Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, August 6, 1888.

     Heat still excessive. W. says: "There is some peculiar atmospherical influence which reacts strangfely upon the chemistry of my body. The days go on from bad to bad, from early morning until about four in the afternoon, when I experience a sudden rally: from then on to bedtime I am another man." Took some proofs from me. Stuck them in his pocket. "The Herald man was over this late afternoon—Browning, their Philadelphia representative. He wanted something from me on Sheridan. At first I said it was impossible—really felt that it was out of the question—but after he had gone I turned the matter over in my mind and after all wrote a dozen lines or so, which I have just sent up to the post office by the nurse here—glad, to be sure, as I am, to squeeze a word or two for Sheridan out of the damning lethargy of these trying days. Sheridan was in many respects our soldier of soldiers—was the most dashing of the lot—though as I sit here nowadays I am wondering if the whole soldier business is not cursed beyond palliation."


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      Had been reading Carlyle's Sterling, which I took to him last evening—was reading it when I arrived. "Yes, it is interesting—sort of: I have been going through it—skimming what invites me, getting glimpses of it." Asked me: "Do you know much about Aaron Burr? There's a man, now, who is only damned and damned again in history and yet who had his parts. I have always designed writing something about him to show I did not stand in the jam of his vilifiers. I had a piece on him which should have gone into this book. You don't know (I guess I never told you) that when I was a lad, working in a lawyer's office, it fell to me to go over the river now and then with messages for Burr. Burr was very gentle—persuasive. He had a way of giving me a bit of fruit on these visits—an apple or a pear. I can see him clearly, still—his stateliness, gray hair, courtesy, consideration. Two or three years ago I wrote up some reminiscences but the manuscript got buried with other manuscripts down stairs. Sometime I must hunt it up."

      A copy of Hollyer's etching of W. came today. W. said of it: "My mind is a slow one—it never hustles: I don't seem to know yet what I think of the portrait." Delighted over our success with the Hicks. "I had for several days been fighting off a damnable suspicion that it was to be a failure—a slouch, a botch, job." Then: "I want you to say that to the man for me. I should like to send something over to him: what shall it be? Something above his bill"—after a pause adding: "Get the candle, Horace. I have in the other room a whole pile of books—copies of As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free: how would one of them do? And one for you, too, if you say so." He got up from his chair in rather painful fashion, took my arm, and went with me into the back room. The books were found. We returned in the same way to his chair. He dropped into it heavily with a sigh of relief: "God! What a strain that was—and only a few feet of walk, too. How sweet is this chair—how I hunger for it!" Inscribed the books: "Walt Whitman, Aug: '88" "I made that singular excursion to Dartmouth—delivered the little poem you see here. I wonder how it happened that I was chosen for the

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poem there? It was never quite clear to me. But I went—was royally received. When I returned to New York I produced this little volume. Nobody wanted it—nobody cared for it—even my friends mostly left it unread—and so five hundred copies or so fell into my hands—five hundred, which I have given away right and left until now only a hundred or less remain."
The "something else in view" of which W. spoke to me yesterday was a portrait of himself for frontispiece—a sitting portrait taken he could no longer tell by whom, in Philadelphia, last year—which he designs to print with this inscription: "Walt Whitman in his 70th year." He gave me a sheet of suggestions to submit to engraver, saying: "That picture is in the nature of a surprise: my niece was here the other day—found it lying around—asked for it. It seems to me a satisfying picture, all in all. Do you and the man over in the city put your heads together and make what you can of it, using you own best taste. I rely upon you particularly, Horace, because I know you have lived among pictures and are not easily satisfied." Examined the Hicks: "A number of the fellows in England are off after Blake—after the work of Blake's time: but, if I do not err, some of that art is not sufficiently admirable to be imitated. Blake is great—very, very—and is not to be imitated: Blake began and ended in Blake. As for this"—holding up the Hicks proof—"I would think myself replying to a reproach if I said: This is what it is because of four dollars and a half and for no other reason."

