Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, December 8, 1888.

     7.45 P. M. Harned had been in. Was going. I met him in the parlor. Much impressed with improvement in W.'s

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condition, which persists. Ed said: "He has been tip top to-day": and further: "It is cold here: I was so busy with him fixing up things I left the fire go out." They had actually got to work on the room. Ed described W. as watching him like a hawk as he picked up and arranged papers—leaning forward on the chair, pointing with his cane, &c. Dr. Walsh in to-day: had come (Ed says) by letters from Osler—is to meet Osler at W.'s to-morrow. Walsh confident W. would be better if he could be got to go out—go in a wheeling chair, &c. I afterwards put this to W., he seeming however to be averse.

     Upstairs found W. on his bed. Light lowered: room very hot and close—not offensively so. Remarkable how sweet W. keeps his person: even his breath not bad. Ed remarks this. Considers it extraordinary. Reached out his hand. Very cordial. Had me turn up the light at once. His usual question: "How has it gone with you?" I answered by a word—then turned inquiringly to him. He said: "Well—well: still sustained—still sustained." Was entirely freed of the bladder trouble—the pain of it. He spoke of Walsh. "I seem to have met him before—been introduced to him—yet could not make it clear when or where." He felt weak: supposed he "always would be weak": yet suffered no discomforts. Eats now, sleep— "have my very bad hours, of course"—but on the whole is "out of danger." Had "sent letter off to Bucke" to-night, "with more cheery news" Asked: "How is the weather out of doors?" Then: "Is the moon up? Can you see the moon?" Again: "After all, I suppose good and bad weather comes back to the question, how do we ourselves feel? If we are well all is well, and vice versa: I think it was Emerson who, in one of his earlier essays, told the story: a man wanders over the moor: the night is dark: the way muddy, bad: but he is alive in every pore: oh so glad he is alive he dares not tell it even to himself because it may not prove real—may be an illusion." Had he realized such an experience? "I suppose I have: at any rate it seemed to me to have a profound

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meaning: I felt that it was true—true even beyond Emerson's utterance of it, which was great indeed."

     I had something to say about depressed mental states. W. exclaimed: "Depression! that is O'Connor! Of all men that I know O'Connor most deserves study: he baffles, eludes: yet you must study him. He is at times the most vivid, brilliant, charming—most full of fun—of all beings: with me, with another, in a roomful of company: then come weeks of depression, hypocondriacism: while they are on they were moods not to be ignored—only to be suffered." "These moods seemed to be a necessary part of O'Connor's life: they had visited him for years and years." Did they interfere with his work? "No, not at all: he would get up in the morning, eat his breakfast, depart, with very few words: go down to the office: often, in after hours, take long, long walks—three or four hours at a stretch: be away from home all day, returning at midnight. That was frequent: Nellie would often be worried—fear for him, fear some harm—I don't know but go out for him." "Did you come in contact with him at such times?" "O yes! I would go down to the house—often go out and look for him. We always got along very well together. His wife at one time was very anxious—was afraid it would develop into an insanity: but she finally grew accustomed to it: years of association showed her that it meant what it did—nothing more." Had W. any theory about it? "I never gave it an explanation—never regarded it as the reaction from anything: simply felt: 'It is in him: therefore it must be.'"

     W. turned his head towards me on the pillow: had been lying flat, his hands folded across his stomach. "You know Doctor—Doctor—he wrote The Wandering Jew?"—his memory for a minute going back on him: "Oh! Sue—Doctor Eugène Sue: have you read The Mysteries of Paris? There is one of the characters of that book—one of the, to me, most interesting characters: a fellow who used to go off every now and then, at stated periods, to have

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a hell of a time: he always knew when the period approached: would prepare for it—then have it out. It is like the animals—the snake—hybernating: being fat, well fed, lying down—going into its long rest: then coming forth, the time over, lean, lank, frail—the whole spirit gone out of it. This illustrates O'Connor."

     The "lugging in" of Sue, as W. described it, kept W. going. "Read him—get him: the next time you go to town look about in one of the second-hand book stores: you will find the book there: it may be in several volumes: it is long: get them." Years ago, he said, the Harpers "started to publish it"—had "got along about ten pages or more"—found it "obscene—something obscene in it: stopped it thenceforth. But another publisher less squeamish bought the plates as they stood and went on with it: at that time translations were few: now there are many—some of them must be pretty cheap." I said I thought we had the book at home. W. replied: "Ah! I was going to say something more: if you come across the book, get it: after you are done with it bring it to me. I want to read it again."

     I spoke of a paragraph credited to Huxley in which he described the gradual growth of the power to speak without notes. W. said: "It was right for him to do so: indeed, I should say to anyone, take the bull by the horns at the start: discard the notes—go on your own hook: it cannot be discovered too soon that this is the only real public speaking—the speaking without a barrier." Again: "Beecher once said to me: 'I thank my good fortune that nature almost from the first possessed me of such readiness, alertness, that I could speak freely': this is the conclusion of all men who speak or know speakers: I never realized it myself—never till the later years: but if I had the path to go over again—knowing what I know now—I should put that among the first of my studies. I have always been forensically in a bad way myself—like a man overboard without the bladders under his arms. To a man who intends in any way to make speechifying the business of his

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life it is especially a first and necessary part of his equipment."
I asked if he did not think prolixity encouraged by speaking without even notes. But he was "willing to assent to it" even "with that danger." Adler speaks so. Evidently memorizes. W. questioned me: what was his style, bearing, voice?

