Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, May 1, 1889

     10.45 A.M. Was intercepted by the circus parade on Federal Street on my way down. W. had heard the bands, and asked me about it on my coming. He sat in his room, not doing anything. The day lightly clouded, and really cool. In the stove logs lazily burning which he stirred from time to time. No one in the house but Ed and Walt. Ed asked: "How long are you going to stay?" and when I said: "Fifteen or 20 minutes—I'll watch"—went off himself to see the circus. Ed gave me Dr. Baker's address, which had been left for me last night: Minneapolis. Ed said Baker came when W. was stark naked and was having his evening rubbing. B. knocked at the door (it was 9:20)—W. called out: "Who's there?" And after B's signifying and explanation that he had only come to say goodbye, W. said: "Well—goodby, Doctor," but did not

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invite him in. Would have seen him under any other circumstance. The rubbings help him. He looks well this morning.

     Had been reading the accounts of yesterday's celebration. "I found the best report in the Record—it seemed to me the more accurate. Did you see Whittier's portrait there in the Press? It was rather good. I have never seen Whittier in person—never met him." Had he read the poem? "Oh yes! and you? have you? What do you think of it?" Afterwards stating: "It is good—smoothly written—very Whittieresque. I see for one thing, he gets a dig in at slavery: that seems inevitable with him." "I have carefully examined—looked over—the oration—Chauncey Depew's. It has its merits. The best report of that, too, in the Record. The Press purports to give it all, but"—And then he said— "It is full of sweetness, ease: it is the last dish at the dinner—the dinner given you all sweets, all sugars, and sugar in this last dish brought in cloyingly at the last hour." He missed strong presentation. Had noted markedly and commented on "an evident enthusiasm" at the appearance of Cleveland.

      "No word from Washington," he said, "and strangely, too," he added, shaking his head, "I don't know what it means. But here are letters—perhaps you would like to see them: one from Doctor—one from Kennedy." I stood and read. Bucke is making new reading of L. of G. to hit possible errors, but reports none other than those already sent. W.: "Happy" that "the book seems so near complete typographically."

     Then he asked: "And what of our affairs in town—what do you know new?" We talked of my interview with McKay yesterday afternoon. I had instructed McKay to this effect; that W. did not insist but would prefer to have his big book go abroad cover and all—that he should write Gardner to that effect—using as argument that W. himself was wholly responsible for it as it stood, not another hand intervening—or planning—that in fact this might as well be the burden of the domestic canvas. McKay assented in the main. W. asked me:

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"That is driving the nail in very far, isn't it?" I argued: "Not too far: as you know, from a publisher's standpoint our book is bad anyway: that seems to be what they say: so it has to be justified on the other tack or not at all." There he assented: "I see—and I see the justice of what you say, too—am content to have it so presented then." As to any argument that the book was from old plates: "That is true, but it is old in no other respect: it is new in paper, size, print,—new in portraits—new in cover—November Boughs certainly new—and the ensemble wholly peculiar, its own." "And it is not old anyway, in any circulatory sense—not a Dickens' novel at all, that everybody possesses, has on his shelves: not received, known, in thousands, but in tens only, if even that. Take Chicago: I doubt if there are a hundred books in the whole town. Put on counters there, it would be taken de novo—as a new thing. This is unquestioned. I put the book out experimentally myself—wanted to try it—wanted to see what would be made of it. And everywhere I find myself justified—everywhere—there has not been a single exception. Even the dainty book men—men like Aldrich—take to it. And there is Stedman too—living among books—handling books. And the library men, too! It seems to me almost a unanimous voice." Had he sent a book to Larned yet? "No—but I've a mind to—I feel willing to make Chicago a sort of rallying point for a few books."

     I told W. I wished a copy of "As a Strong Bird" to give McKay, who had never had a copy. "Of course—let Dave have one," he said: and when I had secured one from the other rooms, signed the book. McKay has the remnant (about 300) of the Roberts edition "After all, Not to Create Only" which he proposes to bind up and sell as a first edition. W. said: "I knew he had some of them, though I have not seen a copy of it bound so, as you put it, in solid covers. It is a little thing—very few pages. Dick Spoffard was the fellow who did it—who got it out. He was mad that people would not see what he

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thought he saw in it and said: 'Give it to me—give it in my hands—and I'll see that it gets out.' And he did. It is more properly a poem to be read at the debuting, adventing, of a big affair—a big exposition; is now included in my big book."
And then he said of the big book again: "All the objections I have heard so far I can brush aside as of no importance whatever—none whatever."

     I saw Brown yesterday, and he had not yet been able to put our book in press: would however, positively do so Thursday—would then give me a sample sheet. W. said: "I am not so particular about the sample sheet as I am about the whole book—about any full sets." But then: "A day or two—provided it is not longer—does not trouble us—I do not mind that. Though we must be careful of any real delay." And of cover: "I suppose much will hinge upon cost: morocco is rare and costly; it may be beyond our power, as it is: if so, we must find something else that will serve." He had already promised copies—one to Kennedy, who welcomed the thought of it. Had read the Jefferson, Adams, and the other letters in Unity— "and with a certain kind of interest, too." But they had not impressed him as of great weight.

