Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, May 13, 1888.

     W. drove up to Harned's just after one. When helped into the parlor he announced that he felt "miseble, as the darkies say." [See indexical note p145.1] After W. had got to his chair Harned started off to mix him his usual toddy but W. called him back: "Never mind the toddy today, Tom: I can't take it—it would finish me." W. was very pale—at dinner very abstemious. "I almost didn't get here," said W. "I feel damned bad today: some time before long I'll get one of these bad days and that'll be the end of me: then you fellows will have a funeral on your hands. Have you got a funeral ready?" W. laughed. Then: "I remember a darky story. [See indexical note p145.2] Mose didn't report for work—didn't come morning, noon, evening. Where was Mose? 'Ah! Massa must 'scuse Mose dis time: Mose is dead!' Some day I won't come—some day: mornin', noon, evenin'—Mose'll be dead!" Corning said to W.: "I'd like to see you in a pulpit once." "Once, did you say? once? That's all it would be: I wouldn't last more than once but I'd make all the fur fly while I lasted!"

      [See indexical note p145.3] Questioned regarding Robert Louis Stevenson, W. replied: "I never met him, but his wife has been here in Camden—visited me. I do not think I would have cared for him, all in all, for a companion: he was rather morbid and more than a bit whimsical—lacking, I am sure, in guts—guts: a man, a sure man, must have guts. Stevenson was friendly to me—has rare gifts: I do not dispute his powers: considering his persistent illness, his rather black background, is rather sunny, rather cheerful. Yes, he was complimentary to the Leaves: not outrightly so—saying yes with reservations: but being a man in whom I dare not waits upon I would he does not state his conviction unequivocally. [See indexical note p145.4] You have seen what he has written about the Leaves—his first view, the after-qualifications. His wife assured me that he felt far more strongly on the subject than he

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wrote. I have read Stevenson—some, not much. I tried Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but did not get along with it: I tried some of the short stories: I felt that I should know about them: but the thing wouldn't work: I couldn't make a connection, so I gave up trying."

      [See indexical note p146.1] Of Browning W. said: "I have read Browning but I do not feel that I know him. I realize him—that is, I see him for a great figure—I see him for a proud achievement—O yes—I do—but I do not feel that I know his books. I have read The Ring and the Book, Paracelsus, some scattering poems (many of them, in fact)—that is all. My impression has been not that he was not for anybody but that he was not for me, though Professor Corson, who has been here to pay me a visit, says that I am mistaken, that Browning is my man, only that I have not so far got at him the right way. [See indexical note p146.2] I do not assent to that—Corson does not know my appetite and my capacity as well as I know it myself. One thing I always feel like saying about Browning—that I am always conscious of his roominess: he is noway a small man: all his connections are big, strong."

      [See indexical note p146.3] W. has never met Boyesen, "though I have had letters from him—two or three. I could not read his books—it was impossible, impossible: Boyesen depressed me by his inanity." W. finally has finished the Boswell. "I read it through, looked it through, rather—persisted in spite of fifty temptations to throw it down. [See indexical note p146.4] I don't know who tried me most—Johnson or Boswell. The Book lasts—it seems to have elements of life—but I will do nothing to pass it on." W. to me: "Your father was in the other day—we talked about Goethe and Schiller—mostly about Schiller: Schiller's sickness—his victory over his sickness. [See indexical note p146.5] That always impresses me—a man's victory over his sickness. I have thought something very interesting, valuable, suggestive, might be written about the influence, good influence, bad influence, of sickness (disease) in literature. Another thing: the in-

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fluence of drink in literature might also be written about—would also be instructive: it has so many sides, noble, devilish: it would need to be rightly interpreted—not by a puritan, not by a toper (the puritan is only another kind of toper). [See indexical note p147.1] I have almost made up my mind to make some use of the themes myself, though I don't know as I'll ever get to them—so many physical obstacles drop into my pathway these years."

     Corning asked W.: "In your hospital work in Washington did you also come up against Confederate soldiers?" "Yes indeed—lots of 'em—lots of 'em: in fact, some of my best friends in the hospitals were probably Southern boys. [See indexical note p147.2] I remember one in particular, right off—a Kentucky youngster (a mere youngster), illiterate, extremely: I wrote several letters for him to his parents, friends: fine, honest, ardent, chivalrous. I found myself loving him like a son: he used to kiss me good night—kiss me. He got well, he passed out with the crowd, went home, the war was over. We never met again. Oh! I could tell you a hundred such tales. I don't know but I've put this case, this Kentucky boy's case, into Two Rivulets: maybe not—there's a lot of that stuff I never put down anywhere—some of the best of it. I could only give the typical cases."

