Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, December 30, 1888.

     8 P. M. W. on the bed. Very good day. Visitors few. Doctor not in. Inquiries by Miss Hunter. Harned came awhile. Nobody else. W. quite communicative. "I consider this on the whole a good week—freer, easier, calmer than for some time: while not agile not boisterous I never experience that strange sinking, giving away, in the head, I did formerly. I can write, I can read—I am getting a little stronger: it is in that direction I most suffer now—the want of strength." Said he had been busy all day. Some mail this evening, though little. "I got The Critic: tried to read it: but it was decidedly dry." I asked: "Even The Lounger?" He laughed: "I forgot that: you mean the tariff talk?—the aim of actors to put a tariff on companies contracted for abroad?" It was "outrageous," he said: "outrageous"" it was "nothing but restriction—restriction." "Consistently carried out the tariff would close our ports absolutely," he said: "and do now, in fact: abolish America itself." But it has struck me that the whole noise this time is the work of a wag. Can it be?" Was "glad to see" that there were "some who objected to be classified with reactionaries: Jefferson, Florence, for example."

     W. received a copy of Long Islander containing a marked paragraph acknowledging the book sent the editor. Was this to go to Dr. Bucke? "No—I guess not: it is but a trifle: I send the paper off every week to an old sea captain." Bucke spoke in one of his letters of Parkman's histories. W. said: "I never read them—not one of them:yet by all accounts they are set down as being strong and fascinating." He had "never met Parkman"—in fact, knew "little about him." Sanborn discussed. W.: "I have a good picture of him here somewhere: I will hunt it up for you. Did you never see Sanborn? He has a striking

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face. Perhaps you have seen Emerson. No? Well, Frank looks like Emerson: a fine face, a fresh eye, plenty of hair, black—tall,slim. He is always exceedingly cordial: and Mrs. Sanborn too: I like her too: they have a couple of fine children-sixteen, eighteen, or twenty."
W. had "been there"—had always been "nobly received." Spoke of Mrs. S. as "a typical New England woman." Then referred to Mrs. O'Connor— "true, tender—also a New England woman: bright, intellectual dyspeptic, the mother of two children: not so cherry as before: she lost both children: a little boy—brought with them when they came to Washington: did I ever tell you about it? the time was unfortunate: the smallpox was very prevalent there then: the early years of the War: everybody was crazy with the idea of inoculation: crazy, beset, dogmatic: in this current the child went down—had been inoculated: sickened, then died, in that strange way: the other child, the girl, living on to her twenty-second year: that is, until three or four years ago." At this point I broke to W. the news of the death of Morse's mother. "It came a week or more ago when you were not so well: I thought it best then not to speak of it." He asked: "What? the good mother we have heard so much about?" And he added after a pause: "So she is dead? she is dead? How often Sidney spoke of her." Called her "the grand Roman mother." I asked: "What's the matter with her being the grand American mother?" W. looked sharply at me: "Yes Horace: the grand American mother: sure enough: we don't have to go back to Rome for our mothers: the grand American mother: is there anything beyond being that?" He would write Morse. Spoke tenderly: "How greatly the making of America belongs to the personality of its mothers-the ever faithful, ever earnest, ever strong, ever brave!"

     I had Tolstoy's My Confession with me. I gave it to him. He rose from the bed—went to the chair with my assistance. "I have Oldach's check made out: I want to give it to you." Sat in the chair. Handled the Tolstoy.

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"I will read it—at least skim it: I doubt if so closely, absorbingly, as Sebastopol." I spoke of Tolstoy's verbal simplicity: this book was in the same style: "never an assault on the reader, attempting sensational effects"—adding: "I think a great many of the writers must calculate, how will this affect the reader?" W. said: " "No doubt of it: all of them: nearly all of them: as I put it, of malic prepense." I asked: " Is n't it true of the masters, that they are incapable of such calculation?" W. said: "Yes: undoubtedly yes."

     Handed me a check for Oldach: thirty-four dollars and eighty-six cents. Then said: "Was there another? did n't you speak of another?" I indicated Adams' bill for plate printing. He took his check book, kept wrapped in brown paper on the table: "I guess I'll make it out now while I 'm in the humor." When handed to me: "That closes us all out? Our skirts are clear now?" This pays every bill.

      "Do you want this?" he asked, handing me a sheet from the table. "It is the manuscript of the Note at Beginning: I rescued it from the wood box for you." I protested against his profligacy in threatening to throw such treasures away. He was jolly over it. "Well— there 's lots more here prepared to follow it!" I kicked. "Lets's make a swop: I'll furnish paper for the fire if you 'll give me the manuscripts!" He cried: " That 's a square offer, sure enough. We 'll see— we 'll see!" Bucke refers every now and then in his letters to his own probably early death. W.: "Yes: I notice the Doctor makes such allusions, but it is in a distant sort of a way—the second, third, fourth, even fifth remove." What was Bucke's age? He did not know. Seemed to think it odd. "I can't even come a good guess when he was born: Maurice must be forty-five, fifty, years—thereabouts. I wonder?" I inquired of W. concerning Pease recently here. Weston met him at the last Contemporary meeting: had come there (Pease had come) in a flannel shirt: talked well, candidly. He spoke to Weston of W. as "the greatest man in the United States to-day."

