Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, May 8, 1889

     10.45 A.M. W. not looking very well—nor feeling so, as he said. And he quickly revealed the reason. "Bad news from O'Connor," he remarked, "almost the worst news. Here is a

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postal from Nellie this morning."
Handing it to me from the table. O'Connor yesterday unconscious. Mrs. O'Connor said if William ever recovered consciousness he would no doubt enjoy W.'s postals, but seemed dubious. "Whether this is almost the end"—W. reflected— "whether the story is now nearly closed, it baffles us to know." Sometimes it was asked him, would he not rather have O'Connor dead than suffering so? "But I refuse to look at it that way. Yet the case is very dark almost hopeless." W. very serious, with less than his usual color.

     Talked for some time over book matters—stamping, cover, &c. W. said he had no "arbitrary notion" as to how it should be stamped, but was "disposed to have the lettering adopted in the title page reproduced—indicating, along with Leaves of Grass, that A Backward Glance is included." Finally settled that I should advise with Oldach about it. We ought to have copies here by his birthday: if people then come in numbers, some may be sold. W. said: "I can see—and we may easily have copies by that time." "I have a pretty good idea now just where I am to place the portraits. There is nothing in the way of procedure. Do you think you will get the folded sets today?" Brown had promised to have the sheets ready for delivery by tomorrow forenoon.

     I said to W.: "People who see the three-quarter picture think it incredible that that is you at 30." W. replied: "But it is me. I must confess, I am more and more satisfied with that picture—what it indicates. All my intimate friends who have known me for many years—know well enough that that appearance of age came on early. Some have said to me that I look younger now than I did in my youth. The grey was there just as you see it as early as 30. The steel is combed, I know—looks different: but the steel is all smoothed off—that is to be remembered. Of all the pictures I know, that new one most fills and satisfies me—and whatever people may say and think, I am content with it just as it stands."


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     Mr. Ingram came in and stayed about fifteen minutes during my stay. W. was very cordial with him—forgot we had met and introduced us again. Asked after himself and people. In reply to questions said: "I am here, you see—not worse, anyhow, than when you saw me last." Ingram said his daughter had given him flowers to bring to W., and here had come without them. W. said in mockery: "Oh! you base fellow!" But, Ingram smilingly told W. he had left them with a prisoner down at Moyamensing, at which W.: "Oh! that was the way of it! Well—I can say in the language of Mrs. Harris, now I know, that I forgivages you!" Ingram asked for news. W.: "There is not much news. I had a postal from Washington this morning of rather dark import—telling me my dear friend William O'Connor is quite low—has lain in a fit—or was so yesterday." As to Johnston— "No word lately—though yes—a letter from Kitty Johnston. Nothing new in it—yet I have answered it—sent a reply." Rush, confined in Moyamensing, had sent his love to W., who said to Ingram: "Thanks! Thanks!" Rush had spoken to Ingram of the World piece and I now asked W. if he had a copy. W. responded: "I have had a copy, but have forwarded it to Dr. Bucke." But W. advised Ingram: "It doesn't amount to much—it is not profound." And in response to Ingram's question, "Who wrote it?"—said: "Yes, he was the Harper's Ferry fellow. Dick is a little Englishman—I have known him about forty years or so. He meant that article well enough. The World wanted an article of three columns, for which they would give good pay, and Dick, wishing the money, made the article just so long. That is my surmise only—of course—but I am willing to bet on it. Dick was there at Harper's Ferry—has always been a great abolition, underground man. Was out in Kansas at the time that tried men's souls there. Dick has always been of newspaper proclivities—writing for papers, magazines. But that article reminded me of a saying of Falstaff's: Falstaff speaks somewhere of a drop of rum (he don't call it rum—he calls it

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sack)—a drop of rum to a quart of sugar and water. That was about the mixture of Dick's article."

     Ingram described the country—its glorious spring-time dress—fruits, grasses, &c. Was enthusiastic. Said jokingly, if heaven was as good as that he'd like to go there. W. bantered with him: "You will get a good apron—a nice clean white apron—and be given a harp or what-not—and so take your place." But Ingram protested, whereat W. said: "Oh! they won't have you there if you don't do as they want you to!" Then murmured— "But this world is good enough: what could be grander than to get off in the country somewhere these days,"&c. Ingram inquired after Dr. Bucke. W.: "I do not think so—don't think he is likely to be on here very soon." Ingram had to catch a train at one o'clock, so did not prolong his stay.

     W. gave me back the "Cooper." "I have read it all—the whole book—and liked it too: was extremely interested." Had a pamphlet there by Elizabeth Porter Gould—"John Adams as a Schoolmaster"—which he handed to me. "Would you like to have it, or take it to your father? That is the great John Adams. The little pamphlet is very good, too—not abstract, the philosophy of the matter—but direct—without pretense—reported only—like a newspaper article." Miss Gould had written on it with purple ink— "Walt Whitman—With the good wishes of the author."

