Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, March 11, 1889

     11:45 A.M. In at W.'s for a little while. Showed him a couple of pictures in oil made by Bucke's daughter, which he had left with my father for an opinion. W. came over from the bathroom assisted by Ed. When W. looked at the paintings he exclaimed: "Why, she is quite a dabster!" and when I told him Gilchrist turned a cold shoulder to them, he continued: "Well, never mind: I should say, let her go on by all means: Herbert may be right, but that should not deter her: we should try ourselves out no matter who the distinguished discourager may be."

     I said: "Tell me how you are, Walt!" W.: "That interminable dreary story!" But he said: "I am not myself today: I am very uncomfortable in my head: very uncomfortable in my belly, too!" I said: "If you've got anything worse to tell me tell it now." W. asked: "Don't you think that's bad enough? It feels bad enough to me, however it may look to you." I quoted: "Seeing is believing, but feeling is the naked truth." W.: "That's right: I have the feeling; the feeling is the naked truth." He then asked: "What news? Have you had any news from William?" W.'s color not so bad, but he looked tired.

     I did not stay. Went off to town to keep my appointment with Bucke. Ed had gone over and seen Bucke in the early morning as advised. W. called me back as I was closing the door. He said: "I forgot to give you this: it's for your memorabilia." He smiled: "It's a big word, Horace—a mouthful—but applies to the collection over which you are the custodian." It was an O'Connor letter seven years old. Did he expect me to read it? "No—I have just read it to myself: you are in a hurry: take it along—read it by the way: notice particularly what William says about Heywood."


Life Saving, Oct. 27, 1882.

My dear Walt:

I snatch five minutes from writing up the wrecks. I had a horribly anxious and sleepless night on account of an item I saw in the Critic here last evening as I rode up in the street cars, stating that you were dying. Although I suspected it was sensational, I had about as much distress as though it had been true, and was strongly

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tempted to telegraph you. This morning, however, the papers gave news more in accord with your card to me of the 25th, and I feel comforted.


In liver disorders, great and immediate relief has been experienced from electricity, and I seriously wish you would get some medical electrician (there are many such in Philadelphia) to apply the battery to you. I know of a case—a lady's—which was speedily cured by this means—the discharge being like coffee-grounds, ("thy liver, black with eating," says Eschylus,) after several eminent doctors had pronounced it hopeless—one, the great surgeon, Doctor Gross of Philadelphia, having spent a whole day in diagnosing, and declared it cancer of the stomach, and beyond remedy! But they were all wrong—it was an engorged liver, which the battery relieved instanter, and the lady is alive and well today.

I hope to soon hear that you are much better. But try the battery.

I have just been made to boil by a news item in this morning's Washington Post to the effect that Heywood has been arrested in Boston for sending extracts from Leaves of Grass through the mail. Can this be true? If so, the fight is re-beginning, when I thought it over. In the same paper is printed Tyndall's unmeasured panegyric on Emerson at the unveiling of Carlyle's statue—Emerson who eulogized the book they hunt Heywood for advertising.

All this is damnable. I don't like Heywood's ways, and I don't like the Free Love theories at all, but he has his rights, which these devils trample on.

I must stop here. Isn't this bit beautiful—The Stranger, a French poet's?


"He's gone.—So float the clouds above him,
So speed the waves upon their way.
Yet in my heart I hold and love him
For aye."

"His eyes met mine—one glance of greeting—
Ah me, what life a look may give!
For since that moment fond, that meeting,
I live."

Good bye. Affectionately

W.D. O'Connor.



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     12:30 noon. At W.'s again. Had met Bucke at Dooner's. He didn't like my report on W. "Let's go to Camden at once," he said. W. had saved a couple of newspaper W. W. things for Bucke. They were in an envelope addressed. "I came across them in looking about here: I don't think you have either." One from the Boston Herald. The other from the Boston Advertiser. W. said: "I think that piece in the Herald was Baxter's first fling at me." The year '81 and '82. The Advertiser article was written by someone named Fullerton. W. said: "That one let's 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would': at least, that's the way it starts; but he comes around all right before the end: it is that catalogue business that wrecks them all—that hauls them up short, that determines their opposition: they shudder at it." He smiled: "They call the catalogue names: but suppose they do? it is names: but what could be more poetic than names?" Bucke said: "Yes: look at those lines of Indian names!" adding: "It is one of the choice bits in Leaves of Grass." W. said: "I almost think so myself: at least I like it: I have often resolved within myself that I would write a book on names—simply names: it has been one of my pet ambitions never realized."

