Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, January 22, 1889

     7.45 P.M. W. reading paper. Appeared exhausted. Yet was willing to talk. Had had trouble with his eyes the past week or so, too. Has to shade his eyes as he reads. Stops often. He said: "I sent the New Revue—Revue Nouvelle—off today. I am altogether in the dark: don't know what the fellow says." Was Kennedy a French scholar? "I don't know: that's what I want to find out: he'll translate it for me if he is: if he can't do it Bucke can—Doctor: either Kennedy or Doctor will do it: at any rate give me the purport of it so I may at least understand what it's all about." I noticed the rocker of his chair had caught up the strings of a couple of bundles of his manuscript: advised him of it. First he said: "Well—never mind: I'm tired"—but when I suggested that if he'd move his chair forward I'd straighten the stuff out he acquiesced, saying: "They are all disturbed: I got them in that shape looking up some scraps today." These "scraps," he informed me, were "Whitmanesque bits of which" he "made up a little package and sent off to the French fellow." He wanted to know if I remembered the man's name: asked: What is it? and when I said, "Sarrazin," repeated it, adding: "That's it: and by and by we'll know what it's all about."


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     Says he's feeling "fairly." No signs, outwardly, of any change. Suffers some from indigestion for which he is taking Friedrichsthal Waters again. "There are always devils lurking in the darkness to destroy us: we have to fight for our lives." Talked of a Rhys letter. I quoted a passage. W. exclaimed: "That's it! and splendid it is, too! It ought to be printed broadcast: we should have it printed." And he added: "Did you notice in these phlegmatic people—Rhys is one of them—that when stirred they are the fieriest of all? that when they let go all hell's in it: hell and damnation: the horriblest flames of perdition? Haven't you noticed it? Take me for example. You don't often see me mad: I don't dare get mad: I get so damned mad when I get mad that it shakes me up too much—leaves ugly results: so I hold myself in sternly: have to: yes, must."

     I sent today for copy of San Francisco Chronicle of 13th for Bucke. Received Boston Traveller. Criticism adverse. W. read it while I looked over his shoulder. "Well—that's all right: I'm entitled to it: only, I wish they would print me correctly—use the right marks—not misrepresent: I hate commas in wrong places: I want my i's dotted, my t's crossed." He had a couple of deaf and dumb visitors today. He was "considerably interested and amused to have them come." "We got along pretty well together—though silently!"

     W. talked about Garland. "He's greatly interested in the George movement: is strongly impulsive: is maybe a little one-idea'd—though as to that I don't feel quite sure: is wonderfully human: gets at the simple truths—the everyday truths: is not professional." I said: "You speak of one-idea'd men as though you rather discredited them." "Do I? I don't mean to: they certainly have a place—a vast big vital place: they can't be skipped—escaped." I said again: "You may think you're not, but you're a little one-idea'd yourself—and every man is." He nodded. "No doubt: I have never heard it put quite in that way: Jesus was one-idea'd, I admit, for instance."

     I asked him: "Well—have you some objections to Jesus?" "Yes: why not? Emerson had too: the dear Emerson: he felt that Jesus lacked humor, for one thing: a man who lacks humor is likely to concentrate on one idea." I parried him again. "Why, that's a familiar charge against you, Walt: didn't even Ruskin say that? and I hear it every now and then from somebody or other." He retorted a little hotly: "Well—you've rather got me: I'm not that much good in an

