Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 399] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Saturday, September 29th, 1888.

     7.15 P.M. Received from Ferguson today bastard titles S. Days and Nov. Boughs. Oldach promises some bound copies latter on Tuesday. All sheets of complete W. have been shipped to Oldach. Got bill for stove from Spear today: nine twenty five. W. reading Gilchrist's Blake. "I find it always has new charm: it is so simple, so direct, so true: so rich in what are considered the minor but what I consider the significant features of experience." Laid book down. The fire burned cheerily, the room was comfortable (out of doors it was very chilly, a damp wind blowing). His hand was warm, his color a good flush. "Howdy—howdy?" He said he had been going on with

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 400] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
the sheets today. "So far again, no error!" "There are one or two sheets of the book not as well printed as I should like, but all in all it is fine." He had been "cogitating" what portraits to use and where to put them. Had struck upon one for the frontispiece—profile. "What do you think of that? Like it? I thought so!" If finally chosen it will have to be reproduced— "yes," he said, "and by the photo-engraver—like the others." "There should be something," he added, "to differentiate the book—something its own: perhaps this would secure it." We discussed the general title. "I have something new, entirely new: let me show you." Has been asking himself also whether he should insert an advertising page. "If we do it must be peculiarly ours—like that in November Boughs—a part of our history. But we must take each step with exceeding care. This will be my last utterance, my final message: in it, then, I must aim for the utmost excellence compatible with my financial means and physical condition." Was vigorous and clear in all his talk. Gave me a letter from Bucke and called my attention to the last paragraph:

"I am reading Past and Present. Funny, isn't it, to see a man of the nineteenth century who thinks better of the monastico-feudal life of the twelfth century than of the industrial life of today? And by his own showing they must have been a bad lot, those monks and knights. And see Froude's Henry VIII—especially as to the monks!"

     W. said: "Bucke hits square between the eyes. Carlyle often lays himself open to destruction. I seem to have all sorts of feelings about Carlyle, from freezes to thaws and back again." W. sat me down and asked me to read him the O'Connor letter again—the old letter. I still had it in my pocket.


Washington, D.C.
December 30, 1864.

Dear Walt:

I have been constantly hoping to have you here again and now begin to see something more than a glimmer of

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 401] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
fruition. Ashton has spoken (at my instigation) to Mr. Otto the Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior in your behalf, and Mr. Otto says that if you will write a letter of application to the Secretary of the Interior, he will endeavor to put you in.


Now, dear Walt, do this without delay. The object of your writing the letter is to get a specimen of your hand. Pick out, then, a good pen and write as fairly as you can a letter formally applying for a clerkship. Then close a copy of this letter to Ashton, so that he can follow it on to the Secretary. The first letter you will, of course, mail to the Secretary direct. Do this as soon as you can. We shall fetch it this time. I have every confidence that you will get a good and an easy berth, a regular income, &c., leaving you time to attend to the soldiers, to your poems, &c.—in a word, what Archimedes wanted, a place on which to rest the lever.

I shall wait anxiously to hear that you have sent on the letters. Have been thinking of you constantly for months and have been doing everything I could to secure you a foothold here. For a long time deceived (I must think) by Swinton's pretensions to influence and by his profuse promises, I hoped to get you either one of the New York State Agency Assistantships or the place of an Assistant Librarian in the Congressional Library (the latter would be really a sinecure if the right one was got). But who follows Swinton follows a will-o-the-wisp, and though I followed him remorselessly every blessed day for several weeks, and gave him neither rest nor peace, as the saying is, I got nothing except promises. Since I gave him up I have been badgering Ashton, who is a man of another sort, as what he has done shows. The difficulty was to get the right thing. He secured me some little time ago a place in the Post Office for you, but I declined it, because I thought it was not the proper place for you. I think a desk in the Interior would be first-rate.

I told Ashton there was nothing I would not do for him if he would carry this affair to a safe conclusion. He has been very good and anxious in your behalf. He would have

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 402] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
given you a desk in his own office if a vacancy had occurred as expected.


Don't forget to do as I tell you immediately.

I never answered your letter of September 11th, but, dear Walt, I always think of you, though I write so seldom and so badly. You are never forgotten. I read your poems often, I get their meaning more and more, I stand up for them and you. I expound, define, defend, vindicate, justify them and you with all the heart and head I have whenever occasion demands.

I got the Times with your long letter about the Hospital experiences, which I read with a swelling heart and wet eyes. It was very great and touching to me. I think I could mount the tribune for you on that and speak speech which jets fire and drops tears. Only it filled me with infinite regrets that there is not a book from you, embodying these rich and sad experiences. It would be sure of immortality. No history of our times would ever be written without it, if written with that wealth of living details you could crowd into it. Indeed, it would itself be history.

I saw your letter about the prisoners. It was as just as powerful. I have been hearing for a fortnight past that it is the Secretary of War's "policy" which prevents exchange, and if this is true, I pray from my heart of hearts that it never may be forgotten against him. Reddest murder is white to an act like this and its folly is equal to its crime. It would be demonism of another kind indeed than the Southerner's, yet as bad, perhaps worse, because sprung from calculation.

Such things make one sicken of the world.

I write this letter at intervals between the press of office work, which has driven upon me in spasms today, but pretty severely when it did come. Any incoherencies in it, you may refer to the obfusticated state which such hurryings have induced in me.

Farewell, dear Walt. I hope to hear from you very soon. We are all tolerably well at home. Eldridge comes every evening. We often talk of you. On Christmas you were wanted to make the dinner at home perfect. We all spoke of you. On

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 403] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Thanksgiving it was the same. At dinner that day I said "I wish"—and stopped. "What?" said Nelly. "I know," chirped little Jeannie, "he wishes Walt was here." Which was true—that was the unuttered wish.


