Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, May 7, 1888.

     W. spoke of material successes in civilization. "What do they show? Not necessarily much: we make a big noise about the things we have done, accumulated—what we can do and will do: with some of this I have some sympathy: but after all the main question is, what is all this doing for all the men, women, children of America? [See indexical note p113.1] The goods are worthless alone: they might demonstrate failure as well as success. Do you think goods can succeed and men can fail? They must succeed or fail together—they are damned or saved together. Against the things we call successes I see other, counter, tendencies working—an increased indisposition of certain classes to do the honest labor of the world, and the solidification of the money powers against the fraternity of the masses. Either one of these might, both of them are sure, to ruin the republic if nothing appears to contravene them.

     Professor Adler and Tom Dudley had a hot discussion at Harned's in which D. spoke in severely disrepectful terms of the European masses, W. resenting it. [See indexical note p113.2] "I will not believe it, Dudley—I will not believe it. Give them a chance—give them a chance—they will be as good as the rest. All that man needs to be good is the chance. History has so far been busy—institutions, rulers, have been busy—denying him of that chance." W. said again: "In that narrow sense I am no American—count me out." Bonsall argued in favor of restricting emigration. W. took him up: "Restrict nothing—keep everything open: to Italy, to China, to anybody. I love America, I believe in America, because her belly can hold and digest all—anarchist, socialist, peacemakers, fighters, disturbers or degenerates of whatever sort—hold and digest all. [See indexical note p113.3] If I felt that America could not do this I would be indifferent as between our institutions and any others. America is not all in all—the sum total: she is only to contribute her contribution to the big scheme.

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What shall that contribution be? I say, let it be something worth while—something exceptional, ennobling."

      [See indexical note p114.1] I read to W. a letter written by Ingersoll to the friends of Leonard Whitney, dead. (Published in Unity, Chicago. Whitney was a Unitarian preacher. In the Civil War was Chaplain of I.'s regiment.) W. said: "How graphic, touching, powerful that is! What a substantial, rounded fellow the Colonel certainly proves to be! He is in a way a chosen man. There always was something in the idea that the prophets are called. Ingersoll is a prophet—he, too, is called. [See indexical note p114.2] He is far, far deeper than he is supposed to be, even by radicals: we get lots of deep sea fruit out of him. Read that over again: I want to hear it again." This was what I read:

     "During the time he was with us he was almost constantly by the sick and wounded, and was as kind to them as though they had been his own children. At the battle of Shiloh, he gave his blankets to the wounded, then slept upon the ground uncovered, with the chilling rain pouring upon him the whole dreary night, and at that time, as I believe, laid the foundation for the disease that terminated his life. [See indexical note p114.3] Permit me to say that I sympathize with you deeply in your irreparable loss. Generous men are not indigenous to this world. They are exotics from the skies. There is no such thing as being consoled for their loss. Their memory is worthy of and demands the bitterest of tears. And yet, believing as you do in the immortality of the soul, the dark cloud of grief now enveloping your heart, if not dissipated, will at least be adorned and glorified by the sweet bow of Hope."

      "That," said W., "seems to catch the Colonel in his more affirmative mood. [See indexical note p114.4] I know quite well why and where I must disagree with him. The Colonel and I are not directly at issue even about God and immortality: I do not say yes where he says no: I say yes where he says nothing. I do not know whether to object to or to agree with his statement

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that 'generous men are not indigenous to this world.' Why not to this world as well as to any other? The Colonel himself is indigenous. I don't feel as if I wanted to disparage this world in favor of any other—the worlds are continuous—one opens into another: there is no start or stop—there is no virtue open to one that is not open to all."
 [See indexical note p115.1]

     W. handed me an envelope marked as follows: "Sent about Aug 15 or 16 '63—letter to S. B. Haskell Breseport Chemung Co N Y"—and said: "I promised to give you some sample memoranda about the hospitals. Here is a letter—the draft of a letter—I sent to the parents of a boy who died. It was a pitiful, though after all only a specimen, case: they died all about us there just about in the same way—noble, sturdy, loyal boys. [See indexical note p115.2] I always kept an outward calm in going among them—I had to, it was necessary, I would have been useless if I hadn't—but no one could tell what I felt underneath it all—how hard it was for me to keep down the fierce flood that always seemed threatening to break loose." I read the letter. I must have shown I was much moved. W. said gently: "I see that you understand it. Well, I understand it too. I know what you feel in reading it because I know what I felt in writing it. When such emotions are honest they are easily passed along." I asked W.: "Do you go back to those days?" "I do not need to. I have never left them. They are here, now, while we are talking together—real, terrible, beautiful days!" W. was in a very quiet mood. "Kiss me good night!" he said. I left.


