Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, November 1, 1888.

     7.45 P. M. W. lying on his bed—clothed. Remained recumbent during the time of my stay, except when here and there, in the course of our animated talk, he half rose on his elbow to give some emphasis to a remark. Complained of weariness. I asked him how he had spent the day. "I am not as bad as I might be—not as good as I wish to be." Last night after I left he took a trip down stairs again, alone. "I went silently, so as not to disturb Mary, but I realized my exhaustion." I asked anxiously: "Why do you do that? Why don't you listen to our warnings? Why don't you warn yourself?" He made no kick. I thought he would. He said: "I'll never again attempt to make the trip alone—never: I promise." He said to Mrs. Davis after this experiment: "I see I 'm far gone, Mary: I'll not be with you long, Mary." He has been down on his bed a great part of the day. "I feel weak—exhausted." He speaks less of a rally than he did. " I 'm down a certain distance and there I'll stay till I slip farther down: I 'm not likely to slip up any more." Yet he cheerfully goes his way. He asked me after our hellos were all over: "Did I tell you about yesterday's caller?"—and on my shaking my head: "Well—I intended to: it escaped me." W. went on tersely: " His name was Aldrich"—spelling it carefully: "He is just back from Europe: as I understand it, on his way home: stopped in here: a likely man: we had quite a talk." Then

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he relapsed a minute—all was quiet over on the bed: "He said he dined with Rossetti—William Rossetti—while he was in England." I asked: "Did Rossetti send you any word like Tennyson?" "Ah! no: Rossetti is not effusive: nor is Tennyson for that matter: but Tennyson knew Herbert was coming over—would see me." He added: "But however that be, Rossetti is my friend: he has always borne me in mind—stayed close: he has always done whatever seemed at the moment necessary to demonstrate his loyalty." Aldrich, as W. had said before, had "dined with Rossetti"—"met there once a Frenchman—I think a writer—who said he had seen in one of the great French periodicals some big piece about me—about Leaves of Grass." I asked: "Who was that?—and who wrote the piece?" W. replying: "I don't know either: I do not remember the name of the man Aldrich met: Aldrich did not remember the name of the piece: but I will hear from Aldrich—he said he had memoranda on the subject which he would look up for me." Here he described Aldrich himself. "He is gray, not large, active—a very likeable man—I suppose what they would call in England a tufthunter"—asking me: "You know what a tufthunter is?" and hardly waiting for my nodded assent before going on: "Though that is not peeping out, so far as I could see—not making itself obtrusive." Then he added: "He is from Iowa—has probably make money: is a man of affairs: I noticed that he had a little touch of local pride: he told me of Des Moines—said they have there what he described as the best of the Western capitols—capitol buildings: in one building a suite of rooms dedicated as a public library in which Aldrich himself is a sort of king-pin."

     I had met Hunter's daughter this evening on the boat and walked up the street with her, she telling me about her father's sickness (he has been in bed for weeks) and alluding to his later visits to W., which, she said, her father feared had worried W. I said to her: "Walt likes your father—I can assure you likes him to come. There are

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times, of course, when he can see nobody, or, seeing people, can do little talking, but when he is in good condition there are few people he would rather see."
W. said very heartily: " I 'm glad you said what you did—mighty glad: glad you said it in that way, as if it came from me." He asked: "So he thought I looked bored? I may have seemed troubled: sometimes that can't be helped: I am not always well—never well in fact: not altogether seeable: but Hunter is always cheery, hearty, interesting: has a story to tell which I want to hear—would not miss—and all that." I read W. Bucke's letter of the thirtieth to me, in which he said on the nurse question: "Still you say nothing definite about Wilkins. Meanwhile W. has written quite a strong letter wanting him sent." W. interrupted me at this point: "Did he say 'strong' letter?"—then: "I don't think that—I don't remember that"—yet confessing that he had written approvingly, much in the temper of his talks on the same subject with me. He no doubt would welcome a change. Yet he does not want to do anything, to say a word, which would seem like wanton criticism of Musgrove. Musgrove is curt, rough, almost surly—creates a bad atmosphere for a sick room. "He has done his best," said W., "but don't quite understand that I 'm a peculiar critter mostly determined to have my own way—not to be unnecessarily interfered with even here, even in my incompetencies." Walt's mild, "I am not disinclined for a change," helps us out of the puzzle. We have not given him any details of the fund which puts the nurse in the house, but he knows of it in general, and in general defers to our notion as to how it should be disposed of.

      W. monologued on politics: started off on his own accord and went on for some time about the situation. "I am troubled by the merely mercenary influences that seem to be let loose in current legislation: the hog let loose: the grabber, the stealer, the arrogant honorable so and so: but I still have my faith—in the end my faith prevails.

