Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, March 7, 1889

     9.45 A.M. W. by the window. Breakfast over. Was calm. Said: "I do not feel very well—not bright at all." But no definite trouble. When he got up he said to Ed: "I only feel so-so." The day fine. Clear and mild. Yet expresses no wish to get out of doors. W. gave me the Washington portrait on which he had pasted the border. "I will put the date on it, I guess." After a moment's thinking: "No—I do not know it to a day but I know the period." So he wrote on it: "Walt Whitman, 1868." He gave me a package of letters. "I tied these together for you to read: perhaps Doctor should see them, too." Postals from Mrs. O'C. and Kennedy: letters from Burroughs, J.E. Chamberlin: Literary World criticism of November Boughs—which, by the way, Bucke already has. Chamberlin's letter shows that DeLong got my letter of last Friday—though where this W.W. meeting was held is not explained.

     W. said: "There is a postal from Nellie O'Connor: they got the books—are greatly pleased with them: seem indeed, to be really taken with them, which I hardly expected: she speaks even of the typography, the cover, as if we had made a strike in all that, too: I am much gratified: I hope O'Connor will enjoy it: the book is better than my postcards: it shows what I have been at lately. Well, Horace, having pleased William and Nellie, I may rest on my oars." Lum and Salter wish books autographed—the "Complete" W.W. W. pleased. Endorsed the two books at once as I stood over and spelled out the names of the buyers for him. Gave me for Salter a copy of The Radical containing Mrs. Gilchrist's Whitman letters. "Tell him it is for him to keep: say it contains answers on many of the points which agitate him." Here is Nellie O'Connor's postal:


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Washington, March 5, 1889.

Thanks, many thanks, for books that came safely a few hours ago. William was much pleased, not only with the gift, but with the book—type, print, all. I shall try to write more fully soon. All about as last Sat. The postal cards and papers all welcome. The 4th was a horrid day here. With love from us both.

Nellie.


     W. said: "It's characteristic of Nellie that she does not say a word about O'Connor's condition: I'd rather have her write me about William than about myself." Kennedy's postal was to the point: "Yours received and forwarded to J. B. Have written O'C. a longish cheery letter. Am much relieved to hear so well of him. Affectionately." W. has promised to give Bucke a copy of the '72 edition. Also promised to dedicate B.'s copy of the leather-bound complete book tomorrow. Had I seen the engraver? Yes. The pictures will be done in two weeks. Ten dollars for one, ten dollars and a half for the other. W. asked: "Isn't that more than we paid before?" I said no. "Well, anyhow: the proof of the engraving is in the result: will he make a good job of it? will he give us what we want? If he succeeds, nothing is dear: if he fails, anything is dear."

     He had read Bucke's address. Spoke of it without any prompting from me. "I must confess he has plastered it on pretty thick: on both of us: on Leaves of Grass, on me: on me mainly: plastered it on not only a good deal more than I deserve but a good deal more than I like. I doubt if that does any good: I think my friends, some of my friends, quite understand that that is not my position—that that is quite apart from what I have sought, what I have achieved (if anything): have understood that Leaves of Grass in no way aimed to set itself apart: does not: only strives to speak for the modern, for certain tendencies."

     I told W. that Doctor expressed surprise that a green hand like me, a mere stripling, should contradict a man of his years in his interpretation of L. of G. W. himself laughed as he leaned over and stirred the fire: "That does not always follow, Doctor: as I have tried to say in Specimen Days, in the little piece there on Niagara: Niagara does not ask for ages: sometimes it gives its secret away in a minute." W. asked: "Did you take exception to the Doctor's position then and there?" "I did." "Good! that's where it

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should have been made."
I said: "I spoke of you and Emerson as influences rather than doctrinaires." W.: "That is fine: I like that very much: it is the broad spirit." Again: "It may be that Doctor has more calmly reasoned it out than appears: O'Connor—all the fellows, nearly—would argue (though I took no part in the fight myself) that the extreme statement is necessary, for only so could the people be made to hear." He said again: "Even Emerson evinced a certain emphasis: extreme: not in his sentences, his speech, but in his attitude, his atmosphere."