Washington, August 10 1863

Mr and Mrs Haskell, Dear Friends

 [See indexical note p115.3] I thought it would be soothing to you to have a few lines about the last days of your son Erastus Haskell, of Company K 141st N Y Vol—I write in haste, but I have no doubt any thing about Erastus will be welcome. From the time he came into Armory Square Hosp until  [See indexical note p116.1] he died there was hardly a day but I was with him a portion of the time—if not in the day then at night—(I am merely a friend visiting the wounded and sick soldiers). From almost the first I felt somehow that Erastus was in danger, or at least was much worse than they supposed in the hospital. As he made no complaint they thought him nothing so bad. I told the doctor of the ward over and over again he was a very sick boy, but he took it lightly, and said he would certainly recover; he said, "I know more about these fever cases than you do—he looks very sick to you, but I shall bring him out all right"—Probably the doctor did his best—at any rate about a week before Erastus died he got really alarmed, and after that he and all the doctors tried to help him but it was too late. Very possibly it would not have made any difference. I think he was broken down before he came to hospital here—I believe he came here about July 11th—I took to him. He was a quiet young man, behaved always so correct and decent, said little—I used to sit on the side of his bed—I said once, jokingly "You don't talk much Erastus, you leave me to do all the talking." [See indexical note p116.2] He only answered quietly, "I was never much of a talker"—The doctor wished every one to cheer him up very lively—I was always pleasant and cheerful with him, but never tried to be lively. Only I tried once to tell him amusing narratives &c but after I had talked a few minutes I saw that the effect was not good, and after that I never tried it again—I used to sit by the side of his bed generally silent, he was opprest for breath and with the heat, and I would fan him—occasionally he would want a drink—some days he dozed a good deal—sometimes when I would come in he woke up, and I would lean down and kiss him, he would reach out his hand and pat my hair and beard as I sat on the bed and leaned over him—it was painful to see the working in his throat to breathe.
 [See indexical note p116.3]
They tried to keep him up by giving him stimulants, wine, &c—these effected him and he wandered a good deal

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of the time—I would say "Erastus, don't you remember me—don't you remember my name dear son?" Once he looked at me quite a while when I asked him, he mentioned over a name or two, (one sounded like Mr. Satchell)—and then he said, sadly, quite slow, as if to himself, "I don't remember,—I don't remember,—I don't remember." [See indexical note p117.1] It was quite pitiful—One thing was he could not talk very comfortably at any time, his throat and chest were bad—I have no doubt he had some complaint besides typhoid. In my limited talks with him he told me about his brothers and sisters, and his parents, wished me to write to them and send them all his love—I think he told me about his brothers being away, living in New York city or elsewhere.—From what he told me I take it that he had been poorly for several months before he came, the first week in July I think he told me he was at the regimental hospital, at a place called Baltimore Corners, down not very many miles from White House, on the Peninsula. [See indexical note p117.2] For quite a long time previous, although he kept around, he was not well—didn't do much—was in the band as a fifer—while he lay sick here he had the fife on the little stand by his cot,—he once told me that if he got well he would play me a tune on it, "but," he says "I am not much of a player yet"


I was very anxious he should be saved and so were they all—he was well used by attendants—he was tanned and looked well in the face when he came, was in pretty good flesh, never complained, behaved manly and proper—I assure you I was attracted to him very much,—Some nights I sat by his cot till far in the night, the lights would be put out and I sat there silently hour after hour—he seemed to like to have me sit there, but he never cared much to talk—I shall never forget those nights, in the dark hospital, it was a curious and solemn scene, the sick and wounded lying all around, and this dear young man close by me, lying on what proved to be his death-bed. [See indexical note p117.3] I do not know his past life,

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but what I saw and know of he behaved like a noble boy. [See indexical note p118.1] I feel if I could have seen him under right circumstances of health &c I should have got much attached to him—he made no display or talk—he met his fate like a man—I think you have reason to be proud of such a son and all his relatives have cause to treasure his memory. He is one of the thousands of our unknown American young men in the ranks about whom there is no record or fame, no fuss made about their dying unknown but who are the real precious and royal ones of this land, giving up, aye even their young and precious lives, in the country's cause. [See indexical note p118.2] Poor dear son, though you were not my son, I felt to love you as a son, what short time I saw you, sick and dying there.—But it is well as it is—perhaps better. Who knows whether he is not far better off, that patient and sweet young soul, to go, than we are to stay? Farewell, dear boy,—it was my opportunity to be with you in your last days,—I had no chance to do much for you, nothing could be done—only you did not lay there among strangers without having one near who loved you dearly, and to whom you gave your dying kiss. [See indexical note p118.3]


Mr and Mrs Haskell, I have thus written rapidly whatever came up, about Erastus, and must now close. Though we are strangers, and shall probably never see each other. I send you and all Erastus' brothers and sisters my love.

I live when at home in Brooklyn, New York, in Portland Avenue, 4th floor, north of Myrtle.



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