Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, August 24, 1888.

     Morning, 10.15. W. sat reading the papers but was ready to talk. I asked him for money for the frontispiece plate. He began to search through his pockets. Adjusted his glasses. He carries his wallet in his inside vest pocket. He found a dollar bill in one pocket and a two dollar bill in one of the other pockets. He found two silver dollars in his trousers pocket. He looked at me, laughing: "I didn't know I was so well off. Money, money, everywhere." Suddenly he held up a single new dollar bill and said: "Ah! this—this was for poor Aunt Mary: I handed it to Mary for her and Mary came back and said the old lady was dead." He finally got the money together and gave me what was required. "I have no letters today—none at all—but there is a Transcript from Kennedy: I don't know what is in it."

     I found a poem by Swinburne—A Double Ballad of August. W. said: "Oh yes, I did see that. And if Swinburne had a few grains of thought with all his music wouldn't he be the greatest charmer of all? I never liked him from the first—Swinburne—from the very first: could not take him in, adapt myself to him. I know of nothing I think of so little account as pretty words, pretty thought, pretty china, pretty arrangements. I have a friend, a woman—a cute one, too: one of the very cutest—who take most to Bothwell: thinks Bothwell the one thing most to Swinburne's credit and likely to last, if any: and it is true of Swinburne's credit and likely to last, if any: and it is true of Atalanta, as you say, that it is rich in particulars and esteemed by scholars. My taste is alien—on other currents: I do not seem to belong in the Swinburne drift. I find it difficult to account for my dear woman's taste. Did you not hear it said somewhere that Schiller was very fond of rotten apples—had

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them always about him—the rottener the better? Maybe that is a story which explains her taste."

     I had brought him the Carlyle-Emerson correspondence. He handled the volume affectionately: "What a beautiful letter this book is set up in! It's a good sight for my old sore eyes: leaded, double-leaded. After all that is the one reasonable—yes, merciful—method: to spread the lines far apart." I put in: "The merciful reader is merciful to his eyes." W. assented: "Yes, sure enough. I have myself always gone on the other supposition with regard to a type-set page—that it should be solid, in the interest both of condensation and money, but lately it has impressed me that I was wrong." He looked at the portrait: "Sidney's bust of Emerson—Morse's—is a much better portrait than the one they use in this book." Bonsall will find us the Book Maker. I saw him the first thing this morning. W. said: "Don't argue about health. Horace—be healthy. When you argue about health your health is already gone."

     Evening. W. reading when I arrived. He put his book down. "What news? What news?" "New? None. What news have you?" "None—none at all: I get nothing—not even letters: not even a letter from Bucke." I paid Brown for the portrait today. I said to B.: "Brown, you know that's a bum portrait: but the old man likes it." Brown said: "It is bum—I wouldn't have been surprised if you had turned it down." I repeated this to W. who only replied: "I have nothing to complain of. The figure's the thing: that will not be criticised. So far as the technicalities go, well—damn the technicalities if the rest is all right!" Brown will try again if this plate is too difficult to print from. W. had settled upon a costly paper for the two books. I brought him an estimate—one hundred and ten dollars for N. B. and two hundred and fifty for the complete W. W. The figures startled him: "I confess that it staggers me—knocks me clean off my feet." I asked: "Well, shall I look for some cheaper stock?" "Who said cheaper stock?" asked W. Then added: "I will see the books through if it takes every cent I possess!"


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      W. asked me to explain to him the purport of the President's message of retaliation (out today) on the fisheries dispute with Canada. "I can't get it into my noddle what the stir is all about. Do you know and can you tell?" And then after I had gone over the ground briefly: "Well—let them go on: let them push it as hard as they choose: let them run up their walls, obstructions, laws, as high as they choose: in the end all will inure for the best results—we will in fact pluck the flower free trade from the nettle protection. As an individual I feel myself imposed upon, robbed, trampled over, but I can still urge patience, patience. Let them push their theory to the breaking point—for break it must. I myself once fell afoul of an experience with customs officers up there on the Canadian border. Happily Bucke was along and extricated me. He took the officials aside and seemed to settle it that my baggage was not to be disturbed—gave them a few dollars to even up the trouble. The whole thing was quite a source of wonder to me—instructive, baffling: and what struck me most of all was Bucke's ease, suavity, composure, negligé—a sort of taking it for grantedness coolly expressed in his assumption of the manner of a born, tired, traveller. It seemed to me then as it had before and always has since, that here lay one of the worst evils of the system—in its encouragement of lying, bribery, misrepresentation, hypocrisy—just as in the prohibition and other special cases: yet this is a side of the situation no one considers. No one goes to hard pan with the problem—no one is more than cute in handling it—is deep enough to see it all around, in all that it includes, reflects, implies. It is not a fiscal, it is a moral, problem—a problem of the largest humanities."