     Asked me about our going to town. I made arrangements with Ed to meet me this afternoon at ferry. W. said: "You have my card?—make use of it!" How did he account for it that Herbert Gilchrist seemed to dislike all the more characteristic portraits of W. W.? W. said: "It might be thought in some sense a mystery, though it is hardly that. In may respects Herbert is a complete reaction from his Mother. Mrs. Gilchrist, with all her supreme cultivation, was gifted in a rare degree with a necessary don't-care-a-damn-ativeness. In fact, this was so marked in her that it was often thought she

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was inviting destruction."
He spoke of Percy Gilchrist: "He takes no stock in me—in fact, I doubt if he likes me. I have never seen him. But I have seen the daughter—the daughter who died—Beatrice. And she threatened to be the most Whitmaniac of all, and the biggest woman, too—which is saying a good deal, for they were very big woman, too—which is saying a good deal, for they were very big women. She came to this country—was along with her Mother—was going to make a doctor of herself—studied for two years in the female college here. Oh!—she was a noble girl!—noble—noble! But I think I know Herbert as few others do: I am sure I may say in some respects as no other can. I am sure these qualities—good solid qualities—are not all gone from him: they are obscured now—dormant—but may be reawakened some day. I do not despair for him at all."

     Reference to Paris Exposition. W. said: "I like the make up of that man, the President there in France, Carnot—like his whole bearing. He is quiet, self-possessed, certain, yet makes himself felt wherever he goes. He seems to be a little man too, but one of whose littleness you soon become unconscious in the emphasis of other qualities. Like the elder Booth, who was a little man, yet never obscured. The minute Booth would step on the stage, you would forget his physical proportions. He was much smaller than Edwin. It was singular of him, too, that though so little—though so often on the stage with a crowd of people—he was never lost in the crowd. The actors used to ask him where they should stand and he would say—use your own judgment about that—stand anywhere, so you are not in my way—I will reach you." I referred to O'Connor's description of Booth—that his mere entrance on the stage deluged the house with electricity. Said W.: "That is so, too—I know if for myself. It was a subtle something back of voice, manner, eye: perhaps there is no better way of saying it than in just that way—that he had background—a something defying analysis, but deepest deep of fact and circumstance." I likened that to a parlor group, all stiff till

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released by the entrance of some person of magnetic presence who seems instantly to take down all bars. W. assented: "That is just it. But we must never attempt to make an outline of it—it is a quality we cannot chain."

     W. keeps a vigilant eye ever upon the local papers. He said to Harned last evening: "You must be very busy. I see you down for a great number of cases." And to me again: "Is it Björnson at the next meeting of the Club?" I said: "Boyesen." "Oh! Boyesen! I am quite apt to get the names mixed." Again going back to "magnetism" "and Alboni's voice! What a joy, a grandeur, an illimitable inspiration! Yet who could tell by what it all came?"

     5.35 P.M. I met Ed as per appointment at the ferry about two o'clock. Thence we went to Philadelphia in search of a chair. At Wanamaker's we hit upon a chair which Ed fell in love with. The result at Luburg's not so good. On the way back Ed stopped at Post office, but Bonsall was not there. Furlong, however, spoke to Ed about an informal meeting in W. W.'s interest to be held tomorrow to plan for the birthday event. When we arrived home, found W. eating his dinner. We talked with him of affairs, he in the meantime eating on. As to any chair for self-wheeling, W. remarked: "That would not do at all. If I live, I shall probably get weaker, much weaker. I am preparing for that now." And afterwards: "It seems to me from the description you fellows give, as though you had struck the right thing." He questioned us a great deal about what we had seen. Asked Ed: "How could you handle the chair?" And asked me: "What about the price?" And laughed heartily when I told him the salesman who waited on us was numbered 1827. Altogether was gratified with the result of our quest. "I want no cushions," he repeated. And again: "You fellows went off on a speculation, didn't you?" The day had been so fine again. "Oh! if a fellow could only get out into the free air!" How had the river appeared?—and so on. Yet was cheerful—looked better, too, than in the forenoon.

     Had consulted with Oldach as to stamping and cover. For

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cover Oldach gave me an estimate, 68 cents for morocco, 46 cents for imitation. W. said: "We want no imitation. The price anyhow is far within what I had expected it to be. It quite sets me up!" Oldach thought the stamped facsimile of title page would have to be reduced. It was for that I had to consult W., who said he would give me definite answer tomorrow. "I should say we ought to go right on," W. remarked, "I think Oldach should be told our decision at once."

     When I went to Brown today and told him that W. had said the printing would not be satisfactory if it was throughout like the sheet sent to Camden, Brown got enraged and said: "Well—we are doing the work our best way, and if you don't like it you don't need to take it. I don't want people to come here and criticise it when the work is nearly done," &c. All in a tone which I resented and which Ferguson himself afterwards told me was entirely uncalled for and unjustifiable. W. himself was aroused, but only said, calmly: "I do not say it positively—do not set it down at all—yet feel that such a remark is uncalled for if not absolutely impertinent. We are supposed to see, and to tell what we see, in a business transaction involving what that does to us." Then however: "But I am inclined to take the happier view—to believe that the book as a whole is to be far better than the sample of it we saw—that we hit upon one of the first sheets." At any rate "we can but wait" and "tomorrow or next day will solve our doubts." Brown thought he would finish our sheets by tomorrow evening.

     W. had been dwelling much upon O'Connor. "But there is no further word." He feared some fatal termination any time. Worked today at arranging the pictures for book. As he feels now, will after all not use the 1849 picture for frontispiece—in its stead the butterfly. W. sat there and we measured chair &. He joked of his helplessness and the doubt whether after all he could get out when he did secure the chair. "It is questionable anyhow whether I'll ever be able to do more than go around the block." I ordered insurance renewed

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for three months. W. wishes to pay bills. "I will give you checks when you want them." Things are pushing on.


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