Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, May 23, 1888.

      [See indexical note p195.3] McKay wants four hundred dollars for the absolute surrender of the plates of Specimen Days or three hundred dollars for surrender with the privilege of printing an edition. He would not consider Walt's offer of one hundred and fifty. "That's nonsense," he said. The plates originally cost six hundred forty-six dollars. It costs thirty-five or forty dollars to print one thousand copies—press work." When I conveyed McKay's reply to W. he retorted: "It's nonsense, is it? [See indexical note p195.4] Well let it remain nonsense and then done with it. I would not for a moment consider Dave's alternative." Adding: "Dave was always saying the book wasn't worth a damn as a seller: I thought he'd be glad to get rid of the plates."

      [See indexical note p195.5] W. discussed the Thayer & Eldridge plates, in possession of Worthington, New York. Worthington prints edition after edition and sells them. Sometimes W. seems indignant. Sometimes he only laughs the affair away. "Worthington is a humbug—pays me nothing: yet I am averse to going to law about it: going to law is like going to hell: it's too much like trouble even if we win. [See indexical note p195.6] Worthington no doubt has a theory justifying it which puts me out of his court. In

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a case so obvious it would seem as though things might very easily be brought to a head in my behalf. But who knows? The law's a tricksy thing to fool with, even for righteousness' sake."
 [See indexical note p196.1] W. laughed: "It's really a long story. Worthington is known in his trade as 'holy Dick': he combines piety with his other virtues. 'Holy Dick'! Well—he has a lot of débris to unload before he can enter the Kingdom. Dave rails at me for not pushing Worthington—and Tom, too, says: 'You should drive him to the wall.' I say yes, yes, yes: but when it comes to doing anything I rather decide for no. Holy Dick! He's a sour mess to me: I don't feel much like having any sort of encounter with him, good or bad."

     W. then got to business, talking of November Boughs. [See indexical note p196.2] "I propose first issuing November Boughs independently—then shall issue a superior edition of my complete works." At Sherman's today. Bennerman not in. They advised me to get plates made direct at some foundry under our own supervision. The idea rather hits W. "There are still a few errors in the plates of the Leaves. We must get them corrected. The complete edition will make a ponderous volume of eight to nine hundred pages—shaped like the Cryptogram—printed more or less like our present books. I am of course figuring on your assistance in all these plans—I could not accomplish them alone: indeed, I should stop right here and now if I did not think you would stand by me—see me through."

     W. gave me what he called a "document" to go among my "war records." The rough draft of a letter written by him (marked on the envelope "sent Oct 1 1863") to W. S. Davis, Worcester, Massachusetts. [See indexical note p196.3] "It will help along some other memoranda you have—give you some more material. I clean house from time to time: save you the bits, hunt them, that I think will be of service to you—service or interest. The rest (the most of things) go into the fire." He

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laughed quietly: "I know you are jealous of that fire," he added. "Well—that stuff is trash, notwithstanding your appetite: I know best what it is: trash, trash, trash." [See indexical note p197.1] This is the Davis letter, which I stopped right where we were and read.

      [See indexical note p197.2] "The noble gift of your brother Joseph P. Davis of $20 for the aid of the wounded, sick, dying soldiers here came safe to hand—it is being sacredly distribtued to them—part of it has been so already—I may another time give you special cases—I go every day or night to the hospitals a few hours—As to physical comforts, I attempt to have some—generally a lot of—something harmless and not too expensive to go round to each man, even if it is nothing but a good home-made biscuit to each man—or a couple of spoonfuls of blackberry preserve—I take a ward to two of an evening and two more next evening &c— [See indexical note p197.3] as an addition to his supper—sometimes one thing, sometimes another, (judgment of course has to be carefully used)—then after such general round I fall back upon the main thing, after all, the special cases, alas too common—those that need some special attention, some little delicacy, some trifle—very often far above all else, soothing kindness wanted—personal magnetism—poor boys, their sick hearts and wearied and exhausted bodies hunger for the sustenance of love or their deprest spirits must be cheered up— [See indexical note p197.4] I find often young men, some hardly more than children in age yet—so good, so sweet, so brave, so decorous, I could not feel them nearer to me if my own sons or your brothers—Some cases even I could not tell anyone, how near to me, from their yearning ways and their sufferings— [See indexical note p197.5] it is comfort and delight to me to minister to them, to sit by them—some wind themselves around one's heart and will be kissed at parting at night just like children—though veterans of two years of battles and camp life—I always carry a haversack with some

