Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, March 30, 1889

     10.45 A.M. W. reading papers. I found him suffering from a bad cold. "It clogs up my head." The temperature had taken a big drop in the night. It snowed a little, and froze. The reaction from the weather of the last few days was violent. W. said: "I am eligible

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to catch cold: I seem to invite colds: my cold of a month ago had settled down in the quiet but was not scotched: it was always ready to crop up again. I am like Charles Lamb's celebrated roast pig: you know it? He would wander about, not yet killed, but with a knife and fork stuck in him inviting the world to dine off his corpus: I have the knife and fork in me: I too am a stalking invitation: so the cold seizes me in its grip."
Further: "I am becoming a tenderfoot in this room: I am so reduced in general condition that I am open to assault no matter which way the wind blows." W. handed me a postal. "It's from Nelly: good news: read it."


Washington, March 29, 1889.

William had the best night last night since a week ago and has sat up all day. Your card just here. He has read some today but says his head is very weak. Le Barnes in, and looking at your big book, for which we thank you, both William and I, each, for our copies. William sends love. I too.

Nelly.


     W. said: "They say no news is good news: well, here's some news that's good news." Who was Le Barnes? "I knew him: he knows me: he is a literary New Englander of considerable quality." Then he suddenly exclaimed: "Wouldn't it be grand to think of William as getting all over this—getting back on his feet again, out, around, there, here! getting strong, ruddy, virile, contentious, as of old!" Then he sort of soliloquized: "How old is he? do you know? I don't remember that I ever knew or asked." Bucke had told me fifty-five. W.: "I suppose that is about right, then: I should have set it, say, four years younger." I said: "When we left the house that day in Washington and crossed the street Doctor said: 'It's a damn shame a man so young with such genius should be sitting there waiting to die!'" W. said: "I know how natural it is for a fellow to feel that way: that is always the first emotion: it demands to be uttered: but after that, inevitably after that, comes the philosophic thought, the conviction, the vision, that there is after all no mystery in this or any other trouble—that there is always a new or distant good cause to explain it: a cause often in the man himself: if not there, then in the father and mother before him—or perhaps even back in their fathers and mothers: but whatever, always the best reason, the profoundest

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necessity, the supremest providence."
He said he could "never forget" Epictetus where he says, "What is good for thee, O nature, is good for me!" "it is so subtle, so finally inevitable." Then after a pause: "But all this has a long tail—a very long tail!" Here he got down on the earth again. "But this locomotor ataxia is a horrible venomous inexorable thing, too—a mysterious something or other that gets its nasty licks in in the dark!"

     W. asked me: "Have you read much of Shelley or about him? There is a story Mrs. Shelley tells—or a character-study, rather—that makes me think of myself. You know they were both great believers in signs, portents: so it was Mrs. Shelley who said once: 'We always know when the bad things are about to happen: when we are perfectly well, when all is at peace, then we know that the clouds are gathering—that a blow is preparing.' I have some such superstition—it if may be called that—myself: when I am feeling best I get ready for the worst." "Meeting trouble more than half way?" I asked. He said no. "Rather getting ready to stand it off when it gets the whole way." I told W. another Shelley story (new to him) in which Byron figured. He said: "I have always felt the greatest interest in both men: I like to read all I can get about them. I have a weakness for biography anyhow." He asked me if I had any Shelley, Byron books. If so he'd like to see them. I said: "Biography is fundamental romance and fundamental history." He was quick to say: "I'd be willing to say that too." I said: "Any book is biographical—even autobiographical." He said: "Under the surface that's true: but what lying things, travesties, most all so-called histories, biographies, autobiographies, are! They make you sick—give you the bellyache! I suppose it can be said that the world still waits for its honest historian, biographer, autobiographer. Will he ever come?" I laughed and said: "I'll be the first!" He said, looking at me: "It would be a worthy ambition: it would be revolutionary." I read W. a postal I had from Clifford:


Friday, A.M.

