Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 63] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Friday, February 1, 1889

     7.45 P.M. W. cleaning his pen. Working about the table when I entered. Was cordial as usual: more than ordinarily vivacious. Had

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 64] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
spent "a very good day" "exceedingly good." Then said: "I'm having some good luck: may it last!" No visitors. "I'm not sorry they don't come: I can't entertain them: yet this jail sentence I'm serving is no joke." Said Ed had been "chief cook and bottle-washer" all day: "we've sort of lived in princely style today." Mrs. Davis had been absent. "We have been alone: you know the lawsuit, don't you? You knew she was after Bill Duckett for his board, didn't you?" W. looked at me. I knew nothing of it. He shook his head. "Yes: and what a scamp he is, too—the young scoundrel, indeed!" Upon which W. entered upon a vehement recapitulation of the story. "Mary has been much exercised by it all: was in the city yesterday: the case was not called: she was for giving it up; was tired, disgusted, frightened: she had a lawyer, a young lawyer, here in Camden: what a rascal he was, too: a two-faced villain. She found that he was a distant relative of Bill's—a friend: was playing her face right along: using her for Bill's advantage. Then Mary hunted up another lawyer—Waln was his name: Philadelphia: a German I guess: he seems to have been perfectly upright, fair, frank, with her. When she spoke to him in her disgust yesterday he said: "You won't do anything of the kind: won't retreat an inch: I will get the money: the case is too good a one to be abandoned." W. expressed his gratification. "So they persisted: the case was up today: she got a verdict."

     W. paused. Then, laughing, said: "I suppose the delicate point now will be to get the money!" I asked W. what defense Bill put up. He replied indignantly: "You never would believe it: never: he went on the stand, took the oath, and deliberately swore then—think of it!—that I invited him here, that he was my guest!—the young scamp that he is! Why, that is downright perjury, outrageous lying: why, he lays himself open there to criminal action." Then he had never given such an invitation? "I should say not: on the contrary I resented his presence here from the start. Mary has lived with me now for some years: three or four years: we have never even had any misunderstanding: no words: yet the nearest we ever came to quarrel was just about Bill: this young rascal who's now trying to evade his obligations. You know, my friends tell me I am very slow to get mad: very slow: I rarely get mad but when I do I'm the devil." He laughed heartily. "I have never seen you mad, Walt." He said: "You needn't want to." After closing his eyes as if in thought: "It is

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 65] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
astounding: and on Mary, too, who is so good to 'em all—all the boys! Mary stood it long after I warned her that it would not do. Bill lived at the corner with an aunt: he wanted to leave: asked to come here. We talked together about it: agreed that it would not do—that we did not want him. By and by the boy's grandmother died: on her deathbed she pleaded with Mary to receive, trust, care for, the boy. That brought the question up again: I left the matter with Mary entirely for her to do with as she thought best."

     Bill then came, with W. voting against it. "But Mary respected the death-wish: the situation grew worse and worse: I had my carriage then: Bill rode about with me: drove sometimes." Did he formally engage Bill? "Never: neither formally nor informally: he went as much because he wanted to go as because I wanted him: he was often with me: we went to Gloucester together: one trip was to New York: went up on a Thursday, came back Saturday: then to Sea Isle City once: I stayed there at the hotel two or three days—so on: we were quite thick then: thick: when I had money it was as freely Bill's as my own: I paid him well for all he did for me." Here W. paused a moment. Then continued warmly: "And now let me tell you, Horace, that makes it all the worse: this young jackanapes has an income: one of the big trusts in the city—the Fidelity—has an estate which his father left him: he draws a sort of quarterly dividend: think of it: and then to victimize Mary so damnably: make her wait, then only pay her half! Horace, it's sad, sad: I say it: I ought to know: poor boy! poor boy! I pity him: I would receive him today if he needed me: would help him: I am sure I would be the first to help him. I liked Bill: he had good points: is bright—very bright." Time wore on. "Bill showed no signs of improving: on the contrary took every advantage of us: of Mary, of me: he paid probably fifty dollars in all: then stopped: not another cent."

     It got so before long that W. "did not like to have Bill around": W. in fact "told Mary so." "A number of things happened here: not directly traced to Bill but attached to him without a doubt: serious offences: very serious. I argued with Mary: more than that, argued with Bill: told him he must not stay. Bill would swear by all that was holy that he would by and by make all this right: would almost literally get down on his knees: then I would weaken." W. asked: "Does it interest you? I want you to know about it." Proceeded: "It

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 66] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
is the disposition of old people to overlook, to weaken, to yield, to spare themselves severity: so I gave in. Nevertheless, Bill was finally got to go: he became unendurable. I showed him all the confidence I could: I was favorably inclined towards him. Do you know, Horace, it has come to me as a conviction out of long experience that there seem to be some men, some natures, that must develop, must display, the bad, just as the snake gives its poison, just as the tiger exercises its ferocity."

