am prohibited from writing too much, and I must make this candid
statement of the situation serve for all my dear friends over there.



_Camden, New Jersey, U.S.A., Dec. 20, '81._ DEAR SIR:--Your letter
asking definite endorsement to your translation of my "Leaves of
Grass" into Russian is just received, and I hasten to answer it.
Most warmly and willingly I consent to the translation, and waft a
prayerful God speed to the enterprise.

You Russians and we Americans! Our countries so distant, so unlike at
first glance--such a difference in social and political conditions,
and our respective methods of moral and practical development the last
hundred years;--and yet in certain features, and vastest ones, so
resembling each other. The variety of stock-elements and tongues, to
be resolutely fused in a common identity and union at all hazards--the
idea, perennial through the ages, that they both have their historic
and divine mission--the fervent element of manly friendship throughout
the whole people, surpass'd by no other races--the grand expanse of
territorial limits and boundaries--the unform'd and nebulous state of
many things, not yet permanently settled, but agreed on all hands to
be the preparations of an infinitely greater future--the fact that
both Peoples have their independent and leading positions to hold,
keep, and if necessary, fight for, against the rest of the world--the
deathless aspirations at the inmost centre of each great community,
so vehement, so mysterious, so abysmic--are certainly features you
Russians and we Americans possess in common. As my dearest dream is
for an internationality of poems and poets binding the lands of the
earth closer than all treaties and diplomacy--as the purpose beneath
the rest in my book is such hearty comradeship, for individuals to
begin with, and for all the nations of the earth as a result--how
happy I should be to get the hearing and emotional contact of the
great Russian peoples.

To whom, now and here, (addressing you for Russia and Russians and
empowering you, should you see fit, to print the present letter, in
your book, as a preface,) I waft affectionate salutation from these
shores, in America's name.

W. W.


NATIONALITY--(AND YET) It is more and more clear to me that the main
sustenance for highest separate personality, these States, is to come
from that general sustenance of the aggregate, (as air, earth, rains,
give sustenance to a tree)--and that such personality, by democratic
standards, will only be fully coherent, grand and free, through the
cohesion, grandeur and freedom of the common aggregate, the Union.
Thus the existence of the true American continental solidarity of the
future, depending on myriads of superb, large-sized, emotional and
physically perfect individualities, of one sex just as much as the
other, the supply of such individualities, in my opinion, wholly
depends on a compacted imperial ensemble. The theory and practice of
both sovereignties, contradictory as they are, are necessary. As the
centripetal law were fatal alone, or the centrifugal law deadly and
destructive alone, but together forming the law of eternal kosmical
action, evolution, preservation, and life--so, by itself alone, the
fullness of individuality, even the sanest, would surely destroy
itself. This is what makes the importance to the identities of these
States of the thoroughly fused, relentless, dominating Union--a moral
and spiritual idea, subjecting all the parts with remorseless power,
more needed by American democracy than by any of history's hitherto
empires or feudalities, and the _sine qua non_ of carrying out the
republican principle to develop itself in the New World through
hundreds, thousands of years to come.

Indeed, what most needs fostering through the hundred years to come,
in all parts of the United States, north, south, Mississippi valley,
and Atlantic and Pacific coasts, is this fused and fervent identity of
the individual, whoever he or she may be, and wherever the place, with
the idea and fact of AMERICAN TOTALITY, and with what is meant by the
Flag, the stars and stripes. We need this conviction of nationality
as a faith, to be absorb'd in the blood and belief of the People
everywhere, south, north, west, east, to emanate in their life, and
in native literature and art. We want the germinal idea that America,
inheritor of the past, is the custodian of the future of humanity.
Judging from history, it is some such moral and spiritual ideas
appropriate to them, (and such ideas only,) that have made the
profoundest glory and endurance of nations in the past. The races of
Judea, the classic clusters of Greece and Rome, and the feudal
and ecclesiastical clusters of the Middle Ages, were each and all
vitalized by their separate distinctive ideas, ingrain'd in them,
redeeming many sins, and indeed, in a sense, the principal reason-why
for their whole career.

Then, in the thought of nationality especially for the United States,
and making them original, and different from all other countries,
another point ever remains to be considered. There are two distinct
principles--aye, paradoxes--at the life-fountain and life-continuation
of the States; one, the sacred principle of the Union, the right of
ensemble, at whatever sacrifice--and yet another, an equally sacred
principle, the right of each State, consider'd as a separate sovereign
individual, in its own sphere. Some go zealously for one set of these
rights, and some as zealously for the other set. We must have both; or
rather, bred out of them, as out of mother and father, a third set,
the perennial result and combination of both, and neither jeopardized.
I say the loss or abdication of one set, in the future, will be ruin
to democracy just as much as the loss of the other set. The problem
is, to harmoniously adjust the two, and the play of the two. [Observe
the lesson of the divinity of Nature, ever checking the excess of one
law, by an opposite, or seemingly opposite law--generally the other
side of the same law.] For the theory of this Republic is, not
that the General government is the fountain of all life and power,
dispensing it forth, around, and to the remotest portions of our
territory, but that THE PEOPLE are, represented in both, underlying
both the General and State governments, and consider'd just as well in
their individualities and in their separate aggregates, or States, as
consider'd in one vast aggregate, the Union. This was the original
dual theory and foundation of the United States, as distinguish'd from
the feudal and ecclesiastical single idea of monarchies and papacies,
and the divine right of kings. (Kings have been of use, hitherto, as
representing the idea of the identity of nations. But, to American
democracy, _both_ ideas must be fulfill'd, and in my opinion the loss
of vitality of either one will indeed be the loss of vitality of the


