Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, August 20, 1888.

     W. spent today depressed—physically "played-out like," as he said. Still reading Scott—and sometimes the poets lying about: Moore, Byron. The sudden taking off of Aunt Mary seems to have stumped him some. "There are no signs of a second wind—quite the contrary." Puts on a brave front. While he said to the Courier man that he expected to get out by cold weather he says to me: "Getting out seems more and more unlikely." We talked of the big one-volume Whitman. I said to him: "I guess you should let me do that work, Walt." He replied: "It is not a question of what I will or should but a compulsion—what I must: I will simply have to put myself in your hands—God knows whether not in other things, and more and more things, as well as in that. I anticipate a time, not very far distant, when I will lose my physical volition altogether—suffer an entire extinguishment of efficient physical energy—find the fire utterly going out or gone out. When there is no fuel left the fire cannot last. You know Bucke's theory about the soul—the theories of men of science—the physical theories. Well, science is too damned fast for truth sometimes. I often feel like saying to the fellers who are so sure they are sure on all that: hold your horses, hold your horses—don't be too confident that you know the whole story—the kernel, the beginning, the end. Then I have a reaction. After the long period in which the other view was upheld—the contempt of the body, the horrible, narrow, filthy, degenerate, poisonous, distaste expressed in ascetic religions for the physical man—I confess that even materialism is a relief, like a new day, like sunlight, like beauty—yes, like truth itself." "And whatever your conviction about the soul, haven't you also just as firm a conviction about the body?" "Yes, just as firm—sometimes for earth reasons firmer. That is what should be and must be: a powerful loyalty to the body—to the body's desires, passions appetites, all of them, well in rein, but alive, serving the soul, like a faithful steed." Then: "But after all, there's more to it than that—

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more to it than these bodies—than the most superb bodies: more than that: and while I cannot argue the matter out, neither can I surrender my profound conviction."

     Donnelly has returned to America. W.: "I feel that I for one owe him a great debt. I spent several half days or whole days assiduously reading his big book—the Cryptogram—and the immense mass and value of its information staggered me. I could no longer accept the Shaksperian—the actor—authorship: that is gone—gone forever." I suggested: "But you had come to that conclusion before." "To a certain extent, yes—but not entirely, not entirely. Here everything was systematized—everything was brought together—suspicions so placed as to get the force of certainty. I was already half-convinced—that is true—but convinced in the way a feller is convinced who hears debate, hears controversy-statements, counterstatements—things massed for partisan effect, hotly assailed, even logically proved—logically made unassailable—and yet comes away with his own doubts as active as before. But now, in my case, the instinct is confirmed—it no longer argues with itself—is satisfied—and Donnelly has done that for me." "Bucke wrote me that he thought the cipher a great fraud." "I knew he disapproved of the cipher—I didn't know he went it quite so strong as fraud. But that's a little like Maurice—over emphasis is his failing—going off half-cocked, as we say. You know yourself I do not find the cipher business significant. Not that I know anything about it—anything at all: I somehow have an instinctive aversion to the idea of a cipher and that leads up to my suspicions (which I admit may be all wrong): just as I have an aversion to the church notion of an atonement, because of its essential vulgarity, its wanton treachery to what I take to be high and imperative standards of human action. We say of a certain man: the atonement is not for him by the very fact of his being what he is: he is so made that he is made free. So I would say: the cipher is not for Bacon: by the very fact of his being what he is he is entitled to an exoneration." "Wouldn't O'Connor swear this idea down to the ground." "Down to the ground and under

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the ground! William would call me by a few strong names and then go to work again with his heresy. But whatever becomes of the cipher, I know what will become of Master Shaksper the actor—what has already become of him. He has gone for good." Adding: "I am just as slow to say yes as no—just as cautious. I took me a long time to say no to Shaksper: the rest of the problem is still unsolved—I have no answer to its questions. I am extremely cautious—weighing every grain before giving in my adhesion."

