Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, April 13, 1888.

      [See indexical note p028.4] "This," said W., handing me an old O'Connor letter, "this will give you some more of the Osgood history: the whole history of the Osgood affair will, I suppose, never come out, but one thing and another adds light to it as time

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goes on. I see more and more that it was not Walt Whitman who was hurt by Osgood; it was rather Osgood who hurt himself. I guess some of our fellows made a good deal too much fuss about it all: we might have rested on our case and let the other side do the fussing. [See indexical note p029.1] However, no one could say how much such tilts as O'Connor has always been having for the Leaves may not have aided in showing the world that the natural laws were on our side."
After reading the letter I asked W.: "Do you accept the whole Bacon proposition, too?" "Not the whole of it: I go so far as to anti Shakespeare: I do not know about the rest. I am impressed with the arguments but am not myself enough scholar to go with the critics into any thorough examination of the evidences."


Washington, D.C., February 1, 1885.

Dear Walt:

 [See indexical note p029.2] I have long wanted to write to you, but have been shockingly crowded down with work, and I have nearly forty letters unanswered. Your postal of Monday last came duly. Also the Springfield Republican. How deliciously like my old friend Henry Peterson is that critical exegesis on your lines! I shall certainly send it to Bucke that he may be convinced of the error of his ways by it, as I have of mine!

Your poem about the Arctic snow-bird is beautiful. I send a slip from the Washington Hatchet to let you see your article on Shakespeare reproduced. Did I tell you (probably not) about getting a letter from Mr. Gibson, the Librarian of the Shakespeare Memorial Library at Stratford-on-Avon? [See indexical note p029.3] This is a gorgeous stone building, all carved and paneled oak inside, containing a library, a reading room, a grand hall, a museum of Shakespeare memorials, etc. The librarian wrote me, very liberally asking me to send to the Library anything I had written in favor of the Baconian theory, saying that the management wished to give house-room to anything related to the subject (fact is, those fellows

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over there are beginning to feel the force of the Baconian claim. It is a sign of the rising of the tide, and ten years ago such a request would not have been made.) I at once sent Mr. Gibson a copy of Bucke's book, writing on the fly-leaf— [See indexical note p030.1] "To the Stratford Memorial Library," together with this line, a sort of twistification of a line from Sophocles, "May the truth prevail!" In December last, I got a very polite and cordial acknowledgement from the librarian, in which he says: 'Many thanks for your kind remembrance of my letter and the welcome gift of the life of Walt Whitman, in which is included your letter to Dr. R. M. Bucke, referring to the Bacon and Shakespeare controversy, which renders the volume admissible to our library. I am glad to handle the volume and hope, ere a few days are over, to become better acquainted with the personal history of your great American Poet. The beautiful portrait of the Poet in 1880, to Chapter 2, is exquisite and adds much to our interest in reading his life. His poems are not so well known here as Bryant, Longfellow or Whittier, but they are gradually becoming better appreciated as they are studied. Of all the American poets Longfellow has the widest popularity, and his writings are better known than most of the English poets.'... So, you see, there you are lodged in the great Memorial at Stratford, close by Shakespeare's tomb.


I must tell you something funny. You know what I say in Bucke's book, page 91, about Dr. Kuno Fischer, ending with the observation that it is strange that having gone so far in seeing the Shakespearean connection with Bacon, he did not take the step that would seem inevitable.  [See indexical note p030.2] Now comes the news that he has taken the inevitable step! Mrs. Pott writes me from London that he has come out squarely for the Baconian theory, and was to give a course of lectures on the subject this winter at the University of Heidelberg, where he is professor of philosophy and literature. So it would seem my words were prophetic. This is the most

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important accession to the theory yet made. Dr. Fischer is a very eminent man, widely known in Europe, and his advocacy will carry weight. There is a string of eminent German professors who have also come out for the cause, notably among whom is Dr. Karl Müller of Stuttgart. [See indexical note p031.1] He has translated our Appleton Morgan's Shakespeare Myth into German, and it will have the honor of being published by the great house of Tauchnitz. All this will be gall and wormwood to the literary gang here who, for years, in their effort to suppress us, have acted like the Dragon of Wantley in his dying moments.


Mrs. Pott writes me that the cause grows daily in England, a number of old scholars, not publicly known, but men of learning and judgment, having given their adhesion, and the young men at Oxford and Cambridge also joining in numbers, are getting ready to fight for Bacon. Hooray! Meanwhile, I bide my time in the cellar.

