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by [?]

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“What think ye of Whitman?” This is the question I feel like putting, and sometimes do put, to each young poet I meet. If he thinks poorly of Whitman, I think poorly of him. I do not expect great things of him, and so far my test holds good. William Winter thought poorly of Whitman, Aldrich thought poorly of him, and what lasting thing has either of them done in poetry? The memorable things of Aldrich are in prose. Stedman showed more appreciation of him, and Stedman wrote two or three things that will keep. His “Osawatomie Brown … he shoved his ramrod down” is sure of immortality. Higginson could not stand Whitman, and had his little fling at him whenever he got the chance. Who reads Higginson now? Emerson, who far outranks any other New England poet, was fairly swept off his feet by the first appearance of “Leaves of Grass.” Whittier, I am told, threw the book in the fire. Whittier’s fame has not gone far beyond New England. The scholarly and academic Lowell could not tolerate Whitman, and if Lowell has ever written any true poetry, I have not seen it. What Longfellow thought of him, I do not know. Thoreau saw his greatness at a glance and went to see him. In England, I am told, Tennyson used to read him aloud in select company. I know that the two poets corresponded. We catch a glimpse of Swinburne’s spasmodic insight in his first burst of enthusiasm over him, and then of his weakness in recanting. Swinburne’s friend and house-mate, Watts Dunton, never could endure him, but what has he done? So it has gone and still is going, though now the acceptance of Whitman has become the fashion.

I have always patted myself on the back for seeing the greatness of Whitman from the first day that I read a line of his. I was bewildered and disturbed by some things, but I saw enough to satisfy me of his greatness.

Whitman had the same faith in himself that Kepler had in his work. Whitman said:

“Whether I come to my own to-day, or in ten thousand, or ten million years, I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.”

Kepler said: “The die is cast; the book is written, to be read either now or by posterity. I care not which. It may well wait a century for a reader, since God has waited six thousand years for an observer like myself.”

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Judging from fragments of his letters that I have seen, Henry James was unquestionably hypersensitive. In his dislike of publicity he was extreme to the point of abnormality; it made him ill to see his name in print, except under just the right conditions. He wanted all things veiled and softened. He fled his country, abjured it completely. The publicity of it, of everything in America–its climate, its day, its night, the garish sun, its fierce, blazing light, the manner of its people, its politics, its customs–fairly made him cringe. During his last visit here he tried lecturing, but soon gave it up. He fled to veiled and ripened and cushioned England–not to the country, but to smoky London; and there his hypersensitive soul found peace and ease. He became a British subject, washed himself completely of every vestige of Americanism. This predilection of his probably accounts for the obscurity or tantalizing indirectness of his writings. The last story I read of his was called “One More Turn of the Screw,” but what the screw was, or what the turn was, or whether anybody got pinched or squeezed, or what it was all about, I have not the slightest idea. He wrote about his visit here, his trip to Boston, to Albany, to New York, but which town he was writing about you could not infer from the context. He had the gift of a rich, choice vocabulary, but he wove it into impenetrable, though silken, veils that concealed more than they revealed. When replying to his correspondents on the typewriter, he would even apologize for “the fierce legibility of the type.”