Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, March 6, 1889

     9.50 A.M. Just over breakfast. Very well. Communicative. Voice strong. Color good. Any word from O'Connor? "No: nothing." Then after a little pause: "I did not know till yesterday, till the Doctor explained it to me, that William had such paralysis—that it was so vital: indeed, I did not realise that it was paralysis at all. Do you mean that literally?" To my: "I do," he answered: "The situation as I see it now is a good deal worse than I had supposed." He continued to ask me questions. "Ah! the poor O'Connor! the poorer us!" What could it have come from? W. said: "It's mysterious: it's subtle: paralysis has as many ways of working out its fell designs as there are victims to work it on." W. added: "Doctor says the most ominous sign is William's trouble in the bladder complication: it is not only the most painful, it is the most threatening, of all." W. said again: "Doctor says William looked better than he had expected: that was natural: it was the exhilaration of your coming, your presence, that made him appear so well—that momentarily made him feel and in a sense be well. It does him good: he must let himself out: he must talk; be talked to: he is so full he chokes: he is uplifted by the visits, by the arguments: he requires these elements—I don't: I often shy at controversy, repartee, even conversation:

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William lives on it: it feeds him: it remakes him."
After a silence: "I am sorry that you don't live nearer William: that you cannot oftener step in: four or five times a week: it would cheer him up: I can see how you and he would inevitably get very close together." I said: "William chafes under his confinement: he refuses to take his condition philosophically." W. said: "That's his temperament: he's fiery, imperious, unequivocal: yet I can see how his impetuosity should militate, as it does now, against his comfort and cheer." But he said also: "We must be resigned, but not too much so: we must be calm, but not too calm: we must not give in—yet we must give in some: that is, we must grade our rebellion and our conformity—both." I said: "William says he'd like to write these days, but can't. I said to him: 'You tell yourself you can't write: why don't you tell yourself that you can write?'" W. said: "That was a first rate suggestion: how did he take it?" "He said: 'That's the trouble: I can't tell myself I can write: I never could write anyway!'" W. said: "That is the trouble: he don't think he can write. It brings in my favorite story of the Sultan and the poet over again: gives me a wish: the subtle answer: 'What I wish most is the wish to wish—give me that': O'Connor is so: Doctor understands it—partly: I know what it means—the a to z of it." Again: "William thinks he cannot write: that settles the question for William: it is not a physiological—no, it is a psychological—question: not a question whether this arm is free, this hand is untied—whether I can move my body thus and so: the question is my mind's question, not my body's: the mind, not the body, must answer it."

     I repeated to W. what O'C. had said of the elder Booth. W. said: "I attach a great deal of importance to Booth: William may be right: I may not have elaborated sufficiently in November Boughs: I in fact have felt things about Booth which I have not set down there or anywhere: he had much to do with shaping me in those earlier years." As to Rachel: "Oh yes! I saw her—probably four or five times: she did not overcome me: I was more or less unmoved: she exercised no rare spell over me: at that time I was not well up in the stage traditions, in dramatic ways and means—in the evolution, revolution, of the actor business. For me, out of the whole list of stage deities of that period, no one meant so much to me as Alboni, as Booth: narrowing it still further, I should say, as Alboni alone."

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W. said he had "no doubt" that Salvini "had the panther." He said: "Did you notice how William used that phrase—said it? 'had the panther'? It was habitual: something an actor had to have: it was this: if he didn't have it he was outside the circle of William's approval."

     W. had "always heard" that Salvini had "a great body—which is a first requisite." Yet, he said, "Booth's body was small—not impressive in itself." W. said: "William is a very careful man—contrary to the usual judgment: he never did anything out of a mere impulse—headlong: he is an avalanche, when he gets under way, but he is cautious in inception: he is temperate: he is a well-stored man—is abundantly informed: reverent, too—not a hasty, gratuitous, blasphemer: he is intense, but his passion has eyes—he never does anything blind." I said: "William says the greatest of the comforts he has left are your postcards." W. said: "It must have been a great pleasure to him to have you come in: I can imagine it—the glow it started: there are reasons why you and William particularly—more than William and Doctor—should be intimates, what we may call comrades." And he said again: "I only write him now and then: postals, mostly: I send papers: that's all." But he thought I should write oftener to William. "I would feel comforted if I knew you had got close together."

     The weather has cleared some. W. said: "This is a wonderful day after the four days of storm." He wanted "to know about the meeting last night." Asked: "What sort was it? What did it come to?" And he asked: "Was there anybody there? Why should anybody go anywhere to hear about me?" There were forty persons present. Among them Gilchrist, Salter, Morris, Harned, Doctor Thomas. Bucke was more at ease than Sunday. Gilchrist, Harned, Thomas, Weston, Salter, and others spoke after Bucke was through. Knowing my name would be called I slipped out the back door. Salter asked for W.'s views on the present marriage system. B. said: "I have no call to speak for Walt about this but my impression is that while he believes the present order had its own reasons for being he looked for the evolution of something higher." W. said: "That sounds like solid sense." To questions concerning W.'s attitude towards the idea of God and good and evil B. replied by reading from the Sarrazin sheet.


