Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, May 19, 1888.

     W. complained of his health. "I have been sicker the last four or five days than ever before." W. recieved a letter from O'Connor today—read it to us. Harned and

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Corning present. W. said. "It does a fellow good to receive such notes: William is always so breezy, so cute. [See indexical note p177.1] He is better than the best medicine. By the way, Horace, here is an old letter of William's I have saved for you." Reached toward the little shelf at the window sill. "It is dated 1884—I guess it's almost all about the Bacon business: he says he could prove it if he only had time." This excited Corning to laughter. "He'd need a good deal of time," said Corning. This sally aroused W. who at once retorted: "I don't know about that—it's pretty well proved now!" [See indexical note p177.2] Harned remarked "Walt, I never knew you to go as far as that before." "I don't believe you did. It was Corning's fault. What I mean is this—that William is a great scholar—has the whole business in his fingers—can reel off irrefutable arguments by the yard—is wonderfully equipped for the fight. I don't think any man living can stand up against him in that argument: I'd rather run than try it myself, I can tell you." This is O'Connor's letter:


Washington, D.C., October 2, 1884.

Dear Walt:

I got yours of the 29th ultimo, with the slip from The Critic. [See indexical note p177.3] It is a magnificent compliment, and was inexpressibly comforting. John Burroughs told me when he was here, and has since written to the same effect, that what I say on the question does not touch him at all, and although one does not mind such things at first, yet gradually, and especially when they are only part of one concurrent voice, they more than half persuade one that he is a visionary jackass, and have a deeply disheartening effect—all the more, I think, when one's convictions on the matter are clear and deep. [See indexical note p177.4]  [See indexical note p177.5] There is nothing more evident to me than what Machiavel in The Prince did for tyranny—i.e. sow death for it by simply showing it up without bias and with perfect candor—Bacon (i.e. Shakespeare) did for feudality. It is the old story of the basilisk—if you see him

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first, he dies. In the plays—the historical plays especially—Bacon sees the basilisk in all his nature and proportions.


I regret I am not free of office life, for I am sure I could make Bacon's part in all this matter so evident that Time would remember it. [See indexical note p178.1] Criticism on Shakespeare has not yet begun, nor can it begin, until the coincidence with the Baconian movement—the divine conspiracy of the Novum Organum against false civilization—is recognized. So far comment on Shakespeare has been merely esthetic. But the relation of that drama to that age—that marvellous "time-bettering age"—that is the main question.

I am extremely gratified at the reinforcement your article brings. [See indexical note p178.2] In this connection, plese read Coriolanus. The impersonation of the feudal military spirit in the hero is perfect, and there are scenes—notably that of the conference between the tribunes when they plan "to darken him forever"—which are revelations.

I have an article before the Manhattan which I now hope more than ever they will publish, for it has some things about Bacon I would like you to read.

There is a noble picture of him, from the painting by Vandyck, in the October Harper. [See indexical note p178.3] Look at it, and ask yourself whether that face belongs to one who was "the meanest of mankind"! Nothing refutes a slander like a good portrait.

I have been over today to the Surgeon General's office to see about data for you. I know Dr. Huntington, the Acting Surgeon General, very well. I am afraid that the quest will be fruitless. The only matter they have is the Medical and Surgical History of the War, now in process of publication, what you want—i.e. hospital matter—will be in the third volume, and this is now being made up, and will not be ready, unfortunately, for a year. I am sorry. However, I will go down tomorrow to the Medical Museum, (as Dr. Huntington suggested to me), talk with Dr. Wild, the li-

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brarian, and see if he can give me anything. [See indexical note p179.1] I fear it is unlikely—the publications being inchoate. You shall hear duly.


I am crushed with work at present. The weater is simply infernal. I wish you were better, and hope the coming coolness of October will revive you. More anon.

Faithfully,

W. D. O'C.
(I hope you got the little Hearn book. The thieves' song in the Polynesian story is wonderfully fine.)


     W. saw I was through and remarked: "William is a master: his art is wonderful to me. [See indexical note p179.2] He never writes a letter—even a business letter—without giving it that final touch of art which takes it out of the mass of epistolary writing. William is a constant marvel to me—like the sun each morning, like the stars every night: he nevers grow stale."

