Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, January 13, 1889.

     7.45 P. M. W. reading Shakespeare Sonnets. Had been reading the Carlyle letters busily to-day. He was "getting along with them." "But they do not make me much happier: Carlyle is a great pessimist: seems to have started so: even these first letters show it." Far on towards the end—three-quarters. For the first time in weeks spoke gloomily of his health. Questioned me. How was the day? It was mild, clear—almost green off on the hills. "What of Germantown?" and "you had some walk?" and "it must have been inspiring." But there he had sat the whole long day. "It is getting very very monotonous—very monotonous: the same place all day long, days in and out: not even moving out of the room. I don't appear to get up far if at all: rather retrograde than anything else: the main trouble is in my locomotion—my legs seem almost wholly given out." Ed said to me as I was going that he thought this really so—not W.'s momentary humor: he has increasing difficult in getting up the three steps from the bathroom, &c. I quoted Bucke. "He says you may go on this way indefinitely with care." But he was not convinced. "It is not the legs alone: I don't start up tall expectations in any re-

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spect."
He "must simply drift along." I cautioned him concerning colds. He asked: "The room is warm enough now, isn't it?" adding: "I am very cautious: I try not to take cold." This is true. But for his extreme caution he would have been dead long ago. It is only occasionally that his confinement chafes him into any expression of complaint and then the complaint is rather regret—not stronger than that.

     We got talking of the Nellie O'Connor letter he gave me yesterday. I had not read it to him yesterday. He had me do it now. I brought it in my pocket. It was postmarked Washington, November 21, '68. W. had endorsed it '63.


Sat. Nov. 21st, 400 L. Street.

Dear W., Many thanks for your long good letter, which I am not going now to answer. I write at the request of Charlie Eldridge who said that he should be too busy to-day to do so, to tell you that he and Mrs. Cooper are to leave here either in the 8 A. M. or the 11 A. M. train on Monday night for Philadelphia, and he is to remain at her house that night. They want you to leave New York so as to meet them, and stay at her house too. Her residence is No. 1429 Girard Avenue, between Broad and 15th Streets.

Mrs. Cooper has been coaxing, persuading, begging, entreating, commanding even William to go on with them too, but he says he can't, and I know him well enough to know that she can't move him. She wants me to go on also, but I know that I shall not unless some strong pressure is brought to bear between now and Monday, for I can see that William does not want to spare me.

They fully count upon seeing you. Charlie will remain at Mrs. C.'s till Tuesday evening. By the way, he got your letter and was delighted with it: he said it was worthy to be set in a gold frame—to which William and I assented most heartily.

Dear Walt, we long for you, William sighs for you, and I feel as if a large part of myself were out of the city. I

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shall give you a good big kiss when you come, so depend upon it.


My love to your good noble mother, whom I shall some day know. Kiss her for me—and tell her that I love her boy Walt. I want to see those splendid children, too. But I shall some day. Good-bye.

No more now, but if you are not back in a few days I will write you a good long letter and answer yours fully.

Oh! do you know that Mrs. Howells is in New York—has been there a week?

With love from all. Yours

Nelly.


     W. was much affected by this letter. He sort of excused himself. Wiped the tears out of his eyes. " It 's not so much what's in the letter, Horace, as what it leads me back to, what it stirs up in me, what its tender indirections are. The O'Connor home was my home: they were beyond all others—William, Nelly—my understanders, my lovers: they more than any others. I was nearer to them than to any others—oh! much nearer. A man's family is the people who love him—the people who comprehend him. You know how for the most part I have always been isolated from my people—in certain senses have been a stranger in their midst: just as we know Tolstoy has been. Who of my family has gone along with me? Who? Do you know? Not one of them. They are beautiful, fine: they don't need to be apologized for: but they have not known me: they have always missed my intentions. Take my darling dear mother: my dear, dear mother: she and I—oh! we have been great chums: always next to each other: always: yet my dear mother never took that part of me in: she had great faith in me—felt sure I would accomplish wonderful things: but Leaves of Grass? Who could ever consider Leaves of Grass a wonderful thing: who? She would shake her head. God bless her! She never did. She thought I was a wonderful thing, but the Leaves? oh my, hardly the

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Leaves! But she would put her hand in mine—press my hand—look at me: all as if to say it was all right though in some ways beyond her power to explain. I was saying our family is where we are loved—understood: by all the real tests the O'Connor family was my family: you, Rossetti, anyone that near to me, is my family. I have been giving you the letters—the avowal letters, we have called them: they are my family—the avowers: blood tells sometimes against a man as well as for a man: they say that blood is thicker than water: but what does blood mean in a case like this? what do you think blood counts for with George? George is my brother: it may be said that I love him—he loving me, too, in a certain sort of way. But would you say that George was capable of giving you any ripe views on Leaves of Grass? I would say, God bless George my brother: but as to George my interpreter, I would ask God to do something else with him. When I think of what my own folks by blood royal have done for me, I don't make much of the family diamonds or the inherited crown. Now, you must not set this down for a growl: it 's not that: I never feel unhappy over what is unavoidable: I have no more right to expect things of my family than my family has to expect things of me: we are simply what we are: we do not always run together like two rivers: we are not alike: that 's the part and the whole of it. My relations with Nelly and William were quite exceptional: extended to both phases—the personal, the general: they were my unvarying partisans, my unshakable lovers—my espousers: William, Nelly: William so like a great doing out of the eternal—a withering blast to my enemies, a cooling zephyr to my friends."