Please thank W.W. and yourself for me now in a provisional way, till I can do it better, for the precious Book. I shall parallel a passage of John Bright, of whom I speak Sunday A.M., with one of W. that

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is a grand antiphon. Surely W.W. will not object to the yoking so? Ever


J.H.C.


     W. said: "Surely not: but how about John Bright's objections? they have to be considered too, dead or alive!" Then further: "Antiphon: a sort of response: I shall not object." I said: "Bright has said some big things." W.: "Yes, so he has: for a man in politics, masterful things!" W. is still hunting the unmounted pictures. He's turning both rooms upside down. Has burnt up many old letters and papers. "The accumulation goes on accumulating: I get mad at the mess now and then—just pick up the bundles of stuff, God knows what, I don't care what, and poke it into the stove: I feel a sense of relief when I see it go up in smoke." Picked up Stedman's book again. "I am getting lots of fun out of this," he said. "Fun?" "I mean pleasure: this seventh volume: I even enjoy the make of it: the pictures—some of them—the print." Was he impressed with Stedman's selections? "Yes: I rank his judgment very high." He added: "The book is printerially fine: it is, I believe—which is quite an essential point to me—entirely free from errors: I did not see a single break: I am very thin-skinned about such things: I suppose all of us are. Years ago Osgood or Houghton used My Captain in one of their readers: it was a terrible affliction, almost a tragedy—the way they made it up: I cut a leaf from a book, sent them the correct version, intimating that I thought the only effective way to fix it would be by making a wholly new page: but I never heard of the matter again, either from them or in the book: I can't account for its appearance so except by the supposition that some one wrote it off from memory—and the hacks often do that, you know." But in Stedman's book "everything of that kind is scrupulously, immaculately taken care of." He said again: "I don't like the steel engravings: I do like the wood cuts: if I may say it, too, I like my own the best of all: the picture of Thoreau seems to be taken from a poor original."

     Discussed birthday book. "I think I'll put seven or eight printed verse lines on the title page and autograph them." He keeps on having "humors," as he says. "I may change and change: finally I'll hit the nail on the head." As to the title page: "I like the old lettering of Leaves of Grass—it seems to me very adaptable—but if the printer

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had anything to suggest, as he did, did well, with November Boughs, we will receive his counsel hospitably, even gratefully."
I said: "Doctor has discovered a cipher in November Boughs." He looked at me: "What?" I said: "N.B.!" He laughed. "Oh my! I never thought I was so subtle!" Then he said: "In a case like that a man can find anything he is determined to find: what he wants is always there—infallibly: it reminds me of the fellows who mine in the far West: what do they call it—sugaring? sugaring a mine? no—that is not the word for it, though there is a word." After vainly jogging his memory: "Well—I can't get the word I want: not sunk, sugared, broken: there's a good word: anyhow, the case is the same: it means, dream deposits: dream gold, silver, what not: not mines in the ground but in people's heads, in the paper of promoters, in the fancies of investors: dream values—sugaring the kettle!" Then he added: "There may be some such sugar-coatings in November Boughs: we may trust the Doctor to find them there or not there!"

     7.30 P.M. W. had started another of the Stedman volumes. Had it on his knee. "It is a great mine," he said. He asked: "Any news of the book?" I said: "That was what I was going to ask you: the news now must come from this end: we are waiting for you." No progress. No pictures found, no lines chosen for the title page, not a word written on the prefatory note. "You must try to be patient with my snail-like processes," he said. W. picked up Bucke's note of the 28th and read me this: "I grieve much that you should be depressed and by me about O'C. but I am anxious that his possible death at any time should not take you unawares, for if it did I fear it would be a terrible shock to you." W. said: "Maurice's fears are remarkable: as if William's death could take us unawares when we are expecting it daily!" He added: "Doctor sometimes attaches extreme importance to phrases that I only intend to be taken offhand." W. said he had a letter from Kennedy. "Nothing in it." Again: "John's letter—the one I gave you—brought me real joy."

