Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, December 31, 1888.

     8 P. M. Ed met me. Said W. had a bit of a cough during the day. Doctor in. Advised plaster in case W. did not improve. Went upstairs. W. gulping water from a pitcher: his ordinary method: except at the table he rarely or never drinks from a cup or glass. We had an animated talk lasting till nearly nine. He appeared to be a little disturbed. He said: "Eddy brought me in a letter half an hour ago: it was postmarked Washington: it was heavily edged with black. I thought of O'Connor at once: opened it with much trepidation: found, however, that it was from other friends there: a man and wife I knew well: they have lost somebody." It had been "a great relief" to him. "Black letters or telegrams coming late in the night always

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set a man's nerves off: but on reflection I did not think O'Connor would realize any sudden death. His fate, I fear, will be still more lamentable than that: rather a wasting away—slow, gradual: loss of abilities—faculties—perhaps."
This was his "great concern for William." I myself am inclined to the antique prejudice—the glory of the sudden death, the being cut off one swathe, in the pride, the loftiness, of achievement. Look at Ward Beecher: how happily—no lingering"—then, after I had said something: "Yes, and Dickens, others: there is much to be said for it."

     Against the wall, standing on the table, a big picture of W., autographed. "Yes, it was just sent to me: comes from Pearsall Smith: left here with many other of his properties: they have just come to it—sent it over." Then he turned to me suddenly: I had called it the Victor Hugo Whitman: "Does it suggest that? Well—maybe: but do you detect a scowl, a frown, anything bordering on it?" It was serious, not severe. "Well, I don't know: I have feared it was a frown. That is one of the Washington portraits—one of Gardner's—taken about he same time as yours." I said: "O'Connor says you like your idiot pictures best." He laughed. "Maybe: but do you call this an idiot picture?" No. "Neither do I. But I know what William means: he used to say to me sometimes—'Walt, when it comes to some things you've got no more taste than a rat,' and I would say: 'I think a rat has a good deal of taste!' But I confess William would go way ahead of me in that direction—was gifted beyond us all: was sensitive in the last degree to beauty." But he speaks often enough of the beautiful things in Leaves of Grass—uses the word 'beauty' often in relation to your work." "So he does: and no doubt all he says he saw he thought he saw: but the fact remains that in esthetic things he was developed much beyond me—was in fact, talking of such things, one of the most remarkable men of his time." "Do you object to the esthetic?" "Being an esthetic and hav-

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ing esthetic sympathies are two things! Willliam was not an esthetic—far from it: he despised the prettinesses, the curtsies, such ephemera: he was a man, a virile man, first of all: esthetical inclinations can do no hurt to a man who is first and last of all a man."

     He was amused. Seemed to be thinking of something funny. "I had a letter from Doctor," he said: "he shies, just as you did—flies off—at the accented e in Goethe: sends one of the sheets back with suggestions of changes: I sent this up to Curtz with word that if not too late the change should be made—a few more copies struck off: but the matter had been distributed, so I shall let it drop. I am sorry Eddy left the copy there—I must send him for it." He is still wondering whether Bucke is sore over his having used the letter in this way. "As for the accented e, that is easily fixed—a penknife will do that." I quoted a bad sentence from the letter. W. said: "I realize that, but I look on this as a spontaneous offhand utterance—a bit of emotional expression caught on the fly, not to be measured by rules of composition." Thought it "far better" for "being what it is." In spite of W. I went off to-day and bought The Tribune. He was immensely funny over this. "That is natural, right: I should have done it myself: there is a determination in the critter to go in and see for himself if a thing reputed bad is bad." Now did I believe the piece was bad? I had to own up. W. was happy. "It struck me—as you say it—that it was trivial, petty, stupid"—then followed: "I have known one thing a long while—was told it: Billy Winter has said it: he is a terrible liar, to be sure, and a fool to boot: but Winter has said to some one that the main reviewer on The Tribune was a woman. This piece was very Tribuney." Then: "But did you discern the woman?" I had no notion of sex in reading. "Nor I," said W. "I had not seen the woman—had not seen the man—detected nothing: it is a very stale, flat, as you say, trivial, piece all through." He considered "the reviewers as a class anyhow to be

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miserable, narrow minded, often mountebanky."
Said he felt a serious aversion for their methods. "It seems to me they wholly misconceive their importance, functions: instead of stating, explaining, what is in a book, what a writer says, they think the essential thing heir own opinion of the book: say bright things—attempt them, rather, for they are rarely bright at all—quite the opposite." To him that was the merit of The Herald piece on November Boughs. "It states my position—lets me state it in my own words: then lets the reader answer for the rest."

