Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, December 5, 1888.

     Saw Oldach to-day. Took sheets, labels, &c., to him. Had his promise of some books for this week—Saturday, probably. Found three sheets short in one of W.'s packages of twenty-five. Nothing new at McKay's. Secured the remaining eight books of our thirty-four. These are billed

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against us: to be deducted in settlement next month: binding, thirteen and a half cents apiece. Two letters from Bucke—one dated 3d, the other 4th. Advises the more regular and frequent attendance of the Doctor—if not Osler then someone to cooperate with him. I wrote back saying among other things: We will wait till after the consultation of the doctors to-day: will find out then what Osler counsels.

     7.45. At 328. Ed out—taking a music lesson. W. sitting up. Mrs. Davis talking with him. She left. I remarked my gladness seeing him about again. He shook his head: "Don't count too much on that." After all he had been worse than ever. "I am very much knocked out indeed." Osler had been over. "Came," W. said, "with a Dr. Wharton." "This Dr. Wharton," W. "did not know." He added. "They had a consultation: said nothing to me: it is a glandular trouble—that they allowed." But before he would say much or anything about himself he demanded as he did yesterday: "Tell me of the mother—the child"—and when I had done so: "That is good news, anyhow, where good news is not plentiful." He looked worse than at any time since June. Had done little or nothing. "Wrote a short note to Dr. Bucke—that is all." Papers all about him unread. Kennedy's last Transcript on the floor unopened: Liberty, too (he always reads Liberty). "No letter from Doctor to-day." Then again inquiring: "Philadelphia, I suppose, is much alive—perhaps a little more so than usual for Christmas's sake—eh?" And he asked: "Are the stars out?" I described the trip across the river this evening: the new moon— "a thin semicircular strip of a thing: the clear sky: the bit of slender cloud overhead: the water full of mobile reflections: the electric lights up along the river's edge." He listened intently. "How that appeals to me! A few little glints: even a mere touch or so: a striking trifle, it may be: only this, and you have a wonderful picture. The electric lights are new since my time: there were never any along the river's front as

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I knew it."
Something being said of Ingersoll, W. added: "The Colonel has a big air about him that discomposes his enemies: they are not prepared for his generosity, his wit, his hospitality" he is a dangerous man to meet if you don't want to like him: he overcomes venom—he baffles the quibblers." Said this of Gilder: "Some of the hard and fast penny-a-liners on the poetic field affect to despise Gilder: they are a poor lot—most all of them: Gilder has written some poems which will live out the lives of most of the second-class songs of his day: genuine fine pretty big stuff: some of it, almost free. I sometimes incline to believe that Watson wants to be free but don't dare to. At any rate, he has my admiration for some things he has done—yes, admiration: and my personal love surely, always, always." He said of the Century: "Sometimes I get mad at it: it seems so sort of fussy, extra nice, pouting: but then I turn about—have another way of explaining its limitations: I say to myself: those very limitations were designed—maybe rightly designed—therefore it does not belong to me to complain."

     W. said of his illness: "It is an old man's affliction: seems to be very common with old men—old age." Had he entered into any details in his combination letter sent off yesterday? "No: no really personal details: things more or less in the shape of gossip: little personal matters coming within the lines of our work—our sympathies." I had found him the proof strip of the cipher poem in the parlor. Much pleased. "I knew it was about somewhere: I want to keep it by me." W. not only weak but very restless. In the little time I stayed I twice helped him from the chair to the bed—he staying on the bed after that. "Guess I'll sit here," was the way he put it—too utterly exhausted to try another trip. Lamented absence of letters—especially letters from O'Connor. "He does not write a word: it is an ominously significant silence." I urged it upon W. that we should have a Camden doctor to assist, as Bucke advises. After a little talk W. assented— "if found necessary." But

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as Wharton had left a prescription with Ed for to-morrow "we had best wait to learn what the result of the injection may be," at least, if nothing more. The doctors were reticent while here. I of course was not present: they came this afternoon. Osler said he had himself heard from Bucke. Instructed Ed, under certain contingencies, to call upon Dr. Walsh—(brother of William, of Lippincott's). Doctors examined W.'s urine.

     No callers to-day save Corning, who did not go upstairs. Curtz in to see W. about printing (forenoon). Stayed too long. W. called Ed: advised him: "Make my bed: I must take a wash all over, then lie down again": turning to Curtz with the charge: "You will have to excuse me now"— Curtz thereupon going. He did sponge himself: saying, however, to Ed, that he did n't think he would "be able to do that many times more alone"—that he "would have to be assisted."

