Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, March 16, 1889

     10.30 A.M. Met Bucke and Gurd at Harned's. We all went to W's together. W. in bathroom. I was upstairs first. W. shortly came across the little hallway supported by Ed. We shook hands. W. said: "Howdy? howdy?" I said: "I brought the Doctor this morning before you were up." "Is Doctor here?" he asked: "No: I have been up for two hours." Bucke trailed in. "You see, I have come, you skeptical old fellow!" W.: "Well—that's the best way to disprove a fellow—to be there!" W. complained of his condition. "I don't know what it is—the weather, some meteoric influence, what—but I feel like the devil: my head is all stuffed up, swims, is logy: the last three or four days have sorely tried me." But he added: "Fortunately, I sleep well—sleep four or five hours: that is a great help. The fellow's in luck who can be sure of his sleep: and I sleep well: it takes a couple of hours to get there, often, but I get there. The proof is like this: I sleep a night through, hear nothing, am not disturbed—then learn in

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two or three days that there was a mischief of a row and noise in the street that same night and yet I was not aroused."

     Bucke felt W.'s pulse. Found it better than the other day. Color good, he said: also general condition. The trouble not, as W. put it, with indigestion but with elimination. Bucke advised him to "take baths at least once in two or three days with frequent changes of woolens: with rubbings by Ed." W. said: "You think that would go a great way to remove the trouble, do you?" B. thought the skin "the great factor for us to study." To W.: "For the next month or two devote yourself to that and see if you are not a good deal better." W. was conservative. "I will consider it—put it with my memoranda"—adding: "A great deal must come from the confinement: it is now nearly a year: this is the tenth month."

     Gurd came up. W. asked him how he liked Philadelphia, remarking: "We have had a mild winter—two or three months of excellent weather: but the whole three weeks since you came here have been more or less bad—the last three or four days excessively so." W. asked if they had any meter news? Bucke: "Nothing new but the slowness, which is very old!" "Yes—and it is but natural, too: I have long ago realized that in all affairs of pronounced moment, when great interests are at stake, the word 'procrastinate'"—here he swept the air with his arm— "should be written in large, large capitals. I have had enough experience to know that men of affairs are very deliberate, very cautious, in all they say and do—the real men: indeed, it is right they should be: it is but following the course of nature, but patterning on nature: how she toils and troubles and worries and waits—how she paws the mud till she gets free!"

     Had he received any letters this morning? "Oh yes—several of them"—pointing to a bunch of letters on a pile of books. Handed B. a letter from Mary Costelloe which B. read. Discussed Costelloe's overcrowding affairs. B. said: "I don't see how he can go through with it all." W. said: "That job on the Council is no sinecure: but he is strong—a fine-built fellow something like Ed there"—pointing toward the next room. Bucke asked; "How do you make that out? Costelloe is a little man." W. looked amused and amazed. "Little! no, you are mistaken." Bucke cried: "Mistaken? pshaw!" W. exclaimed: "How do you know?" Bucke answering: "I ought to know: I lived two weeks in the same house with him!" At this W. said:

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"Well—that's rather extraordinary: I must certainly then have gotten him mixed with some other fellow," continuing: "Anyhow, being little would be an advantage—these little, knotty, compacted rascals are often better knit, more for lasting, than the big ones—especially if they be wiry."

     Among W.'s letters was one from Gleeson White (England). No one knew him. W. said: "Some one has asked him to say something about me, so he sets to and pours out a long, long, long screed—I did not read it all: got a little on, then stopped." A London woman's paper asked White to do the job. It was an article in a series—Writers Oversea. Just as Bucke was coming in I had started to read W. a letter from Morse received today. Letter enclosed photo made by a boy in the house—one of M. himself, one of the Lincoln Monument, one of the Schiller memorial. W. said: "I did not read the letter: I thought you might read it for me: Sidney's another one of the indefinite chiros!" Bucke laughed: "Chiros! that's good! Yes, they're a hefty tribe!" W. shook his finger at Maurice: "They are surely, and many's the time Horace and I have debated over your letters—whether you yourself are not a member, maybe a chief, in the tribe!" Bucke hilarious: "My God! has it come to this?" W. then turned to me: "You started to read Sidney's letter: you might finish it." He was much interested, making many comments as I went along.

      "I have sent to O'Connor," said W., "though I have had no word from Washington for three or four days—I have sent him the Ferguson piece and a postcard with it. I have sent postals about every day now for two or three months." I said: "I know: William spoke of them: Nelly showed me a pile of them together on his desk: he says he takes them up again and again." W said: "Is that so? they keep them? then I must try to write something on them hereafter which is worth while." I laughed. "You surely won't say it if you try." He answered: "Sure enough: I have made every effort heretofore not to say anything momentous, serious—have tried to frivol (only frivol), as Mary says." Handed Bucke a card. "This is Elizabeth Porter Gould's card: she has been in to see me: she's quite a woman." Bucke asked: "Young or old?" W. laughed. The question seemed to amuse him. "Not old: I should say, thirty-five to forty: not above that: stoutish—though not enough so to be stiff and unwieldy,

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though enough to establish her status. She bristles with conventions, too: in spite of the best opposite impulses they will cling to some people—cling with an ineradicable clinginess: yet she is all right at the core: as in Stedman, the proclivities are all sound; the elements are all there—all pure: and that is an immense start: that steadies the foundations."