     Considerable talk of actors and acting. "I suppose there will be an account in to-morrow's papers of the opening of the play house in New York: I have followed it with a good deal of interest. At least in that thing Booth has displayed the most noble munificence: and anyhow, Booth is a man to be accepted. I have had letters from him, he has had letters from me. But how utterly despicable is Booth's participation in that actor's tariff business." He had seen in The Press this morning the Ellen Terry interview on Macbeth. "It was a thing to read: but as Siddons long ago clapped a copyright on the interpretation of Macbeth, I do not think Ellen Terry can change the course of conviction, which belongs to Siddons." I expressed "some doubt as to Ellen Terry's capacity for the Macbeth part." She was "subtle." W. said: "I have supposed that very thing myself, though I ought not to pretend to judge, never having seen her." Had I read Fleming Jenkins' Notes on Macbeth? "You should do so: they are notable: very strange, unusual: but there 's nothing better—nothing anywhere. They are the notes of a Scotchman—a gentleman: barrister: something or other: going into the pit, seeing the play, putting the notes down, pencil in hand—just as he sat, as they came. That is their charm. The Nineteenth Century Magazine printed them several years ago: I came across them there: tore them out: have had them ever since—often consulted them. They are about here somewhere: you shall have them—ought to have them.

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You know about Jenkins? Robert Louis Stevenson has written him up"
Spoke of a portrait of Mrs. Siddons. "She holds a dagger aloft—so: is drawn back"—gestures: had I seen it? I doubted—did not remember. "Well, if you do not remember you did not see it: if you had seen it you would never have forgotten it. It was memorable as a portrait."

     Salvini was mentioned. W. wide awake over it. S. always animates me. I stood up—talked warmly—W. saying "Good—good" half a dozen times—spurring me on with questions. He has never seen Salvini— "I suppose now will never see him, though I ought.": yet "I do not doubt your description: it sounds as if it must be about right. It is confirmed in all I hear—all I hear that I value: I can often tell from the tone and measure of a criticism what a thing may be worth." As to S., there "appears to be an unprecedented and universal recognition of his genius." I referred to The Tribune's complaint that S.'s Othello was not Shakespearean. W.: "That was of Othello? I remember an Othello criticism: undoubtedly written by William Winter: Winter is the dramatic editor: and what an arrant damned fool he is!—a little fellow in all ways: must measure everything with a tape: knows nothing beyond traditions, customs, habits, stage inventions. If he had lived at the time of Garrick-Garrick was the first to break through the old bonds—he would have insisted that Garrick should play Hamlet wearing small clothes and a periwig, as it had once to be played. That was the tradition: a tradition is everything. Winter always calls for the rules: like your friend Morris, calls upon the canons." But "the objection to" S. on "such grounds" was "as weak as skim milk." Salvini seems to me from what I hear to supply the qualities I always insist upon as requisites for the Shakespearean: abandon: the subtle southern passion: fire, glow, the absence of calculation." Said further: "I can conceive Salvini: but I have notions so influenced by some of the old actors—Booth, for in-

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stance, as Richard—that I would have to see Salvini, to explain him intelligibly, to report him fully, to myself even."
Asked me about Rossi. Did he too measure up so big? "Read the Bowery piece in November Boughs again: I mention Jenkins there—speak of some of the others. They were the days of my greatest theatrical application."

