Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, November 30, 1888.

     6.30 P. M. W. lying on bed. Ed entered with me lighting gas. Ed said that W. "spent a day in much the same condition as last night." W. admitted that he was better: "but I am still weak—still far gone." Had eaten, however, and was manifestly stronger. Voice, manner, willingness to talk—all testified to it. He stayed on the bed for some time after I arrived, talking binder and all that. Could n't get stitched sample to-day. Oldach rather testy about it. W. disappointed but calm. Oldach spoke of the stitching of books—the style of two centuries ago— "the old-time style"—and that of the present. "But nobody wants the old style now." W. said: "Let us be the exception: let us be the odd fellow: let us get the old stitch." Then added: "Binding illustrates all life. Show a man a house—one that may be plain but in and out everything that is honest, durable: he shakes his head: is there not something more? So you show him a reverse case—show, ornament, external bother: he at once applauds!" But ours was another path. "While we, too, aim for healthy, utilitarian considerations not to be disregarded." When he feels physically shaky he gets urgent about the work. Does so to-day.

     Discovered the little Shakespeare piece—cipher piece—left out of Sands at Seventy. "I don't know how it was I

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missed it: it has only turned up again within a few days: yet I once had it printed."
I said: "Yes: and what is more I referred to it in the summer and supposed from your manner that you did not intend to use it." "No: it was not rejected: only forgotten. I still stand by it: it was only a few lines, perhaps of no importance whatever: yet it should have gone in." "You will put it in the later editions?" "O yes." He got up. With my help went over to his chair, turning up the light, sitting down heavily: legs of little value to-day for support or locomotion. Spoke of this as "of all attacks—I have had many of them—the shortest in duration: yet severe, troublesome: Wednesday so severe I feared for it: it was a close call indeed." He turned to me after he had got comfortably fixed in his chair: "I should like all my friends to understand from me—all of them—that the succession of whacks, as I call them, to which I have been subject these last fifteen years, is the result of two or three years of great exposure during the critical period of the War: an exposure the most hardy—some would say, inexcusable: and indeed I see myself I might have 'known better,' as has been charged upon me." His self-examination: "In fibre, muscle, organically: in build, arm, leg, chest, belly—in physical equipment—I started superbly—no one more so—more gifted, blessed." Then came the War. "I was no spring chicken then." His consecration "was no youthful enthusiasm—no mere ebullition of spirits—but deliberate, radical, fundamental." Here he paused, turned his face towards me, passed his fingers, spread, over his heart. "Deliberate? more than that: it was necessary: I went from the call of something within—something, I cannot explain what—something I could not disregard." Whether for good or bad he "could not pause to weigh it." " There 's something in the human critter which only needs to be nudged to reveal itself: something inestimably eloquent, precious: not always observed: it is a folded leaf: not absent because we fail to see it: the right man comes—the right hour; the leaf is lifted."


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     This experience of the War "was not all simply physical." "Think," he argued, "of the sympathetic, emotional outpouring of those years: what they meant to others, to me: then calculate results: what results must have accrued." He was "one of the few" who at the outset realized "the vital danger—the real point of weakness." The "critical factors of the national life in those years lay not in the South alone but north here, too—here more insidiously. I was bred in Brooklyn: initiated to all the mysteries of city life—populations, perturbations: knew the rough elements—what they stood for: what might be apprehended from them: there in Brooklyn, New York, through many, many years: tasted its familiar life. When the War came on I quite well recognized the powers to be feared, understood: and not alone in New York, Brooklyn: in Boston as well: the great cities west, north-west, the very hotbeds of dissent." He felt that the nation— "the thinkers of the nation—had only commenced to realize what had been escaped in those years." "I for one feel strongly grateful to Victoria for the good outcome of that struggle—the war dangers, horrors: finally the preservation of our nationality: she saved us then." Afterwards saying again: "Victoria and Albert! Victoria and Albert!" He had "often thought to put this on record, at least for" his "own satisfaction." It seemed like his duty "to write something: to put myself square with the higher obligations all must in time come to acknowledge." I asked quizzically: "If you wrote such a thing, what would Tucker and O'Connor do?" He laughed heartily: "I don't know: but that would not deter me: and at any rate, O'Connor is fully conscious of the truth of what I say: we often talked it over at the time." Now it had become "commonplace" to any one who chose to know it— "our public men—the better type of our public men—all know what it signifies: especially is it conceded by those who have been part of the inner circle in Washington. When Julius Chambers, out of the rare kindness he somehow developed for me, first appealed to me to send them scraps

