Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, June 13, 1888.

      [See indexical note p315.1] Received from Ferguson today three sets proofs entire Sands at Seventy except the pages held by W. for additions. Dropt in at W.'s in morning. Still asleep. Baker said not so well. In the evening there again, at 7.45, finding Harned already arrived. W. himself on the bed, clothed, seeming physically depressed though mentally cheerful. Greeted me by name and took my hand rather heartily. Talked of various things, but mostly about the book. Complained: "I have had a poor day—very poor: the jelly-like sensations, in my skull, have been persistent: I do not know how to account for them. [See indexical note p315.2] My body seems to lack in electric force—is not quick, does not respond." Had not touched the proofs today nor received any callers— "except one—a stranger—who was admitted for a trice, a handshake—was then dismissed: some one I never knew or had forgotten but who claimed that he had exchanged books with me two years ago."

      [See indexical note p315.3] W. was very ready to talk in spite of being, as he said, "in rocky shape." Donnelly's book still on his mind. "I attribute a good deal of that cipher business in the Donnelly book to Donnelly's love of marvels—his inclination to do natural acts in unusual ways. I read a story once of a man who was thought remarkable because possessed of the power to see with his eyes shut—yet it was Emerson who said that it was not stranger that a man should see with his eyes shut than to see with them open." [See indexical note p315.4] Baker said he had seen and heard Donnelly often. Baker is from the West. "Was he not that kind of a man, Mr. Baker?"—and then: "If I was to write a book on philosophy I should devote a chapter to the discussion of this point. You know, I did not get as far as Donnellly's cipher: yet the plays are I am sure full of mysteries in which I am sure Bacon had a hand. [See indexical note p315.5] Doctor Bucke concedes a good deal of weight to the first part of the book though he seems to reject the cipher—at least in the main. Doctor is rather cute, too—very mathematical."


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     W. asked me: "Did you see the will at Tom's last night? Do you approve of it? Tom seems to think it lacks a certain legal verity: I do not myself think it can be misunderstood." [See indexical note p316.1] Again: "More and more as I grow old do I see the futility of calculation: refuse myself illusions—try not to get into the habit of expecting certain things at certain times—of planning for tomorrows, the eternal tomorrows, that never come quite as we arrange for them." [See indexical note p316.2] Asked about his own condition he said: "I think my diet needs some careful revision, though I am not a reckless eater any time. [See indexical note p316.3] We can—if we learn how—regulate diet for ourselves but can regulate it for no second person: one man's taste may be as different—is sure to be—from another's as meat is different from a potato."

     W. remarked that he had received several "very pithy notes" from friends— "nothing too much said, just a few words to the point—sympathetic, loving, very precious," adding: "The modern letter is less elaborate and more like reality. [See indexical note p316.4] A century ago—Oh, not so long ago, even fifty years, in my memory—letter writing was itself a profession about which men set much store; not a pastime, an act of a moment, for a direct expression of some necessary fact—then silence; but real work, involving time, quiet, patience. I was never a fulsome correspondent myself—wrote no superfluous letters: wrote very deliberately: often made a draft of my notes. [See indexical note p316.5] I rarely do that now—very few people do it—except, of course, in official and business circles. I have given you drafts of several of my old letters: you have seen how extra-cautious I was: that was long ago. It involved a lot of useless work—made a man a slave: a long letter was half a day's job: God! I used to sweat over it even in cold weather."

      [See indexical note p316.6] Speaking of the early experiences of Hicks up on the Long Island shore W. says: "I am convinced that the songs of that Quaker evangelism, the old songs, would today be precious,

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inestimably precious—a suggestion of the old English balladry, if not in themselves so symmetrical—if brought to light after their long burial, after their disappearance in the historical background."
 [See indexical note p317.1] W. asked me about his two compositors. "I am sorry for them—they must suffer because I am on my back: I feel guilty." He fumbled in his vest pocket and drew forth a silver dollar. "Give this to the prooftaker, Horace: I wish him to have it. He is giving me beautiful proofs—his proofs are clear, dark, on good paper. Why, Osgood used to send out the worst paper he could find—even Rand & Avery's proofs were only indifferently good. [See indexical note p317.2] Don't give that dollar to the boss—give it to the man." I picked up from the floor a bit of loose paper on which W. had copied a note about himself from the Nineteenth Century for December, 1882. He saw me do it and asked: "What's that?" I told him. "Read it," he said— "read it aloud." I did so:

      [See indexical note p317.3] "Magnificent in his war-cry, as in the Song of the Banner at Daybreak, and his note of triumph, 'The War is completed, the Price is paid, the Title is settled beyond recall.' Yet finer still is the Vigil on the Field of Battle,—the memories of the hospital tent, with its rows of cots—the vision of the Mother of All gazing desperate on her dead—the reflection on those 'camps of green' where friend and foe without hatred sleep, and not any longer provide for outposts, nor word for countersign, nor drummer to beat the morning drum."

      [See indexical note p317.4] "That sounds first-rate," said W., when I was through, "it shows that somebody there has assimilated me—has drunk my full cup. So many of the fellows this side complain of the attention I have received in England—look at it with a sort of jealousy or with a sort of contempt. Then they say I defer too much to English opinion in my favor. That's all bosh—I defer to nobody—I do my work. [See indexical note p317.5] That I recognize the English good-will is true enough—if I didn't

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I would be a miserable whelp. There are some people here who not only don't want me, won't have me, themselves, but insist that no one else anywhere shall have me. Well—let them dispute that with themselves—settle it with themselves. [See indexical note p318.1] I have been crying hello over the Atlantic to a few mighty affectionate men and women who have been crying hello to me. If that is a crime—well, try it, convict it, sentence it, as a crime, that is all I can say."

