Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, February 27, 1889

     9.48 A.M. W. reading papers. Sitting up. Had not finished his breakfast. Looked and talked as though much improved. "But the medicine has not acted yet—no sign of it." I said the Doctor minimized W.'s perils. "He says you are pretty hale yet, considering everything." W. said: "It yet remains to be seen whether the Doctor's

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diagnosis is the correct one: I am inclined to think it is: we must wait and see."
He started to stir the fire. Wrestled for some time with a stubborn log. Finally gave it a vigorous shove with the poker. "'There—go there!'—as the man said when he tried to shove the dog out of the room and he ran under the bed: go under the bed then!"

     The exercise increased W.'s color. He dropped back into his chair in a sort of glow. "What a hell of a time we seem to be living in!" he exclaimed: "The papers this morning are full of Pigott—nothing but Pigott: in England lying, murdering, stealing—all that: the synonym tallies for all the English sins." I said: "The Blaine cabinet, for instance." He approved. "Yes—the Blaine cabinet." "With forty millions capital," I added. "Yes," he said, "forty million God damnations! Horace, we are all under the thumb of the millionaires: ours is a millionaire government, without a doubt." "Ain't all modern governments millionaire governments?" "I suppose they are or getting to be." Then he added: "And I do not know that I complain: the millionaires must have their innings, too: that is a phase we are going through—can't skip." I asked: "Then you don't think we'll always have millionaire governments?" He answered quickly: "You don't need to ask me such a question: the people, who are now asleep, will yet wake up." I said: "Sometimes you quarrel with the people who try to wake them up: you call them doctrinaires and partisans." "Do I?" "You certainly do: yet you are a fierce doctrinaire and partisan in your own way." He said he wasn't "inclined to dispute" me. But how did I make that out? "No one is more stubborn for what he considers the truth than you are. That's all the other fellows are: stubborn for the truth as they see it." W.: "I say again, I'm not disposed to say you're wrong: indeed, you make me feel as if I must be guilty after all." Again talking of money, he said: "As Frederick said of facts—they are divine: bank accounts, too, are divine."

     W. asked: "Have you seen The Critic this week? I sent my copy up to Kennedy. It is a Lowell number—all Lowell." I asked: "Your piece with the rest?" "Yes—all I sent, which was nothing." Said he had not had a letter today from anybody. "But there were papers: quite a budget of them." Told him of Bucke's letter from Mrs. O'Connor. W. said: "William may not be optimistic but he is courageous:

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he is grit itself: typically Irish in the best sense: he will not anticipate evil: is no premature resigner, surrenderer."
Then after a pause: "Oh! it is poor O'Connor who should have the nurse, not me: poor William: he deserves it, I do not." He would "never be satisfied" till he had "Doctor Bucke's report" on O'Connor. He recognized Bucke's "extraordinary competency," yet also "his utter emancipation from medical formulas." "I never permit myself a doubt of it: I am sure that but for him four or five months ago"—he meant June last— "I should not have pulled through: but for him I should not be here today."

     I returned W. the Sarrazin proof with corrections by Bucke. W. adjusted his glasses. Looked it over. Doctor had changed "builds" to "throws" at one place. W. exclaimed: "No, no, Doctor: 'builds' is better than 'throws': it must go back to 'builds.'" I asked: "Did he write it 'throws'?" "Yes, but I changed it to 'builds': 'builds' it shall be!" He then laughed silently. "Horace, you should have seen the first proof: it was overflowing with errors: look at this"—pointing to the word "condensation" in the first line— "this he put 'conversation': that's but a sample: there were fifty devil-knows-whats if there were two: I had to work hard over it: now it is in very good shape." He spoke more freely than when Doctor was with us yesterday. When I said again as I had before: "Doctor's abstract is more virile," and again: "Kennedy's is scrappy though fine in spots," W. responded: "That's about the measure of it, I suppose—that's about the difference: Bucke's version is more compact, better blocked out."