     This led him to dilate on copyright. "What an infernal, outrageous, conspiracy of red-tapeism it is, not only in its initial requisites but in its after demands! It is all a matter of apery: our laws are copied after, modeled upon, the English laws—laws which proceed on the supposition that the people have nothing to do but study the comforts and purses of governments, monarchs, legislatures: the pleasure of lords, ladies

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nabobs. What is legality anyway?—puzzle—pretense, snare. Cute thinkers have said (Williams Legett—one of the best of 'em: Leggett, of the Post, who always said it so well, irrefutably) that there is no legal writing under heaven—not the carefullest, clearest—but may be overturned, disproved, vitiated, by sharp pleading, unexpected construction. This is so much true that some one has declared that we should never put a word—not a word, not the suspicion of a word—on paper without realizing on the legal side that when the destroyers get to work upon it it may all fall to the ground in confusion and seem to falsify the whole moral code."

     W. had been asked a question like this in a letter: Is a man's work ever greater than the man who does the work? He answered the question to me in this way: "It is obvious that the man is always superior. Any fact is superior to a statement of the fact: any statement at its best is only a half-statement." I reminded him of a remark he made to me years ago one noon-day on the boat: "If Grant is not himself poet, singer, artist, he at least contains within himself the eligibility, the subject-force, of song, art." He listened intently. "Repeat that." he said. I did so. Then he said: "Yes, I should stand by that. Dowden's Shakspere somewhere exploits a thought like that—a thought that seems to me the most significant and valuable thing in the book. Have you read Dowden? You should: he is a whole literature in himself. I have the Shakspere volume here somewhere. Dowden sent it to me himself: I have always kept it near my chair—I wanted it handy. If you find it take it along and read it. Besides it is a sample of the English printing which I am so fond of."

     Not yet done with the N.B. proofs. "I am having a hard time again trying to straighten out their kinks. After all you'll have to round them up with your own eagle eye." Told me my father was here yesterday: "I was glad to see him—he looked so well—was very cheerful. He talked to me about German poetry and music—even sang a bit, a few strains, to illustrate something he was saying. Do you know, Horace, he has a

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beautiful voice—a baritone? But of course you know—you only haven't happened to say so."

     I asked W. if he had ever had any correspondence with Oscar Wilde? "No correspondence, though he has written me letters. Did I never show you a fine letter I had from him while he was making his American trip? No? Well—it is about here in the mess—somewhere about, God knows where: if it ever shows its head I'll grab it—you may have it. I never completely make Wilde out—out for good or bad. He writes exquisitely—is as lucid as a star on a clear night—but there seems to be a little substance lacking at the root—something—what is it? I have no sympathy with the crowd of the scorners who want to crowd him off the earth."

     W. gave me a letter from Sylvester Baxter that he has several times spoken about since it came last month. He mentioned it to me originally because of its reference to Bellamy's book. On another occasion he said of it: "Sylvester is on several sides my friend—my friend, I think, for general reasons not one reason alone. You see, some people like this or that in me—like nothing else: as a man might like your leg or arm and forget the body of which they form a part: Baxter is of the other, the large, sort—he sees me whole. Sylvester is a quiet, sane, agreeable make of man—don't get into flusters, don't indulge in bad tempers about humanity—yet is radical, too, if not revolutionary, and looks for some shake-up in the social order before long."


Malden, Mass., July 13, '88

My dear friend:

I have just heard from Kennedy that your illness continues. We had been hoping that the recovery would be more lasting and that the summer days would see you driving out and enjoying the precious sunshine. We had also been looking forward to the pleasure of feeling that you were comfortably domiciled in the desired cottage of your own, away from the stifling and noisy city, but your friends who worked

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to that end will all feel—as one of them has expressed it—that the thought that the project has given you even the briefest joy, and that it has given you the gratification of building and dwelling therein in the world of your mind—more real than the world of sense—fully compensates them.


I am so glad that you have to help you so devoted a friend as young Traubel, and through you I give him my hand and my thanks.

I have lately been reading a beautiful and noble story by Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward. It goes far in the direction pointed out by your prophetic Democratic Vistas and I hope Traubel will read it and tell you about it.

In these days the glorious words you have spoken about death come up in my mind, and I feel much as must have been felt by the disciples in those calm last hours of Socrates. Whether his coming be near at hand, or later, he can only take your physical presence from us and that which you have given will ever abide with us. To many whose souls you know will be realized your words: "I spring from the pages into your arms—decease calls me forth."

Faithfully yours.

Sylvester Baxter.


     W. said: "You must read the Bellamy book and tell me about it." "I have read it already." "So? Well—you must explain it to me—but not now, not today." I asked W. whether he noticed that Death, which to him was a "strong deliveress" was to Baxter a "deliverer—he"? W. laughed. "Horace, I didn't think you'd do it—you are as fussy as a peeking critic. So he does—so he does: but it has no furtive significance: neither he nor she would say it all."


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