     Ed came in for mail at this juncture but there was not a line. "This is unusual," W. exclaimed: "but it occurs sometimes"—adding: "I like to have something to make it worth while for Ed to go there." He said he had a new idea. "I think I'll write a message to O'Connor tomorrow on a sheet of paper—a letter that will do duty for Bucke

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as well—which O'Connor can pass along."
I showed W. this, which I had taken from the Home Journal:

"The English relatives of Walt Whitman are, says the Pall Mall Gazette, making strenuous efforts to induce the 'good gray poet' to pay a visit to England this year. It seems hardly probable that they will succeed, for Walt Whitman's health and age are scarcely favorable to such an undertaking. But, should he come, there can be no manner of doubt as to the enthusiasm with which he will be received, although there is something incongruous enough in the thought of the author of Leaves of Grass figuring as a lion in London drawing rooms. And what will Mr. Swinburne say?"

      "No, I never saw that," said W.: "some of us seem a good deal talked about—more talked about than we know or care to be: that is one of the penalties the literary calling entails: a man may be an ass, an idiot, an imbecile: still he's talked about." He laughed heartily at the phrase "figuring as a lion in London drawing rooms"—adding: "This surely would justify Herbert's picture of me." I referred to my Emerson address. I am to give it at the Ethical rooms next Tuesday. W. cried: "Where?" and then, "What?" Asked me then: "Run over your main lines," he said. I quoted a phrase from Darwin's life: "For books he had no respect but merely considered them as tools to be worked with." This did not first hit W. I repeated it. Then he caught on. "Oh! it is very direct, simple, magnificent!" Then of Emerson: "It seems to me that out of the cluster of his clusters of merits, greatness, Emerson could best be described by genuineness, absolute frankness, pristine intelligence: as I often say—he is filled with the qualities that go to redeem the whole bookish crew: yes, he redeems them: and we must remember that Emerson was not only spiritual—a creature of dreams, ideals—but knew a thing or two of the earth about him: though he was utterly without guile—utterly, utterly: the most absolutely pure, childlike, while the wisest, creature of our time." It was "a never-ending wonder" to him how "Emerson's personality" even to him "became ever more radiant—the more thought over the more thought of."

     W. asked me: "So Clifford's sermon tomorrow is to be on John Bright? Oh! I hope he will do it right—indeed, know he will: Bright deserves much: I consider him a star of the first magnitude, a great

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leader, I was going to say knight—but that has a twang of aristocracy: a born defender of the faith, I should say—a people's advocate."
He said Bright had stood by the North in wartime. "He was a friend at a time when we needed friends: if it had not been for him—for Victoria, too, for Albert—perhaps for a few others: if they had not sprung into the gap, as it were: God knows what would have become of us: it would have been a very dark problem indeed. But what did the fellows—the so-called leaders—over there know about us? They were all against—against: Carlyle, Tennyson, Gladstone—all the big fellows: Gladstone was not so well known then." He meant this "all" as applying to the official classes. "I know the people—the leaders of the people—of the lower orders, as they call them over there, were pretty nearly right: Victor Hugo, for instance, was neither for us nor against us—he knew nothing of affairs here, practically: but the people, both in England and on the Continent, were solid—had a clearer notion of conditions—were faithful to freedom." He said he would "never tire of acknowledging Victoria and Albert": that at a period "when there was every temptation for the 'high' classes to be adverse," they had been "steadfast in acknowledging the position of the North."

     I said of someone I knew: "He is very cultured, very polite: I feel after I have been with him fifteen minutes as if I had been sucking candy." W., after his hearty laugh, said: "Well—isn't that just as it should be? Isn't that the tendency of our civilization? the teaching of the schools? the literary classes? to sugar us? to make us elegant, smooth, correct—to tittivate the ear? at the expense of all the native rude elements?"

