Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, September 26th, 1888.

     7.50 p.m. W. improved today. Osler over but not alarmed. W. reading Gilchrist's life of Blake. Asked me: "Do you know much about Blake? You know, this is Mrs. Gilchrist's book—the book she completed. They had made up their minds to do the work—her husband had it well under way: he caught a fever and was carried off. Mrs. Gilchrist was left with four young children, alone: her perplexities were great. Have you noticed that the time to look for the best things in best people is the moment of their greatest need? Look at Lincoln: he is our proudest example: he proved to be big as, bigger than, any emergency—his grasp was a giant's grasp—made dark things light, made hard things easy. Herbert's mother belonged to the same noble breed: seized the reins, was competent: her head was clear, her hand was firm. Her husband had designed an introductory note or two: she carried out his idea—neglected nothing—was afraid of nothing. The

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Blake book"
—he tapped it with his hand— "is charming for the same reason that we find Froude's Carlyle fascinating—it is minute, it presents the man as he was, it gathers together little things ordinarily forgotten: portrays the man as he walked, talked, worked, in his simple capacity as a human being. It is just in such touches—such significant details—that the profounder, conclusive, art of biographical narrative lies. Such elements rightly unified seem to make a vivid picture of anybody we know or are interested in."

     He spoke of Dickens. "I never met him but saw him. The first time in a theatre—then again in some other public place. I did not hear any of his readings." After this bit of talk he suddenly went off on another strain. "Osler was over today—did you know? They have clapped a plaster—a mustard plaster—on me. Something has helped me today—I don't know what. Osler made light of my condition. I don't like his pooh-poohs: the professional air of the doctor grates on me. It is like the case of a rich man who loses half a dollar and says grandly to the man who finds it: never mind—never mind: keep it: I've lots more than I want. The doctor says: Never mind about the health business—I'm seeing to all that. When a man gets old he has confirmed habits—has ways of his own which the winds blowing however hard or righteously could not displace: they are his to last out his life. They all give me good advice which I can't follow. I am as the boys say 'an old rat' and must be left to die in my own way."

     W. spoke of a visit today from "Professor Hamlin Garland of Boston." "He came in—the doctor said for two minutes (only two minutes) but he stayed half an hour at least—seemed to be so interested he would have stayed longer." W. laughed. "Mr. Musgrove was on nettles—the man so overstayed his leave." "What is he professor of?" Smiled and replied: "That would be hard to tell—literature or something kin to it—I don't know. I think Kennedy knows him—I don't know but has written about him to me. I have heard from him—know him in a way, too—but on the personal side we have

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naturally not seen each other. Garland has lectured on Walt Whitman. I asked him if the people didn't protest against it: he said, no, no, they cried for more! And now it occurs to me I had intended to ask him to send me a good report of his talks, lectures—if one is given anywhere. I have always been curious to see what he says—once started to write him but did not know where to address my letter. I am more than favorably impressed with Garland. He has a good voice—is almost Emersonee—has belly—some would say, guts. The English say of a man, 'he has guts, guts,'—and that means something very good, not very bad. Garland has guts—the good kind: has voice, power, manliness—has chest-tones in his talk which attract me: I am very sensitive to certain things like those in a man. Garland seemed to be enthusiastic about Leaves of Grass."

     At this juncture W. added: "This has been reception day: we've had lots of 'em here." "Lots of what?" "People, people." "Who—besides Osler and Garland?" "Why—a real live member of parliament—Summers is his name: he said he was Liberal—junior whip under Gladstone and those fellows." "Is he a reader of Leaves of Grass?" "I think he is—yes, he said something about it while he was here. He brought a letter from Mrs. Costelloe——and by the way, I sent that off to Doctor Bucke in my letter today—(he always likes enclosures). Summers hit me hard. He made a grand show-up—had fine ways—was young, strong, optimistic. I have always seriously asked myself whether Gladstone knows anything about Ireland after all—is really bent upon any policy of benefit for Ireland: knows himself what he wants or Ireland needs. I thought to myself today: this is my opportunity—this is your opportunity, Walt Whitman—so I turned to Summers and put it directly to him—the straight question: told him my own suspicions—asked him as one of them, as coming in contact with the men right at their work—Do you, Summers, think better of this—know better?—and so on. His answer was, that Gladstone realized the condition of Ireland, saw something had to be done, was doing what he could, what the moment suggested—or words to

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that effect."
I shook my head over the reply. W. then continued: "It was, indeed, not an answer to my question, but it was about the best, perhaps the only, answer he could have made to it except he pleaded guilty and made a confession, which I didn't expect him to do. Summers was going from here to Washington—then not farther west than Chicago: said he might stop in again on his way back to New York. I was writing to Bucke at the moment Summers arrived. I added this as a sort of postscript: 'How curiously the traveling Englishman is like the best of our educated Americans'—something like that."