     W. instanced the case of Emerson's acceptance of John Brown. "When Emerson did come out it was with the power, the overwhelmingness, of an avalanche: I, for my part, could never see in Brown himself, merely of himself, the evidence of great human quality: yet Emerson said when they killed Brown: 'Now you have made the gallows as holy as the cross.' That was sublime, ultimate, everlasting: yet they will not permit us to say Emerson was extreme." I said to W.: "You have a few very weak spots: John Brown is one of them: you never show that you understand Brown." "That's what William used to say: he would sometimes say to me: 'Walt, you let off the God damnedest drivel on some subjects!' Brown was one of these subjects: I don't seem to like him any better now than I did then." I said: "Emerson and you are alike in one remarkable respect: you both resent argument: you simply take your positions and stay there." W. said: "That would be a great virtue were it so: is it so?"

     I said: "One of the papers which does not like the President comes out and says his inaugural speech shows signs of the handiwork of James G. Blaine and Walt Whitman!" I thought he would laugh. He didn't. He was grave and vehement in rebuttal. "Ah! I can assure you I consider that no compliment: of all documents ever issued from the Presidential office I consider that inaugural address the other day the most gassy, diffused: if I were called on to give Harrison a name I should call him the gas President: it seems to me the whole affair is nothing but gas—gas ever more gassy." He added: "The address is typical of the man—just like him: there will be a fight: remember that I prophesied it—there will be a fight: I have no doubt the address is Harrison's solely—that Blaine had no hand in it: it's just such a temperance pissy thing as

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would be written by such a man: he's a Sunday School deacon, a Bible class man: a Presbyterian: one of the fellows who take up the collection."
Why did he feel so sure there was to be a fight? "Well: I'll tell you: Blaine is a man of some power: for instance, he did not write that inaugural because whatever he is not he is direct: the message is nothing, on the contrary, but vapid generalities, diffusednesses: Blaine is a man disposed to lead: he will not consent to take a back seat—a second place: Harrison, while the deacon—and I am in doubt whether even a second-rate man (probably a third- or even fourth- or fifth-rater)—is for his part still convinced that he should lead. He is the actual President: why shouldn't he lead? That will produce the clash. Oh! I haven't the first iota of an expectation: I anticipate nothing from this narrow-gauge administration. As to John Wanamaker: he is a man naturally repugnant to me: if he gives us a good postal service (it's quite likely he will) I shall not growl." I asked: "Walt, you talk as if you might have expected something of this administration: do you really expect anything of any conventional political President?" He said: "Repeat that." I did so. He then paused. Finally: "Well—when you put it to me so straight as that I'll answer you straight: no I don't: I don't expect anything essential." I went on: "If that's so, hasn't the time come for another kind of politics or no politics at all?" He said: "You've got that down pat: I have to say yes."

     Oldach has at last got the book done—the single complete book for Walt's memoranda. The old German had done just as he pleased. He paid no attention to W.'s instructions. W. turned it over and over in amazement. "That beats hell!" he exclaimed. Then he looked at me over his eyeglasses. "It's so far wrong I can't even get mad over it: it seems like one whole perfect complete joke!" I asked: "Is it useless?" He said: "No—not useless: I suppose we can do as the good deacon did in the church—thank God that the hat come back!" He then said quietly: "I'll admit I'm disappointed: I had intended using the book for clippings as well as other things—anything and everything: now it is too nice: I will not dare maltreat it."

