Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, April 13, 1889

     10 A.M. W. had been reading the papers. Was mending a little pasteboard box when I entered. Said as to my inquiries: "I am bad again, very bad—somehow start into a new siege: it is my head, my constipation: it hits me severely." As to proof— "I have done nothing with it—you must excuse it: I shall try to-day and to-morrow to do it up as it should be done—'eke it out,' as I have said." Referred to portraits for book. I argued for new portraits as far as possible. "I can see the

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force of that,"
W. assented, though the world is in no danger of being overburdened with Whitman pictures." At my mention of the 3/4 length— "Ah! yes! that I take to be my right bower!" The missing photos not yet found. "I have engaged with Mary to come up and make search today. She is very good at such things—has a good scent." But when Mary came up at the time appointed, he felt bad and advised her, "an hour later: let us wait a while!" To me again— "I certainly had several hundred of those heads: in fact, I remember them, as though they must have been in packages like that in your hands—a hundred in each." It would be a sore point to have them missed now and turn up when too late.

     W. had been much stirred by long accounts in morning papers of the Danmark, abandoned at sea, and come upon by the City of Chester—no life on board, sinking—yet had sailed out with 700, passengers and crew. It was among W.'s first questions: "What of it? What do you think of it?" adding: "It is dreadful—dreadful: yet I cannot think them lost: perhaps 5 or 6 hours will tell a fuller tale—explain." "No word from Washington," he said— "but probably nothing had turned up there: if there had been anything, it surely would have been communicated."

     Asked me of the Club meeting—how had it gone off? I told him of something somebody had heard from Gilchrist—that the speakers were "all duffers" and would not have been listened to in England. W. highly amused. "What did he mean—sure enough! That is more than I could tell." The last speaker of the evening—some French clergyman, whose name I did not catch—saw no resort for social sin but in the "man of Nazareth"—the labor problem to be solved through such efficacy. But "come to Jesus!" seemed to W. a "decidedly novel" nostrum. "It occurs this way to me: that question of questions is this—to give some men who now have no work, work; to give others adequate return for work done: Now, to give that work and that return, such a specific as the man does not have

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any pertinency."
Besides "the prayer and Jesus business" had always been in our days "overdone." The great prayers were little doers. "The damnable psalming, praying, deaconizing of our day is made too much the liberal cover for all sorts of sins, iniquities." Reference hereabouts to Stonewall Jackson. W. impatiently said: "Jackson? Oh! he was a bad egg,—a bad egg! I know the cuss—know him as few others have had means of knowing him." Continuing: "Take a man who goes off by himself, into the woods, prays,—as Jackson did—as indeed was too often the case with fellows South—and they will bear watching." He instanced again the story of "the Western boy—the poor, sick, wearied, worn out, Western boy," whom Jackson questioned, "how much of an army had the North here and here, and what its purposes"—who (a prisoner) had "refused to divulge" and who "for the very courage for which he should have been honored and commended—would have been by any true soldier, any soldier with the high, heroic, chivalric instincts of the big souls in the soldier class" was doomed "to a walk of 90 miles or so," while lesser men or stronger, "were conveyed in wagons and cared for." W. said to my remark that such was a "damned spot," "it was indeed—a damned spot indeed—and all the prayers under heaven could not wipe it out." Adding: "It was not a hastily or eagerly accepted story with me—I did not wish it true: you know me well—know I am not a grabber of conclusions: even way back at the start, you know the phrenologists gave me caution—large caution—what they denominated a great wariness. Well, when I first heard this story, though I knew the young fellow well—he was so affectionate, so noble, so honorable, so reserved—I did not wholly credit it—allowed for possible exaggeration, extreme feeling—investigated it for myself. Everything he had told me was confirmed—everything: I found he had told a straight story—not a break in it. I shall never forgive Stonewall Jackson this. No matter what the magazines, the papers, North here may say in his high honor. I know better—I know

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his true measure."
So it was well not to let "the prayers matter" make up judgment entirely. "You know, all the banditti rob between their prayers! Besides,"—again touching the labor question— "Jesus was himself socialist, communist, what-not—without property or belongings material."

     We are at a standstill in our work again but I am hopeful it may not be for long.

