Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, May 6, 1889

     10.35 A.M. W. reading the Long Islander. Looked very well. Sat by open middle window. Day deliciously clear and mild. I asked W. if he had read the Critic reference (the Critic laying at his feet), and he said: "Yes and it is quite an

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epigram, too—isn't it? 'Head of silver and heart of gold'—it is new to me. There was something somebody once said of Diderot, the great French Encyclopedist, that he had a mouth of gold; that is the nearest I have known to this expression. I used to take a great interest in Diderot—do still, in fact. Somewhere I read a description of the French Encyclopedia as of 200 volumes. I tried hard to get some definite information on that point, but never succeeded. I asked Doctor Bucke—he thought it a mistake. Then asked Mr. Hunter—who looked about some—inquired of book men—men who might be supposed to know—but without result. So I struck the line out: I had intended using it in my writing—in November Boughs. The Encyclopedia has always seemed to me a marvel of marvels—a wonderful moonshine, a wonderful history. And though I have always approached it, knowing little of its intimacies, I have always felt persuaded that Diderot was the great man among its group of writers."
W. saw a copy of Unity in my hand. "What have you got there?" he asked—and I showed him a paragraph therein pertaining to Morse, which W. read with pleasant comments. "Sidney has work to do, surely: but we never hear from him now, do we?"

     I had received a letter from Bucke, dated the 4th, which I showed to W., who in his turn said: "And I got this," handing me one received by him. In my letter occurred this in reference to the Hartmann matter: That Hartmann affair was bad, very bad. I wrote a note to the Herald for the "Personal Intelligence" Column quoting from a P. C. of W.'s of 17th April, as follows: "The sayings of S. H. make H (yourself of course) (an intimate friend of W. W.'s) frantic angry—they are invented or distorted most horribly. I take it all phlegmatically" but it seems the H. did not print it. What do they care who feels bad so the paper sells. But S. H. is the party to blame damn him.



W. read it through very deliberately. "Yes," he then said, "I see. But then we must remember the Herald has several vices

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in common with the journals everywhere—among them this, that it won't correct its mistakes."
Then W. pursued the Hartmann matter: "I confess, this does not stir me as it stirs others. It is painful to have it happen—especially painful to have it happen at a time when Stedman has more and more been proving his goodness to us—has been getting ever warmer and warmer—testifying to all this in the literary way by his mention of us in the big book. But as things go, this matter does not ripple me, even. It seems to be a penalty a man has to pay, even for very little notoriety—the privilege of being lied about. Yet I rest the case finally on the good sense of my friends—their knowledge that, of printed matter anyhow, fully a half—three-quarters perhaps—even a greater proportion, is lie—is admitted to be such." I suggested that such a note as Bucke's to the Herald would do more good in the Critic. Which W. admitted—except that he insisted: "I don't see why we need to print it at all: we ought to be able to let such things pass and pass and die, as they will."

     W. handed me a ticket for some Woman Suffrage meeting which he had received in mail this morning. "Perhaps," he said smilingly, "this would interest you. I can't use it!" Had been interested in paper account this morning of Ben Butler's charge of cowardice (at New Orleans) against Admiral Porter. Also in account of Camden ministers inducing horse railway company not to run cars on Sunday. "I see," said W., "they have done it—and think they have done a big thing. I, for my part, should say that Sunday of all days they should run the cars. I do not publish myself on the point, but I should argue for absolute freedom—cars, ferry-boats, base-ball, picnics—nothing hindered, prohibited. I do not enter at all into what I call the—'quabble' of prohibition, but believe firmly that man no more now than at any time is eligible to be made good by law—temperate, honest, what not. There is a strong tendency in the human critter anyway to seek opportunities of doing those things which he is prohibited from

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doing. It is in the child—it is a universal quality. There are certain offenses which the common sense, the universal sense, of all peoples, ages, nations, allow to be policeable: these are easily pointed out—humanity has a clear notion of what they are. But these other functions insisted upon for the law are condemned in the light of history and of man's present constitution."
"The great moral forces will ever persist: the preachers about would say it was through them, their palaver: but we all know better than that—are not to be fooled by that."

