Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, May 26, 1889

     1 P.M. I went to Harned's to take dinner. W. had already arrived. The chair stood in the hallway, next Anna's wheeler and the baby's coach: suggestively stood there, it seemed to

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me, and W. afterwards remarked, this constituted his first visit to Harned's—in fact, his first visit anywhere, since the 3d of June, 1888. He stayed till 3 o'clock—talked vigorously all the time—seemed, as he sat there in the parlor, the past revived. His familiar figure struck and appealed to us all. Ed stayed. At dinner he was very bright and strong. Corning came in for a short space. W. was immensely taken with the baby. "Generally," he said, "in the first year or two—the babies fear me: but they get bravely over that." And once when the baby smiled upon him: "How instinctive they are! How they divine us—expose us! And yet I think even more so later on, after the first year or so is over." And when the baby was excused for some of its noise: "Oh! let it go on! A baby is not a baby who is denied that privilege!"

     At the table he looked tenderly at what he called "the dear drink!" He had a glass of Madeira on first arriving—at the table took champagne. "I have been patiently waiting a whole year for this!" He said later on that he probably had taken more than he should— "but then a fellow must once and a while be allowed to step across the line: especially a fellow as slow-paced as I am, whose whole life has been evenly run." And when someone spoke of his being led away: "No—no—don't let anybody run you away with that idea: nobody ever led Walt Whitman away but Walt Whitman himself. That is the whole story, if story there be."

     Had he been invited to write anything for the Herald Decoration Day number? "No—the Herald does not so readily come to me any more. You know my bright particular friend there, Julius Chambers, is now on the World. And it is just as well I have not been asked to write for the World." Had he any objection to the World? "No—none at all—on the contrary, I believe it a great paper: only, I am not nowadays moved to work up anything myself." He again talked of the testimonial—why could the dinner not be local, if necessary? He said: "I don't think Jerseymen take enough pride in their state. I came

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here years ago—fifteen or sixteen years ago—poor, weak, sick: circumstances kept me here—bound me—here I am still. I don't know but it was the best thing that could have happened. Thrown here, into reserve and quiet, I have been helped, restored, maintained: I could not have stood New York or Brooklyn—the rush, the drive, the excitement, there. But West Jersey—why should we not be proud of it? I like its soil, its people—I should enjoy having someone take it up—pay it tribute—at the dinner."
Subsequently he said: "I should like someone to say something for me—to start off with telling of my paralysis,—that I was in Washington, worn out, endangered—this in 1873—that I was ordered away by my Doctor—and a good one he was, too (Dr. Drinkard)!—that I came here, and for some time was worse, but finally picked myself together again." And so he went on, mentioning that "this personal history has an importance for such an occasion—should not be slighted."

     Corning said to W. at the dinner that he would make a good subject for Rembrandt—that no other could paint him. W. said for his own part: "I am persuaded that my painter has not yet arrived. I know I have been very successfully taken—taken in all sorts of habits and hours—but somehow there is an elusive quality which so far no one has caught." He said again: "There is Eakins' picture—Doctor thinks it perfect." I expressed some surprise. "Oh! it is true!" W. asserted, "Doctor worships it, and I too recognize its greatness—its value—that up to the present it hits high water mark. But even Eakins' picture don't go to the right spot—even it is inadequate." As to Herbert Gilchrist's picture, W. was rather cruel. "It is all right—all right as it is—Herbert thinks that if that's not what I am that's what I ought to be, and anyhow, having the dude in nature, why shouldn't we have the dude in art?" W. alluded to the fleeting quality in Lincoln's face that had never been caught: "I know of no satisfactory picture of Lincoln. All sorts of pictures exist—many of them good in themselves,

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good as pictures—yet all of them wanting in the last, the essential touch. Yet the skillful fellows were there—often pointed their cameras at him. Frank Carpenter was much about Washington those times: and Alexander Gardner"
—turning to me— "the man who made the picture of me I gave you"—and then continued— "but no one seemed equal to coping with the subject. Lincoln was a gigantic figure on our stage. He was ugly as the devil to start with—yet beneath all that ugliness—under it—the base or background of him—Lincoln in essence—was an exquisite fine, great, high nature—a nature too great for words, too intense for cold speech." He had himself seen Lincoln under "strange and fascinating conditions." "I saw him quite fifty different times, under various circumstances. I knew John Hay well—John (who was an intimate of O'Connor), liked him, admired him, loved him." W. was asked, why did he then not write of him in the Tribune? "Just because he did love him—because we always hesitate to write about those we love, for reasons what would restrain me from writing of him." Then he described Lincoln's homely ways, and instanced cases of them. "I remember one day so plainly—it was a reception day—there were crowds of strangers present, waiting their turn for a word, for words, with Lincoln. But Lincoln was engaged with an old friend—a minister—a clergyman—who had come on from Illinois, was now talking to him. He was an old man—a splendidly preserved fellow—not large, but with a good eye, in spite of his age, and certain step, too—and bye and bye he had come upon the time to go, and Lincoln went along with him towards the door—as if loth to drop him—as if for old time's sweet sake he would continue the talk. "Oh!"—here W. bent sideways— "I can see him turned this way, now—the ear bent down to catch the last word—the almost ungainly figure—the whole sad, strong, rugged, homely face lighted up." Here W. paused: "It was such incidents as these—I saw many of them—that revealed to me the real Lincoln. The old man at the last

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moment, wanting to stay, yet knowing there was an impatient crowd still there—and Lincoln lingering still. Can you think of a better picture—or more realistic?"
Art had never caught this from Lincoln. Had he ever seen satisfying portraits of Emerson? "No—none wholly satisfying—but there are pictures of Emerson that will do." At one point in the talk W. alluded to "my dear daddy" in a tone that was half-pathetic, half-joking.

