Saturday, May 2, 1891
Told him of debate at Unity Church last night on the future of American literature--Morris, Harned, Jastrow, H.L.T. Jastrow said something to the effect that the great future American poets would no doubt be built on some great English model. This curiously aroused W. into the following: "Damn the Professor! Damn the model! Build on hell! No, no, no--that is not what we are here for--that is not the future--that's not 'Leaves of Grass'--opposite to all that--opposite, antagonist--to fight it, if need be, to a bloody end--stands life, vitality, the elements. And on this must everything, everything that belongs to our future, appear, be justified. But how can anyone understand 'Leaves of Grass,' the new genius, nature--the principles, if we may call them such, by which we came--except by knowing the certain background out of which Walt Whitman appeared? Here, Horace--here in 'Leaves of Grass'--are 400, 430 pages, of let-fly. No art, no schemes, no fanciful, delicate, elegant constructiveness--but let-fly. A young man appears in the Western world--the new world--is born in the free air, near the sea--lives an early life in the early life of a big city--absorbs its meanings, the past, history, masses of men, whores, saints, sailors, laborers, carpenters, pilots--goes liberal-footed everywhere--has no erudition--reads books, reads men--prepares in himself a great ground--travels--takes everywhere--every sign a sign to him, every treasure his treasure--nothing denied--lives the life of a war--unmistakably the greatest war of history--passes through camps, enters the hospitals--using gifts of penetration (Horace, they told me my penetration would damn me!)--accumulates, accumulates--then lets fly--lets fly--no art--no, damn art!" Here he stopped to laugh. "No, I must not say that--I take that back--it would be like to say, damn the Bible, which--though I understand, accept, all the Ingersollian positions--I am not prepared to do. For I have a respect myself for anything respected through so many centuries--and so with art. But apart from that, art is not entitled to much. I deny it everything."