     W. was always breaking in upon his own narrative with "poor boy! poor boy!" The picture of Bill standing in court and perjuring himself was what "most nettled" W. "I asked Mary how it happened that my name was brought into the case: she said, 'only as Bill brought it in': the counsel were very respectful: very little was said." W. said Bucke had always declared that Duckett was "a moral imbecile." W. was not willing to "repeat the Doctor's classification." But: "It is wonderful how keen the Doctor is on all that: no one would suspect, seeing him—quiet, lowtoned, modest, seemingly crude, almost rustic—that he had one of the sharpest, most penetrating, minds in the world for touching the keynote of character. I have in fact found Doctor to be of all the men I know the most marked in that respect."

     W. got on a new track. "Do you know much about the transportation men?—the railroad men, the boatmen? It seems to me that of all modern men the transportation men most nearly parallel the ancients in ease, poise, simplicity, average nature, robust instinct, firsthandedness: are next the very a b c of real life." Pointed out the letter carriers. "Those we find in the cities: New York, Washington, Philadelphia, here: simple, honest, bright, satisfying." They had "so many of the positive virtues." "I am," he continued, "au fait always with wharfmen, deckhands, train workers." I said it wasn't one section of it but the whole working class which could come under this head: W. acquiesced. "I suppose that's true: no one has more respect for them than I do: I wish them all the luck: freedom: all that: but somehow I've come closer to the transportation men."

     W. spoke of Freiligrath. "A noble man indeed: you know, I suppose, that he wrote about me, criticized me, translated me?" Was Leaves of Grass likely to take any hold on Germany? W. doubtful. "It is like predicting the weather fifty years hence: one knows there

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 67] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
will be weather, but what that weather will be it's safest not to worry over—safest not to attempt to forecast."
Laughed over "the real good fellows in Philadelphia. They are like the real good fellows everywhere: they seem in a crust: a thick impenetrable crust: a crust of tradition, custom, all that: and when you get through said crust there is something, something—but!" "But as for whether Leaves of Grass will ever penetrate the Continental countries, and to what effect, whether deeply, I should not dare think about, much less foretell."

     No letter from Bucke today. Century for February received. W. read Walter Scott piece in Scribner's. "It will please you," he said: "I read it with zest: everything about Scott attracts me: he was one man among many men: Scott, Cooper: I go back to them, some things in Homer, Aeschylus: then the Bible: Byron: Epictetus: they are my daily food: a few others, maybe, added."

     W. said: "I have found you another of William's rare letters." He asked me to read it. I looked it over. "It's pretty long," I said. He repeated the phrase after me: "It's pretty long: so it is." Then asked me: "It's not too long for me to listen to: is it too long for you to read?" I said no. Then I went at it.


Washington, D.C.,
July 25, 1885.

Dear Walt:

I hope your stroke of exhaustion from the heat was not as serious as the newspaper made it seem. I always make allowance for the reporter. The weather here for ten days past has been as bad as the Soudan. Torrid. At this moment (Sunday afternoon) the clouds have gathered heavily and the thunder is rumbling—so I suppose relief is coming.

I have had a strange illness lately, but hope I am getting better. It took the form of utter weakness, and for a fortnight I barely had the use of my legs, and tumbled down on the slightest provocation. [ "Poor William, poor all of us: this was the beginning of your end!" W. exclaimed.] I began to wonder whether I was going to match you. The doctor, however, says it will pass if I take great care of myself, requiring me to keep as quiet as possible. I suppose it comes from my being much run down.

I am glad you liked the photo. It is a good likeness, and quite

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 68] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
powerful as a picture. That Bacon is a great success. If I could only get a steel engraving! This is only a wood cut, and probably does small justice to Vandyke's portrait. The resemblance to the ideal portraits of Shakespeare is remarkable—I think prophetic. Donnelly writes me that the cipher is coming out gloriously. It is a complete narrative of Bacon's life and times, regularly underlying the text of the plays, and settles the Bacon-Shakespeare question conclusively. [ "I wish it did, William," interrupted W., "but I'm afraid it does not."] William will have to step down and out for good. [ "Good-bye, William!" W. cried with a laugh: "Now don't let me see you again!"] I laugh when I think of the chagrin of the Shakespeareans, who have been so insolent and intolerant, and suppressed evidence with a high hand. [ "A very low hand, William, if we tell the truth: a damned low hand!"] Donnelly, when he was here, got quite intimate with me, explained the law of the cipher, and read me a good deal of the translation. The cipher is by regular rule, which will stop the mouth of any caviller. [ "The cavillers we have with us always: they're not so readily gagged."] It is as simple and indisputable as twice two are four, but terribly laborious to decipher, the process being one continual counting of words. I am amazed at the revolutionary daring of the device on the part of Bacon. [ "Here's where I get dizzy and leave you, William: figgers is no doubt figgers: but so is Walt Walt: I'm no good trying to make sense out of ciphers"] You will be surprised to see how the corruption of the text is accounted for. In every case, so far, where the sense is in doubt, it is explained by the sacrifice of some word to the exigencies of the cipher. Doubtless the cipher will end by telling us where the original true manuscripts are hidden, which I will bet are in the Shakespeare monument (not grave) at Stratford. The scene in the cipher where Bacon to save the life of his servant, Henry Percy, acknowledges to Queen Elizabeth his own authorship of Richard Second and the other plays up to that date, is tremendously striking. She calls him, "Thou damned beast," clutches him by the beard and beats him with her crutch. No wonder that Essex meant to stab the old termagant (as Bacon calls her in the cipher) with his own hand—habitually inflicting such indignities on the great men around her. Essex himself got a blow in the face from her. All the account of Shakespeare's raid on Sir Thomas