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It has been my ambition for America that she should permit, excite, high ideals—enlarged views. Take the West case: what a disgrace we made of ourselves out of it! I should have advised, urged, say nothing—don't break the silence by a breath even. Why should n't we allow even to the British minister or any minister or anybody, the largest liberty of opinion and expression?—why not? Why not? Cleveland lost his head—should not have given West his passports. They call it that—"giving him his passports." It was unworthy of Cleveland—unworthy of all of us—was little instead of big: I hate with my whole soul anything that smacks of truckling to our meaner, baser impulses, as this act surely does. I watch the campaign interestedly, but without passion: it has its meanings for me: but it scarcely sinks very deep or goes very high: as I wrote Dr. Bucke the other day, I 'm in no danger of getting worried or excited over it: I feel llike taking the advice of Epictetus to the youth who was bent upon seeing the Roman games—don't get heated, don't fret over results, accept the facts as they appear: wish but this—that the fellow who deserves to win will win: something in that strain."
I asked W.: "But suppose neither deserves to win?" He laughed. "There you've got me: abstractly speaking, neither deserves to win: neither Democrats nor Republicans." "But sometimes though neither is good one is not as bad as the other: is that your idea?" "Yes—just that: though I don't get into a boil over it I keep up a devil of a thinking in my corner—my silent thunderings. There are reasons why Cleveland should win—good reasons: then there are reasons the opposite." He shaded his eyes from the light with one hand and lifted himself on his elbow. "Personally I can see no point of view from which it appears desirable to me to elect Harrison. To me the condemnation of Harrison is in his support—in the fact that he is the candidate of all the toploftical conventionalisms of the North—of all that is formal, sectional, schismatic—of all that is commercially iniquitous,

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arrogant, macerating."
He said he was anti-Harrison quite apart from his free-trade antagonism. "That would be enough, but there 's vastly more—vastly more: it is a serious consideration to me—the buffet, the slap in the face, which Harrison's election would be to the South: to me it is abhorrent, deplorable, to find all the States of the North on one side, all the States of the South on the other. I know what our people say about that: it 's their fault, our people say: but that don't say it all—not by a long shot. Why is everybody more interested in boundary lines than in unity?—in sects, parties, classes, hates, passions? What a humbug is our so-called civilization if it can't lead us the way out of the jungle! Why North, South—why even America—alone? I know the problem has its difficulties: it must be many years before we heal that old sore." But he had "lived in the South," had "known the meanness of the Southern people" to the full— "known also their strong points." "I can hardly be accused of abasing my high ideals to the Southern contagion: I was anti-slavery, always: the horror of slavery always had a strong hold on me." Yet he "saw other things, too," and refused to "permit one fact to close all other facts out." "I can never forget or deny that the acts of some of the Southern officials, agents who went into rebellion, were as black, perfidious, forbidding, as any known in history: yet these elements of treachery were exceptional: I regard them as exceptional: after all I am an optimist, I suppose: I agree with Dr. Buck that man is better than he was—is constantly growing better still: but there are passions in man to be fought by man to extinction: in our own campaign, here, in America, this year now, there is on one side a spirit of section which must be met and destroyed: I can never condone it. As for free-trade—it is greatly to be desired, not because it is good for America, but because it is good for the world. For Cleveland personally I have no great admiration, though there are some things in him which I like: but the West

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matter, Cleveland's attitude, his official mock heroic indignation, is not creditable to him—rather a blot on his record: a play made to the Paddy O'Reillys and the McMullins."

     I said: "Our officialism, most of it, is foreign: it is mainly foreign." W. replied: "So it is: you have touched the nerve: but you have to live in Washington for a time, as I did, to fully comprehend the length to which the tradition is carried: I remember at least one occasion in point during my stay: the question was brought up—the question of officialism, clothes, habit: the question whether a minister should wear a sword, gilt buttons—clothes cut so and so—on demand—to conform with social etiquettical dogmatisms. They all declared to me, in Rome it behooved me to do as the Romans did: to make no demurrer—to take my chances with the rule. I objected—took the ground that men should dress as befitted tastes, habits, necessities, no matter for what the occasion: I did not believe in small clothes, and so forth, and so forth, and so forth. You should have seen the imposing air with which I was sat down on—with which I was assured that if one went to court he should accept the court's dictum." But this was not invariable: "Even officals, usually formal enough, sometimes recognized the tyrrany of the code: we know what happened to Buchanan at the English court. Buchanan (was it from Marcy that he got the appointment under Van Buren?) was a simple, quiet man in his manner: went to a reception—was barred out because he was not formally attired: went home without a murmur. The Queen heard of what had transpired—sent a messenger after Buchanan telling him the Queen would be glad to receive him in any habit he himself elected to adopt: but Buchanan received the messenger slippered in a dressing gown—said he would not go back, and so forth—which seems to me to have been an admirably simple and effective rebuke: it enforces my view—has the American I am in it—or what ought to be the American I am. Sanford, in France, went through the same experience, except

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that he was not barred out: the French court more wisely, less stiffly, construed official right and wrong. But there was Franklin, too: he set the teeth of the French court on edge: his wonderful exceptionalness from the ways of other men—the daring liberties he took—allowed to him probably because of his magnificent personal magnetism,"
"that quality least of all to be defined, yet least to be left out of the qualities of men," as I put it and as he endorsed it with accented warmth— "Amen! Amen! to the end of the chapter!" When he said "good night" to me, I said back: "It sounds so much better to say good night than bad night": to which he replied: "Yes—bad nights don't seem so good as good nights! We 'll only wish bad nights to them who hate!"


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