     We talked about the cover for the complete W. W. He said: "Apply your own best thought to the question: hit upon something characteristic": and again: "I shall have to trust that to you: you must follow your own serious judgment in the matter." I spoke again as I was about leaving, he holding my hand: "You know now, Walt, I am at your command—ready, willing, anxious, to serve you": he answering: "Yes, and I shall call on you." I urged further: "You believe all this of me?" He looked up into my eyes, a wonderful smile on his face as his grasp of my hand tightened: "Yes—I do, my boy: I know you: I believe you." Then I said jokingly: "Well—I must go now: I must not talk you to death"—he laughing and answering: "I do not propose to die that way."

     Harned had been in. I was not there at the time. W. still in the greatest uneasiness and pain: able to do nothing, go nowhere. After leaving him stopped downstairs to talk a bit with Mary. Heard him up again. He wrote Bucke that he was up forty or fifty items one night last week. All of us are anxious. Bucke will be called upon the first show of

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grave danger. W. seems hopeless. Osler comes Friday again. I secured the three "shorts" for a package W. had marked: "Nine good autographs." Note his care to the last. He insisted then on taking the pen himself and changing "9" to "6 (six)." Did not feel in good enough condition to write out the checks. "Let it go another day," &c. Mrs. Davis says W. ate oysters freely, for him, to-day, but is very abstemious in general. W. gave me some prize stuff to-night. Three letters tied in a piece of departmental red tape. A letter from Alcott to W. A letter replying to it from W. to A. Then a second letter from Alcott to W. I looked at them enough to see what they were. Then I was for sitting right down and reading them. I did not at first realize that I was to have them for good. He said: "Take your time in studying them out: I meant them for you to take away with you—to keep!" I must have looked surprised. I felt so. He said: "Yes— that 's so: for you to keep: they belong to you: first, because you are the natural transcendentalist of our group here—the best of us all in that: second, because it throws some light on the story that Emerson later on repented of his folly in endorsing Leaves of Grass: there are things in the letters which bear on that—which tend to make that intimation improbable. At any rate, put the letters in your pocket: we may say a bit about them again—sometime: maybe"—here he stopped a few seconds—then adding: "I say sometime: that sounds to me a little like boasting: sometime: I 've been feeling the last week or so as if there was to be no more sometime for me here, with you, boy: though I don't know—I don't know." I could not wait to get home to read the letters. I stood under the lamp at the street corner nearest 328 and did it.


Concord, Jan. 7, 1868.

Walt Whitman:

The scope and spirit of your paper on Democracy delight and satisfy me beyond all expectation,

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and I write without compliment or reserve to the man, the American Columbus, whose sagacity has thus sounded adventurously the sea of our Social Chaos and anchored his thought securely in soil of the newly discovered Atlantides about which Grecian Plato died dreaming. Especially have I to thank you for delivering such doughty thrusts into the sides of the British Behemoth sending him bottomwards. All you say of the Imperial West is strong and is.


I talked last evening with Emerson about your strong strokes at the thoughtless literature and Godless faith of this East—nothing as yet to show of original type—wholly null and empty of ideas—only Thoreau to redeem it from idiocy and fatuity.

That dutiful drill of yours, too, in Humanity during the dread struggle of these last years gives to your thought a sanction and potency which Universities cannot claim nor confer.

Personally

A. Bronson Alcott.



April 26, '68.

To

Mr. Alcott.

Your kind and welcome letter came to hand. Pardon me for not responding sooner. I esteem your friendly appreciation of Democracy. I have just sent you Personalism—which is to be followed, in perhaps a couple of months or so, by another article addressing itself mainly to the question of what kind of Literature we must seek for our coming America, &c. In the three articles (to be gathered probably in a book) I put fort, to germinate if they may, what I would fain hope might prove little seeds and roots.

I am still living here in Washington, employed in a post in the Attorney General's office, very pleasant, with sufficient leisure, and almost entirely without those peculiar belongings that make the Treasury Interior Dep't &c. clerk-

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ships disagreeable. I am, as ever, working on Leaves of Grass—hoping to bring it yet into fitter and fuller proportions. I am well as usual. My dear mother is living and well; we speak of you. I wish you to give my best respects and love to Mr. Emerson.




Concord, April 28, 1868.

My dear Sir:

Your friendly note of the 26th has just come to hand, and yesterday came your noble paper on Personalism—for both of which attentions you have my thanks. I shall look for your views of the aboriginal literature, fully believing that your thought is on the track of Empire and sees the route to Personal Power for the nation, as for the individual. And never a people needed more the Cosmic thought to inspire and guide its action.

Yet think of the progress out of the twilight since your star dawned upon our hazy horizon.

Some friend has sent me from time to time appreciative notices of yourself, knowing by some supreme instinct my hope in whatever promises expansion of our hemisphere. You, too, kindly inform me of particulars about your personal position and prosperity. I am interested in all you choose to communicate.

Emerson is just home from your city of steeples and stocks, but I have not spoken with him yet. I know how fully he shares in my appreciation of yourself and works.

Please accept the little sketch accompanying this, and oblige

Yours,

A. Bronson Alcott.



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