In the regions we call Nature, towering beyond all measurement,
with infinite spread, infinite depth and height--in those regions,
including Man, socially and historically, with his moral-emotional
influences--how small a part, (it came in my mind to-day,) has
literature really depicted--even summing up all of it, all ages.
Seems at its best some little fleet of boats, hugging the shores of
a boundless sea, and never venturing, exploring the unmapp'd--never,
Columbus-like, sailing out for New Worlds, and to complete the orb's
rondure. Emerson writes frequently in the atmosphere of this thought,
and his books report one or two things from that very ocean and air,
and more legibly address'd to our age and American polity than by any
man yet. But I will begin by scarifying him--thus proving that I am
not insensible to his deepest lessons. I will consider his books from
a democratic and western point of view. I will specify the shadows
on these sunny expanses. Somebody has said of heroic character that
"wherever the tallest peaks are present, must inevitably be deep
chasms and valleys." Mine be the ungracious task (for reasons) of
leaving unmention'd both sunny expanses and sky-reaching heights, to
dwell on the bare spots and darknesses. I have a theory that no artist
or work of the very first class may be or can be without them.

First, then, these pages are perhaps too perfect, too concentrated.
(How good, for instance, is good butter, good sugar. But to be eating
nothing but sugar and butter all the time! even if ever so good.)
And though the author has much to say of freedom and wildness and
simplicity and spontaneity, no performance was ever more based on
artificial scholarships and decorums at third or fourth removes, (he
calls it culture,) and built up from them. It is always a _make_,
never an unconscious _growth_. It is the porcelain figure or statuette
of lion, or stag, or Indian hunter--and a very choice statuette
too--appropriate for the rosewood or marble bracket of parlor or
library; never the animal itself, or the hunter himself. Indeed, who
wants the real animal or hunter? What would that do amid astral and
bric-a-brac and tapestry, and ladies and gentlemen talking in subdued
tones of Browning and Longfellow and art? The least suspicion of such
actual bull, or Indian, or of Nature carrying out itself, would put
all those good people to instant terror and flight.

Emerson, in my opinion, is not most eminent as poet or artist or
teacher, though valuable in all those. He is best as critic, or
diagnoser. Not passion or imagination or warp or weakness, or any
pronounced cause or specialty, dominates him. Cold and bloodless
intellectuality dominates him. (I know the fires, emotions, love,
egotisms, glow deep, perennial, as in all New Englanders--but the
facade, hides them well--they give no sign.) He does not see or take
one side, one presentation only or mainly, (as all the poets, or most
of the fine writers anyhow)--he sees all sides. His final influence
is to make his students cease to worship anything--almost cease to
believe in anything, outside of themselves. These books will fill, and
well fill, certain stretches of life, certain stages of development--
are, (like the tenets or theology the author of them preach'd when a
young man,) unspeakably serviceable and precious as a stage. But
in old or nervous or solemnest or dying hours, when one needs the
impalpably soothing and vitalizing influences of abysmic Nature, or
its affinities in literature or human society, and the soul resents
the keenest mere intellection, they will not be sought for.

For a philosopher, Emerson possesses a singularly dandified theory of
manners. He seems to have no notion at all that manners are simply the
signs by which the chemist or metallurgist knows his metals. To the
profound scientist, all metals are profound, as they really are. The
little one, like the conventional world, will make much of gold and
silver only. Then to the real artist in humanity, what are called bad
manners are often the most picturesque and significant of all. Suppose
these books becoming absorb'd, the permanent chyle of American general
and particular character--what a well-wash'd and grammatical, but
bloodless and helpless, race we should turn out! No, no, dear friend;
though the States want scholars, undoubtedly, and perhaps want ladies
and gentlemen who use the bath frequently, and never laugh loud, or
talk wrong, they don't want scholars, or ladies and gentlemen, at the
expense of all the rest. They want good farmers, sailors, mechanics,
clerks, citizens--perfect business and social relations--perfect
fathers and mothers. If we could only have these, or their
approximations, plenty of them, fine and large and sane and generous
and patriotic, they might make their verbs disagree from their
nominatives, and laugh like volleys of musketeers, if they should
please. Of course these are not all America wants, but they are first
of all to be provided on a large scale. And, with tremendous errors
and escapades, this, substantially, is what the States seem to have an
intuition of, and to be mainly aiming at. The plan of a select class,
superfined, (demarcated from the rest,) the plan of Old World lands
and literatures, is not so objectionable in itself, but because it
chokes the true plan for us, and indeed is death to it. As to such
special class, the United States can never produce any equal to the
splendid show, (far, far beyond comparison or competition here,) of
the principal European nations, both in the past and at the present
day. But an immense and distinctive commonalty over our vast and
varied area, west and east, south and north--in fact, for the first
time in history, a great, aggregated, real PEOPLE, worthy the name,
and made of develop'd heroic individuals, both sexes--is America's
principal, perhaps only, reason for being. If ever accomplish'd, it
will be at least as much, (I lately think, doubly as much,) the result
of fitting and democratic sociologies, literatures and arts--if we
ever get them--as of our democratic politics.

At times it has been doubtful to me if Emerson really knows or feels
what Poetry is at its highest, as in the Bible, for instance, or Homer
or Shakspere. I see he covertly or plainly likes best superb verbal
polish, or something old or odd--Waller's "Go, lovely rose," or
Lovelace's lines "to Lucusta"--the quaint conceits of the old French
bards, and the like. Of _power_ he seems to have a gentleman's
admiration--but in his inmost heart the grandest attribute of God and
Poets is always subordinate to the octaves, conceits, polite kinks,
and verbs.