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of thought for The Herald—I think it was the period when Cleveland was being so sharply taken to task for having sent a present to the Pope on his jubilee—I wrote a few lines in effect of this purport: I for one thing must go on record approving the President's action: more than that, I contended, rather than having done too much the President has done too little: my own impulse would have been to send, send to the Pope: to send likewise to the Queen—to England's Queen—from whose forethought of those serious years so much of good came to us. I never sympathized with—always resented—the common American criticisms of the Queen."
He still kept to his theme. "It was in such an experience as of the War that my own heart needed to be fully thrown—thrown without reserve: I do not regret it—could not regret it: what was a man to do? The War was on, I was strong in my strength—superb of body—I had much to give: there were thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands needing me—needing all who might come: what could I do? So you see it was a time that enforced its own services."

     There was a real solemnity in this last outbreak of feeling. He had thrown his head back—spoke freely, strongly, with great emotion. He said the subject of the War had come up while Donaldson was here yesterday. "Tom said, John Brown, Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, were the five men out of that period, brought out by that period—assured of immortality." I asked: "Well, do you accept his selection?" He answered: "Of some part of it, anyhow, I have no manner of doubt: I never enthused greatly over Brown: yet I know he is a great and precious memory: I don't deny but that he is to be ranked with the best: such devotion, such superb courage, men will not forget—cannot be forgotten." I referred to Lincoln's "balance, poise," arguing— "we can imagine the War without Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, but with Lincoln not there at that time, what?" W. responded: "We must not give too much importance to personalism—it is easy to overcharge it—man

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moves as man, in all the great achievements—man in the great mass: yet I, too, think of Lincoln much in that same way: as you say, his poise, his simple, loftiest ability to make an emergency sacred, meet every occasion—never shrinking, never failing, never hurrying—these are things to be remembered and things 'providential' if 'providence' ever has a meaning in human affairs."

     I used the word "Secession." W. said: "The word recalls much—much that is hideous as well as wonderful." Reference was made to Sam Randall's supposed Southern sympathies, in the early years of the War. W. said: "Randall is essentially what the English call a trimmer: study his course in Pennsylvania politics: Randall is always quasi-protective. And—the more I think of protection, the principle it goes upon, its practice, our worship of it, the more convinced I am, the clearer my mind becomes, that it is the most hollow pretence, fraud, humbug, of our political life. I cannot say I have recently been reading anything on the subject—any serious treatment of it: for two years and more I have not: yet my conviction against it, my contempt for it, grows stronger and stronger." He had "no statistical table from which to educe a formal argument of any sort"—"it is the atmosphere—the position of the parties—more than all else, a realization of the course of nature that appeals to and overwhelms me." "I object to the tariff primarily because it is not humanitarian—because it is a damnable imposition upon the masses." "Imagine," he exclaimed, "the bottom absurdity of America's cry for protection. Of all lands—America! We can conceive of lonely islands, faraway provinces, agitated for such a defence: but for us—why it would be laughable if it was not fraught with serious consequences. With our mines, railroads, agriculture—the richest the world has known: an inventive spirit past parallel: land without end: ambition, freedom: it is madness to reach forth for external protectives—not madness alone either: it goes to make a national farce also."

     W. likes Osler. Says fine things about him. Not so

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much caring for him professionally as humanly. I asked him about Drinkard. "I have been singularly fortunate in my doctors," he said: "I often think of Dr. Drinkard—noble old fellow he was"—here paused, starting to correct himself: "I should not say old: why do I say old? Drinkard has been dead many years: he was really a young man: he was a Rebel—a hot one, in fact: red-hot: but that subject never came up between us: he would not allow any heavy mental pabulum for me then: I was not in great shape at the time: rather than talk thinking matters, when that danger seemed imminent, he would turn his conversation into the light frivolous channels. But Drinkard was one of my true friends whose affection was something to be recked of: he was to me then in some ways, though not so strongly, what Bucke now has grown to be."