      [See indexical note p179.3] W. asked: "Horace, who is the Louise Imogen Guiney who writes so everlastingly in Lippincott's about plagarism? I don't seem to know her at all." Described O'Connor's place in the Signal Service as that of "the one who does all the work for the fellow who wears all the ornaments." Went up stairs, alone, with much effort, to get slip copies of North American Review article, A Memorandum at a Venture, giving one to Corning and one to me. "It is nothing much," he explained, "simply a word or two: but we have often discussed that subject—you will recognize the things I say as familiar friends. [See indexical note p179.4] No one can say too much to set people right on that subject of the nude—of sex."

     A Carol closing Sixty-nine, sent to Lippincott's, not appearing in the current issue, out today (for June), Walt wrote withdrawing it, at the same time sending a copy to The Herald. "It should be printed before my birthday, on the 31st. I do not understand why Walsh did not print

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it: I have always considered him friendly to me: yes, friendly: he surely is my friend: he has given all sorts of proof of it. [See indexical note p180.1] But why should anyone try to prove why editors do or do not do things? There is no appeal from the editor: he is a necessary autocrat."
W. told us his poem Old Age's lambent Peaks had been accepted and paid for by The Century and "is to appear soon." Then: "I am daily expecting The Century to shut down on me: too much of Walt Whitman won't do anywhere, especially in a magazine more or less Nancyish like The Century." W. showed us slips of the two poems but would give none of them out. [See indexical note p180.2] "I want the poem to appear first. It is a point of honor with me. I would feel free at any time to give away manuscript copies of any of the poems, but somehow object to distributing the printed slips. Curtz makes these slips for me—Henry Curtz. You know him, Horace. He is rather an effete person—seems as if left over from a very remote past: his queer little office, the Washington press, the old faced letters, the wood type, Curtz himself: it's all odd and attractive to me. [See indexical note p180.3] Be good to Curtz—he's the last of his race."

     Corning asked W.: "Do you finally think Emerson did not withdraw his opinion of you?" [See indexical note p180.4] "From books I have read about him—from my talks with him, with his friends—I do not consider that Emerson withdrew that first opinion of Leaves of Grass. Ask Sanborn, ask anyone. I think it will stand. A lot of people are telling what they think and do not know about it, but who has any word in Emerson's own hand to that effect? I do not say I know, but who does know?"

      [See indexical note p180.5] Reference was made to Richard Realf. "I am always interested in Realf: he was an exquisite, delicate spirit: we never met, but I am familiar with his career—with his earlier as well as his later career. His end was sad, tragic—but such cases are frequent: I have known many brilliant

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young fellows—in New York, in Washington, here—who went the same way. [See indexical note p181.1] Realf wrote many indisputably beautiful things—he had a winged soul—he soared, soared, soared, then fell bruised to the earth—bruised, dead: dead by his own hand, by God's hand. Well, it is all so mysterious: I do not answer the questions it arouses."

      [See indexical note p181.2] W. expressed regret that O'Connor had not written more. "It is almost tragic to see a man endowed as he is so largely silent—so much of him just fired up and never expressed. A nobler genius never walked the earth. William has a world all his own—a potential world: I used to think he would some day give it birth: but the days pass, the years pass, by and bye William will pass, I am afraid, with the work undone. That damned job in Washington ties him down to a few feet of grass: I ought not to growl at it: it is splendid work: but somehow I resent it—just a little, anyway."

     Griffin's poems have now joined the mass on the floor. But that implies no dishonor—note even disregard. [See indexical note p181.3] For there in the mix-up are many of W.'s own manuscripts—his diary, for instance, which I kicked from one spot to another today, W. laughing over it. W. denotes that stuff as "in a sense so much truck." Harned showed him a portrait of Haweis in Harper's. [See indexical note p181.4] W. said: "Good! that's very like him—he came here just in this sort of evening light. Haweis is the preacher sort: he does not dazzle me." Corning jollied W. "My sort, sort of!" To which W. replied: "Hardly—your sort of preacher is no preacher at all. You are a man before you are a preacher and after you are a preacher: that lets you out. [See indexical note p181.5] As Horace here likes to say, you're so busy being a man you have no time to be a preacher." Corning said: "I am honored, Mr. Whitman: that's the best certificate of character I ever got from anyone." W. smiled and added: "Well, you deserve the diploma, Mr. Corning." I waited just a minute after Corning and Har-

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ned had withdrawn, and kissed W. good-night. W. said: "Some night it will be a last kiss—a last good-night—but I hope not just yet—not till the books are done!" [See indexical note p182.1]


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