     Bucke writes W. giving him a heap of advice anent the complete book. W. says to me: "We have talked most of those points over here. Doctor suggests that we should repaginate the book—give it consecutive pages. There is no necessity. The books have their own reasons for being—their independent reasons—Leaves of Grass, Specimen Days. They are not parts of a play—acts one, two, three—or chapters of a romance—that they need to be put together palpably by pagination. Then besides that would involve extra expense and trouble which I do not feel prepared to accept just now. All that is required under the present idea, my idea, might be a little preface, stating my reasons for this particular issue of my works."

     Talked about reading. "Reading, most of it, by candlelight, indoors, up against a hot register or steam pipes, is a disease: I doubt if it does anyone much good. The best reading seems to need the best open air. When I was down on the Creek—Timber Creek—and roamed out and along the water, I always took a book, a little book, however rarely I made use of it. It might have been once, twice: three, four, five, even nine, times: I passed along the same trail and never opened the book: but then there was a tenth time, always, when nothing but a book would do—not tree, or water, or anything else—only a book: and it was for that tenth trip that I carried the book."

     Harrison Morris over this evening but W. couldn't see him. "Again—some other time: I feel all knocked up to-night—all used up." W. said I should take an old Burroughs letter that laid on the table before me. "It gives a little look into the

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Carlyle country—yes, and a big look into John's soul. John and William are very different men. John is a placid landscape—William is a landscape in a storm. Does that seem to express a difference? The only critical doubt I ever have about John is that sometimes I feel as if I would like to poke him up with a stick or something to get him mad: his writing sometimes seems to go to sleep. It is always attractive to me but always leaves me in a slow mood. William is quite different: he whips me with cords—he makes all my flesh tingle—he is like a soldier who stirs me for war."
Then after a pause: "But it is always hopeless—the attempt to put a man into a sentence. William and John stand for such unlike temperaments they can hardly be talked of together: I can be at home with either—equally at home—but on the whole William mixes best with my blood." W. had me read the Burroughs letter aloud.


London, June 16, 1882.

Dear Walt:

I have delayed writing to you longer than I intended to. We had a pleasant passage over, and have been as happy as sight-seers can expect to be. We keep pretty well and take things easy. My first taste of the country was at Alloway, Burns' birthplace. We spent a week here in a cosy little inn on the banks of the Doon, surrounded by one of the sweetest and finest farming countries I ever beheld. From there we went up into the Highlands, where I did some mountain climbing: thence around to Edinburgh. From there we went down to Carlyle's country and spent a week at Ecclefechan, arriving there the first day of June just as the first red clover was beginning to bloom. I walked a good deal about Ecclefechan and shall write something about it and weave in certain things I want to say of Carlyle. I enclose a daisy or a spray of speedwell that I gathered from Carlyle's grave. There is no stone yet marking his grave. I saw the graves of eight "Thomas Carlyles." The "Carlyls" as the Scotch call them were a numerous race in this section. They were a stern savage set, not to be trifled with. One old Scotchman said they were "bullies." Then we went

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down into the Lake region for a few days; and thence to London.


Mr. Carpenter has been up and spent a day and a night with me. He has recently lost his father. He is well. We have been out to Mrs. Gilchrist's twice to tea. She and Grace are alone, Herbert being off in Wales, painting. They chided me for not bringing you, and entertain hopes of seeing you yet. They are well and have a pleasant cheery house. You would have a good time if you were to come. I have seen no one else in London and do not expect to. Rossetti I hear is not well. We shall leave here tomorrow, or I shall, for Haslemere and thence through some of the southern countries for a week; wife and Julian will stay with an old acquaintance of ours at Brentford, near London. I presume we shall be home in August. June has been cold and wet here: no heat, no warmth.

Conway has an article on Emerson in the June Fortnightly Review, but it is hasty and of not much account. I hope to hear yet that Osgood has not thrown up Leaves of Grass. I expect a letter from O'Connor every day. Drop me a line care of Henderson Brothers, 5 Union street, Glasgow, Scotland.

Ever your friend,

John Burroughs.



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