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argument. But on that Jesus matter: take that: I've heard it discussed often: some of the bright fellows have been saying it for a long time: not Emerson alone: others: radical fellows—the strong men: thinkers. Yet I confess I'm not altogether clear in the matter."
He used the phrase at one point: "Whether genius needs to be funny"—but caught himself short over it: "I should not say that: that is unjust to Emerson: to all of them: when they say humor they don't mean fun in the narrow sense of that word—they don't mean what we call joking, badinage—anything like that." Spoke of Emerson himself as "not what you would call a funny man: he was something better than that: he would not cut up—make a great noise: but for cheer, quiet sweet cheer—good humor, a habit of pouring oil on waters—I have never known his equal. Emerson was in no sense priggified—solemnfied: he was not even stately, if that means to be stiff." The word "humor," he said, always "mystified" him. "I think Shakespeare had it—had it to the full: but there have been others—great men, too—who had little or none of it. The question is, was Shakespeare's humor good natured? Good nature is the important equation in humor. Look at Heine, for example: I'm not sure of his place: but look at him—consider him: ask yourself whether he was not a mocker as well as a humorist. They do charge me, as you say, with lacking humor: it never seemed to me it could be true: but I don't dispute it: I only see myself from the inside—with the ordinary prejudice a fellow has in favor of himself: but O'Connor—oh! how he used to boil when he heard me accused of that defect: he'd boil, he'd boil—he'd boil over! The idea that anybody imagines I can't appreciate a joke or even make jokes seems preposterous. Do you find me as infernally impossible as that, Horace? Bryant said to me in one of our chats: 'The most humorous men I have met have been the lightest laughers.' You can't always tell by a man's guffaws whether he is a real humorist or not."

     W. gave me Bucke's letter of day before yesterday. Also a postcard from Garland. "Here's a slip too: Democracy in Literature: my own: it's yours if you want it: file it away: I have a few copies left." He had me read an old Conway letter to him. "It has to do with the publishing end of things: it should go among your documents: but let me hear it again."


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14 Milborne Grove,
Brompton, London, May 9, 1868.

My dear Walt,

I regret to say I was unable to do anything with the proof of Personalism. I tried several magazines, but they were already made up for their May numbers. It is the habit of literary folk to leave London during Easter, and in order that they might do so this year the editors had their magazines for May fixed early in April. But in any case I could hardly hope to get an article in here unless I had it three months beforehand—for it takes so much time to get it from one editor to another before it gets to the man who wants it. I shall be very glad to serve you always, and regret that I have failed in this case.

The Reviews have not got hold of you fairly yet; but the good discussion will surely come.

A member of Parliament who once read some quoted passage from Leaves of Grass is now reading Rosetti's volume with great interest and fast changing his opinion.

But in the last mentioned matters I hope to write you more at length hereafter.

Cordially your friend,

M.D. Conway.


     W. speaks of Conway affectionately. But he said today: "Moncure was not always discreet: was apt to say things to put himself in a hole: and me, too—once or twice: did it: talked rather wildly over there about my poverty: they got an idea that I was starving to death." W. quoted that line from Conway's letter: "The Reviews have not got hold of you fairly yet." "That was in sixty-eight—twenty years ago: it may still be said that they have not got hold of me." I put in irreverently: "Maybe there's nothing to get hold of." He took this pleasantly. "That's so: no one could have more doubts of me than I have of myself: I'm not sure of anything except my intentions." W. picked up an envelope from the table. "It's from England," he said: "it's for an autograph: some days they come in thick: I practically never answer them." I said: "Except—." And he smiling said it after me: "Yes: except—." W. added: "Emerson asked me: 'What do you do with the autograph hunter?' I said: 'Nothing: I don't hurt him: neither do I spoil him with favors.' Emerson spoke

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of this as 'very excellent' and left the subject. I was going to ask him what he did with them but didn't: something came between."

     W. asked me to get him from McKay a copy of Bucke's book "simply stitched—not bound." Oldach again disappointed us. W. impatient. "But he's German," W. said: "and so we must wait upon his pleasure: he's the immovable rock." He said: "Give my love to your mother." And he picked up a big apple from the table. "Ain't it a beauty? Give her this." And he spoke of Sam Loag, my friend and his: a printer: "Drop this in on him tomorrow as you go by"—handing me a paper with a string round it: "Sam was here: asked me for it."


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