      Had he ever seen Theodore Parker? "Yes indeed. When I visited Boston those days I would alternate between Father Taylor's and Theodore Parker's meetings. I clearly remember seeing Emerson at one of the Parker meetings. I find my memory sometimes playing me tricks—working a little rusty: I may be saying to myself, 'it was thus or so' yet for the life of me I can produce no supporting evidence. Then again, if I don't try to bring it back all comes back." He is "afraid" Bucke's expectations as to the quality of the Hicks will be disappointed: "There's an expression among the boys—I heard it often enough

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when I was a boy myself—'taking chances,' 'taking his chances' (how good it is, too, don't you think so?)—and so, though I tremble and am afraid this is all going amiss, that none of you will realize from it what you expect, yet I 'take chances,' 'take chances,' and must wait and see what all my gamble comes to."
He had "another anxiety:" "If the Century should not use the Memoranda in October what a stew it would put us in! It is true the piece has been so cut and changed it has become another piece: still I feel pledged to them—there is a principle involved. Yes, they said October—but even that don't clear it for me. I always give the publishers all that is due them if not more." "You always prefer if you err at all to err on the side of bankruptcy." He laughed with great glee: "Good! Good! That's what keeps me poor: it is also what keeps me happy."

      Bucke said in his letter to W.: "I do not understand your plans about publishing. You say you may not publish for awhile 'for reasons.' I think myself a good idea would be print a hundred or two hundred copies on good (and large) paper, bind them nicely, and sell them yourself for five or even ten dollars with autograph, by and by publishing through McKay or another." W. remarked: "In these days of cheap printing, when such beautiful books are so easily and reasonably produced and sold, we can't hold ourselves too high. I for my part don't want to be either haughty or humble. I had thought of an edition for a dollar—and Lord only knows, that dollar may be more than any number of people would care to pay. Bucke does not seem to realize that I am still a rejected quantity in the market."

      Dr. Baker came in. B. thinks W. " preceptibly improved." B. asked W. if he had been down stairs yet. "I have not but should have been—I shall in fact make a try for it to-morrow, not to stay, not to brag, but just to convince myself and you fellows that I am not as Horace says 'all paid up' yet." Baker protested: "Don't be reckless." W. smiled. "There's no danger: the phrenologists mark my caution at six to seven—nearer to seven than six—which amounts to cowardice." Showing me a copy of the English Hobby Horse Guild he said: "I never have

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thought of it with respect to what it contains but in connection with its mechanical beauty—and yet the motive of the thing after all is its only reality: if it lacks in high motive it will always deserve to be kept flat on the ground whatever its convincing mechanism."
Letter from John Baker, Penfield, New York, saying he had suffered from an affliction similar to W's and wondered what it was had, as he heard, "improved" W. Gave me O'Connor's letter of the 3rd. "It is about the calendar—will give you the latest news about the calendar. William is always wideawake—always plants both of his two eyes on life. Bucke's letters often go off into words—off into the air—but William is always true to the scent of himself." This is O'Connor's letter:


Washington, D.C.,
Life Saving Service,
Aug. 3, 1888.

Dear Walt:

I enclose for your information a letter I got yesterday from Dr. Channing about the calendar, which reads well.

Today I have a letter from Stedman, in which he cordially undertakes the task of getting a publisher. I think this very good of him, as he is quite driven with all sorts of commissions.

I feel sorry that the delay of last year prevented our getting Mr. Stetson to draw the picture I wrote you of for the card, because he is a man of singular genius, and appreciates deeply Leaves of Grass, the central sun of which, and permeating all its parts without exception, is, he thinks, Spirituality. I think he would have given us something really good—something artistically bold, any way, though maybe not. But he cannot do it this year, and I understand is getting ready to go for study in Italy.

I did not know the Ms. of the calendar was to be placed in Stedman's hands, but it could not be in better nor friendlier.

Send me back the letter when you have done with it, that I may write to Dr. Channing, who has been very laborious and earnest in the matter. Grace [Grace Ellery Channing] the cherub deviser of the scheme, is now up at Bristol, Rhode Island.


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I have been much comforted by the newspaper reports about you, as by your card of the 27th ultimo, though I realize how badly ill you still must be. But I have strong hopes. If you can but weather the summer!

I am myself pretty bad—very back-achey and weak leggy. But, like Webster, we still live, and who can get us under!

I am glad you can sit up and work a little on your book, which must be a comfort.

I have another letter from Dr. Bucke, whom I treat disgracefully, not answering promptly. But it is pretty hard to write and keep the office stone rolled up the hill daily.

All consolation! all cheer!
Affectionately yours,


W. D. O'Connor.



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