Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, July 19, 1888.

     8 p.m. Not frisky today though inclined to eat well. Spoke of his head again as "sore." When I entered he was making for the bed, his cane in one hand and a chair in the other. "Navigation grows increasingly difficult. It now takes all my energy merely to get to the chair and back to the bed again. I am not hopeless, however: I am a good wrestler." Read papers today but did not work. Hicks untouched. Brought me Bucke and Burrroughs letters, which he thought I should see— "though there's nothing of importance in either"—adding: "I think we all like to have letters whether they amount to much or not." I could not see in the Burroughs' letter the "depression" of which W. spoke— "the sentence of death," as he called it. W. pointed out to me a passage in Bucke's letter of the 9th: "It is a great comfort to me to know that you are at last being looked after. In this regard I feel sure nothing could be better than Baker and Traubel, and I think we are most fortunate in getting the assistance of these two young fellows." "That," said W., "is where you come in in fine feather—and rightly, too. I am not saying much myself about it these days but I think I know even better than Doctor how true his remark is."

     Had I read Ossian? Was very circumstantial in talking about the book. "Macpherson was a sort of a rascal—had scamp qualities. There was a great Ossianic debate. I have always had an Ossian about me, though I can't say I ever read it with any great fervor. It was a curious controversy—there were great men on both sides of it—many things were said both pro and con—ideas it did no harm to ventilate. Ossian is of the Biblical order—is best to one who would come freshly upon it—to one

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who knew nothing of the Hebrew Bible. I don't think Ossian would satisfy the modern young man—the radical—the new man with the new spirit. Ossian's fame lasts—he is still sold—I am told he has been highly thought of by continental critics—very highly. You say you can no longer read Milton—the bigger poems. Well you musn't feel bad and guilty about that—you're not alone in that fix: there are plenty like you: you may count your uncle here in for the same complaint."
He laughed. "Let's be honest with each other," said W., "even if the book is a bigwig. If we think a book's damned tiresome let's say it's damned tiresome and not say 'how do you do?—come again.'"

     Referring to the Hicks: "What a poor disjointed fact it is if fact at all. As the old woman said, I don't know yet whether it will be a be. There's one voice which says, don't do it: there's another voice which says, yes, do—and that's where I stand right now, listening both ways." "I knew the habitats of Hicks so well—my grand-parents knew him personally so well—the shore up there, Jericho, the whole tone of the life of the time and place—all is so familiar to me: I have got to look upon myself as sort of chosen to do a job as the Hicksite historian. I have seemed, to myself at least, to be particularly equipped for doing just this thing and doing it as it should be done—have felt that no one else living is exactly so well appointed for it. Now it threatens to go up in smoke! Do you know anything about the method of the Quaker meetings? Well, if you do, you know that they never take a vote: they discuss questions (one this side, one that)—or sometimes most of them on one side and only a few on the other: then the moderator (I think they call him that—at any rate, the man who presides) announces the result, yes or no, as he sees it in the balance of feeling this way or that. It is remarkable, I think, in the history of the sect, that these decisions have never in a single instance been appealed from. If there's not a pretty ardent leaning one way or the other, the moderator reserves judgment: that is the only guard. They seem to select their most judicial men for the place—men who cannot be swayed by momentary passions, interests, prejudices, even

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sympathies. What all this comes to is, that just that sort of a debate is going on in my mind now, whether to condemn or save the Hicks—whether to send it to the printer or throw it into the stove—a debate not to be put into figures or votes, but real, with a decision pending which I must abide by at last. Tell the printer to give me till Monday—this is Thursday: till then it will be a life and death struggle. For thirty years I have had it in my plans to write a book about Hicks. Now here I am at last, after all the procrastinations, stranded, with nothing but a few runaway thoughts on the subject to show for my good resolutions. Well—if I can't do all I started off to do I may be able to do some little towards it—give at least some hint, glimpse, odor, of the larger scheme."
He paused a minute then asked me: "Do you know Quaker women? The women are the cream of the sect. It was not Lucretia Mott alone—I knew her just a little: she was a gracious, superb character: but she was not exceptional: it distinguishes most of the women—seems to appear in them inevitably. Did you know (but I guess you did not) that when I was a young fellow up on the Long Island shore I seriously debated whether I was not by spiritual bent a Quaker?—whether if not one I should not become one? But the question went its way again: I put it aside as impossible: I was never made to live inside a fence." "If you had turned Quaker would Leaves of Grass ever have been written?" "It is more than likely not—quite probably not—almost certainly not. I guess you are right, Horace: you have hit the nail on the head. We must go outside the lines before we can know the best things that are within."

     W. gave me before I left a little war-time card photo of his brother George "in his sojer clothes," as W. said. "We have just been talking Quakerism—peace—no war: now look at this picture by way of contrast. You will see, it is a New York picture—made by Bogardus." I said to W.: "I have sometimes tried to imagine you in a uniform but could never make it go." W. first smiled, then grew quite serious: "I should hope not—thank God, thank God, not—not—not!" I was stirred by his vehemence. "Yet they say you condoned the war." "They

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say that, do they? Well—they say many things, many things. Thank God, Horace, you could never make it go: thank God! thank God!"


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