The reminiscence that years ago I began like most youngsters to have
a touch (though it came late, and was only on the surface) of
Emerson-on-the-brain--that I read his writings reverently, and
address'd him in print as "Master," and for a month or so thought
of him as such--I retain not only with composure, but positive
satisfaction. I have noticed that most young people of eager minds
pass through this stage of exercise.

The best part of Emersonianism is, it breeds the giant that destroys
itself. Who wants to be any man's mere follower? lurks behind every
page. No teacher ever taught, that has so provided for his pupil's
setting up independently--no truer evolutionist.



_One party says_--We arrange our lives--even the best and boldest men
and women that exist, just as much as the most limited--with reference
to what society conventionally rules and makes right. We retire to our
rooms for freedom; to undress, bathe, unloose everything in freedom.
These, and much else, would not be proper in society.

_Other party answers_--Such is the rule of society. Not always so, and
considerable exceptions still exist. However, it must be called the
general rule, sanction'd by immemorial usage, and will probably always
remain so.

_First party_--Why not, then, respect it in your poems?

_Answer_--One reason, and to me a profound one, is that the soul of a
man or woman demands, enjoys compensation in the highest directions
for this very restraint of himself or herself, level'd to the average,
or rather mean, low, however eternally practical, requirements of
society's intercourse. To balance this indispensable abnegation, the
free minds of poets relieve themselves, and strengthen and enrich
mankind with free flights in all the directions not tolerated by
ordinary society.

_First party_--But must not outrage or give offence to it.

_Answer_--No, not in the deepest sense--and do not, and cannot. The
vast averages of time and the race _en masse_ settle these things.
Only understand that the conventional standards and laws proper enough
for ordinary society apply neither to the action of the soul, nor its
poets. In fact the latter know no laws but the laws of themselves,
planted in them by God, and are themselves the last standards of the
law, and its final exponents--responsible to Him directly, and not at
all to mere etiquette. Often the best service that can be done to the
race, is to lift the veil, at least for a time, from these rules and

NEW POETRY--_California, Canada, Texas_.--In my opinion the time has
arrived to essentially break down the barriers of form between prose
and poetry. I say the latter is henceforth to win and maintain its
character regardless of rhyme, and the measurement-rules of iambic,
spondee, dactyl, &c., and that even if rhyme and those measurements
continue to furnish the medium for inferior writers and themes,
(especially for persiflage and the comic, as there seems henceforward,
to the perfect taste, something inevitably comic in rhyme, merely in
itself, and anyhow,) the truest and greatest _Poetry_, (while subtly
and necessarily always rhythmic, and distinguishable easily enough,)
can never again, in the English language, be express'd in arbitrary
and rhyming metre, any more than the greatest eloquence, or the truest
power and passion. While admitting that the venerable and heavenly
forms of chiming versification have in their time play'd great and
fitting parts--that the pensive complaint, the ballads, wars, amours,
legends of Europe, &c., have, many of them, been inimitably render'd
in rhyming verse--that there have been very illustrious poets whose
shapes the mantle of such verse has beautifully and appropriately
envelopt--and though the mantle has fallen, with perhaps added beauty,
on some of our own age--it is, not-withstanding, certain to me, that
the day of such conventional rhyme is ended. In America, at any rate,
and as a medium of highest esthetic practical or spiritual expression,
present or future, it palpably fails, and must fail, to serve. The
Muse of the Prairies, of California, Canada, Texas, and of the peaks
of Colorado, dismissing the literary, as well as social etiquette of
over-sea feudalism and caste, joyfully enlarging, adapting itself to
comprehend the size of the whole people, with the free play, emotions,
pride, passions, experiences, that belong to them, body and soul--to
the general globe, and all its relations in astronomy, as the savans
portray them to us--to the modern, the busy Nineteenth century, (as
grandly poetic as any, only different,) with steamships, railroads,
factories, electric telegraphs, cylinder presses--to the thought of
the solidarity of nations, the brotherhood and sisterhood of the
entire earth--to the dignity and heroism of the practical labor of
farms, factories, foundries, workshops, mines, or on shipboard, or
on lakes and rivers--resumes that other medium of expression, more
flexible, more eligible--soars to the freer, vast, diviner heaven of

Of poems of the third or fourth class, (perhaps even some of the
second,) it makes little or no difference who writes them--they are
good enough for what they are; nor is it necessary that they should be
actual emanations from the personality and life of the writers. The
very reverse sometimes gives piquancy. But poems of the first class,
(poems of the depth, as distinguished from those of the surface,) are
to be sternly tallied with the poets themselves, and tried by them and
their lives. Who wants a glorification of courage and manly defiance
from a coward or a sneak?--a ballad of benevolence or chastity from
some rhyming hunks, or lascivious, glib _roue_?

In these States, beyond all precedent, poetry will have to do with
actual facts, with the concrete States, and--for we have not much
more than begun--with the definitive getting into shape of the Union.
Indeed I sometimes think _it_ alone is to define the Union, (namely,
to give it artistic character, spirituality, dignity.) What American
humanity is most in danger of is an overwhelming prosperity,
"business" worldliness, materialism: what is most lacking, east, west,
north, south, is a fervid and glowing Nationality and patriotism,
cohering all the parts into one. Who may fend that danger, and fill
that lack in the future, but a class of loftiest poets?

If the United States haven't grown poets, on any scale of grandeur,
it is certain they import, print, and read more poetry than any equal
number of people elsewhere--probably more than all the rest of the
world combined.

Poetry (like a grand personality) is a growth of many
generations--many rare combinations.

To have great poets, there must be great audiences, too.


