Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, November 11, 1888.

     7.15 P. M. Remarkably good day for W. Mrs. Davis went into the room this morning while W. was reading. He dropped his paper to his lap and exclaimed: "O Mary! If I could only feel this way always!" Now he said to me: "Yes, indeed—it has been the very best of days—and evenings, too!" He volunteered: "I am going ahead with Cæsar: I don't hurry: I find a mess of stuff new for me there—stuff I should know: I don't read it straight on—am grasping things, events." I made some allusion to the often expressed suspicions of Froude's accuracy. W. did not think Cæsar open to this criticism. "It seems to me this must stand." He found it "a fine narration." Talked about the tariff. W. said: "The Harrisonites put it this way: the tariff is so and so: the man who says, let us cut that down five per cent—he is a free-trader, he is un-American." W. gave me this old O'Connor letter.


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Washington D. C., January 21, 1886.

Dear Walt:

I got yours of the 4th instant, written on the back of Kennedy's, and meant to have written you long before, as well as after, but have been in a wretched condition with the misery in my back, as the colored brother calls it. I don't improve in my back and legs as rapidly as I ought and am nearly as lame and heavy as you are, but keep hoping.

I have waited to hear how you are, especially your eyes, which you don't mention. The state of your eyes worries me more than anything else about you.

Did you see the enclosed, cut from The Nation, from the great Italian fortnightly? The article must be a splendid one, to bear such excerpting by The Nation. We tried to get the magazine through Brentano, but failed. It must make these fellows gnash their teeth to see this growing foreign appreciation. Send the slip back sometime when you are writing.

I got a copy of Kennedy's pamphlet from him, and but for my bad condition would have written to him, which I will do yet. I can't help feeling that he skates on pretty thin ice sometimes, though he says many things that are quite undeniable.

I had a letter from Grace Channing recently in which she says: "By the way, there is in the latest edition of Leaves of Grass a poem—The City Dead-house—which affects me I cannot tell you how powerfully. I never saw it before, and I think Walt has never written anything more divinely beautiful. Often as I have read it, I can't keep the tears out of my eyes."

The Channings are all very happy in their new home at Pasadena, in California. It appears to be a perfect Paradise.

Up to date the New York publishers have uniformly refused to publish my Baconian reply to R. G. White, even at my expense. Reason, Shakespearean hostility to the subject. This is a pretty note! I am now going to try Boston.


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The death of Mrs. Gilchrist deeply stirred me. I was just about to try to write her when I saw the news of her decease.

When you next write tell me how your eyes are. I am really anxious to know. Good-bye.

Faithfully yours,

W. D. O'Connor.


     W. was anxious about William. He said: "That letter seems like the beginning of the end: it shows William with some of his fire gone out: he is still always vigorous, inerrant, inevitable: yet the trouble already active two years ago has gone on increasing, is still going on, God knows to what—I hate to think what." He asked me: "Where have you been to-day?" I had been way off in the country on the other side of the river, walking with Kemper and May. He wanted to know about it. "I walked great walks myself in the Washington days: often with Pete Doyle: Pete was never a scholar: we had no scholar affinities: but he was a big rounded everyday working man full to the brim of the real substance of God." I asked him if he and O'Connor did much walking together. "I took many and many a walk in Washington—I may say thousands of them: but not many with William." Then talked rapidly about William: "At that time, for the first two or three years of the War, O'Connor was warm, earnest, eager, passionate, warrior-like for the anti-slavery idea—immersed, sucked in, in a way that would have offended the deep and wise Emerson. This in some ways served to keep us apart—though not really apart—(superficially apart): I can easily see now that I was a good deal more repelled by that sentiment—by that devotion—in William—(for with him it was the profoundest moral devotion)—than was justified. With these latter-day confirmations of William's balance, of his choice, of his masterly decisions—the fruit of later eventuations—the later succession of events—there has come to me some self-regret—some suspicion that I was extreme,

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at least too lethargic, in my withdrawals from William's magnificent enthusiasm. Years have added lustre to the O'Connor of that day: some things I did not see then I see now. After all I may have been tainted a bit, just a little bit, with the New York feeling with regard to anti-slavery: yet I have been anti-slavery always—was then and am now: and to all and any other slaveries, too, black or white, mental or physical."
He stopped. To start him again I asked: "Then you took very few walks with O'Connor?" "Yes—very few: yet I frequented his house—spent the later two hours or so of the afternoon, and the evening, of every Sunday there: delighted in them: found in them the one compensating joy of my Washington life: and Nelly, the wife—Mrs. O'Connor—she liked me: always made that plain to me: liked me to come. I grew accustomed to being with them: oh! the cheeriness of the talk! I looked forward to Sundays: would rather have missed everything else than these Sundays."

     I asked W. what sort of a looking man O'Connor was at that time. W. then: "He was one of the most graceful of men: agile, easy: yet also virile, vigorous, enough. William came along the street this way"—indicating by a wave motion of his right hand: "I can liken it to nothing but the movements of a beautiful deer—a fawn: his body swung along with such strength, his step was so light, his bearing was so superbly free and defiant." When Burroughs was here he described W. in almost the same terms. W. negatived that. "No—no: that might apply to O'Connor—it does not apply to me." Then: "O'Connor was essentially, before all else, mobile by nature, inside and out." "As graceful as his sentences?" I inquired. "Certainly—more so—as nature is than art." W. went on: "In those early years of the War, settling in Washington, I endeavored to make my living by writing for the newspapers. You know Charles Eldridge: he is now in southern California, Los Angeles: it was to him I was indebted at that time for consistent kindness." And after a pause: "There was Major