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articles most wanted—physical comforts are a sort of basis—I distribute nice large biscuit, sweet crackers, sometimes cut up a lot of peaches with sugar, give preserves of all kinds, jellies, &c. tea, oysters, butter, condensed milk, plugs of tobacco (I am the only one that doles out this last, and the men have grown to look to me)—wine, brandy, sugar, pickles, letter-stamps, envelopes and note paper, the morning papers, common handkerchiefs and napkins, undershirts, socks, dressing gowns, and fifty other things—I have lots of special little requests. [See indexical note p198.1] Frequently I give small sums of money,—shall do so with your brother's contribution—the wounded are very frequently brought and lay here a long while without a cent. I have been here and in front nine months doing this thing and have learned much—the soldiers are from fifteen to twenty-five or six years of age—lads of fiteen or sixteen more frequent than you have any idea—seven-eighths of the army are Americans, our own stock—the foreign element in the army is much overrated and is of not much account anyhow. [See indexical note p198.2] There are no hospitals (there are dozens of them in and around Washington) you must understand like the diseased half-foreign collections under that name common at all times in cities—in these here, the noblest cleanest stock I think of the world, and the most precious."

     When I was through W. said: "There is some history in that letter. Sometimes I am myself almost afraid of myself—afraid to read such a letter over again: it carries me too painfully back into old days—into the fearful scenes of the war. [See indexical note p198.3] I don't think the war seemed so horrible to me at the time, when I was busy in the midst of its barbarism, as it does now, in retrospect."

     W. is thinking of getting the Morse head of himself cast in bronze. Asks me to make some inquiry as to the cost. "It ought to be preserved: the plaster is very perishable:

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it is the best of the heads, so far, if I know anything about my looks—which William O'Connor says I don't. [See indexical note p199.1] William used to say: 'Give me a fool picture of yourself and you're sure to like it.' There was some reference to the Eakins and Gilchrist paintings in today's Press, but Sidney's bust was ignored. They passed the best by to speak of the worst."
"Is Eakins the worst?" [See indexical note p199.2] "That was a rather hard statement—it applied rather to Herbert's than to Tom's But no matter about that: no matter whose is the worst, Sidney's is the best." W. went on after a bit of silence: "When I look at Morse's present work I wonder that he could have made that head of me years ago—so inexpressive, so paltry, so apologetic." [See indexical note p199.3] "You did not preserve it?" "No indeed: I took it into the back yard there on Stevens street and dashed it to pieces."

     W. described his economies practised in Washington during Hospital days. "It is surprising how little a man may live on if he must: live not meanly but with about all that is needed to make him comfortable: a matter of three or four hundred dollars settles the whole case." [See indexical note p199.4] I asked: "Don't that mean worry for a man—and don't his worry reduce his capacity for work?" "Yes. I do not argue for three or four hundred—I only say it is possible. As a general rule it is true that we need something substantial at the foundation—all men—every man—but we can't set the same bounds for all men. There's Poe, for instance—poor Poe—to whose poverty, struggles, death at last in the gutter—sad, tragic, as it may seem—all his work, his quality, seems owing." "If you repeat these views to the rich they will think you are on their side." [See indexical note p199.5] W. laughed: "If I had my way," he said more gravely, "I'd try my medicine first on the rich—make them live on three hundred a year for awhile—they would then be better able to understand the case of the under-dog. In the human sense I am on both sides—the side of the rich as well as the side of the poor: no one who

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understands me would quote me in any other way on the side of the rich."
"Why, you're almost radical!" "Almost! [See indexical note p200.1] Why—I claim to be altogether radical—that's my chief stock in trade: take radicalism out of the Leaves—do you think anything worth while would be left?" "But you said to Harned the other day: 'I am the most conservative of conservatives.'" "You've got a damned good memory: so I did: but when I said conservative there I meant safe. I contend that I am the safest of men—that my gospel is the safest of gospels. [See indexical note p200.2] What do you think of that?" "Nothing: I only wanted to hear you declare yourself." W. laughed freely. "You're too cute—you've interviewed me in spite of myself: you ought to be a lawyer."


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