Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, December 1, 1888.

     7.45 P. M. Saw as I approached the house that the light was low in W.'s room—indicating that he was not up—arousing forebodings in me. Ed told me W. had not been so well. W. lying on his bed. Heard me enter. "Aha! it 's Horace!"—extending his hand without rising. How was he? "Bad! bad!" he said: "I spent a horrible night: stayed awake, suffered much pain, was restless: I am little better now." Added: "It seems as though the pain all concentrated in the urinary organs—in the kidneys: I was up often: there was no relief." Said he had "slipped back again" from yesterday. Then he stopped talking about his illness. "What of Germantown? Who did you see there? What did Dr. Brinton say? And I suppose you met Clifford?" As to Brinton's address: "It is a sublime subject: I think we may very well use that word there." In

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after-talk Brinton had argued with a group of us the necessity of a universal language as enforced by the adoption of the telephone and phonograph. W.: "That is a very suggestive weighty argument: it is the argument of a man of science: it is entitled to respect." The question presented itself to him in another way. "A universal cipher may be adopted—manufactured: the question is, whether a language—a language, taking hold of peoples—the globe's peoples—can be, could ever be, grown, much more deliberately constructed." But whatever that case, "such a reason as Brinton gives is one that no man can avoid—perhaps that all must before long realize." To him, "the fibre, climate, spinal independent facts of different peoples, persisting, brought their own deeper problems." He asked me Brinton's judgment on Volapük. I said it was adverse.

     Got up heavily, I helping him: stood there with his blue gown on, tall, massive: turned back my way: went to the bed alone, saying as he stood there: "Ah! my boy! who can tell the sweetness, the comfort, the peace, the happiness, I have now, for knowing that whatever becomes of me, the book is safe: we have the book safe—both books! Doubtful long ago of one, we have achieved both: in its way that is a triumph indeed." He had "achieved his great wish": he had "the two volumes in one—the collectivity: I have desired it always: it is done." Here he turned, took up his cane, put his left arm out for me, going painfully to the chair opposite, saying on the way: "Whether Dr. Osler said it because he believed it, because he thought he should say it—whether for some other reason—I do not know, but to me his dismissal of this thing as trivial is wrong, wrong—far wrong: to me it seems rather that an end is near." Then, as he reached the chair: "The Doctor might promise respite, pause, that: but is this not bad enough as it is? Who would want more of this—have this aggravated, prolonged?" No complaint—rather greater amiability: desiring to keep on a right footing with events. "Ah!" he said after he sat down: "the days are slow: the

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time hangs heavy: already six months of this storing away—this imprisonment!"
But the words were hardly past his lips when he fired a new question at me: "What news? what do you bring?"

     I showed him a copy of the complete book to-day stitched and bound by Oldach—a temporary cover for the fifty copies. Instead of a paper binder had put on a board back: but on the edge and at the corners the book was finished with green cloth and marbleized paper to represent leafage. W. accepted the errors as "inspiration." He regards Curtz's label, pasted on the edge of the book, curiously and humorously. "It is queer, don't you think?—like Curtz: looks as if he had taken an axe and gone out into the woods—hewn it out of the rough, the axe not very sharp, either. I should not commend it as a deliberate piece of work: but it is like Curtz—like me, too: besides, it seems to fit well in its place there." Then he proceeded: "Thank Oldach for it: thank him for the mistake: tell him Walt Whitman more than likes it." He turned the book over and over: "Done at last!" he said: made various little comments: finally addressed me: "Did you notice in Doctor's letter that he says he looks for us to give the book a characteristic cover? I wonder if we will?" Here he paused. Then: "We must wait till it is done before we can say it is well done." Then he gave me a letter—Bucke's of the 28th—and inquired: "Did you write to Moulton to-day?" I had done so. He was perfectly satisfied. Handed me a specimen page of Moulton's Magazine. "You may wish to look it over: it shows the way he aims to do it." I read his letter of 29th from Bucke. Much about the meter. A paragraph devoted to Pardee, which W. insisted on hearing in full. "Poor Pardee!" he exclaimed: "and he was such a gentle man: gentle in all ways: I met him: he was physically rather small: pleasing, bright: evidently a man of force." He commented on the meter business: "Willie Gurd is much like Ed in there—characteristically Scotch: a natural inventor: his mind always ran

