Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, November 3, 1888.

     8.15 P. M. W. sitting at the table, his head resting on his hand, his elbow on the arm of the chair. He looked around, hearing me—turned the light up instantly. "Ah!" he exclaimed: "Horace!"—then: "And how are you this day? how goes it with you?" We at once got to talking busily. I stayed a full hour. W. bright, cheery, if not confident, if not vigorous. I handed him a printed copy of the title page. He regarded it with pleased eyes. "I can say it fully meets my expectations: yes, more—that it exceeds the most I could have hoped for." I said: "I like it because there 's no business intimation on it—no publisher's imprint." "Ah!" he said, "you regard that as a sort of esthetic dash?" "Esthetic?" I asked: "what have you to do with estheticism?" He laughed. "Why not? I 'm afraid I would not at all times be out of danger of that—appealing to an art impression, of reaching towards the simply tasteful or beautiful." After a pause: "I of course mean that in the exceptional sense—as an incident, not the main thing."

     I described to W. my hunt most of my spare time to-day for the steel plate. I found that Adams had it after all—pushed away somewhere in his shop. W. asked: "What do you suppose Blauvelt intends doing with the steel plate? Is he to illustrate Stedman's book?" I am to inquire and to send the plate on Monday. W. wanted to know what was my "real opinion of the plate," saying then: "William O'Connor fancies it because of its portrayal of the proletarian—the carpenter, builder, mason, mechanic: but I do not share his view: I take real pleasure in it for its execution as a specimen piece of rare engraving: then I like it because it is natural, honest, easy: as spontaneous as you are, as I am, this instant, as we talk together." He gave

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me a copy of the Gutekunst phototype, endorsing it with blue pencil: "Walt Whitman: Nov: 3, 1888." He asked: "Do you think it glum? severe? I have had that suspicion but most people won't hear to it. I called Mary's attention to it once: she is cute, knows me: but she said what you say, that I am wrong: and I hope your view is correct: I don't want to figure anywhere as misanthropic, sour, doubtful: as a discourager—as a putter-out of lights." He referred to Stetson's letter. "It was a noteworthy suggestion—he has the true feel of the genuine painter: I feel its essential verity. I shall send it on to Doctor to remind him that it must go back to William."

     W. reached forward to the chair near him and picked off it a copy of The Pall Mall Gazette of the eighteenth of last month. "William Summers has gone home and written a piece. It is good—pretty good: nothing to brag of, but passable. I read it wondering how it came about that I said so much as he quotes. It is not inaccurate: there is a slip now and then: two or three places where I'd like to make changes: but the story at large sticks pretty decently to the facts. You know, I spoke of Summers when he was here—rather favored him. Did I show you Mary Costelloe's letter about him?" "No." "Well, she said he was a man of parts—that he would be a man of far greater prominence if he was not the most inordinately lazy man that ever was born: something like that. Fortunately he 's rich. As for being lazy, I 'm some punkins at that myself, so I guess I readily understand Summers." He pushed the paper into my hand. "I want you to take it along: when you bring it back I'll give it another look and forward it to Bucke." He seemed a bit grave about Wilkins. "He will be here Monday: but will he do? Well—we are to see: if he does as well as Mr. Musgrove I shall be satisfied: if he does better—" Here he broke off.

     W. had been turning over old papers to-day: manuscripts and clippings and portraits were wildly strewn across the table and floor. He had asked Mary to bring him up a

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bunch of stuff from down stairs. "I must do something: it 's slow death to sit here with my hands folded: so I am cleaning house, so to speak—looking into old scribbled pieces—throwing a lot of débris away." He got up for something: I walked about with him, he leaning on my shoulder. "The assistance is very welcome, Horace: yet if one allows it, invites it, gives in to it, he comes to need it. I must be on my guard: I must take care not to grow helpless before my time." Warren has been suffering with an abscessed ankle. W. said of it: " He 's knocked up worse than I am now: but then he 's young— he 'll recover: I 'm old—I'll not recover." I met Harrison Morris to-day. He said: "I hope Walt will do me the justice to believe that when I proposed to go over to Camden to see him I had no idea he was so ill." W. now replied: "I do do him that justice: I have never done anything else from the start: tell him that: I am sure I understand: but he knows that I am sick—that conversation wears me out—that I often have to dodge it—that I sit here in a mental physical condition which demands isolation of me. I realize his feeling: tell him so: tell him this."

