Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, March 5, 1889

     9.45 A.M. W. had just eaten his breakfast. Sat by the window looking out. Quiet, grave, but feeling stronger and having some color. He talked of many things. I had called for the Washington photo for the engraver. W. advised: "Ask about both—about reproducing them November Boughs size," for he "designed using both in the new book—the pocket edition" if they can be "effectively rendered." It illustrates his caution. Had he decided to have the McKay picture done? "Yes: but do not give the order for it just now: wait till we hear of the other—of both: so we can go ahead knowing all." This will put into currency two new portraits of W. He talked of the inauguration. Then Evarts. Said W.: "Know him? oh yes! he is my old boss." Adding: "Evarts was a very kind, friendly fellow." In the literary way? "No: I don't think he took me in on that side: we were friends in the human way." I received a letter from Clifford this morning. I read it to W.


Germantown, Sunday night,
March 3d, 1889.

My dear Traubel:

Now that you and Doctor Bucke are gone I have a lonely hour before bed up here at the top of the house. To me it has been a day of days. We are all delighted with Doctor Bucke. Hilda's "dear old Walt" takes its equal place in the affection that Doctor Bucke himself inspires with his simple earnestness and kindly ways. And right glad am I too that tonight even before so many auditors he said his loyal word so bravely well. It seemed to me a simple heroism of devotion to a master lofty as any of old. I should like to see Doctor B. once more before he goes home. Perhaps you can help me to do it. I wish you and he might come out Friday evening to our concert in the parlors. Can't you?

It is to be for me a busy week, but if I can get one more look at Doctor B. I shall spare no pains for that.


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If you could get me some afternoon, or forenoon, an hour with B. at Walt's—hour or moment—it would be good. Not before Thursday. I want to see the two Men once more together. And you in the midst!

Ever to you the same,

J.H.C.


     W. was intent on the letter as I read. At the phrase, "lofty as any of old," he was deeply touched— "the brave Clifford!" he said. I said: "You see, Walt, there is only one point at which Clifford and I differ from Doctor in his portrayal of you: Doctor puts you above the wisest and best: we put you with them: not but that you may be above, but only that you are more surely among the best." W. spoke out emphatically without hesitation: "And that is the right spirit—that is the defensible position—if you must: I don't see just why I should be in the contest, in the groupings, at all: but as long as you put me there let me say this: that though one star differs from another in glory they are all stars: indeed, Horace, I should even extend the circle: I don't like this great, greater, greatest business: I would take in the millions: I don't see how we can leave them out: exclude them. It is still as true as it used to be—the story of Socrates: I will always tell this story: I try to restrain my friends with it: someone had spoken of him as the wisest man in Athens: he went away much puzzled: by and by they met him again—after he had done a heap of thinking, ruminating: then he answered them—was ripe for it: and this: 'I now know what is the only difference between myself and others: it's only this: that while they don't know and I don't know, I know I don't know and they don't know they don't know.'" W. said: "It's an old story: I have told it before: you must have heard it: but it will bear retelling—carries an invariable message with it."

     I repeated what O'Connor said of Hugo. W.: "Yes—a likeness has been suggested before: I would have no reason for resenting it, though it might make Victor turn in his grave." Again: "Hugo is one of William's enthusiasms: he often used to talk of it." Bucke said: ""William is subject to crazy enthusiasms." I said to W. "Were they crazy?" W. laughed: "Maurice is wrong: Maurice himself is more likely to do that thing than William: it is odd how William has always been assumed to be extreme—even by his friends: yet

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there is not the least basis for such a characterization: quite the contrary: William always has the best of reasons for whatever he does: he never goes off the handle: except for his espousal of Leaves of Grass he is in fact exceedingly judicial, convincible."
I said: "You will admit he must have been crazy when he adopted you." "Yes: I will: but except for that he's as rational a human being as was ever born." He quietly laughed. Those little laughs. They are very expressive.

     Bucke told me last week that he had every edition of L. of G. except the sub-edition of 1872. Strange to say, when I took him that volume from Walt Sunday he found it to be the very book he had so long been looking for! Walt intent. "That looks like a miracle!" he said. I asked: "Do you want to give the book to Bucke!" He said: "I don't know: I think I wouldn't." I added: "It would be sacred with the Doctor." W. seemed a little testy (unusual): "It is sacred with me: Doctor can't have everything." Then he quieted down: "I want it because it's the only copy I have: there's no other reason: I should like to give it to Maurice: should I do so? we'll see?" Suddenly: "Where is it now, anyhow?" I said: "He has it still: you know, his second lecture comes off tonight." He seemed satisfied. He said: "It's odd: I am jealous of that particular edition: I wonder why it is?"

