Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, July 1, 1889

     7.50 P.M. It has been a rainy close day, keeping W. well indoors. Sat in the parlor reading letters that had come in evening mail. Asked me: "And what of the day? What is the news?" And when I echoed his question, "Oh! I guess I am better—not much, but probably easier—at least this evening!" Today brought Unity, in which was the O'Connor article. I gave W. a dozen copies. "I am very glad to get 'em!" he exclaimed. "And by the way," he went on, "do you see Liberty? Did you get a copy today? There was a paragraph in it about O'Connor: Was it yours? Was it from you?" The paragraph to which he alluded was as follows: William Douglas O'Connor, the author of the "Good Gray Poet," whom Liberty counted with pride among its warmest friends, is dead. The world of letters loses in him one of its grandest

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and most unique personalities. Mr. O'Connor was a student, a scholar, a passionate lover of art, and took no part in practical affairs. But the few short productions of his pen will yet be recognized as the ornament and glory of English polemical literature. Some day the conspiracy of the "paltry and venomous swarm" of literary hypocrites and prudes, poisoners and blackguards, will be put down by public intelligence, and then Mr. O'Connor's defense of Walt Whitman will be ranked higher than the "Provincial Letters."


W. said of it, "Anyhow, I thought it was yours, it had something of your ring in it. It is rather lofty, rather high, certainly strong. But I don't know—often I think whether after all, by and by given its due, O'Connor's name will not go down resonant in the centuries. I may be mistaken, that may be putting it too strong, but somehow I am led to make it a positive belief." And as to the complaint made against my piece that it was too strong, "Well, why should we not be strong in discussing a strong man? And especially with us—knowing him so well—how could strong words be avoided?" And then he asked, "Shall I send a paper to Mrs. O'Connor? I hear nothing at all from her, not a word—have not since that first letter after O'Connor's death—nor do I write to her, for that matter, but I send papers almost daily." He had not heard till I told him now of Tucker's severe sickness. "I read that first page—'On Picket Duty'—and I am usually sure it is Tucker's own, and of course incisive."

     By and by I told him I had "a letter from John," had just received it at the Post Office. Read to him, he all absorption.


West Park N. Y.
June 29—89

My dear Horace:

Was glad to hear from you & get a further word about the birthday dinner, etc. You say nothing specific about Walt; I hope he keeps well, I am always anxious about him when the hot

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weather comes on. Do make an effort to get him away to the shore, or the mountains. Of course he will resist, but he ought to know that the mere change would give him a lift & prolong his days. Let me know if something can not be done.


I wish I could suggest some likely names for your list of fond subscribers. I would like to add my own, but do not feel able this year. I should write to Childs & Carnegie & other rich & benevolent men—

If you learn anything definite about the death of O'Connor let me hear it. Tell me also if you think Walts changes good to pull through the summer.

I am very busy in my vineyards, but hope to find time to get off a week or so in July

If Walt could come here & occupy part of my old house with me, he could be as much at his ease as at home: he could bring Mrs. Davis & his nurse & we could have a jolly time. See if he takes to the idea at all—

Sincerely yours

John Burroughs

(You could come too)

      "Ah!" he exclaimed, "That would be to take the whole shanty! But then, the shanty isn't big altogether!" Then talked of "John's place on the Hudson," its "rare beauty" etc., and remarked, "He says nothing at all in that about the book—the pocket edition I sent him—nor has he written yet to me. I wonder if it reached him all right? I sent it off the same day with Gilder's, and Gilder I have not heard from. I do not suppose it went astray, but I am never sure till I have had word of mouth, word of letter." Adding, "But when you write—you'll probably write within a few days—ask him about it." After a while when I came to go, and had kissed him good bye, I asked, "and what of John? What shall I tell him? Shall I say you'll come?" He laughed, "No—don't tell him that; but tell him we take his invitation at its true intent, not charily, not meanly, but as he knows we know how to take it! Tell him

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we are still about as we were, weathering it out—not consciously retreating—getting off to the river daily, there to sit perhaps for hours, reading some, writing some little, not spurning life but holding fast to it still."
And as to John's health: "I hope it is better—indeed, I believe it must be. That is one of the things we never cease hoping for!" Referred to the German paper. "I like it very much, it is a little disconnected, but strong, evidently given out by a man who knows us. And the best of it is," here he laughed good-humoredly, "it helps the good cause along, and that of itself is a great deal." He thought the last paragraph might be used in the book.

     I quoted to him a remark made to Mrs. Burleigh, by Prof. Giddings, of Bryn Mawr College, that Donnelly was a lunatic and ought to be incarcerated. W. remarked, "It is the old, old story: woe be to the man who believes in any doxy that is not mine—does not wear my stamp!" Then referred to Delia Bacon: "The sweetest, eloquentest, grandest woman, I think, that America has so far produced—a woman rare among women, rare among the rare. Romanesque,—beautiful, not after the ideals of the fashion plates, but after Greek ideals. A nature sweet, noble, sure, attracting when encountered in the right way. No, I never met her, but somehow I feel that I have known her, nevertheless, known her better, perhaps, than if meeting her—coming upon her, as it is understood—that breaker of charms too often—personally. Grasping her by the knowledge of her life, by obicular, oracular, evidences. The very best, after all, as we often find." He dwelt upon her "beauty," and that "of all women in America so far she stands alone, in advance. Greater than Margaret Fuller—a larger type. I know of no such woman today. We have plenty of the intellectual, philanthropic, Christian Union, Woman's Christian Association sort of women, women of a weak, thin womanliness, but none to vie with her—none at all. Not that I have the least word to say against our women, except as

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showing wherein they must change in the future of America."
"It was not surprising Emerson helped Delia Bacon. She was eminently attractive to serious-minded persons, always. See how even Hawthorne sends out one of her books with a note bearing his name, Hawthorne, so chary of lending name or countenance to anything that savored of pretense. And she was poor, of course, very unworldly, just in all ways such a woman as was calculated to bring the whole literary pack down on her, the orthodox, cruel, stately, dainty, over-fed literary pack—worshiping tradition, unconscious of this day's honest sunlight!"

     As to O'Connor's "the brilliant knave, Macaulay" W. said: "O'Connor was very violently set against Macaulay because of his vilification, as William thought calumny of his idols—of Bacon, for one—then of others. Macaulay was a brilliant sort of a man—a Moncure Conway-ish man, if one may so say it—though that would not exactly place him. Conway is by far not so bright or big, though unveracious enough, to be sure. Oh! the veracious man! how rare a creature he is! That is where Emerson is the top of the heap, never a lapse in him from his integrity, never an effort to be bright at the expense of truth. Always the same serene, lovely spirit, moving about smoothing away cares and worries!" And he thought further that "John Stuart Mill must be such another man; a man who could be himself, who could never be made to go with the pack!" I said there were errors in O'Connor's book which I had no doubt would not have escaped his eye had he examined the proofs. W. assented, "That is true, I am sure. He was an extraordinary keen man, on scent for errors—would spare no pains—would roar and storm like a man bull if crossed in his work—even if having vital changes—necessary changes—suggested to him. I never knew a man more vigilant."

     As to our book, "I should say, leaded bourgeois would best do the business. The matter will all go in surely. It is wonderful how much of one's manuscript a few compact pages of

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type will chaw up—consume—do away with: sometimes it is a terrible astonishment and ordeal for a poor writer to go through."
We had found that out in our early days with November Boughs, the rapid disposal of copy of which "scared" him. Said the ink I brought him the other day was "just the thing—the very thing I wanted, at last."


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