Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, February 16, 1889

     7.30 P.M. W. reading paper. Asked: "The weather outside is pretty bad, isn't it? Is it still raining?" as indeed it was. Rain all day. Could not take the picture with me to Philadelphia. W. said about himself: "I still have trouble with my head but it is no worse." I delivered McKay the twenty-four books. He expected to ship them today to New York and Boston. I rendered him two bills—one for four and the other for ninety-six dollars. W. said: "I like the idea that it has started off so: but now I haven't a book here for myself—not a copy." I looked towards the table: knew he had left a copy there. He divined me. "Yes, there was one, but I sent that up to Tom." Then suddenly: "Let me see: suppose we send a dozen of what are left with Oldach to Dave: that will leave me how many?" "A dozen." "Well, that will do for the present. I want one copy by Wednesday for Doctor Bucke: you will see that I get it?" Personal item in Press about Burroughs. W. asked: "Where is he? in Poughkeepsie or at the farm?" Said I should write B. for him. "Tell him I still remain imprisoned, in health much as I have been: tell him I am reasonably comfortable—that I am always minded of him, John." Letters from Nellie O'Connor and Bucke. No change in William. "Doctor writes that he will positively start Monday and will be here Tuesday; says he will see me Tuesday afternoon or evening. Evidently he intends getting that meter thing under way before he comes over to Camden. He calls this a business trip." He said Bucke thought he might have trouble getting leave of absence. But W. thought that "nonsense." "The government there must respect a man of Doctor's quality—would not refuse him."

     W. asked me to follow up on Dave's idea about books for abroad. "I guess I'll have you get eight or ten sets of sheets folded—unbound." I asked: "What for?" W. seemed surprised. "Didn't you say he wished 'em?" "No: I only said he supposed the copies sent abroad, if any, would have to be sent in sheets." "Oh! then we'll not push this." I said: "I wish some of the fellows over there could see your cover." W. wished so himself. "I don't think they would do better: yet I don't know: they are doing wonderful work: they have great binders: it would be hard to beat—even to equal—them." He got to searching the paper-piled table for something. "I had a slip here,"

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he explained, "from one of the Boston papers—an advertisement of some scrapbook for photographs: I intended that you should look it up for me." After his fruitless hunt: "Well it's gone: anyhow, you can keep on the qui vive for such a thing: I should like to find out more about it." He added: "I remember being told by somebody that anything that can be bought anywhere in the world can be bought in Philadelphia." Here he laughed. "That must be true: ergo, you will find my photograph book in one of the Chestnut Street stores if you don't forget to look for it."

     Harned came in. W. & T. greatly animated. W. immediately opened up. "Did you get the book, Tom?" T. enthusiastic. W. again: "Are you satisfied with it? Isn't that as good binding as you could have got for yourself?" T. had asked for a copy in sheets. "We were just talking of it as you came in—Horace and I: Horace said our cover should be seen abroad." Harned "liked the idea" of "putting the two books together" so as to get a powerful immediate result. W. said: "I like you to like that idea, Tom: for that idea is the idea." Continuing: "The thing that has tickled me more than any other is, that I sent a copy clear across the sea into the wilds of Ireland—clapped forty cents of postage on it (the only copy sent abroad except the Frenchman, Sarrazin's)—half dubious as to how it would carry: to a friend: you know him, Tom: Rolleston? I did not know how it would fare: but here a week ago comes an acknowledgement, not only saying that it arrived safely but that it arrived promptly, also." "You know I sent a copy to Sarrazin." "Before you had his piece?" "No: after: Walt never heard of him before that." W. saying: "Nor did I: not even his name." Harned said S.'s essay was the best thing that had so far been done on W. Then W. said: "I believe it is." W. turned to me. "You observed what Kennedy dilated on in his note, didn't you? how he found a copy in the Boston Public Library where he works—I don't mean works—goes?" Then to Tom: "Yes—it's cut short as it appears in the magazine. You read the letter he wrote me: I showed it to you, didn't I? Something had to be abbreviated, dismembered, and like the true courteous Frenchman, he suggested that it should be his."

