Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, July 15, 1888.

      "So far as good meals and a relish of them would prove," said W., as evening wore on, "this has been for me a better day—a best day altogether." Said he was getting "venturesome," enjoying "high hopes of a positive rally." "But," he wound up with saying, "we had better not brag." "I read over the entire Sands at Seventy this afternoon, doing so to get them in total view—to see them together in their proportions, places—to get their general atmosphere. I find myself much better able to appreciate a piece if I put it aside for a time after it is written—for months, even years: returning to it with fresh spirit." Spoke of the Harneds— "parents and children: their constant, untiring attentions." Again: "I ought to die but I have promised you to live to finish this book."

     I had been out on the Wissahickon with Anne Montgomerie. "That reminds me," said W., "that years ago I thought some of pitching my own tent out there—squatting—loafing the rest of my days in that vicinity. I cannot be said even now to have wholly given up the idea: though I don't suppose that it matters much where I happen to spend the rest of my days. And you are right, too, Horace, about abandon—the giving in to the hour—steering clear of mental botheration—particularly of the botheration how to be good and all that. Oh! I love that beautiful country—that long road along the creek—even the very fence—(the long lines of the fence up hill and down—the rugged, knotty lines): some of my happiest hours have been spent there—some of my freest hours."


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     Reference being made to O'Connor's Hamlet's Note-Book W. said: "I have never read it myself: I have very little faculty or liking for books which require charts, comparisons, references—close application—the observance of rules of logic: in the immortal words Swinton addressed to me in a peevish humor: I have a damned ill-regulated mind. The volume was the result of some correspondence between William and Mrs. Pott. Take Donnelly's cryptogram: I could read the first part but never the cipher business—I could not unravel such a devilish tangle." Getting to the subject by a question I asked him W. said: "Goethe suggests books—carries the aroma of books about with him—seems to be a great man with books, by books, from books. Now, whatever Shake-speare was or was not, he was not that sort of man: he came, with all his scholarship, direct from nature. To me that means oh! so much: to come straight from life—to be rooted in an immediate fact. Bucke sees a great deal more in Goethe than I do—sees Goethe as if come fresh from the soil—regards him in a more liberal light: insists that he articulates the soundest philosophy of the modern world. Bucke says my trouble is in the fact that I cannot read German—that Goethe cannot be translated."

     Baker goes to-day. My reference to the fact drew from W. the remark in a grieved tone: "It is inexplicable." Added: "I do not understand it. I thought it might have been caused by something I had said or done—but no, Mary says it is not that. I wished him to stay—he is welcome to stay: I am indeed fond of him. I had hoped he would stay until I got on my feet again—or," here he stopped an instant— "until you buried me." The new nurse, whose name is Musgrove, is an older man than Baker. W. hates to have his routine disturbed. Upon my remonstrance he said: "I will make it a religion to like the new man."

     I trod on a Sarony portrait of Bryant face down on the floor, saying to W. of it: "That ought to be put where it will be safe." He took it out of my hand, scanned it, handed it back. "Maybe you have some place at home where you can keep it safe." Then

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he talked a bit about Bryant: "Some one who was in here and saw that picture said: 'That's you, Walt, when you're finished.' He thought that if a gold beater got at me, hammered me down some, I might get a polish that would turn me into a real man. There's no use talking: I won't do but Bryant will do. Don't you like the picture? It is every way like the old man—every way: it has a sort of Thanatopsis look. Take this now—this picture"—he reached forward towards me a soiled old photograph of himself: "Do you think this could ever be tinkered into that?—that this loafer, this lubber, could ever be transmuted into that gentleman? All I've got to say is, that I wouldn't like to undertake the contract. Bryant was very masterful in his own way—wrote a few things that time cannot kill—but after all his contribution was not novel—it was nature song, philosophy, of rather a formal cast. I always go back to Emerson—say of Emerson: he was our one man to do a particular job wholly on his own account."

     W. laughed about our labors together. "If I die in the midst of things you may fall heir to all my work: think of that: all my work!" I took the old portrait of W. along with the Bryant.


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