     The Ledger has never yet reviewed November Boughs. W. asked: "Is that so? Perhaps Dave never sent him a copy." But Dave had. Then said W.: "I am not surprised: I have told you about McKean: I don't think he has any room for me—he don't see, have time, for me." I said there had been a change in Ledger methods. More space was now given to book notices. "Yes—I have seen that: have now and then seen the Ledger recently: in fact, have more than once considered whether not to stop the Press and in place of it take the Ledger: I never take up the Press any more but there's something in it to make me mad." I put in: "The editorial page is surely bad"—at which W.: "I mean that—I mean the editorial page."

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Went on with vehemence talking of its "mean spirit"—ending in this way: "And the worst part of the editorial page is what they call the funny department—regard as such, rather: the short, so-called pithy, editorials: these, it seems to me, are the most utterly dirty, foul, flatulent, stupid, mephitic, things of all." I said: "I take exception to Bucke's claims for you in my Emerson paper." W. nodded: "I hope you do: it's only justice to me that you should do so: I too am entitled to be considered: Doctor certainly leans too far my way." I told him I had wanted to write a paper about his personality. He asked: "Will you do it?" Then answered his own question: "Yes—you will do it!" He shook his finger at me: "I guess you'll be making notes some day: then you'll be in a position to do what they ask." Further: "And if you do it be sure you do it right." What would he call doing it right? He cautioned me: "Whatever you do don't overdo me."

     W. was in good humor, though he said his head hurt him. "Sidney has such notes," he said: "took some—perhaps many: would take them right down as he sat here: sometimes we would be talking: I would say something: then tell him: 'Put that down—put it down just as I have said it!' and he would whip out his paper or tablet or book and ask me to say it over again. 'Oh!' he would cry to me: 'if I could only get that down just as you said it, just as you said it, to the last word!'—and he would do very well: I have great confidence in Sidney—in his reports." I said: "These were the reports Kennedy wanted from him." W. did not quite hear me. "You mean Hartmann's damn lying stories?" I explained. He said: "Oh!"—and went on: "Did Morse give them to him?" "No." Then: "But Hartmann's! they were a great affliction: he had reports: damn fool reports: they all seem to have them: he wrote down things I never said at all—things entirely alien to me, letter and spirit: things that sounded like anybody else but me: worse than that, he often made me say directly the opposite of what I believed, of what I must have said: the whole construction of his reports—sentences, words, thoughts—was unlike, wholly unlike: you could detect the counterfeit at a glance. But that is what history is made up of: reports of reports, at second, third, fourth, removes: I suppose when I am gone there will be all sorts of stories set afloat by all sorts of liars."

     Then W. regarded me affectionately: laid his hand on my arm:

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"And that's where you'll come in, Horace—to set the crooked straight: that'll be your time: you'll jump into the breach then." He asked: "Did I ever tell you about the drunken reporter who paragraphed me once?" Where was that? "He was on a paper over there in the city: was instructed to get opinions on cremation: went to all sorts of men: was told to come to me: never came near me, but gave me about so much on the subject anyhow"—indicating about an inch by his thumb and forefinger: "He had not had the time or the disposition to take a trip to Camden: he thought I ought to be represented—should not be slighted: so down I went. To make matters the worst possible, too, I was put down as saying exactly what I should not have said: I have no thoughts on cremation—no formulated thoughts—but such feeling as I have would be rather in the direction of endorsement: but here I was put on record as opposed." I said: "And people have pasted that opinion in scrapbooks as a piece of history!" He laughed. "That's the way history is made—much, most of it. The drunken loafer evidently believed that I would regard it as an honor to be quoted in such good society." I said: "You call him a drunken loafer? how do you know he is a drunken loafer?" He said: "You've got me again: I don't: he may be sober and industrious!" Then he laughingly added: "But I've got to call him something, so drunken loafer will do: I might say something much worse but I thought this as mild an epithet as would fit the case." "But," he said: "you haven't heard all: to cap his impertinence he wrote me a letter—think of it! the cheek of it!—saying he hoped I would not be angry: he had not found it convenient to come over: he had to have something from Walt Whitman: so he sat down and wrote out what he felt I would have said if he had seen me: something like that."

