Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, January 25, 1889

     7.40 P.M. W. reading the papers. Sat under the light. Not looking any too well. Voice, however, clear and strong. Ed said he was "all right" but W. himself said: "I am only so-so: not very good, not very bad." Gave W. the Harper's. "Well, how do you like Waldstein?" he asked. I shook my head. "Not at all." He laughed gently. "Dry as hell, wasn't it? He evidently tried to see how dull, dead, he could make it." Talking of Howells' piece on W. he said: "I don't know just how to take it: I have been questioning myself: what do I think it signifies? I do not know: to me it's neither here nor there." I put in: "And how about the future expurgator and his pencil?" He flashed out: "Yes: how about him? That's a devil of a note, ain't it?" continuing: "As I said, I don't know how to take it: whether as Howells himself, whether as a sincere avowal, or whether as the Howells with his traditionary cap on—with his deference for Mrs. Grundy, for magazine orthodoxies, for this or that particular reader." I had said Howells had not got on very far. W. quoted this with assent. "He hasn't: he's fine, cute, subtle, but not revolutionary: he goes a certain distance—then hauls himself in with a shock: that's enough—quite enough, he is saying to himself." But I said: "Howells has certainly had humors at least in which he was outright. When he wrote the letter about the Anarchists he certainly showed some grit: didn't you thinks so?" W. didn't deny it. But he thought that "on

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the whole"
Howells having "so little virility" was "unable to follow up radically the lead of his rather remarkable intellect."

     Then W. said: "Look at Dick Stoddard: he's not only weak but malignant." I said: "Not only afraid to love but given to hate." W. smiled. "Exactly: look at that Poe thing: it's a fair sample: it was a cowardly attack: it was dirty, indeed: but that's the man—the certain size, style, shape of the man: a false note in it all—though true for Stoddard I suppose: more a picture of Dick himself than of poor Poe: an awful self-exposure, too: worthy of Billy Winter in his palmiest days: which is about as low as you can get." After continued general talk of Poe, W. said: "I have seen Poe—met him: he impressed me very favorably: was dark, quiet, handsome—Southern from top to toe: languid, tired out, it is true, but altogether ingratiating." Was that in New York? "Oh yes: there: we had only a brief visit: he was frankly conciliatory: I left him with no doubts left, if I ever had any." Poe was "curiously a victim of history—like Paine." "The disposition to parade, to magnify, his defects has grown into a habit: every literary, every moralistic, jackanapes who comes along has to give him an additional kick. His weaknesses were obvious enough to anybody: but what do they amount to after all? Paine is defamed in the same way: poor Paine: rich Paine: they spare him nothing."

     I said: "You should write about Paine." He nodded. "So I should: I don't think there's anybody living—anybody at all—(I don't think there ever was anybody, living or dead)—more able than I am to depict, to picture, Paine, in the right way. I have told you of my old friend Colonel Fellows: he was an uncommon man both in what he looked like and in what he was: nobly formed, with thick white hair—white as milk: beard: striking characteristics everyhow."

     W. asked: "Does this interest you?" I said: "You bet: don't stop." He proceeded: "We had many talks together in the back room of the City Hall. The instant he saw I was interested in Paine he became communicative—frankly unbosomed himself. His Paine story amounted to a resurrection of Paine out of the horrible calumnies, infamies, under which orthodox hatred had buried him. Paine was old, alone, poor: it's that, it's what accrues from that, that his slanderers have made the most of: anything lower, meaner, more contemptible, I cannot imagine: to take an aged man—a man tired to

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death after a complicated life of toil, struggle, anxiety—weak, dragged down, at death's door: poor: with perhaps habits that may come with such distress: then to pull him into the mud, distort everything he does and says: oh! it's infamous. There seems to be this hyena disposition, some exceptional (thank God, rare) venom, in some men which is never satisfied except it is engaged in some work of vandalism. I can forgive anything but that. I feel the same way about the Secession fellows: the Southerners—Rebels: I forgive, condone, overlook, everything except that last, that greatest, that almost incredible fact, that they starved our soldiers—starved them in insufferable prison-pens: the average helpless prisoners: that, I never, never, never can forget. The orthodox use it as the sign, the certificate, the credential, of their orthodoxy, to exercise a becoming horror of Paine—sneer at, to denounce, him: yet the skepticism of Paine—and it was for his theological skepticism that he was primarily hated—was mild, was nothing, compared to the skepticism of men who have lived since, who live now, who are almost universally honored."
I called it "historic bugaboo." W. said: "That puts it very well: you start a prejudice against a man: it lasts, lasts: it seems impossible to break it down."