     I gave W. my father's roughly rendered English version of Rolleston's preface. "That is the thing I want: I only need clues, so to speak: I can find my own way to the rest. What does he say of the poems—the translations? Do they take any hold on him?" I repeated some things my father had said. They were favorable. W. said: "I am pleased to hear it: of course the German is au fait to him: after awhile, after he has gone farther, when the poems have sunk in, been absorbed, he will better know just what to say to me regarding their faithfulness to the original—what they lose in the transfer." Lifted the German book up, pointing to it with his own hands. "They don't stitch, they only paste, these covers on: that's how they do it abroad: the buyer can bind or not as he chooses: they don't stitch the signatures together: I don't know but they're right." He

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turned the book first one side then the other. "I like it: it's flexible: it's easy to handle, read: I sometimes find myself more interested in book making than in book writing: the way books are made—that always excites my curiosity: the way books are written—that only attracts me once in a great while."

     W. asked: "You are going to connect with Doctor? Yes? You fellows will have a lot to do together. Did you say the Doctor would be at Tom's?" I asked him: "You don't want us round here all day, do you, Walt?" "My God, no! I couldn't keep up with it: I think it would utterly extinguish, efface, me: I couldn't stand a chorus of angels all day these days: it's too necessary for me to husband my little reserve of strength: then while I love the Doctor, like him near me mostly, there are times when his boisterous vehemence gets on my nerves. You go to him: let me have the margins of your time: that'll be enough for us all." I got up to leave. He handed me a letter. "Do you take this along if you will." "What is it?" "A confession." "I'm getting quite a wealth of confessions," I said. And I added: "And for a man nobody likes, whom no magazine will publish, whose books nobody will buy, you do pretty well after all, Walt." He said: "So I do: it's not for me to complain: the Bowry boys used to say, 'Little, but oh God!' I have every right to say of my friends, 'Few, but oh God!'"

     It was getting towards my engagement with Bucke. I said: "You don't expect me to read it to you?" "Not this time: I just read it to myself: take it along: read it at your leisure." He added: "It's a letter from one of the beautiful unknowns—the beautiful unknowns: they get nearer to me, I get nearer to them, than any others: they have no axe to grind, no wires to pull, no game to play: there's no nigger in their woodpile: they're just Amos and Miranda: Amos who, Miranda who, does not seem to matter."


Hampstead, London N. W.,
Aug. 2, 1887.

Dear Sir.

Presumptuous as it may be, I cannot refrain from sending these few lines to you from the old country to thank you for the new life your poems have given to me. Since reading them—and I have read them again and again—especially the Leaves of Grass, I have

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felt conscious of a new vista opening before me. I am only twenty-three—yet I feel as if the past few years (breaking away gradually, as I have been, from surroundings orthodox and conventional) were long eras of indifference and lethargy. How delightful to feel that there are such great possibilities in life! All my sceptical rejection of creeds and dogmas is giving place to a sense of the eternal fitness of things. In my blind unreasoning egotism I mistook the shadow for the substance, and thought that "religion" was what is preached from the orthodox pulpit and practiced in the city. And then I came upon two lines of your Leaves of Grass:



"I swear the earth shall surely be complete to
him or her who shall be complete!
I swear the earth remains jagged and broken only
to him or her who remains jagged and broken!"

I wish I could explain to you in what way they touched as with a magnet some latent chord. And yet I feel there is no need to explain anything. You will understand.

I have already reached across the water and clasped your hand. I have found something deeper and more precious to me than your printed words. I am looking forward hopefully and joyfully to a future which shall not be lacking in strength.

Forgive my illogical desultory manner of writing. I think you will understand all I would convey. The little picture of your home life in Specimen Days has so much interested me. Now I feel as if I knew you in the flesh as well as in the spirit. Accept the grateful thanks of yours faithfully.

Louisa Snowdon.


     I have already been asked by people in the street if Bucke was not W. W. I told W. of this. He was pleased. "I like it if Maurice does: yes indeed, I like it even if he doesn't!" He again said: "Yes, there is something, mainly in the color: I can see that." I said: "Doctor has a voice like a trumpet with a cold." W. said: "You might describe it that way: I don't mind it much: it has, however, a shrieking quality which is like a knife to my sensibilities." As I left I helped him to the bathroom. "You may go along, to give my step a sort of certainty." I did not help more actively than to walk near him till he reached the two steps at the landing, when he said again: "Put

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your hands on my shoulder to steady me if I should fall: otherwise let me navigate myself."
And as I finally withdrew: "Good-bye! good-bye for a little while!"