To avoid mistake, I would say that I not only commend the study of
this literature, but wish our sources of supply and comparison
vastly enlarged. American students may well derive from all former
lands--from forenoon Greece and Rome, down to the perturb'd mediaeval
times, the Crusades, and so to Italy, the German intellect--all the
older literatures, and all the newer ones--from witty and warlike
France, and markedly, and in many ways, and at many different periods,
from the enterprise and soul of the great Spanish race--bearing
ourselves always courteous, always deferential, indebted beyond
measure to the mother-world, to all its nations dead, as all its
nations living--the offspring, this America of ours, the daughter, not
by any means of the British isles exclusively, but of the continent,
and all continents. Indeed, it is time we should realize and fully
fructify those germs we also hold from Italy, France, Spain,
especially in the best imaginative productions of those lands, which
are, in many ways, loftier and subtler than the English, or British,
and indispensable to complete our service, proportions, education,
reminiscences, &c.... The British element these States hold, and have
always held, enormously beyond its fit proportions. I have already
spoken of Shakspere. He seems to me of astral genius, first class,
entirely fit for feudalism. His contributions, especially to the
literature of the passions, are immense, forever dear to humanity--and
his name is always to be reverenced in America. But there is much
in him ever offensive to democracy. He is not only the tally of
feudalism, but I should say Shakspere is incarnated, uncompromising
feudalism, in literature. Then one seems to detect something in him--I
hardly know how to describe it--even amid the dazzle of his genius;
and, in inferior manifestations, it is found in nearly all leading
British authors. (Perhaps we will have to import the words Snob,
Snobbish, &c., after all.) While of the great poems of Asian
antiquity, the Indian epics, the book of Job, the Ionian Iliad, the
unsurpassedly simple, loving, perfect idyls of the life and death
of Christ, in the New Testament, (indeed Homer and the Biblical
utterances intertwine familiarly with us, in the main,) and along
down, of most of the characteristic, imaginative or romantic relics of
the continent, as the Cid, Cervantes' Don Quixote, &c., I should say
they substantially adjust themselves to us, and, far off as they are,
accord curiously with our bed and board to-day, in New York,

Washington, Canada, Ohio, Texas, California--and with our notions,
both of seriousness and of fun, and our standards of heroism,
manliness, and even the democratic requirements--those requirements
are not only not fulfill'd in the Shaksperean productions, but are
insulted on every page.

I add that--while England is among the greatest of lands in political
freedom, or the idea of it, and in stalwart personal character,
&c.--the spirit of English literature is not great, at least is not
greatest--and its products are no models for us. With the exception of
Shakspere, there is no first-class genius in that literature--which,
with a truly vast amount of value, and of artificial beauty,
(largely from the classics,) is almost always material, sensual,
not spiritual--almost always congests, makes plethoric, not frees,
expands, dilates--is cold, anti-democratic, loves to be sluggish and
stately, and shows much of that characteristic of vulgar persons, the
dread of saying or doing something not at all improper in itself, but
unconventional, and that may be laugh'd at. In its best, the sombre
pervades it; it is moody, melancholy, and, to give it its due,
expresses, in characters and plots, those qualities, in an unrival'd
manner. Yet not as the black thunder-storms, and in great normal,
crashing passions, of the Greek dramatists--clearing the air,
refreshing afterward, bracing with power; but as in Hamlet, moping,
sick, uncertain, and leaving ever after a secret taste for the blues,
the morbid fascination, the luxury of wo....

I strongly recommend all the young men and young women of the United
States to whom it may be eligible, to overhaul the well-freighted
fleets, the literatures of Italy, Spain, France, Germany, so full of
those elements of freedom, self-possession, gay-heartedness, subtlety,
dilation, needed in preparations for the future of the States. I only
wish we could have really good translations. I rejoice at the feeling
for Oriental researches and poetry, and hope it will go on.


Running through prehistoric ages--coming down from them into the
daybreak of our records, founding theology, suffusing literature, and
so brought onward--(a sort of verteber and marrow to all the antique
races and lands, Egypt, India, Greece, Rome, the Chinese, the Jews,
&c., and giving cast and complexion to their art, poems, and their
politics as well as ecclesiasticism, all of which we more or less
inherit,) appear those venerable claims to origin from God himself, or
from gods and goddesses--ancestry from divine beings of vaster beauty,
size, and power than ours. But in current and latest times, the theory
of human origin that seems to have most made its mark, (curiously
reversing the antique,) is that we have come on, originated, developt,
from monkeys, baboons--a theory more significant perhaps in its
indirections, or what it necessitates, than it is even in itself. (Of
the twain, far apart as they seem, and angrily as their conflicting
advocates to-day oppose each other, are not both theories to be
possibly reconcil'd, and even blended? Can we, indeed, spare either of
them? Better still, out of them is not a third theory, the real one,
or suggesting the real one, to arise?)

Of this old theory, evolution, as broach'd anew, trebled, with indeed
all-devouring claims, by Darwin, it has so much in it, and is so
needed as a counterpoise to yet widely prevailing and unspeakably
tenacious, enfeebling superstitions--is fused, by the new man, into
such grand, modest, truly scientific accompaniments--that the world of
erudition, both moral and physical, cannot but be eventually better'd
and broaden'd in its speculations, from the advent of Darwinism.
Nevertheless, the problem of origins, human and other, is not the
least whit nearer its solution. In due time the Evolution theory will
have to abate its vehemence, cannot be allow'd to dominate every thing
else, and will have to take its place as a segment of the circle, the
cluster--as but one of many theories, many thoughts, of profoundest
value--and re-adjusting and differentiating much, yet leaving the
divine secrets just as inexplicable and unreachable as before--maybe
more so.

