Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, January 29, 1889

     7.30 P.M. W. reading the paper. Was cheerful. Ready to talk. "The good spell," he said, "still persists." A little indigestion. Some coughing from a slight cold. As usual first asked me about myself. Then: I had a letter today from Bucke—Doctor: we may look for him to be here about the close of next week, though he does not fix a definite date. He writes that they had a fire in one of the cottages the day before yesterday—perhaps the day before that: no one was hurt: they have a number of cottages there: you know, that is Doctor's favorite method of treating some of the lunatics: sort of domesticating them: trying out his peculiar theories of freedom: Doctor believes in liberty even for the insane."

     Laid his hand on a pile of letters on the table. "I have had more letters: one from Nellie O'Connor: she does not write very hopeful news: William is still mainly as he was: she says towards the close of her letter that he is up—is reading—but that he is silent, very silent, saying little: says nothing of any account: which she regards as a bad sign—very bad. Nellie says also that for the first time William is himself despondent—thinks the outlook a poor, a hopeless, one indeed." W. was quite silent for a few minutes. Then he started again without any prompting from me. "I have no reason myself for feeling hopeful: he is no doubt near the jumping-off place: the prospect is gloomy for him, for us—more for us than for him." He thought the O'Connor of old "had a wonderfully evolved body." "He was not as tall as I am: was short, perhaps even chunky: there seemed to be nothing the matter with him—not the least: too little, in fact. I am a little sorry for Nellie: she is physically of the delicate intellectual type: William is heavy—now helpless: she must have a hard time of it: but she is true blue—has a heroic temperament, grit: will not yield, is full of fight." After all it looks as if Walt and O'C. were nipping and tucking it towards the grave. I asked about O'C.'s eyes. Were they still bothering him? "Oh! I had forgotten all about that: till just this minute it had not struck me that Nellie said nothing in her letter with regard to it: that may be a good sign. He

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still seems to read—read some: not voraciously, as he used to: she says, however, that he does not write at all. At the best it is sad: at the worst—well, I don't like to think of it at the worst."

     W. wrote to O'Connor today. "Just a short message." Also: "I have written quite a long message to Maurice, besides sending him some papers." Just here Ed came in. W. handed him a letter, a postal and a bundle of papers. After he had gone W. said: "Ed does everything nicely: he is very faithful—is always about: in fact, too much about: stays too much at home. I often tell him he should go off and take long walks: in the streets: see the people: off into the country: long, long walks, hours at a time." After a pause: "He is a splendid lad—that Ed boy: I'm afraid he feels isolated here: I wonder sometimes if he's not a bit unhappy: we all love him: I'm glad knowing too that you and Ed get on so famously together."

     W. talked of his Washington life. "William was truly a temperance man: in the real sense so: he used to enjoy wine—an occasional glass, as I do, but no more." Did O'C. smoke? "No: nor do I—nor did I ever: and John the same: we were a no-smoking crowd." I said: "You don't object when the smokers who come here commiserate with you over what you have lost by not smoking. You keep still. You don't have any regrets in the matter, do you?" "Not one regret: only satisfaction: sometime there will be a change: now most men smoke—then most men will not smoke: the tobacco habit may have its joys but it also has other integers that are neither glad nor beautiful: it's one of the avenues through which people today get rid of some of their nerve surplus: it goes with things as they are: but it is so filthy a practice taken for all in all that I can't see but people must inevitably grow away from it."

     W. went on talking about Burroughs. "In those early Washington days John had such a poor squeamish stomach, he had to be physically on his guard all the time. He is hearty now compared with what he was twenty or thirty years ago: he was then a poor stick: no belly—sort of gutless: why, my God, Horace, he seemed to have no grit at all." W. first met B. in the early years of the War in Washington. Was B. then already a Whitmanite? "I think he had read Leaves of Grass: it had been out some years then: yes, I guess he must have been friendly at the start." Stopped talking. Closed his eyes. Seemed to be trying to recall something. "I cannot fix the details all

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accurately in my mind: I get a little rusty sometimes."
Then asked: "You have John's book? his book on me? Yes: I remember you have one." Pause. "John published that against my persuasions—O'Connor's too: our strong objections: but now I know, we both know, we were mistaken: John was right: I can now see what I could not see then: why it should have been done: also why it should have been done in the way John did it."

     I said to W.: "Bucke says he doubts if Kennedy wrote that Critic piece. He says Kennedy 'would have done better.'" W. said: "I am not prepared to say Maurice is wrong, but if he thinks the piece was badly written I do not agree with him." Then he added: "Doctor is not a stylist: he is more noteworthy for his vigor, his insight, his pure and simple intellect, than for any special esthetic sensitiveness: indeed, I feel that he is quite decisively lacking in that direction." W. reached forward and picked up what proved to be two Rhys letters without envelopes pinned together. "Take them," he said, shoving them to me: "They may have some biographical value: do what you think best with them." "Which means—what?" I asked. "Which means that if you consider them at all significant, file them away: that if they seem to you to be useless put them in the fire." I started to read them to myself. W. broke in. "Let me hear them, too: you might just as well."


