Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 063] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Tuesday, July 31, 1888.

     Favorable change in W. today. Still no letter from Bucke. W. wrote to Burroughs, "not," as he said, "so much to say anything myself (for I said very little) but to enclose the note from Nellie O'Connor, which I knew he would like to see. I believe I told you O'Connor is better than for a long time. It is as though he had reached a high plateau with a clear stretch of a country ahead of him, the winds blowing free, the air tonic. William might now go to his journey's end uninterrupted." Before leaving O'Connor W. added: "I don't know whether his criticism of the critics will be a book or a pamphlet: whatever it comes to in the end it will be sharp and fierce, we may rest assured—stronger than anything Donnelly has written. I believe William knows a good lot more than Donnelly about the subject—draws deeper water." Mentioned the Lady Mount Temple's vest: "It was never made for me—the owner has not been found yet."

     I had been stirred by the last paragraph of the Fox. "It's splendid: perfect strength and eloquence—you never went higher than that." W. exclaimed: "Ah! You find that all there—just as you say it? I am glad—glad: there is at least that much to it all. I have never made any full statement on religion in any of my writings but I have always intended to." "But your whole book is religion. We do not want the figures for it.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 064] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
We are satisfied with the spirit."
"You say that, too? Well—maybe, maybe. No doubt I have said enough on the subject—said really all there was in me to say: a few figures more would not have helped. In the days when I was planning to write and deliver lectures I designed one lecture at least on religion—indeed, collected a great mass of material for it. I never felt as though the discussion of religion should be left to the priests: it never seemed to me safe in their hands:"

      Took him this evening the Hicks notes and the Fox paper, which together make three galleys. This puts the whole book in type. W. very happy over it. "But we will go right on," he said, "without pauses, stoppages, which at this stage of the game would be dangerous." Discussed press-work, binding and so forth. Gave me his flexible Epictetus for sample of paper but said: "Don't leave it with the printers—show it to them—then bring it back: it's a precious book to me—I don't want to even risk losing it." W. has an idea of putting the Hicks-Fox matter eventually into a special pamphlet. Made many changes of the make—up in order to get the Hicks started on an odd page. This is one of his memorandums to the printer: "begin making up Elias Hicks on page 119 I will supply something for page 118—(if it suits well and prints well we will put the now being made portrait of Elias Hicks on page 118)—don't mind on page 118 nor wait for it—but go on making up with E H &c when ready." A blank space occurred on a made-up page between two notes. Instead of having it closed in by shifting the pages he simply added a line. He always knows the easiest way out of printer's puzzles.

      Harned brings him fruit almost daily. W. says: "Most people think Tom rough: underneath his rough exterior he is as sweet as the fruit he brings." H. comes generally after dinner in the early evening, with one or both of the children. W. always kisses the youngsters warmly and has dear things to say to them. He is not backward at any time in asking Harned for any choice bit of food he craves. H. says: "That's what I'm here for," and W. replies: "I take you at your word, Tom—

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 065] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
God bless you!"
Last week's pears hit him hard. "Yes, bring me pears—pears are good for me—but pears like those you'll never get again."

     I quoted something Huxley said about evolution—that he did not hold it as a dogma but as a working hypothesis. W. exclaimed: "It is beautiful—beautiful—such a confession as that: the most glorious and satisfying spiritual statement of the nineteenth century. Can the churches, the priests, the dogmatists, produce anything to match it? How can we ever forget Darwin? Was ever a great man a more simple man than Darwin? Was ever a beautiful character a more simple character than Darwin? He was one of the acme men—he was at the top. I could hope for no better fate for my book than that it should grow strong in so beneficent an atmosphere—breathe the breath of its life." Again: Dr. Mitchell was over today and tells me of a letter from his father—S. Weir—who is in Italy now and encountered there a furious snow-storm which drove him over the mountains. When Mitchell first came he thought he should do something so ordered several drugs, none of which I would take. I took calomel and calomel until it was of no effect. Drugs are not for me nor I for them—Mitchell himself now admits it. They do me no good. Of course I do not set it down as a doctrine for everyone to observe, under all circumstances, but I do insist upon it for now, to meet existing conditions."

      W. never seems to be as easy with Musgrove as with Baker. W. referred to Musgrove this evening as "the gentleman who is here to assist me." This is the first allusion made to M. in two weeks. Talked of Bucke: "Bucke is a marked man—a man you would accept as such from his mere appearance—but not contemplative in any severe sense, though including contemplation, too. Bucke I should describe as an ensemblist with supreme steadiness and nerve force—not brutally but always truly heroic. We usually associate courage with battles or brawls but Bucke shows courage in peace—never quails before anything life can crowd on him—the worst, the most tragic. This force he derived not from books but from life, from experience, from

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 066] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
cute observation, from broad interests. Bucke includes the whole of life in his province: he is vehement, eager, inquisitive, even militant in the best sense of that violent word. You ask about Mrs. Bucke? She gives me the ideal of maternity. While not a striking woman in what are called intellectual matters she is a great mother—a noble mother. Do you know anything in all this universe superior to a noble mother? I have seen Mrs. Bucke and a group of the children going about together there in London, and the manner of it all was to me most beautiful, convincing. Bucke is a man of sane habits—disbelieves in stimulants for young or old, sick or well—don't dogmatise about it or impose his theory on others—leaves the other doctors up there who work with him perfect freedom to use stimulants if they want to do so with patients in their charge—yet is firm, unyielding, exacting, with himself. And after all that is a thing for which there can be no rule—no rule to use, no rule not to use."