_Then furthermore_--What is finally to be done by priest or poet--and
by priest or poet only--amid all the stupendous and dazzling novelties
of our century, with the advent of America, and of science and
democracy--remains just as indispensable, after all the work of the
grand astronomers, chemists, linguists, historians, and explorers
of the last hundred years--and the wondrous German and other
metaphysicians of that time--and will continue to remain, needed,
America and here, just the same as in the world of Europe, or Asia,
of a hundred, or a thousand, or several thousand years ago. I think
indeed _more_ needed, to furnish statements from the present points,
the added arriere, and the unspeakably immenser vistas of to-day.
Only, the priests and poets of the modern, at least as exalted as any
in the past, fully absorbing and appreciating the results of the
past, in the commonalty of all humanity, all time, (the main results
already, for there is perhaps nothing more, or at any rate not much,
strictly new, only more important modern combinations, and new
relative adjustments,) must indeed recast the old metal, the already
achiev'd material, into and through new moulds, current forms.

Meantime, the highest and subtlest and broadest truths of modern
science wait for their true assignment and last vivid flashes of
light--as Democracy waits for it's--through first-class metaphysicians
and speculative philosophs--laying the basements and foundations for
those new, more expanded, more harmonious, more melodious, freer
American poems.


I have myself little or no hope from what is technically called
"Society" in our American cities. New York, of which place I have
spoken so sharply, still promises something, in time, out of its
tremendous and varied materials, with a certain superiority of
intuitions, and the advantage of constant agitation, and ever new and
rapid dealings of the cards. Of Boston, with its circles of social
mummies, swathed in cerements harder than brass--its bloodless
religion, (Unitarianism,) its complacent vanity of scientism and
literature, lots of grammatical correctness, mere knowledge, (always
wearisome, in itself)--its zealous abstractions, ghosts of reforms--I
should say, (ever admitting its business powers, its sharp, almost
demoniac, intellect, and no lack, in its own way, of courage and
generosity)--there is, at present, little of cheering, satisfying
sign. In the West, California, &c., "society" is yet unform'd,
puerile, seemingly unconscious of anything above a driving business,
or to liberally spend the money made by it, in the usual rounds and

Then there is, to the humorous observer of American attempts at
fashion, according to the models of foreign courts and saloons, quite
a comic side--particularly visible at Washington city--a sort of
high-life-below-stairs business. As if any farce could be funnier,
for instance, than the scenes of the crowds, winter nights, meandering
around our Presidents and their wives, cabinet officers, western or
other Senators, Representatives, &c.; born of good laboring mechanic
or farmer stock and antecedents, attempting those full-dress
receptions, finesse of parlors, foreign ceremonies, etiquettes, &c.

Indeed, consider'd with any sense of propriety, or any sense at all,
the whole of this illy-play'd fashionable play and display, with their
absorption of the best part of our wealthier citizens' time, money,
energies, &c., is ridiculously out of place in the United States.
As if our proper man and woman, (far, far greater words than
"gentleman" and "lady,") could still fail to see, and presently
achieve, not this spectral business, but something truly noble,
active, sane, American--by modes, perfections of character, manners,
costumes, social relations, &c., adjusted to standards, far, far
different from those.

Eminent and liberal foreigners, British or continental, must at times
have their faith fearfully tried by what they see of our New World
personalities. The shallowest and least American persons seem surest
to push abroad, and call without fail on well-known foreigners, who
are doubtless affected with indescribable qualms by these queer ones.
Then, more than half of our authors and writers evidently think it a
great thing to be "aristocratic," and sneer at progress, democracy,
revolution, etc. If some international literary snobs' gallery were
establish'd, it is certain that America could contribute at least her
full share of the portraits, and some very distinguish'd ones. Observe
that the most impudent slanders, low insults, &c., on the great
revolutionary authors, leaders, poets, &c., of Europe, have their
origin and main circulation in certain circles here. The treatment of
Victor Hugo living, and Byron dead, are samples. Both deserving so
well of America, and both persistently attempted to be soil'd here by
unclean birds, male and female.

Meanwhile I must still offset the like of the foregoing, and all it
infers, by the recognition of the fact, that while the surfaces of
current society here show so much that is dismal, noisome, and vapory,
there are, beyond question, inexhaustible supplies, as of true gold
ore, in the mines of America's general humanity. Let us, not ignoring
the dross, give fit stress to these precious immortal values also.
Let it be distinctly admitted, that--whatever may be said of our
fashionable society, and of any foul fractions and episodes--only here
in America, out of the long history and manifold presentations of
the ages, has at last arisen, and now stands, what never before took
positive form and sway, _the People_--and that view'd en masse, and
while fully acknowledging deficiencies, dangers, faults, this people,
inchoate, latent, not yet come to majority, nor to its own religious,
literary, or esthetic expression, yet affords, to-day, an exultant
justification of all the faith, all the hopes and prayers and
prophecies of good men through the past--the stablest, solidest-based
government of the world--the most assured in a future--the beaming
Pharos to whose perennial light all earnest eyes, the world over, are
tending--and that already, in and from it, the democratic principle,
having been mortally tried by severest tests, fatalities of war and
peace, now issues from the trial, unharm'd, trebly-invigorated,
perhaps to commence forthwith its finally triumphant march around the

THE TRAMP AND STRIKE QUESTIONS: _Part of a Lecture proposed, (never

Two grim and spectral dangers--dangerous to peace, to health,
to social security, to progress--long known in concrete to the
governments of the Old World, and there eventuating, more than once or
twice, in dynastic overturns, bloodshed, days, months, of terror--seem
of late years to be nearing the New World, nay, to be gradually
establishing themselves among us. What mean these phantoms here? (I
personify them in fictitious shapes, but they are very real.) Is the
fresh and broad demesne of America destined also to give them foothold
and lodgment, permanent domicile?

