Commentary

Disciples


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Thurdsay, August 9, 1888.

      The cooler day has had a brightening effect upon W. He regains no strength, but feels less depressed physically. He deplored his weakness, though quite satisfied to have things as well as they are. He makes no motion, however, towards going down stairs. Read and wrote more considerably than usual today. Is quite interested in the Blaine reception at New York. "Is the ship yet in? Is the grand to-do yet done?" Seemed to take it as the prime event of the week. He sat much of the day across the room from the bed working a mild way. His raw product is about him, on the table, the floor, in boxes and baskets, on chairs, and pretty nearly all things he may need are within reaching distance. At his foot is the pitcher of ordinary (never iced) water, which he takes up from time to time and draws from copiously. Books are piled promiscuously about, his will remains on the box-corner where he placed it when it was drawn up—letters, envelopes, are scattered over the floor,—autographed volumes hang on the edges of the table-leaves, chairs, the sofa—everything seeming in disorder. My impression of W's appearance at this date is a favorable one: though it is clear enough that his recent severe trials have added burdens to his life. His face is not so full as it was: he has nervous irritations: there are lines, down-lines, never until now in his cheeks. His complexion, though often as ruddy and strong as it was a year ago, is less to be depended upon, is unstable. W's room is a large one, considering the house—it has three north windows—

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one door opening from it into the hallway, another into a connecting apartment. In this latter (he never works here) are most of his stored papers, books, and with them the Morse heads—three or four of them—and boxes more or less laden with letters, &c. Often he points me about the rooms: "Poor as these are, they are a comfort to me—my own—giving me freedom: such freedom as I am competent yet to enjoy. Why, then, should I leave them now for strange scenes—scenes in which I might gain much but would surely lose much more?"

      W. wrote a Sheridan poem to-day and intimated to the Herald that he wished it printed Saturday, the day of the funeral. "Keep a sharp look-out for the paper," he said to me: "And another thing, Horace—take a wink or two at the Cosmopolitan, which, Tom says, has been taking a fly at me: then tell me what you think of it. If it's mere frippery, smartness, let it go—don't speak to me about it, forget it: but if it's worth attention, whether because it's strongly for or against, bring the magazine to me. You know what I like, what I can read—endure: you know me better than all the rest: so, anytime, anywhere, if you pick up odds and ends of stuff which you think belongs by rights to me, cart it into this room—give me my little see-saw with it."

      He spoke of George Ripley as a man superlatively equipped for the office of critic. "I met him here and there but we were never on close terms. His great learning always impressed me—but that was where Ripley stopped: with the learning: he never talked of life direct: he talked of the talk of life. He was a sort of news-carrier—and I do not deny that he carried the news well and that the news was worth carrying." "Did you ever notice," W. went on, "—or perhaps you haven't (you're younger than I am)—that the bitterest, most severe, most malignant, conservatives—old conservatives—are made out of men who in their youth were the extremest radicals—radicals of radicals? I don't know what will become of you—no doubt you will come out all right—but that has been the history of some of the best friends of my own youth—men who started with me—the best

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of them."
I quoted Emerson: "The old conservative is the young radical gone to seed." W. exclaimed: "How good! how good! And dear Emerson, too. Well, there was a man who never lost his youth."

      I had a letter from Edward Coates, husband of Florence Earle. Quoted it to W., who said: "I don't know Mr. Coates but I know the wife—a beautiful, true woman, I have always believed her. We have had several talks together—or maybe only one talk: I am not clear about that now—but I shall always remember what she said—the effect of her talk, which was mainly about Matthew Arnold, who was her guest in Germantown. Arnold is a man for whom I never seem to be able to get up any stir—with whom I never have had and never could have a thorough-going affinity. But Mrs. Coates gave me the other side of him—the social side, the personal side, the intellectual side—the side of deportment, behavior—the side which I ought perhaps most to hear about and did willingly and gladly hear of from her. For every man has that better thing to be said of him—is entitled to all it may mean, signify, explain."