     W. handed me W. E. Henley's book of poems inscribed to "Walt Whitman from the author": "It is peculiar—a third or so of it about hospital cases, the work of doctors, and so forth—a curio, I should say in work of that sort: not wanting in power, yet not all-powerful." So much of the book he had looked over but no more. Eddy was here today and was to remain over night. Is being transferred from Moorestown to Blackwoodtown. The meeting between the brothers mostly and impressively silent—Eddy mentally inarticulate, W. sadly ruminative. They talked in monosyllables. I noticed that while Walt will kiss Jeff he merely takes Eddy's hand and holds it and says nothing. He talked to me of Eddy. "The poor boy—the poor boy." As the evening wore on W. grew more and more uncommunicative as towards Eddy. Finally he said to Mrs. Davis: "I think you had better go now," and to Eddy: "Good-bye, boy—I will send for you soon again: you shall come whenever you choose: good-bye! good-bye!" W. saying of it to me: "Eddy appeals to my heart, to my two arms: I seem to want to reach out and help him."

      I said to W.: "That was a noble letter you gave me the other

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 067] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
day—Rolleston's letter."
"I say so too: we won't quarrel about that." "He takes you to task a bit about your strictures on the American poets." "Yes, I remember it quite clearly. I deserved his whip, maybe." "You say 'maybe'. I don't believe you believe you deserved his whip." W. laughed. "Not literally deserved it, possibly: but, you know, there is another side to everything. Have you got the letter in your pocket?" "Yes —I wanted to talk with you about it." "You did, eh? Well—don't let's talk just yet: read the letter to me—let me hear it again." He settled in his chair. W. had written on the envelope in red ink: "Oct. 80—from Rolleston, Dresden—has some good paragraphs about the poets &c: can be printed." I read:


DRESDEN, October 16, '80.

I was very glad to hear that you had been so well this summer—so comparatively well. Paralysis, even partial, must be a terrible enemy to fight against. I should think it would put a man's faith in the sources of spiritual joy to a very severe test. Yet I have sometimes felt as if I wished that some such calamity would overtake me—it seems so very easy to be free and happy when one has perfect health and strength—and how can one say to a suffering friend: "Be strong," without seeming to speak impertinently? But for myself I do not feel that I could be overwhelmed by any misfortune that left my mind untouched. Insanity however is sometimes a terrible problem to me. To think that
However we have writ the style of Gods
And made a push at chance and sufferance,

our impregnable fortress, the mind, can be attacked at its very center: that accident, heredity, a little meddling with the cortex of the brain, can reduce the proudest stoic that ever lived to a helpless, soulless idiot! There is a cynical irony in it, as if man seeking to assert himself in the universe, saying "Here at least, in the spirit, I have freedom and empire inalienable," were to find that there most of all he is enslaved—the sport of the blind forces

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 068] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
of materialism. Yet sometimes when I seem to see that their is no such thing as "materialism," your passage about the insane in Faces seems sun-clear to me—one must live in the faith of one's hours of brightest insight.


I am sending you herewith a translation of the Encheiridion of Epictetus which I have been working at for sometime. I came across the book this last summer, and it laid hold of my mind so that I could not put it away till I had finished as good a translation as I can make of it. I have had a dozen copies printed here as I want to ask the opinion of one or two friends about publishing it as a little book, a "hand-book" as the Greek name describes it. Read with sympathy and understanding I think it is very valuable—at least it has given me some solid nutriment, and might to others. The copies only came home this day. I had for some time intended to write to you when that would happen.

I saw in the Academy a paragraph saying you were going to write something about the English poets of the XIX Century in one of the London Magazines. I shall look out with great interest for that. I hope you mean English writing poets for I should greatly like to hear some of your definite ideas about the Americans. To say the truth, I never could quite accept your utter condemnation of all American authors, expressed both in prose and poetry. I certainly see that tried by a right democratic standard they fail. Longfellow, Whittier, &c., are just as much poets of Europe as poets of America, if not more. But then you do not condemn the non-democratic European poets in that wholesale manner—for so far forth as they are poets, so far forth as they help to put ideas of beauty, nobleness, love, into our minds, they help mankind, democracy even included. And do not Americans do this also to a certain extent? I am not by any means a worshiper of Emerson, but can it really be said of him that he "expresses nothing characteristic, suffices only the lowest level of vacant minds?" And Thoreau, surely he is something, very much. Shall we not thank men for what they are? (though emphatically demanding something more).


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 069] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Do you ever hear of what passes in Ireland? Things are at a lamentable pass there now, and the House of Lords stands like a block in the way of deliverance. I venture to say their late action has made England take a great stride in the direction of republicanism. Indeed I sometimes think that time is very close now; people are beginning at last to find out that our "constitutional sovereigns" are a little ridiculous, and that £500,000 is rather a large annuity to pay a monarch for having the goodness to do nothing. If the scattered republicans in England could unite their forces and (say) found a paper in which politics, literature &c would all be treated from the highest republican standpoint, it might do much—I have the idea at some time of trying to found some such thing. But at twenty-three years one has not experience enough for carrying out such schemes. Besides, I don't know whether I won't give up any ideas of a literary life entirely and take to farming in the backwoods. Anyhow, I shall be here for six months longer, and I will not forbear to say how much I should like now and then to write to you, and sometimes to hear of you.

Yours always,

T. W. Rolleston.


      "Yes", said W., "you are right: he gives me a good sound rap on the sconce. I seem to have various feelings about Emerson but I am always loyal at last. Emerson gratified me as a young man by what he did—he sometimes tantalized me as an old man by what he failed to do. You see, I both blaspheme and worship." I reminded him: "You once addressed Emerson as Master." He nodded his assent. "So I did—and master he was, for me, then. But I got my roots stronger in the earth—master would not do anymore: no, not then: would no longer do." "And when you say your last word about Emerson—just before you shup up shop for good—what will it be?" He laughed mildly. "I will be loyal," he said: "after all the impatiences, loyal, loyal."


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.