Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, July 17, 1888.

     W. rallied somewhat from yesterday's depression. "I am not grown strong: I am only easier. H am keeping a watchful eye on myself." Still complains of his eyes. Held a letter gleefully up before my face. "Here is the Whittier," he said: "Take it—be satisfied." Laughing: "Yet there's lots more to come, Horace. In spite of all I have lost and all that has been stolen—" "Stolen?" I broke in. He said gravely: "Yes, stolen. Every now and then after some respectable visitor has come and gone something disappears and never turns up again—some book—some document or other." I expressed some astonishment but W. rallied me by saying: "Don't let's bother about that.

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Just sit down over there and read the Whittier letter. You will be pleased to see how successfully the old man steers clear of trouble."


Oak Knoll, Danvers, Mass., Jan. 13, 1888.

Dear Friend.

But for illness I should have thanked thee before this for thy vigorous lines of greeting in Munyon's Illustrated World, combining as they do the cradle and evening song of my life. My brother writers have been very generous to me and I heartily thank them for it.

With all good wishes I am thy friend

John G. Whittier.


     When I had finished reading I said: "I see no harm, no shortcoming, in that letter. If you'd been writing him on the same subject you wouldn't have said anything about his poetry." This half-nettled W. "Maybe I wouldn't—then maybe I would. What I said of the letter was not so much intended for that letter as for things that went before and come after—Whittier's general attitude towards me, with his friends, with my friends: it has been made a part of his business to keep me at a distance—to discredit my work." W. showed a little feeling here which I disputed. "Generally you are very stoical as toward criticism—sometimes your wall of indifference crumbles." This immediately aroused W. He said: "Horace, you are right I am wrong: for a minute I forgot my own principles—I was wrong, wrong. I am not thin-skinned about opposition: it is being misunderstood—that's what tantalizes me. I know from this or that quoted from Whittier about me—words not so much of censure as of regret—that he got started wrong with the Leaves and never recovered." "But wouldn't you be rather surprised after all if a man of Whittier's spiritual bent understood you? Wouldn't he have to change his bent in order to understand you?" W. was very still. Was slow to answer. "I don't know but that's about the best summing up that could be: we would not travel well harnessed to the same rig."

     W. spoke of a letter received from Burroughs. "John used

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to be so equable, quiet, buoyant, happy: so like a strong helpful stream of water: all eyes for joyous reassurances—a grown man with a boy's soul. Now much of that beautiful John is gone: I could not tell why. He was so wise, so gay, though never boisterous, in those times. We were thrown much together—very much—in Washington: were like chips off the same block—members of a common family. Why is John's faith less seaworthy than it was then? The material must all be there still—all of it. Why does he put it aside—refuse to make use of it? I am sure he still stands for me, even with affection, or something akin to it."
No more was said about B. We were both silent for awhile. Then he suddenly exclaimed: "Horace, all the fellows think I am on my last legs—at the jumping off place—about to make a total surrender, soul and baggage. But I, for my part—we—must not play the game with that end in view. I am not at all disposed to make concessions before I must—concessions, good or bad—especially bad."

     Mitchell not in today. W. was "glad." "For," said he, "Mitchell is inclined to drug me—to fill me with the doctor poisons—which is no help, in fact always an injury, to me, as I too bitterly know. Osler respected my objection." Box of flowers from Charlotte Fiske Bates. Spoke of them affectionately. "From Cambridge," he said—then with a twinkle in his blue eyes: "From under the shadow of Harvard." "You talk as if you had no right to expect things from Harvard." "Have I? Ask yourself that question." W. said to Mrs. Davis: "Drop in every now and then, Mary, if only for a look. It's hard papers up here nowadays: a big lubber like me so used to moving about freely, confined to one room, denied every outdoor indulgence, deserves some pity." Made some attempt on the Hicks today. It would not go. Read three galleys of proof, however, and four pages of the revise. "You will have to justify me to the printers again." What did I make out of the To-day piece? "I do not seem to get the thing very clearly in my own mind: it eludes me."

     Discussed Sands at Seventy. "O'Connor kicks against them

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—is unfavorable—seems to regard the new poems as in some sense a contradiction of the old—alien to the earlier poems—as if I had gone back on myself in my old age. I do not feel that way about them: I have examined the whole matter over again—over, over—without any prejudice in favor of myself—from every side—weighing every possible argument in the negative—and I give the decision to my book. I am sure of myself—that the poems are all right—that the pain, the sickness, the sorrow, the misery, are not too prominently paraded—not in fact predominant. After all I cannot suit everybody nor am conscious that I have wished to or should. So the line is unbroken, so the new chapter of my story fits with the chapter just before it, as I am confident it does, I am satisfied. I love O'Connor—love them all—like to be told about myself as I seem in other peoples' eyes—but in the end I must go my own road with such light as I have. William resented the Emperor piece. Why? Because he had not quite got hold of my philosophy—missed one of its important minor streams. And yet,"
he cried with great vehemence, "if I thought anything in my last work disgraced the Leaves as it stood in its prime—ran counter to the original statement of the book, from which I am conscious of no deviation whatever—I would end the whole thing here and now without a single regret."

     I called his attention to some errors on page 37, in Precedent Songs Farewell and An Evening Lull. These poems were written when he was in his very worst recent condition. Several bad breaks. He said of it: "I have no doubt you are right: I will give the poems my attention. Considering how I felt at the time—how I was shaken up (the last timber in me trembling with the force of the earthquake)—it is not surprising that I should have sinned more or less. Be good to me: give me time to straighten out all the warps."


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