Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, September 13th, 1888.

     7.50 p.m. W. reading Carlyle still—takes it up every evening. "I stick to it as much in spite of myself as because of myself." He sat with his right side towards the light, his book held quite near his face: always reads with his eyebrows lifted, glasses high up. I entered very quietly and stood in the middle of the room. Finally he saw me. "Is it a spirit?" he asked. Smiled. Put the book down on its face. "Is it a spirit? Why, my boy, I didn't hear you at all!" He looked at my burden. "And what have you there? Something good, I'm sure." "It's from John, Walt." "John who?" "Burroughs." "Ah! John Burroughs again? Still thinks of us here in our prison. John is good to us—good—good." The basket had been sent to me in Philadelphia: was filled with grapes, "the mere sight of which," W. said, "makes my mouth water." He stuck his nose down over the basket: "And the odor, too—it is deliciously fragrant!" Finally he said: "You'll write to John? Give him my love and all that: tell him they came and that I know why they came."

     I asked him how he had been. "I last—I last: that is about all I can say. It has been a long day: I have sat here, read the papers, dozed: this morning read some things about Proctor—his work, his death. It seemed to me so sad—his death—if that can ever be said of death. [He died in a hospital in New York of yellow fever.] He was prone to write—to get into the papers: his name everywhere." I protested: "Yes—but decently so: he was not a notoriety seeker." W. said at once: "No indeed—he was not: I did not mean that he was. I always thoroughly esteemed Proctor—put him very high: he had such a fair, judicial mind—was imbued with the scientific spirit: always calm, rational, genial. I read all his pieces—all of them. When they came in the papers and I had no immediate time to read them I always carefully put them aside to be taken up as occasion offered. Proctor was of a beautiful type: the modern man of science type: they mean the best things to the

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world: they never parley with the conventions—they never pledge themselves to schools."
I said at this point: "And Weld is dead, too—Hastings Weld: you remember, you have told me about him." "Oh! yes! Weld is dead—and he's a horse of another color, too. I knew him: he came here: a queer, dandified-looking little fellow: like Haweis, the English preacher. Weld persisted to the last in his adherence to old English customs of toilet and dress—wore a wig—shaved (I should think every day)—seemed prim and waxy." How was Weld as a journalist? "I knew he was in some way connected with The Ledger—was au fait there—but there was nothing in him—no power: not first rate, second rate; no original quality whatever."

     We talked of the tariff and the Maine election. W. said: "I'm not greatly interested in ballots anyhow. Oregon, Vermont, Maine, tell nothing: we have yet to hear from the larger, the significant States: New York, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio—even Tennessee: things there are not so one-sided. That tariff taffy and tall talk gives me the belly-ache. Dudley's about the only man believing in the tariff I could ever hear with patience. He's the best of the lot: has a show of reason on his side. Dudley says for today, this hour, this minute, these present exigencies, these facts right under our feet, the tariff is the best policy, the only policy—here we must stop. For certain classes this is the thing needed. Dudley states it this way: the tariff means profits, profits make a prosperous nation, therefore the tariff is just and right. This is the protection ideal and the protection reason: what do you make of it? I am done for: such logic staggers me. The whole thing is hoggish—put on hoggish foundations. My pocket, your pocket, houses, rents, grounds. We are often asked: Why should we do anything to help the English, the German, the Hungarian workman? Why should we? Why shouldn't we? It looks as good one way to me as another. I am not ashamed to confess that I am willing to have foreign workman live. Home industry! Whose home? What home? I am not slow to say—am not afraid to say—I consider men en masse—

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for benefits as well as for other things. Some one has said 'mugwump' is the Indian name for captain. For my part I am willing to accept the name with all the orthodox odium attached, if it is necessary, though I do not label myself. It is easy to call names—I rejoice in being free. Let those tariff gymnasts have their laugh—their sneer and scorn—today, for they won't have any reason to laugh or face to scorn tomorrow. Today things are their way, but God help 'em after the wheel has gone round a few times more. Back of all else in me is feeling—emotional substance: I feel this to be true—feel this must in the nature of things be so—feel that in its good time freedom, light, will come on this question. More than all else I enjoy the sight of rebellion—of men who stand aside from parties (yes—I may say, from churches, too—sects)—refuse to be labelled, rejecting any name that may be offered them: the vast floating vote, ready to nip things in season, to cast their weight where most needed, at critical moments, with no formal pledge or party alliance. I remember one of my last talks with Emerson. That subject came up: we stuck to it—stuck to it—like paste. I found Emerson as happy as myself in discovering the inherent health of the masses of the people—in reading the signs of the coming of a new political dispensation: some new readings of democracy in the common life of the world."

