Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, September 29th, 1888.

     7.45 p. m. After we had left him last night W. had a bad time of it—what with the extra visiting and the noise of the paraders: had not gone to sleep until way in the morning. He said: "It seemed as if all the fiends out of hell were loose: some bright particular devils sent here for my especial benefit. I suppose we may expect the disturbance to be kept up now for a while: this seems to be one way people have of eliminating from themselves some of their superfluities." He laughed the whole matter off—his usual way of clearing the atmosphere. Yet the bad night had told on him, so that when he got awake this morning he was in miserable shape. Burroughs came along with Harned by and bye but was not admitted to W.'s room. In fact W. closed people out all day. For when Burroughs came back with Gilchrist in the afternoon W. still said "no"—he would see nobody. Once, in the forenoon, he spoke very gravely to Mrs. Davis about his condition. She describes him as looking extra dreadful. She had asked him how he was. He said to her: "Mary—I am near

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my end: the end of the rope is plainly near at hand."
His manner affected her deeply. She broke down and cried in his presence. When I arrived he sat reading the Bible—calm, serene, smiling: reached out a cordial hand—gave me his "Ah Horace! Howdy? Howdy?" once more and closed his book and laid it aside. When Burroughs came with Gilchrist Mary went up stairs and announced them. He instantly said he could not see them. She demurred. He then cried vehemently: "No Mary—that would be the last straw: it is impossible." Now he said to me: "The instant you came into the room and hung your hat on the bed post I felt better. How do you account for that?"

     W. looked about for a Bucke letter which he wished me to have. "Bucke gives me a heap big advice—more and worse of it—about the big book. He has rubbed up against London publishers—has notions of London fineries in bindings, editions de luxe, and all that, which I do not share at all. He wants my book to be personal. It is personal enough already—the most personal of all books ever published: the very heart of a man—of me: the expression of the most intimate facts of a life and its subtlest, profoundest emotional backgrounds. I have no sympathy whatever with handsome books (handsome whether or no), showy appearances, unique styles, costly dressings, merely for themselves. I never had any desire to set myself apart—to claim special privileges, exceptional attentions. And this would be a late day indeed, and the worst day, to make a turnabout. My wish has been to merge myself with the masses, be a drop in the ocean, mingle with the bulk: I have not sought, do not seek, any distinction—any rare exaltation." He stopped for a few minutes. I did not feel like breaking in. Then he added: "Tell all of them this for me—tell even Bucke: tell them this book, this big book, this signatured book compassing all, is my final utterance—my last attested episode of self-expression: full, correct (we hope it will be that), conclusive. I see no reason for having it more than that, let bark what dog may: the personality of the book, if it has any (and if it hasn't that what has it?) must be construed in the light of what has gone before,

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of what originally resided in my motive, of what has guided my hand in its long apprenticeship to an ideal, rather than by anything I can put into the book now."

     Then he suddenly said to me: "Horace, I do believe you're the only one of all the fellows—of all, of all—who is willing to let me do as I please." I said: "That's not because I always agree with you." He laughed and replied: "I know—I know: but you never interfere, you never push in, you never take me by the neck and shake the life out of me for disagreeing with you about the use of commas or the sizes of margins or the colors of muslins on the backs of books." I said again: "Sometimes I think you do fool things." He assented: "Yes, I do: and sometimes the fool is right and the wise man is wrong, too, as you know"—I nodding— "though as for that, Horace, I don't suppose I make more than my quota of mistakes or possess more than my own modest quota of the virtues. What I mainly, chiefly, mean is this: that somehow you do not insist upon yourself in such a way as seems to exclude me. I like to have a hand finally in decisions connected with my own course of life, don't you? Doctor is magnificent—I love him (do I love anybody better saving maybe only William?)—but he sometimes charges an awful fee for his advice."

     Burroughs has said to me here about W.'s version of their last meeting day before yesterday: "That was an error—I rode with him to Glendale in the summer of last year to see Gilchrist." W. concerned with some for imagining Morse may think himself slighted by W.'s recent silence. "Sidney thinks I have gone back on him: God bless me! how ridiculous! I'd as likely go back on my mother. I hope he will accept my letter: he will some day see my position." I remarked: "I have explained everything to him." "Well—that is good to hear. I have a thorough-going belief in Morse and his work." "Walt, I would not worry about that. When the books are done you can send him copies with his name and your name together in them and then he'll understand all." W. said: "That we will—that we will: I wish I had the books ready to send now."