      W. remarked: "I think The Critic is rather doubtful of me if not actually adverse—seems to delight to quote this squid and that making light of my work. You can detect the bent of the editorial mind with perfect ease by what it quotes. Littell's used to quote consistently the meanest things that were being said about me. Anyhow—I have no idea that Joe Gilder cares a fig for me. Jennie is more favorable, though not red-hot at all, nor anywhere near it. My only uncompromising friend in the family is probably Watson—he swears to me—not everything in me, but to me—without shame. There are critics and critics. You don't know the tribe as I do—the damned mean stuff they are often made of—the very poison (not the salt) of the earth. Some of my opponents are fairly on the other side—belong there, are honest,—I respect them: others are malignants—are of the snake order. Look at Stoddard and Winter—at Winter, particularly, who is the smallest of the crowd, however you try him, whether for brain or emotion. If you have not experienced

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a direct encounter with the monitors, critics, censors, you can have no idea of the venoms, jealousies, meannesses, spites, which chiefly characterize their opposition. It has been a rallying cry with a little group of men in this country: down Walt Whitman—down him in any way, by any method, with any weapon you can—but down him—drive him into obscurity, hurry him into oblivion! But suppose Walt Whitman stays, stays, is stubborn, stays again, stays again, will not be downed?"

      He seemed to greatly enjoy the idea that he was not to be downed. But happening to pick up an illustrated paper containing some Tyrolean pictures which attracted him he got right off on another subject: "These great hills are wonderful but not exceptional—you don't need to go to Europe to find them. Take the Rockies, for instance—they sweep along the horizon like cloud: to the novice they would be no more than grand cloud effects: sometimes they even puzzle the initiated. You know what worlds live in the cloudlands—worlds as real as ours while they last. We do not need to travel to find these worlds—they are always just where we are. Cross the Delaware almost any night and you will become a discoverer: there are no wonders anywhere greater than the wonders you see right over your head as you cross the river in the boat. When I was in Denver I spent my longest hours in contemplation of the mountain ranges."

     Then he talked of his mother. Where were the letters he wrote his mother in Brooklyn from the War? "They are here—I have them—I got them after she died—a hundred or more: all scrupulously kept together—still about somewhere with my manuscripts. The reality, the simplicity, the transparency, of my dear, dear mother's life, was responsible for the main things in the letters as in Leaves of Grass itself. How much I owe her! It could not be put in a scale——weighed: it could not be measured—be even put in the best words: it can only be apprehended through the intuitions. Leaves of Grass is the flower of her temperament active in me. My mother was illiterate in the formal sense but strangely knowing: she excelled in narrative—

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had great mimetic power: she could tell stories, impersonate: she was very eloquent in the utterance of noble moral axioms—was very original in her manner, her style. It was through my mother that I learned of Hicks: when she found I liked to hear about him she seemed to like to speak. I wonder what Leaves of Grass would have been if I had been born of some other mother and had never met William O'Connor?"

      Letter from Bucke to W. in which B. says: "I am glad you are getting cheerful letters from O'Connor. I am sorry he is worrying himself about the Cryptogram, which I fear is more or less of a fraud, though not perhaps intentionally so on Donnelly's part." W. asked: "What does Bucke mean by fraud—fraud? I would like to hear him say fraud to O'Connor: there would be an explosion." "You do not say anything about the cipher yourself—pro or con." "No I don't—it's beyond me: but I don't cry fraud. I like, agree with, the plain English of Donnelly's book—the mathematics are too much for me."

     W. gave me some directions concerning our work at Ferguson's, saying laughingly afterwards: "The things I don't tell you to do you do anyway and do right, so I do not have any anxieties. You seem some ways to know better what I want than I do myself: I have to try and try: you go straight to the mark." I took off my hat to the compliment. He reaffirmed: "It's not flattery, Horace—not even praise: it's the everyday truth." I kissed him for good night and left the room. When I got out in the hallway I heard his call: "Horace! Horace!" and hurried back. "Here," he said, still sitting near the table, handing me a little bunch of letters or something tied in a red string: "Here is a prize package for you: put it in your pocket: don't let the police catch you with it. If you draw a jewel I'll go halves!" Seemed very jovial. "And one thing more—before you go for good help me over to the bed."


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