     Politics. Talk of Cleveland and Blaine. [See indexical note p147.3] W. said: "Four years ago I did not vote but would have voted for Cleveland if I had voted at all. Not that I prefer Cleveland personally: on the contrary I am not much impressed with his personality. I rather like Blaine—perhaps prefer him: he is strong, brilliant, with perhaps one drawback—he is a little shifty. But I felt that the election of Blaine would be a slap in the face of the South: we had already conquered, subdued, subjugated the South—got it right under our heel"—bringing his foot down with emphasis— "and why should we rub it in? [See indexical note p147.4] As to the negro question—well, it is a question—a confounded serious question: but who can

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say the negro is more likely to get his due from the Republican party than from the Democratic party? [See indexical note p148.1] I am inclined to repeat what you said to Bonsall the other day here."
"What was that?" "Harry was arguing for the Republican party: you said, 'the negro will get his due from the negro—from no one else.' I say so too: that is the whole story, beginning, middle and end."

     Some discussion of officialdom in Washington, W. arguing: "From my experience at Washington I should say that honesty is the prevailing atmosphere." Somebody laughed. [See indexical note p148.2] W. stubbornly resumed: "Let me explain that. I do not refer to swell officials—the men who wear the decorations, get the fat salaries (they are mostly dubious enough, though not all): I refer to the average clerks, the obscure crowd, who after all run the government: they are on the square. I have not known hundreds—I have known thousands—of them. I went to Washington as everybody goes there prepared to see everything done with some furtive intention, but I was disappointed—pleasantly disappointed. I found the clerks mainly earnest, mainly honest, anxious to do the right thing—very hard working, very attentive. Why, the clerk jobs are often the worst slavery: the clerks are not overpaid, they are underpaid. [See indexical note p148.3] Washington is corrupt—has its own peculiar mixture of evil with its own peculiar mixture of good—but the evil is mostly with the upper crust—the people who have reputations—who are better than other people."

     Donnelly's Cryptogram was mentioned. Moorhouse said: "It is indeed a cipher that is a cipher." This aroused W. who exclaimed: "Not so fast—I'm not so sure about that: there's a heap big lot of questions to be asked and answered before Shaksper can be allowed his fling. [See indexical note p148.4] The easiest thing to do with a man like William O'Connor when he gets a-going about Bacon is to do nothing—to not try to answer him: the easiest thing to do is to dismiss the subject

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with a sweeping inclusive 'no—impossible': but that would hardly be taken for an answer in any court of simple reason."
 [See indexical note p149.1] Harned asked: "Are you then prepared to say the plays were written by Bacon?" "Not at all—I should not be prepared to go as far as that: I only say they were not written by William Shaksper the actor."

     W. speaking of the idea of immortality, of the "fact" as he prefers to call it, added: "When I say immortality I say identity—the survival of the personal soul—your survival, my survival." [See indexical note p149.2] Moorhouse: "It could not be otherwise with a man of your optimism. It would be impossible for a man of your optimism to have any other belief." To which W. replied: "Optimism—pessimism: no one word could explain, enclose, it. There is more, much more, to be canvassed than is included in either word, in both words. I am not prepared to admit fraud in the scheme of the universe—yet without immortality all would be sham and sport of the most tragic nature. [See indexical note p149.3] I remember, also, what Epictetus said: What is good enough for the universe is good enough for me!—immortality for the universe, immortality is good enough for me! These are not reasons—not reasons: they are impressions, visions. What the world calls logic is beyond me: I only go about my business taking on impressions—reporting impressions—though sometimes I imagine that what we see is superior to what we reason about—what establishes itself in the age, in the heart, is finally the only logic—can boast of the only real verification."

      [See indexical note p149.4] W. explained his attitude towards free trade: "I am for free trade because I am for anything which will break down barriers between peoples: I want to see the countries all wide open." W. had not yet sent Griffin the book. "I am more famous for procrastination than for anything else: you write to him—tell him that Walt Whitman will be along by and bye—is rather lame in the legs and in several other

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things: is harder to move round than a sick elephant."
W. said again: "To vary the monotony of my life I received a long letter of advice yesterday from a preacher up in Maine who said if I wrote more like other people and less like myself other people would like me better. [See indexical note p150.1] I have no doubt they would. But where would Walt Whitman come in on that deal?" Just before he left he said: "It's been fine here today: I hate to go: I felt miseble when I came—I feel improved—O much improved. Sometimes I guess its not health I want—only people—the right kind of people—the Harneds, Traubels, Cornings—the right kind of people; who knows?" [See indexical note p150.2] A little less of pallor when he left but not looking hopeful at all. We are concerned.


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