     As touching our talk last evening I showed him an issue of Cassell's National Library—a ten cent book, four by three, paper cover. He felt it as he lay on the bed—approved it. I said: " That 's my idea for Leaves of Grass— that 's the book I mean." He said: "I understand: I know its advantages: some day a public may demand this—of the Bible, of other books: years ago, in my young days, I felt it necessary to have books about me: not cumbersome—light: carried them in my pocket: Shakespeare, for instance—one of the Plays: I think it was Richard II, in some respects the most characteristic—I carried it most: I would buy a cheap second-hand book—tear out the play I wanted—paste the sheets carefully together—keep them with me." W. had read the report that Cleveland had a plurality of the popular vote over Harrison of about a hundred thousand. "I found it taken from The Tribune, I think: but The Tribune asks: what does that signify? it is all accounted for by a suppressed ballot: accord, protect, a free ballot and it will be hundreds of thousands the other way. The question with me is, is the first fact true? has Cleveland the vote supposed?" Here W. turned to me. "Has he?" then: "Well, that to me is the essential fact." "No matter how he got it?" I asked. W. said: "I did n't say that."

     W. questioned me about the book: was anxious, yet willing to wait. "We must bide our time: I trust it to you to follow things." Returned him the Bucke picture and the Epictetus. Left with him copies of The Stage containing portraits of Kellogg and Lotta (photo engraving process) which he wished to see. I renewed the insurance for another month to-day.


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     We talked some about the Alcott letters. W. said: "Everything goes to disprove the idea cultivated by some of Emerson's friends that he immediately lost interest in my work after 1855. We have his own words to the contrary—we have the words of his intimates—things thrown out by his friends: visitors, too, European, many of them, have passed straight between Emerson and me—told me of Emerson's peculiar passive yet also emphatic questions anent me—what I stood for, what I am doing, what finally is likely to happen to Leaves of Grass." I asked: "Do you attach extreme importance to that letter? to Emerson's interest in you? Suppose he did change his view? suppose he did? would that ruin you?" He laughed. "No—probably not affect my fortunes at all: but the question has had its interest to me because of the emphatic partisanship of the literary clique which resented the original letter—which seemed almost to look upon it as on Emerson's part an act of treachery to the guild." I said: "I think it was more important for Emerson to write that letter than for you to receive it." He asked: "Do you say that after thinking it over and over and over? Do you?" I added: "Yes: after looking it over till there 's no more looking to be done." I found W. very warm about Alcott: "The two letters: did n't you feel impressed with them? They are old style: have a sort of gold button long coat effect: yet they are human, too—thoroughly so: Alcott was cordial—more apt to let himself go than Emerson: did, in fact: Emerson was always for poise, poise" "was poised to death sometimes," I jerked in—W. taking it up: "Yes, we can say that and not say it: it 's true— it 's not true: it 's the sort of thing which in a little man would damn his soul but which in a man of Emerson's sufficient great size is only a foible smiled over and easily forgotten. The Alcott letters—they are very graceful: they are conclusive of their kind: they don't quite sound as if they were meant for me—they set me too much up and apart: but what a living loving act it was, at that time, handed out to me from that centre of cul-

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ture! Alcott was childlike: he was one of the divine simples; he belonged to the race of the teachers—the peripatetics: the wise wondering seers, instructors: a quite exceptional class of men who in another age, in another country, where such things are more directly popularly cherished and taken pride in, would be set to work at the expense of the state to conduct their schools."
I said to W.: "You seem to think you have enemies at Concord." "Enemies? I may not call them that: maybe not that: but suspectors, certainly—people who would rather not than rather." He smiled a bit over it. "But we will not make overmuch of these matters: after all they come along, have a place, but are not the chief thing." W. had laid aside a Conway letter for me. He said of it: "You know what I think of Conway: how he draws, repels me—does both: how brilliant I think him—yet also how erratic—in some ways how unreliable: yet I respect him, too—he is a liberator—one of the freers of men: is generally, instinctively, on the right side—that is, on the rebel side: don't you call that the right side? This note has more to do with our attempt to bring out English editions: I am giving you all that sort of material I can put my hand on: there 's a bunch of Rossetti's letters somewhere about here: I design it for you: it will turn up some day: it applies to the same problem of English editions."


Hardwicke Cottage, Wimbledon Common,
London, S. W., Sept 10, '67.

My dear friend:

It gave me much pleasure to hear from you; now I am quite full of gratitude for the photograph—a grand one—the present of all others desirable to me. The copy suitable for an edition here should we be able to reach to that I have and shall keep carefully. When it is achieved it will probably be the result and fruit of more reviewing and discussion. I shall keep my eyes wide open; and the volume with O'C.'s introduction shall come out just as it is: I am not sure but that it will in the end have to be done at our own expense—which I believe would be repaid.

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It is the kind of book that if it can once get out here will sell. The English groan for something better than the perpetual réchauffé of their literature. I have not been in London for some little time and have not yet had time to consult others about the matter. I shall be able to write you more satisfactorily a little later. I hear that you have written something in The Galaxy. Pray tell O'Connor I shall look to him to send me such things: I can't take all American magazines; but if you intend to write for The Galaxy regularly I shall take that. With much friendship for you and O'Connor and his wife, I am yours,


Moncure Conway.



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