     3 P.M. I stepped in about five minutes. We had left Bucke there. Had come over in a carriage to get the meters at Harned's office to take to Philadelphia for a test. Now on our way back we called for Bucke. We talked of a possible change in the case of the complete

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book—perhaps using the first case all around. Bucke picked up the book I brought W. today. W. joked about it. "It's only a copy I desired here for my own private use: I took the trouble to write the binder the most explicit instructions, not one of which, not one, did he in the slightest way regard: I might just as well have given him carte blanche at the start. It brings back to me the story of the old man who was advised, 'go to her, find out in detail just what she wants, then go back and in all points do precisely the opposite of what you were counselled to do.'" I said: "Walt, they say you have no sense of humor but I notice you generally have a neat little story up your sleeve for occasions." W. was amused. "Yes: certainly the joke is on them." Then to Bucke: "Maurice—I have sold two books for six dollars apiece: now, there's no mistake about that, is there? that is one of the divine facts: whatever else is uncertain, that carries with it its own inclusive evidence: twelve dollars are, is, must be, twelve dollars, here, there, forevermore—eh?" I gave W. Lum's money. He shook the two bills in Maurice's face: "See! here are some of our divine facts!"

     W. looked pale. I asked him how he felt. "Not well at all: I feel like the devil: I shall take to the bed there right away—see what it will do for me." W. again referred to the Oldach book. "I meant to fill it with such memoranda as this"—showing me several bibliographical memorandums on the margins. "I shall from time to time explain, historicalise." "What'll you ever do with that book, Walt." He said: "Don't you know? can't you guess?" I said: "Nope! what?" He pointed his finger towards me: "Leave it to you in my will." Laughed. Asked: "But have you a pigeon-hole big enough to hold it?" "I'll make one," I said.

     I told W. I had a little English Bible I wanted to show him as an idea for the birthday book. "Describe it to me." I did so. He said: "That sounds very plausible—as if it might be a model for us: yes—bring it along." Bucke's talk with W. had been brief. W. returned him the manuscript of the address. They discussed it some. Bucke is a little disturbed about W.'s condition. W. said: "You had best stop in in the evening again, even if only for a minute."

     8 P.M. In at Bucke's instance. Brought the Oxford Bible. W. took it from me. "I must look it over: I see it has good narrow margins." He is prejudiced against wide margins. Sat there with his shoes

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and stockings off with his feet touching against the stove. Had been bathing. Urged me to stay. "Sit down—let's talk a while." Then: "I have sent something today to O'Connor—a postal: a little package of papers: Ed just took them up to the post office. Poor O'Connor! poor all of us!" I broke in: "And rich O'Connor, all of us, too!" He assented: "Yes, we've got a right to say that too—but our grief will well up nevertheless!" How was his own health? "Have you shaken off your trouble?" "I am not really better: in the evenings I always enjoy a respite—say, from half-past four on, after my dinner: then I seem to let up on: the blue devils are mostly gone: I sit here quietly, look out of the window: days like this I throw up the sash—let in the fresh air." What had been the nature of his difficulty the last few days? "Oh! a great overwhelming heaviness: soreness, too—in the cranium: it interferes with my giving anything like continuous attention to anything."

     I asked W. about Chamberlin. His letter. Who was he? W. said of the letter: "It is very good." Then: "Chamberlin is a fellow—as newspaper men say—on the staff. Do you read the Transcript—the Boston Transcript? There is a column on the editorial page which they call The Listener—little paragraphs discussing things, people: I think Chamberlin is The Listener. He is wholly friendly to me: I felt moved by his statement along there in the letter to this effect: 'I do not consider you any longer on trial.'" W. had wondered if he was the same Chamberlin as the Library Chamberlain (Mellen): "The names always confuse me." And after another pause: "That was a new twist of Chamberlin's where he says, that before speaking there were bits he selected women to read, bits men—certain parts each." W. asked me curiously: "How does that impress you? is it an idea?" Adding, after I said, "It looks interesting": "Ah! perhaps there is something in it: it sounds as if there might be." I specified Bucke's readings: their effective emotionalistic results. W. said: "It is not surprising: you know Doctor feels these things so deeply himself." I described my letter to DeLong with W.'s "God help 'em!" W. happy over it.

