Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, October 6th, 1888.

     W. read some but wrote more today. Bucke is exuberant over Osler's report. W. shakes his head: "Go slow, Doctor Bucke—go slow! As I said before, the fellow who wears the shoe knows best whether it pinches or not. Osler's cheer, instituted of malice prepense, has a place, is not to be sneezed away: but I, too, know when the wind blows north. For some time I have succeeded in maintaining myself on a low level of comfort: now the enemy is at work again: I feel myself going down hill." Mrs Davis wants to get the room cleaned. Would he retire to the parlor some day while this was being done? "Yes—down stairs—but not to the parlor: to the kitchen."

     Forman's note came up again. "So you did not get that letter from George Eliot?" "No, not a word—not a word. I am sure George Eliot had an affinity for me—some impulse in her own nature towards me. Mrs. Gilchrist more than once spoke to me about it: she knew Mathilde Blind and knew from her many things about George Eliot. Then I am sure George Eliot was tampered with: her instincts, her large vision, her

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rich nature all through, rebelled against, appealed from, restriction. But she lived in the midst of crowding conventions, in relations with those who at the end tried to explain away any preference she may have shown for me. She once adopted a motto from the Leaves and more than one of her friends have made some show as if to apologize for it. I do not think Forman's quotation of Lewes' flippant jest ended the matter for Lewes. There was more to Lewes than that: that was only one of his many sides."
I asked: "Do you consider the Forman incident conclusive?" He answered "I do: it serves to confirm numerous things that have gone before." I asked again: "You stand by your statement made to me yesterday about George Eliot?" "Yes—every word of it: I have said nothing today to contradict it." Then added: "I started to say to Bucke (I wrote him today) that I would enclose that letter and then happened to think you had it. Will you send it on to him?" Characterized Forman again as "a man of considerable power without any considerable individuality."

     I mentioned O'Connor in some connection. W. said: "I had a letter from him yesterday: didn't I tell you? I meant to. I sent it on to John Burroughs today and advised him to pass it on to Bucke." How is O'Connor? "In a pretty bad way just now, I should judge: down with almost total blindness." What was the cause of O'Connor's trouble? "I know of none—in particular. When we were together in Washington he was one of the lithest men you ever saw—like Dave McKay, a little, in build, in physical grit. You don't know probably—I have never told you, I may tell you now—we regard it as a sort of secret: do not speak of it—never at least on the outside: Bucke says O'Connor has locomotor ataxia—that is his opinion, his theory, after much thinking over it. You would not guess such a thing from William's appearance. You have seen the picture down stairs: he is magnificent, he is strong: Horace, he is even beautiful: that is correct—beautiful is not the wrong word. Well, for he is all that in life and more too. There seems to be no cure for his trouble, though its victims enjoy long immunities from any

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active experience of its symptoms: its fatal results may be delayed."
Had Bucke ever spoken freely to O'C. on the subject? "No—not a word of it: if he had been asked he would have done so. O'Connor has stopped with Bucke up there in London but said nothing on this line—asked no questions: so there was silence on both sides. Bucke probes things to the bottom: always wants to face the last possibility—is an austere investigator who is not to be fooled and does not want to fool himself. I am not sure that Bucke has got to the end of matters—not sure that there's not more to be known: I don't absolutely adopt his theory—in fact, any man's theories, even my own. I always leave a loop-hole of escape—a way open for retreat or advance. Now, all this is only for us to know with each other: it must not go beyond us." Then talked generally of O'Connor: "He is one of the rarest, richest combinations of intellect and feeling: I doubt if there ever lived a man more superbly endowed: intellect and feeling—with feeling, perhaps, and rightly, somewhat predominant. O'Connor is hot with the world-fire and is full of magnificent possibilities, potential achievement. I know of no one—have never met any man or woman, not a single person—in whom there was such a vigor, such a depth and fervent innate power, and at the same time such an exquisite sense of literary and art form. Yet O'Connor, too, hot, impassioned, is in addition to that, like some of the famous jurists—Matthew Hale was one of them—gifted with the power to spread aside the obstructions to truth and go straight to his point. O'Connor is a man to tie to, to set store by, to reckon upon. Nothing can escape him—nothing evade him: he has an eye that sees clean through things." "Yes," he added, "an almighty, always prescient, eye."