     No visitors at all to-day. Harned stopped at the door but did not go up. Had an idea of having Eakins' picture of W. photo-engraved. We talked it over. "Can they enlarge—can they diminish?—this way?" W.'s friends in the main resent E.'s picture. But he is obdurate. "For my part I consider that a masterpiece of work: strong, rugged,

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even darling"
: and as to the criticisms: "We won't care: we 'll go on holding our own view: I stick to it." Then after a pause, rubbing his eyes, putting up his left hand, shading his face from the light: "I have told you before, I think, of a speech I heard from Webster: it was years and years ago. He started off with saying: 'I come, not to tell you pleasant things but true things'"—here W. laughed at his own homely way of putting the phrase: "That is the substance of it: but he spoke with more grace, ease." Then he continued: "It always hits me that way with this portrait: not what he wanted to but what he did see." He alluded to Sothern's picture in The Stage: "wonderfully reproduced"—photo engraving. Returned the paper: "it is interesting, it is easy: I think I have read every line of it." Remarked, however, "the generally dull tone of papers at present": no "starting events anywhere."

     W. asked: "How about Clifford? You have n't told me about Clifford: is he kept busy at Germantown these days?" I described the old man Galvin out there [W. spelled the name after me: it is his habit]: how he is gradually losing his hearing: now nearly gone: first would hear the sermon with both ears: then had to turn one ear: then curl his hand into a transmitter: now so deaf can do little but count the people, which he does every Sunday. W. laughed heartily and long. "In most cases—in most churches—that would be an advantage—not to hear: but then that is one of the things—especially in the case of such an affliction—which each fellow would rather judge for himself." Interested in Hilda, Clifford's younger daughter. I quoted him Clifford's saying that W.'s "great critic had not yet come": a sort of O'C.—one of his ability—coming modernly fresh upon the Whitman literature. W. listened—asked me to repeat it: then, after reflecting: "That is one of the things I always think will take care of itself: the underbrush has to be cleared away first: there is much of that: we must not be in a hurry." He was "willing to let the natural forces take care of it," as undoubtedly would. "I remember

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—it is quite vivid—a spot off on Long Island, somewhere in the neighborhood of our old home—rough, uncultivated, uncared for—choked with underbrush—forbidding: people coming would avoid it—it was that kind of a place: put to no practical uses, untouched."

     W.'s manner was quiet, sweet: reminiscent. "I left the neighborhood—was away for years: wandering: seeing: living: went back again: the whole face of it was changed: now a base ball ground, a park, something or other: yet it had required but little work to effect the transformation—simply clearing away the brush: now it is a perfect spot of its kind—a resort." Before we "can be judged there needs to be some such clearance in the spiritual world." He proceeded: "Carry the thought along: there is an art in such a situation—an art of not doing too much." He had "known, talked with," landscape gardeners. "They have assured me the desired thing was not an absolute cutting away but modification—nature not all wiped out, as if ashamed of." In N.Y. and Brooklyn "Olmsted was the famous man for that: but I don't think much of him—don't think he knows much. With him titivation was the word: titivate things. I can give you an instance: it will mark the man. You know Prospect Park in Brooklyn: it is a grand hill—one of the grandest hills in the world: in character it reminds me of a stretch of Western prairie I have seen: a hundred miles clean sweep: a clear level, then a hill—a gradual hill, taking three or four miles to complete the ascent." He said: "This man Olmsted had been commissioned to spend two hundred thousand dollars to start with: and what do you think he did? of all things the most absurd, ridiculous, fantastic: he built an artificial hill there! My brother was a young engineer: was very much worked up about it: indignant: and so was I: though I took that thing, as I take most things, more calmly." He thought that example "beyond anything" he had ever heard of, "stupid and narrow." "I might liken the hill to the case of a great man—a king, let us say—who was to come to

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see the ocean—see it for the first time—the grand free sky overhead: the roar of the water on the shores: the music: but for whom it was feared the shock of seeing would be too sudden: the difficulty being finally disposed of by the cutting of a lake inland: the king first to see that—to realize the power of the sea by degrees. That is Olmsted!"
Fine as W. said it. Not seeming very buoyant, yet talked very freely. No change for the worse. W. said as I left: "I say again, Horace, you are my family: if love and being in rapport together makes two men of one family, then you are my family and I am yours."


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