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Weston discovered that he was a man of means—devoted himself to Socialism: came to this country, went to work in the shops: started propagandism, was discharged. W. listened to the story intently. Said as to the reference to himself: "Well, he is crazy, sure!" Then: "Yes, I recall him: of course: he is a Socialist: it seems as though all the square round fellows were getting to be Socialists: sometimes, I think, I feel almost sure, Socialism is the next thing coming: I shrink from it in some ways: yet it looks like our only hope. I 'm a sort of an anarchist tramp, too: and you? well, you are a lot like me (or am I like you?): but things drive us on—the God damned robbers, fools, stupids, who ride their gay horses over the bodies of the crowd: they drive us on : God knows to what: sometimes I don't like to think of it: but they 'll drive us into an inevitable resentment, then revolt, of some sort. The prospect of it all would make me shudder if I did n't know that something must happen—that we can't push on much farther in this direction. Horace, you 'll be in the thick of the fight after I 'm gone: my days are few: but you have years ahead—years of vicissitude—of active agitation: you are one of the rebels: you will have to take your part in the fight. God bless you whatever you do! I know that what you do for yourself, for others, in those days you 'll also do for me. God bless you!"

     As to the article from Falconer in The Critic: "Stevenson appears to be famous: all the things of the world that go to make a man famous seem to be his: I confess I do not enthuse in the slightest degree myself." On the table Consuelo. He had been repairing the loose covers: "I find after all I have the volumes complete: five of them: three of the story proper: two of the sequel—the Countess of Rudolstadt." He had said to me in the summer that he was afraid one was missing. "I have had the books—or my mother—I think since '41-nearly fifty years. This is the best translation: there is no other approaching it: it is by George William Curtis' wife's father—George

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Francis Shaw. I have always treasured it: read, read, read-never tiring. The book is a masterpiece: truly a masterpiece: the noblest work left by George Sand—the noblest in many respects, on its own field, in all literature."
He desired that I should take and read it. "I can say it almost has an historic preciousness to me, now I have had it so long. It is very decrepit—the sheets often loose, ready to drop out. I have been minded to bind it—so to preserve it, if there could be any great object in that." W. is sensitive as to translations. His first question as to My Confession was, "Who translated it?" No name on the title page. He hoped "not Dole." After we had shaken hands and I was departing (I stood in the doorway leading to Ed's room where he sat reading a paper) W. called out: "Oh! I did n't tell you: Tom brought me The Tribune to—day: I read much in it—among other things a review of Richardson's American Literature. Richardson brings me in. It seems he has made quite a discovery: he makes much of it: the reviewer uses it as if to say, that is so, very so: namely-that I distinctly confess a spiritual failure—do not know spirit at all—outrage it: in fact am grossly material etc., etc." I said: Well, that was a great discovery, was n't it?" "Oh! very great—a surprising discovery." I said again: "But don't you remember O'Connor's friend in the summer who said you were all spirit?" "Yes I remember: I thought he, I now others, made too much, far too much, of that point." Then turning back to the critique: "The reviewer evidently wants to make much of it!" He had sent the paper off to Bucke by the evening mail. I spoke of purchasing a copy. "I would not: it is not worth the time: I read it all—read it word for word: but it did not pay me. The type was good, the columns broad: I was in fine humor. It was absolutely flat—had absolutely nothing in it: much, much, much worse than Sanborn's piece on Emerson and Hawthorne, which, while having no weight, was still worth reading."


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     I heard this in a play: "a walking shadow ending in nothing." W. asked me: "Don't you like it? 'ending in nothing': how fine that is: that is the review." Again: "Most of these book reviews so-called are echoes of echoes: the fellows don't seem to have a bit of originality: they run after each other like sheep: one says a thing: then the other says a thing: then they chorus together—the whole kit and crew: they say, one, two, three, damn so and so: they say, four, five, six, save so and so: that 's the way they proceed: like so many monkeys on the limb of a tree chattering in concert." "You don't feel that they are all so?" "No—not at all: all but the exceptions: there are exceptions. Emerson was quite vigorous in talking about the critics—talking with me: he said: 'I seem to mystify them—rather mystify than antagonize them': which I guess was true. I seem to make them mad—rile them: I mystify them, too, but they don't know it: they only know I am vile, indecent, perverted, adulterous. Bryant was very nice to me generally: he seemed to follow my history somewhat—knew about me: he thought I had 'the whole wolf pack' on my heels and he would say again: 'As you have challenged the whole world I don't suppose you are surprised or resentful when you find the whole world out against you with its hounds.' It did not seem to me that Bryant was wrong: what else could I have expected? When John Morley came to see me that time he made some remark of this same tenor. 'Criticism has isolated you here in America,' Morley said; which was true: but it would also have been true to say: 'You have isolated yourself.' I am not a squealer: I don't think that a man has any call to go out breaking heads and expect the people he attacks to bless him for it: in a case like mine it 's give and take: after I 'm on right foundations no opposition can upset me: if I am falsely rooted nothing can save me."

