Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, March 23, 1889

     10.30 A.M. Down to W.'s and there a short talk, mostly concerning his future course with the big book—whether and how to bind it up. Said he would prefer to have Dave buy the sheets and make his own choice of a cover, and these sheets he would sell for three dollars and thirty-three cents. I said I did not think Dave would accept, &c. But W. insisted: "Anyhow, I think that is my ultimatum: I do not think I shall swerve from that: he can take all or a few at that—or none: if he does not acquiesce, I think I shall keep the sheets in my own hands and risk it." No mail. "Nothing from O'Connor—nothing from anybody, in fact." I have written to Chicago News for name of critic there. "William," said W.: "He's over me, around me, through me, everywhere, every minute. I go to him, he comes to me: in the old ways—then, too, in sadly new ways: it's like a death-watch: it's like a man's own shadow: it can't be escaped by going or staying." Talking of O'C. reminded him that he had another of the O'C. letters for me. It was laid aside on the table. I had to read it aloud. It was written in pencil.


Providence, R.I.,
March 14, 1883.

Dear Walt:

After I telegraphed you today, I got the proofs, mailed from Washington, and immediately sent down and have spent most of the day proofreading. I return the sheets with this evening's mail, as I shall not probably see another proof. I hope you will see that the corrections are carefully made, since I loathe typographical errors. [ "So do I, William: Amen!"]

I wish you would see that the printer puts all names of books into italics, as my copy indicated. I don't like to see a page so dotted with guillemets or quotation marks. Besides, this was the plan followed in the pamphlet. Then one thing I must beg, that you will restore to its place in the text so much of Emerson's letter as my

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MS. gave. I had a tussle with Doctor Bucke about this, and he gave in, and allowed that there was no reason why the letter should not appear twice, or even three times, in different parts of the book, for different reasons. It is absolutely necessary to my point that the letter should stand right up there and face him in the context, and I beg you to have this done.


Be sure and let me have (sent here, until further notice) the proofs of The Good Gray Poet. There's a bit of it appended to these slips, and I notice that my first footnote has been changed, not entirely to my taste. What I wrote explained the somewhat too enigmatic "sad pleasure" of the text, and the revised version ignores the point. I thought what I wrote perfectly deserved, besides, for Lowell is a perfect cad, and deserves the kick I gave him in my footnote. His interference with that letter was an extraordinary piece of meanness and impudence, for which he deserved a sharper thrust than I gave him.

I am not sure, thinking it over, but that I may, when I see the proofs, take out three or four lines on the last page of the G.G.P.

I write in a hurry, so as to catch the mail, and not disappoint you. Jeannie is very ill, confined to her bed, perhaps never to be well again. [ "O God! She never was well again, poor dear!" exclaimed W.] I don't know. The prospect is distracting and gloomy. [ "As it is today, too, dear William, as I sit here wondering, fearing about you yourself!"]

I have been quite ill even since I came here, and have read these proofs in a state of feebleness and confusion. It is probably that my state is reaction from the severe work of the winter at Washington. More anon. Goodbye.

Faithfully

W.D. O'Connor

P.S. If I can see a revise, I should like it.

     8 P.M. W. reading. Very bright. Ed had given him his bath. It helped him. Asked about "the weather outside." He said: "There's a sense in which it may be said that physically you and I live in different worlds: while you know both worlds I know only one." I asked him if he shouldn't sun himself at the back window on clear days. Wouldn't it do him good? "It's a good idea: I wonder that it did not suggest itself to me before: I'll adopt it." Told him of my letter to the Chicago News. He said: "That was good, right: I have

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no objection to it, if said that way."
Asked me: "Did I tell you of the letters today?—one from the Librarian of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, one from Aldrich? both for books?" He had not. "The Annapolis man is by name Brown: I don't know him: he wanted the 'complete' book." And what of Aldrich? "He sent me a check for twenty-five dollars: said if that was not enough he would send more." I remarked: "He is friendly, then?" "Oh yes! we have met often: met when I was in Boston." Then A. had not written the Gilchrist article in the Atlantic? "No indeed—it was by somebody else: I did not know who it was: now the name has got away from me." Not a Whitmanite? "I should say not: I should think the article itself showed that clearly enough. This Atlantic piece was written by a college man—a cultured man." It had been said Aldrich and Howells were neither of them college men. "But," said W., "I always had the other impression, or that if they were not that since their early life they had delved a good deal in Latin and Greek: they carry with them the tang of the scholar, libraries, traditions." He had intended the Aldrich letter for Bucke or for me. "Here it is: read it." Aldrich wrote from Boston. He was stopping in New York at Stedman's a few days ago. Saw there the volume W. had sent S. Stedman was away. He had solaced himself with the book. Concluded he would have a copy for himself. Hence the check, &c. Starts his note "Dear Walt." W. laughed as he said: "But the palpable, distinctive thing in it all is the check: there is no dubiety in that. I sent the book off this afternoon—and do you know, it only cost a quarter? I sent the Annapolis volume along with it."

