Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, May 26, 1888.

     Got type-face samples from Ferguson today. W. will "look into it." [See indexical note p210.1] He is always slow in making up his mind in such things. Contract is to be drawn up and signed on Monday. Ferguson has agreed to give me the freedom of the office. "That's decent—very decent," said W.— "that's at least one point gained over the Sherman establishment." Ferguson had asked whether W.'s proof changes were many or extensive, I saying, "No." I repeated this to W. who reaffirmed me. "They never are—none at all, in fact."

     W. was in rather jolly mood tonight. [See indexical note p210.2] I kicked a folded and taped bunch of paper on the floor. W. noticed it. "What's that?" he asked. I picked it up and handed it to him. He put on his glasses, opened it and after surveying its pages looked at me and laughed. "It's a draft of an old letter I wrote Hotten when he was getting out the London edition of the Leaves. Did you know I was something of an artist?" [See indexical note p210.3] I looked at him without understanding the nature of his allusion. "An artist? What sort of an artist?" "Well—a portrait artist," he answered. He was a bit waggish. "You don't believe it. Look at that and be convinced." He handed one page of the letter to me—then the two other pages. On page two was an attempt at autoportraiture in pencil. "Is that your work?" "Yes—they are my fool lines. I was giving Hotten some advice and tried to illustrate it. Read the letter—then you will see what it is about." [See indexical note p210.4] I read the letter clean through at once and then said: "Your letter contains a portrait, but it's not in the pencilled lines—it's in the words." "Do you think so? I was only trying to give him an idea how I seemed to myself in my own eyes." I asked W.: "Is this letter of any use to you any more?" "None whatever—is it of any use to you?" I didn't say a word. He looked at me. "I see you want

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me to say, take it. Well—I say it. [See indexical note p211.1] You are the victim of a disease I should not encourage—but then we've agreed to work together—you're my partner—there's no use quarrelling over trifles. Take the letter—and the devil be with you."
"Is that a blessing?" "Hardly—but it might be stretched into a joke." I copy the letter:


April 24 '68

To Mr Hotten.

 [See indexical note p211.2] I am glad to hear you are having Mr Conway's photograph engraved in place of the bad print now in the book. If a faithful presentation of that photograph can be given it will satisfy me well—of course it should be reproduced with all its shaggy, dappled, rough-skinned character, and not attempted to be smoothed or prettyfied—(if in time I send the following hints)—let the costume be kept very simple and broad, and rather kept down too, little as there is of it—preserve the effect of the sweeping lines making all that fine free angle below the chin—I would suggest not to bring in so fully the shoulders and bust as the photograph does—make only the neck, the collar with the immediately neighboring part of the shirt delineated. [See indexical note p211.3] You will see that the spot at the left side of the hair, near the temple, is a white blur, and does not belong to the picture. The eyes part and all around the eyes try to re-produce fully and faithfully, exactly as in the photograph. I hope you have a good artist at the work. It is perhaps worth your taking special pains about, both to achieve a successful picture and likeness, something characteristic, and as certain to be a marked help to your edition of the book. Send me an early proof of the engraving.

Thank you for the papers with notices in them—and for your Academia criticism. Please continue to send any special notices. [See indexical note p211.4] I receive them safely and promptly. The London Review article is reprinted in Littell's Living Age. I should like to know who wrote the piece in the Morning Star—it flushed my friends and myself too, like a sun dash, brief, hot, and dazzling.


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I have several things more to say and will write again soon—Also to Mr. Rossetti to whom meantime, please offer my friendliest, truest regards.


      [See indexical note p212.1] I read some of the portrait sentences aloud and said to W.: "If not a portrait, this is material for a portrait." W. assented, "I suppose—I suppose," then laughed again: "But I am proud of my drawing—you don't say anything about that."