     I gave W. Rice's letter. He said: "I have been thinking over it today: I am seriously minded to attempt something." I chuckled a trifle over this. He caught my idea. "After all it's in your line," I said. He showed no fight today. Only said: "Yes: after." I said: "I'm curious to see what you will say about the bad influence of English ideals on American life." W. said: "I am curious myself to see what I will say: I don't know myself: haven't the least idea." The "two thousand words, however," he said, "don't either inspire me or scare me"—laughing— "I will say my say irrespective of limits big or little: but I am not all agreed upon it yet: we shall see."

     I picked up a pen card from the floor. There were still four mammoth falcons in it. W. said: "That's a present from Jim Redpath: I have made good use of it." And he added: "I find I get to like the vast pens: they give me something to take real hold of: they encourage me to write spacious things." He laughed. "There's a spiritual side of the simplest physical phenomena: not only a spiritual side: more than that: a spiritual outcome."

     Walsh, in Notes of a Philistine, classes W. W. with "famous past

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men not accepted by their contemporary generation."
Said W.: "It's not a new thought: Carlyle makes much of it in many places: puts it powerfully: that they are scorned, hated, rejected: that they are in fact not understood: but Walsh takes many chances when he includes me in that category."

     Met Adler in Philadelphia after yesterday's session in the Ethical Convention. He sent W. a bunch of flowers. W. undid the box, held the flowers up in his fist, shoved his nose into them, and said delightedly: "They're beautiful: they bring me a whole garden right into this room: beautiful." Handing them to Ed: "Take them down to Mary: tell her to put them in a pitcher: I will let her have them the rest of the evening: they'll be mine tomorrow: I'll have them here tomorrow." After Ed had gone: "Tell the Professor they are a joy to me: give him my love: tell him I will have them here with me for days—tomorrow, next day, next, next"—then in a lower key: "Tell him, too, that I am still in my room: still cribbed here: still as I have been now for months, months: not absolutely laid up: yet almost: never in any way free any more: only tantalized with memories of liberty." Then asked me: "You Ethicals are having a convention? What is it about?" I cited something Adler said yesterday in a speech about the soundness of the body. W. said: "That sounds good: how far do you suppose he means that? Is he with us? or does he only go part way? I find that there are very few who are out and out: very few: they talk what looks like sense but don't back it up." W.'s talk very clear. Deliberate. He never seems mixed. Steadies himself in his own effective style. No matter how sick he gets, he holds on to himself. Bucke wrote me this a few days ago:


London, Ontario, January 16, 1889.

My dear Horace:

I have yours of the 14th this morning. All quiet. Meter jogging along towards a state of readiness. We shall certainly be ready to go east 4 Feb. unless our N. Y. lawyer delays us, and we don't think he will. It is wonderful how W. keeps on week after week and month after month. But, my dear fellow, the end has got to come—we must keep that steadily before us else we shall be knocked useless when it does come. I look for a sudden breakdown some day when least expected. Of course you will repeat this to no one. We

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must make up our minds to lose W. What I pray for is that his mind may remain clear as at present to the end. If this be granted us we may bear what comes as we can. But it seems as if I could not bear it if his mind failed. It is too terrible to think about. It is wonderful how clear and serene his mental vision is at present. All well here.


Affectionately,

R. M. Bucke.


     W. said coincidently tonight: "I am always confident that whatever happens to me nothing will happen to my head: that my head will stand by me to the last." It seemed almost uncanny. I had Bucke's letter in my pocket. "How do you come to that conclusion?" I asked. He answered: "I don't know how: I'm there: that's all I know: but the conviction is firm within me: gives me a certain measure of comfort: I'll die head up: I say that to myself many times every day: I never question the idea: it's fixed: it fortifies me."

     W. said: "See what I've found for you." He reached out a roll of paper. "It's a Rossetti letter: my letter to Rossetti: very old: 1867: you have all those other Rossetti documents: I want you to have this: stick it in your pocket; take it along." And he added: "Read it at your leisure: if there's anything to ask about bring it up tomorrow: I'm a bit tired now." After a pause: "You can never make too much of Rossetti: of the fellows over there in England: when the time comes for it don't be afraid to put the paint on."

     In Philadelphia. Met a Johns Hopkins student. I didn't get his name. He said: "I hear that you know Walt Whitman. I should like to talk with you about him. Some of the fellows over there have long wanted to see him—wanted him to come down and lecture, or something of that sort"—adding as he left me: "We'll see each other again: then we can talk about it; you might tentatively submit it to Whitman."

     W. said to me tonight: "Always tell me the bad things people say of me." I asked: "Why?" He laughed. "If you do not someone will. It's astonishing how much more anxious most people are that I should hear the bad than that I should hear the good things." "What induced you to say that, Walt?" "I got two anonymous letters in my mail today." "Where are they now?" He smiled. Pointed to the stove. "Gone up in smoke."


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