Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, July 18, 1889

     8.10 P.M. Had gone down with T. B. Harned. W. out but came along in chair shortly. He seemed better. Shook hands—his hand cold. To Tom's question, how he was, he responded at some length, hitting at the Doctors as he went along. "I think I feel middling—but not more than that. I think I can best describe my condition by saying I feel dull—that I am afflicted with a terrible inertia—almost a fatal inertia. For instance, I like every day to take a bath—make it my rule, nearly—particularly in this weather—it betters me in various ways. Yet do you know it is the hardest thing before I can bring myself to go to the bathroom and turn the spigot—just as if it waited for some superior power to take hold of me and

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push me bodily to the task. I attribute this—not chiefly to the weather, but to a drug I received from Dr. Bucke a couple of weeks ago and have taken every day since—which I stopped today. This drug did save me from the deathliness I had suffered—from the frightful caving-in-ness that possessed me—but in doing this it afflicted my head—set it into a whirl—deadened it. I don't think any of the doctors—the best doctors—have arrived at my doctrine yet—that each person who comes to be treated, has to be treated as a person, not as a member of a class. I remember one of my first doctors—in Washington—a very good, brave, bright man he was, too—when he heard that I ailed, that I mattered, he said to me, 'Oh! I can easily set that right!' 'How Doctor?' I asked, 'with what?' 'Quinine!' he answered. So I took my quinine—and what did it do but set my head spinning, this way"
—indicating— "like a wheel. And I took it—kept on taking it—for 2 or 3 days—and the more I took it the more I wheeled. And then I stopped. And it has almost always been so—I may say, always so, without the 'almost.' Drugs, for me, always defeat the best purposes: always, always. All the Doctors have reccommended to me, quinine, quinine: but no—quinine, nor any drug—serves me badly, I do best by wholly avoiding them. I can see how in emergencies—in stress—they might be made to act, but not otherwise. I find that the drugs may effect the end for which they are applied, but I find they effect more, too—so much more, that the balance of good is on the wrong side—that I come out minus."

     Asked Tom for "Mr. Donnelly's Reviewers" to send to Burroughs. Talked of the book. "It is true I read everything that is written by William O'Connor with great absorption—to me, it is all a great ship under full sail, grandly sailing whatever seas—William's writing always this. But this Shakespeare-Bacon-Cipher business is not a great question—is not vastly important: so that, anything in the way of going

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through a big book like Donnelly's would be out of the possible. O'Connor himself was not altogether satisfied with Donnelly—I may say, he was even displeased—though later on, as I have reason to suppose from what he said to you— 'that he had met Donnelly, thought him honest and expected new revelations still'—that he was mollified, at least to some extent. It was always a pretense of the Bacon Shakespeare fellows that they yet held a card—that there was still a card to be played—a crusher—that behind all revealed, there was a revelation of revelations yet to come which would clear the air. But it has not come—O'Connor was always conscious of it—conscious of it as a weakness. And yet William has said to me here—written me, too—as if himself convinced there was something, if not undiscovered, at least undivulged. To me, it is a curious question—do these fellows still stick to their notions? Is this still their game? I have seen no retraction of it—no turn-about—which, if so, is significant. I do not see new revelations—doubt even if there are any—if any more will ever be discovered. I am sure all that is known now I have known for years and years and years."
But whatever the truth "the question is primarily of literary, not human interest." Here W. laughed roundly—asked Tom: "Tom—what is the celebrated Woodstock will case?"—meaning "Comstock." T. confessing ignorance, W., thereupon going on with the greatest unction—enjoying it hugely, "There was a curious question brought up in the court—an insanity question: a Doctor there, an expert, so-called, was asked if he thought all poets insane,—and he answered that generally he did. They questioned him—he admitted he thought Walt Whitman insane—even Milton. Then some one went at it again—this time was Shakespeare insane?" W. laughed heartily here— "Oh! his answer was very good—very rich!—and would make, O what a text for an article in the papers! He struggled out of the question by saying very deliberately, 'Well—from what I have heard I should consider Shakespeare as having rather a superior mind.'" W., asked,

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"What do you think of that, Tom: isn't that a curio? I think it has been a long time since I heard anything so funny as that!" (The paper account herewith shows how closely W. followed it from memory)

INSANITY EXPERTS
Some Amusing Opinions
in a Will Case

[SPECIAL TO THE PUBLIC LEDGER]
NEW YORK, JULY 17.—Some rather surprising evidence was given by the insanity experts in the Comstock will case this afternoon. Dr. William R. Birdsall, a visiting physician at the Bellevue Hospital, expressed the opinion that certain letters in evidence betrayed the writer's insanity, giving as one reason for his opinion certain poetical tendencies which the letters displayed, and he was then asked if he considered all poets insane.

"Well, not exactly," he replied, "but I do decidedly when I find that this poetry is not logical. I think Walt Whitman is insane."

"How about Milton?"

"Well, I think Milton was insane."

"And Shakespeare?"

"Well," answered the witness deliberately, "from what I have heard I should consider Shakespeare as having rather a superior mind."

Dr. Charles Dana, a lecturer on insanity at the New York College and one of the specialists at Bellevue Hospital on brain diseases, was also called as an expert witness. He said he differed in a few particulars from Dr. Birdsall, but, in general, agreed with him.


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     Tom quoted from Shakespeare, "The lunatic, the lover and the poet," etc, etc. and W. exclaimed, "And that is one of the grandest bits, too—Shakespeare's or Bacon's!"

     At this moment came strains of song from the Methodist church at the corner. Tom went into a ridiculous description of a class meeting, W. throwing in a mock sentence now and then: T. then of demoralization in churches—especially in camp-meetings—said at close, "But I suppose that is putting it too strong!" W. responded, "I don't know, Tom—I guess not—not a bit too strong. I think Swedenborg was right when he said there was a close connection—a very close connection—between the state we call religious ecstacy and the desire to copulate. I find Swedenborg confirmed in all my experience. It is a peculiar discovery. It was Burns—Whittier's friend Burns—who said in a couple of lines of one of his poems, I'd rather cause the birth of one than the death of 20! And that would be my doctrine, too!" I laughingly twitted W., "You always get one in on Whittier's friendship for Burns." Responded he, "I don't know—but Whittier sticks steadily by Burns, and I don't know that it's the best thing he ever did!"

     I had a postal from Clifford today confirming my interpretation of his Emerson passage but suggesting and permitting change to make it more definite. W. said, "Well—let it go in as he has it, if he has it as he wants it." Saying afterwards when Tom spoke of Dr. Emerson as "le petit," "No, let us not say that"—though saying fervently when Tom said, "Emerson never retracted anything—in his whole life had never done so" "That is the right view to take of it—he never retracted a word—not a word—not by word, not by sign—in no way!" Spoke of a letter he had had from Tom Donaldson. "He said at the end of it—it was a very small concern—only 3 lines or so— 'The money is all right.' What he means by that I don't know. He said also that he would be over in a day or two—but he has never come." W. not yet

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prepared to say what to do with "laughing philosopher" portrait. "You may tell Brown that it perfectly pleases me—and I am willing to pay for it, too, whenever you say." He gave Ed his watch saying, "Take this up to the watchman's—the damned thing has stopped again. Let him tell you what is the matter with it."


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