     7.30 P.M. W.'s room dark on my entrance, he on bed, and alone in my room. He talked well and at some length with me, though saying— "I am not very well—in fact, none of my days any more seem to be good days." But inquired of the clear beautiful night and the lustrous stars, and appeared eager for every word I said thereof. Said: "I have finished the preface, Horace, and you can take it to-day or to-morrow if you wish." Asked me: "Some time when you are about somewhere in town, I wish you would look into—I think the last volume of Appleton's 'Biographical Dictionary'—I think it is called that: look in the 'W's' and see there what is said of me. Kennedy said in a note to me that there was mention of me there—and with it a portrait." I asked: "Whose work is it—Hunter's?" He was dubious— "in fact, I know nothing whatever about it."

     In some way we got into a discussion of portraits. I said at one point: "It is queer, how the passion for steels seems to have gone out." W. explained, "They have gone out because they are not good—because they are not worth staying. Have you seen the steels in Stedman's books? In each volume there are two—and then the others—the wood—these always better than the steels. I think I have been particularly fortunate in my own case—that picture of men inserted there." I expressed myself: "That is because of something in the original," meaning the Linton engraving. W. mistook me and protested "I don't think so—that does not sufficiently—at all explain it: there was a factor present—the potent factor too—beyond or below that altogether—something in the manipulation—something in the engraving itself." I at once exclaimed— "That's

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just exactly what I meant—something in Linton's cut!"
He laughed heartily: "Oh! I thought you meant me—I took that to myself! Of course that explains it." Then we further discussed the Stedman portraits. Thoreau's pictures there among "very few." W. then went on: "I have a picture somewhere about here—somewhere among my stuff—a German picture, of a sailor—which I think the finest bit of work of the kind I have ever seen—a gem indeed. In such directions I am sure the French and Germans are at the top. I used to think the French altogether so, would swear to it—but now I think is the German. The picture I speak of, for line and effect, complexity, marvellous certainty and power, is the finest I have ever seen." Then after a slight thoughtful pause: "Though after all it may not be the wise thing to say any nation of any class is at the top—only that individuals are farthest forward, that it is purely an individual matter. I want to see this German picture again and have you get it: you could take it for your father, who would surely be interested. You have seen the picture again and have you get it: you could take it for your father, who would surely be interested. You have seen the picture of Scott downstairs? It is a German production—it was brought me here by Johnston's daughter—my New York friend, you know: a sweet, dear girl, whom I love much, who loves me too I think—Kitty her name." Had she brought it from Germany herself? "Yes, indeed—there are several sisters of them, they were over there together. Only a year or two or more ago, the brother, Johnston's son (have you met him? No?) went over and brought them home. That picture below is a reminiscence of the visit—the girl, Kitty, was very cute—she knew I had a soft spot for Sir Walter, so she quite patly brought me that head. And fine the head is, too! It is one of the best specimens of German art work!" Thence discussion of tariff on art—its disgraceful narrowness when compared with generosity of French schools toward American students. W. was vehement. "Ah! All you say on that point, Horace, is true—every word of it—every word, however severe. The only thing one might say in comment would be this—that it is consistent.

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My standpoint is so utterly foreign, I would wipe out not only this but all tariffs,—all bars whatsoever to freedom—everything, the last stone, or wave of any sea, that would serve as bar, impediment, to intercourse, concord of people. And this tariff an act not repealed yet? I suppose not! This is one of the precious bits of work we have to thank our friend Tom Donaldson for: he was the fellow who pushed it. You know, that is one of Tom's lines of business—to lobby bills through Congress—this he did for others—some bodies, persons, interests, backing him up."
Then a vehement outcry against "men who stand against foreign musicians, foreign ministers, foreign laborers, foreign anything, just because it is foreign." In Philadelphia a case just a propos of Wannemacher's band chosen to discourse the music at Sunday concerts in Fairmount Park the coming summer—protests thereat from members of a native born band, that though the band chosen is local in one sense, it is still made up of foreign born members etc. Encourage American labor, the cry. W., between laughing at the absurdity of this, and denouncing its bigotry, seemed not at all to lose power by his recumbent position there in bed. In fact stayed on bed all through time of my stay.

