Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, October 25, 1888.

     7.50 p. m. W. reading. Laid his book down. Looked mighty well. "Yes—I'm a trifle chipper—better than on some of those summer days, anyhow." Brought along the remaining copies of flexible N. B. Piled them with the others on the floor. W. at once said: "I have a letter from Hamlin Garland: he got the book (you know I sent him a book): is grateful for it—all that: has been spending an afternoon with Howells—thought Howells should have a copy." I asked: "Did you send him one?" "Yes—addressed it to a little place—Nahant." "Have you ever been in affectionate relations with Howells?" "No—not affectionate: not that: but friendly—always friendly. You remember the St. Botolph Lincoln affair in Boston? I was in Boston that time for a week—put up at the Revere House: Howells came to see me there—was happy, cordial: came a number of times." "Was he a good talker?" "That I could not say: we had no real chance to get thoroughly acquainted then: I think I would get along better with him now. That was before I came into this house—probably '79 or '80. I have it in my memorandum book here—the date: can get it if we need to. It was quite an occasion: everybody came: all the lights—the literary luminaries. Aldrich? Yes, he came, too.

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I had a sort of reception time set—an hour or two when I had it made known these visits would be agreeable—say, between eleven and one or two: and they came—had the entree: came with a vengeance. It had to be gone through with but it seemed like a lot of fol-de-rol. I guess I made it evident I wouldn't turn a damned inch on my heel for any of them."
I asked if he had autographed the book he sent to Howells. "No—I did not: did not write a word in it: made up the package, addressed it simply: the Doctor has just taken it to the post-office. Howells will know who it is from: no doubt Garland will take care of that—has doubtless written to him and led him to expect it." Handed me Garland's letter:


Jamaica Plain,
Oct. 24, '88

Dear Mr. Whitman:

I am overjoyed to receive your volume and autograph. Be sure it will be read and heralded to the world. I saw Mr. Howells yesterday—spent the afternoon with him discussing reforms, literary progress, etc. He spoke of you again with a good deal of feeling. I think it of very great importance that you send him an autograph copy of November Boughs. If it has not been done don't fail to do it at once. If you send it immediately upon receipt of this letter address W. D. Howells, Little Nahant, Mass. If you do not send until next week address W. D. Howells, 330 East 17th st., New York City. And I will write him again about it. He is more than friendly to you and all progressive movements.

With deepest regard—

Hamlin Garland.


     W. said of the letter: "Take it—keep it: if there's anything in it I have forgotten about tell me. See—it's written only on one side: how good that is! that's my method: I rarely write on the reverse side of the sheet. I find no difficulty with Garland's handwriting—I like the swing of it." We had spoken of Aldrich. W. took up the subject again: "Aldrich always brings back

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to me with great force Nat Willis: I knew Willis—met and talked with him often. Everything with Nat was polish, grace, beauty. He was a handsome man—stately, impressive: when young, beautiful—though of a beauty I did not, you would not, like. Nat was really a dandy—yet not simply or only a dandy: neither was he a man of power: he was a man we could not leave out altogether—could not entirely skip: that's about the most, best, I could say of him. He was agreeable—we got on well together: but God help me what a contrast we must have presented!"

     W. handed me a copy of the Springfield Republican containing a notice of November Boughs, "They are all friendly up there. I want to tell you what to do with that: take it with you, show it to Dave, then"—I finished the sentence for him: "Mail it to Bucke." He laughed. "I see you know without my telling you. Well, do it that way. Tell Dave, too, that I have myself sent out half a dozen editors' copies." In reply to my expressed suspicion that there was someone on the Christian Union interested in ignoring him W. said: "I don't know who it can be: it can't be Lyman Abbott: Lyman Abbott was always friendly to me—to Leaves of Grass. I know that is the policy of some of the editors but there's no use objecting to it—that's just as legitimate as endorsing us: we must excuse it—it's their way: they think they are in honor bound to pursue that policy. Society would go to pieces if its guardians didn't protect it against the inroads of rebellion."

     We discussed Bucke's reference to his re-reading of Cooper. W. expressed great interest, especially after I told him Cooper was just as fresh as ever to me. Questioned me closely. How was I impressed with Cooper's "outdoorness"—and so forth? Then: "I do not wonder that he lasts—that you still find yourself drawn to him. He is justified by what you say: Cooper was a master-man in many very significant ways. Cooper had a growl—the cynicism of Carlyle, without the top-lofticalness with which Carlyle carried it off: and there was a healthy vigor in everything Cooper did—even to the libel suits he had so many of, up in New York. I always liked the make-up of the man.

