Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, April 2, 1889

     11 A.M. W. looking rather pale and troubled. Reading papers. "No letters from anybody today." Stopped. "Yes, there's one letter: it was from an autograph hunter: oh these autographites! they are from everlasting to everlasting!" I showed him a card I had from Josephine Lazarus, who had come into my nurse fund. He asked me: "Do you think she can afford it? the noble woman!" As she had volunteered I supposed so. W. had not yet got his revisions for L. of G. together. Is waiting for Bucke's.

     The Senate has rejected Mat Halstead's nomination. W. said: "That will make Mat a great man: it was just such a thing as that through which Van Buren was made President: Jackson nominated him as Minister to Great Britain: the Senate rejected him: it was a purely personal matter: everybody knew he was thoroughly fit—as fit a man as was likely anywhere to be hit upon: but he was refused." Had he ever seen Van Buren? "Oh yes—often: Van Buren was not an original man—a man of Lincolnian nature: not a man who would create new policies—anything like that: but he was a keen example, thoroughly adroit, a brilliant manager." Referred to Grant: "I have seen him, talked with him, a number of times: Grant's great feature was his entire reserve—his reserve behind reserve: his horse sense, I may say: he never set himself apart in an atmosphere of greatness: he always remained the same plain man—the unwavering democrat." I told W. how Grant came up to me on a Camden ferry boat one Monday morning on his way back to Washington and asked me for the time. He set his watch by mine. Later I found my watch wrong. I said to W.: "I felt as if I had set the United States of America wrong." He laughed. "That's a good boy story," he said: "I can appreciate your remorse!" Clifford's abstract was in today's Press. W. liked it. "His [Bright's] glowing words," the report said,

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"of love for our land and trust in her greatening future are only matched perhaps in the prophetic pages of the true American, Walt Whitman." W. said: "It is very good—beautiful: it is sufficient: I like it just as it is."

     7.15 P.M. W. writing. "I am trying to eke out a postal," he said. For O'Connor. McKay told me today that he had an order for two copies of the big book on thicker paper. W.: "Somebody wants a special edition of two copies exclusively for himself! That is very funny: but I would say to Dave, stand on no ceremony about these books: present the matter about in this way: we would be glad to have you buy the books—would be glad to keep them ourselves: so decide as you may, we will be satisfied. I am disposed to be very deferential towards those who buy and pay for books—especially those who pay for them: but there is a point beyond which we cannot go—not a step."

     Very cold still. W. sent a bundle of papers to O'Connor. My Emerson paper's on tonight. W. asked: "What is the nature of the meeting? in what way is it interested in Emerson? what Emerson features are you to take up? I suppose—in fact, I am sure—that after all is said, after the arguments are all in, it is pretty clearly seen that Emerson is in fact ahead of all the personalities of our time—our land and age." I had coupled W. with E. but W. shook his head: "No—don't do it: Emerson had something purely his own: the Yankee in him: the cunning, bright, cute, Yankee: he had a literary force, elegance, which struck in deep: no man more imbued: a quality which in spite of themselves made critics, quarrelers, admit his supremacy even on their own vaunted field." W. said he had said this in similar words to E. himself but that E. had sort of "got from under them with a gentle disavowal." Then he said: "Give my love to all inquiring friends—and, indeed, even to those who don't inquire (perhaps more to them)."

     I brought over from Ferguson a sheet marked off to size of page. Had he found the missing pictures yet? "No: not a sign of 'em: but we are to hunt again: Ed says he will go over all the shelves in there once more." I looked questioningly towards the confused table at his elbow. "Would they be likely to be there?" He laughed: "It's not impossible: nothing is impossible with the Lord." When I asked: "You don't put that table on the Lord, surely"—he persisted:

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"Why not? there is a philosopher somewhere—oh! what is his name? let me see"—it would not come— "anyhow, a wise fellow once asserted something to the effect—I cannot give you his words—that the Lord is no concrete personage, but the essence—the idea back of ideas—through which conditions, events as they were, were justified."

     We spoke of Winter's assault in the Tribune on Coquelin's assumption of Mathias in The Bells. W. said: "These fellows like Winter are bright, intellectual, know a good deal in a routine way, but at the last point fail wofully—are not themselves creative, or even able to appreciate creation: they are not philosophers, weighing this side and that, hitting a balance at last, alive to every argument, fact, illustration: they are not orbic but partisans, partisans, only and simply partisans: but there is always another side—every case has another side: it is the other side which the partisan always leaves out of his account: I remember William Leggett's saying, saying so wisely, that nothing, nothing in the whole range of thought, life—not a thing, sacred or profane, so-called—but what in the hands of a skilled controversialist, a cute lawyer, can be shown to have opposed sides, reasons for and against. It is profoundly true."

