Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, March 26, 1889

     10 A.M. W. reading papers. Said he had "decided not to pursue the Gutekunst matter." Took checkbook (wrapped in brown paper) from inside vest pocket. Carefully unfolded it. "Now I'll make you out checks for Oldach and the Photo Engraving Company." Did so laboriously. As to P.E.C.: "I will pay the whole thing if he insists on it, but just now, if he does not object, will draw up this check for the half of it: I'm obliged to be cautious: my bank account threatens to go to pieces." The one picture not satisfactory. "I don't feel like settling for it—yet I know I must eventually do so." Picked up the Gutekunst process of the Emperor. "I don't like it: it's too fatty—too bleachery: it's a picture without a shadow—which means that it's essentially no picture at all."

     W. asked me: "Any news?" And then I asked him: "Any news?" He said: "Bad news from O'Connor—though indirect news: nothing straight from Washington but a letter here from William's Doctor sent to Bucke: Bucke sends it along with some valuable lucubrations—may they be called that?—of his own. Look!" Handed me the letter written 23d. Said: "Read the first paragraph of the Doctor's letter: then read Hood." Bucke wrote this:

"Yours of the 21st just to hand with card from Mrs. O'Connor. The latter is gloomy. Indeed, we must not expect much good news from that quarter. I had a note from O'C.'s doctor—Doctor Hood—which I enclose. It shows a bad state of things. O'C. may go on a long time but that is hardly to be expected or desired. We must make up our minds to his death or worse. For should he live much

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longer his life would necessarily become a burden to himself and others. I do not like to write this way but I think you ought to know my candid opinion. The case was bad enough before the development of the epileptoid attacks. Now it is simply desperate. That is as far as we can see. Beyond and outside of that is another story, and I have no doubt (as you have so well taught) that all is well provided for and is as it should be. We must have faith and keep cool whatever comes or goes."


      "Doctor is cruelly frank," W. said, "but that is what I always wish him to be: he knows how I am in that way and humors me by talking out and out: I don't want to be fooled: I don't need to be let down easy: I can take the whole blow if necessary." Then he said: "But you haven't read Hood's letter: read that."


Washington, D.C., March 19, 1889.

My dear Doctor:

When I wrote you at Philadelphia I omitted to answer your question as to the existence in our friend O'Connor's case of bed-sores. There can scarcely be a doubt that bed-sores would exist were it not for the scrupulous cleanliness that has been observed since he had wholly lost the power of locomotion: the use of carbolized water or phenol sodique in bathing, &c., to say nothing of the protective value of ergot of which he has taken a good deal.

His condition now seems very much the same as before the series of epileptoid seizures of which I wrote you. I observe that within a few weeks the action of the heart is hurried—the pulse rarely if ever being less than ninety to a hundred. All the rest seems in statu.

Very truly yours

T. B. Hood.


     W. said: "It looks as if we were right up against our great bereavement—as if the story was rapidly tragically drawing to a close: we must possess our souls in patience: as Doctor says, there are some things that are not to be desired: we may do him wrong to desire to have William's life prolonged: still, we grasp at straws—we don't want to minimize the tiniest shred of hope."

     W. wants to get some photos mounted. "I have a thousand and more prints here: they should be put on cards: you have, know, a man who does such work: go to him—get his terms." I had done this

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in the fall. W. said: "I know: you brought me some figures: I've lost them: indulge me—go again!" He talked of Ferguson, too. "See him: tell him what we want: get the details in readiness so when we are ready we can go right ahead." Cover of big book. "I think you are right, Horace: the original cover: let's cling to that: rock of ages cleft for me let me hide myself in thee!" Laughed heartily. "Dave thinks I'm inexcusably stubborn: so be it: Dave is inexcusably sensible." Gave me copies of the big book for Mrs. Baldwin and Clifford. Put their names in, with the date: then: "from Walt Whitman and Horace Traubel." W. asked: "I wonder what's up with Kennedy? he has not written for some time: no doubt he is busy: then I'm too poor a correspondent myself, especially these days, to expect such liberal returns from my friends." I spoke of carriage rides for him in the spring. He demurred. Yet he said: "I have thought that when the days grew warmer—when I felt disposed to it, if I do feel disposed—I would get some sort of an easy chair, a low easy chair, on wheels, and let Ed wheel me round the square every day some."

