Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, April 19, 1889

     10.35 A.M. Marvellously clear out of doors—and the air mild as summer. W. sitting in his room by the open window, working on proof. Certain wrong insertions on lines. Asked me: "Isn't it a remarkable day out-of-doors?" He thought it had that look. It inspires him to talk of the chair again. Bonsall and Buckwalter had advised Ed to get a proper chair and let them see about payment.

      "And nothing of the Danmark," said W.— "not a word! not a word!" If no sailing vessel had picked them up, then was "the whole story in"? "I do not quite understand this Azores business, though I suppose it is intelligible enough if one but knew"—the hope, viz., that the Azores would be the first point touched in case they had been picked up by a sailor. "There is one thing to be said of it—if they have gone down—if the whole crew—all the passengers—have simply been drowned—then is the final word spoken—then, as was the case in the Army when a man was killed outright—then need no sympathy be wasted on that. But if not—ah!" and his face assumed its serious aspect.

     He said again: "I got two letters in my mail today—one from Doctor, the other from the Herald. The Herald wants me to send them something for the big racket over there—the constitutional business. Whether I shall do it or not depends entirely

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on how I feel—Whether I am moved to it or not."
Asked me whether anything was yet known of Whittier's poem for the occasion. I gave him The Standard, with marked passages therein relating to George's drive with Pearsall Smith. W. said: "Pearsall is very catholic—opens his arms to everybody—is very enclosing." And W. dropped the paper on his lap and looked over his spectacles humorously at me— "and underneath all, way down, much hid but still existing, I think there is a drift towards the ugly ones, the outcasts, the discredited fellows"—meaning men socially outlawed like George. "I may even say for the Western freedom—cowboys, miners, whatsoever!" He reflected: "Judging from this, Pearsall is still in his home on Grosvenor Road; the last letter I had from him was addressed from a club room—though I suppose that has no significance, as it is much a habit with some of the fellows to write from Clubs, Societies." As we sat there Mrs. Davis brought in a little tin box containing some diminutive spring flowers. W. took and long regarded them: "they look like little spiders," he remarked—and— "Are you going to leave them here with me?" Then put them on the table, and when Mrs. Davis had gone, resumed his talk of the Smiths.

     George referred (in his letter) to Smith as a manufacturer. I had not known him in this connection. W. said: "He is in the glass business—at Millville, I think; you must know the firm—Whitall, Tatum & Co. He married a Miss Whitall. It is Quaker stock—they seem to have lots of money. I think the wife must have resigned the care of the money to Pearsall. A few years ago, he had his regular office hours then—3 or 4 hours a day for work." "Mrs. Smith had in her the zest for evangelization. You may have noticed—I have—that in the orthodox Quaker there is a streak which inclines very strongly even to Calvinism. It is a curious exhibit, but it is a solid fact. That streak was in Mrs. Smith. Twenty years or so ago they were both possessed with the spirit of evangelization: went off to Europe together—had plenty of money—pockets full of it,

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I guess—and so set out to evangelize the Continent. They went from land to land, had interpreters with them, held meetings, ran the 'Come-to-Jesus!' business to its full. It was a queer freak, but they were in earnest about it. They went to and fro, had even the bluebloods, nabobs, interested."
After more detailed description, W. said: "It was just by this thing that Mrs. Smith and I came by our disagreement. She still believes that the world is to be persuaded, driven into salvation. I do not—never did! I always considered how much of a man's self is pre-natal, accounted for by surroundings, parentage, birth, circumstances. She never would allow for that." There had one night been company at the Smiths'— "Mrs. Smith was there in high glow, full of her usual pet theories, and telling them freely. The room was full of people." He had antagonized her there: "I think I drew forth even the resources of humor—quoted Carlyle, trying in twenty volumes to persuade the world that preaching was of no avail. I guess I was very positive, did not leave any one in doubt where I stood. I don't think Mrs. Smith ever has forgiven me to this day." But I asked about Smith's Radicalism, which now seems unquestioned. W. then: "I started to tell you how that came about. After considerable wandering about, the Smiths got back into London, held meetings there. But then there arose an affair—I even think a scandal—women being mixed up in it—into which Pearsall himself was drawn. I never knew exactly about it, only that it nipped the caseization in the bud—settled the whole business at once—and evangelization was done for." He believed "Mrs. Smith still much as she then. It is one of her virtues, that she is perfectly consistent. But some few years ago—about three—Pearsall himself reacted, turned clean about, became an absolute doubter, not an agnostic—no, not at all an agnostic—but a bitter denier, scorner, flouter, without qualification or giving quarter. I think he has no been softened from that attitude, but for a time he occupied it most decisively. There was some trouble in the family, too—some

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infelicity: for some years Pearsall and Mrs. Smith had no words—no relations—with each other. You know, my own strong point in the South family is not in either of the old people, but, as I suppose I have told you, in the daughter—in Mary Costelloe. Yet Pearsall himself always showed the greatest warmth towards me—was friendly, received me, was joyous in having me enjoy his provender. But I have never felt that his liking for me was on the side of my work—that he really understood that, though he read Leaves of Grass a good deal—but on the human side, the eating, drinking, jovial, good-fellow side. A good deal in Pearsall in explained by the fact that he is a hypochondriac;—you knew he was a hypochondriac? Oh! that illuminates very much of what might otherwise go unexplained!"
He alluded to the international copyright scheme. "It originated in part in Pearsall's hunger for a fad, as he calls it: he delights in being at something—in getting near the fellows—in being in action. Even on its own merit I am not sure there is nothing in it."