     5.30 P.M. Had been at Harned's with Bucke and others all day. To W.'s with B. I entered the room first. W. extended his hand. "Ah! Horace!"—and then: "And where is Doctor Bucke?" Doctor just at that moment entering and W. saying: "Ho! here he is! I had almost given you up, Doctor: thought you lost!" Bucke heartily congratulated W. on his improved appearance since yesterday. Did he not feel better? W. responded: "I still have the pain in my side." As bad? "Yes, as bad: but it is not acute—has not at any time been what you would call severe." Then Doctor's questions and W.'s answers on physical points. Bucke urged that W. should get outdoors in the spring. W. himself doubtful. "When the grass comes and the leaves and the flowers," B. argued— "then you must get out." But W. said B. did "not know" the conditions: "It would be a hard thing to plan: I do not know what I am—what I am for." Adding: "As Miss Nipper says in Dickens' story—in Dombey and Son (you remember it, don't you?): 'I don't know whether I'm a temporary or a permanency': I don't know whether I'm to stay or move on." He laughed merrily. B. still insisted, W. finally admitting: "I have no doubt, as you say, that when the sun comes north, the clear skies, the free air, it would do me good to get out"—but then: "The worst of it is, I have no craving to go—none whatever." Bucke had used an expression: "When you are stronger"—but W., not hearing him out, exclaimed: "But I do not get stronger: you have no idea how weak I am: why, I can scarcely walk at all—stand on my feet: to go to the bed there is a great effort: it is all I can do to keep from falling down even by the assistance of the chairs, the table." And after a little more in this strain, which seemed to be enough for him, he abruptly asked: "And what have you done today?" Bucke described the proceedings at Harned's. W. questioned: "What is the meter for? Tell me: I have wanted to hear"—Bucke then proceeding over the same ground I have with W. again and again. W. said: "I thought it was a motor: somehow I have had that idea in my head and could not shake it off." And when B. was through: "Well—that clears the matter to me." W. all along addressing B. as Maurice and seeming to listen with considerable attention. But like as not he'll forget about the

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meter by tomorrow and ask the same questions over again. As B. himself says: "It is in one ear and out of the other." He has no real interest in the matter.

     I asked W. if he had heard from Kennedy and he said at once: "Yes, I got a letter today: not a considerable one, however, and nothing really new in it." Nevertheless, he handed it up—handed it to Bucke. Kennedy evidently a little out-of-sorts that B.'s abstract was to follow his. W. resented the letter as far as he could towards anyone he liked as he did Kennedy. "Kennedy evidently convicts me of an artfulness—almost a chicanery—which I did not think I possessed: he speaks of inveigling—says that I inveigled him, you." Then to Bucke: "Kennedy questions some of your renderings, Maurice—don't admit them at all: you will see for yourself: but there are at least several places where I thoroughly agree with him—thoroughly: the line, 'the candor,' &c., for instance: but there is the letter: look over it: you will see just what he says." And after a pause and some little discussion further: "But we must show great consideration for Kennedy: we know that at bottom—in osseous, integral parts—the central man of him is thoroughly genuine, generous, honest-hearted: and as for Leaves of Grass, for me, for our cause—he is a true friend, a firm upholder." But he said we "know also" that K. is "a college-bred man: that the best college-bred man gets to some extent the taint of bookishness, artificiality"—and we must, as a consequence, "know what that signifies—allow for it." Doctor said that in his translation some things were "not literal" but were "what Sarrazin said"—and W. repeated: "Yes, I have no doubt of that."

     Bucke spoke of his Whitman address—said that he already had "made two engagements to deliver it." W. turned to me: "I don't know about your talents as a reporter"—pausing, seeming to reconsider: "I should not say that: I do know—know them to be very good, in fact: but I should say now, exercise them more sharply than ever before, show what they are, with reference to me—to my wishing to hear, learn." I interposed: "Doctor should show his talents by bringing over the address," W. allowing: "Yes, that is one way." Doctor here said he would bring it over: W. could look through it. W. acquiesced. "That I can do, to be sure." And then added: "Years and years ago, in Washington, Brisbane once tackled me—asked me

