Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, March 10, 1889

     9.30 A.M. Bucke got to Walt's on time: both of us then up to see W. together. He had just finished his breakfast. Did not look well or strong, but talked in a way to deny that there was any trouble. Bucke questioned him very closely. Then said: "Walt, you're not comfortable, but there's nothing serious the matter." W. himself said: "I attribute this more or less to the confinement here, the weather, the lack of fresh air: then to that greatest fact which will not down, old age—old age, which can never be disdained—and" (indicating his legs and trunk) "this corpus." Adding then by the way of definiteness: "But I have just finished my breakfast—relished it: relished it, though it was but moderately pretentious." Laughed. Said he felt "a suspicion of indigestion" since last Friday, but: "I seem to suffer no discomfort from that." W. said he got "through the nights easily." "I must sleep about five hours, I should judge:

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that is pretty good: I am not anxious about the nights."
Bucke urged some medicine—the renewal of the powders. But W. "would rather wait." He fenced Doctor's arguments gently and gained his point. "No, it is not discomfort," he said: "they do not act that way." Bucke felt his pulse: spoke to him candidly of it as "quite poor" ( "very poor," he told me afterwards). W. said the pain in his side was "all gone or as good as gone." Bucke said: "We will make a new examination of your urine: let Ed take some of it to the city tomorrow so that Osler and I can test it together." B. was afraid there was something wrong with W.'s kidneys. "In indigestion they are called upon to do too much work." B. wholly candid. W. calmly receptive and inquiring. W. said his difficulty was "mainly a cold in the head." Described it by globing his hands round his skull. "A thick, crowded, fluffy feeling." Further: "I had a couple of visitors last evening, a gentleman and his son, from Long Island, from West Hills. All the time they stayed, not more than fifteen or twenty minutes, I seemed to have the full head—a sort of deafness coming with it. That deafness quite often occurs, even now—seems to be a part of the cold."

     W. shifted the talk from himself to O'Connor. He asked eagerly: "Horace told you about the postcard: what can you tell me about it?" B. was as candid in speaking of O'Connor as in speaking of W. It was Bucke's idea that if there was a rally now in O'C.'s condition he might "live for some time," but: "He is worse than when we were there: if there should be a repetition of the epileptic seizures it might be fatal—and he is always open to them." B. then said gravely: "We must not forget, Walt, that William is living right on the edge of the grave—that it'll take a damn little shove to send him over." W. said: "O'Connor's advantage is in an original strong body." B. said: "Yes—I take due account of that—but he's spent most of that." W. again: "Surely, surely: William started out auspiciously, dynamically: never dissipated in any way: has lived a sane life—has been guilty of no excesses: has all that to back him now: has great grit, force, power, determination." Then W. turned more particularly to Bucke: "You must remember, Maurice, there is one thing to be taken account of here—that Mrs. O'Connor, Nelly, though very truthful (and I trust her thoroughly, thoroughly), devoted, loyal, is inclined to seriosity, to see, live in, the shadows." Bucke said: "But

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in that postal, Walt, there is no expression of opinion—there is only a simple statement of facts."
W. said: "I know it: but there is a story of Madame Dudevant's—you remember it?—in which she speaks of the man who tells his wife of his visit to another woman but does not tell her the whole story: always reserves some minor point (unimportant, of course!) which is better not related—which, no, under no circumstances, would he avow or even hint of!"

     W. asked B. afterwards: "I am going to write to Nelly today: shall I tell her anything for you?" Bucke said no: "I would rather not have my name used at all in that connection: O'Connor has a doctor: the presumption is that he understands the case." W. asked: "You think thoroughly?" Proceeding: "The worst with O'Connor is the hypochondriacal streak: it is there—it has been with him from the first: otherwise his vitality is phenomenal." Was there any similar reason for describing Burroughs' minor streak? W.: "No—I hardly think so: it is a more complicated problem with John: John was a weak, frail mortal, when he first came down to Washington: it was in the first years of the War: I don't think he weighed a hundred pounds then: was pale, feeble—seemed literally broken up: he appeared to have come down there to solve a problem: it was a problem with him. Everybody liked him—liked him from the very outset: John had the bearing of a good country boy who wished to live on fair terms with everybody. I knew all the folks in his boarding place: they all liked him: he had come, not knowing whether to go into the War or stay in the city: but it was very quickly seen by all of us that he was in no condition to rough it—to go into the ranks."

     W. then spoke of Knox, Controller of the Currency. "John met him—Knox very quickly realized that he had come across a prize: he took John in tow—gave him a position: it was an important, responsible job. John had charge of the vaults: think of it! a fellow there with upwards of two hundred millions on his shoulders! It was arranged in five or six rooms, vaults, like this room for instance." W. described a circle with his right hand as if to show how they lay: "John was a very discreet officer—did all the duties of the office handsomely, well."

     W. spoke inimitably of a "nigger" J. had there to help him. "John always had to have a pet—a pet pig, cow, dog, nigger: this time

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it was a nigger."
But though "this nigger was better treated than any nigger who had ever lived in the world before—not only in the favors, kindnesses, of the officials there (everybody set him up!), but in money—was probably better paid than any nigger who had ever lived: this nigger would steal. The nigger, you know, is a born thief." I interrupted— "You said that of the white man the other day." "Yes—I know: it is true too: I thought it would go without saying!" "Bank bills would be missed: they finally traced matters to this pampered nigger gentleman." The "nigger" was faced: "the facts were put together so the public would be satisfied in what way the money had disappeared: then Mr. Nigger was let go: they did not hold him: I think this was mainly John's work."