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in that channel."
Doctor was cautious. W. thought his confidence in this invention full of meaning. "He may make a fortune out of it." He had no opinion in the matter. "What is the meter anyway? what is its purpose?" Doctor has not explained it to me. W. said: "He has explained it to me—did so while he was here: but I confess I did not understand." I understood that it was to measure water. W. surprised. "I did not suspect that: did not comprehend: I had an idea it was a meter of some sort to drive machinery: they are much more interested in affairs of that kind than (I thank God!) I am: it is a worrisome business." I argued: "But it won't worry Gurd—don't now: don't you remember what Doctor has said about his phlegmatic ways?" "Well—he is young now: if he makes money by this invention he may avoid some of the inevitable troubles: but by and by, when he is older, then will come the trying hours—the lying awake of nights puzzling over problems: things he can't shake off, forget, ignore: mental discussions, principles, arise"—now he pointed his finger here and there as he went on: "If this is so then this is so: if this is so then this is so: if this is so then this follows: and this and this and this: a wearisome round." His finger relapsed: the laughter went off his face. "Oh! I know what that is—what it becomes: I have known cases—more than a few of them." He had "met Gurd": he was sure I "would like him: he is a man who will attract you: you know he is Mrs. Bucke's brother—a careful, thinking man." His chair caught and broke the string about some manuscript on the floor: sheets leaked out and badly scattered about. He said: "I must put it in order: I have nothing else to do but sit here: an occupation of some sort is welcome."

     Back to Bucke. He reminded me: "I have said, you must some day take a trip up to London: see them: we have been talking about them so often: see Bucke in his home: the house: the acres surrounding: the hedges (what we call hedges here) half the thickness of this room: the

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fine country thereabouts: the family, people: the new atmosphere. It is a thing you must count on, know, eventually."
Described B. as "a man of intense powerful nature": went back to the days of B.'s going to Sarnia; "he put up a shingle there—got a couple of nags: went about his business: shortly was known all around to be more than the ordinary run of village doctors—in fact an extraordinary man." He described "a frolic" at Bucke's. "I was there: some one had sent in some wine: Mrs. Bucke, the children—all of them I think—were in bed: the bottles were appropriated—emptied: Bucke took very little if anything: even then you know he was averse: the rest of us did full justice to the tipple. The night wore on: by and by some one proposed that we bury the bottles: everybody conformed—agreed to have it done: we marched in procession out, across the lawn, chanting, chanting: here and there an invocation: overhead the stars: everybody taking part in it: everybody sharing the fun: recitation, farewell: then the bottles were cast clean over the broad hedge—over, over: the deed was done." W. laughed. Told it in just that seemingly broken but eloquent way, slapping the arm of his chair with great vehemence. "It was like the farce of the college boys," I suggested: "they each year burn on the campus the textbook which has given them the most trouble." He nodded. "Exactly—except that this was spontaneous, unstudied. I could get about on my feet then: I don't know if I did not head the march."

     He spoke of his rare enjoyment of those days in London. "I liked Doctor—loved Doctor: his folks, the staff, inmates, all of them: liked, too, the men who had come to see him while I was there. He had them come while I was there: Englishmen, most of them." I spoke of Bucke's catholic nature. W.: "You are quite right: he has n't in him the first sign of the dogmatism we are led to expect in an Englishman: yet he is English: I may say, too, of those others—I found in none an objectionable assertiveness: Doctor himself is the most modest of men: a more modest

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man never lived: it is instinct with him to be modest."
W. had several newspapers and some clippings and a letter laid aside for me. One of the newspaper pleasantries said this: "A well known writer is responsible for the assertion that the Good Gray Poet is not scrupulous about paying his debts. After all the Good Gray Poet may be the Bad Gray Poet." "Where did you get this from?" I asked W. He said: "It was mailed to me anonymously from Boston, by some one, I don't know who, out of a paper I don't know the name of." Then he said: "Ask me about this when you come to-morrow. I want to say something to you about it: don't let me forget it." The letter I looked over and started to read. W. said: "Read it aloud: I want to hear it again."
50 Wellington Road, Dublin, June 9, 1875.

My dear Burroughs:

(You fall back into the unfriendly "Mr." and I will invade you in your solitude with a direct and natural address which must be taken by you for a grasp of the hand across the water.) I was very glad to hear from you about yourself and about Whitman. He, too, wrote to me most kindly and told me about his state of health. I hope before this reaches you that you will have received my Shakespeare book as a proof that you have been in my mind, although I have lost time in sending you an answer to your letter. In some ways I envy you—or at least count you happy—in your own house, and with your farm, in sight, or close to a river, with woods I hope near you, for your own delectation and that of the birds. I, on the contrary, who need and am happy in the country—near hills or by the sea,—have been kept more than ever before in streets and squares, having accepted added work in College for added pay, (needful now, not for myself, but for others), and of future literary work which I have undertaken a fair share is of only secondary and superinduced interest to me, but useful in solving the problem of living. These things make it more unlikely than it was some years ago that I can get over to see Whitman and America (including you and your

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house). You have—I am glad—dared to write warmly to me about your love of Whitman: and I, who have not seen him, know that you have only said what is just and inevitable. I shall like much to hear from you now and then, as I don't care to ask Whitman himself to write, and all that concerns him is of interest to me. Especially I shall be anxious to hear when his promised book is procurable.


My article on Victor Hugo is only partially satisfactory. I felt that to do him justice at all I should abandon myself very much to him. Yet, as you will soon see, underlying this abandonment there was a certain sense of uneasiness, and want of security, for Victor Hugo has not the massive sobriety and good sense which enables one to trust oneself to Shakespeare or to Whitman. And so, having written my article I have drawn back, and don't now return again and again to V. Hugo for sustenance and light. Still in some ways I have not said too much of his stupendous powers, and my article has (as far as I know) the merit of being the first chronological survey of his complete course as a non-dramatic poet.