     W. talked of Burroughs. "What's the matter with John that he talks so in the minor key? is it something physical? or is it a mental twist? Read his letter: you will see what I mean." W. had scribbled a memorandum on the edge of the letter in blue pencil indicating

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that he had sent copies of the big book to Symonds, Schmidt and Carpenter.


Poughkeepsie, Feb. 21, 1889.

Dear Walt.

Your letter was very welcome to me. Your handwrite looks as clear and strong as ever. I hope it really denotes that you are much better. The other night I read a long time in your Specimen Days and got myself into a very melancholy state of mind thinking of the old times, of all that Washington life, of O'Connor, and of that which never can come back. My life now seems very pale and poor compared with those days. There are but two things now from which I derive any satisfaction—Julian and that bit of land up there on the river bank where I indulge my inherited love for the soil. I have no comrades here, and probably never shall find any more. Julian is developing into a very happy, intelligent boy, full of enthusiasms, full of curiosity, and is about my only companion. He goes to school here and carries himself well.

I am greatly distressed at what you tell me about O'Connor, and we must stand by powerless to render any aid. I hope I can see my way to go to W. again to see him.

I shall not stay here in P. much longer. I am getting enough of boarding house life. I shall go back home by March, but Mrs. B. and Julian will stay here. I had a letter from Horace this morning. The book may be sent to me at West Park, and let me thank you in advance for it. Tell Horace the essays I am thinking of putting in a vol. are old ones that have appeared in the magazines from time to time. What of Gilchrist? When you write again tell me what you know of his doings. Bright days here and sharp, with the ice coating on the river.

With the old love

John Burroughs.


     W. said: "I do not know how to explain that in John: it does not seem to inhere to the circumstances: there must have been a native tendency—some touch of it from the start: that is about the only explanation." Here W. turned to me and said with great energy: "But, Horace, have you never noticed the tendency in naturalists—men who live out of doors, in the woods, the supposedly forest life:

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the tendency towards depression, if not actually depression itself? the taint of it?"
Could it be that a withdrawal from human comradeship had something to do with this? He answered very deliberately: "Something of that sort might be said in discussing Thoreau: it could not be urged in John's case: John has never wanted for companions: the world is always wide open to him: he likes people." "Then you have no explanation?" "I have notions but no conclusion. One of the remarkable facts is that naturalists are made materialists often by the very experiences that would make me the opposite." He added: "Why John should get blue over the old Washington times I do not understand: they never impressed me as being peculiarly jovial: I know there was jollity in them: we were all occupied, all well: we had no time for morbidities: it was all pleasant enough but with hardly a touch of romance." I said: "He means the stuff of companionship: he never expects to meet two such men as you and William again: it's natural for him to look back upon such a period with joy." But W. said: "We must not look back over our shoulders at the world: we should meet each day as it comes with the same assumption: we can make each new day the best of days if we get the habit. If John does not find the fellows it must be because of something in him: the good comrades are not all dead yet: look at the fellows who are turning up here all the time from every quarter of the globe: the world is as rich in comradeship as ever—is always renewed: if we do nothing to invite the new comrades we must not be surprised if they do not come."

     I said to W. : "I innocently asked William if he knew Mrs. Burroughs and he sort of whispered to me in an intense way: 'I know her well: she's a devil!'" W. laughed. "That is like William." Then: "No—no: that's not the thing to say: I have every reason to feel the contrary about her: she and O'Connor seem to have had a mutual aversion from the first: I have no doubt that if you had asked Mrs. Burroughs what she thought of William she would have said: 'He is a devil': you know how that will occur in women, in men: there is an instinctive repulsion from the start: the prejudice is never overcome." Then W. laughed softly. "She had, I am fond of saying, the good sense to like me: let me see: who is it that laughs at me for saying that? oh! it is Doctor Bucke himself!" He said directly of Mrs. B.: "She had what are known as the domestic housekeeper

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virtues in a high degree: she made good coffee, cooked good meals, was scrupulously clean (tidy it might be called): all that: 'having a spotless threshold,' as somebody says. I can illustrate her consideration for me: when I had been sick, was just getting around, the Doctor recommended that I go out—just as it would be well for me to do now: and so Mrs. Burroughs would drive around with the carriage—take me along. Such a thing as that is conclusive."