     W. then proceeded: "But by and by this work got very nauseating to John: he imbibed a thorough hate for it: wanted to get off into the wilds, the woods, again. Even while in this clerkship he had got himself a little place outside of the city—a little house with grounds about it: had cultivated it there as a sort of hint of a farm." Bucke asked laughingly: "How about the cow?" W. laughed. Then said: "I would go out there often: I was happy enough to fall under the good graces of Mrs. Burroughs: O'Connor never was: out there, with the cow, the chickens, what not: it was a great institution." But B. "pined for something more real: at last was made a bank examiner: it paid as well as a clerkship while it did not confine him so closely." Then came Esopus— "the little—now larger—piece of land up the Hudson." W. spoke of "its beauty": "Oh! the prospect outward from it!" "I do not wonder he would grieve to sell it: he had several times seemed to think he might: it is too large: he made a mistake in adding to it: but it is part of him—as much a part of him as his books." W. ran along this statement with great relish and vigor, for him.

     Talk then of Gilchrist's and other pictures of W. W.—of the Coxe photos, the Gardner, which W. passed to Bucke, of Symonds', of Bucke's London pictures. W. had "thought our fellows at the head in that business"—the photo business— "but I'm not so certain since they came"—pointing to the Bucke and Symonds pictures. "Tom Eakins and his wife looked at that"—the Symonds— "thought it as good as any photograph they had ever seen." He asked Bucke which of the Coxe photos he had. "I still prefer the laughing philosopher,"

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he said. Then: "I think a painter has much to do to go ahead of the best photographs." He asked Bucke what he thought of the Gilchrist picture. B. said: "It's overelaborated: it's too much for finesse, too little for guts." W. asked: "You mean not enough of the earth earthy?"

     Bucke said: "We don't want to tire you, Walt." W.: "You don't: instead of doing me harm it does me good to have you fellows here: it lifts me out of my overwhelming sluggishness." Bucke said: "I'll be back this evening if I can." W. said: "You must: I want you to come." W. laughed. "You see how it is, Maurice: I wrote someone like this, for instance, the other day: 'Doctor Bucke is here but I see very little of him.'" B. said "Walt, you see as much of me as is good for you." But W. protested: "Let me be the judge of that, Maurice." W. said: "You will be pleased, Horace: I've found the Chamberlin letter: since you brought it back I got it messed away among the papers on my table: here it is. Read it: Maurice would like to hear it."


Transcript Office
Boston, March 5, 1889.

My dear Poet:

I spent last evening in fighting for you, in reading you, and, in a feeble way, expounding you. I had a little company, comprising the membership of an intelligent reading club ignorant, however, for the most part, of your works—to whom I gave some account of your literary purposes, accompanied with readings from your works. The more melodious passages I had read by sweet-voiced women, and the robust passages by men with good strong voices; and some who came, perhaps, to snicker remained to listen with parted lips. Nevertheless, though the reading passed for a success, we had the stock questions to answer, and the stock objections, to interpose your own strong words against. One man said you had early had your head turned by excessive adulation! I told him that you had had at least enough of the other thing to bring up the balance, and that moreover, adulation would as soon turn the head of Moosilanke, my big mountain up north, as yours.

Well, all this is vain to you. Neither you nor the Leaves of Grass

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are on trial any more. But it occurred to me that you might be willing to know that reading clubs in Massachusetts are reading you and wrangling over you: and I desired to thank you for the word which you sent to us through your friend—I cannot now recall his name—to whom Rev. Mr. DeLong wrote, and who kindly replied. Your cheery "God help 'em!" gave us a breath of you. My friend Baxter sent us his copy of your big book with notes, one or two, from you, pasted in.


You do not know me, but your friends Baxter, Sloane Kennedy, Garland and Ernest Rhys are all very good friends of mine, and we have for a good while celebrated you here and elsewhere.

I send you my heartiest wishes for the prolongation of your noble life in content and in as great a measure of health as possibly can come to you.

Truly yours,

J. E. Chamberlin.


     W. had a good deal of fun over the passage in which he was referred to as spoiled by popularity. "I've been accused of many sins, been accounted for in many ways, but that as pure novelty goes ahead of all the rest of the interpretations!" Then he said to Bucke: "Did you notice, Maurice, that he said 'neither you nor the Leaves of Grass are on trial any more'? It struck me that there was something encouraging about that, extravagant as it might seem to the enemy." Bucke said: "The time will come soon, Walt, when there will be no enemy." W. cried: "God help us when that happens, Maurice!" I said: "He said 'soon,' Walt: did you hear it?" W. was jolly over the expression. "'Soon," Maurice, seems rather like anticipating: many things will have to occur before that is likely to ensue: indeed, you will be assured in all judicial circles that instead of having all friends and no enemies by and by I'll have neither friends nor enemies." Bucke said: "Walt, you seem determined to be in the minority." W. answered: "Yes, I do: that's the only safe place for me."

     I went to Philadelphia with Doctor. On the way out B. left some instructions with Ed. Bucke said: "I do not like Walt's condition: frank as I was mostly with him I still left the serious things unsaid." Again: "He has no bottom: his pulse is in a very weak condition."


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