     He must have had the suspicion that the wine Harned sent was not as good as usual. "Where did you get the bottle this time, Horace: direct from Tom?" Of course. "I took a swig of it yesterday—the first real swig: I felt very bad at the time: but instead of lessening, it added to my baddishness. There seem to be swigs and swigs—swigs that do the business and swigs that do not." I said: "That don't necessarily prove anything against the wine nor against you: it only proves that you didn't mix right that time." W. said: "That's no doubt the philosophy of it but I'm not always a philosopher." Then he added: "I attribute it to my Emersonianism—that after getting absorbed, lost, immersed in life, affairs, people, I become uncertain of everything: I come to the conclusion that it is useless, foolish, to predicate anything—to try to foretell causes and results: I have often of late years got myself into that state: but I have always come back—always at last returned from that insanity." Bucke asked: "Did Emerson illustrate a personality? was he an identity—a person?" W. said: "That's a hard nut to crack: go into a circle of the Emerson fellows—ask your question there: they would not like it—take kindly to it—at all."

     W. said about the Herald: "I used to attribute all the kind words there said of me to Julius Chambers, but he's no longer with them: I must have some other friend at court: it may be Habberton: I don't know." W. spoke of the pocket edition. "It must be a certain size: say, like this." Picking up a book—handing it to me. I said: "That would not go in my pocket." W. said: "That is the defect of your coat: you should have pockets made to suit: I always insist upon pockets to suit." Bucke said: "My tailor is a pope: he does as he pleases." W. laughed over that. "All tailors want to be popes: you must outpope the popes." B. said he can't understand W.'s complaints. His pulse and color are good. "There is no symptomatic evidence of disorder." I asked B.: "May not a great part of it be mental." B. then: "It probably is." Bucke promised on leaving to get

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back in the late afternoon. This pleased W. "See that you do," he said.

     7.45 P.M. I had been in and seen Ferguson about paper. Took a sheet to W., who examined it. "The point is, how will it print?" Laid aside. Are promised printed sheet next week in evidence. W. did not appear—nor was he—well. The earlier discomfort for the day had not passed off. He was inclined to attribute the "botheration" to the weather.

     Disappointed about the Doctor. One of his first questions to me: "And did you bring the Doctor?" it developing then that Bucke had not returned as promised. And W. continued: "He will hardly be over now. It is getting too late." He asked me quite earnestly: "What are the points in negotiation? Are they no nearer an end than they have been? One party wanting this, one that, neither yielding?" I told W. I had avoided meetings the past few days because such affairs disgusted me. He laughed. "That is natural, to be sure: but as I said yesterday of Goethe, there are reasons, necessities on that side, too: they are not to be wholly disregarded."

     W. said: "I see that Clifford is to preach in Camden tomorrow." Some talk of Clifford, whose "human religious standpoint, wider than, while including, the Christian," W. thought "grandly spoken." I explained C.'s difficulties in the church—on one side outlawed, mainly. Comment on the Priestley dedication the other day, which C. had attended. W. said: "If Priestley was to have happened in on that celebration he would not have supposed he was the individual they were talking about. I read a story years ago—a French story, by a great humorist—who pictured the return of Christ, his going from one Christian church to another—Catholic, Protestant—everywhere finding his name used, nowhere finding his life lived—the pulpits, pews, ceremonies, all being new to him. That is very profound: it applies as well to one religion as to another. The significant thing in Priestley was not his being this or that in the sectarian sense, but his attitude as come-outer, as one standing aside, taking an advance step: he was like George Fox—like Hicks, too." We were too apt to lose sight of this "cardinal fact," Yet this alone "gives such men a permanent fame." A few days ago, I was asked: "You know Walt Whitman pretty well: what is his attitude towards Christianity?" I answered "I see a great deal of him: he has no

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attitude towards Christianity, for he includes it."
W. was amused: said, "good! good!" and then went on: "Such a question implies another question: first tell me how Christian: Christian like the Rev. Wedgwood (that's his name, eh?) across the street there? or Christian like the Presbyterian round the corner? or Christian like Christians somewhere else? or Christian as Jesus was a Christian, if Christian at all?—everything depends the way it is defined."