     W. suddenly spoke out briskly as if he had almost forgotten to say something he wanted to speak of. "Now I am in the way of it, Horace, I want to let you know that I took up the Conway book again to-day—sort of fell across it, got interested in it and I read on for fifty pages or more. I mean the Carlyle—Conway's. By the merest accident I struck upon a reference to myself. Conway had had some talk with Carlyle—some talk about democracy: some point arose: he tried to set Carlyle right by quoting me: Carlyle stopping him instantly: 'No—no—don't quote that man! he 's the fellow who thinks he must be a big man because he lives in a big country.'" W. was highly amused. Exploded in quiet chuckles. "It may be I put it a little strong but that 's the gist of it: it consorts mighty well with Carlyle—with the Carlyle we otherwise hear of—his humor, his judgment, as it has been told of so often by so

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many people."
He wanted to know this: "Did you ever remark the strong likeness between Goethe and Hicks? Goethe lived in a little slip of a place—a little town interested in small wares—given up to petty, trivial gossipings: yet he glorified himself, glorified the place, by his tremendous vital grasp of eternal principles—by the infinite reach of his faculty—his illimitable intuitions. Goethe would say, Hicks would say: ' It 's not the land a man lives in but the sould he has that makes him big or little, useful or useless.' Oh! there 's a great heap in that: I could not question it: I know it could be argued for, forcibly argued for—perhaps proved: yet I find myself always coming back to my own point of view." "Which is what?" "Oh! have n't I spoken of it often, vehemently enough? of the common man and the common ways? that they too must be included and made much of?" Back then to Conway. "After all," he presently argued: "I was too quick to condemn the Conway books: I pushed them aside the other day just as if they contained no message for me." "I noticed you did: I thought of taking them home again." He placed his hand on mine and looked into my face affectionately. "I noticed that you noticed: but you did n't take them: I am glad now that you did n't. There 's considerably more to the Conway stuff than I supposed: Conway has greatly improved in recent years. Take those last years—the last days—in the Carlyle book: they are better told of there than anywhere else by any other writer. Yet I can't help feeling still a little suspicion of Conway's lack of historic veracity: he romances: he has romanced about me: William says lied: but romanced will do. I don't feel sore or ugly about it: it only makes me watchful. There 's Tom, now: why, he puts Conway way up—in the seventh heaven: they even say he is quite an orator, as maybe he is. He has done too much hack work— that 's the trouble: it damns any man: the fellows allow themselves to need too much money—then they sell out to get it: Conway did more or less: he had the story teller's faculty of

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forcing things. Personally, he has mostly been my friend: and one thing—Conway has always stood for free things—free thought: I can't forget that—don't want to: that atones for much."

     Something or other induced me to mention John Boyle O'Reilly. This started W. right off. He is immensely approbrative of O'Reilly always. "Boyle's charm came out of his tremendous fiery personality: he had lived through tremendous experiences which were always appearing somehow reflected in his speech and in his dress and in his attitude of body and mind. I had wonderful talks with him there in Boston when I was doing the Leaves: he came every day. Oh! he is not the typical Irishman: rather, Spanish: poetic, ardent." Then reflectively: "You know his life in outline: he has given me glimpses into it: short, sharp, pathetic look-ins." He stopped a minute. "They were like this: it was in his prison days: the prisoners suffered from bad food or too little food or something: O'Reilly is deputed to present a complaint: he does it: the overseer does not answer—pays no attention whatever: raises his hand, this way"—indicates it— "hits Boyle—slaps him in the mouth—violently—staggers him or knocks him over." Walt had raised his voice. His eyes flashed. "Think of it, Horace!—think of it! what must that have meant to O'Reilly: he was a mere boy, I should say: scarcely twenty or not more: noble, manly, confiding: think of it: try to comprehend it: what it must have aroused and entailed." W. dropped back into his chair: closed his eyes. "It is horrible! horrible!" I did n't intervene. W. after a bit talked on: "O'Reilly has had a memorable life: this is but a sample item: he is full of similar dramatic retrospections: who can fail to be aroused when a man meets you that way stepping right out of a background of vital experience? Here is Kennan, too. I have read him: at first, specifically, deliberately: then with pain: with added grief, more emotion, almost a nightmarish dread: till the horror of it drove me off. I swore I would