     Bucke had again written as follows about the hospital project:

I had no thought of W. going to Baltimore until after the book was published. At least if he continued tolerably well. I was only "afraid" (rather inclined to think) that you would oppose the move just as most folk oppose their friends going to Hospitals and Asylums from a feeling against it. At such a hospital as this (especially with Osler at the head of it—he being really a friend of W.'s) W. would be infinitely better off than where he is. His surroundings would be unexceptionable and all that modern medicine could do to increase his comfort and improve his condition would be brought into requisition. It is simply monstrous that such a man as W. with friends who are willing to do anything to assist him and with some means and income of his own should live on as he is doing at present. Poor O'Connor is evidently going down and except for the shock it would give W. I would gladly have him go, for his life must be a burden to him, poor fellow. I am glad to hear that the book is likely to be "on time."

     W. remarked of it: "I have had no output whatever on that subject yet—am not inclined in the least to move." I spoke of the absence of sun from this room—my regret that it was so. "You should be on the other side of the street," I said—and he: "Yes—I can see how that might be well." Then I argued for his going out of doors—getting his chair and attempting it, anyhow. Did he think he could not get downstairs? He feels so well just now, he accepts my confidence. I talked with him

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quite a while—he finally seeming touched into affirmation by my sanguine manner. "How good it would be," he admitted, "to get out into the air—freely to breathe it out of doors once more." And the river! It was a "glory" to him— "the more suspicion of it." And I argued still again: "When Bonsall and Buckwalter were here, they told Ed to get the chair and they would fix the rest of it." W. moved: "Oh! they said that? and to Ed?" And he went on: "I think we might try it, boy. I have thought to you ask you and Ed to go over together: I have the address of a party here—select a chair—you know about what I want. I know very well the chairs they used at the Centennial, but I want one a little different from them in shape: they were short-backed—I want a back up this high"—motioning above his head. "I do not object to plainness—in fact, I want a plain chair, but want comfort—a big back. And the seat must be liberal in size—and it must be strong. Let me see—I kept the address somewhere." Took up his notebook, and examined it page to page. "It don't seem to be here. It was an advertisement out of a paper—I put it aside here, contemplating this move. Now it seems to be gone. Anyhow I'll look and find it, then you and Ed can go." I suggested that we have several sent over and W. could then select for himself. He thought that "a good idea" and was willing we should proceed so. I was highly gratified. He seemed more disposed to attempt it than at any time before. If he can get out, who knows but results would exceed expectation? As to the hospital, he seems absolutely disinclined. I do not argue against, but there is one point which Bucke does not mention even and which to W. seems the most important of all, viz.—that at the best, W.'s going to Baltimore would involve some sacrifice of freedom.

     5.45 P.M. W. sitting in chair at open window. Had just finished dinner. "Summer has come suddenly upon us," he said, "it has been a beautiful, beautiful day throughout." Had most serious thoughts of going out. "I have not yet

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found the chair advertisement because I have not yet looked for it—but I shall look tonight."
And he added, "my sister-in-law was here today. The chair that she had thought of up there in Burlington for me has been taken for some other person. It seems they got it from Wanamaker's—that Wanamaker's sent up to Boston for it. My sister thought she would anyhow go down and see what it looked like, so she could tell me of it, but when she got there, the lady reported that the chair was gone—that someone had probably come in the early morning and taken it off with them." But he was sure we could get suited our own way. "I want a plain chair—no cushions—not a cushioned chair: wicker-bottom, something like that—and solid." And liberal in size, I suggested—whereat— "Yes—that undoubtedly. But that will come about easily. Most of the users of these chairs are old plugs like me—broad at the beam—who won't be squeezed down at their time of life. See," he said leaning over, taking up a postal and handing it to me, "that is for O'Connor—I speak on it of the chair"—as he did: reporting the day as beautiful and that he was "cogitating" the project of purchasing a chair and getting out. "The back of such a chair will be a very essential part—we will need to have that high, so my head can rest on it, so—" throwing his head into grand repose on the wolfskin. "And after all," I said finally, "there's nobody but you who can properly select such a thing and have it suit." And he replied: "That is so—it all comes back to me at last."

     Signed a copy of the butterfly photograph for me Said: "And I will have you bring me three more of them before you take the bundle to Oldach." I brought him a sheet of the first fold book. Brown had got started and finished to p. 128 today. But with an unfortunate error on the title page—Myrick, in changing date of signature from Italic to plain Roman had made "May 13" instead of "May 31." This was lamentable, and W.'s eye struck it the instant he looked at the sheet. "A bad mistake," he said, "an error right off." And pointed it out.

