Though never what is called a serious student of their works, he had a good understanding of the attitude both of the metaphysicians and of the physicists of his time; and he had no quarrel with either. In his simple and direct way he came indeed very near to them both; for he loved and reverenced concrete fact as he reverenced the concept of the cosmos. Individual facts were significant to him because they were all details of a Whole, but he loved facts too for their own sake. And to the Whole, the cosmos, his soul responded as ardently as to the detailed parts. The deeper his knowledge of detail—the closer his grasp upon facts—the more intense must be his consciousness of the Whole. This consciousness of the Whole illuminated him more fully about this date, in a way I will soon recount; it must for some time previously have been exercising an influence upon his thought.
Regarding poetry as the rhythmical utterance of emo[Pg 61]tions which are produced in the soul by its relation to the world, he doubtless regarded science as the means by which that world becomes concrete, diverse and real to the soul, as it becomes one and comprehensible to it through philosophy. Science and philosophy seemed alike essential, not hostile, to poetry. Poetry is the utterance of an inspired emotion; but an emotion inspired by what? By the discovery that the Other and the Self are so akin that joy and passion arise from their contact.
In order to conceive of science or philosophy as hostile to poetry, we must think of them as building up some barrier between us and the world. But in this respect modern science does not threaten poetry, for it recognises the homogeneity of a material self with a material world; neither does idealism threaten the source of this emotion, regarding the self and the world as both essentially ideal.
The aim of modern thought has been, not to isolate the soul, but rather to give it back to the world of relations. It seems to me that, in so far as Religion has attempted to separate between the Self and things, between God and Man, between the soul and the flesh, Religion has cut at the roots of poetry; but the Religion which attempted this is not, I believe, the religion of the modern world.
Whitman then accepted modern science and philosophy with equanimity, in so far as he understood them, and in their own spheres. Apparent antagonisms between them did not trouble him. They were for him different functions of the one soul. He was too sensible of his own identity and unity in himself to share in the perplexity of those who lose this sense through the exclusive exercise of one or other of their functions. His joint exercise of these proved them to be harmonious. He was unconscious of any quarrel in himself between the scientific and the poetic, the religious and the philosophic faculties.
Definitions in such large matters must generally seem absurd and almost useless, yet here they may be sug[Pg 62]gestive. If Whitman had formulated his thought he might, perhaps, have said: “Science is the Self probing into the details of the Not-self; 长沙桑拿预约 Philosophy is the Self describing the Not-self as a Whole; Religion is the attitude of the Self toward the Not-self; and Poetry springs from the passionate realisation of the homogeneity of the Self with the Not-self”.
In such rough and confessedly crude definitions we may suggest, at any rate, a theory for his attitude toward the thought of his day. That thought, it seems unnecessary to add, was impregnated by the positive spirit of science. Names like those of Leibnitz, Lamarck, Goethe, Hegel and Comte remind us that the idea of evolution was becoming more and more suggestive in every field—soon to be enforced anew, and more definitely, by Darwin, Wallace and Spencer. The idea of an indwelling and unfolding principle or energy is the special characteristic of nineteenth century thought; and it has been accompanied by a new 长沙桑拿好玩的地方 reverence for all that participates in the process of becoming. Every form of life has its secret, and is worthy of study, for that secret is a part of the World’s Secret, the Eternal Purpose which affects every soul. We are each a part of that progressive purpose which we call the universe. But we are each absolutely and utterly distinct and individual. Every one has his own secret, his own purpose; in the old phrase, it is to his own master that each one standeth or falleth.
Ideas such as these, the affirmations of a new age, were driving the remnants of the old faiths and the dogmas of the school of Paley into the limbo of the incredible; but they were also casting out the futile atheisms and scepticisms of the dead century. The era of Mazzini, Browning, Ruskin, Emerson, was an era of affirmations, not an era of doubt. And 长沙桑拿洗浴中心哪里好 Whitman caught the spirit of his age: eagerly he accepted and assimilated it.
His knowledge of modern thought came to him chiefly through the more popular channels of periodical literature, and through conversations with thoughtful[Pg 63] men. Probably the largest and most important part of his reading, then and always, was the daily press. A journalist himself, he had besides an insatiable craving for living facts, and especially for American facts. He wanted to know everything about his country. America was his passion: he understood America. Sometimes he wondered if he was alone in that.
The papers were, indeed, crowded with news of enterprise and adventure. In California, the new territory which Frémont and Stockton had taken from Mexico, gold was discovered in 1848, and in eighteen months a torrent of 50,000 argonauts had poured across the isthmus and over the plains, leaving their trail of dead through the awful grey
solitude of the waterless desert. In the summer of ’49 there were five hundred vessels lying in San Francisco harbour, where a few years earlier a single visitor had been comparatively rare. And at the same hour, on the eastern coast, every port was a-clamour with men frantically demanding a passage, and the refrain of the pilgrims’ song was everywhere heard,
Oh, California, that’s the land for me.