     I said to W.: "People who hear you and reject you or will not hear you at all still crave you. What else does the expressed contempt for magazine poetry everywhere mean?" W. asked: "You think that instinctive recognition? That is certainly subtle, plausible—sounds like a point of view that must be considered." Adding: "It is in that as in all other matters: people get accustomed to a certain order of traditions, forms: they think these a part of nature, or nature itself—that they are never to be displaced, are eternal: they will not be easily shaken out of their conviction even when they know all their vitality has departed. That was a very good statement of the other side made by your friend Morris: was it canons he talked of?—the style?—that we must have regard for these whatever else we do or do not neglect? The world at large finds it sufficient that a fellow violates the canons: this, to it, justifies every measure of opposition." I said: "Some of the fellows seem to forget that the time may come when a house can no longer be added to or improved but must be torn down." W. quickly: "Yes indeed: there are times when the house cannot be patched any more but asks to be taken down."

     The Lounger, in The Critic, has several passages on Burroughs this week. "I am sure that will interest us," W. said. He thought the Lounger must be Joe Gilder. I said: "It is said there that John is postmaster at West Park: I did not know that." W. smiled. "I knew it: the people there at West Park petitioned for a post office: the office is in the store there: though John is nominally postmaster he hardly has more to do with the job than you or I." Again: "And he is no longer bank examiner: he has cut off wholly now from that official life." I described the Lounger's account of a visit of Kennan's to the Verestchagin Exhibition: how the Russian attendants were invited by V. to sing and were surprised to hear K. join them heartily when they did so: the subsequent dance, &c. (The Critic, 16th). W. listened intently. "All that is going to furnish me good

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reading: it sounds like a thing that I can be absorbed in, by the way you put it."
Picked up Morse's picture again. "I like it—like its swing: then it surely is Sidney—and that is the whole point."

     I said: "Bucke and I were talking the other day about the old woman in your ancestry who chucked chips at the niggers when they disobeyed her." W.'s face lighted into a great smile. "Oh! did you talk of that? that was my great grandmother: it happened very, very long ago: she was an old woman—older than I am—helpless, too, just as I am, though more so, even: she would sit in the big room—a room four times as large as this: her canes or chunks of wood by her chair—a chair like this, only bigger: at that time they had slaves—a whole troop of 'em:—they would of course work about the house, about her: when things would go wrong—when things were amiss (they were slavery days, with all the odd ends of life that exist with slaverydom anywhere) she would up with a cane or a chunk of wood and fling it at the offender. The folks knew this always impended: were always alert, rarely injured: would dodge the missile and go about their work." W. told this with an immense enjoyment of its humor. To lose his tone is almost to lose the whole stir of the story. "The good old lady! Like me she must still have retained the power of her right arm!"

     W. spoke of O'C.'s knowledge of Elizabethan literature as "monumental." I asked: "How far did he ever get with the Greek? is he as informed in that direction?" W. said: "I am not certain: I rather think not: he does not read the Greek itself; of course this does not mean that he's ignorant: William is a man of the broadest culture: he excludes no source of intellectual influence." Talked of Ingersoll. W. asked me to repeat what William had said of him in Washington. He said: "The Colonel has a viking quality: I always associate him with latent things—the tempests, the overtides: he has the swell, the swing, of the eternal: I never think of him when I am busy with the little things: he aligns himself, is aligned with the vastitudes." Further: "Ingersoll has become known as the apostle of negation: that damns him in many eyes: there are silly fool people who regard him as a sort of anti-Christ: he has of course never been rightly understood except by the few: but the question after all is whether he does not affirm more than he denies." I said: "Take his supposed denunciation of religion: people can't see what he's driving at:

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Ingersoll is anti-theological not anti-moral: his enemies can't distinguish between the two."
W. nodded. "Every word you say is true: it is indispensable—yes, necessary—to remember this: if he meant religion in the larger sense, as he does not, I should myself object to his conclusion." Ingersoll's Mary Fiske speech is in full in Current Literature. W. said: "Let me see it, won't you?"

     W. gave me a letter for my "data chest" as he called it. He said: "It's from one of the unknowns—or the less knowns: he's a doctor of the homeopathic stripe: he sends his picture: there's something tender and beautiful to me in his few words: he does not pile it on—is simple, says a little, does not overdo it." The letter had been addressed W. W. at the Attorney General's office. A quaint lithographed business card and a portrait were included. W. said: "Don't be selfish: read it aloud so I can hear it, too."


Syracuse, N. Y., August 10, 1869.

My Dear Walt.

You do not know me—have never heard of me even—yet you have done more for me than all others.

Born and bred in the midst of Puritanical orthodoxy I was early entombed in the church and never had a breath of the pure, free air of heaven till I was thirty-five years old. Swedenborg first opened the sepulchre and let in the heavenly light so that I saw myself a living soul, but it remained for you to breath upon the dry bones and make them live. To you alone I owe the discovery that "Divine am I inside and out"—that the "body is not less sacred than the soul."

Hours of depression come even upon you. This I know. Therefore, perhaps, it may cheer you in some such hour to know how you have lifted up and made happy a brother. This is my apology for this intrusion.

I would I could grasp your hand, look in your eyes and have you look in mine. Then you should see how much you have done for me.

Yours with a brother's love

William A. Hawley.



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