     W. is full of thought of one kind or another about the big book. "The only trouble with the big book is that you can't put it into your pocket, but then a fellow can't eat his cake and have it too:

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each thing in its place."
I said: "It makes no difference about people's pockets: if you can get the big book into their hearts your victory will be sure." He said: "Yes! yes! we will pray for that." Picked up the tongs. Commenced playing with the fire. Talked as he worked. "But never mind: the pocket edition will come: I shall never be satisfied till I have had it—brought it out: not only a book that will go in the pocket but a book that is made for the pocket—one that will stand pocket wear and tear."

     Bucke says they will be here Tuesday, at eight in the morning. Will stay at Dooner's. Wants Harned and me to meet them at ten. I wrote yes. Tom now says he will have to be in court in Trenton that day till afternoon. W. said: "You must meet them, Tom: meet the Doctor Tuesday sometime."

     I said to Harned: "Tom, you haven't seen the wonderful new picture we have discovered." W. chiming in: "No, Tom, you haven't—and it is wonderful: it belongs to Dave: Dave ran afoul of it in a shop in New York—nipped it. It is a curio—certainly a curio: I should call it that." It was a "young man" picture. "I can take an interest in it which no other could—no living person: it is me, me, unformed, undeveloped—hits off phases not common in my photos." Harned spoke of W.'s "always mature look." W. said: "Yes, that was one me, even then: even at that day I had a full beard, almost like this now"—stroking his beard so— "and even then bits of grey in it." He was sure the picture "was from twenty-six to thirty." Yet he "had no clue" to its origin. "I have not thought of it today—but even if I had, nothing would have come of it: I am as certain as I sit here that the picture is as new to me as to you." I described the figure to Tom. W. explained: "I was very much slenderer then: weighed from one hundred and fifty-five to one hundred and sixty-five pounds: had kept that weight for about thirty years: then got heavier." Here he burst into a hearty laugh: "What bothers me worst of all, piques me, tantalizes me, is the expression of benignity"—more pointedly to Tom: "There is an undoubted expression of benignity in the face, which does not belong there"—and after my protestations, with another laugh: "Nevertheless I don't believe it is there—don't believe it ever was there." And he explained to Tom: "We intend getting it processed if we can—processed, I call it,"—and in a sort of counselling manner to me— "and this size if it

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is possible—if it does not cost too much: and, Horace, I want you to see Brown: talk strongly to him, talk to him like a Dutch uncle—have him give us the best thing possible."

     W. gave me back the Bazar. "I have enjoyed it thoroughly." Harned had Bryce's American Commonwealth under his arm. W. asked: "What's the book, Tom?" Tom told him and said: "You should read it, Walt." W. said: "I would like to." Harned talked of Bryce's purpose. W. said: "That is a great thing: can he do it? has he done it?" He also said: "I know it is praised up to the seventh heaven: but then I am not so sure myself of books that are so unanimously adopted by the critical upperdogs."

     Announcement in today's Press of tomorrow's publication of letter from Donnelly on the Cipher. W. said: "I have no doubt I'll take a great deal of interest in that." Tom was doubtful of O'Connor: "he's too flighty." Then to W.: "Now, your point of view on the question is a sensible one." W. said: "But my point of view is also O'Connor's—or, rather, his is mine." Harned said: "No: O'Connor is too spasmodic." W. protestingly: "No, Tom: you are wrong, wrong, wrong: William is hot: he is a giant—like other giants: he is like Hugo, like Castelar: no, not like Castelar, but like Hugo—full of fire, vision, vocalism—spasmodic, perhaps: I should not use that word—it does not answer for me—yet I don't know but as you mean it, it is as good as any other. O'Connor takes the view that there is something behind the Shakespeare plays—that the play's not the thing—not the thing alone: that something more was intended than the story."

     Further talk on the same line. Then W. said: "My regret is, that this tomorrow is by Donnelly instead of O'Connor: just before he was taken sick O'Connor put together a long essay, piece, rigmarole, what not, examining this whole question, but he had not found a publisher when he was taken sick: now he is down—disabled completely."

     Harned asked: "Did you know Harry Bonsall had lost his wife, Walt?" "Yes, Tom: I read of it just this evening in the paper. What a lot of shadow we have to go through in life—eh, Tom, don't you think? I had no idea Harry's wife was in such a bad way." Tom said: "Harry is to be pitied." "Why?" W. asked. "He sold out bag and baggage when he went into the last combination on the Post."