There is no indication in Whitman’s writings that he was ever swept off his feet by this fierce tide of adventure. Anyone who has felt such a current setting in among the fluid populations of the West is not likely to underestimate its power. Even in the more staid and sober East the excitement must have been intense: and it is, at the first thought, surprising that Walt, who was still full of youth and strength and ambition, should have remained at home. On second thought, however, it is clear that gold-seeking was about the last enterprise to entice a man who was shortly to relinquish house-building because he was accumulating money.
The attraction of the new lands may have been strong when the Freeman released him, but he had had wander[Pg 64]ing enough for the present, and the attraction of New York itself was at least as strong. Unlike Joaquin Miller, who was among the first in each of the new mining camps which sprang up along the Pacific slopes during the next fifty years, Whitman remained within the circle of New York Bay. He was content to see the vessels being built for their long and hazardous voyage, strong to take all the buffeting of two oceans—those beautiful Yankee clipper ships which have never been rivalled for grace combined with speed. He was content to see all the possibilities of that bold frontier life in the friendly faces of young men leaning over the bench or driving their jolly teams.
He was not one of those who need to go afield in order that their sluggish blood may be quickened into daring, or their dull mood be thrilled with admiring wonder. Nothing was commonplace to his eyes, and he found adventures enough to occupy him in any street. Thus while others were framing new governments for new communities, he stayed at home and framed new houses for new families of workmen; and perhaps after all, in his transcendental fashion, he found his own work the more romantic. He had a deeply-rooted prejudice against the exceptional; he planned for himself the life of an average American of the middle nineteenth century, no longer geographically a frontiersman, though more than ever a pioneer in other fields. He would have taken his pan and washed for gold in the Sacramento had he wanted; but the Brooklyn streets and ferry, Broadway and the faces of New York held him. He had not exhausted them yet.
He had, moreover, a strongly conservative instinct, an inclination to “stay put,” evident in his story from this time forth. He was not a nomad, forever striking his tent and moving on; he wanted a settled home, and attached himself more than most men to the familiar. He took root, like a tree. The secure immobility of his base allowed him to stretch his branches far in every direction.
His mind, too, we may be sure, was occupied with its own problems. At first, perhaps, as an inner struggle with insurgent and rebel thoughts and desires, but now as an effort of the conscious self to include and harmonise new elements, and so to lie open to all experience with equanimity, refusing none. Such a process of integration in a mind like Whitman’s requires years of slow growth and brooding consciousness, if it is to be fully and finally achieved. And as the integration of his character became more and more complete, he won another point of view upon all things, and, as it were, saw all things new. It is little wonder that we have but scanty record of the years from 1850 to 1855.
In his home-life in Brooklyn he was happy and beloved and able to follow his own path without being questioned, or, for that matter, understood. He was probably not quite the easiest of men to live with. He had his own notions, with which others were not allowed to interfere; he never took advice, and was not too considerate of domestic arrangements.
As to money, which was never too plentiful in the household, he professed and felt a royal indifference, in which, one may suspect, the others did not share. The father was somewhat penurious on occasion and capable of sharp practice; he had worked hard and incessantly, and had known poverty; the youngest son, moreover, would always be dependent upon others, and Jesse, the oldest, seems to have displayed little ability. One can understand that the father and his second son—who, with the largest share of capacity, must have seemed to the old man the most given over to profitless whims and to idle pleasures—had not always found it easy to live together, and that in the past the mother, with her good sense and understanding of them both, had often had to mediate between them. In the later years, however, Walt understood his father thoroughly and himself better, so that their relationship became as happy as it was really affectionate.
His knowledge of the world, his coolness in a crisis, his deliberate balancing of the facts, and yet more deliberate and confident pronouncing of judgment, made him an oracle to be consulted by his family and the neighbours on every occasion of difficulty. The sisters and younger brothers were all fond of him; he was more than good-natured and kind, and never presumed upon his older years to limit their freedom of action or thought.
The man’s kindliness and benignity are admirably suggested in the portraits taken in his thirty-sixth year, the earliest that we have. One in particular—that chosen for the frontispiece of this book—is almost articulate with candour and goodwill. In many respects it is the most interesting of the hundred or more portraits extant. Whitman was an excellent sitter, especially to the camera. His photographs give you a glance of recognition, and rarely wear the abstracted look, the stolidity, which is noticeable in several easel pictures.
The daguerrotype of 1854 is the most speaking of the whole series. It is an absolutely frank face, by no means the mask which, according to the sitter himself, one of the later portraits shows. It is frank, and it is kindly, but how much more! The longer one gazes at it the more complex its suggestions become. The eyes are not only kind, they are the eyes of a mystic, a seer; they are a thought wistful, but they are very clear. Like William Blake’s, they are eyes that are good for the two visions; they see and they are seen through. If, as I suppose is probable, something of the expression is due to the fact that the photograph was taken on a brilliant summer’s day, we can only congratulate ourselves that the elements co-operated with the sitter’s soul.
In striking contrast with the eyes is the good-natured but loose mouth, a faun-like expression upon its thick lips, which dismisses at once any fancy of the ascetic saint. The nose, too, is thick, strong and straight, with large nostrils. Even in the photograph you can feel that[Pg 67] rich and open texture of the skin which radiates the joy of living from every pore.