     Harned and Corning came in. After several how do you dos they got talking of Thoreau. Corning had been reading something new about Thoreau. [See indexical note p212.2] Said he knew Thoreau's mother and sister. W. was drawn out. Gave his own description of Thoreau—of his several visits to W. in Brooklyn. "Thoreau had his own odd ways. Once he got to the house while I was out—went straight to the kitchen where my dear mother was baking some cakes—took the cakes hot from the oven. He was always doing things of the plain sort—without fuss. [See indexical note p212.3] I liked all that about him. But Thoreau's great fault was disdain—disdain for men (for Tom, Dick and Harry): inability to appreciate the average life—even the exceptional life: it seemed to me a want of imagination. He couldn't put his life into any other life—realize why one man was so and another man was not so: was impatient with other people on the street and so forth. We had a hot discussion about it—it was a bitter difference: it was rather a surprise to me to meet in Thoreau such a very aggravated case of superciliousness. [See indexical note p212.4] It was egotistic—not taking that word in its worst sense." Corning broke out: "He was simply selfish, that's the long and short of it." W. replied: "That may be the short of it but it's not the long. Selfish? No—not selfish in the way you mean, though selfish, sure enough, in a higher interpretation of that term. We could not agree at all in our estimate of men—of the men we meet here, there, everywhere—the con-

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crete man. Thoreau had an abstraction about man—a right abstraction: there we agreed. We had our quarrel only on this ground. Yet he was a man you would have to like—an interesting man, simple, conclusive. [See indexical note p213.1] When I was at Emerson's Mrs. Emerson told me Thoreau stayed with her during one of Emerson's trips abroad. She said that Thoreau, though odd, was good, equable, assiduous, likeable, throughout. [See indexical note p213.2] I asked Sanborn that time at Concord who of all men of Concord was most likely to last into the future. Sanborn took his time in replying. I thought he was going to say Emerson, but he didn't. He said Thoreau. [See indexical note p213.3] I was surprised—looked at him—asked: 'Is that your deliberate judgment?' and he said very emphatically: 'Yes!' I thought that very significant. Considering who Emerson was, Thoreau was, Sanborn was, very, very significant."
Pursuing the subject W. added: "When I lived in Brooklyn—in the suburbs—probably two miles distant from the ferries—though there were cheap cabs, I always walked to the ferry to get over to New York. [See indexical note p213.4] Several times when Thoreau was there with me we walked together." Corning referred to something Lowell had written about Thoreau. [See indexical note p213.5] W. said: "I have never read it: I do not seem to care much about Lowell's work."

     Harned and Whitman got into a spirited discussion over the confession of Barclay Peak today in the Anderson murder case, Harned presenting the legal and Walt the moral argument. [See indexical note p213.6] W. repeatedly spoke of certain rulings in the case as being "possibly good law but bad sense," "the refinement of refinement of refinement of technicality," "instances in which justice is surrendered to legality," adding: "I supposed judges were more independent and juries had more freedom of disposal." [See indexical note p213.7] Harned said something about "the truth," W. interrupting him to cry out: "Little do judges and juries—especially judges—know about the truth: lots of men are just liars—remember that, too. On the whole

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the law is as likely to defraud you as to give you justice—quite as likely."
Corning asked: "What are we to trust in if we tear down the courts?" [See indexical note p214.1] W. unhesitatingly replying: "We don't build on the courts—the courts build on us." Corning is to speak tomorrow on The Moral Dignity of Minorities. W. advised C.: "Tell your people that the most hopeful sign of the times is the growing number of men the land through who are not pledged to the programs of the old parties—who vote independently or do not vote at all—who are waiting or working for the new idea, which will before long formulate itself in unequivocal political statements." [See indexical note p214.2] Frank Williams did not get in The American this week after all. W. said: "That's just as good as not. If it's a bad word we won't miss it, if it's a good word it'll keep." [See indexical note p214.3] Gave me a copy of the Ledger (Phila.) containing an account of the printers' dinner at which Childs had been present. "Childs is eighteen carat root and branch."


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