     7.30 P.M. The room dark, W. on bed. "Ah Horace! Is that you?" Somehow distinguished me even in the shadows. Was he unwell, that he was thus lying down? "Oh no! I am pretty well—I do not count these very bad days." I heard a sheet crumpled in the dark, and knew Ed had brought his mail and given it him there as he lay. Questioned me: "What have you learned new in town today?"—the usual words with which he inaugurates business. But I had learned nothing except that our work proceeded. I had given McKay the little book and had his thanks for it. Then W. asked: "And how is the weather? I suppose they finished up things in New York today—and after all, it was a pretty good day, wasn't it?"

     I read all the speeches this afternoon except Depew's and spoke of their dullness. W. asked in regard to Lowell's: "Was

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he there? I could not just make out whether he was present or whether that was a letter."
Lowell had said as reported by the Press:

Literature has been put somewhat low on the list of toasts, doubtless in deference to necessity of arrangement, but perhaps the place assigned to it here may be taken as roughly indicating that which it occupies in the general estimation. And yet I venture to claim for it an influence (whether for good or evil) more durable and more widely operative than that exerted by any other form in which human genius has found expression.

     W. was "glad" Lowell had "courageously" said that: "It is true—true: he well-maintained it there—was wise to make free of it." Had read Cleveland's speech, and Harrison's—called the latter a "lot of platitudes"—adding: "What a vast descent from Washington to Harrison! a terrific descent, indeed!" Bishop Potter spoke among other things of "that steadily deteriorating process against whose dangers a great thinker of our generation warned his countrymen just fifty years ago"—the influx of "the lowest orders of people from abroad"—& quoting from the Press today. W. exclaimed: "Poor devil! Little does he know America! And yet he has a following. I don't know, either, but that he is consistent with protection America. But protection America—what is it consistent with? I read at least a part of the Bishop's speech but I didn't come to what you quote. It was all distasteful to me—all: couched in a form I cordially dislike—so I stopped. The Bishop stood there yesterday—made his speech there—as the representative of respectable high-falutins—I might say, of anti-democracy. But you must not wonder or feel disappointed, the speeches being commonplace: they were—but the note-worthy thing in this celebration lies just here: that there were such men a century ago, that now there is a fourth generation to celebrate them. That is the prime fact, and we must not lose sight of it." As to Whittier's perfunctory poem:

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"It is clear—we can understand it: it is made up as if for Whittier to say: 'here are my beliefs—take them!'"

     W. struggled into sitting posture on the bed, groped for his cane and found it, and went across the room, I taking his left arm. He arranged the windows himself and lighted his gas. Then after he had sat down: "And how is it you are here tonight anyhow? Why are you not at the circus? Ed has gone." Then he resumed his general talk—referring again to Bishop Potter— "the Cathedral man," he called him. Potter's advocating the grand Cathedral for New York city. "The truth is, Potter is one of the old stock—there's quite a class of them in New York—friends of Kings, Queens, aristocrats: aristocrats themselves—became so in spirit if not inheritedly—people in whom the old feelings have persisted. You probably don't know them as well as I do. It is not the Dutch stock: the Dutch stock was mostly of a truer, stauncher kind." Here he suddenly brought himself to: looked for his crumpled mail—a postal simply—which he had brought from the bed and laid on his table. Put on his glasses, "Oh! it is from Washington!" and turning it over "and the 30th, too—yesterday." Then reading aloud to me: O'Connor had been respited for 48 hours—now the vomiting trouble on again: he therefore weak and in bed. W. exclaimed: "Poor fellow! Poor fellow!" Mrs. O'C. expressed disappointment there had not been better weather for the great celebration. W. commented: "I think it has been very good anyhow, they must have had more rain at Washington." Then reflected: "It is sad news—sad news—looks bad for him." As to O'Connor's eating, W. thought: "He should eat whatever he feels to eat—there is no wise plan, even for a man in his condition."

     Had not received Critic yet. Did he hunger for it enough to want mine? He laughed. "I should not put it that way—probably not. Yet I might see it. Anything coming in here relieves the painful, dreadful, never-ending, monotony of this life. It is with the paper as with my dinner and breakfast: if

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they are missed—if somebody forgets to bring them—I am strangely out of sorts: yet for the meals themselves I don't care a fig. We live a good deal after all by routine—a dead, dull, yet necessary routine."
This was rather a dubious tribute to the Critic, and he laughed at it himself on thought. I told W.: "McKay evidently don't think the pocket edition will be a success!" "In what way?" "He does not think it will sell." W. flashed out: "Perhaps he would like to sell it?" McKay had spoken to me today of some New Yorker who proposed collecting a volume of W. W.'s writings previous to L. of G.—way back in earlier years. W. at first did not comprehend—thought reminiscences were meant. "If he does, they will be like Hartmann's, the projection of the camel of his imagination." But I persisted: "He means reprint." "Oh! does he! I should like to have somebody go over for me—shoot him for me! I should not thank anybody to revive those old cast-offs—I might call them: the lurid miscellanies of early times—sketches, records, what-not. Oh! how those rascals keep at work!" And in comment on publication of Longfellow's early poems and their reputed failure: "There is some compensation in that they failed, anyhow." Wished I might get details more definitely from Dave: who contemplated "such an outrage" &c. Looking over his famous old scrap book today. It lay open on the round table.


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