Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, September 30th, 1888.

     Morning, 11.15. W. just done breakfast. Had slept later than usual—to 11 from 9.30 last night, nurse said. W. said: "It was only half-sleep, however, all night." Sat in the chair. Hair rather in disorder. Pale. Eyes languid and weary. Talked clearly but as if with strain. Said instantly to me: "Sit down: sit down on the sofa over there"—then asked: "It is a good deal colder this morning?"—feeding a few bits of wood to the fire at the same moment. Ate some toast. Musgrove came in and handed W. the Press. He said: "I have eaten little: there was little to stimulate me to eat." I said: "I'm afraid the Press won't do much towards stimulating you: it's full of tariff this morning." W. returned: "I supposed so: I saw Blaine was to speak"—adding: "The Press is of all the papers I know the meanest, most malignant, most lying—a searcher after hidden blackness, a suspicioner of motives, a pecker at the foibles of humanity: a sort of journalistic imp of Beelzebub." I laughed. "My—your sleep must have been a soothing one!" He laughed with me. "Well, Horace—that was maybe going it pretty strong even on the very nasty Press, but it does make me mad as a hornet every time I look at it." Then I asked: "Hasn't it stimulated you after all? It has brought the red back into your face!" He nodded: "That's certainly a cheerful way to look at it, Horace: I may after all have something to thank even the Press for."


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     He handed me the Millet piece I left last evening. "I have read it all through—read it last night. It was the first chance I had to get a connected consecutive recital of the facts of Millet's personal history. I know his pictures—a dozen of them, the originals: maybe more, maybe less: but owed all the rest of my knowledge of Millet to fugitive items in the newspapers and magazines—here and there—over ten or a score of years. Millet seems to have lived a sad sort of life—sad, but never meanly sad: on the contrary, a heroic, beautiful, life. The thing that first and always interested me in Millet's pictures was the untold something behind all that was depicted—an essence, a suggestion, an indirection, leading off into the immortal mysteries." I said: "I have often explained my adhesion to you in almost the same words." "Is it so? Well for me if you are right and if it is so. I take it as the glory, not the shame, of the best work—its essential crown, confirmation." "Do you not feel as if you had somehow dipped in the same spiritual stream?" "Yes I do: I have no doubt of the resemblance." I added: "As I read that sketch it seemed as though a thread of your own life ran clean through it from end to end." "That," said W., "would no doubt be more easily obvious to you than to me—to anyone looking at it from the other side of my ribs." Quoted something from Schiller about the backgrounds of art—I did not catch it. Then added as to Millet: "He had an abiding remembrance of his origin—parents: father, mother, grandmother."

     He said of Morse's Hicks: "I consider it a powerful piece of work: no one is better qualified than I am to say so." Monologued at some length about Bucke. He thought B.'s Whitman "rather too eulogistic," adding: "Even I shrink from that. So when I hear that somebody takes exception to it I rather sympathize with the exception. Yet it is not to be forgotten that there were circumstances attending the production of the book which explained its extreme laudation. It was written to stem the tide—to stop the inflow: a sort of damn-you-take-that retort and impetus: effective, too, unquestionably, for its purpose and time." He explained Bucke's growth towards him as being

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"made by perfectly easy and almost measured graduation." "He was much given to Oriental studies—mysticality: dived into them deep, oh so deep!—and coming along fresh from that, falling upon me, upon Walt Whitman—the things he had been dreaming about embodied right here in this modern world and in an American—it was a revelation of convincing significance. Then there is a curious likeness between us—between all of us, for the matter of that—all our crowd, who, most all of us, came to our religion, our peculiar faith in America, by a common way. Doctor's is before all a religious nature, yet is enough concrete, too, to be safe against monasticism. I have been reading Miss Pardoe's book. The Louis XIV men and women, when they got tired of things, when life palled on them, went, the women into the nunneries the men into monasteries. Bucke, any man like him, I, you would find another avenue of escape. Concrete? That he is, too: serious, deep, fervent, steadfast: he enjoys dinners, travels, sights—but that is not all (indeed is only the surface of all): after that there's an undertone—more than an undertone—oh! so sacred—the explicating note." He thinks Bucke "has a healthy way of looking at the universe." "He is impatient of disbelief—the disbelief in ends: in that, too, we find that he comes close to us—again explains why he has joined our clan. He looks at life not from the standpoint of an hour, a day, a month, even a year, but as the creative power itself—over ages, cycles of ages—perceives then that everything is self-explained, self-justified."