     He gets a lot of fun out of the Herald's column of last Sunday on W.W. "The Herald piece about us," he calls it. Added: "They set us down there in good style. I wonder who wrote it? It purports to come from Philadelphia—it is not signed—has a strong smell of the pot-boiler—an air of fraternization. It is friendly—as we used to say at Washington, we are there on our own terms. He has caught some points and made the most of them." No word from Bucke today. Gave me a letter from Morse: "It's mighty fine but too little about himself—what he is doing there. That's what I want most—personal chat—the concrete Morse who goes about seeing people, doing things. From what I'm able to catch on the fly I find he is better pleased with Chicago than with the Eastern cities—finds vent there for things cribbed here: will probably stay, get contented, it may be, and settle at last. Morse is another wandering Jew. What he says there about the Lincoln I read over to myself two or three times it was so good." I had for him this evening a set of sheets of the big book, now all printed except the general title. Very greatly interested. Handled them affectionately. "Is it all here?" he asked—and turned one signature after another over on his lap. "We are fortunate—we've done a pretty clean job, considering." He pointed to the bastard page of Specimen Days and Collect. "We had a devil of a time over that curious inscription: we couldn't get suited: at last one day I sat down and with a big, coarse, ragged pen, scrawled this." "Where

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did you do that?"
"Whether at the printer's or McKay's or here I don't remember—in town somewhere, I'm certain." Was much in favor of having his advertisement in the book. "It's as much a part of the book as the reading pages."

     Bucke is still, W. says, "harping on the idea that I caught cold that night on the drive to Pea Shore. I don't agree with him but I let every fellow have his day, then have my own opinion anyhow. I always trust my own feelings: they don't delude me." Has decided to have me order a stove to-morrow. I cautioned him again about taking cold. He drew his coat about him, put on a mock shiver, and said: "All right—I'll obey." Liked the size of the big book. "It's about right in bulk: we made a good guess on the paper after all." He had received a tariff circular. Showed it to me. "They warn us: if Cleveland is elected the country will go to hell. To hell it may go then, for all I care. If the country can't stand the truth it should go to hell, the sooner the better. These liars tell their lie so often they think it's the truth. Let them go on believing there's no day of judgment. Woe be! Woe be!" He asked me: "What do you make out of the word 'hogged'? It's not pretty to the ear but it sounds as if it might have sense. The word 'mugwump' don't seem so plausible to me—not so obvious. I think Amelie Rives was the first in my observation to use the word 'hogged': still, it sounds like a street word: she probably borrowed it from the street: the street words are often the best. Mugwump is stupid—means nothing itself: as used, it points its finger at a man who leaves a party—tries to make a shame of the thing—a shame of that which should be, is, a glory. I would like to write something powerful strong about the hugger-muggers who fling the word about in opprobrium." "You might make the old-line editors mad if you did that." "I'd rather make them mad than try to please them: think of trying to please the politics of Charles Emery Smith! I'd have to give up Leaves of Grass first."

     W. again referred to Morse's letter. "It came along like a whiff of the prairies: it did more for me than plasters—more than

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doctors. You will want to take good care of the letter: Morse is so invariably cheerful, so inevitably placid, it wouldn't be bad to have him for a steady diet. He was a refreshing presence to me the months he spent here."


Chicago, Sept. 2, '88.

Dear W —

I was pleased to get your brief word about yourself, even though you report your imprisonment. I am glad you have been able to bring your books so near completion. No one could have done it but yourself with the same satisfaction to your friends. There seems to be a sort of providence in one's life who has the courage to peg away, and to wait when he can't peg. Somehow the pegging gets done at what finally seems to have been the right and opportune moment; and the result abides.

I went yesterday to hear Prof. Swing preach. If you don't know about him Horace will tell you. He said some bright things. One: "Many a promising lad goes through Cambridge and Oxford and on through time into oblivion quoting his Greek and Latin. And many a poor unfriended boy rises up out of the gutter where he was born and climbs into the heights of knowledge and wisdom. Verily, the spirit cares for its own" (or words to that effect). Chicago has better preachers than Boston. There is greater inspiration in their utterances. They seem to be spiritually more awake—alert. Foregleaming, foreseeing! The great vast bulk of a city weighs on the senses like a nightmare, but if one don't care a button for his five senses, he can escape into a great liberation of mind and spirit. "What is your city with its temples and walls? I can tear it all down and build it again in three days," said Jesus. How the old sense-ridden Jew must have glowered and foamed! "Why, it would take a hundred years to build the walls alone." Chicago has been a-building for fifty years only, and what a wonderful spread it has made! I like it, I enjoy it. The boulevards stretching miles and miles, white and clean—yes, as far as the eye can reach—make me stop and look up and down them for a

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long time. I don't care much for the great buildings—from the tops of some of them you can almost touch the moon.


The Lincoln statue is good. The face has a vast deal in it. The figure is Lincolnish. I have seen it now three times and I find a little fault with its eternally standing there before that chair. The chair part is, as the critics would say, "a bold conception," but whether 'tis not an infraction of the old Greek admonition as being "too bold?" I believe on the whole I would not have put it there or anywhere. The modelling is strong but a little too much done. The hair, however, is better than represented in the engraving. On the whole, I know of no other public statue as good. But in the streets here I find some half dozen statues (Scott, Burns and others) done by some unfamed fellow for one hundred dollars each in gray sandstone, that far surpass it. I find myself always stopped by them with a half-defined expectancy that they are going to say something to me. By the way, this stone would be just the thing for your bust.

Well, I should like to see you, that I might at least lay aside this scratchy pen, and say and hear you say. But—. I have no studio yet but am on the look for one, with some encouragement of work. Rent here is way up. Kind remembrances to your faithful housekeeper. With wishes and wishes, truly,

Morse.


     W. said: "If Morse had got a better start in sculpture he'd have been the high jinks in the business: now he only kind of hangs around the edge. He has the capacity—all capacities but one, I might say: he is not quite steady enough at one thing ever to get the best out of it. He writes well—very well—but don't write best: he speaks well—very well—but don't speak best: and so with sculpture—his trade: he models very well—very well—but he just misses modeling best. He gets around about too much as my dear mother used to say—don't root anywhere long enough to grow."


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