     I picked up a letter. He said: "Take it along." I looked at the signature: I asked: "Who is Thomas Tylston Greg?" The card also said, "England." W. said: "That is what I should like to know: who is he? He sent me that letter: I have n't given it much attention: it came only a day or two ago: there was something came with it"—leaned over: pushed among things on the floor. "It was a little pamphlet—probably fifteen or twenty pages: oh! where is it? Let me see! Let me see!" Finally struck it. "Oh! here it is: a speech delivered somewhere. Look!" Pamphlet: "Walt Whitman: Man and Poet," delivered October 16th before the Warrington Literary and Philosophical Society. "The letter indicates warmth, enthusiasm—is fluently written." As to the pamphlet: "I have not really read it: take it: see what you make of it: it and the letter: afterwards we will send both to Bucke: he likes all such things." G.'s letter:


15 Cliffords Inn, E. C.
December, 16, 1888.

My dear Sir:

I should like, if I can do so without impertinence, to send you my grateful thanks for the, almost, new feeling or sense which you and the Leaves of Grass have endowed me. You have, through them, infused into my life and into the lives of many others, a fresher, healthier happiness than we knew of—and we thank you. I send you a paper which I read in October last in Warrington, Lancashire, and let my sincerity and enthusiasm be my excuse for the utter inadequacy of treatment of a subject I both love and revere. We English are learning each year to know you better and to value you more. The Harvest of

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the Leaves is not I fear quite ready—but when it is, and the day is not far off—assuredly the laborers will not be few. May you live to learn the truth of this. I remain, my dear sir, with grateful thanks,


Thomas Tylston Greg.


     It is curious how little out of such letters he feeds to his self-esteem. I saw that in this case as in McCarthy's he had read the letter but casually. I found it on the floor, much trodden over. He speaks of being "grateful": then as to Greg's estimate of his work: "which all remains to be seen: we must wait: wait patiently, I can tell you." Again: "You and Doctor attach more importance than I do to things like that." Yet he can just as freely say: "They come and they come: somehow Leaves of Grass seems to gather up its own here and there." Always quietly, however—interrogatively. "May you live to learn the truth, Horace: but I 'm afraid I won't live—or afraid the truth has already been told: the truth: the failure." "O pshaw!" I exclaimed: "You don't think you've been a failure: what's the use putting on airs? Why don't you get humble and reconcile yourself to your success?" He exploded over this. " You 're damned sassy, boss: yes you are: but I'll obey: I'll be humble: forgive me: forgive me."

     I found him at last much interested in the Goethe-Carlyle letters. "I have made discoveries: glints, lights—happy ones too—I never met with before: I am much attracted. Here is a new Carlyle: I have been tempted as I go along to make my marks in the book: I always do it in my own books: but restrained myself: it is a settled principle with me not to underline books belonging to other people." I would only have been glad to have him do this. Said so. "Ah! that is like an invitation, almost: sometime I may surprise you with the plenitude of my emphases!" Of the portrait sent by Smith: "That was my prime—that was the period of my power—of endurance: the period in

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which I was most alive"
-and he added: "Except for an interval or two, from fifty-five to seventy-three—nearly twenty years." Walsh had been in. Why had he stayed away so long? "He was sick himself: looks it, too: so I had to wait." I said to W.: "You take such letters as Greg's nonchalantly, but don't you feel a bit better after they come?—as if they were in some way a verification of your work? You sometimes act as if you did n't care a damn: but you do, don't you? You do care? You would rather have it this way than the other way, would n't you?" He grew serious. "Do I give you the impression that I don't care? I do care: of course I care: I love those fellows: but when I listen to such things, said in such a way, said by dead in earnest, grave, sane, men and women, how dare I nod yes to it—how dare I assume that they are right? Maybe they are right, but is it my business to say so?" I said: " It 's all right: I see: I only wanted to know if you cared: I don't say you should endorse what they say: I say you should endorse them." "I do! I do! I do endorse them: their good will, camaraderie, their love: yes indeed, I endorse their love." He spoke with great feeling. Then took my hand and held it fervently. "I always expect you to know a lot about me without my having to say it to you—about my feelings: especially my feelings towards you." I wished him a happy New Year. "Ah boy! and you too!" and what would the New Year bring us? "I wonder—wonder—wonder," he said, slowly: "I suppose the watchers are already gathering—the meetings commenced."

     I paid checks to Oldach and to Adams. Oldach acknowledged overcharge at once.


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