     McKay said to me today, again: "This is a hell of a book for shape," &c. Complains of flexible cover that although it might please the Whitmanites, probably would please them, it would have no public or popular attraction. McK. had seen Oldach about this. O. had stopped binding after the first hundred copies. McKay ordered a copy done up his way—stamping

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changed, gilt top added, edges clipped, stiff cover—to be submitted to W. for approval. Said Lippincott, Porter and Coates and others had "laughed the book out of face." All of which—in further detail—I gave to W.—who listened intently. While McK. had been laying all this out to me I had asked: "Then if W.W. insists on the present form you won't take the edition at forty-three cents?" But he wouldn't say that. I knew he looked for a sale—wanted to handle it—in fact, he finally said so. He might insist, however, upon removing his name from the title page. W. remarked: "I see: Dave was determined to see it wrong: started out for that. Still, we're not dead set for that cover: if he can give us another that is better, why, we may take it. I know that's not a cover for the conventional eye, but I think the time has come for authors and publishers to break through the rules that have been laid down for them." I had suggested to McKay what I had previously suggested to W.—stamp the peculiar "November Boughs" of the title page on the cover, and McKay adopted the idea. McKay is to pay himself for all extra expenses over our first arrangements if W. accepts his changes. McKay proposed coming over Tuesday with book and to make settlement with W. on old matters. W. agreeable. "Tell him I will expect him Monday or next day." I had advised McK.: come in forenoon towards twelve or afternoon from half past one to four. W. said: "That is exactly right—that is my time." Prepared today to insure our sheets. Ferguson protests that his vaults are as good as Sherman's, contradicting McKay: says the best evidence of his faith is in the fact that he carries no insurance on them. W. sometimes is testy in trying to make small economies. We quarreled a bit about the cost of the stove. Read him a letter I had from Williamson:


New York, Oct. 6, 1888.

Yours of Oct. 4th. I am sorry that I asked for the manuscript, or at least part, as I was not aware that Mr. Whitman kept it intact, and on no account would have him break it, much as I desire it, but if at any future time he should care to part with

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any manuscripts that he has, and you should know it, let me know the value he would put on them and I may become the happy owner of them. I always feel a little delicate in meeting anyone in a matter of this kind as not knowing what is the owner's desire about keeping them. Give Mr. Whitman my kind regards and hopes for his returning strength.


I remain, yours,

G. M. Williamson.


     W. said: "I would like to humor Williamson but don't see how I can do it. He will have to content his 'happy owner' soul with patience: I can give him no hope. That whole mania for collecting things strikes me as an evidence of disease—sometimes of disease in an acute form: though I know Williamson for an exceptional man in a bad crowd. And indeed, that is what makes a remarkable matter more remarkable—that a man such as we know Williamson to be should care a damn whether he was the happy owner of a manuscript—any manuscript—or not. Well, give him my love: that is real: and if he is satisfied to be the happy owner of my love he owns it—tell him so—and welcome, welcome." I gave McKay an order on Ferguson for the plates of Sands at Seventy, which are to be added to future issues of the Leaves, the plates to be returned by March 1st. No word from Linton yet about the cut. "I wonder why?" he asks. In the meantime he turned another old Linton letter over to me. "You will read it and know what to do with it: whether to keep it for history or throw it away for nonsense. By the way, you'll have to put up some more shelves in your house—won't you?—if we keep on with this thing."


New Haven, Conn.,
July 1, 1885.

My dear Whitman:

I see by the papers that you may be going to England. If you do go, you must see William Bell Scott, the painter and poet, the first (unless Dante Rossetti were earlier) of your English admirers. He will be glad to welcome you.

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And I glad to give you a note of "introduction" when I know you are going. We are old friends and regular correspondents, and I had much delightful time with him in England and Scotland during 1883 and '84, being then across the waters.


You will tell me too if I can be of any other use to you. I may be visiting the dear old land again next year, probably having to look after the bringing out of a book on Wood Engraving.

As I am writing I think of something to send you, which ought to have come to you before. It is a bit of home-production, setting up, printing, binding and all. You'll not value it less for that.

Need I say that I am glad to see a good report of your health and that, however drifted off, as seems too generally our human fate, I am always pleased to think of you. Let me hear from you and believe me always heartily yours

W. J. Linton.


     W. said of the trip to Europe: "I didn't go—thank God! It might have been fatal. I seem to need to end, as I began, on this side of the Atlantic: that being toted around, feted, treated, would have done me no good: it is the sort of thing that of all things I am most averse to. Then there is the book! it has had to be guarded against all counter-inspirations."


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