Here is something decidedly rich which I heard a couple of weeks since, and tell you in confidence, so as not to compromise the narrator. It is extremely creamy. You know, or you do not know, that Osgood and Co., besides being publishers, also run the Heliotype Company, which does beautiful work in that line, in reproducing maps, plans, engravings, illustrations, etc. They have an office here and their agent is a Boston man, a very nice fellow, named Coolidge. [See indexical note p031.2] I am interested in a little enterprise in his line which brings me into connection with him. The other day I was in his office, and in chatting, referring to a beautifully published life of Home sweet Home Payne by the firm, I remarked that Osgood got out books in splendid style. Coolidge assented, but somewhat wistfully. "Why," said I, "don't you think so?" "O yes," he hastily answered, "but"—"But what?"—I asked, laughing. "Well," said Coolidge slowly, after a pause, "Osgood's a good fellow, and we all like him, but I'm afraid, as a publisher, he's going down."

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"Going down!" I repeated. [See indexical note p032.1] "Why how's that?" "Well," returned Coolidge, "I mean that he's losing his grip." "Losing his grip as a publisher!" I exclaimed: "Why, Coolidge, how has that happened?" "Well," he returned; then after a long pause, he continued briskly, "Did you ever hear of a man named Walt Whitman, who wrote a book called Leaves of Grass?" I admitted that I had heard of this man, and of his book. Then he went on to tell me, very circumstantially, that Osgood had solicited the publication of the book, got it out in good style, and was selling it right along, when the District Attorney threatened him with prosecution, etc., etc., (you and I know all this), when he got scared, broke his contract and stopped the publication. "What an infernal fool!" I exclaimed, just here. "Fool!" returned Coolidge. "I should say so! Why that was his chance! He ought to have told the District Attorney to go to hell, publicly defied him, and set all his presses to work. He'd have sold a hundred thousand copies in a month, and nothing could have been done to him." Then he went on to tell me that the affair made a great buzz, that Osgood was universally condemned for his cowardice, and thought to have acted dishonorably, that in consequence a blight fell upon him, and that he had lost his grip as a publisher for the present, and might be going down. [See indexical note p032.2] "If he does go down," concluded Coolidge, "it will be because of his conduct towards Walt Whitman."


Such is the outline of what Coolidge said, and considering that it was told me as to one who knew nothing of the matter, and by an intimate agent of the house, you may imagine my satisfaction. It was a real comfort to know that although we got so little support in the matter from "the organs of public opinion," there was a public feeling broad and deep enough to put the brand upon the miserable peddler who did this mean wrong. I rejoiced exceedingly to have learned it.


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Isn't it a sweet sequel? Don't let Scovel print it (as the divvle did my note to him—wasn't I astonished!) for I wouldn't have Coolidge injured in Osgood's regard for the world, though I wouldn't care a continental how widely it was known that a blight had fallen upon Osgood for his treatment of you, provided the news came without a source being specified.

Gosse's visit to you, and his kind and respectful words, inexpressibly gratified me. [See indexical note p033.1] What gave it all point was that he had been fêted to the very top by the literati and aristocracy everywhere in this country, and I "phansy their pheelinks," in Yellowplush phrase, in contemplating the tableau.

But I must break off. I wonder if my life-saving career draws to an end. March fourth comes near. Despite the terrible routine of the office work, so wearying and confining, I am deeply interested in the noble work of the service, and should be sorry to leave it. I think, however, the pressure for Kimball's place and mine will be terribly urgent, and already we hear of many aspirants. Our successors will never do what we have done—fill the stations with the best professionals, no matter what their politics, and so make the life-saving work part of the National glory. Well, we'll see what Cleveland will do. [See indexical note p033.2] What a chance he has generally to break down the infernal spoils system!

I have a fine picture of Bacon, after Vandyck, which I am going to send you soon.

Good bye, Faithfully,

W. D. O'Connor.


     As I was putting up the letter W. remarked: "William is always a towering force—he always comes down on you like an avalanche: his enemies are weak in his hate, his friends are strong in his love. William should have been—well, what shouldn't he have been? [See indexical note p033.3] He was afire, afire, like genius." Referring to Gosse's visit: "I have a letter

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here somewhere in which Gosse announced that he would come. I can't put my hands on it just now."


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