     As to the missing pictures: "I did not look for them to-day;—we did not have our search—but I expect to have it to-morrow. I suppose, after we have given up the search, had the book printed, bound, all that, they will turn up. That will about follow the usual order." His anxiety in regard to the great missing steamer is manifest. Asked me: "What is the latest in regard to it? have you heard anything? anything at all? There is a dreadful maybe about the story—a mystery, an air of dark probability—which I cannot shake off." But when I expressed faith that the great mass of people had somehow been rescued, he said with a fervent deep voice: "I hope it is as you say—I hope it will be found all right, safe, in the end." Had hoped before this the mystery would be cleared. W.

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mentioned William Swinton, and asked: "Do you know him?" Adding after my negative response— "He is a good friend of mine, of Leaves of Grass. Swinton has often said to me that one of the most impressive passages in the book—in Leaves of Grass—is the ten or twelve lines in which I describe the loss of the Artic: the sonnet, it may be called—and it is hardly a description. I don't quite agree with him—at least, it never impressed me as containing as much as he sees in it. So much in such impressions depends upon, hangs upon, a man's mood—the hour in which he reads it—color, tone, odor, of that hour." We discussed thereupon the part suggestiveness plays in art and literature anyway. W. agreeing to the immensity of its power. Realf's "Indirection" quoted but W. did not remember having at any time read it. Asked me: "Have you ever read much of Harte—Bret Harte? There is a pretty little poem he writes—calls it 'Mignonette,' I think—it is a poemet. In this he describes what odors,—odors of poor, faded, crushed flowers—suggested to him, rather to her"—and perhaps it was by this same power—the mind thrown back upon its memories— "a suggestion, a hint, a line,"—that effect was often produced.

     We mentioned Tennyson. W. quoted a sentiment—then said: "I see by the papers indication that Tennyson is at work again, will probably soon have another volume ready. I suppose Tennyson is like Whittier—will work on and on, finally die in harness." I spoke of some of Tennyson's later poems "The Revery," "The Defense of Lucknow"—enthusiastically—said they were "strong" and W. agreed thereto. He then inquired: "Did you read 'Queen Mary'? I think that quite a work—at least, that was my impression at the time." Added: "And I see, too, that Swinburne is publishing again—there was something from him—some poem—in yesterday's Press." He said his capacity for work was about gone. He could do nothing at all any more but "by making a deadly effort." Adding: "Have you read Dombey and Son? Do you remember the fellow there who was always making an effort? It is hard for

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me to do anything even when I do make an effort.
He referred laughingly to Bucke's debate with Charlotte Clifford—and as to Doctor's extreme non-reception of Dickens—"I do not tally with him in that, Oh! I think Dombey and Son a fine, almost a great, book!" Ed here entered. W. asked: "Well, did you find anything?" "One letter, sir." "Let me have it here." Ed asked if W. wished a light? And after considerable hesitation, W. said, "Yes, let us have it!" But W. did not get up. As soon as the light was on he did however examine postmark of letter with a child's eagerness.

     I referred to item in The Critic that Linton was about to publish volumes of poems. W. said of him warmly: "He is a man of unusual power—of unusual weight—a man of power, weight, even to us—indeed, would be our man: a thoroughly full, workmanlike man, too—and sturdy: sturdy from the toes up. Who is to publish him? in England?" Truly, in England. W. afterwards added: "My quarrel with Linton would be that he is too much of a Socialist, Anarchist, what not—you know I have no soft spot for the Anarchists, the Socialists. Somehow, they seem to take me in (as I do them, of course)—think I am one of them: but it appears to me, that is where they get fooled: because I have divergent views altogether—in fact think our point of view entirely different." He spoke of his faith as "finally resting on the social unit—the unit of a home—say of one, 2 or 3 thousand a year—three thousand at highest—always within that, that as the individual. With it, individual liberty—not land, or anything whatever, in common—but homestead, fee simple, moderate possession, assured every man. That is where the politics of the time is all wrong—the stake of the manufacturer, millionaire, aristocrat, corporation on one hand, their men on the other." He looked forward to vastly other relations between each than existed now. W. has but vague notions of what the Socialistic parties aim for—his discrimination not therefore keen. He said in one breath, "Why do they make such a noise? The world anyhow is about

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as good as it can be"
—then turns about and denounces its sins. I explained to him Anarchism as philosophically considered. His idea of it dim indeed. Asked me then: "Is that then an authoritative explanation?" Then added that he at any rate "felt that what is called individualism deservedly carries the day." As to prohibition— "take whiskey from a man as he is constituted now, and he will take absinthe, hasheesh."


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