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seems a peculiar fitness in the chance which assigned to him this subject. Those who have read The Death of Socrates will not need to hear it praised; and for those who have not-but every Cheltonian has read it, and it is for them we write.
cm alt ud hitman.
I saw with great interest your article on the Drum-taps of Walt Whitman, as your poetical criticisms have hitherto been able, and I am at present strongly possessed with admiration for this American-the first of their so-called poets of whom I have seen anything, that writes other than the most school-girlish sort of verse; smooth, sing-song, and altogether weak. Walt Whitman is none of these, but it does not follow, even in my mind—which is that of a confessed admirer—that his excellence is tantamount to his divergence from these tamer models.
But to return to your review. Much as I agree in your selection of favourites, and most of your remarks on the Drum-taps, I am sorry you confine yourself to what I think gives his least characteristic side; and I hardly think it fair to describe him as a follower of the army, without explaining by what special favour of President Lincoln he was allowed to accompany it; to render his unpaid and priceless services to the victims of war.
I regard him rather as a signal, and I hope last, instance, to be shown us, of how a tender-hearted Christian in these days can, for a sufficiently good cause, even yet have some heart for fighting, circumstances being so bad as to need it.
As you do not seem to anticipate a ‘fitting opportunity' for treating of the rest of Walt Whitman as we know him in this volume, I am tempted to enlarge upon a few points.
Whitman is so many-sided a man (to use a trite expression), he might be taken as the representative of the most various types. He might be taken as the most melancholy or the most joyous of men, 'fire-proud Manhattanese' as he delights to call himself: as ideally American in his pride, as the champion of women--'Think of womanhood and you to be a woman; the creation is womanhood; have I not said that womanhood involves all? have I not told how the universe has nothing better than the best womanhood?' You can find in him maxims on all the English questions about women, down to the Shaw Lefevre bill and abolition of marriage settlements, which would find a good motto in his ‘Were you looking to be held together by the lawyers, or by an agreenient on paper, or by arms. No! nor the world nor any living thing shall so cohere! Of course the Lefevre point would be that marriage, being a living bond, should not vainly try to improve its cohesion by such means.
But here is a most un-English picture, p. 94* The athletic American matron speaking in public to crowds of listeners.' No English matron or maid, except a village scold, is seen in such a position. Walt Whitman is ideally republican in all his heart-a great lover of men and women-for he alludes to them equally, and in his Chants Democratic says
• The wife—and she is not one jot less than the husband,
He is a wonderful recogniser of what all have in common-of the close and quasi-electric action of every soul upon every other (of what each has in it for every other), if they will but recognise it, and enrich every one the other by so sharing. He seems to me, unknowingly perhaps, to be one of the most Christian of men. War is the last thing I should have believed he could join in; yet for the sake of alleviating the misery of an inevitable, and, if any war was, a righteous war, he got leave to follow with the soldiersfrom that love of his brother man which is the strongest feeling in all we know of Walt Whitman.
Add to this his simplicity, his abstemiousness and talent for living 'magnificently on bread and water,' his ideas on money and real wealth, on the waste of time and love and life in pursuing gold, which impoverishes you by the loss of all the tender offices, all the strong endurance which are called into existence by its mere absence, and which its presence too often hustles out of our luxurious and oppressive dwellings. His love of making himself an equal of those whom most would consider his inferiors-all is so tender and grand and Christian. See his reverence for the common people! In England we have hardly so felt or so written in civilised society since the time of Piers Ploughman. But, many will say, Walt Whitman is not civilised. It is true, I fear. He is cultivated, but not civilised, i e.-he has a marked incapacity for all matters of convention which are merely such, an incapacity which is part hatred, and would not so much defend itself against those canons as scorn the stain of conventionality.
" He is too plain spoken," they say again. Well, I do not know that any one can be so, so long as the things spoken of are fit to be spoken of, so long as the thoughts are noble and the mind pure, and if he, or anyone, is to speak at all of what is wrong, the only chance of producing a remedial effect, I should imagine, would be to use plain language-euphemisms shelter wrong doing-and help its continuance and respect. But in the Rossetti edition, which, like you, is all I know, we perhaps have no chance of judging of his plain speaking at its worst. Now that we have no prophets, the poet, according to Walt Whitman, succeds to the rôle.
His American pride strikes me as strong and overweening, but many Englishmen, some whom I most respect, and who know far more of America than I, have a similar admiration, without the birth-blindness.
Some object that the poetry of Whitman is really prose, and has less music in it than some avowed prose, such as that of Ruskin. But, though I confess I read much of Whitman as prose, and like his prose introduction almost more than his poetry, he seems to me to possess one gift which I think poetic in the highest degree, viz., that of bringing before the eyes of an ordinary and unpoetic person a vivid and attractive picture—by his description of a common, everyday scene, which scene he does not leave common, buc surrounds it with the glow and glory we all know as lighting some few days of the dullest life-days, when all men are for the moment poets ! for they see the inner beauty, which is in all these common dusty waysides--only we generally go too footsore, or blinded with heavy cares to perceive them. He restores us to these days—these gloriously possessed, far-seeing moments—as we read him, and I agree with him that this magic power is a poet's gift.
Walt Whitman is said to be irreverent, -and, indeed, his daring often makes one fear that irreverence is coming—but, excepting his Square Deific, which I can't understand, look at the reverence of his very mention of Christ, and can you doubt this man to be reverently christian.