     I showed W. a poem by Garland in The Standard called A Word for the East Sea. He put on his glasses, glanced briefly over the poem and passed the paper back to me. "I see: Hamlin is deft—is a college man: has a hand in everything." Then he asked me: "Have you ever met him?" I had not. "Oh! then you should try to arrange to do so: he has been here twice"—stopped— "well—once, anyway." Did he feel amiably disposed towards Garland's work? "Yes: why not? He is versatile—can turn his hand to almost anything: yes, can accommodate himself to the inevitable even when it comes in unwelcome forms." I queried: "Do as Rome does?" W.: "No—not just in that sense: I mean, turn himself from theme to theme, from poetry to prose—making himself at home anywhere. He is a well-dressed man: has a manner which my word 'deft' describes: a manner which in the odious sense of that word would be oily, slippery: but there's none of that poison in Garland: he is very frank, outspoken—has the courage of his convictions: is never afraid to avow, assert himself—stand his ground." W. said Garland "is much better mettle than his polished exterior would indicate." W. said further anent Garland: "He's a professor—teaches elocution: he lectures about the country on literature—something—for a living."

     Lum said to me when I took him the volumes this forenoon: "I told my wife last night that I had asked you to bring this: she said she would never read it." But Lum, fingering the book, hitting upon the Lincoln address, said: "I'll bet she'll read this"—and further on: "She likes poetry: I'm sure she'll get to this after awhile." This story amused W. a great deal. He said: "She may get to it but I've my doubts: she thinks I'm a sort of savage—something of a beastly cuss—I suppose. Well—well: we must not force things: we have to get used to writing—also to being rejected utterly: it's all of a piece with much else that we hear." W. closed his eyes, dropped his head in his right hand for an instant, then suddenly looked at me smiling. "That's

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it,"
he said: "I remember it: I was wondering. When I was in Canada with Doctor Bucke we were invited by some prominent man—(he was in the government, I think—a high-cockalorum, even, if I'm not mistaken)—were invited by him—to take dinner with a group of selected friends. It was to be a formal grand thing of its kind. We didn't go, of course: Doctor did not care for—in fact, always despised—such affairs: and I? well, you know what I think of them: they are a horror to me: sort of statified: heavy, dull, with opacities. I was told about it afterwards: someone told the Doctor: that the lady of the house in which our dinner was to be arranged for—I think she was really a titled personage, a Lady or something or other—had said to her husband that she would do all she could to prepare the meal, to see that food, servants, all that, was provided for: but as for the dinner—that was not for her: she would have to be excused: if Walt Whitman was to be present, neither table nor room should tempt her for a moment."

     W. had a quiet little laugh to himself. Then: "But that is not an isolated, singular episode: it is but a piece of the tail—a piece of the possibilities of the tail—of the cat: such experiences have been repeated beyond count." I told W. of a man on the boat who said to me the other night: "They tell me you are crazy over Walt Whitman." W. nodded: "That's about the style of it: did he say crazy?" Yes, surely. "Well—that makes it a good joke: and since we know we are crazy we are not the victims of the joke." Gilchrist said to Bucke the other night after the lecture: "You should cut it shorter: you should leave out some of the adjectives." W. heartily: "That would then no longer be the Doctor: the Doctor without his adjectives would be helpless." Again: "Herbert's advice is good but impossible."

     W. wanted to know what had been "done in meter matters today." I told him some things. He said: "I find myself always harboring my very strong notion that the meter'll go to a grand smash-up." I said: "You don't say that to Bucke!" He replied: "I don't think I need to: I think he suspects my heresy."


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