     I asked W. if he had ever seen Davenport act. He said: "Yes, several times—and liked him well: but it was in my early days: I was almost a boy, when impressions are fleeting. But which Vandenhoff did you mean? you know there were two of them: I speak of the elder." I explained: "Not Vandenhoff at all—Davenport." He exclaimed: "Oh! I mistook the name: Davenport? oh my yes! I have seen him many times—I should say thirty or forty times: Davenport I liked very much: he was one of my giants: I saw him in the whole range of his characters: saw him, too, in my critical days, there in Washington, when I was not easily satisfied—but he satisfied me. Oh! his Hamlet! his Hamlet!" Was it so fine? "Oh! the best of them all!" Than Booth's? "The elder Booth's I never saw: but do you mean the younger:—Edwin?"—and on my assent: "Oh! it was infinitely better than Edwin's: I should not hesitate an instant to say that: so much better as to be beyond the same category." In my boyhood I had seen Davenport twice as Bill Sykes—then as Brutus. W. was much interested in knowing the effect he had left upon me. Hamlets he had seen in all directions. "I saw Rossi's too—oh yes!—but was not taken with it: it did not impress me. I cannot explain

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how that is: I set it down to my own fault—perhaps the mood of the moment, or some latent inability: I hardly know how to explain it: I realize that Rossi is given a high place by people whose judgment in such matters I have much reason for trusting or considering: the only thing I do know is, that my impression was not favorable: yet he had fine points even as I saw him."
He discussed "schools" of art, drama, poetry, &c., vehemently. "Somewhere it is said—somewhere told—of an old Roman who exclaimed: 'Alas! Alas! Antony has a party, Brutus has a party, but the country—the country?—oh ye dullard fates! the country has no party at all!' And so with the poetry, the art, of our time: we are all partisans: few of us are orbic."

     W. has at last got Bucke's leaf of corrections. "But," he said, "they amount to nothing or very little—are hardly more than we have found for ourselves." As to prefatory remarks: "I want you to have the MS tomorrow or next day": had felt "too stuffy in the head" to attempt it today, though intending to. He added: "There's not much to say: only a few things appropriate to the day, the book: I must be cautious—wary: I always like to do these little things just right: I find I must give myself time to do them in: you laugh at me—I don't wonder: you move so fast, so true, my snail-like procedure must seem very contemptible to you: I have always been lethargic—the Whitmans are so: they are a lumbering race—thorough, maybe, but of leisurely manners: I can't be hurried—am no good when prodded: I must be humored—set my own pace and not be expected to exceed it." Here he laughed. "You have listened to a lazy man's argument for his follies!"

     W. handed me an O'Connor letter. "Another and still another," he said. He said: "William was a whirlwind when he had his health: what has he come to now? alas! No better news of him ever comes—really better: we know, as Doctor tells us, what is impending: we hope that the impossible will happen—that the miraculous will occur: we know it won't, but we stubbornly maintain that starry vision before our eyes. O God!" He stopped. I asked, "Do you wish me to read the letter aloud?" He nodded his yes.


Washington, D.C., March 7, 1885.

Dear Walt:

I sent you today by express the picture of Lord Bacon by

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Vandyke I mentioned some little time ago. I hope you will like it. It is the only picture of Bacon I ever saw without the hat. I felt surer than ever when I saw that Olympian forehead that this was the author of Shakespeare.


I wish the picture was a steel engraving, instead of wood, but it was the only one eligible. Give it a place on your wall.

The Manhattan is going to be revived shortly and is to print my paper, called Hamlet's Note-Book, the one giving R.G. White a going over, of which I wrote you some time ago. The editor writes me a letter so unqualified in panegyric of the article that I am astonished.

I am just having a temporary respite from the worst spell of work ever laid on me. Soon it will begin again.

Faithfully,

W.D. O'Connor.


     I had with me, under my arm, Emerson's Conduct of Life. It was a first edition—Ticknor's. He asked: "What's that? what have you there?" I showed it to him. He handled it fondly. "I know it well—oh! I know it well! how often I have handled these books! and in the old, old, days, too! The print, paper, simple garb—all fine: none better, none so good, even today!" And then: "The wise and gentle Emerson! greatest of all the men of his time!"


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