Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, June 28, 1888.

      [See indexical note p391.3] To W.'s at 8. W. about to light the gas. After considerable fussing he got the job done. Would not let me help him. "I've had a bad day—a very bad day: am better now, however. Dr. Osler came over a couple of hours ago—said he did not like my feebleness—spoke of it for the first time today—made up some prescription of wine and cocoa which has helped me. How life plays itself back and forth!—what a chapter of ups and downs! I wonder how I am going to come out of all this? Right, I suppose, whatever happens—if death happens, life happens—either way." [See indexical note p391.4] Asked Mrs. Davis to send up Warren. "I like to look at him—he is health to look at: young, strong, lithe." But when Warren came W. did not talk. Handed me back yesterday's proofs. "You fellows between you are giving me the cleanest proofs I have ever received. I seem to be in a safe environment." Asked me: "Didn't you say, Horace, that Ferguson was printing Poore's book? [See indexical note p391.5] I knew Poore but not intimately. I don't think I figure in his reminiscences. Didn't you tell me he died? Ah, yes! I can remember him clearly. He was

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a man of parts. There used to be actors—are actors—formal, stiff—given to precedents, traditions and all that—who after all are not to be sneezed at. [See indexical note p392.1] Poore was one of that type. I met him in Washington—he was of the New England breed—the cultured stripe. There was a time when New England culture made me sick, mad, rebellious, though now it does not seem to matter—I have become hardened to it."
Alluding to the portrait he gave me yesterday: "How well I was then!—not a sore spot—full of initiative, vigor, joy—not much belly, but grit, fibre, hold, solidity. [See indexical note p392.2] Indeed, all through those years—that period—I was at my best—physically at my best, mentally, every way."

     Ferguson thinks our offer to McKay for the Specimen Days plates is fair. [See indexical note p392.3] W. says: "So do I. Dave mustn't think I am wholly ignorant in such matters. Of course I don't blame Dave, either, for standing out for all he can get. That is business. It's not pretty in him or in me—it's business. Dave has Napoleonic qualities. I admire him." Referring to the management of headlines W. says: [See indexical note p392.4] "I have no doctrine about such things: all ways are good if they are good ways—if they pan out well. I remember I used to have an intense dislike for eating in theatres—in such public places—seeing people eat—eating myself—especially women eating: but one evening I went into a theatre—it was hot and close—with a friend—and in the course of the play he nudged me: 'Look there!' he said: [See indexical note p392.5] and I looked: I found him pointing out a woman in front of us sucking an orange—violating my tradition: but doing it so inimitably—being no doubt warm and thirsty—doing it with such calm grace, cleanliness, I could not but admit that it justified itself.  [See indexical note p392.6] It is a good, the only, principle, to apply to art."

     Turning over some proof-sheets he quoted a line from his own Burns paper, removing his glasses and looking at

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me as he did so. "Some of my friends think the Burns piece the best of all: I don't look on it that way. [See indexical note p393.1] It was what the artists call a pot-boiler. Oh! I needed money very badly—Rice asked for it or something—so I wrote it. Carnegie has written me about it—you know Andrew is a true-blue Scotchman. I have been associated all my life with people who regard Burns as the greatest—yes, the very greatest—of poets—of wonderful firsthand children of genius. I am not so filled by Burns myself—I seem to need other fodder than his sort—though I honor, love him—indeed, recognize the paramount significance, eternality, of his songs."

     We spoke of the will. "I really got to work at it today—you have egged me on—on. [See indexical note p393.2] I don't know which is most stubborn—your kind of Dutch or mine. I will have the document signed, consummated, tomorrow. Then you and Harned can sleep without dreams again." First draft in pencil. Mrs. Davis yesterday persuaded boys on the street to take their firecrakers around the corner. [See indexical note p393.3] W. objected. "Don't send them away, Mary: the boys don't like to be disturbed either. Besides who knows but there may be a sicker Man around the corner?" W. jollied with Baker anent what he called his "grog." "Baker fills me full—then wants to fill me all over again. But I am like another fellow I have heard of—I only hold a pint. [See indexical note p393.4] I am glad you drink nothing, Horace—that will hold finely for a young fellow, even in middle life. I am inclined to think that when a man gets old and his fires slow down some touch of (never much) stimulant may be necessary." We talked a little about a letter in which Roden Noel complained to W. that though he had been among W.'s earliest adherents in England Bucke had not included him in the list of W.'s English friends. [See indexical note p393.5] "I am sorry the thing occurred: it was an accident: an accident for which I was probably responsible. Noel is right: he was on the spot—I knew

