Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, August 3, 1888.

      W. brighter physically than yesterday, yet "still strangely languid." "It is getting to be difficult for me even to walk across the room." Very cheerful. Almost merry here and there in the talk. "My today's mail has been chiefly an autograph mail. I did get a letter from Bucke and that was a consolation (the first letter from Bucke for three or four days). Not a day but the autograph hunter is on my trail—chases me, dogs

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me! Sometimes two or three appear in the very same mail. Their subterfuges, deceptions, hypocrisies, are curious, nasty, yes damnable. I will get a letter from a young child—a young reader—this is her first book—she has got fond of me—she should be encouraged in her fine ambitions—would I not &c &c—and I would not, of course—why should I? I can see the grin of an old deceiver in such letters."
Today a woman came in whose husband had been one of W.'s fellow clerks in Washington. She asked for an autograph, which W. gave her on a slip of paper. "And a sentiment," she added, offering to pass the slip back. W. took no notice of the slip but quietly said: "That is all." She withdrew. Autographed Harrison Morris' copy of the Leaves. Is generally quite willing to give his autograph but hates to be worked. "Sometimes two or three letters will come together in one mail and I say to myself: Here's a fillip for a few thoughts. I settle myself in my chair, get the glasses on my nose, and lo! every note is for an autograph. One man the other day wrote: 'I am very sick—liable to die soon—it would be a great comfort to me to have yours signature on this card.'" "Did you send the signature?" "Yes, I did. I felt quite sure the man was lying but I didn't want to run no chances in so serious a case." Laughed. I told W. I didn't agree with what he said of Burroughs' Century paper. "Maybe I was too quick—did not perhaps, look it over carefully enough. After hearing what you say about it I am inclined to think I should take it up again and see if my second impression is better than the first." W. spoke of B's "berry farm" as he calls it—"up on the Hudson, embowered in beauty."

      Harned brought some pears. Then talked with W. about politics. W. spoke with great force. "There is no enthusiasm—they cannot work it up—neither side—though the tariff men seem to be straining with might and main to create an issue. The Clevelandites are wise to lay low—to remain quiet. The big shindig they have been arranging for Blaine in New York sounds interesting. If I was not beyond managing myself I

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would go over to New York—down the harbor and back—around—to get the feel of such a vast popular outpouring. Yet there's a lot of humbug thrown in to spice it all. As things are the working classes, as such, belong to neither party—are not billed to either. I am glad to see that it is getting through their wool that the tariff, for instance, is more for capital than for labor—has always been so. The great country, the greatest country, the richest country, is not that which has the most capitalists, monopolists, immense grabbings, vast fortunes, with its sad, sad foil of extreme, degrading, damning poverty, but the land in which there are the most homesteads, freeholds—where wealth does not show such contrasts high and low, where all men have enough—a modest living—and no man is made possessor beyond the sane and beautiful necessities of the simple body and the simple soul. The great country, in fact, is the country of free labor—of free laborers: negro, white, Chinese, or other. To use the word 'great' to describe any other sort of country is to my mind a confession of ignorance or hypocrisy. I do not mean this to be counted as an expression of despair: men are in the main decent, pure, or want to be. Things are about as good as they can be under present conditions (of course man can always change the conditions). Systems, institutions, even the vile ones, have a work to do—do the work."
Harned asked: "What place do you find for corruption in politics?" W. answered: "I do not need to find a place for it: it has found a place or itself. But there's more to the story than that, Tom—oh! much more. The spiritual influences back of everything else—subtle, unseen, invisible, mainly discredited—they finally arbitrate the social order. Science tells us about excretions—the throwings off of the body—that the chief results are secured in the form of invisible exhalations—the whole flesh casting it forth. That strange, inarticulate, force is not less operative in the institutions of society—in politics, literature, music, science, art—than in the physical realm. We must not forget such forces—not one of them. Society throws off some of its ephemera, its corruption, through politics—the process is

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offensive—we shudder over it—but it may be true, it is still true, that the interior system throwing off its excreta this way is sound, wholly sound, prepared for the proper work of its own purification."
I asked W. something about the letter to Schmidt which he gave to me yesterday.