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Cooper could take his own part magnificently: let a scribbler go for him and Cooper would hit back, with great effect—sued, went to court. Cooper knew law even if he was not a lawyer, and was pretty keen in his perception of legal propositions. Have you got the Cooper stories: the Leatherstocking tales? The Last of the Mohicans, chiefly?—and The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish? Can you bring me that? It is beautiful indeed: and The Bravo, too—I remember that: the wonderful, splendid Jacopo—who can forget him? It is years and years since I read Cooper: now the mood comes back to me, I should like to take him up again."
He asked me: "Do you ever find Cooper long-winded—tiresome? I have always regarded Cooper as essentially fresh, robust, noble: one of the original characters—the tonic natures. Over in England, among the fellows, there's a word they use—'guts': if a man is a man of power they say he has 'guts'. I think Herbert brought the word to me: that was the first I heard of it. Well—Cooper has guts. I never met Cooper—I never met him to talk with: at least I think I did not; but I heard him. He was a good, sturdy, man in appearance: had the appearance of a farmer—a brainy farmer: not very tall, not very stout: good belly—carried himself well. Unlike Irving, Cooper had a remarkable personality, and, as I have said, he had Carlyle's cynicism to some extent, though he was never gloomy—was always as strong and sweet as sunlight. Irving, on the other hand, suggested weakness, if he was not weak: was pleasant, as you say, but without background. I never enthused over him: Irving was suckled on the Addisonian-Oxford-Cambridge milk."

     I quoted something Bryant said about Cooper—that he was "our first man," &c. W. said: "Ah! Bryant! Did he say that? Bryant is himself the man! Of all Americans so far, I am inclined to rank Bryant highest. Bryant has all that was knotty, gnarled, in Dante, Carlyle: besides that, has great other qualities. It has always seemed to me Bryant, more than any other American, had the power to suck in the air of spring, to put it into his song, to breathe it forth again—the palpable influence

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of spring: the new entrance to life. A feature in Bryant which is never to be under-weighed is the marvelous purity of his work in verse. It was severe—oh! so severe!—never a waste word—the last superfluity struck off: a clear nameless beauty pervading and overarching all the work of his pen. Bryant the man I met often—often. He was not much of a talker, would not impress or attract as such. His voice was a good one—not deep—not fascinating—not moving, eloquent. Bryant tried lecturing. He was a great homeopathist—a great Unitarian: at the time of the homeopathic excitement he delivered two or three lectures on the subject. But I don't think he liked lecturing himself, and he did not prove a success with others. He was an American: that is one of the palpable facts: thoroughly American, patriotic: moreover, he had a tint of the Scotch left—a trifle hypochondriac—a bit irascible. I have often observed marked traces running through the Scotch character of general hypochrondriacism: Burns? yes: and Carlyle. Bryant bore the marks of it. I know it is not invariable: there are exceptions: but in the main its existence cannot be questioned."

     W. led the way at this point to his Critic note weighing the relative merits of our great poets. "Of late days I have put Bryant first of the four: Bryant, Emerson, Whittier, Longfellow: in that order. The Critic piece will show. You put Emerson first? So did I, years ago—for many years—but I have been led to make a change. But my revisions of old opinions are constant, so that perhaps I shall revise the list again before I am done for. At any rate, I feel the uncertainties attending this method of reasoning—its unprofitableness—and how can an end even be reached?—then it is true, what you say, Horace: among the giants, what matters a little more or less—who can draw a line?" I had said: "No more than between two fine mornings: we suck them in giving no reasons." He said earnestly: "That is fine—true: nothing can be added to that."

     W. gave me Bucke's letter of the 23rd and called my attention to the paragraph referring to O'Connor: "I have written a long letter to O'Connor to try to cheer him up a bit. I fear he is in

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a bad way. That paralysis of the eyelid (ptosis) I fear will not let up. It is an extension of the disease (schlerosis) that has troubled him so long and a disease of this kind is a good deal more in the habit of going forwards than backwards."
W. said: "Yes, Doctor—I believe you are right! Horace, there is a cloud hanging over William—over us all: a fatal black cloud. I am not in the habit of anticipating disaster, but I can't help seeing that William's persistent trouble is gradually sapping him of his last hold on life. I look forward into the next few months with fear—great fear."


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