Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, November 16, 1888.

     8 P. M. W. lying down when I arrived. Nearly asleep. I paused in the doorway. An instant after I heard him say: "Ah! Horace—is that you?" We shook hands, he still recumbent. Had he been unwell? "Oh no! I simply lay down awhile ago to nap it or doze it a bit: now I shall get up: I should get up anyhow"—which he found difficulty in doing, I assisting however, handing him his indispensable cane (which was on the bedcover beside him). He is generally curious about the weather—this evening was unusually so. "Is it clearing? Is the moon up?" It had been mostly a stormy day. He passed slowly over to the chair, leaning the one side on the cane, the other on my arm. "I must have been asleep," he said: "I forgot things: everything had passed away." I think the floor grows worse and worse littered. When he had got nearly to his chair he tripped on some newspaper which caught his foot. He quickly grasped the chair with his right hand and me with his left and steadied himself. It takes a little incident of that sort to show how weak he really is. I suggested that it was about time somebody had set to and cleared things about there. He laughed acquiescently: "That is true enough: Ed is at me every day to let him do it: I must, I must." Sat down. Asked first: "What news to-day? of the book? yours?" I spoke of several minor matters, he commenting little but questioning much. He turned up the light. I looked at him closely at times when he was not regarding me. He seemed wearied: yet spoke of being well—for him. "I have had another of the usual days—a good day: I seem to have got hold of something tangible at last."

     I had a copy of Harper's Bazar with me. He looked it

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over and over, regarding every picture, making some apt criticism. He had something to say even of the fashion plates. "I suppose a great percentage of human effort has to be spent that way." The Bazar contained a picture by Arthur Frost which was called The Old Maid's Thanksgiving Dinner. W. spoke of it as "wonderfully fine and homelike: everything is in the right place: even the chairs are where they ought to be! and Tabby on the floor, and the light coming this way in the windows, across the faces, objects." The engravings he called "technically wonderful—all of them." This particular engraving had what he spoke of as "a Millet flavor." He contemplated it for a long time. He was curious to know what I knew of Frost. Then some talk of "the simple and complex" in art: "being as honest as God made us versus being as crooked as the Devil persuades us to be," as I said: W. assenting with a merry: "Praise be to the highest and mercy be to men for wisdom and courage!" I asked W.: "What were your father's political affiliations?" "My father was always a Democrat—a Democrat of the old school." "Was he anti-slavery?" W. did not answer this with a yes or no, whether because he did not wish to (certainly not that) or had not caught it on the fly, I don't know. He went on to say, however, anent my remark that nearly all Quakers were opposed to slavery: "My father was not, properly speaking, a Quaker: he was a friend, I might almost say a follower, of Elias Hicks: my mother came partly of Quaker stock: all her leanings were that way—her sympathies: her fundamental emotional tendencies." He said further: "In those early days, as I remember, the Democrats feared the Abolition ideas—pestilential ideas, they called them, thought them."

     I proposed bringing over the rest of the books due us from McKay. W. advised: "Yes, bring them: I shall need a few: Tom Donaldson has asked for nine copies: I shall send ten—one for him: I don't know what he wants them for." He spoke of the considerable number he had given

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away. "They make quite a bulk: I gave them to my own people—my dear friends: some of them close, O so close! others, not so near, who have done me a service." I paid Bilstein our printing bill. In at Ferguson's. They promise us plate proofs of three pages to-morrow. Brought over to W. cuts from Bilstein—lettering for Complete Works and electro of the Linton cut. W. said: "I suppose after you finish with Ferguson we will be in a position to declare war." I wrote to-day in various Whitman matters to Bucke, Kennedy, Clifford, Burroughs, Morse.

     W. gave me a letter he had from Bucke. He read me this passage from the letter: "I think I told you that Rolleston had sent me his new volume, Epictetus. Have not looked into it much yet—no time—but how modern some of it is—for instance Chapter XI, Book ii—that will bear studying still." He said: "Look up the Doctor's reference: see how it strikes you." Clifford's youngster Hilda expressed some objection to the picture of W.'s mother in Bucke's book. W. said: "I should n't wonder but the severity is there: the dear children are so wonderfully cute: there is something of that kind in it: it lays itself open to such a reaction: I always knew it was so: was conscious of it from the first: was never completely satisfied with the picture." How this repellent "something" stole in he said was "unaccountable." "Yet," he added, "we know how elusive such things are."