     No day passes now but W. hands me over some document which he says is for my "archives." I said to-night to him: "You are giving me some great stuff nowadays: I will find

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real use for it: I'll make a big story out of it all some day."
He nodded: " That 's what I want you to do if the world will stand it. In the final sense they are not records of my life—of my personal life—of Walt Whitman—but scripture material applying to a movement in which I am only an episode." He had laid out one of his rough drafts of letters. This was for Conway. The envelope (Attorney General's office) was written up by W. Letter sent to M. D. Conway, Feb. 17, 1868. Left N.Y. probably 19th Feb. reach'd England probably 3d March." I read letter aloud.


Feb. 17th, 1868.

Dear Conway:

Your letter of Feb 1st has just come to hand. I am willing that Mr. Hotten should sell his English publication of my Poems in the United States, on condition of paying me one shilling for every copy disposed of here, and hereby give consent to that arrangement. Furthermore, to save trouble, I hereby fully empower you to decide or act for me, in any matters or propositions relating to the book, in England, should any such arise—and what you agree to, is agreed to by me. If convenient I should like Mr. Hotten to send me two copies of the book, by mail, immediately. I should also consider it a special favor if you would forward me from time to time any of the English magazines or journals that might contain noteworthy criticisms of my poems. But you must allow me to repay you the favor.

William O'Connor is well and remains employed as before. Ellen O'Connor is absent, in Providence, but returns here soon—their little girl has been very ill, is now convalescent.

Our American politics, as you notice, are in an unusually effervescent condition, with, perhaps (to the mere eye observation, from a distance)—divers alarming and deadly portending stars and signals:—Yet we old stagers take things very easily, and count on coming out all right in due time. The Republicans have exploited the negro too intensely, and there comes a reaction. But that is going to

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be provided for. According to present appearances the good, worthy, non-demonstrative courage-representing Grant will be elected President. What about him, then? As at present advised I shall vote for him, non-demonstrative as he is—but admit I can tell much better about him some five years hence.


I remain well in health—occupy the same agreeable quiet place in the Attorney General's office—and am writing a prose piece or two (which I will send you when printed). I wish to send my sincerest thanks and personal regards to Mr. Rossetti. To have had my book and my cause fall into his hands, in London, in the way they have, I consider one of the greatest pieces of good fortune.

Mr. Morley called upon me. Did you get my piece I sent—Democracy?—I have just received a letter from A. B. Alcott—he was with Emerson the previous evening, talking.

Remember my request to Mr. Hotten for a couple of copies by mail—also, by your own kindness, any English criticisms of value, should such appear.

I have not yet seen the February Fortnightly, nor the book William Blake, but shall procure and read both. I feel prepared in advance to render my cordial and admirant respect to Mr. Swinburne—and would be glad to have him know that I thank him heartily for the mention that he has made of me, in the Blake.

Indeed, my dear friend, I may here confess to you that to be accepted by these young men of England, and treated with highest courtesy and even honor, touches me deeply. In my own country, so far,—from the press, and from authoritative quarters, I have received but one long tirade of impudence, mockery, and scurrilous jeers. Only since the English recognition have the skies here lightened up a little.

With remembrance and love, to you, Rossetti, and all my good friends—I write for the present Farewell.


     I said to W.: "That was the time when you and Swinburne were coquetting." "Coquetting, do you call it?

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There was damned little coquetting from this side: I took Swinburne at his word—that was all when he said, 'I want to be your friend' I acquiesced: what else could I have done? I think John would rather I had said, you don't belong to me and I don't belong to you, and shown him the door. How could I have done that?"
W. also said: "You remember I gave you the Conway letter introducing Morley: I don't know whether I said then that Morley called. He did: we had a friendly talk: he was not effusive but he made it plain that he had not come merely out of the idle curiosity: there was an underlying interest (shall I say affection, too? maybe: maybe not) evident in his manner. The reference to Alcott's evening with Emerson will take you back to the Alcott letter in which he tells of it—of that visit. Oh Horace, these are all records of long ago—of times, places, persons: I was then in the struggle—fought desperately for my life. Now the strenuous first battle is over: I am no longer in the rushing current: I sit here contemplating as an observer what I was formerly in the midst of as an actor. But some matters have come my way, too: the storm has not gone altogether contrary: has brought me comfort here and there—an intimation of ultimate victory."


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