     Here he suddenly asked: "Have you ever thought, Horace—yes, yes you must have thought—how very much of life consists in solidification—how we settle down to the justice of a thing because it has long been—because it has always been so, perhaps—rather than from any reason one could give for its intrinsic value?" Perhaps some of our notions on copyright would fall by such a consideration. W. questioned me somewhat upon the subject of Davidson's "Bonaventure" Tuesday night. He had never heard of the man—asked me: "Was there a man of that name?"—adding that he had always known its "Good Luck!" signification, but never its biographical signification. As to the lore of the mystics, he knew nothing.

     Cannot get the loss of the Danmark out of his thought. The passengers and crew "mostly Dane." "I am always interested on the score of the Scandinavian stock: the Danes, the Norwegians; these and the Scotch. Oh! how great is America's debt to them!"


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     7.50 P.M. W. sitting in chair by the middle window, which was open. There was no light in the room. He and Harned I found engaged in animated and earnest talk about Ticknor's "Spanish Literature." Harned's boy was there, also, coming forward in the dark when he heard my voice and informing me, "I am here, Uncle Horace." W. was advising Harned: "You should by all means read it—it is, if not the greatest book, at least one of the greatest—a perfect, inexhaustible mine. Ticknor—George Ticknor—was a Yankee man, a Bostonese; he had lots of money—went to Spain, spent three or four years there, got rid of many thousands of dollars. He hired several Spanish amanuenses, copyists—worked in that way. It is certainly a great and potent book—and fascinating, too. I remember one of the chapters there, relating to the Inquisition, where he says, there's no use cursing, swearing, about it, it was there. What are you doing now to make Inquisitions impossible? That was the aim of it. Ticknor put the work of a life into the book—twenty years of research, labor preparation." W. had more than once read it. Harned afterward got up—said the boy was impatient to go. W. solicitously— "Going already?" and then— "are you going to take a walk?" The "Goodbyes!" then hearty and we were left alone.

     Turned to me—I could see his head against the uncertain flickering reflections without. "What have you seen new today?" Proof only, the sheet now correct. He said: "It was only a casual error—it was such an error, too, as is anytime likely to be made." Ed had come in the dark while Harned remained and brought with him a postal. W. had asked, not seeing, "What is it, Ed—mail?—a letter, paper, postal?" and when he got it— "Postal!"—had for the minute relapsed. But now he desired to see what the postal was, wheeled about in his chair, arose, closed the windows, lighted the gas. In doing this last the matches, several of them, one after another, would not ignite. I could hear his provoked "Psha!" in the dark, and at last laughed at him, he joining. "Once in awhile,"

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he said, "the Yankee sets to and makes a match and a pencil out of nothing; then we have to content ourselves with being swindled." Finally the light was on, however, and he sank bank restfully in his chair.

     I mentioned having been reading John Burroughs' "Fresh Fields." W. did not fairly catch the title—thought I said Presque Isle. Finally he did set himself right. "Oh! Fresh Fields! that book I know. I cannot say intimately, but I have seen it. I thought you said 'Presque Isle' [which probably explains why, when I first spoke of this book some weeks ago, he expressed a desire to read it]. There is a place of that name, and I knew John was soldering together a new book. I did not know but Presque Isle was his name for it." Returned me the Standard. "I have read all that piece about Pearsall Smith. It was very readable." George had said therein that on their drive he had not broached the subject of tariff to Smith. W. remarked hereupon: "I think Pearsall is open enough on that question: I don't believe he is a protectionist by principle—by abstract conviction—but by connivance, because he thinks it is about the thing to be. That would be my understanding of him." W. said he had written to Mary Costelloe today. I asked: "Did you mention the article?" "Oh yes! I said briefly—in a few words, that I had read it." Said he "liked the paper as a whole"—that "it was full of interesting material." A long address therein by John DeWitt Warner on "Our National Life." I supposed he would, if seeing, read: and sure enough he said of it: "I read all that—every word of it—and it was enjoyable, too!" He liked George's style. The London letter "was fascinating" "his pen is a good one: he writes very easily and attractively—it is like a good dish, a taste of it makes you want more."