     There was talk of an incident in the paper the past few days: Gladstone knocked down in London by a carriage—himself ran after the cabby and had him arrested. I said I had a sneaking sympathy for the cabby. After a hearty laugh W. said: "So have I—I couldn't help but have. I generally do side with the roughs anyhow. The nearest I ever came to getting into a conflict with the authorities was in interfering that way in behalf of the roughs, so-called. Yet we must accept Gladstone, too—we know what newspaper reports are anyway and must be chary of accepting them. My sympathies all go out towards the outcast." I asked him again about his toast to the Queen. "Yes, we drank it—and heartily, too. Why not? My friend Ben Tucker, who was always a brave defender of mine, got mad as fire because I wrote the piece about the Emperor. Even O'Connor was furiously disturbed. And yet I meant it. A great many years ago, at Pfaff's, I got into a regular row by defending the Queen—and there were Englishmen present, too. But in my philosophy—in the bottom-meanings of Leaves of Grass-there is plenty of room for all. And I, for my part, not only include anarchists, socialists, whatnot, but Queens, aristocrats." I spoke of the dearth of Presbyterian ministers (just lamented by the Assembly) and someone asked: "Even Presbyterian ministers?" And W. affirmed: "Yes, even them. What right have I to say no? Isn't there a scripture phrase which sets forth— 'Why should you, Joseph or Samuel, resent this man a few days with you when the Lord has tolerated him for years and years?'—something like that. Besides, we must recollect,

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man is such a scamp, such a wickedee,—so essentially an ignoramm—that it is hard often to stand him—yet it is but right that the scamp should be represented. We must conclude that as long as there are Presbyterians, Presbyterians ought to be. It seems to me this is the spirit in which our fellows should approach the question."

     I wrote today to Lyman Abbott, Julius Chambers, and Jeannette Gilder. Happening to touch his cane, W. said: "You know all about that cane, don't you? You know who gave it to me?" Then spoke tenderly of Peter Doyle. "I wonder where he is now? He must have got another lay. How faithful he was in those sick times—coming every day in his spare hours to my room—doing chores—going for medicine, making bed, something like that—and never growling!" He listened intently while Anna played a fine air (and played it finely) on the piano. "I always knew," he said, "that she came naturally by what I call touch." He left Harned's, flowers in hand, with cheery words on his lips.

     6 P.M. Met Clifford at Broad St. Station at 5.15. He had a box of flowers from Mrs. Baldwin, which together we took to Camden and to W. W. was in very good condition. The dinner had not at all discomposed him. He talked quite freely and well. Greatly enjoyed the flowers. We took these and arranged them on a place and in a cup. He took them up: "Oh! syringa!"—and again— "And what a rose is that, too!"—and then on the plate where there was the monotony of white flowers, he carelessly placed a soft red rose, which transfused it at once into a glory. "That relieves the monotony!"

     A newspaper nearby he picked up and handed it to Clifford. "The Long Islander," he explained— "I started it, I suppose fifty years ago—set it going—as a mere boy!" Clifford looked for W.'s name as founder but of course did not find it. Then referred to the old twit on the Tribune which had always printed on its editorial page, "Founded by Horace Greenley" and to which a wag added— "And foundered by Whitelaw

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Reid."
W. said rather laughingly: "It would be a severe thing to say of the Presidency, that it began with Washington and ended with Harrison!" Singular, his natural and sincere pleasure in the flowers. No profuse thanks in receiving them, but a natural flow of quiet appreciation. Picks them up—smells them—frequently. Cherishes them for days and days—the best uttered thanks likely to come days afterward.

     I had the following letter from Gilder today:
House 55 Clinton Place
25 May, 1889

Dear Mr. Traubel,

I'm trying to arrange to be at the dinner on the 31st.

Can you tell me about the trains? What train gets in just before the dinner & can I get off to Bordentown the same night?

Sincerely

R. W. Gilder


Spoke to W. about it. He asked: "What? Is it Dick's? Dick Gilder's?" And then: "What does he say?" Handed letter to him, which he read. The prospect of Gilder's coming raised his hopes. He said mockingly in response to some word of Clifford: "They have been going their own way about this dinner—they little consult me." I remarked the stationery Gilder used. "Yes—it is fine—fine—but they have plenty! I remember Rice years ago—he had asked something of me—had letter—replied—had letter again. He appeared to have a thorough contempt for my stationery, for by and by there came along a big bundle of paper, envelopes, whatnot—a bundle as big as this"—indicating several feet square— "full of the best material. I believe I have some of it yet. Rice must have been interested in some paper manufacturing establishment—or perhaps bought it wholesale—probably this."

     I received a four-page note from Mark Twain, full of generalities, with practically no word about W. W. Have not yet referred to it in W.'s presence. W. spoke: "I am always so glad to see the fellows: it grows so monotonous here, I crave

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to be relieved."
We looked at one of the Washington portraits. I showed Clifford the book, a stitched unbound copy. W. had come directly home from Harned's. The day raw and uncertain. W. advised Clifford in regard to his speech to trust to the exigency: "Do not greatly prepare: it will come all right when the time and occasion for it comes."


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