     I described to W. in a poor way the walk and talk of Ingersoll and O'Connor on the Voorhees night which O'C. described in such a rich way. W. said of Bob: "He is like an ocean: there are many lifts and falls to him: he is vast—full of storms and calms: William was right when he said Bob was the best of us all." I corrected W. "He said the best of us all except you." W. laughed. "No: the best of us all without any except." Then I said to W.: "In a week or two you will get the full report of our trip to Washington." He answered: "Well—that is the way I like it: a little at a time: it'll last longer: I can get more enjoyment out of it."

     W. asked me to see Oldach again. "Try to stir him up: tell him we want our book. My God! but he's a time-taker: he's slower'n pitch on a frosty morning! That book has been there about a month: it should be done; what must we do to get it? Go there: don't hurt him: ram a needle in his ass—not too far: not far enough to hurt him—only far enough to wake him up." He was so funny about this

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I burst into a furious laugh. This broke him loose, too, and he haha'd till the tears flowed down his cheeks like rain.

      "There's Loag: you should know him," said W. Why? "Well: he's one of us: he's our sort: a very good fellow: frail, I'm afraid: not old either." Bucke tells me Loag is threatened with some mental breakdown. Bucke was over later in the forenoon. I to Philadelphia. I saw Brown. He says both heads can be done all right. Wrote Clifford to come to Harned's office on Friday between two and three and we could then go to Walt's together, and, in the same way, later, to Germantown. W. had what he called "a little reading job" for me. "This time it's another O'Connor letter," he said. I started to read. He interrupted me a lot.


Washington, D.C.
Life Saving Service.
May 25, 1886.

Dear Walt.

I got your letter of April 12, and since, your postal cards of April 19 and 26 respectively. Also the envelope containing Kennedy's admirable review of the Longfellow memoir. I have been proposing to write to you every day, but it is not easy, I am so poorly. My lameness is very bad, and I am very exhausted before many hours pass each day. I have piles of unanswered letters. My special trouble now is what they call sclerosis—an induration of the lower part of the spinal cord, a bequest of the inflammation caused by the nervous prostration. This it is that makes me so lame and strengthless, and unless the doctor can break it up (he is using electricity) the result, he tells me, will be paralysis. However, this is some way off [ "Not some ways off now, more's the pity!" exclaimed Walt], and I'm not dead yet!

John Burroughs has been here, and gives me an account of your health, which makes me feel very badly. He told me especially of the trouble I share with you—constipation; and this you must not, Walt, allow to continue. The very worst aperient you could use will do less harm than constipation. But there are aperients which are harmless, or almost nearly so, and I send you a packet of one which answers this description. It is known as Liquorice Powder,

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and is excellent. The dose is one teaspoonful in, say, a goblet of water, when going to bed, to be taken when necessary. You will find it easy and excellent. It is composed only of powdered liquorice and sulfur, and is really without bad effect. Please try it. I have never been troubled with costiveness in all my life, but now, like yourself, have a partial paralysis of the bowels, and must, under medical orders, resort to artificial means, and this is my remedy. Anything is better than constipation. The physical feelings it induces are dreadful, to say nothing of the constant danger to life.


I was delighted beyond measure at the success of your lecture. I wish I could have been there. The account in the Press was splendid. Great are Talcott Williams and Thomas Donaldson, and blessed be their names.

I had a long letter from Doctor Bucke, at London. He seems to be having a good time.

I am glad you liked the little book. If I could only have written it over, I would have made it fuller and better. But when the time came for publishing, I was too ill to write.—I am obliged to you for the notice in the North American (G.E.M.). It lets out the delicious fact that White had seen the article—probably some magazine that had it, broke faith, and showed it to him—and so he got a full excoriation before crossing Styx, for after he died I took out the severest parts from the MS. Big rascal! He well knew the baseness of his attack on the Promus book. I have the best of reasons for believing that he was secretly a Baconian, but with his editions of Shakespeare, etc., at stake, the balance was on the other side of the ledger for him.

I am much grieved to learn that Mrs. Pott is seriously ill. Nervous prostration. Between her tremendous blows on the Bacon subject, her large household duties, and her ministrations among the London poor, she has broken down. I feel very anxious about her.

Donnelly's boom increases. There is an article in the 19th Century Magazine on his cipher, which will make an excitement and greatly raise his credit. He writes me that he expects to be ready to publish by June.

We have had strange weather here. Cold and hot by turns, and

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rain without stint. Did you see the electric storm on Saturday night? I never witnessed such magnificent lightning.


I hope this will find you in good time. Always affectionately

W.D. O'Connor.


      W. broke in on me often as I read but mostly with ejaculations. He said when I was through: "William couldn't be weak if he tried: he has no resources of the pettifying order—no idiocy—in him: even his play while play has in it the vehemence of faith. The best of us can be asses now and then—and lucky that it is so: but William somehow steadies himself against all the temptations of asininity: yet he is not solemn—don't wear any masks, put on any airs, indulge in any false gestures. Think of what this means: then try to explain why such a man has the reputation for being an extremist, a bigot! What folly! He's the levelest headed, the sanest, of us all!"


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