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But did not worry at all over it—only tried to get comfort out of the experience. "They will have to print a single sheet," he said—and then with smile— "and that will make it easier for me to sign, and you will only have to bring over the 300 single sheets." "It is not a serious twist, but I am sorry he made it. If the worst comes to the worst—if we should fall short on paper"—this was a special lot which we could not add to— "then we could change it ourselves." I suggested writing to Brown at once about it, but W. suggested: "If you get over to the city in the forenoon, would anything be gained by writing now? Better be patient—let it wait."

     I had brought him over the several copies of the Butterfly picture. Was in to see McCollin today. Pictures are all mounted, well done. W. at once expressed his own liking for them. "Are they all like this?" he asked, adding: "If they are, I shall be thoroughly satisfied." And he looked at it long and critically, for five minutes saying scarcely a word. Then: "Have you found any dubiety about that?"—pointing to the moth— "Do people generally look at it with dubiety? I have found there is often a doubt what it is: yet to me there don't seem as if there should be: which, I suppose, is because I am so familiar with it—know it so well—myself." I left bill. The price had been put at four dollars per hundred. "I expect to have a good many more to mount," he explained.

     Speaking of the horse railroad anti-Sunday affair again: "I do not believe the Methodists did it: they may think they did, but they didn't. I see Armstrong is their counsel and that he is in favor or Sunday cars. That is very significant, too, because he is Presbyterian." I interposed, "Baptist." W. then: "Well—Baptist: it is the same thing for my purposes. The church people themselves would be in favor of it if they knew anything, which generally they do not. In cities where Sunday is free—the cars run—they avail themselves of all opportunities."

     We talked this evening somewhat about the fund, W. expressing

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in tone and word a tender gratefulness. In the early summer of 1888, O'Connor had sent twenty-five dollars, which was used. Later on he sent twenty-five more, which was sent back to him. W. found it hard to see through this till he thoroughly understood there had been two payments. "I requested that the money be sent back to him. Oh! I did not understand—did not know he paid twice. The dear noble O'Connor! the poor fellow!" And he asked: "and Bob Ingersoll—how did he come in? Tell me about that, too?" I had before but he would listen again. I said further: "I have no prejudices against going abroad for the money, but as our boys here had growled that we had before gone abroad before giving them a chance to help you, I thought I would give them the chance now." W. considered that "an idea," provided it was kept within the spirit I stated. "I should not myself connive at anything which looked like shooing them off. I have always had it clearly understood—wished it understood by everybody—that I fully realized what the men and women—friends—abroad—had done for me. Not only were they wonderful and saving in their generosity at a time when I needed it—if ever I did need—in 1876: paying the full price for the book—the Centennial edition—that year—ten dollars—which, God knows, was enough of itself: but some of them even four, five times that sum. Not this only, but helping later on. I could not forget this—should not wish it obscured. It was a great service. They literally put their hook overboard, rescued me, a drowning man. I never could disregard that. I consider the Smiths as good friends, if not Americans—Mary Smith, Mary Costelloe—as any of 'em." I admitted to him I had no prejudices in the matter—should necessity impose it I should still go abroad. And W. made it clear he thought it "a good plan" to do as I had done. "Gilder's phrase was, 'it galls me.' Tom Donaldson told me that Irving said to him—Henry Irving, the actor—that if anything of this kind was projected, he wished to be counted in. And Tom said he spoke as though it was a thing he had at heart. Yet I can see

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the wisdom of your plan."
And he asked me about Gilder: "Was it his own expression that you should 'nudge' him if he did not pay up?"

     Alluded to the current slang—one phrase of it: "He's not built that way." W. said: "I think that very good—very good, should think it would last, I should be willing to use it myself. Years ago in New York there was an expression similar"—here he stopped a minute— "but that was indelicate. The phrase was, 'He does not hang that way.' You can see its import. Of course that could not find adoption, especially in literature. It was vulgar, had its brief day, is gone." I did not stay long, though W. was in very good mood. My sister afterwards went down, taking him some flowers, and from me Lounsbery's "Cooper." She saw and talked with him some little while. He spoke about getting out, what kind of a chair was advisable—spoke also a great deal about Tom and the family. The weather continues beautiful beyond words. I go to Germantown in forenoon, tomorrow. W. gave me copies of the three-quarter portrait for Mrs. Baldwin and J. H. Clifford, signing them "Walt Whitman in 1849."


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