Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, May 23, 1889

     7.10 P.M. W. sat in his chair, Ed and Warren with him, in front of the house. He was explaining to them—indicating the electric light swung across the street at the corner: "All the lights in New Orleans were hung that way. The effect was fine, and the utility, too, for it threw the light four ways." W. inquired after "the news." I referred to a letter from George W. Childs. W.: "Ah! and I had a letter, too!—a letter all full of sweet things and friendship!" He opened his big coat and finally found and handed me the letter. "Childs sent you the money for a card?" he inquired. And then: "He sent you the Longfellow letter? He did me, too—and good it was, indeed—fine. I liked it very much. I had half a notion to send it down to Harry Bonsall and have him print it—it seemed all so well done, said." Childs had enclosed in our letters a little slip, containing the following letter:
Cambridge, March 13, 1877

My dear Mr. Childs:

You do not know yet, what it is to be seventy years old. I will

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tell you, so that you may not be taken by surprise, when your turn comes.


It is like climbing the Alps. You reach a snow-crowned summit, and see behind you the deep valley stretching miles and miles away, and before you other summits higher and whiter, which you may have the strength to climb, or may not. Then you sit down and meditate, and wonder which it will be.

That is the whole story, amplify it as you may. All that one can say is, that life is opportunity.

With seventy good wishes to the dwellers in Walnut Street, corner of Twenty-second.

Yours, very truly

Henry W. Longfellow


     I also had letter thus from John Burroughs, and sat there on the step and read to W.:
West Park N Y.
May 22d

My dear Harry Trauble

I wish I could promise definitely that I will be with you on the 31st but my coming is very doubtful. I am of no account on such occasions & have little taste for them. Of course I will take a ticket, & if I do not come will write a letter. The truth is my affairs here demand my constant presence. From now till July is the critical time with my young vineyards & I am in the field every day at work. One of my men has left me & cannot yet find another. If I come it will not be to speak but to see & listen. I am rejoiced that Walt seems better. Is it not possible to get him away from Camden the coming season? I fear he will not be able to survive the heat. I hope you will write to Gilder. I think he would attend.

Very cordially yours

J. Burroughs


W. was touched and pleased. "The dear John!" But then he asked, "What inducement could there be for anybody to take the trouble to come on? I do not see it!" And when I contradicted him, he laughed. "I see you have your own way of

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excusing yourself!"
Then he said: "My advice to the boys would be, let it be a local affair if it must." But I asked— "Isn't it consistent to have John here, for instance—the only one left out of your early group, except yourself—and able, as no other, to stand for and speak for something that we, with our best intentions, must fall short of expressing or even conceiving?" He said to this warmly: "Ah! boy! That is a way of putting it as it has not been put before. I can see there is something in it—much, even." Then he cried: "Poor O'Connor! or poor me without him!" But as yet there had been no word from Stedman. W. said: "I don't know, Horace: I fear Stedman is, as they say, 'in suspenders.' I think he regards me with a good deal of suspicion. The devil has been in reports about him and me: he has got hold of them—is troubled by them." And he further explained, half-reminiscently or as if making up his opinion as he went along: "Stedman has been so demonstrative of his affection—always so nobly demonstrative—and genuine, thoroughly, as I know; as you know—and I have been so little responsive it might appear—that I scarcely wonder he is a little doubtful. And yet I don't know—perhaps it is not that: there is something probably more or other. I remember the time of his paper: I heard it very often discussed—on several occasions was myself appealed to with respect to it—rather pooh-poohed it at the moment. But I am confident that, whatever the critical mood or things said, my affection for Stedman has been honest, genuine, a steady stream, especially during the past year or so." I reminded him of Burroughs' liking for Stedman. "Yes—I know about it—remember it. And so did O'Connor like him—and these facts had great weight with me."

     In the midst of our talk I interrupted to urge W. to go in doors. It was getting very chill. He at once gathered his cloak about him (the long blue coat). "I have been thinking myself it was about time to go in." Then Ed and I helped him into the parlor. We finished our talk there. "Often we do get too late

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out of our dangers."
Then resumed discussion of the dinner. "I am surprised you have not heard from Kennedy," he said, "for in his hot way—his nervous haste—he is constantly projecting himself—if he means to do a thing, throws out hints of it—couriers—days ahead." Bucke had written promising a letter for the dinner. W. was "pleased, but not surprised, to hear of Doctor's willingness." Then: "And how about Brinton: have you heard more about him yet? It would be a great victory to have him come." I suggested: "If willing, he could tell how he, as a scientific man, comes upon the meaning of Leaves of Grass." W.: "That is so—and if he came, would be well so! How will you arrange for the toasts, anyhow? You will have—or ought to have—concerted work so far, that the speakers don't tread on each others' toes." So far Gilchrist, Clifford, Frank Williams and Harned are sure. W. said: "That sounds friendly and good—I am in the hands of friends when these have me! I have no doubt you and Tom know me well enough to know what I like, and to have things done simply and honestly." At one point, when I said "No" to something, and assured him— "you are not to have things all your own way in this matter"—he said: "So I perceive—I see you are using your own notions." I had written to Cleveland this forenoon. I explained to W. that I had mentioned to Cleveland, W.'s desire for his presence. He said: "that was right—I do not object." And: "Have you written to Sheppard yet? I am not so particular about him, but would like to have him know." And there was O'Reilly, too, to whom I had written. "He is a great fellow: I wish he could be with us,—and friendly, nobly so, to me, too!" We discussed the foreign fellows. I wondered if Castelar had ever hit upon L. of G. W. did not know: "I have never heard anything, pro or con; but now, when we get out our little book—our pocket edition—I think I shall send a copy to him—indeed feel quite positively that it will be done." And he reflected: "A great and lofty soul he is, too—one of our supreme men." "I suppose," he inquired, "a letter

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addressed to him in Spain would reach him just as surely as a letter addressed to Tennyson in England?"
He had himself received letters addressed in all sorts of curious ways. Spoke hereupon of the postal union: "A great beneficence it is, too!"—and of the English system of letter delivery: "It seems much more complete than ours—more complete than ours could be, probably. That was Trollope's great work, you know—you have read of it?" At this, Trollope's Autobiography was mentioned. W.: "I have read it—and it is a very interesting—almost curious—book." He did not rank Trollope high, but thought him "manly and a person of considerable talent."

     He said of his "outing" today: "We took a jaunt of about an hour. Ed is very good to me—takes me everywhere I wish—humors me—treats me nice as a child." But he has not been well— "My head troubles me a great deal. These are bad days for me; but perhaps when this spell of unusual cold is over, I too, will recover myself." My sisters flowers were still on the table and he took them up affectionately—holding them to his nose for a long time. "It was good of Aggie to think of an old fellow pinned down here. Tell her so." Mrs. Davis came into the room. W. explained to her that he had "sent for peppermint sticks—one intended for Warren, one for Harry, one for Mrs. Mapes, one for Ed, one for you. But, as usual, the devil got mixed with the mission, and they brought me these—they call them drops—instead of sticks." He took the bag from his pocket. "See—drops: I guess I'll take one"—as he did—then handing the bag to Mrs. Davis. "These are too strong—they are not nearly as good as the twisted sticks"—violently wrenching his hands— "the sticks twisted so—these have a taste of medicine."


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