St. Botolph Club,
Boston, Mar. 7, 1888.

Dear Walt Whitman:

I believe you told me sometime ago that you had a friend at Los Angeles, Cal. If you have, I wish you would give me a line of introduction to him for my brother Bertie (Albert) who has just left hospital after a month's illness with typhoid fever, and who at such a distance from home and friends feels (I'm afraid) homesick and possibly despondent. If I had known earlier I would have gone on to Los Angeles myself, to nurse the lad; but this seems unnecessary now that he is able to get about again. You will easily understand, however, that I feel pretty anxious, and if you can let me have a line as I suggest, it will be a great help.

Down here I've been talking again about the New Poetry—on Monday in Boston, and last night before the Harvard students who

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gave me a very hearty reception—the best I've had so far. I find there is quite an earnest feeling for Leaves of Grass among a great many of them. You have no doubt got their invitation to lecture by this time—which I told you sometime ago they were preparing to send.


Next week (as you will see by my enclosed circular) I am to speak in Chickering Hall on Literary London—rather a rash adventure, I'm afraid.

Has Dr. Bucke returned yet? I must write and ask him whether he can arrange a talk at London, Ontario, or not.

With remembrances to Mrs. Davis. Yours affectionately

Ernest Rhys.



Orange, New Jersey,
Jan. 26, 1888.

I am here again with Thomas Davidson. He came to Boston on Monday, to lecture there, but caught cold en route and lost his voice, and so I came back with him to New York the same night, by Providence route—my first experience of sleeping cars. We reached New York about 7 A.M.

Twelve hours later I lectured for him, and said something about Leaves of Grass, among other things, to an audience chiefly made up of cultured women, of whom I felt rather afraid. However, they seemed to be pleased, and two of them who were not too cultured to look charming came up afterwards and thanked me so gracefully that I fell in love with them on the spot. (As I always do fall in love for the time being with every pretty girl I see, this is not a very fatal case!)

Next morning I made a round of calls upon various editors, Alden of Harper's and others, and felt again the mighty stream of life in Broadway as a high stimulus. In the evening I went to Wagner's Götterdämmerung (Dusk of the Gods!) at the Metropolitan Opera House—a sublime experience. The last act would delight you. The entrance of a great band of brawny hunters, who feast out of doors in a forest, and sing a strident and virile chorus in snatches while Siegfried relates to them one of the old myths in an irregular ballad of singular beauty; all this is most impressive. Then follows Siegfried's death, and the stupendously conceived funeral march—more

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heroic, more profound, I think, than any funeral march I have heard. Today I feel full of incitements to all that is heroic and ideal, as phrases of this music haunt my ears.


I sadly want all the stimulus I can get in this and other ways, for the fortnight at Boston was too full of small social distractions to let me get any writing done, and I am all in arrears with work. If it had not been for the need of getting through some of this work I should like to have come back to Camden this week. But I must wait till my lecture to the Nineteenth Century Club, on Feb. 7, is past.

Dr. Bucke wrote a few days ago to say he would be in New York this week end, and I hope to see him tomorrow or Saturday. It does not seem likely that I shall be able to reach Ontario this visit.

I am sorry you have been feeling so dull of late. I look forward to coming again and doing what little I can to make things brighter. With love.

Ernest Rhys.


      "No," said W., "Harvard never wanted me: that was one of Rhys' little illusions: I am not quite the sort: I need toning down or up or something to get me in presentable form for the ceremonials of seats of learning. You must understand that I never blame anybody or any organization or any university for discovering my cloven hoof. I am like the diplomatists who are non grata: I can't be tolerated by the kings, lords, lackeys, of culture: in the verbal courts of the mighty. I am mostly outlawed—and no wonder." W. thought Rhys "a precisionist." "He writes a forceful more or less inductile letter: is up to his ears in things—literary things (most of it, I'm afraid, ephemera of the usual character)—but underneath all of that to which I object in Rhys is a man whose qualities I respect." He added: "You will of course take these documents: use them if you think to: exclude them if they are worthless." He also said: "When a man goes on that way about Wagner I am again consumed with regret for knowing I have never had a chance to hear the wonderful operas. I say 'wonderful' because I feel that they are constructed on my lines—attach themselves to the same theories of art that have been responsible for Leaves of Grass."

     Asked me if I had a copy of the Ethical Record containing the Adler article in which he is quoted. Looked it over (I pointing it out)

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and then put a wrapper round it and addressed it to Bucke. "Doctor has a belly for everything," said W.: "he never seems to be overfed." Spoke of Boulanger. "He's a shrewd rascal: will he do up France or will France do him up? I don't want anything to happen to the republic: Boulanger is a sword—a threat: I would like to see France spew him out." Wanted to know how Oldach was getting on with the book. I laughed: "We must be humble: Oldach can't be hurried." W. laughed too. "I know: don't you see me on my knees? I admire his I'll do as I damned please ways."


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