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to come and hear him speak: Brisbane, in urging me, said: 'I'll tell you about that greatest of all puzzles, yourself': and I went—went, not as a person, but as universal man: and it was very good—really very good: I found myself deeply instructed."
W. stopped long enough to turn to the window and emit a slight laugh. "Perhaps I would stand in the same relation to this case," he said, "if I heard, read, the Doctor's story." B. explained that his address was "from a new standpoint—the result of several years' work." W. was "sure" he "would like in some way to get at it." Did not promise to "read it in full but to examine it." B. jokingly said: "The writing—my writing—is as clear as print." W. laughed out his answer: "Oh! I get along with it pretty well"—and to B.'s further: "What—only pretty well? why not absolutely well?" W. then: "I am not greatly troubled: I can make most of it out." Just today I read Bucke out of my notes W.'s references to the nature of his handwriting.

     W. directed the stream of thought again: "And what of O'Connor?" looking straight at B. "What did Mrs. O'Connor say in her letter." B. was very explicit and candid. "O'Connor is in bed, his sight is practically gone, his weakness is more and more general—probably no turn for good is any longer possible." W. turned his head towards the window. I could catch its outline against such light as still lasted. His face was calm but set. Evidently touched, affected, of course in his own unmurmuring way. Bucke then expressed his conviction that O'Connor was "practically dying"—would probably only last a few weeks. W. had more questions to ask. Bucke always answered frankly. W. was pleased. W. didn't say a word to Bucke's final statement—that "considering O'Connor a misery to himself and to others," the end should be welcomed— "the sooner the better." W. only looked out on the western sky: seemed not to be able to audibly say "amen" to Bucke's prayer.

     Then considerable talk of Bucke's Washington trip. W. more than ever urgent that it should be undertaken. Not possible to fix a day. Bucke explained that he would be here for a couple of weeks. W.: "Well, it don't signify then if you must put it off for a few days." Bucke thought he would go some morning and return in the evening—perhaps Monday, inauguration day, though he cared nothing for that. "I suppose we could not get in anyway?" Bucke said inquiringly to me. I said: "There's no place to get in: it's all done out of doors."

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W. said: "That is so: it is indeed out of doors—out of doors, Maurice, in the air: I have twice seen it: I know: I was there in the midst of the swirl." As to selected seats somewhere W. continued: "I don't think there are any, Maurice, except for the immediate fellows: you have to take your chances, besides, for what you would want to see you would not require a front seat: the grandeur, immensity, splendor, impressiveness of the affair is the spectacle: the vast outpouring of the seas, of the people: for that you want to go as Horace goes, as I went when I was strong—right into the crowd itself, into the swim, for what luck you can." I said: "I might myself run down with you." Bucke cried: "That would be grand!" W. asked: "Have you been to Washington? No? Then you should surely go." Some talk of distance, time, &c. Then B. spoke of his motives in wishing to see O'Connor. W. still curious, quizzical.

     Bucke had seen the '63 portrait in my room—never before today. Had W. another? "I think I have, Maurice: would you like it?" "Would I like it! My God!" W. mockingly said: "Maurice, you shock me!" Then: "Well, I shall look it up tomorrow: I am sure there is one here: you mean Gardner's picture?" Spoke of Kennedy's "swing" from Wilson to Gardner. "He has sent the manuscript to Gardner: I think Wilson has tired him out: Kennedy thinks Wilson has not treated him right." W. went over the Sarrazin proof today. Has been reading George Eliot's essays again. W. said: "It always makes me mad—make me laugh, too—when these gossiping newspaper men, parsons, and so forth, speak of the Colonel as the anti-Christ. Anti-hell! he's that sure—and here's grease to his elbow for it! and anti-God, as they portray God—and here's more grease: but he's anti-nothing worth saving: I sometimes think Bob is about the most reverent, religious, pious man in America today, bar none!" Bucke exclaimed: "Walt, if you keep on talking like that you may figure as anti-Christ too!" W. laughed. "What haven't I figured as, Maurice? and still my withers are unwrung!" When we got up to go Bucke expressed some reluctance to tiring W., but W. protested: "Stay! stay! I can stand it if you can: let us talk on." But we didn't stay. B. said outside: "In spite of his bluff I could see that we were wearying him." Room severely hot. W. sitting by the window still as we left. Twilight gradually deepening. Bucke is to come tomorrow either towards noon or in the evening.


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