To Rudolf Schmidt.
Feb. 2, 1872

Dear Mr. Rudolf Schmidt,

Your note of Jan. 5, acknowledging receipt of "papers", and enclosing to me your photograph, is just received. I like your photograph and thank you for it—I like indeed the good frank way of sending such pictures when interested and curious. I wish to know whether you have safely received the particular copy of the last edition of my poems, in one volume with loose sheet photos enclosed, which I sent you by Mr. Clausen. Mr. Clausen tells me that he put up the various matter I furnished in three parcels—if you have got the three it is all right. I mailed you a letter of some length, Jan. 16. I shall send you, probably by next mail, my latest piece, in a Western Magazine for February. Also a second copy of my pamphlet "Democratic Vistas"—If the first copy reached you, send the second to Mr. Bjornson—if not, not. Yes, I am sure I should like your friend Bjornson much.

I am going next week to New York to stay there until April 10—my address there will be 107 North Portland av. Brooklyn, New York, U. S. Amer—about April 10, I shall return here again and my address will be——

I am writing this at my desk—as above, Treasury Building, middle of afternoon. From my great south window I can see a far-stretching and noble view, many, many miles of open ground, the Potomac river, the hilly banks, the mountains of Virginia, &c. We are having a severe cold spell. Everything is white with snow but the sun has been clear and dazzling all day. The hour of office-closing is nigh and I too must close. I have much pleasure in writing to you and expecting yours. Adieu.



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      I said to W.: "I came today prepared for my surprise—but you have not yet surprised me. Am I still to be kept in suspense?" He laughed quietly. "I am afraid so—it looks that way: but I've put a couple of letters in this string to assuage your feelings—one is from Dowden, the other from John Burroughs. You will like what John says about 'style': it is very deep—oh! very deep: I guess nothing goes below it: it is the last foundation on the last foundation." "Shall I read them now?" "No—not now—take them with you—put them where they belong. My mind advises me that I must suspend operations for to-night. Take my love to your mother: and how about Anne Montgomerie? She has not been here for ten days. When she was here last she brought me a bunch of roses, which were very beautiful, very beautiful—though she was more beautiful than her roses. She has cheeks like the prettiest peach in the orchard." I will put the Burroughs letter right in here. I was so curious from what W. had said that I stopped under the street lamp at the corner and read it.


West Park, N. Y.
Dec. 31st, 1885.

Dear Walt:

A happy new year to you, and many returns of the same. I was right glad to get your letter and to know your eyes were so much better. I feel certain that if you eat little or no meat, you will be greatly the gainer. It will not do to take in sail in one's activities &c unless he takes in sail in his food also.

We are all pretty well here this winter so far. I have just sent off the copy for my new vol: I think I shall stick to Signs and Seasons for the title, as this covers all the articles.

Kennedy sent me his article on The Poet as Craftsman. I liked it pretty well: what he has to say about you is excellent. He wanted my opinion about the argument of the essay, so I told him that I never felt like quarreling with a real poet about his form; let him take the form he can use best; any form is good if it holds good poetry and any form is bad if it holds bad poetry. I would not have Tennyson or Longfellow or Burns use

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other forms than they do. If a man excels in prose he is pretty sure to use prose. Coleridge is greater in prose than in poetry. Poe is greater in poetry than in prose. Carlyle tried the poetic form and gave it up.


I hope you will keep well and that I will see you before long. How much I wish you was here to eat a New Year's dinner with us. I wrote to Herbert Gilchrist the other day. These must be dark days for him and Grace. To me a black shadow seems to have settled on all England since I read of the death of Mrs. Gilchrist.

I wish you would send me by mail or express those books of Emerson, the Essays and the Miscellanies. I want to use them. I am going to re-read Emerson, and see how he strikes me now.

With much love

John Burroughs.



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