     Gave me the Verestchagin pictures. "I looked long, long at them—the portrait, the others"—adding of The Crucifixion: "What a wealth of suggestion it has—a power—an appearance as of a man who had made up his mind to say—do—something and had fulfilled himself." Verestchagin's head was "splendid in strength and beauty"—almost a "monstrosity" for size—yet, "intellectually, sympathetically a marvel to behold." Altogether V. was "a considerable man." "I read Clarence Cook's piece too—the whole of it: liked it—got from it some new points about Verestchagin." "The elements so simple, yet so much made of them." He said again: "Verestchagin is our man—comes along in the same stream with us (or we with him): stands for our contention, as we do for his: against the formulas, the art sophistries, the textualists."

     I spoke of my going to Germantown to hear Brinton lecture. W. inquired: "What will he speak about?" adding, when I had said: "The Quest of the Beautiful": "It is a big, a fruitful subject: I don't know but the biggest: and Brinton should be able to tell about it: his scientific training, truth-lovingness—all that brought to bear." I don't know how the thing came up. We found ourselves talking

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of the spontaneities—how some of the most beautiful things happen without a plan. I spoke of the driver of a wagon on the Chestnut Street hill by the river: "his horse fell down—could not get up: a dozen men as by one instinct rushed into the street—gave the carter a boost, got the horse safely on his feet: all then laughingly going their ways again: no scheme, no reward: just the finer human impulse at play." W. was immensely moved. "How splendid that is! That is wonderfully à propos: there are more cases like it than we can count. Tennyson's Northern Famer says to his son, 'the poor in a lump is bad': but stories like yours tend to show that Tennyson is wrong. There is always a manifest streak of good side by side with the bad: I have seen much of men, of the masses": "out of all this conviction has come to me—this faith. Every day instances confront us. I had a visitor—a Quaker lady— to-day: she came—was from the city: her name, Brotherton: she asked to see me: I consented. She was here but shortly—explained that she had been out a while since, called on a friend: while waiting in the parlor had hit upon November Boughs on the table there: she had read, it appears, been attracted chiefly, I suppose, by the Hicks piece: said that simply seeing that much had created in her the desire to see more. The old lady—she much be quite old—is poor, not famous: not intellectual, not even literary: but with a face remarkably gentle, sweet: and she 'thee'd' and 'thou'd' me—tickled me much: I own up to it. She did not stay long: was mindful of what had been told her down stairs. When she came to go she took my hand, put into it a little folded piece of paper—so"—indicating: "said, "Don't open it till I 'm gone—this is not for thee alone but for me': passed out. When I looked, lo! she had left me a two dollar and a half gold piece. The whole manner of it was characteristic: much the way of the Friends. It is a singular feature in men, that to simply confess a love is not enough: there must be some concrete manifestation of it."


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     W. said: "I have a letter here which I have left for you to answer." Moulton, of Buffalo, editing the Magazine of Poetry, wants permission to use copyright poems. McKay referred M. to W. Bucke has written him a biographical note on W. to go along with them. W. said: "Tell him I am perfectly agreed—that if he finds it worth while to use the poems I will find it worth while to give my consent to it." Gave me two Bucke letters. " There 's something in one of them that you must see—I don't know which one: to make sure you don't miss it take both letters." Said he had passed an idle day. "Wrote to Bucke—a long letter: that was all." George Whitman's wife in. I read the Bucke letters. "Was the mention of the big book what you wanted me to see?" He answered: "Maybe—maybe." Then: "Oh! I remember now. It was his reference to the cover: Maurice never seems very fertile in esthetic suggestion: that is a talent that has been neglected in him." I said: "Maybe it goes along with his utter failure to enter into musical things." W. assented: "I should n't wonder: in fact it seems almost necessarily true."


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