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it. Friends there or here were none too many—I should not have missed any of them."
This is Noel's whole letter:


London, May 16, 1886.

Dear Sir.

 [See indexical note p394.1] I am so sorry to hear of your illness! and very sorry to hear the book has not reached you. I have now told my publisher to send another copy to your correct address and shall be glad to hear you are not dissatisfied with the essay on yourself. I'll send a copy too of my last book, Songs of the Heights and Deeps. I formerly sent you some of my poetry, but it was early work. I hope I have been getting on since, and have now got a place—perhaps as permanent as this sort of thing can be!—among our poets—though I am not popular here, or in America. I could wish to be more known in America.

 [See indexical note p394.2] I am glad that you are at last taking your rightful place among the best. My debt to you is great. Would that I could express it in person! I have often said the chief (if not the only) reason why I want to go to America is to see Niagara, the Yosemite, and Walt Whitman!

 [See indexical note p394.3] You did send me your works, and I value the present not a little. But I was sorry to see Dr. Bucke did not mention me among your early admirers, for I published in Dark Blue an essay you and Mr. Burroughs liked long ago (this one is an enlarged republication of that).

I venture to send a photo of myself in return for some you sent me of yourself formerly.

Yours with sincere respect,

Roden Noel.


     W. also showed me a letter from Burroughs. "It contains some mighty interesting reading—criticism—a touch and go at Curtis, Arnold, Emerson, Carlyle. John is extra fine at that sort of work, especially in letters, where he qualifies nothing, just lets himself go on free wing. [See indexical note p394.4] Read the letter. It's better than a good apple."


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West Park, Jan. 8, '84.

Dear Walt:

 [See indexical note p395.1] That piece of writing of yours in the last Critic is to me very impressive. It is seldom you have fallen into such a noble and lofty strain. As I am myself trying to write a little these days, it makes me sad. It is like a great ship that comes to windward of me and takes the breeze out of the sail of my little shallop. I shall have to lay by today and let the impression wear off. I think you have hit it exactly with that word physiological. It lets in a flood of light. The whole essay is one to be long conned over.

 [See indexical note p395.2] I went down to New York to hear Arnold on Emerson Friday night. Curtis—the pensive Curtis—introduced the lecturer. I wonder if you have heard Curtis speak? 'Tis a pity he is not a little more robust and manly. He fairly leans and languishes on the bosom of the Graces, one after another. Arnold looked hearty and strong and spoke in a foggy, misty English voice, that left the outlines of his sentences pretty obscure, but which had a certain charm after all. [See indexical note p395.3] The lecture contained nothing new. The Tribune report you sent me is an admirable summary—the pith of the whole lecture. He does not do full justice to Emerson as I hope to show in my essay. At least Emerson can be shorn of these things, and left a more impressive figure than Arnold leaves him. He had much to say about Carlyle, too, but would not place him with the great writers! [See indexical note p395.4] Because he was more than a great literary man he denied him literary honors.

Drop me a line when you feel like it. Winter is in full blast up here and the river snores and groans like a weary sleeper.

With much love,

John Burroughs.


      "When John is wholly John," said W., "he can't be beat. I think that probably the best part of that letter, which is

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full of best parts, is his sentence on the weather."
"An author's letters are like an artist's sketches—they often contain his best art." [See indexical note p396.1] "You are right, Horace. Nobody's looking at a man when he is writing a letter: he just writes: writes: is wholly honest with himself. Of course all letters are not honest letters: I am speaking of honest letters: John's letter is an honest letter."


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