     Picked up a Bible at his feet. "Look at that: what noble type—how good to look at! The English still do the best printing. I do not think it's from a superior mechanical equipment as much as from a superior conscience." I asked: "Do you find the Bible worth while for a steady companion?" "Yes—it lasts—comes back to me. I have had this particular book about me now for twenty years—always have it by me to read—even lately have had constant inclinations towards it." He had this to say about type-writing: "It seems to me ridiculous—robs us of something: for my part I would as lief, or rather, have the worst from a man's hand than the best from a machine." I asked him why he went down stairs last evening. "Oh! I took a sudden notion: it was like a brief flash: so I up and went: only

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staying a minute, however. Things are the same down there."
He gave me a letter from Bucke. "It contains no news but it is a bit of good health—nice to breathe in, to taste of. He pays you a nice compliment, which is not a compliment but the truth—I want you to notice it." Bucke's compliment was this: "Yes, I do not know what we should all do without Horace. He is a grand fellow and sticks to his guns like an old soldier." The Lathrop Letter given to me by W. day before yesterday was as follows:


41 Bowdoin st.,
Cambridge, Mass.,
April 20, 1878.

My Dear Sir,

I saw Mr. Burroughs in New York, lately, and he encouraged me to believe that I might get from you some news of your book. I am anxious to see some proofs or early sheets, in order to write an account of it to the London Academy. If it is possible, will you oblige me in this manner?

I have confessed to Burroughs my admiration of the spirit you have breathed into the air, to enlarge and stimulate the after-comers, the young writers of America. At times I have had an intense longing to express my gratitude to you yourself; and it was a sharp disappointment to me that I could not come down to Mrs. Gilchrist's last summer, with the young Englishman, Carpenter, to meet you.

But I am not gifted with the faculty of praising. When I greatly admire I am most likely to be silent; and I never felt it quite the time to speak to you. Well, this time has not come now; it hardly comes at all. The secret of our reluctance to make acknowledgment to those whom we owe much in the spiritual way is, probably, that we know it is impossible ever to give adequate utterance to such matters; and to speak at all is almost to obscure the sentiment instead of revealing it. If I myself could choose, or had done anything, I would by preference take silent recognition, though personal expression of appreciation is certainly a great balm, at times.


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In writing now, I have another project to advance, besides that of seeing your new book. I am getting up a volume of poems to be published anonymously by Messrs Roberts Brothers, of Boston. Of course they are of the older and prevalent fashion. They are by a number of poets, some of whom are very well known. I don't know whether you will feel like participating in this scheme; but there are some advantages about it which may strike you. If they do I would greatly like to have you send me two or three short pieces with a view to insertion in this book. Owing to the general character of the collection, however, your contribution would have to conform to the more usual rhythms at least as far as Captain, my Captain! Have you anything lying by you—especially of a patriotic tone? There is time enough yet; the copy will not be prepared for the printers until September. But, if you look favorably on the plan, please let me know before long.

I think you have corresponded with Albert Otis, a lawyer of Boston, whom I know. You have more appreciators here than you suspect.

Meanwhile, the new book.

Very sincerely yours,

G. P. Lathrop.


     W. laughed over Lathrop's proposition. "He wants me to appear in disguise. I do not believe even disguises would disguise me. You might as well suggest that an elephant should masquerade as a fox." W. said to me mysteriously tonight: "Some day when you are ready and I am ready I will tell you about one period in my life of which my friends know nothing: not now—not to-morrow—but some day before long. I want to tell you the whole story with figures and all the data so that you may make no mistake about it." I have no idea what he refers to. He saw my blank face. "Of course you do not understand an allusion so vague—but you ought to know: I have made up my mind to confide in you to the fullest extent." I looked for more but he added nothing. Gave me a couple of

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sheets of manuscript containing original draft of My Captain. "I ought to have destroyed it, but your face always hovers around to rebuke me when I think of destruction so I laid it aside for you. After our talk about the poem the other day I feel nasty enough to do anything with it. But if you will promise not to bring the manuscript back I will promise to let you take it away."


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