     I spoke of the new State, Washington. I said: "I'd rather they had given it an Indian name." W. said: "And I: but it would not do to publish that: our people cannot bear to hear Washington in any way indifferently mentioned." The pending proposition to call West Virginia "Kanawtha" appealed to him. Bucke said he never liked "Virginia" anyhow. But W. said: "I would be in favor of changing West Virginia: yes, I am sure I would: but Virginia I would let stand: it seems to have its own old long reasons for being what it is." Dakota he liked very much, "and Tacoma! how fine that would have been for one of the new States!"

     W. had a copy of the big book partly made up for Stedman. He took it from the box on the floor and handed it to me. "I will get you to finish it, Horace: I know you are skilled in all such things: my hand seems to be rather too weak to manage that stiff stubborn brown paper." He addressed it in a round plain hand when I had it ready. Explained: "I have had it on my conscience for a year to send him something: have neglected it, him, too long." Bucke mentioned Stedman's Century stuff. "It made me mad: I have not altogether got over it even yet." W. laughed. "Oh! that was no use:

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it didn't make me mad: it was just the thing for Stedman to do."
"Stedman is evidently warming up," Bucke went on. "William claimed that he had a heap to do with that," I said. W. then: "I don't know: I think O'Connor could tell us more about that than any other." But "whatever the truth" on that score, "Stedman has certainly shifted his position—come nearer: I think, from the necessities of the case, naturally: he was amenable to it."

     I told W. that in a letter to me Stedman had called him "laureate." This seemed to amuse him greatly. But Bucke kicked. "It's a hell of a word!" he cried: "it's ill-suited: it's abhorrent: what use have democrats for a laureate? It might go very well on the other side, but here—well, it's wholly foreign, alien, discordant." W. said his view was "regulated by the man." "When they offered the title to Carlyle he said no, it was not for him: he refused it: I accept in Tennyson not only the laureate but the baron: I always feel sure of Tennyson. Tennyson and Emerson are very much alike in that one respect: all that they do, say—everything—holds naturally together, needs no adjustment, is automatically harmonic. You remember the Lessing story? It always seemed to me very deep: very, very. Lessing said, the Laocoön in the hands of the sculptor has his mouth half open—and that is right: in the hands of the poet has his mouth wide open, and bellows like a bull—and that is right too: so it seems to me, Carlyle was right, Tennyson was right. And then Tennyson has always been such a friend to the Queen—a personal friend: he could not have refused her: more than that, Mrs. Tennyson wanted it."

     W. here spoke of the Queen: "We are indebted to her and Albert for so much: America, you and I." I shook my head. He said: "I supposed you'd raise your radical eyebrows again as you have before, but I stand by my statement." I told W. a story. Ingersoll was lecturing in Philadelphia. He made some comparison between Victoria and George Eliot—the one as mock and the other as real queen. An Englishman in the audience got up, mad, and asked: "Do I understand you to cast a slur on Queen Victoria?" Ingersoll at once replied: "Has it come to this, that we cannot compare a woman to a queen?" and so forth. It was a brilliant outburst. The Englishman retired from the hall.

     W. was delighted with the incident. "It illustrates several types

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of mind—especially the positive divergence between the democratic and the monarchical spirit."
He said: "I think the Queen is more respectfully treated in this country than in England." Bucke said playfully: "Walt, you come damn near being a monarchist yourself with all your fol-de-rol about the Queen." W. said: "Maurice, you're talking treason: what right has a subject of the Queen to say such things as you do?" B. was on fire at once. "Subject? You call me subject? Walt, I hate the word." W. then: "No matter whether you do or don't, there it is."