     The weather had been extraordinary all day. Seventy-four degrees in the shade between two and three o'clock. It was an anticipation of summer. We spoke of it together—of the possibility of having W. get out. But he put on a very dubious expression

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—had no confidence that he could have got out even if he had his chair. He has at odd moments spoken both to Eddy and to me about this chair, as if he wished it instantly, but when it comes to the push, he hesitates, and says "Wait till I tell you." I wonder if he will ever "tell" us? "I feel pretty tired tonight—wearied. I had this afternoon a sort of semi-weekly wash—bath—over there in the bathroom. It leaves me very weak. Except the last hour, I have not all day felt comfortable. It has been a bad day all through—a very bad day." As to getting out: "Feeling as I do today, I should not feel like going out, or if I did feel like going, should not be able to get out." I asked him if he thought the jolt of a carriage would irritate him. "I don't know—perhaps it would." As he was situated now, going at all was out of the question. The mere navigation downstairs would be impossible. "Anyhow," I said, "whether you are going to get out or not, we are going to get the book out!" He looked up at me—I had been standing at his side—a half-smile, a half-serious joy, lighting his face. Then he said with a brace, triumphant air which seems to stick to him whatever the drafts upon his power and endurance: "It looks so, don't it? Sure enough! sure enough!" Which drove us to talk of the book and future plans therefor.

     Here W. bethought himself of the postal, which I handed him from the table. His first look— "Oh! it is from Washington—from Nelly!" and continued, "It is dated the 18th, evening—that was yesterday, wasn't it?" Then read the postal aloud, with accustomed deliberation. O'Connor had been well enough yesterday to read Stedman's letter, which they had both liked very much. When W. came to the passage reciting that O'Connor claimed the credit of Stedman's conversion he laughed heartily. The postal closed with a statement of O'Connor's now renewed illness of the moment. W. dwelt upon "the ups and downs" of O'Connor's condition—how really down it was— "no real up." Then he continued: "In my mail today was a letter from Kennedy. I had sent him the Stedman letter—

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he was to forward it to O'Connor, O'Connor to Bucke. Kennedy alluded to the letter—rather pooh-pooh'd it!"
I feared Bucke would do likewise. W. inquired: "Do you?" But at any rate, his own position was clear. I said that for my part I looked upon Stedman's position as thoroughly firm and genuine. W. acquiesced: "So do I—and I shall not pooh-pooh it. I accept it just as it manifests itself. It must not be forgotten, Stedman has been in a manner converted: he has gradually—only gradually—come to us, but come he has. I think it can fairly be said now, he belongs to us, we belong to him. Stedman is in some measure the conventional literary fellow among conventional literary fellows." But he was more than that, too, and we had no right to confine him as if he was not. "I never regarded him—never regarded Gilder—as outright opposed—I don't think they ever were. In both—especially in Stedman—there was an eligibility, a tendency, a drift, which, now we look back, must have made his course inevitable. I realize—and I think it was you who insisted on it—that Stedman is anyhow a horse of another color: Gilder not nearly so free, does not put himself out, give rein."

     I had a copy of Bazaar with me. In it a double-page engraving of General Wolseley, at which (its wonderful effect and delicacy) W. looked lingeringly. He called it "a wonderful fine picture"—said: "I never saw his phiz before," and made comment after comment of a general character without the first hint of an estimate of the man himself. "These fellows nowadays seem to get artists, engravers, printers, of the best class. It is wonderful, marvellous, the effects they achieve." Turned over to fashions in head-dress on first page. "Even these are well done—handsomely done, though"—and here he looked at me and laughed— "I despise 'em!" Inside he turned impatiently from a stiff Madonna picture ("Madonna's threads"—a salon picture by Lucas).

     Said by transition to out-of-doors again: "It seems to be perfect summer weather. I had a letter from Doctor today in which

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he says it is summer there, too. I suppose we will have three or four delightful days, such as today has been—get set up by them—then be brought to a short step by a frost—the last breath of some snowstorm up in the northwest."
He loves to report and to hear report of out-of-doors. Never complaining, never morbid—all that impossible. Even the nurse remarked the other night when Kemper sat in the parlor with us that "the way Mr. Whitman says" the curious and cross things, relieved them of sting. And that is true, and should always be borne in mind. These notes should be read in such remembrance. Imagination, to such as have never met W., may give voice and gentleness to what I day by day quote, and thereby get its picture; otherwise the notes will achieve mistaken insults, unjust to me and to W.

     I do not regard these as good days at all for W. He describes himself as "far, far down"—and that indeed he seems. But we hope on still, at least for generous respite. His bodily temperature is low. The night so warm, yet he closed his windows and stirred the fire. Harned's youngster had sung out in the dark while here (then the window was open) that he was "awful hot—sweating"—and yet W. even then had not warmth enough—had closed out the air altogether. I wrote Ingersoll this evening—so told W., who expressed his pleasure. Baker came in as I sat in parlor talking with Mrs. Davis. He went up to W. and I left.


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