Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, July 3, 1888.

     Evening. W.'s day miserable. "The minute I attempt to work my brain gets into a snarl." Expressed pleasure hearing I had written to Burroughs. "The good John," he called him. [See indexical note p415.2] Still refuses to consider going to the shore. "For the present I must stay where I am. Events might arise to make a change advisable, but for all I can see now I am best here, best at home." Was up only about ten minutes this evening, though he talked from the bed in an easy, cheery way. I handed him some proofs. He was happy over it. "This looks like getting on the move again"—asking me: "Does Ferguson make any comments on my snail-like method of work?" [See indexical note p415.3] Osler was over today. Says: "Do not take a gloomy view of Whitman's case—he will come around." W. says of Osler: "He's a fine fellow and a wise one, I guess: wise, I am sure—he has the air of assurance. Doctor Bucke was to select a man—selected Osler: said Osler was at the head of the band. Osler goes to the University, or somewhere—lectures students." Some one set some fire crackers off right under his window. [See indexical note p415.4] W. said of it: "Don't that beat the devil? Mary wanted to go out today and raise a racket about the firing, but I would not let her. I would rather have a headache than interfere with the boys." Gave me a check for fifty dollars for Ferguson—our first payment. Hobbled about the room. "This cane was given me by Pete Doyle," he reminded me: "Pete was always a good stay and support." [See indexical note p415.5] From his bed he cried to me: "How sweet the bed—the dear bed! When a fellow is physically in the dumps the bed gives him a sort of freedom." W. handed me an old letter of Swinton's to him. "Read it: it is crisp—straight-to." Enve-

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lope was addressed to W. at Washington in W.'s own hand, "care Major Hapgood, paymaster U. S. Army." [See indexical note p416.1] Enclosed was a slip containing this: "The Editor of Harpers Weekly begs to return the enclosed verses to Mr. Walt Whitman with his compliments and many thanks. Harpers Weekly, Feb. 26, 1863." How did that get there? W. did not know. It was in Alden's hand. "Read the letter," said W. again.


Times Office, Wednesday Night 2 O'Clock.

My dear Walt

 [See indexical note p416.2] —You will find the article you sent will be in the Times of this morning, when it is published. I have crowded out a great many things to get it in, and it has taken the precedence of army correspondence and articles which have been waiting a month for insertion. It is excellent—the first part and the closing part of it especially. [See indexical note p416.3] I am glad to see you are engaged in such good work at Washington. It must be even more refreshing than to sit by Pfaff's privy and eat sweet-breads and drink coffee, and listen to the intolerable wit of the crack-brains. I happened in there the other night, and the place smelt as atrociously as ever. [See indexical note p416.4] Pfaff looked as of yore. I read your article in proof and hope it's all accurate enough. "The field large—the reapers few" is the finest paragraph. Everything in New York moves on pretty much as usual. It's the same old town—only different.

My brother William sailed for Port Royal ten days ago—to be present at the attack on Charleston—if it is to be attacked.

 [See indexical note p416.5] Do you know Conway of Kansas? He is a good man. If you don't know him, and if he would be of any service to you in any way, I know he would be rejoiced to serve you, if you mentioned my name to him.

The article has some things in that I could recognize you by, but not many. I like it better on that account than I should otherwise.—Hoping that Vicksburg may soon fall.

J. Swinton.



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     W. said: "Considering the historic importance of Charleston and Vicksburg John's mention of them by the way, so matter-of-factly, is very impressive. [See indexical note p417.1] John was always a bit sarcastic about Pfaff's: he was like a quick blade—crossed swords with many a man there. My own greatest pleasure at Pfaff's was to look on—to see, talk little, absorb. [See indexical note p417.2] I never was a great discusser, anyway—never. I was much better satisfied to listen to a fight than take part in it." W. has not said a word to Harned about the will since his return. It still lies in its place—endorsed, tied up, in condition to hand over. Did not feel able to sign the bas-reliefs today.

     W. asks me every night as I enter: "Well, Horace, what is going on in the world?—what has the world been doing today?" Then he will adjust his glasses and ask his second question almost as unfailingly: "And the proofs—are there proofs?" [See indexical note p417.3] I generally have matters to explain. He listens. Then tucks the roll under his pillow in bed or deposits it carefully on the table if he is up—and remarks: "We're moving on—moving on: this is my tomorrow's job of work." Usually when I hand him today's package he gives me yesterday's. Lately, being conscious of his own unsteadiness, he has got into the habit of cautioning me: "Look everything over—leave nothing absolutely to me: I am not to be depended upon." Again, he has said: "Always keep yourself informed: it will be better for the printers, for the book, for you, and chiefly for me."

      [See indexical note p417.4] W. pulled out of a pile of letters on the table a Burroughs envelope. "It is a June letter—worthy of June: written in John's best out of doors mood. Why, it gets into your blood and makes you feel worth while. I sit here, helpless as I am, and breathe it in like fresh air. I enjoyed it better reading it today than I did when it came, which was during the worst of my very bad spell. It was salvation to John to get back on the land: he was fast getting use-

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less, as he says: he took the bull by the horns—made the jump."


West Park, N.Y., June 11, '88.

Dear Walt:

 [See indexical note p418.1] I hear through Kennedy that you are ill or were so last Monday. I do hope you are well again. Drop me a card if you are able and tell me how you are. I want to find time soon to come down and see you, if company does not bore you. I shall think of you as able to be out occasionally enjoying these June days. The world has not been so beautiful to me for a long time as this spring; probably because I have been at work like an honest man. [See indexical note p418.2] I had, in my years of loafing, forgotten how sweet toil was. I suppose those generations of farmers back of me have had something to do with it. They all seem to have come to life again in me and are happy since I have taken to the hoe and crowbar. I had quite lost my interest in literature and was fast losing my interest in life itself, but these two months of work have sharpened my appetite for all things. I write you amid the fragrance of clover and the hum of bees. [See indexical note p418.3] The air is full these days of all sweet meadow and woodland smells. The earth seems good enough to eat.

I propose for a few years to come to devote myself to fruit-growing. I have seventeen acres of land now, nearly all of it out in grapes and currants and raspberries. I think I can make some money and maybe renew my grip upon life.

I was glad to see Kennedy. I like him much.

 [See indexical note p418.4] How I wish you were here, or somewhere else in the country where all these sweet influences of the season could minister to you. Your reluctance to move is just what ought to be overcome. It is like the lethargy of a man beginning to freeze.

We are all well. Julian goes to school in Po'keepsie, and is a fine boy. He goes and returns daily on the little

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steamer. I hope O'Connor is no worse. Do drop me a line. With much love


John Burroughs.


      [See indexical note p419.1] "You see," said W., "John writes letters—real letters. He does not strike you as a maker of phrases. I get so many letters that are distinctly literary—written for effect—labored over—worked upon to be made just so, just so: every phrase nicely balanced—all the words in place. John has the real art—the art of succeeding by not trying to succeed: he is the farmer first, the man, before he is the writer: that is the key, index, anything you may call it, of his success." I quoted a remark made by Stoddard to Brinton or a friend of Brinton (Brinton repeated it to me): "Whitman is sore on the literary class." [See indexical note p419.2] W. laughed: "It's the other way about—the literary class is sore on me." "Does it make you feel bad?" "Not at all. If it did, I should go and train with them instead of staying and training with myself."


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