Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, May 13, 1889

     7.05 P.M. W. lying in bed. "Ah!" he said, "I have just come in—just laid down—we have had some long trips out." The empty chair had been at the doorway entrance. He said further: "I have not felt nearly so well today—yet I have been out twice. But this catarrhal affection bothers me a good deal—troubles my head." I went in to see Oldach about books, but could as yet get no definite word from him. He has not received the stamps as yet. W.'s inquiries anxious. I spoke to W. about the participation of women in the banquet. He said: "I suppose it would be replied to that—as it is replied when suffrage for women is suggested—that the women will not take it themselves, do not want it. But I see what you mean. You raise a previous question—that whether they want it or not is theirs to decide—ours only to see that we don't stand in the way of it!" He always preferred the "free" way, and if they consulted with him &c.: going on to explain pleasantly. He asked: "Have you seen one of the circulars? It is singular—Tom was just in, too—but said nothing about that." W. wondered "how it was written" whether as "conservatively" as should be.

     We spoke again somewhat about the Emerson book. W. said: "The note was undoubtedly lugged in—inexcusably lugged in—an attempt to force an utterance of disdain from me. Emerson was a good father—his children were loyal to him—they served, advised. The main wonder of it all is—the wonder that yet remains to be written—how in heaven's and hell's name—how in the name of all the angels, all the saints,—in air, on earth—below the earth—Emerson, surrounded as he was by those influences, by adverse, benumbing literary currents, persons—remained, and undoubtedly did remain to the last, unscathed, unhurt, untouched." Then W. reflected: "I, of course, knew nothing of Emerson's first wife, but the second I knew—met—and to me she was a hideous unlikely woman. How Emerson could ever have got spliced to her beats

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my explanation. Yet it can be explained, no doubt—for undoubtedly she is a good woman, with her own virtues, which I should be the very last to in the least question. But Ellen? Oh! that hag! She is a hag! That guardian, watcher—afraid the great old man would make a mistake, commit some error! She is repulsive to me beyond utterance. I know the position she held with respect to her father—the position generally accorded her outside of Concord—but I doubt if she has any standing there."
And he said again: "No—no—neither of them—neither mother nor daughter—was our woman at all."

     W. alluded to matters of another nature. "There on the chair," he said, "you will find a couple of letters—they are done up with a rubber. One is from Burroughs, the other from Doctor. They do not contain anything we would call news—yet for all that you will want to see them. John had not yet had my postal about O'Connor—but writes of him—had read of it in the paper. Doctor evidently had not heard of it at all." Burroughs' reference was the following:

Yesterday on my way up to Olive [or Clive: Burroughs is not clear here] to see my wife's father, who is near the end of his life's journey, I read in the Tribune of the death of Wm. O'Connor. It was news I had been expecting for some time, yet it was a stunning blow for all that. I know how keenly you must feel it, and you have my deepest sympathy. No words come to my pen adequate to express the sense of the loss we have all suffered in the death of that chivalrous and eloquent soul. How strange that his life has all passed, that I shall see or hear him no more.

And it is sad to me to think that he has left behind him no work or book that at all expresses the measure of his great power. What a gift of speech that man had! If you can tell me anything about his last days, I shall be very glad to hear it. Also where he is buried. [And then the letter went on] I am pretty well, and have been immersed in farm work for the past six weeks. We have rented our house to a New York man for five months. Julian and I live in the old house with a man who works for me, and Ursula boards in Po'keepsie.


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I hope this great heat for the past few days has not prostrated you. Tell Harry Trauble to write to me.

The wave of orchard bloom has just passed over us and the world has been very lovely. Drop me a line, my dear friend, if you are able to do so.

With the old love.

John Burroughs


     The letter was written at West Park, May 11, and started off "Dear Walt"—as usual. W. had felt that I "ought not to lose its suggestiveness." W. said: "The grand O'Connor! And not a word of him in the Critic! The truth is, the New Yorkers know very little about him—would not have him on any terms if they did: he was not for them. I don't know if William ever met Stoddard at all—if he did, it was not intimately. But Stedman he did meet—had a great affection for him, too—as we all have, in fact—and naturally, too, because something in Stedman himself enforces it upon us." We spoke of O'Connor's letters on W. W. I argued that, "daring and radical as they were, they were so sweeping, so inclusive, so affording welcome to all writers of all ages, that they accomplished much more for W. W. than any one-sided espousal could." W. responded warmly: "That is so—I could see it—perhaps see it even more than you could—more than anybody could. The great letters I rank as integral to Leaves of Grass—necessary to the volume—I realize it more and more. I have urged it upon Bucke, for instance, that he keep his book as it is now, intact—excising nothing—if writing more—if deeming some further word necessary sometime, not inserting or destroying, but adding—inserting as a sort of appendix; touching the book in no other way. And all this chiefly with an eye to the preservation of O'Connor's letters. Oh! William's sweep, as you say, was tremendous—astounding: he found a place for all—even for poor Poe in the days when I myself would question and doubt." O'Connor's letters were "ever-fresh—perennial—natural to new airs, seasons, as to old." So little in

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them of formal literary art—yet literature in its true sense, crowded richly and grandly. "How little the average literary art values freedom, instinct, expression. Writers write for exercise—determine what they should write—therefore do. Would never think of writing as the trees put forth their green—as men fall in love—perforce—because there is no other thing to do. But O'Connor! This crowd could not touch his heels!"

     Alluding to Harrison and his lack of heroic qualities, W. said merrily: "To make much of him is the old story of fitting a square plug to a round hole." "Harrison has too clearly signified that he is not our man to let any doubt at all remain on that point." Bucke's letter contains the following paragraph,—evidently the portion W. particularly wished me to see: "If (having a chair) you were living in a cottage with a lawn, trees, &c., &c., and living on the ground floor (as might all be arranged well enough) there is no reason why you should not spend a good part of your time during the summer in your chair on the grass, under the trees, among the flowers. You are not tied to one house (and that about the worst house and the worst situated that could be found for you) and there is no reason at all why you should not go where you would have the surroundings you need. Why not get Horace to look about for a good cottage for you?" This evening he said nothing in comment. As usual, heads in reserve till he has heard from me.


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