Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, December 16, 1888.

     Stopped in at W.'s at 9.30 on my way to Germantown. Got portraits of Bucke, O'Connor, Burroughs—wished to show them to Mrs. Clifford. W. not up yet though awake. Had spent a peaceful night. Then away. Back again in the evening towards seven.

     Evening. W. had been dressed most of the day but lay

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down. No strangers. Harned down in the forenoon: brought The Tribune among other things. W. has been more talkative all day. This afternoon talked for a long time with Ed about the Thousand Isles, Canada, etc. Walsh in. No new developments. W. on bed when I entered. One cover drawn over him. He knew me, dark as it was—called my name. Then, after a word or two about the weather, he drew himself around on the bed, as if about to get up—sat—reached back for his cane. "Are you strong?" he asked. I said: " That 's according: I am strong for somethings, weak for others." He laughed. "Well—try me: help me get to the chair." It was a painful journey—he behind—I leading—his long blue gown trailing the floor—he leaning heavily on me, and expression of great suffering on his face. Had I brought The Literary World with me? No. But I promised to leave it in the morning. W.: "Yes, leave it for me: my reading is a matter of humor, condition: if I feel so and so I get Eddy to help me up—then set to work." Harned in during a part of my stay this evening. I met Michael J. Ryan, President of the Irish American Club, on the train: he spoke of "some Whitman piece" he had read in an English review years ago "predicting a future for W. W. above that of Jesus Christ." W. exclaimed: "Yes, I have had such slaps, but I can assure you I do not appreciate them: some of the wild fellows think they must say such things: but they are too previous—too previous, to say the least." "This matter of the awards of the future is a thing way beyond us anyhow: we can't usurp its jurisdiction."

     W. asked Harned about my sister and the baby. Also: "Do you need to take The Tribune with you?" T. said, "no." W.: "Let it remain here: I'll get to it again: my reading goes slow: I don't in fact read anything at all: I feel I have lost what I call my grip." Had looked through The Press. He said: "It is such a relief to get up—to sit up—if only for five minutes: a relief from the dreadful dreadful monotony of the bed. I feel stronger—much

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stronger: Dr. Walsh has been here to-day: both the doctors are cheerful—Walsh, Osler: it is good to have them tell me I am better: it does really help—really help: though even when they tell me I am better I know I feel like the devil. I have eaten to-day—something—something this evening for supper: two cups of tea and some toast."
W. had also taken the wine and milk ordered by Walsh. Some sort of esoteric publication on the table. W. said: "Yes—it came yesterday: I opened it: dropped it like a hot coal." Spoke of books he wanted to go abroad. "I will send all in one bundle—address them to Pearsall Smith." Prepay it? "No: they must pay for them there." Then he reflected: "I think I should send half a dozen—seven or eight"—pausing, repeating some names: "One for Addington Symonds: one for Buxton Forman: one for William Rossetti: one for Pearsall himself: one for the bright particular star—for Mary Costelloe"—then, after a thinking pause— "perhaps one for Rhys." Would he write in them? "That will depend on how I feel: but we will send them together—put the name on the wrapper of each book." He would send them "direct by foreign express: I never have had any trouble—missed anything I sent abroad: it is quite another matter to bring goods this way." Instanced the vest from Lady Mount-Temple.

      "One of the letters there"—pointing to the table— "came to-day—is from the Postmaster at Huntingdon, Long Island. Some one in England sent me a package of papers—addressed them to West Hills, my birthplace: there is no post office at West Hills—the mail goes to Huntingdon. The postmen are a great set—have vast ideas of their own importance." He thought "the whole demeanor of officials towards the public curt in the extreme." He instanced: "Our postmaster—the present man here in Camden—has a very cavalier way of dismissing applicants. They are not only not anxious but not willing to serve you." He had felt Bailey—the predecessor of Janney—was the best. "In Bailey's time they seemed to have

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more system—more spirit: if I sent there—if anything came—I could get it."
But now had come a new order of things. "They give me the letters—think I should be thankful for them." He described his mail— "quite a mail"—as he put it— "five letters, I think—all of them complaints—poverty, trouble, what-not: somebody dead, sick, hurt." No applicants for autographs? "Strangely—none—not one: not one of the five: though out of every batch there are usually some to be counted on: I got two yesterday"—hesitated a breath: "Yes, two." Discussed then to whom books should be sent—the "complete" Whitman. "Kennedy must have one—have it soon: he is anxious, I know: and Hamlin." Then Mrs. Fairchild: "I rank her truly as a friend—my friend, friendly to Leaves of Grass. I think I shall get you to send the three, perhaps more, to Kennedy direct: he can distribute them." Discussed copies also for O'Connor, Burroughs, Morse.

     He had urged me to take a chair. I sat opposite to him: his back was to the light—for him an unusual position: the light shining through his hair loosely flowing around his face produced a sort of aureole. Expression rather haggard: eye tired and dull: voice mainly strong, with, however, increased huskiness though much music of tone.