     W. went on in this way for some time. There came up the question of Bucke's affection for Ingersoll: "I am aware of it," said W.: "I know he looks on Ingersoll as religious—religious in some larger sense than common, It may be that he puts more stress upon Ingersoll than I would—perhaps he does: though I, too, like Ingersoll, value him, see he is a right word put in. But allowing for all that can rightly be said commendatory of Ingersoll I still persist in saying that there's more to be said than Ingersoll says—more, far more." I asked: "But wouldn't you say that of any man: can any one person state the whole case for

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the universe?"
W. returned: "You are right—you call me to order: it's well not to forget a point so good—an item so conclusive in my philosophy." He spoke of the picture struck upon yesterday for frontispiece and alluded to last night. "It was made seven or eight years ago—made by Spieler. I think I am the only one who likes it—all of them object. Even Sidney was not warm over it at all. But my own eye selected this from a number taken—I grew to like it and in the end to order copies struck off for my own use. Here they have lain ever since." This talk over the picture led to Spieler himself. W. never forgets the artist in his art. "Spieler has the fine German make-up: I like it much: large body—not heavy—black hair, good eyes, frank. And Spieler's son was very kind to me—considerate—I liked the boy, too." Spieler made the photo used in the Centennial Edition. "Very few liked it, but it has virtues." Thought S. a good workman— "I favored the man, approved his methods." Spoke of flesh-tones, in photos and paintings. "I can forgive the bad tones of a photo—in a painting they are inexcusable. If Eakins' picture, as somebody has said, has such defects of tone then it is my business to reconsider my notion in its favor." I received this letter from O'Connor yesterday:


Washington, D.C.,
Sept. 28, '88.

Dear friend:

I got yours of the 26th, yesterday, but was so ill I had to go home, and could not answer. Today I am a little better, but can only dimly see with one eye, the other being closed with nervous exhaustion, so must be brief.

Before I can fully reply anyhow, I want you to tell me (of course in confidence) whether John Burroughs said anything in objection to my speaking at Walt's funeral. I do not ask you in any unkindness to John, not out of curiosity, but only because the answer will enable me to understand the matter more clearly than I can now tell you.

Also tell me as fully as you can what he said about Stedman and

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Gilder in connection, as you say, with people, "coming over or about to come over," to Walt's cause. This, also, may have a significance only discernible to me at present.


Excuse brevity. I feel today in my generally purblind and bunged-up condition very much like a combination of Cyclops and the man who fought in the Kickapoo campaign.

Yours faithfully,

W. D. O'Connor.


     8 P.M. W. not improved—looked ill—said headache continued. I had taken a run out to Boozer, at Primos: a walk with the children in the woods. W. asked me about it—was pleased: "Nothing could be finer than vigorous walks—even on a cold day in winter." Has finally decided instead of frontispiece to use head for the title-page itself, putting lettering above and below. Questioned me also: would it be advisable to include heads of his father and mother in big book? He thought it was about time, anyhow, for him "to gather his equipment together." He had "cuts here and there and everywhere"—and when he wanted them they were never available. "Now we are waiting for Linton, who is away off in England somewhere, our letter having to be forwarded." "I consider with regard to all these portraits that the end to be gained is to have my own view gratified, not that of the purist or artist." He "had no idea where the 1854 and butterfly plates were deposited." Asked that I look them up through McKay. I saw the parade (Republican) in Philadelphia last night. He was very inquisitive. What was my impression of it? "You like to see all that's going on? So did I, once: so do I still: if I could get about now I would probably join you in many such excursions." Was reading the Bible to-night. W. talked but slightly except as concerning the book. When W. strikes the well days, he sometimes says: "There's plenty of time—let us go along leisurely." But when he strikes the sick days he says: "Hasten things: push them through—we have no time to lose." Took with me when I left Spieler portrait for reproduction.


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