Beneath the whole political world, what most presses and perplexes
to-day, sending vastest results affecting the future, is not
the abstract question of democracy, but of social and economic
organization, the treatment of working-people by employers, and all
that goes along with it--not only the wages-payment part, but a
certain spirit and principle, to vivify anew these relations; all
the questions of progress, strength, tariffs, finance, &c., really
evolving themselves more or less directly out of the Poverty Question,
("the Science of Wealth," and a dozen other names are given it, but I
prefer the severe one just used.) I will begin by calling the reader's
attention to a thought upon the matter which may not have struck you
before--the wealth of the civilized world, as contrasted with its
poverty--what does it derivatively stand for, and represent? A rich
person ought to have a strong stomach. As in Europe the wealth of
to-day mainly results from, and represents, the rapine, murder,
outrages, treachery, hoggishness, of hundreds of years ago, and
onward, later, so in America, after the same token--(not yet so bad,
perhaps, or at any rate not so palpable--we have not existed long
enough--but we seem to be doing our best to make it up.)

Curious as it may seem, it is in what are call'd the poorest, lowest
characters you will sometimes, nay generally, find glints of the most
sublime virtues, eligibilities, heroisms. Then it is doubtful whether
the State is to be saved, either in the monotonous long run, or in
tremendous special crises, by its good people only. When the storm
is deadliest, and the disease most imminent, help often comes from
strange quarters--(the homoeopathic motto, you remember, _cure the
bite with a hair of the same dog.)_

The American Revolution of 1776 was simply a great strike, successful
for its immediate object--but whether a real success judged by the
scale of the centuries, and the long-striking balance of Time, yet
remains to be settled. The French Revolution was absolutely a strike,
and a very terrible and relentless one, against ages of bad pay,
unjust division of wealth-products, and the hoggish monopoly of a few,
rolling in superfluity, against the vast bulk of the work-people,
living in squalor.

If the United States, like the countries of the Old World, are also
to grow vast crops of poor, desperate, dissatisfied, nomadic,
miserably-waged populations, such as we see looming upon us of late
years--steadily, even if slowly, eating into them like a cancer of
lungs or stomach--then our republican experiment, notwithstanding all
its surface-successes, is at heart an unhealthy failure.

_Feb. '79._--I saw to-day a sight I had never seen before--and it
amazed, and made me serious; three quite good-looking American men,
of respectable personal presence, two of them young, carrying
chiffonier-bags on their shoulders, and the usual long iron hooks in
their hands, plodding along, their eyes cast down, spying for scraps,
rags, bones, &c.


estimated and summ'd-up to-day, having thoroughly justified itself
the past hundred years, (as far as growth, vitality and power are
concern'd,) by severest and most varied trials of peace and war, and
having establish'd itself for good, with all its necessities and
benefits, for time to come, is now to be seriously consider'd also
in its pronounc'd and already developt dangers. While the battle was
raging, and the result suspended, all defections and criticisms were
to be hush'd, and everything bent with vehemence unmitigated toward
the urge of victory. But that victory settled, new responsibilities
advance. I can conceive of no better service in the United States,
henceforth, by democrats of thorough and heart-felt faith, than
boldly exposing the weakness, liabilities and infinite corruptions of
democracy. By the unprecedented opening-up of humanity en-masse in the
United States, the last hundred years, under our institutions, not
only the good qualities of the race, but just as much the bad ones,
are prominently brought forward. Man is about the same, in the main,
whether with despotism, or whether with freedom.

"The ideal form of human society," Canon Kingsley declares, "is
democracy. A nation--and were it even possible, a whole world--of free
men, lifting free foreheads to God and Nature; calling no man master,
for One is their master, even God; knowing and doing their duties
toward the Maker of the universe, and therefore to each other; not
from fear, nor calculation of profit or loss, but because they have
seen the beauty of righteousness, and trust, and peace; because the
law of God is in their hearts. Such a nation--such a society--what
nobler conception of moral existence can we form? Would not that,
indeed, be the kingdom of God come on earth?"

To this faith, founded in the ideal, let us hold--and never abandon
or lose it. Then what a spectacle is _practically_ exhibited by our
American democracy to-day!


Though I think I fully comprehend the absence of moral tone in our
current politics and business, and the almost entire futility of
absolute and simple honor as a counterpoise against the enormous greed
for worldly wealth, with the trickeries of gaining it, all through
society our day, I still do not share the depression and despair on
the subject which I find possessing many good people. The advent of
America, the history of the past century, has been the first general
aperture and opening-up to the average human commonalty, on the
broadest scale, of the eligibilities to wealth and worldly success and
eminence, and has been fully taken advantage of; and the example has
spread hence, in ripples, to all nations. To these eligibilities--to
this limitless aperture, the race has tended, en-masse, roaring and
rushing and crude, and fiercely, turbidly hastening--and we have seen
the first stages, and are now in the midst of the result of it all,
so far. But there will certainly ensue other stages, and entirely
different ones. In nothing is there more evolution than the American
mind. Soon, it will be fully realized that ostensible wealth and
money-making, show, luxury, &c., imperatively necessitate something
beyond--namely, the sane, eternal moral and spiritual-esthetic
attributes, elements. (We cannot have even that realization on any
less terms than the price we are now paying for it.) Soon, it will
be understood clearly, that the State cannot flourish, (nay, cannot
exist,) without those elements. They will gradually enter into the
chyle of sociology and literature. They will finally make the blood
and brawn of the best American individualities of both sexes--and
thus, with them, to a certainty, (through these very processes of
to-day,) dominate the New World.