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Hapgood, too: have I ever told you about him? Hapgood was very decent with me: Hapgood was Paymaster: Eldridge was his clerk. The Major had a room about the size of this: here was one desk, there was a second desk, for Charles: and over in the corner, like that"
—pointing towards the door— "there was a little desk he put up for me—for my use, my private use: it was near a window." then he explained about Eldridge: "Charles came to Washington from Boston: he was one of my publishers there—Thayer and Eldridge: they got into trouble when the War broke out: the loss of their Southern credits ruined them: a fellow named Wentworth got hold of the bulk of the stock of the business: they went through the usual bankruptcy process—saved nothing. Charles was a good accountant, bookkeeper, clerk generally: so, with a little influence, he readily got a berth at Washington." W. said: "It was at that little desk in Hapgood's office that I did most of the writing of that period. I wrote letters: some for the New York Times, some for The Tribune, some for a Brooklyn paper: these letters met with a certain show of acceptance: I made a fair living by it and was satisfied. On one occasion, Raymond was particularly tickled by one of the letters—something in its style—and sent me an extra check for fifty dollars." Had he copies of these letters? "No: pieces of some of them have been put into my prose book: others are completely lost: some day, if they turn up, you shall have them: they'll turn up: I always find that things turn up if I don't look for them."

     I asked W.: "Did I understand you to say that O'Connor and Emerson had met?" W. answered: "No—I think they never met." I remarked again: "Your own position in that anti-slavery matter was almost exactly like Emerson's." W. asked: "Do you think so?" Then: "It was curious, O'Connor, hot as he was, never accused Emerson: he had real reverence for Emerson: respected him above, below, all others: I never once heard him complain of Emerson: but he would go for me—go for me in the fiercest way—

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denounce me—appear to regard me as being negligent, as shrinking a duty."
Under what circumstances had he first met William? "It was in Boston, while I was going over the proofs of the 1860-61 edition of the Leaves." "Did you take to him from the first?" "Yes, without a suspicion of uncertainty: he was so bright, magnetic, vital, elemental: I think the thing was mutual—was instant on both sides." Had William taken up L. of G. at the beginning? "Yes—enthusiastically: even back to the first edition." W. stopped. I was silent. Then he said: "It would be hard to make William's manifold magnetisms understood simply by descriptions in words: have you seen, known, Boyle O'Reilly? O'Connor is much the O'Reilly sort of a man—much apt like Boyle to hit you at once." I said: "Don't you think it significant that William recognized Leaves of Grass at the start?" He answered: "I do: I never miss that point." Then I added: " It 's easy for a man to say yes when everybody says yes, but when everybody says no and damn you for your heresy it takes quite a man to stick to his guns." "Yes, yes, my boy," W. exclaimed, earnestly: " You 're right: William was always a first-hander, never an echoer."

     We talked of Lincoln: "What was your first impression of Lincoln?" W.: "I did not enthuse at the beginning, but I made up what I may call a prophetic judgment from things I heard of him: facts, stories, lights, that came in my way. Lincoln's composure was marvelous: he was self-contained—had a thorough-going grip on himself. For two or three years he was generally regarded darkly, scornfully, suspiciously, in Washington, through the North. Now, O'Connor took to Lincoln unhesitatingly, at the first glance—never wavered: was warmly, even hotly, favorable, right along. There was Gurowski, too: have you heard me speak of Gurowski—Count Gurowski, the Russian refugee. He came to Washington: some of us grew to realize his great keenness, his splendid intellect. I think Gurowski liked O'Connor on sight—liked me, too, I believe—had the

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good sense to, as we used to say."
He called Gurowski "brilliant." "He measured Lincoln at the first look: said yes, yes, yes, from first to last: oh! but he was a busy man: he went about everywhere: in offices, among newspaper men: he was truly a remarkable, almost phenomenal, man: he had lost one eye—sometimes it was covered with a green blinder: the eyelid was fallen loose: it was something like this"—indicating— "his other eye was extraordinary: gay, shining, luminous, animated." Had he means? What did he live on? "He had a daughter—a Russian or Spanish princess—who sent him money." He spoke of Gurowski's "sharp wit," of their frequent meetings—then of Gurowski's death. "There is a curious story about his death: it occurred while I was there. When he was taken sick a family who knew him—Eames by name—Judge Eames, we called him (a lawyer)—took him in, got him a nurse: he died in their home. O'Connor was told by Gurowski's doctor later that one day the Count asked if there was any hope: that he was told that from the symptoms it could hardly be said that there was: Gurowski thereupon replying, brightly: 'Well, a brave man must not be afraid to die'—turning over on the pillow and lapsing into silence. That sounds authentic: it was just like the Count: if I had been asked what he would do under such conditions I should have said he would do what the Doctor told William he did do."

     Something my sister Agnes said to me concerning Ray Walton's interest in Walt's magazine war memoranda led W. to say: "Ah! I wrote my mother voluminously from the War: ah! those letters! my dear, dear mother! She was in Brooklyn, alone: I wrote every day or so: sometimes in a general way: frequently all sorts of personal quips, bits, oddities, interspersed—family jottings: no letter in the whole lot absolutely clear of them." He spoke more generally of women: "I don't think our Northern women have ever been given sufficient credit: we have heard of the women of the South—of their fortitude, patriotism: we have heard

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them cheered, lauded, to the echo: which is all right, too: but the women up here who stayed at home, watched, worked, worried—who prayed for our soldiers, armies: their self-control, their sacrifice, has never been recognized for what it is and means."
Just before I left I said to W. (it came into my head without warning): "You have n't yet told me your great secret or even alluded to it lately." He at once grew very serious. Looked at me gravely. "No, I have n't, but I will: you must know it: some day the right day will come—then we 'll have a big pow-wow about it." As I left he took hold of my hand extra hard. "Good night!" he said: "Some day—the right day."


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