His idea of things poetical is certainly unusual :
• The Americans, of all nations at any time on the earth, have probably the fullest poetical nature.
Here is the hospitality which for ever indicates heroes—other states indicate themselves in their deputies, but the genius of the United States is not best or most in its executions on legislators . .
but always most in the common people. Their manners, speech, dress, friendships, the freshness and candour of their physiognomy, their deathless attachment to freedom, their aversion to anything indecorous, or soft, or mean." And so on, with a strangely varied list of qualities, including love of music—these too are unrhymed poetry.'
He is not fond of what he calls the aimless sleep-walking of the middle ages,' and objects to their admirers who would have us imitate them, or live by their rules, 'as if it were neccessary to trot back generation after generation to the Eastern records!'
Amongst great American qualifications, as poets for all the world, are cited 'the noble character of the young mechanics and of free American workmen and workwomen; the general ardour of friendliness and enterprise; the perfect equality of the female with the male; slavery, and the tremulous spreading of hands to protect it, and the stern opposition to it, which shall never cease till it ceases, or the speaking of tongues and moving of lips cease. His idea of the poet he gives thus, after saying that he is greater than the President :
If the time becomes slothful and heavy, he knows how to arouse it . the time is straying towards infidelity and persiflage*; he witholds by his steady faith. He is no arguer, he is judgment. He judges not as the judge judges, but as the sun, falling round a helpless thing: As he sees the farthest he has the most faith .... he sees eternity in men and women-he does not see men and women as dreams or dots. Faith is the antiseptic of the soul-(no man need bleed to death for want of believing and hoping !) it pervades the common people—they never give up believing and expecting and trusting. There is that indescribable freshness and unconsciousness about an illiterate person that humbles and mocks the power of the noblest expressive genius. The power to destroy or mould is freely used by the poet, but never the power of attack. The presence of the greatest poet conquers. Now, he has passed that way-see after him ! there is not lett any vestige of despair or misanthropy, or cunning, or exclusiveness, or the ignominy of a birth, or colour, or delusion of hell, or the necessity of hell, and no man thenceforward shall be degraded for ignorance, or weakness, or sin. The poet is a seer—the others are as good as he, only he sees it, and they do not. What is marvellous ? What is unlikely? What is impossible, or baseless, or vague, after you have once just opened the space of a peach-pit, and given audience to far and near, and to the sunset, and had all enter with electric swiftness, softly and duly, and without confusion, or jostling, or jam ?
He then gives a long description to prove that out-door people need no poet to help them to see-others may—but they never can. All will agree with him that if there are greatnesses in man or woman they will be great:
. But the gaggery and gilt of 10,000 years will not prevail. Who troubles himself about his ornaments or fluency is lost. This is what you shall do—love the earth and sun and the animals- despise riches-give alms to every one that asks—(very bad political economy !)-stand up for the stupid and crazy_devote
* I do not defend, but dislike Whitman's use of foreign words-not needed or to which I am not accustomed as English expressions—"melange-omnesma femme-ensemble-in arrière, for behind--dolce affietuoso, for I don't know what-fenillage for foliage.
your income and labours to others--hate tyrants--argue not concerning God have patience and indulgence towards the people – take off your hat to nothing known or unknown.' This I quote from his prose preface, of which pages 39 and 40 are a glowing description of the poets love of all and trust of all, ending :-To him complaint and jealousy and envy are corpses buried and rotten in the earth, he saw them buried. This is very like Emerson! but perhaps seems more so to an English person than it would to any American, as members of a family do not see mere family likeness in each other as quickly as strangers. Again,
“The art of art, the glory of expression and sunshine of the light of letters is simplicity He swears to his art I will not be meddlesome. I will not have in my writing any elegance, or effect, or 'originality,' to hang in the way between me and the rest, like curtains. What I tell, I tell for precisely what it is." He is on good terms with modern science. If there shall be love and content between the father and the son, there shall be love between the poet and the man of demonstrable science.'
He holds strongly, and shews in all he writes that he holds that men, women, the earth are to be taken as they are, investigated with perfect candour, but with a view to their “eternal tendencies towards happiness.' And again, in his Chants Democratic,' p. 75:
'Each is not sor its own sake; I say the whole earth and all the stars in the sky are for religion's sake. I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough
-none has ever yet adored or worshipped half enough ; none has begun to think how divine he himself is, and how certain the future is.
* I say that the real and permanent grandeur of these states must be their religion, otherwise there is no real and permanent grandeur. Nor character nor life worthy the name, without religion-nor land nor man nor woman without religion.'
There are still some choice bits in his preface which I cannot forbear to quote-As to employers of labour, "The great master sees health for himself in being one of the mass. We have not yet done with the poet! "The attitude of great poets is to cheer up slaves and horrify despots," he says; and again, page 51, “Poets are of use—they dissolve, poverty from its need and riches from its conceit.” Any one and every one is owner of the library who can read the same.” The great poets are also known by absence of tricks. “How beautiful is candour! All faults may be forgiven to or in him who has perfect candour. Henceforth, let no man of us lie--for we have seen that openness wins the inner and outer world -and that there is no single exception.'
I said he has strong views about money-see here !-"the melancholy prudence of