     Reference to Century Magazine. W. said: "The policy of the magazine is a study: especially the old magazine": mentioned J.G. Holland. "I think the most offensive and abusive letter I ever received came from Holland in the old days." He had spoken to me of this before but to Bucke it was a surprise. "Oh!" said W.: "did you never know of it?" First he said he thought "it must have been in the Washington or Brooklyn days," but afterwards he said: "No—I remember more clearly now: it was after I came to Camden, was on Stevens Street: probably ten or twelve years ago." How had it occurred?

     He described a visit from John Swinton. "John urged me to send on some matter to Holland, 'for certain reasons,' he said: he said they would take it, pay for it: he had reasons for knowing they would: I was poor then—poor in health, poor in money, poor in everything that was minus. At first I said no: but he stuck to it: I finally said: 'Well—I will: I promise you': and sent them—several: sent poems: Eidolons was one of the poems. In four or five days I got an answer: the poems came back with the answer: with them was a personal letter from Holland—impertinent, impudent, abusive, uncalled-for. As I said, I was sick at the time: it made me mad, angry—at least as near angry as anything of the sort ever did or could: when I had read the letter through—most likely before I had read it all—I poked it into the fire."

     I asked: "Wasn't that a mistake?" He said: "Yes, it was a mistake: I know it: but it was a curious letter: long, quite long: it covered several pages: he started out with saying he had for some years intended writing something on the subject: about me, about my book: that he had been waiting for an opportunity to do it: that now the opportunity had come and he was going to let himself out—

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which he did. He put it, I should say, in almost those words."
Bucke interrupted W.: "Well—I'll be damned! and what else did he say? can you remember any more of it?" W. said: "It was offensive, low, bitter, inexcusable—yet excusable, too, from that peculiar angle of thought." Before dropping the matter W. asked me: "Did you see the portrait of Holland a little while ago—about so big?"—measuring an oblong about the size of a Century page with his hands: "It was Eaton's—Wyatt Eaton's: the very best thing he has ever done, I believe." W. added: "That portrait presented the face of a man whom you could not but respect."

     W. then spoke of the general policy of the popular magazines. "They must above all keep their skirts clean: they must not embrace unpopular causes—be ahead of their times: the men must keep the dust off their boots—the women must keep their petticoats unspotted." He said, "The average publisherial code is vulgarly usual—has to be." Then: "And that was the trouble with J.R."—stopping— "Osgood, J.R. Osgood." But didn't Osgood volunteer? "Yes he did: and no doubt he has bitterly regretted his whole course in that matter." W. quoted Osgood's private clerk "or some one in the office there" who had informed O'Connor that "from that incident was dated the downfall of the house." W. still elaborated his story. "What a mistake! Osgood could never have been convicted if he had shown fight: and what a battle it would have involved! what a host of enthusiastic boys would have been afoot taking part—arguing, contending, unfalteringly." "It was an opportunity out of millions to have a great question settled." For, as W. said, "this is not a Walt Whitman question but a world-old world-wide question having to do with the freedom of letters."

     W. turned over a copy of the Century and pointed some of the pictures out to me. Said to Bucke: "I am not at my worst—neither at my best." He found a package of the Bucke letter slips. "Oh!" he exclaimed: "I wanted one of these for Stedman: I looked for them today for two hours: as usual they didn't turn up when I wanted them: now I find them on the floor kicked about under my feet." W. did not take the powder last night. Not necessary. Asked B. what was the result of the urine test. Osler not having the appliances had taken it out to the University. W. said: "I see Osler is to go to Baltimore in May." Handed B. a bundle of MS. "Bits—notes," he called

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them. Proved to be Eidolons, Song of the Redwood Tree, Thomas Paine piece, others. "If you wish keep them," he said. "And you, Horace: here is a little package for you—of no value, perhaps"—handing me a package endorsed in blue pencil "Walt Whitman Miscellaneous old slips, writings, proofs, letters, etc. (hodge-podge, small value if any)." I took Stedman's book up to express office. Later on wrote to S.


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