     Season of Wagner Opera in Philadelphia. W. asked me about it. He said: "Doctor heard one of the operas in New York—the Götterdämmerung: is that how you say it? does it mean, the twilight of the gods?" Then: "And Doctor thought it a revelation—was filled with it for days and days." Then of Wagner: "I am not surprised that he was hissed from Paris: the make-up of the French people explains all that—indeed, explains its necessity: it is remarkable how deeply certain forms, habits, niceties, of civilization enter into the French character—its life: yet it is a thing not to be reckoned without: all that is a part of the cosmos. It is true it is not for us, but it is for somebody—somebody as important as we are." Paused. "You know I love the French: do not forget that." I asked: "How about Sarrazin?" W. replied: "It is a never ceasing wonder to me that Sarrazin, who is a Frenchman, with all that back of him, should seem so fundamentally to have entered into the ideals, methods, upon which, if upon anything, we have built, staked our fortunes." I asked: "Would you speak of the French as a people as being superficial?" W. at once: "Far from it: I am speaking of surfaces—of manners, behavior, gestures, the ephemera of races: underneath all that in the French as in others is the fathomless general stream." He added:

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"The French believe children from their earliest youth should be trained to the observance of courtesies, genuflections, softnesses, graces—insist on it in them, as if the perpetuation of the earth, the stars, depended upon their orthodox observance."

     I told W. of a French nurse whose method of dealing with children had interested me. He said: "Yes: that's it: that's the thing: to get up in the morning, bow three times or four this way, or bow that, nothing else being in order till that is done: taught so seriously, with such severe penalties attached, that the child would as willingly commit a crime as omit it. Oh! that is all right where it is all right—for France maybe: but here?" He shrugged his shoulders. "Not here—God save us!" After a pause: "Of course that is not for us—not for those who don't care whether the bow is three or four or whether there is no bow at all." I asked: "I wonder if Taine knows you?" W.: "I wonder? I hardly think so: yet one might suppose he ought to." W. further: "Is he still at work? still producing? I have heard nothing of him for years: he interests me—I have great respect for his monumental book." Wagner again: "I never heard a complete opera: I have heard snatches." "But Wagner is just the man not to be known through snatches, as you are just the man not to be known through gems." W. said: "You say that? you say it convincingly too: I am willing to take sides with you on that statement—especially its last clause." He so often gets whimsical that way. I said: "The Wagner operas are not fragments, pieces, melodic tidbits, but orbic entities—have a centralized life." W. then: "Yes: I hear you say that: I believe it: I think he was here for a solid purpose—Wagner." I said: "If he was not you are not." I said: "Wagner was rooted in his time and country, as you are: he would have been impossible in any other time or place." W. nodded: "I always come back to that view of it, of Leaves of Grass, of what I have tried to do, myself: I hope it is so."

     W. has read the Herald. "I am considerably disappointed in Walsh's department: it is wishy-washy enough: the paper anyhow is nearly all advertisements—the whole vast spread of it—which is very good indeed from the publisherial point of view." Did he think Walsh wrote the editorial review of the fiction symposium? "No: I think it too direct: and by the way, Horace, there is a vigorous new hand there on the Herald—some fellow who does not waste words,

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who hits right out from the shoulder."
Had I noticed it? "I wonder who he is? he gives no cues either in his style or in what he says."

     I repeated to W. Bucke's idea that if Mrs. Ward had read L. of G. before writing Robert Elsmere the book might have pursued another tack. W. laughed heartily. "That is not so certain—not certain at all: indeed, it is not certain she has not read it: who knows?" Then after a slight laugh. "It is queer, how the whole world is crazy with the notion that one book, one ism—Methodism, Presbyterianism, what not—is to save things: that the whole solar system hangs by one thread, and that thread the notion of every individual you meet. Yet this is necessary, I suppose: narrow, despicable, hateful, as it is to me, it is yet part of the story: the tail of the cat is long: and much as I despise for myself some of those tendencies, I would not go across the room to change the course of the stream—not a step: in due time, under the right conditions, the stream will fix its own bed anew as it has in the past—no hand, yours or mine, being needed to force it. Force! I would not coerce it a pin's weight! it will grow." So with prohibitionism. "Do you think it advancing?" he asked me. I alluded to the coming election in Pennsylvania (June) and he said: "It seemed to me it had got a chill blast: up there in New Hampshire wasn't it defeated by a decided majority?"

