Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, May 27, 1889

     7.45 P.M. Found W. sitting in his room reading one of Scott's novels—went there with Harned. W. looked very well. Had he any ill effects from yesterday? "No—none at all: my only trouble was, that I insisted on eating supper after I got home: this was superfluous." Harned said he had only come up for a minute or so. I explained to W.: "He wants to get home and go to work on that speech." W. laughed: "How is that, Tom, and a lawyer, too: I thought you fellows could get up anytime, with a few headings, and fill in your speech?" Tom interjected that this was a special literary occasion. "Oh! the literary fellows be damned," exclaimed W. and then: "Well—if all you fellows are to deliver speeches, so much the better for me—then I will not have to deliver any!" But he said further: "Of course I must say a word, but I find that the moment will take care of itself—all I shall say may be said—must be said—in three or four lines, and these unpremeditated. I should announce that all I have to say I have said in my books, which anybody may buy for himself;" And then with a laugh— "which would be having an eye to business, too—wouldn't it?"

     W. said: "I had a peculiar visit last night after you had gone. Three Hindu fellows came in—the fellows I spoke to you about: they could scarcely speak a word of English. They brought me this bamboo cane, here on the floor." I picked it up and handed it to Tom to inspect. "And I have used it a good deal today—it is very nice—strong; Warren is going to have a ferrule put on it for me. They brought me also that gay

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handkerchief you see there on the chair—pull it out."
It was a gay dotted red and blue silk affair, over which W. laughed goodhumoredly. My sister Agnes had sent him down some roses, which we arranged in a glass on the table, where Mrs. Baldwin's still were. Anna also had given him a bouquet yesterday. He is joyous over his good treatment "by the girls, old and young." Asked me about Mrs. Baldwin again: "Is she a good reader of Leaves of Grass? Does she absorb it?"

     I asked him if he could guess who had sent 10 dollars on to me today? He looked at us comically—then admitted, "I give it up: how could I know?" And when I said to him then that no less a man than Whittier had shown this interest, he said in mock concern: "Poor fellow! I thought he would be saved such a fate." I showed him the note which he read with zest.
Amesbury Mass—
May 24the 1889—

I have received thy kind letter and invitation to the proposed observance of W. Whitman' seventieth birthday. At my age and in my state of health I can only enclose a slight token of goodwill, with the wish that he may have occasion to thank God for renewed health and many more birthdays, and for the consolation which must come from the recollection of generous services rendered to the sick and suffering Union soldiers in the hospitals of Washington during the Civil War.


At the point where Whittier uses the expression "to thank God"—W. paused and said: "You see—there are fellows who are so afraid Ingersoll will be present (at least in spirit) that they are determined for themselves to show that they recognize the powers that be." Mr. Curtis, of the Ladies' Home Journal, had said in Harned's presence at the committee meeting this afternoon that he could have sold more tickets had it not been known that Ingersoll might appear, T. B. H. retorting that anyhow people who would object to Ingersoll in such a way had no call to attend a Whitman dinner. W., when told, said: "I should have said something stronger—much stronger—than that." Tom quizzed him quickly: "What is that something

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stronger?"
But W. only laughed, and said: "I shall not say it—not tell you: it can best be imagined!" At which, all hands "imagining" and probably hitting the same key-word, there was a common laugh.

     Of Burroughs' article in The Critic on "Literary Fame," W. remarked: "I think it must be pretty good: I read it—but not carefully. I suppose they wrote to him for a piece—put a light offer upon it—and John said, 'Take this then—it is all I have?' I think it would be allowable to make that explanation. I did not read the dinner item there in the paper, though I saw it was there. I had it here on a step: I told you. I sent the paper off to Mrs. O'Connor: she is generally greatly interested in such items. And yet I have not had a word from her—not a word—not even about the funeral."

     W. said at one moment: "Bucke's voice is one of his virtues: it is always strong, firm, definite." Tom said the question had been asked if there was any probability of W. W.'s brother attending. W. said: "I don't know—I had not thought of it: in fact, if I had it would not have made a particle of difference: he would not have come, he don't like—don't take to—such affairs. Besides, though we are very brotherly and affectionate and all that together, neither he nor any member of my family knows or cares anything about my literary work, fame—none of them: it might just as well not be. The goblet is full and overflowing anyhow, Tom—there is no use adding to it."

     I informed W. that Clifford intended making some reference in his speech to the Whitman note in Edward Emerson's book. W. remarked: "I wish I had known when he was here Sunday: I could have put him up to some things and that note is a shameful lie: it is exposed on the face. They wished to clear Emerson's skirts of me—did so in this way—or tried to!" By and by he half-laughingly spoke of Edward as "that miserable skunk!" Then: "Emerson is now dead—there is no direct evidence. See how Edward uses the word 'mechanic'—calls me a 'mechanic'—yet I am not a mechanic? I wish I had Clifford

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here to talk to about this. There is one thing true of Emerson which has never been put on record: he had a real personal affection for me—liked me—liked to be with me—sought me out. I do not say this boastingly, but only as a fact communicated by others as well as through my own senses."
He went over the Sanborn story again. "I know it was generally said at the time of that last visit to Concord that Emerson was under a cloud: it was debated with us what to do in the matter, whether to go or stay. We decided finally that nothing should be done—that we should not go. The question had come up in that shape—I put in the deciding vote." Then he had anyhow met Emerson at Sanborn's—was invited to the meal subsequently. "I remember the day we went so well—and the after-ride. A young Jewess up there, with a noble white team, came to Emerson's—took me up there. I was always quite well aware that Ellen—the daughter—and Mrs. Emerson were inimical to me, but at that point I knew nothing about Edward's position"; and he went on with fragmentary reflections: "there is no doubt but Emerson was much set upon by the formalists—the Unitarians—the Unitarian literary men—the fellows of the Lowell stripe—of the stripe you have met—who put good grammar before all else—who make all emphasis at that one point. These are the fellows who will not have such a critter as I am and such blasphemous utterances as Leaves of Grass. Think of Whittier—how surprising that note, reserved as it is! I have it on very good authority that when Whittier first fell upon Leaves of Grass and came upon what are called the obscene passages, he threw the book into the fire." And he said still further: "And Emerson was always himself—had a great self—just the self we find in the books: there in him, as in most men—perhaps all men—there was another self, too—a sort of contradiction of that self—which had ductility, malleability—he had an eligibility to be impressed by the literary clowns." I agreed: "But if Emerson ever changed in his feelings towards you there can be no written record of it—not even in his journal—else Edward would not have been forced to

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resort to 'words to the effect.'"
W. responded: "I acknowledge, that is very significant. But there is more even than that to be said. I have told you the story of Lord Houghton? And George Childs knows something about it, too. Emerson came down from Concord—stayed with him—came over here then to see me. O'Connor could have told Clifford a good deal on this point, too."


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