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W. asked: "How was that?" Harned remarked: "He was a victim of his poverty." W. said: "So are all the poor: so am I." Harned kicked. "But you never sold out, Walt: you've suffered but you haven't given in." W. was still for a few minutes. We said nothing. Then: "I'm afraid what you say of Harry is part true: he does not resist enough: he permits himself to be fooled, driven." Harned said: "You have stuck it out to the finish." W. laughed heartily. He turned his hands round as if gesturing towards himself. "Yes, and here I am today, a living witness to failure—the taboo of all the Russell Lowells of creation, the laughing stock of the damned as well as of the saved"—and after a slight pause, merrily again: "Yes, and—as some said who came to see me years ago—proud that I am!" But then Tom must be lenient. "Don't press your argument too far: it breaks down: we are all in limbo, Tom: all of us, all of us." W. and T. went on for some time on this tack. Then W. said: "We have to hold our horses: it looks easy to regulate a man from the outside: but every life has to be lived from the inside after all: then one's specifics fail."

     W. got reminiscing. "Years and years and years ago Emerson spoke in an anti-slavery course in New York: He was the last in the course: read his essay on Slavery: I remember it very well: how, after he had finished the talk, had gathered the sheets of his manuscript together, so"—indicating, throwing his head aside, his voice emotional and powerful— "he asked in his deliberate way: 'Slavery? and why do I speak of slavery? what right have I to speak of slavery? are we not all slaves': and then said no more: passed off the stage." Harned exclaimed: "How dramatic and beautiful!" W. said fervently: "It was, Tom: it was: oh! I think I did not then realize how profound that was coming at such a moment applied to such a situation: how very simple, yet how very subtle, it was. You must take it along with his wonderful composure, the sweetness of his demeanor: I myself was stirred to the bottom by it: I said to myself: 'You, man, you are the vastest of us all!'" Then W. also said: "He was vast: that's the word for him: he was so spacious he welcomed, accommodated, everything: yes and we are all, all of us, slaves!"

     Clifford wrote today: "My love to Walt. 'Dear Walt Whitman!' Hilda calls him and asks to see his picture often." W. exclaimed:

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"The children are the key to all the rest." And he said again: "Before you go put this into your pocket." I asked: "What is it?" I found it to be another old O'Connor letter. "As William's letters all have more or less to contribute to the story of the ups and downs of the Leaves I think you should file them away for reference." As Tom was there he didn't ask me to read it. But he said: "If it suggests any questions ask them tomorrow." This is the letter:


Washington, D.C.,
June 13, 1883.

Dear Walt:

I have yours of the 13th and am rejoiced. Today is the 15th—the day the book is to appear.

I am getting better, and hope soon to be myself again. A bandaged hand prevents my writing, and everything is in arrears with me.

W.S.K.'s notice is very gratifying. As soon as I get the free use of my hand, I will write to him, as you suggest. I read some time ago his article on you in the San Francisco Magazine.

Nothing will ever please me like knowing that my Bucke letter stands as it does with you. This is the King's signet. Your compare of it to '93 is magnificent and happy. Yet the retribution is only partial. As Willie Winter says, there is "a Himalayan stock" left—little he knows how Himalayan. Little beast!

The more I think of the recent Tribune review the more I am amused. It betrays the writer's sense of having been spanked, so thoroughly. There is a kind of surprised meekness in the tone of it. His plea that I ought to hear with patience his "frankness" is particularly good. It reminds me of a story Henry Peterson told me. At school a boy came up, and said, "Say Peterson, do you like frankness?" "Yes," replied Henry, "I do." "Well, then," rejoined the other, "I think your sister is the ugliest girl I ever saw in my life." This seems to be the Tribune idea of "frankness" also! More anon.

Faithfully

William D. O'Connor.


     Harned said: "Walt will last many a day yet." I asked: "Do you feel encouraged by his appearance?" "I certainly do: he surprised me by his mental alertness." Harned also said: "Tom Donaldson

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told me the other day that he considered Walt a good deal of a fraud and humbug."
I said: "He palavers Walt enough when he comes here." Harned laughed. "Certainly: that's a part of his game." "What game?" Harned said: "I guess you know."


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