Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, May 17, 1888.

     W. talked of Rhys again. "He made some kick or other against Kennedy: they don't seem to have got along well together: I don't suppose it was anybody's fault. I can take no sides in such a quarrel: I consign Kennedy to Rhys and Rhys to Kennedy—let them finish their fight together. [See indexical note p167.3] Rhys complained of the nervousness of Kennedy and his wife—seemed to think it was alarming: I suppose Rhys got it all in the wrong perspective. That nervousness is constitutional: they have it—God knows! On the other hand I can see how Kennedy must have been irritated by Rhys' stolid ways. Kennedy is a proof reader with Houghton, Mifflin & Co.—works thirteen or fourteen hours a day—for poor pay, no doubt: his wife does the same sort of work for the Christian something or other. [See indexical note p167.4] It's not a business to quiet the nerves—especially such nerves as Kennedy had to start with. It is poor work for Sloane to be doing—poor work: it breaks him down for anything else. It seems inevitable that two men like Rhys and Kennedy should fall

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out: you couldn't get 'em to fit nohow. Kennedy will hardly fit anything but a chestnut burr. [See indexical note p168.1] Don't it seem to you all Kennedy's crosspatch qualities are on the outside? If a man will have patience to get through his skin he'll find a Kennedy he will forgive and love."

     W. advised me to "go and get acquainted with Dave McKay." He described McKay. "Dave is a canny Scotchman—thick-set, bluff, bustling, businessy—in a few ways of the Tom Harned style. Dave always knows how to keep to the windward of things. [See indexical note p168.2] Some of my friends say, 'Watch Dave.' I do watch him, but not because I do not think him square. Dave knows how to butter his bread, to be sure: that is trade—trade will be trade any time: I have found Dave shrewd but at all times scrupulous. Authors always growl about publishers, probably with a good deal of reason, too: but I don't know as the publisher is any different from the shirtman or the shoemaker or anybody else with goods to sell. [See indexical note p168.3] All the little inhuman trickeries current are referred back to business. Now there's John Burroughs—you ought to hear what he has to say about publishers: it'd make your hair stand on end. Why, John actually gets violent on the subject. The author is generally in the hands of the publisher. I try not to be. Emerson was very shrewd in this particular—very shrewd: he owned his own plates and always himself ordered the copies struck off when they were needed. When Emerson published Carlyle over here he protected Carlyle in the same way—yes, even attended to Louisa Alcott's affairs until Louisa grew up, when she was found to be more than able to defend the family interests singlehanded. [See indexical note p168.4] An author ought to own his own plates—ought to alienate nothing from himself. I own the plates of Leaves of Grass—have ever been considering the propriety of buying the prose plates. Sherman, on Seventh Street, made these. Nobody cares a damn for the prose—it has the greatest battle simply to keep alive—

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the greatest. Dave is now producing a volume of extracts from the Leaves arranged by Elizabeth Porter Gould: a birthday book: I had a letter here today from her. [See indexical note p169.1] She described a meeting of the Home Club in Boston the other evening at which a Mrs. Spaulding, together with Miss Gould, took up the defence of the Leaves against violent antagonism. This story contradicts Stedman's idea that my friends are in error when they contend that the Leaves are not everywhere hospitably recieved. It is indeed a favorite idea of Stedman's that American literary men are misjudged in that particular—that after all they love us instead of hating us: that if they knock us down it only means again that they love us. Stedman is way off on that—way off. Kennedy wrote me a while ago on this very matter: I have used the letter somewhere, I think, in writing on the subject. [See indexical note p169.2] Kennedy said: 'Everywhere I go I meet with a solid phalanx of dissent'—or something of that tenor. Professor Gilman, however, declares that this is not true—he rather favors the Stedman notion."

     Someone asked W. why he was not received in The Atlantic? "How should I know? They will have none of me. I have met Aldrich—used to in New York, at the beershop—indeed, have met Howells often enough. [See indexical note p169.3] They are friendly in all personal ways, of course. But when I was in Boston, although Aldrich called on me—and O'Reilly, who is my ardent friend (noble O'Reilly!), went several times to see him and induce him to invite me to contribute to the magazine—he made no tenders of literary hospitality: he was dead still and let me go." Had he ever tried them with verses? "Yes, years ago, with Elemental Drifts, for instance, which they published—and some others, I believe. [See indexical note p169.4] Don't think I blame 'em—feel anyway hard about all this: it all belongs to the story—I always take what comes: kicks, blessings, anything. No man of that stripe could accept me on the whole—could

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say 'yes' without a touch of 'no.' Take Stedman. He is as warm as any: a splendid, openhanded, openminded fellow: I think Stedman likes me as a critter. [See indexical note p170.1] He has been in Washington,—where he knew the O'Connors—is familiar with my hospital and other experiences—is generous, cordial, conciliatory. He likes me, as I say (or believe) as a critter—a human being—my build, port, practice: this perhaps more or less without qualification. But when it comes to my books he shies some—they are more or less suspected. Stedman may be right—the books may be wrong—I am not taking sides: I am only describing a situation. [See indexical note p170.2] Stedman has a wife—a superb woman: her friendly disposition towards me has always been in evidence. Her influence on my side has perhaps helped some to save me with Stedman. Gilder is much the same as Stedman: is friendly, listens to me, admits my measure—yet looks with distrust on all the claims of my friends, especially at the fund from abroad, of which he said once to Talcott Willaims or Tom Donaldson: 'That galls me—I can't get over it!'"

      [See indexical note p170.3] W. naturally diverted to Lanier. "The recent published adverse reference to me from Lanier as reported in the Memorial volume was objected to by his wife, I am told, on the ground of its unfairness, not only to me but to Lanier, since other things said by Lanier about me, reflecting a more favorable mood, should also have been given. [See indexical note p170.4] I know nothing about that myself and care less. I had several letters from Lanier—very warm letters. One of them is still about here somewhere: I want you to have it some day: the severely critical paragraphs in the book were therefore rather a surprise to me. I suppose we will both survive the anomaly. [See indexical note p170.5] Lanier was tragic in life and death. He had the soul of the musician—was a flute player: indeed, in the accounts, was phenomenally fine. This extreme sense of the melodic, a virtue in itself, when carried into

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the art of the writer becomes a fault. Why? Why, because it tends to place the first emphasis on tone, sound—on the lilt, as Rhys so often puts it. [See indexical note p171.1] Study Lanier's choice of words—they are too often fit rather for sound than for sense. His ear was over-sensitive. He had a genius—a delicate, clairvoyant genius: but this over-tuning of the ear, this extreme deference paid to oral nicety, reduced the majesty, the solid worth, of his rhythms."

     W. kissed me good night. [See indexical note p171.2] He said: "We are growing near together.That's all there is in life for people—just to grow near together." I was almost at the door. He laughingly called my name. I stopped. "I have a copy of DeKay's Nimrod, Horace: they sent it to me: it's quite a handsome book printerially speaking: you are a typo: I'll hunt it up and give it to you: you may take it away and keep it forever!" "Shouldn't I read the book, too?" [See indexical note p171.3] "If you read it you read it on your own responsibility. I advise you to study its mechanics: that's where my advice ends. Do anything you please with the book only don't bring it back!"


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