     I told W. a story. "John Curley says that when Singerly's Temple Theatre was dedicated the Record man sent there to report it got so drunk he was helpless when he returned to the office and could do nothing." W. laughed: "You'll admit he was a drunken loafer, won't you, Mister Skeptic?" I said: "I'll admit he was drunk but I don't feel warranted in calling him a loafer." "There's your damn quibbling again!" W. cried. I went on: "The fellows in the Record, Johnny was one of them, seeing the scrape the man was in, shielded him by borrowing notes of the affair from the Press and writing up the story themselves, so that Singerly never knew anything had happened."

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W. exclaimed: "That's a fine story: I'm glad you told it to me: it's the other side of the shield: yes, I know John: I also know Tom: both the Curleys: John better than Tom. The newspaper business after all does breed some of the best stuff: a fellow must after all not be too wholesale—too personal."

     W. reached to the table. "I laid this aside for you: if you're of the mind take it along." He handed me another of the O'Connor letters. "They turn up one by one: the chaos here even shocks me at times—and I am not easily shaken: I have dumped a heap of the papers, letters, desperately into the fire: some days I get mad at myself—just let my mania for destruction loose: then God help anything that falls into my revenging claws!" Was I to read the letter to him? Yes, if I would.


Providence, R.I., March 15, 1883.

Dear Walt:

I got continued proofs of the G.G.P. this morning, and your letter of the 14th this afternoon.

I found from this batch of proofs the necessity for a revise, which I hope you will have sent me, for I want the G.G.P. to appear as it was in the pamphlet, a form which always pleased us both, and you will see by my corrections, what a mess the poor printer has made of it. It is evidently not his fault, but Bucke's, and I really felt vexed at him. I furnished him with a carefully transcribed printer's copy of the pamphlet, and it is evident that the galoot has had my copy copied—his copy is of course omitting all the typographical directions and making paragraphs ad libitum. Hence, the mess! Why in thunder didn't Bucke send the copy I made for him! [ "Yes, William!" W. broke in: "I don't wonder that you kicked: you're no fussier than I am in such things: even my commas are sacred to me: and you, Maurice—how could you? and you a damn literary fellow yourself, too!"]

However, spilt milk, &c. Send me revises of both documents. It will hardly delay matters, and there will be the consolation of accuracy.

My Good Gray reads really well in the new version. I had no idea it was so good!


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I am glad you liked the Introductory. It is likely to make some very pretty fighting, before all is done.

After I sent it back to you, I remembered one typographical error I meant to correct, but forgot it after all. It is on the first slip where I speak of Paul Louis Courier's "arrows of lightning." This should be "arrows of lightnings" double plural. If I get a revise, I will correct: if not, you please have an "s" put on to my "lightning"—it is more effective, though a small matter.

Dr. Channing and all send love to you. Jeannie is very weak though her mind is bright and clear. If she weathers through this harsh spring, I shall have hopes of her. She has immense vitality, but injures her chances by ascetic notions—total abstinence, &c., and general desperate Hahnemannianism. It is bad when you don't do, in a general way, what other people do, and go back upon a fair allowance of victuals and drink. [ "My God! that's true! the poor girl: she died: they lost both of their children: there was hell loose in the blood somewhere: we must have guts, blood—good blood: we can't live on any of the substitutes for food: nothing but vulgar grub will save our bodies—and souls!"]

I got the Man [sic] this afternoon with Parton's version of Hugo's magnificent oration on Voltaire; also the Tribune catalogue, which I have not yet had time to look into. Thanks.

Au revoir. Faithfully

W.D. O'Connor.
P.S. If the printer is puzzled show him a page of the pamphlet, which will show him how I want it set, with the short dashes following the periods, etc.


     When I got up to leave I asked W.: "Is your head better?" He shook it dubiously: "On the contrary it is very bad: it has been in a whirl all the time we have talked." I said: "I should not have stayed too long." "Yes you should: I wished you to: you make me forget my woes."


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