What you have written, if you have a copy to send, I shall wish much to see.

Thank you for the very interesting article on The Birds of the Poets,—going so easily and lovingly near to the lives of both kinds of singer. The swallow, as you say, has never been caught, and I have seen only one poem on the swallow,—which does not appear in your article and which possibly it may be worth while for me to copy:
SWALLOWS

I

Wide fields of air left luminous,
Though now the uplands comprehend
How the Sun's loss is ultimate:
The silence grows: but still to us

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From you air-winnowing breasts elate
The tiny shrieks of glee descend.
II

Deft wings, each moment is resigned
Some hint of day, some pulse of light,
While yet in poised, delicious curve,
Ecstatic doublings down the wind,
Light dash, and dip, and sidelong swerve,
You try each dainty trick of flight.
III

Will not your airy glee relent
At all? this aimless frolic cease?
Know ye no touch of quelling pain,
Nor joy's more strict admonishment,
No tender awe at daylight's wane,
Ye slaves of delicate caprice?
IV

Hush! once again that cry intense!
High-venturing spirits, have your will!
Urge the last freak, prolong your glee!
Keen voyagers, while still the immense
Sea-spaces haunt your memory
With zests and pangs ineffable.
V

Not in the sunshine of old woods
Ye won your warrant to be gay
By duteous, sweet observances,
Who dared through darkening solitudes,
And 'mid the hiss of alien seas
The larger ordinance obey.




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We are all well, and shall spend the summer—July to October—at Bray near the sea. Write here as usual.

Yours sincerely

Edward Dowden.
[I am particularly anxious to be sure of what I believe must be the case—that Whitman suffers no deprivation of any comfort or pleasure, which he might care for, through limitation of his means. I feel warranted in asking this because a Camden newspaper spoke of him as "ill and indigent." Of course no officious offer of any gift is intended, but if there were any, direct or indirect, way by which his English friends could show their affection for Whitman, I am sure it would make them happy to show it. Say nothing to Whitman of this inquiry.]

Do you know anything of George Henry Calvert? He wrote me a few most kind and encouraging words about my Shakespeare book, and sent me a volume of his own Brief Essays and Brevities.


     W. asked: "Do you understand that the swallow poem was written by Dowden?" "Not necessarily." "I have wondered: I like it much: it has real kinks to it—is far and away above the ordinary rhyming of the nature singers." Then again: "Dowden has always shown me that same delicate consideration; doing enough, never overdoing: loving enough, never overloving; saying enough, never overtalking: he just seems to maintain a fine balance: judicial—looking both sides, not hurrying to decisions. I know you may say I don't always talk like this: that I love O'Connor for doing exactly the opposite thing: so I do: I like William to do what he does, I like Dowden for doing what he must do: they are different men—they are two sides: one is important, the other is important." I said: "You speak of William and Dowden: I don't think that the difference between them is the difference between the dynamic and the static—do you? Bucke says William

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goes on and Dowden stands still. William goes on, sure enough: but if Dowden stands still how is it he ever came to recognize you?"
W. clapped his hands together: "Horace, that 's fine—that cuts to the bone: you must tell that to Maurice some time when you write." He paused: then resumed in this way: "I confess men like Dowden, Rossetti, Symonds (there are others too of the same stamp) surprise me—almost upset my applecart: they are scholars, in certain ways classicists, yet they are the promptest sort possible in analyzing and rightly estimating new things: it seems natural for men like O'Connor, like Ingersoll, to like me: they are my own kind through and through: but those other fellows have been trained in other schools—as a rule we expect, in fact get, other things from them. Thank God I don't have to solve all the mysteries: I am satisfied to have Dowden's love, satisfied for him to have my love, without trying to match pennies with him." W. also said: "I am much taken with what Dowden says of Hugo in the letter: it amounts to about John's opinion: the letter was written to John—that bit of it especially must have pleased him. I for my part am rather more disposed to William's than to John's estimate, characterization, of Hugo."

     I called W.'s attention to a couple of bills that should be paid—Ferguson's, Adams'. He begged off to-night. "You keep the bills," he said: " We 'll take care of them to-morrow." Harned in. Did not stay. Thought W. looked tuckered out. W. said: "I have written Doctor to-night very gloomily of my condition: I have not written him for three or four days." I said: "Why, you spoke yesterday of having done so." "Ah!" he replied: "I know: but I did not send the letter off—added a little to it to-day." Here he picked up a pad: "I wrote on such sheets as these"—large letter sheets— "wrote this far yesterday to Doctor [indicating about an inch from the bottom] and filled in the rest to-day." Then he repeated: "And I wrote him a gloomy letter: things seem to warrant it—warrant it: nothing else, better, seems in order to say."


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