     Garland is President of the Single Tax Society in Boston. There is something from him in The Standard this week. I quoted the Single Tax slogan: "Free trade, free land, free men." W. said: "That is grand!" He has however made no examination of the Single Tax. Knows little about it in detail, concretely. Letter to me from Mrs. Coates: pleasant for us both—for W., for me: about W., of course—about our relations together. W. asked me: "Did you read the huge hospital letter? Did it remind you of anything? My relations with the boys there in Washington had fatherly, motherly, brotherly intimations—

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touched my life on many sides: sympathetically, spiritually, dynamically: took me away from surfaces to roots. I don't seem to be able to review that experience, that period, without extreme emotional stirrings—almost depressions. I 'm glad you have the letters: I want you to keep them: they are out of my way: I can't pick them up any more (as I have done so often and so often when they laid around here): I don't want to wipe out the memory: it is dear, sacred, infinitely so, to me: but I would rather not have it recur too frequently or too vividly: I don't seem to be able to stand it in the present condition of my body."

     W. passed a Conway letter out to me. Said of it: "It is a letter containing evidences: it mentions people, incidents, writings, which have much to do with my uphill struggle: Conway was friendly—he quotes others who were friendly, too. Put the letter among your testimonies: many of these things (you are getting quite a collection of them) will be useful, indispensable, to you by and bye: that is why I am giving them to you now. I don't choose you as a biographer, or anything of that sort—as an authority for this or that: that wouldn't be an honor, it would only be a burden, to you: no, not that: I only in a sense put certain materials in your hands for you to use at discretion. Other things will keep coming up: you will duly receive them: they belong to your records. Tuck the Conway letter away.""


51 Nottinghill Square, London, Sep. 13, '7.

My dear Whitman:

I have been voyaging amid the Hebrides,—strolling amid the Highlands,—loafing by the sea,—trying to extract from two or three weeks' vacation some vigor and virtue for my work, which in these last years is growing heavy. On returning I found your munificence to be as of old. The three volumes and the photographs were most welcome. A third photograph was sent to me by Sharman. (If you see him tell him that his accompanying letter got lost in my absence or it should have been answered.)


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About the same time that I received your volumes I got a letter from Kate Hilliard (a brilliant girl and writer of Brooklyn who was here last year) written from the Adirondacks. She says: "I have made a discovery since I have been here, and that is, that I have never half appreciated Walt Whitman's poetry till now, much as I fancied I enjoyed it. To me he is the only poet fit to be read in the mountains, the only one who can reach and level their lift, to use his own words, to pass and continue beyond. The others seem more or less paltry and insufficient, except Shakespeare, and he seems almost too courtly. But Walt Whitman exactly accords with the ruggedness and tenderness of the mountains, and seems in some way more their fellow. At any rate, he so affects me, and what other thing can we know?" I copy this for you as it is in a way what mountains said about you to the girl.

As you may judge, the criticism in The Westminster Review seemed to me valuable on account of its standpoint and main principles. The Hon. Roden Noel (one of the Lord Byron blood, and author of a pleasing volume of Poems) submitted to me recently a very long and careful review of your work, which begins with a charmingly incisive analysis of The Saturday Review's criticism. The essay of Noel will probably appear in the new Oxonian magazine, The Dark Blue. I shall take care to send it to you.

What is this I hear of your coming over here? Is it to be so?—and if so, when? and for how long? When you arrive—if that good fortune awaits us—you must (letting me know beforehand the ship by which you sail from America) come straight to my house, where you will find a small room but a large welcome. I hear that Tennyson has written to you, and I should be very glad to know what he said.

Let me hear from you as soon as you find it convenient.

Ever your friend,

M. D. Conway.



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