     As we talked Ed came in from the post office bringing a letter from Bucke, which W. read forthwith, part of it aloud, part of it to himself. He handed it to me. "Doctor sends this bill for you to hand to Harned. I think he is wrong about harpooneer: read it." I did. "Bucke wants you to say harpooner, does he?" "Yes: but he is wrong in that—at least to this extent: that the fishermen themselves say 'harpooneer': they would laugh if they heard us say 'harpooner': I know: I have talked with them—oh! many of them! have familiarized myself with their terminology—their lingo: I'm not guessing: I know what I'm talking about." Yet he said: "But Doctor is very cute: he has a very sharp eye: there was a line I used somewhere which he corrected for me: a line about the raftsmen, lumbermen, on

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the Canadian streams. I had always supposed—somehow got it into my head—that these fellows used a trumpet, a horn, of some sort, in their work along the streams, but it seems they do not: Doctor said it was unheard of up there: I guess it was: he knew. It appeared and appeared again: I think it is all right in the last two editions—at least in the last edition: I am sure it is not there wrong any longer."
I said: "I have taken canal boat trips through Pennsylvania: the canal boatmen use horns." W.: "That's probably what I got the idea from: I must have heard of that."

     I saw Brown today. He was afraid a second trial of the head would not improve it. W. said: "It is not bad enough to invite rejection nor good enough to be entitled to approval." Again: "I see no detail that I object to: I have only a general feeling in the matter: I vote no, but I can't explain my vote." I submitted W.'s proposition on the big book to Dave. He said: "No, I won't pay three thirty-three: it's too much: I'll pay two sixty—that's my limit." W. stubborn: "Well—I think matters will for the present have to rest where they are: I am not inclined to a change of base: if I have to give the books away I'd rather give them to my friends, to the poor, than give them to Dave: in fact, I'd rather burn them in a fire than hand them out to a publisher for practically nothing. Dave's very good: I like him: he likes to pull me by the whiskers now and then: he's afraid I may get spoiled!" What were we to do about covers? We will need copies bound at once. We are all out. W. said: "I may conclude to bind fifty more in that swell leather, but I doubt if I'll ever go beyond that." Didn't he consider the fifteen-cent cover too fragile? "No: it will do its work: it's not made for always: it will last: moreover, it has an identity, as that leather cover has not: that leather book has a binder's cover, not an author's cover." He added: "There was a gentleman here the other day who has done a good deal in the publishing line himself: he said he liked it: he thought it had its peculiar flavor—that the cover impressed him very much as certain covers he knew in the libraries on books a hundred and fifty years old."

     McKay has another order for the book. W. promised to let me know in a day or two just what to say to McKay on the subject. "It would of course simplify matters much to settle finally without question this dispute over covers." But he said: "You know I am a slow

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poke: I never hurry to conclusions: sometimes I can't even be driven."
As to the simple cover: "I see nothing objectionable in it except possibly the feature you suggest—its possible fragility: its mere cheapness I do not consider any ban whatsoever." He took my hand. "You see, Horace, I am like the lawyer: I am always fencing for time: you are like O'Connor: you go straightway where you want to go—directly, unerringly: I can't do that: I often have to go round about: I am essentially a plodder—the Dutch in me takes naturally to plodding: I may arrive, but it's only after a tussle. This is particularly true in our work together: my decisions are firm when they are finally made, but I am a postponer when it comes to making them: I put off my yes, my no, on the slightest pretext: this may be a little more so than in earlier periods when I was physically more myself: still, I always took my time: William used to worry his fur off trying to stir me up: I do not wonder that I often exasperate you." Paused. Then with a twinkle: "Be patient with me." Today he gave me a copy of the Hobby Horse (October last) saying: "Put this in your pocket!" Too big. I asked: "Which pocket?" He looked me all over. "That does seem like asking too much of an ordinary suit of clothes," he said.


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