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     I told W. that Burroughs seemed to be but little impressed with the Eakins picture down stairs and no better impressed with the Morse bust at Tom's. Gilchrist dismissed Morse with a "no—no" and a deprecating wave of the hand. W. replied quickly: "I can say for myself—I care little what either of them says about the portraits: I am too well persuaded myself, have been too long thinking it over, to be shaken out of my conviction by the shrug of anybody's shoulders. And you think Herbert dismisses it with a sneer? Well—that is not unexpected. It is like the case of a fellow who has long been fed on one dish—who resists every proposition for a change: swears there is no other. I confess I am surprised that John takes a stand against Eakins and Morse: but that just emphasizes another of the differences in John—that he is not quite so stern about his principles as was the case long ago: in that respect he has lost ground. Morse has put great work into the head—the head of me: I would be willing to stake anything on it and on the Hicks, too, for that matter: and there is the big Emerson, also—don't let us forget that, either: the best of the two Emersons without a doubt—at least I like it best." What objection had he to the little Emerson? "Objection? None. Only I feel like saying this about it: it is canny—perhaps laying too much stress on that point: canny to that degree, I might say, that if it were more so it would be too much: just on the borderland."

     Morse has been telling us of a portrait of W., a sketch, that he made west there in an hour from memory. W. said: "Tell him to send it on." "Morse says he don't think it would please any one else but thinks it would please you and me." W. laughing replied: "Just the thing: that's a concluding point in its favor. Well—if I may say it without irreverence—that's like pleasing God Almighty himself." He spoke rather doubtingly of his health. I sparred him: "But you must brace up, Walt: you know there are six hundred books to sign." Laughed. "You are a good needle in my side: you prick the life back into me: yes, I will live: I hereby resolve to live! But I can't live without an effort: I have now to force myself whatever I do: this horrible

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inertia is robbing me of all instinctive, voluntary, power."
Urged me to take the Catlin book home and look it over. "You should have it at least a week. You won't want to read it but will find it full of interest at certain points. Catlin was a wise, informed, vital character—devoted, oh so devoted. I don't remember where we were when he gave me that picture"—pointing to the wall— "whether it was in New York or Washington, but it was before the War, maybe as many as forty years ago. The subject of this book always attracted me—indeed, fascinated me: does so still." Turned over the pages and commented on the portraits, pausing as he came to the Indian pictures: "As for them, you will not find them interesting from the art side, but from the human side: the side of experience, emotion, life. What is it that appeals to me in Egyptian art? Nothing technical, purely technical: at least, not to me: no, no, no: something human, everyday—a bit of strange distant history—a touch of human struggle reflected in the work of an ancient people."

     W. showed me a wee draft of a note written by him to Schmidt in 1874. He said of it: "I found it here in the mess and read it. It was written fourteen years ago and more—speaks of my sickness then—the worst, darkest, doubtfullest, period of my life, all told—in some ways possessing features not unlike my present experience. I was having hell's own time then as I am now with the outlook bad if not quite desperate." I broke in: "Remember the six hundred and shut up." He laughed heartily. "Damn you, why don't you let me finish? Read the letter for yourself: you will see that I am not making too much of my troubles: the letter is cheerful— and I am cheerful today. The fact that I am consciously staring death in the face don't make me less cheerful: even death has its advantages—and death has its to-morrow. What do you suppose keeps me alive? My interest in the books and my consideration for you! If anything happened either to the books or to you I'd give in without further protestation—rather welcome the release. But read the letter." I found he had kept a record of his correspondence with Schmidt

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on the back of the letter. I will quote it: "letter to Rudolph Schmidt Jan 25, '74—wrote also March 4, '74 and sent Redwood Tree and Columbus—wrote also March 19, '74—also April 25 sending note and C. Petersen's piece. Also June 11 enclosing Song of the Universal—American Humor—Souther letter &c. Also about Aug. 29, '74." The letter follows:


Jan 25 '74.

My dear Rudolph Schmidt,

Your letter of Jan. 2, has just reached me here. I am always glad to hear from you. Write oftener. I have been very ill, just a year, from paralysis and cerebral anæmia—I have been at death's door. I sent you a paper with acct four or five months since but as you do not allude to it I suppose you did not rec. it. I send another by this mail. I have sent you several papers and magazines. I am not in bed but go out a little every day, and shall probably get well again yet, but remain paralyzed yet—have bad spells in my head, and walk with great difficulty—ameliorate very, very slowly. Still I write and publish a little.

What about Björnson? Is he coming to America? If so give him my address and tell him to come and see me. It is almost a part of Philadelphia where I live on the opposite side of the Delaware river. When you write or send Democratic Vistas, direct here. Write me from Germany.

What did I hear a while since of some great German university up for discussion? I have no thought of visiting England. In a letter two years since Tennyson kindly invited me to come and accept his hospitality—which aroused some thought of it in my mind—but it has passed over.


     W.'s eyes brightened when I told him of the progress made by the printers with our books. "So I may expect copies of November Boughs to-morrow or Saturday? Good for you! Good for me! Good for everyone! But I will not believe it until the books are in my possession. Keep your hand on the throttle-valve, Horace: don't let your vigilance sleep for an instant! I am

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entirely dependent upon you to carry our adventure off with credit."


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