     W. wondered: "Do you think Bucke has his books yet?" Reflected upon the obstacle of the tariff: it aroused his fire—what fire yet burned: he flashed out: "Humbug? it is indeed: none more arrant, transparent." Particularly was this to be said of "restrictions between this country and Canada." "The United States themselves realize the danger of it for themselves but not for them and Canada. Our American policy so called—our little, insignificant, muddy, God-damned, policy—is beyond words despicable. It seems to me this age, especially America, owes it to itself, owes it to the world, to cut off this wretched pretence." He had "ways of knowing" what "officialism" was: "The custom house upstarts, for instance—silly, red-tapey, pompous, ignorant, dandyish—never a help, always an interference:

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not knowing when you ask them, not able to discover, not willing to serve: and this with Canada, too, of all countries. I think a person must go to Canada, too, before he learns how monstrous this thing is—how utterly inexcusable: Ontario itself: its young men—strong, bright, happy, receptive: I know of no State in our Union which can beat—even equal—Ontario."
He urged: "Note the life there—agriculture, intelligence—desirable neighbors, if not kindred, to be cultivated, not spurned. America has fallen far short of her achievement while this is so." Asked me to-night: "Is there a sting in this air for your eyes?" He referred to the wood smoke. "I feel it myself—feel it now: I don't know but I get to like it."

     W. asked me: "Where do you think you stand politically?" I asked him: "Where do you think I stand?" He seemed to think it funny that we should ask each other such questions. "You must be on the outer line—far out where the worst rebels are," he said: "I can't think of you as being satisfied at all with political, sociological, things as they are." "Rather not," I said. And I asked: ""Are you satisfied with things as they are?" He shook his head. "No: do I growl as if I was?" "Well—what do you look forward to?" I asked: "Do you see a way out?" "I look forward to a world of small owners." I put in: "Or maybe no owners at all." He asked: "What do you mean by that? no owners at all? Do you mean common owners—owning things in common?" I nodded: "Yes: don't you think that would be best?" He said: "I don't know: I have n't thought it out: it sounds best: could it be best? could it be made to work?" "Can't anything that is right be made to work?" "Can it?" "Don't you say so?" He laughed. "You've got me on the witness stand: you 're like a lawyer." "Well—but answer me: don't you say so?" Then he acquiesced: "I have to believe it: if I don't believe that I could n't believe anything." That 's as far as we got. W. gave me a prize to-night—a letter to Symonds, his draft of it, written Jan. 27, 1872. He said: "Did I

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never show you the poem I speak of? it was inscribed to me: came in a pamphlet: was privately published: Symonds was very beautiful about it: a long poem—written in the conventional way, but high class conventional: very adept of its kind, elaborate, perfectly rounded. I must try to find it for you: you should know about it—see it: as a work of the customary order it would rank considerably high."
I sat reading W.'s letter. He said: "Read me what I say there." I had picked the letter up from the floor. That 's how we came to talk of it.


J.A. Symonds:

Not knowing whether it will reach you, I will however write a line to acknowledge the receipt of your beautiful and elevated Love and Death, and of the friendly letter from you, of October 7th last. I have read and re-read the poem, and consider it of the loftiest, strongest and tenderest. Your letter was most welcome to me. I should like to know you better, and I write you to send me word should this reach you, if the address is the right one. I wish to forward you a copy of my book—as I shall presently bring out a new edition.

I am as usual in good health, and continue to work here in Washington in a governmental office, finding it not unpleasant—finding it in, indeed, sufficient and free margin.

Pray don't think hardly of me for not writing more promptly. I have thought of you more than once, and am deeply touched with your poem.






     W. said: "How ironical that sounds to-day: I am as usual in good health!" He paused. Looked out the window. Gently laughed. "Well—we must pay our bills: I have my bills to pay: the hospital bill: it must be paid. I get very impatient some days—am a little resentful: sore, sore: wonder if it 's all fair and square—whether the scheme after all is not doubtful: then I go back: find my way back to my central thought again—my spinal conviction: I resent my resentment—am ashamed of my questions. Oh!

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I feel how empty everything would seem if I was not full of this faith—if this faith did not overthrow me: how useless all things would be if they led on to nothing but what we see—to nothing but what we appear to wind up in here."
"You think we 're led on and on to something that will finally satisfy us, here or hereafter?" "Yes." "What?" "I don't say what—I don't know what: I only say, to something: it is best we should not know too definitely what is to come: the important thing to us now is the life here—the people here: yes, that 's the important immediate thing: the earth struggle—our effort, our task, here to build up our human social body into finer results: the daily hourly job right here, right now: yours, mine: the rest will come—the beyond: we are not called upon to bother about it at once: it would only confuse matters: we can make our declaration about it, say our yes, then stop: our responsibilities are on the earth."


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