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     I had brought Bucke's manuscript over for W. to see. W. said: "I should like to have been there—should like to have learned myself what I think on all those subjects." He asked me other questions. Then: "Taking Leaves of Grass up for the first time people are very apt to ask—what the devil does he mean? does he mean anything?" I quoted Anne Montgomerie's objection to Doctor's excess: "Why didn't he stop sooner? he went up and up till he was out of sight." W. laughed. "It's very cute: very true: I wish the Doctor wouldn't do it: but we must remember the reasons for his extravagance: it is the other side that forces it: they push too far so: then the Doctor pushes too far so: and there you have your opposites. I for my own account find any unqualified dogmatic generalizations offensive: just as much so—maybe more so—in my friends than in my enemies." Someone said Emerson's letter "saved Leaves of Grass." B. retorted: "If that is so then that letter outshines all else that Emerson has written." W. called that "an amiable expression." Again: "Emerson's letter was like one of the long range guns we read about: the shot has a certain journey to go, in a straight line—a certain thing to whack at the end: it speeds on undistracted by anything either side of it through miles of landscape till finally it achieves the point aimed at. I have often wished I might know a word to designate the fellows who serve at such guns: cannoneer, marksman, what not: there should be a name for them: ought to be: some better word. I regret that when I was with the army I did not spend more time with the cavalry: I was with them some: got some of the terms, but not enough: no word for cannoneer, which is so inadequate. When Doctor read Emerson's letter in that way it was in the sense of the long-range gun: the eye on one point: all else forgotten, passed, unessential."

     I read to him part of the letter of the 4th from Mrs. Baldwin characterizing Doctor Bucke. He was a keenly attracted listener. "Anyone may ride a hobby," she said, "'tis a rare soul that wants no hobby but rides and walks, runs and leaps, or quietly waits—yet puts the whole soul into action or inaction, as the hour may demand." W. said "fine, fine" to this and had me read it a second time. I said: "They all seemed to admit last night that you were a big man, but how big they didn't undertake to say. All but the Doctor: he had you down fine." W. said quietly: "Oh, the over-liberal Doctor:

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he'll have to be restrained. With the turn things have been taking lately—with Sarrazin there, with others—it would seem as though I was threatened with a too-great kindness. I am inclined to ask with the good Emerson in his later days whether I am I any more: whether I'm not in danger: whether opposition, cuffing, blows direct from the shoulder, antagonisms, would not be better, more bracing, for me."

     I told W. I had seen Brown about the picture. "See this here—this other: one without the body: would it not do better?" The same photo remounted. Decided to have it and the McKay picture done one size for the pocket edition. Said gayly: "You know I have nothing to do these days—in my helplessness, disablement—but to take an hour or two now and then to make pictures of myself—to do God knows what vain and foolish things." Gave me a copy of the Atlantic for August, 1887. "It has the article about Mrs. Gilchrist's life: has me there in many malodorous connections." I asked: "Do you really mean malodorous?" He responded: "Yes, emphatically malodorous: give it to Doctor Bucke: tell him to keep it: I don't want it back." I said: "Sometimes you show more concern about your enemies than at other times." He asked: "Do you mean, for instance, in what I have just said?" I said: "Yes." He looked a bit concerned. "I didn't mean to," he said: "I'd rather not: but sometimes somebody gives you a blow below the belt: then you instinctively squeal, though not meaning to."

     Again, in discussing his beliefs, he asked: "Yes, indeed, what are they?" and he added of Shakespeare: "They never knew—they tried to prove him everything: one man writes an elaborate volume to prove he is a Catholic." I contended: "Anyhow, we should be temperate in our admirations: O'Connor complains of the worship of St. William, of Stratford—that it closes so much of truth out. We should take care not to fall in the same slough." W. asked: "St. William of what?" and after I explained, laughed and said: "I see! Our friends should take a great deep gulp of Hicks—Elias Hicks. Hicks was given to saying that when the Lord Jesus Christ was mentioned he was sickened—wanted to get out. And he would say again: 'When I put on the one side the good that this worship has done, on the other the bad, I am at a loss whether the bad does not outweigh the good'—words meaning that, perhaps like them. Ah!

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Horace! we must have a care—take a great deep gulp of Hicks: then we are safe."

     We discussed briefly cover of book again. W. declared: "Anyhow, I still think the old—the cheap—cover the best." Some little hint that perhaps the marketable cover should be a little changed on future copies. But no conclusion. I should not wonder if his final choice was the original cover.

     W. had unearthed an old letter. He hands these things to me with a queer smile. "You are insatiate: you seem to be big enough to hold everything." I looked at the letter. "Whew! 1863!" I exclaimed. W.: "Yes: it's quite aged: but it bears witness—it's a further bit of testimony." To what? "Oh! you know Trowbridge coöperated with me during the War: collected, sent me things, for the boys: there in Massachusetts: sent books, papers: yes, some of his own books." I read the brief letter aloud.


Somerville, Mass., Dec. 30, 1863.

My dear Walt.

I found I could get nothing but promises from the booksellers for the present, so I sent you today a package of such books as I could pick from my own shelves, together with some newspapers—a variety in which I hope you will find a few things to suit your purpose. (Per Adams Ex., prepaid.)

I can send you more newspapers—and perhaps more books—in a few days, if you wish for another bundle. I have no copy of Jackwood, and could not get one here, or I would have sent it. A new edition will be out soon, when I will see that you get a copy. You will find in the package two copies of the Drummer Boy, one of which I wish you would leave at Mr. Chase's.

I got your letter yesterday. The day before I went to see your friend, Babbitt, whom I found apparently much improved, certainly brighter—perhaps he was getting better acquainted with me, and perhaps because his descriptive list had come, and he was expecting to be taken away yesterday by his friends; or it may be he is really better. He felt that the list came through your influence, and appeared very grateful to you for it.


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The word you sent I have forwarded to Shillaber.

Good-bye, my dear friend, and may the good angels help you in your good work.

J.T. Trowbridge.


     The letter was addressed to W. in care of Major Hapgood, Paymaster U.S.A. W. said: "Trowbridge was beautiful about all that: his coöperation was always genuine, thorough: the good angels did help me: he as one of them."


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