     W. spoke of visitors. "A Negro came in the other day: an educated man: very simple: very black skin: he was a reader of Leaves of Grass: said: 'You will be of great use to our race.' In the room below here several years ago Costelloe came in with a couple of others: all Englishmen, all good fellows, not one of them dropping their h's. I have many visitors—very diverse people: some are angels, some are—well, not angels: some bore me, take the stuffin' out of me: others buoy me up—leave more than they take away. A man came the other day—a lame man: he had a bad hip joint: we talked some of it: when he left he said: 'Now that I have seen you I can forgive you your poetry.'" W. chuckled. "Wasn't that rich? I warmed up to him at once." Again: "A woman broke in on me years ago, one day when I was alone: I was downstairs, at the window, where I used to sit so much. She came in innocently enough, talked for awhile innocently enough, then suddenly broke loose on Children of Adam—on me—giving us hell from a to z: I was surprised, almost scared—to tell you the truth: it rankles me to have anyone so evidently fine

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as she was wrought up to such a pitch of fury over a mistake."
I asked: "Well—how did it end? What was the outcome of it?" He said: "She accused me of a deliberate desire to ruin boys, girls, people, by my flagrant philosophy—went on in that strain." "Did you answer her any?" "Not by a word—I never said a word." "How did it end up?" W. said: "My silence seemed to astonish her. 'Haven't you a single thing to say in your own defense?' she finally asked me. I said: 'Madam, I need no defense: I only need to be understood.' That mystified her. She said: 'No one would suppose, Walt Whitman, from looking at you that you are the sort of a man your books show you to be.' She didn't intend that for a compliment but I enjoyed it as such. Finding she could make no impression, that I was not inclined to debate with her, she withdrew. I said quietly: 'Come again.'" I asked: "What was her name? did she give a name?" W. smiled: "I asked her name when she first came in but she said: 'The name does not matter'—and then let go." W. said further: "So you see things do happen, some things, now and then, even here, in this Quaker household."

     Pointed me out the vol. Encyclopaedia Britannica Tom had brought him. "It seems to me here is one of the best brief statements of us—if not the best—that has ever been made. It is true it is severely toned down, but then it is carefully put together; every word tells." Had Hunter written it? "I could not say—have no idea who: but it satisfies me almost as well as if we had written it ourselves."

     Dwelt upon our transplantation of foreign manners. "We catch on to all sorts of things not native to us. Look at our stage: in fact we have no stage at all: a jumble of plays packed together without logic or connection, made up often to fit an actor, with no unity of design—no Wagnerian identity. Indeed, I often wonder why people go to the theatre at all. It is very hard to explain. It occurs to me we have so far not had one American play—not one. The nearest approach to it is Joaquin Miller's Danites, which is pretty fair, but after all only an approach." "He is a warm, enthusiastic fellow—quite friendly to me. Oh yes! I have met him—can say I like him: but I do not think him a writer of the first class—even as nearing the first class. He is a queer one: his career has been wild, free: he often has necessities: is forced to write: to make fifty or a

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hundred dollars: does so: is not particular then as to the means—as to what it is he writes. I think he is now in California again; he is a creature of forests, mining regions, Injuns"
—here W. reflected: "I'm not so certain about the Injuns, but of the rest, yes."

     I was going out to Germantown to dine with Clifford and Blake. W. gave me the Kennedy and Bucke Sarrazin sheets to give Blake. Did he remember Blake? "O yes! you mean Sidney's Chicago friend—the man with the Unitarian church there? Give him my greetings: tell him I'm not on the whole very favorable to preachers but that any preacher who is Clifford's friend has my respect." W. has commenced to write the introductory note for the pocket edition, but it goes slow. Returned W. Commonweal. Also left Harper's Weekly with him. It contains Winter's long paper on the drama and the American press. Would he read it? "Yes—I shall read it: it's a vast screed: even though it's Willie's I shall read it." He looked over copies of Current Literature and the Christian Union I had with me. "Leave them, won't you!" The Union contains Burroughs' piece on The Spirituality of Matthew Arnold. W. called all this "a great find." He remarked the advertisement in the Union of J.B.'s desire to lease his West Park estate. "I am not at all surprised at that," W. said: "I expected it."

     Blake told me that he used W.'s Song of the Open Road as his New Year's text with great success. He is to meet me Friday forenoon for a little visit to W. I spoke of this to W. He said: "Let him come: indeed, tell him to come." W. referred to the Herald symposium again. "I saw at once how baseless Frank Williams' suspicions of Walsh were when I looked through the matter he had printed on the fiction subject. There would be no reason why Walsh should wish to commit me to an affirmation that was not my own. If I believe that way, then I should say so, Williams or no Williams: if I do not believe that way, then I am not likely to be dragooned or baited into assent." But W. said again: "We must not let any little difference like that blind us to Frank's beautiful goodwill: he has conservative leanings with which I can't sympathize, but his spirit is catholic, inclusive, farthest–reaching: he is in fact a rarefied sort of man whose inevitably clean instincts excite my admiration, love."


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