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 69] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Lucy's park; his flight to London; his appearance, ragged and bare-footed, in front of the Red Bull theatre, bawling for horses to hold, where Bacon first saw him is quite rich. "A good-tempered ragged wretch," is Bacon's description of him. [ "It all sounds good enough to be true: can it be true? William handles that better than anyone else. Yet I confess these multiplied evidences confuse me: I don't seem to need so many proofs: in a multitude of testimonies there may be chaos."]


The bit from the Journal of Commerce which young Johann sent you, shows that we still live. There was quite a blast for me lately in the Berlin Advertiser—very friendly, but full of the oddest errors, as, for example, where he makes me very finicky about spelling my name with only one n (!!) and has me as librarian of the Department, &c. C. W. E. sent the Journal of Commerce a list of the poems written about you, requested by its correspondent.

I got the papers you sent, including the Tribune with Smalley's letter about Victor Hugo, written with his usual admirable talent and deformed, as usual, by his meanness. He is the meanest man living. I always used to say he could be parsed—positive Small, comparative Smaller, superlative Smalley! [ "I enjoy William's epithets without always agreeing with him. Still, I think he's put Smalley about where he belongs."]

Victor Hugo's death much weakened my appetite for life. [ "Queer, that sort of reaction: I always reach towards rather than away from life, no matter what happens."] I read with interest what he said about Shakespeare, but the criticism about his indifference to the lower classes does not touch me as true. [W. broke in: "I'm sorry, William, but it's true: Hugo's surer than you are at that point."] It never appears to be remarked that of all the wise, compassionate, sympathetic men of that age, not one spoke up for the poor and downtrodden. Why? Because they could not! Victor Hugo in that age would have had to be silent. One single line in a scene expressing even latent sympathy with the Jack Cades or Wat Tylers, would have sent its author at once to the block, and the play itself would have been suppressed even before it had appeared, so watchful and relentless was the censorship. To realize the bloody, brassy, wanton vigor of the military despotism then in power, one has only to note the treatment Raleigh got. The government was simply infernal—

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 70] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
almost inconceivable. The only thing the illuminati of that day could do was to set about the slow sap of the monarchy. This was the only way they could rehabilitate the commons. To alter your sense a little— "the indirect is as great and real as the direct"—and the indirect was their only weapon or implement. [ "Very fine, William: every word of it: but I still believe Shakespeare was essentially an aristocrat: they all were: the scholars, then: the lords dallying with the court: they were all distrusters of the people."]


I too heard lately from Dr. Bucke, urging me to visit him. I wish you could go up there but have no doubt you are prudent to stay near home.

Mrs. Gilchrist sent me a copy of the To-day. I have really not had the strength of mind to read what she has written—I have been so ill and feeble—but intend to soon. I have no doubt her article is good, and when I have read it, I mean to write her my thanks. I have an awful pile of unanswered letters.

Decapitation, of which you ask, seems impending, and I am anxiously thinking what field will be open to me when I am shoved out of here. There have been several people after my position already.

I wish you could get stronger in your legs. It would be such a comfort to be able to move about freely.

I wrote an article defending Mrs. Pott's book from Richard Grant White, and bringing out several vital points in the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy. It was rejected by several magazines, but finally accepted by the Manhattan, the editor, Forman, being immensely taken with it. He held it a long time, hoping the magazine would resume, and surrendered it with evident reluctance and regret. Now I propose to bring it out in a book or brochure, and have written to McKay offering it to him. If you are in the way of seeing him, give me a boost. I think, considering the general interest just now in the question, it might really have some sale.

Since I began the change has come. Last night we had a tremendous rain, and today it continues, though moderately. It is a blessed relief. (Today means Monday the 27th.) Goodbye. With best wishes and hopes,

Yours always faithfully,

W. D. O'Connor.


     W. said: "William would talk alive with a dagger in his heart: it's

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 71] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
impossible to minimize him: he's always all of him to the fore: I can't conceive of anything that would dethrone his buoyant cheer."
And he added: "Other men are more famous than William but no man is greater than he is: it often occurs that the noisy reputations go far ahead: but they lose out in the end: the genuine article finally wins." I asked: "Don't you think history may sometimes permanently obscure its superior people?" He added: "I have asked myself the same question: there is more than a probability on your side." As I was about leaving, while he held my hand, I said: "That secret that you were to divulge: you haven't told it to me: is it still too soon?" He became serious. "No—it's never too soon: but I'm still not in the mood to talk."


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.