It still remains doubtful to me whether these will ever secure,
officially, the best wit and capacity--whether, through them, the
first-class genius of America will ever personally appear in the
high political stations, the Presidency, Congress, the leading State
offices, &c. Those offices, or the candidacy for them, arranged, won,
by caucusing, money, the favoritism or pecuniary interest of rings,
the superior manipulation of the ins over the outs, or the outs over
the ins, are, indeed, at best, the mere business agencies of the
people, are useful as formulating, neither the best and highest, but
the average of the public judgment, sense, justice, (or sometimes want
of judgment, sense, justice.) We elect Presidents, Congressmen, &c.,
not so much to have them consider and decide for us, but as surest
practical means of expressing the will of majorities on mooted
questions, measures, &c.

As to general suffrage, after all, since we have gone so far, the more
general it is, the better. I favor the widest opening of the doors.
Let the ventilation and area be wide enough, and all is safe. We
can never have a born penitentiary-bird, or panel-thief, or lowest
gambling-hell or groggery keeper, for President--though such may not
only emulate, but get, high offices from localities--even from the
proud and wealthy city of New York.


The protectionists are fond of flashing to the public eye the
glittering delusion of great money-results from manufactures, mines,
artificial exports--so many millions from this source, and so many
from that--such a seductive, unanswerable show--an immense revenue of
annual cash from iron, cotton, woollen, leather goods, and a hundred
other things, all bolstered up by "protection." But the really
important point of all is, _into whose pockets does this plunder
really go?_ It would be some excuse and satisfaction if even a fair
proportion of it went to the masses of laboring-men--resulting in
homesteads to such, men, women, children--myriads of actual homes in
fee simple, in every State, (not the false glamour of the stunning
wealth reported in the census, in the statistics, or tables in the
newspapers,) but a fair division and generous average to those workmen
and workwomen--_that_ would be something. But the fact itself is
nothing of the kind. The profits of "protection" go altogether to
a few score select persons--who, by favors of Congress, State
legislatures, the banks, and other special advantages, are forming a
vulgar aristocracy, full as bad as anything in the British or European
castes, of blood, or the dynasties there of the past. As Sismondi
pointed out, the true prosperity of a nation is not in the great
wealth of a special class, but is only to be really attain'd in having
the bulk of the people provided with homes or land in fee simple. This
may not be the best show, but it is the best reality.


Though Nature maintains, and must prevail, there will always be plenty
of people, and good people, who cannot, or think they cannot, see
anything in that last, wisest, most envelop'd of proverbs, "Friendship
rules the World." Modern society, in its largest vein, is essentially
intellectual, infidelistic--secretly admires, and depends most on,
pure compulsion or science, its rule and sovereignty--is, in short, in
"cultivated" quarters, deeply Napoleonic.

"Friendship," said Bonaparte, in one of his lightning-flashes of
candid garrulity, "Friendship is but a name. I love no one--not even
my brothers; Joseph perhaps a little. Still, if I do love him, it is
from habit, because he is the eldest of us. Duroc? Ay, him, if
any one, I love in a sort--but why? He suits me; he is cool,
undemonstrative, unfeeling--has no weak affections--never embraces any
one--never weeps."

I am not sure but the same analogy is to be applied, in cases,
often seen, where, with an extra development and acuteness of the
intellectual faculties, there is a mark'd absence of the spiritual,
affectional, and sometimes, though more rarely, the highest esthetic
and moral elements of cognition.


Of most foreign countries, small or large, from the remotest times
known, down to our own, each has contributed after its kind, directly
or indirectly, at least one great undying song, to help vitalize and
increase the valor, wisdom, and elegance of humanity, from the points
of view attain'd by it up to date. The stupendous epics of India, the
holy Bible itself, the Homeric canticles, the Nibelungen, the Cid
Campeador, the Inferno, Shakspere's dramas of the passions and of the
feudal lords, Burns's songs, Goethe's in Germany, Tennyson's poems
in England, Victor Hugo's in France, and many more, are the widely
various yet integral signs or land-marks, (in certain respects the
highest set up by the human mind and soul, beyond science, invention,
political amelioration, &c.,) narrating in subtlest, best ways, the
long, long routes of history, and giving identity to the stages
arrived at by aggregate humanity, and the conclusions assumed in
its progressive and varied civilizations.... Where is America's
art-rendering, in any thing like the spirit worthy of herself and
the modern, to these characteristic immortal monuments? So far, our
Democratic society, (estimating its various strata, in the mass, as
one,) possesses nothing--nor have we contributed any characteristic
music, the finest tie of nationality--to make up for that glowing,
blood-throbbing, religious, social, emotional, artistic, indefinable,
indescribably beautiful charm and hold which fused the separate
parts of the old feudal societies together, in their wonderful
interpenetration, in Europe and Asia, of love, belief, and loyalty,
running one way like a living weft--and picturesque responsibility,
duty, and blessedness, running like a warp the other way. (In the
Southern States, under slavery, much of the same.)... In coincidence,
and as things now exist in the States, what is more terrible, more
alarming, than the total want of any such fusion and mutuality of
love, belief, and rapport of interest, between the comparatively few
successful rich, and the great masses of the unsuccessful, the poor?
As a mixed political and social question, is not this full of dark
significance? Is it not worth considering as a problem and puzzle in
our democracy--an indispensable want to be supplied?