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never listen to such stories, read them, again: then something else appears—new material: somebody's confessions—the tales of travellers, investigators: I take it all up once more—can't drop it: the strange, beautiful, haunting emotional appeal dissipating all objections. I swore off Kennan once, twice, many times: now I swear him on again."

     We discussed Kennan. I had seen him at the Contemporary meeting. W. asked me many questions re his appearance. "Yes, it must be all there in his face if you can look deep enough: the fierce unforgivable Siberia of his stories." He digressed: " It 's interesting, very—interesting to think of the irrepressible journalist defying danger, penetrating into remote places: coming face to face with alien distant fact: the new fighter on the new plane—the indefatigable gatherer of historic treasure: the surprising paperman: impertinent but pertinent: shameless, often glorious." I said: "Walt, you got the reporter business about right: it 's both divine and devilish: we both know it, don't we?" He seemed to enjoy the idea: "Yes— we 've tasted the fruit of the tree—some of it rotten as hell, some of it sweet as heaven!" Then we got off on another tack. "I was going to say something of things I knew in war time. I have in mind one particular fellow—a North Carolinian—keeper of North Shore light there: a magnificent fellow: not conventionally pretty, but handsome, strong, manly, developed—recognizably so to anyone who knows how the rock, the tree, the stream, has its own beauty. This man had been away to see his wife: was arrested on his return—asked to enter the Southern service. 'How can I? I have given my oath to the Union.' He was impressed, imprisoned—kept so for years—in some hole like Libby or Andersonville. This man in the later years of the War came to Washington: he had been released: came up: I met him: we became friends—saw much of each other: I got to know his whole sad history."

     W. recurred to O'Reilly: "Put these things together:

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think of such men: the best sort of men: the plain elect: all their young hopes of life scattered—the blessed joys of camaradarie all crushed out: power, brutality, everywhere to annul, to destroy: everything crushed out of a man but his resentments, the unutterable memories of barbarisms, the heart's uncompromising revolt."
W. had this furthur to say about O'Reilly: "His late years have not been as free as the years of his youth—as noble: he is in some respects too much like Cleveland—too much interested in the Irish vote." This political swing led the talk to the campaign. "I don't enthuse: I have my hopes: some, not many—a few (just a few): but after all the fight is between two parties neither one of which has any real faith. I can't help thinking of the Sackville West affair: it disgusts me: I hate anything which looks like a surrender to debased appetites: for instance, now, to-day—the haste of politicians all around to pander to the Irish vote: it is contemptible—all such hypcrisies are contemptible—to the last degree." I repeated to W. what I said to Brinton to-day: "An average Pennsylvanian has no god but the tariff." Brinton had replied: "That is so: yet anybody should see that there is no problem more difficult to decide one way than the tariff." W. said: "The whole tariff business is too damned little to give much time to: it 's only on the surface: the real troubles are profounder: but our time will come: we will keep on with the stir: our time will come: I say to the radicals—the impatient young fellows: wait, don't be in too great a hurry: your day is near: in the meantime hold your own ground—defend what you have already won—look, listen, for the summons: it will come, sure: it can't come too soon." Gave W. a copy of to-day's Star containing some Carlyle matter. "Yes, leave it with me: I 'm sure it 's a thing I should look into: Carlyle is always grist to my mill, no matter what form he comes in or where he comes from." I asked W. if he had any directions to give me about a cover for the book. "Not yet: I must turn the matter

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over: I don't think I want much to do with it. I'll try to get myself so I can tell you what I don't want: then you can proceed on your own account."
He picked up the title page and held it in his hand as he said: "John should like this—number two: John Burroughs: it shows the ear: John has very strong notions—physiological, spiritual even—about the importance, the significance, of the ear."


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