Let me hear soon.

Your loving

W. D. O'Connor.


     I looked up as I finished. W.'s face was very grave and there were tears in his eyes. I wondered if he would talk more about the letter but he did not seem inclined to and I did not press it. The letter was addressed to W. at Brooklyn. O'Connor used Ashton's frank. Williamson writes a letter proposing to buy manuscripts. W. says: "There's nobody I'd rather sell manuscripts to but I'd rather sell them to nobody." Williamson sent money for a book which he never got. W. says: "It is my habit, nearly always, when I send away a book, to write a postal saying I have done so and asking for an acknowledgment. In most cases I get replies—in this case I did not. Williamson has been a good friend—he has shown his love in the most practical ways: just a while ago he sent me five dollars. Tell him for me that he's a buster: tell him he shall have a set of the sheets untrimmed and welcome—twice welcome, three times welcome. Horace, I've had God's own luck with my friends no matter what my enemies say about me."

     Morse wrote me a long letter, date 27th, describing his present ways and means in the West. W. intensely interested. The instant I told him I had such a letter he put aside everything, looked at me, settled himself in his chair: "read it—read it all, if you can—all you feel like reading: come over to the light."—and as I shifted my chair to his side: "Yes, so: now let us hear what Sidney has to say." As I read W. made his comments. It took half an hour for me to get through. W. extra bright. At one moment he said: "That's not worthy of Sidney"—at another: "How interesting! how pathetic!"—and again: "Good! good! that has the true ring." Morse spoke of his poverty.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 404] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
W. said: "A few dollars between him and the world! Why didn't he say so? Why did he go away? There was enough here to do all he needed done: I would have done it, a part of it: gladly, proudly. Morse should be sustained in good work he is busy with. It is the duty of his friends to see him through. Tom did a lot in that direction when Sidney was here. He has in my presence urged Sidney to take up quarters in his house. But Sidney is proud: artists, poets, men of the finer temperament whatever they do, are all proud—proud after a true fashion, not ignobly proud. But then I admit that an artist should be in his own quarters—where he does not interfere and is not interfered with. My plan was to put up a shanty for Sidney where he could have it all his own way—work, study, write, peg away at whatever and however he pleased. Indeed, I have not abandoned the idea even yet: if he comes East I will set him up." Morse at one point spoke of the "she-devil" loose in the churches—in Blake's, for instance. W. laughed: "I have heard of that creature—what is she?" M. wrote: "Of all W's friends, I know of only Bucke, you and Harned that really believe in the bust." W. exclaimed— "Oh! Sidney! Sidney—my poor fellow!—there you are wrong—wrong! They all like it: all the bright particular fellows: all the folks who squarely realize me. What of Kennedy, who thinks it a 'revelation'? And there's Baxter: and across the ocean, Mrs. Costelloe, who writes of it as a great work—thinks it elemental, I should say from her words." When I came to the concluding passage of the note— "Give my love to Walt: For all his friendship I have sacred room, and for yours"—W. said: "Horace—read it again"—and I did so—and he still said: "I want to hear it once more"—and so I read it a third time. Then there was a little note in the corner: "I'd like to make a bust of W. here all by myself that no eye should see till it was in plaster, and then send it to W. with permission that if he thought it not equal to or better than the others, to have it smashed into smithereens." As before, W. asked me to read this over again. "Ah! Sidney! you should not mistrust me! Yet," turning to me, "I doubt if he will ever do better than with

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 405] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
the heads he did while here."
I said: "That's what I wrote today." W. said: "Bucke says he fluctuates between the two heads—now he likes one, now he likes the other." I said: "I don't—I prefer number two, first and always, as you say. What do you think is the main difference between the two busts?" "The second is a better portrait." "That's my say, too—the better portrait: I never waver from that conclusion." I suggested: "I consider it phenomenal. You can't tell how a great poet writes a great poem—neither can you tell how Morse struck upon that head." W. exclaimed: "That's splendid: true: deep."

     W. asked me: "Do you know Bartlett up there in Boston? Well—it was through Bartlett I came to know Millet—got to him: through him I went out to Shaw's. Bartlett is a man of strong likes and dislikes: very prominent among the dislikes was an awful dislike for poor Sidney. Yet Bartlett never really knew Sidney. Sidney's work in Boston there years ago was very open to criticism, and it's that Bartlett judged him from. Now, however, Morse's whole life, manner, has broadened out. He has demonstrated distinctive powers—a rugged power—crude, too, to be sure—rarely to be found among the artists—and a magnificent abandon—utter abandon!" W. exclaimed, throwing his coat open and opening his arms wide: "and the certain, secure swing that he has caught at last"—gesturing: illustrating: "It all tells of the growth in concentration and finesse of a genius that should be cherished."

     So W. talked the main part of the hour of my stay: evidently deeply moved by Morse's straits—evidently desiring to go on record as his sponsor. Before I left W. asked me about St. Gaudens, of whom Morse had spoken as getting the contract for the fifty thousand dollar Logan statue. Was St. G. American &c? Also expressed great pleasure in M.'s opinion that St. G.'s Lincoln was a commendable piece of work. Donahue, who is to make the Shakespeare, is new to us both. I left with W. a Nineteenth Century sketch of Millet. Said he had read much

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 406] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
about Millet "in scraps"—little "connectedly." W. said: "I've got a little present for you." What was that? "Just this." Handed me a yellow envelope containing some little Washington portraits of Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and Stanton. "They are old, worn, faded, but interesting. They are still in their own original envelope." He also handed me a stereoscopic card arranged with two portraits of himself—J. Gurney and Son, New York. "That picture seems to have been liked—I don't know but I like it myself. William thought it 'a trifle weak', but I don't think it so. I can't always be a roaring lion!"


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.