     W. asked Baker for calomel on Sunday night. Baker would not "say yes without the doctor's permission" W. looked at him an instant rather dubiously and then said, closing his eyes: "You're rather literal, Doctor, but I guess you're right, you're right!" Harned left while I was still talking with W., who was saying to me: "Use your diplomacy over at Ferguson's: work for time—delay, delay, without seeming to delay. [See indexical note p318.2] In a day or two I will be well on my pins again—then we can resume operations with extra vigor."

     Baker left the house for ten or fifteen minutes, asking me to stay till he came back. W. said hardly anything during that time. He looked pretty well tuckered out. He did, however, send me over to the table by the window for the notes of a Dowden letter which he had laid out for me. [See indexical note p318.3] "I have given you some of Dowden's letters to me—here is a letter from me to Dowden: it is the other side of the shield! We were just talking of letter writing awhile ago—the old and the new: this is a case in point. I suppose I have done a lot less general letter-writing than most men—I was not a voluminous letter writer—when I wrote at all it was mainly with a very definite notion of something very practical that needed to be said. Imagine a Niagra like O'Connor stopping its flood to take account of stock! [See indexical note p318.4] Imagine William trying to hold back his epistolary current while he made a tally of it! A slow duffer such as I am might do

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it—I did do it: nothing ever came to me in a hurry: even my storms came taking their time. But William?—never! never!"
 [See indexical note p319.1] Was there anything in particular to be remarked by me in this letter to Dowden? "No: it will serve to complete some of your records—that is all: will add the web to the woof—show you what went back to as well as what came from Ireland those days: that is all! that is all! Horace, I don't think you could hardly realize how grateful such friendships were to me in those days—when so many were against me the few who were for me were extra, extra precious! [See indexical note p319.2] Dowden was one of the few—the sacred few: the everlastingly sacred few."

     W. asked me to put the light down. Said: "I'm clean tired out—I must not talk any more. You say you did see the will? That was right. And Ferguson? Go right there in the morning—explain the situation." I kissed him good night. Baker returned. I left.

     W. had written on the Dowden sheets: "Prof. Dowden. Went on steamer Jan 20 1872." Written from Washington on Department of Justice Paper.


Jan. 20, 1872.

Dear Sir

 [See indexical note p319.3] —I must no longer delay writing and to acknowledge your letters of Sept 5 and Oct. 15. I had previously (Aug 22) written you very briefly in response to your friendly letter of July 23d—the first you wrote accompanying copy of the review. All—letters and review—have been read and re-read. I am sure I appreciate them and you in them. May I say that you do not seem to be afar off, but stand very near to me. What John Burroughs brings adds confirmation. [See indexical note p319.4] I was deeply interested in the accounts given me by you of your friends—I do not hesitate to call them mine also—Tyrrell, Cross, your brother, Miss West, Todhunter, O'Grady,—Yeats, Ellis, Nettleship. Affectionate remembrance to all of them. You especially and Mrs. Dowden—and indeed all of you—already I say stand near to me. I

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wish each to be told what I write—or to see this letter when convenient.


 [See indexical note p320.1] There is one point touched by you in the Westminster criticism that if occasion arise should be dwelt on with more stress—and that is defended—stating the attitude of general denial and sneering which magazines, editors, authors, publishers, "critics," &c. in the United States hold towards Leaves of Grass and myself as author of it. As to Democratic Vistas, it remains quite unread, uncalled for, here in America.

 [See indexical note p320.2] If you write again for publication about my books, or have opportunity to influence any forthcoming article on them, I think it would be a proper and an even essential part of such article to distinctly include the important facts, (for facts they are,) that Leaves of Grass and their author are contemptuously ignored by the recognized literary organs here in the United States, rejected by the publishing houses here, the author turned out of a government clerkship and deprived of his means of support by a Head of Department at Washington solely on account of having written the book.

 [See indexical note p320.3] I say I think the statement of these things proper and even indispensable to any complete foreign criticism of my poems. True, I take the whole matter very coolly. I know that my book has been composed in a cheerful and happy spirit—and that the same still substantially remains with me. (And I would like my friends, indeed, when writing for publication about my poetry, to present its gay-heartedness, as one of its chief points.)

 [See indexical note p320.4] I am in excellent health and still employed as a clerk here in Washington. I saw John Burroughs very lately: he is well, and showed me a letter he had just received from you. I wish more and more (and especially now that I feel I know you, and should be no stranger)—to journey over sea, and visit England and your country.


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Tennyson has written to me twice—and very cordial and hearty letters. He invites me to become his guest.

 [See indexical note p321.1] I have received a letter from Joaquin Miller. He was at last accounts in Oregon, recuperating, studying, enjoying free nature, and writing new poems.

Emerson has just been this way (Baltimore and Washington) lecturing. He maintains about the same attitude as twenty-five or thirty years ago. [See indexical note p321.2] It seems to me pretty thin. Immense upheavals have occured since then, putting the world in new relations. I send you a newspaper report of his lectures here a night or two ago. It seems to be a fine average specimen of his current lectures.

And now my friend, I must close my letter. [See indexical note p321.3] I have long wished to write you a letter to show that I heartily realize your kindness and sympathy, and would draw the communion closer between us. I shall probably send you any thing I publish, and any thing about me from time to time. You must write freely to me, and I hope frequently.



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