Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.I also like his poem O Captain! My Captain!, Whitman's mourning poem for the passing of Lincoln, which opens
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,Whitman often verges too far into the mystical for my tastes. I have wondered sometimes whether there was a settled mind behind his works. In The American Primer, it makes me wonder whether he might have been a synesthete with a form of synesthesia in which words were physically experienced.
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.
Lots of wonderful passages.
In a little while, in the United States, the English language, enriched with contributions from all languages, old and new, will be spoken by a hundred millions of people: perhaps a hundred thousand words ("seventy or eighty thousand words"—Noah Webster).
The Americans are going to be the most fluent and melodious voiced people in the world—and the most perfect users of words. Words follow character,—nativity, independence, individuality.
I see that the time is nigh when the etiquette of salons is to be discharged that great thing, the renovated English speech in America. The occasions of the English speech in America are immense, profound—stretch over ten thousand vast cities, over through thousands of years, millions of miles of meadows, mountains, men. The occasions of salons are for a coterie, a bon soir or two—involve waiters standing behind chairs, silent, obedient, with backs that can bend and must often bend.
What beauty there is in words! What a lurking curious charm in the sound of some words! Then voices! Five or six times in a lifetime (perhaps not so often) you have heard from men and women such voices, as they spoke the most common word! What can it be that from those few men and women made so much out of the most common word! Geography, shipping, steam, the mint, the electric telegraph, railroads, and so forth, have many strong and beautiful words. Mines—iron works—the sugar plantations—the cotton crop and the rice crop—Illinois wheat—Ohio pork—Maine lumber—all these sprout in hundreds and hundreds of words, all tangible and clean-lived, all having texture and beauty.
These States are rapidly supplying themselves with new words, called for by new occasions, new facts, new politics, new combinations. Far plentier additions will be needed, and, of course, will be supplied.
Because it is a truth that the words continually used among the people are, in numberless cases, not the words used in writing, or recorded in the dictionaries by authority, there are just as many words in daily use, not inscribed in the dictionary, and seldom or never in any Print. Also, the forms of grammar are never persistently obeyed, and cannot be.
Character makes words. The English stock, full enough of faults, but averse to all folderol, equable, instinctively just, latent with pride and melancholy, ready with brawned arms, with free speech, with the knife-blade for tyrants and the reached hand for slaves—have put all these in words. We have them in America,—they are the body of the whole of the past. We are to justify our inheritance,—we are to pass it on to those who are to come after us, a thousand years hence, as we have grown out of the English of a thousand years ago: American geography—the plenteousness and variety of the great nations of the Union—the thousands of settlements—the seacoast—the Canadian North—the Mexican South—California and Oregon—the inland seas—the mountains—Arizona—the prairies—the immense rivers.
In America an immense number of new words are needed to embody the new political facts, the compact of the Declaration of Independence, and of the Constitution—the union of the States—the new States—the Congress—the modes of election—the stump speech—the ways of electioneering—addressing the people—stating all that is to be said in modes that fit the life and experience of the Indianian, the Michiganian, the Vermonter, the men of Maine. Also words to answer the modern, rapidly spreading faith of the vital equality of women with men, and that they are to be placed on an exact plane, politically, socially, and in business, with men. Words are wanted to supply the copious trains of facts, and flanges of facts, arguments, and adjectival facts, growing out of all new knowledges. (Phrenology.)
The English tongue is full of strong words native or adopted to express the blood-born passion of the race for rudeness and resistance, as against polish and all acts to give in: Robust, brawny, athletic, muscular, acrid, harsh, rugged, severe, pluck, grit, effrontery, stern, resistance, bracing, rude, rugged, rough, shaggy, bearded, arrogant, haughty. These words are alive and sinewy,—they walk, look, step, with an air of command. They will often lead the rest,—they will not follow. How can they follow? They will appear strange in company unlike themselves.
The appetite of the people of these States, in popular speeches and writings, for unhemmed latitude, coarseness, directness, live epithets, expletives, words of opprobrium, resistance. This I understand because I have the taste myself as large, as largely, as any one. I have pleasure in the use, on fit occasions, of—traitor, coward, liar, shyster, skulk, doughface, trickster, mean cuss, backslider, thief, impotent, lickspittle.
I like limber, lasting, fierce words. I like them applied to myself,—and I like them in newspapers, courts, debates, congress. Do you suppose the liberties and the brawn of these States have to do only with delicate lady-words? with gloved gentlemen words? Bad Presidents, bad judges, bad clients, bad editors, owners of slaves, and the long ranks of Northern political suckers (robbers, traitors, suborned), monopolists, infidels.... shaved persons, supplejacks, ecclesiastics, men not fond of women, women not fond of men, cry down the use of strong, cutting, beautiful, rude words. To the manly instincts of the People they will forever be welcome.
Never will I allude to the English Language or tongue without exultation. This is the tongue that spurns laws, as the greatest tongue must. It is the most capacious vital tongue of all,—full of ease, definiteness, and power,—full of sustenance,—an enormous treasure house, or ranges of treasure houses, arsenals, granary, chock full of so many contributions from the north and from the south, from Scandinavia, from Greece and Rome-—from Spaniards, Italians, and the French—that its own sturdy home-dated Angles-bred words have long been outnumbered by the foreigners whom they lead—which is all good enough, and indeed must be. America owes immeasurable respect and love to the past, and to many ancestries, for many inheritances,—but of all that America has received from the past from the mothers and fathers of laws, arts, letters, etc., by far the greatest inheritance is the English Language—so long in growing—so fitted.
All the greatness of any land, at any time, lies folded in its names. Would I recall some particular country or age? the most ancient? the greatest? I recall a few names—a mountain or sierra of mountains—a sea or bay—a river, some mighty city—some deed of persons, friends or enemies,—some event, a great war, perhaps a greater peace—some time-marking and place-marking philosoph, divine person, king, bard, goddess, captain, discoverer, or the like. Thus does history in all things hang around a few names. Thus does all human interest hang around names. All men experience it, but no man ciphers it out.