In the talk (which I welcome) about the need of men of training,
thoroughly school'd and experienced men, for statesmen, I would
present the following as an offset. It was written by me twenty years
ago--and has been curiously verified since:

I say no body of men are fit to make Presidents, Judges, and Generals,
unless they themselves supply the best specimens of the same; and that
supplying one or two such specimens illuminates the whole body for a
thousand years. I expect to see the day when the like of the present
personnel of the governments, Federal, State, municipal, military, and
naval, will be look'd upon with derision, and when qualified mechanics
and young men will reach Congress and other official stations, sent
in their working costumes, fresh from their benches and tools, and
returning to them again with dignity. The young fellows must prepare
to do credit to this destiny, for the stuff is in them. Nothing gives
place, recollect, and never ought to give place, except to its clean
superiors. There is more rude and undevelopt bravery, friendship,
conscientiousness, clear-sightedness, and practical genius for any
scope of action, even the broadest and highest, now among the American
mechanics and young men, than in all the official persons in these
States, legislative, executive, judicial, military, and naval, and
more than among all the literary persons. I would be much pleas'd to
see some heroic, shrewd, fully-inform'd, healthy-bodied, middle-aged,
beard-faced American blacksmith or boatman come down from the West
across the Alleghanies, and walk into the Presidency, dress'd in a
clean suit of working attire, and with the tan all over his face,
breast, and arms; I would certainly vote for that sort of man,
possessing the due requirements, before any other candidate.

(The facts of rank-and-file workingmen, mechanics, Lincoln, Johnson,
Grant, Garfield, brought forward from the masses and placed in the
Presidency, and swaying its mighty powers with firm hand--really with
more sway than any king in history, and with better capacity in using
that sway--can we not see that these facts have bearings far, far
beyond their political or party ones?)


If you go to Europe, (to say nothing of Asia, more ancient and
massive still,) you cannot stir without meeting venerable
mementos--cathedrals, ruins of temples, castles, monuments of the
great, statues and paintings, (far, far beyond anything America can
ever expect to produce,) haunts of heroes long dead, saints, poets,
divinities, with deepest associations of ages. But here in the New
World, while _those_ we can never emulate, we have _more_ than those
to build, and far more greatly to build. (I am not sure but the day
for conventional monuments, statues, memorials, &c., has pass'd
away--and that they are henceforth superfluous and vulgar.) An
enlarg'd general superior humanity, (partly indeed resulting from
those,) we are to build. European, Asiatic greatness are in the past.
Vaster and subtler, America, combining, justifying the past, yet
works for a grander future, in living democratic forms. (Here too are
indicated the paths for our national bards.) Other times, other lands,
have had their missions--Art, War, Ecclesiasticism, Literature,
Discovery, Trade, Architecture, &c., &c.--but that grand future is the
enclosing purport of the United States.


How small were the best thoughts, poems, conclusions, except for a
certain invariable resemblance and uniform standard in the final
thoughts, theology, poems, &c., of all nations, all civilizations, all
centuries and times. Those precious legacies--accumulations! They come
to us from the far-off--from all eras, and all lands--from Egypt, and
India, and Greece, and Rome--and along through the middle and later
ages, in the grand monarchies of Europe--born under far different
institutes and conditions from ours--but out of the insight and
inspiration of the same old humanity--the same old heart and
brain--the same old countenance yearningly, pensively, looking forth.
What we have to do to-day is to receive them cheerfully, and to give
them ensemble, and a modern American and democratic physiognomy.


As is well known, story-telling was often with President Lincoln a
weapon which he employ'd with great skill. Very often he could
not give a point-blank reply or comment--and these indirections,
(sometimes funny, but not always so,) were probably the best responses
possible. In the gloomiest period of the war, he had a call from a
large delegation of bank presidents. In the talk after business was
settled, one of the big Dons asked Mr. Lincoln if his confidence in
the permanency of the Union was not beginning to be shaken--whereupon
the homely President told a little story: "When I was a young man
in Illinois," said he, "I boarded for a time with a deacon of the
Presbyterian church. One night I was roused from my sleep by a rap at
the door, and I heard the deacon's voice exclaiming, 'Arise, Abraham!
the day of judgment has come!' I sprang from my bed and rushed to the
window, and saw the stars falling in great showers; but looking back
of them in the heavens I saw the grand old constellations, with which
I was so well acquainted, fixed and true in their places. Gentlemen,
the world did not come to an end then, nor will the Union now."


It is not only true that most people entirely misunderstand Freedom,
but I sometimes think I have not yet met one person who rightly
understands it. The whole Universe is absolute Law. Freedom only
opens entire activity and license _under the law_. To the degraded or
undevelopt--and even to too many others--the thought of freedom is a
thought of escaping from law--which, of course, is impossible. More
precious than all worldly riches is Freedom--freedom from the painful
constipation and poor narrowness of ecclesiasticism--freedom in
manners, habiliments, furniture, from the silliness and tyranny of
local fashions--entire freedom from party rings and mere conventions
in Politics--and better than all, a general freedom of One's-Self
from the tyrannic domination of vices, habits, appetites, under which
nearly every man of us, (often the greatest brawler for freedom,) is
enslav'd. Can we attain such enfranchisement--the true Democracy, and
the height of it? While we are from birth to death the subjects of
irresistible law, enclosing every movement and minute, we yet escape,
by a paradox, into true free will. Strange as it may seem, we only
attain to freedom by a knowledge of, and implicit obedience to, Law.
Great--unspeakably great--is the Will! the free Soul of man! At its
greatest, understanding and obeying the laws, it can then, and then
only, maintain true liberty. For there is to the highest, that law
as absolute as any--more absolute than any--the Law of Liberty. The
shallow, as intimated, consider liberty a release from all law, from
every constraint. The wise see in it, on the contrary, the potent Law
of Laws, namely, the fusion and combination of the conscious will, or
partial individual law, with those universal, eternal, unconscious
ones, which run through all Time, pervade history, prove immortality,
give moral purpose to the entire objective world, and the last dignity
to human life.


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