Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 233] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Wednesday, January 8, 1890

     7.20 P.M. W. reading—in his room. Growing much colder this evening. Had been out today, in South Camden, but only

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 234] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
briefly. He admits: "Out-of-doors is my savior this winter." Sets it off contrastingly against the entire confinement last winter. I met Donaldson—big, stalwart, ruddy—on the steps of the Custom House today. He commented on W.'s condition—his selection of the cemetery lot—calm disposal of affairs for the end.

     Left with him Harper's Weekly containing Winter's article "Shakespeare in New York"—and joked with W. about his "friend the enemy," as the journalists put it. He would only say in his laughter: "Never mind—we must welcome Winter and a thousand others. Besides, it is well, as I say, to read it, to be satisfied that you know what you talked about when you predicted it was empty." And turning the pages of the Weekly— "This is my despair—all this sumptuousness, elegance. I remember in Washington, when I was in the Treasury Department—and some great dinner was preparing at the White House—some powwow of the chiefs—there was a fellow would come for me—take me up there. I was greatly impressed—thought to myself—it's a vast muchness to have seen all this, if without a bite, or even an assurance there's anything to eat—the decorations, plate, everything, elaborate past imagination." He had never been himself a partaker of these dinners— "they were for the big guns exclusively. And these papers, magazines—Harper's, the Century—impress me, though there be no fruit in them all—no meat, no nothing to satisfy an appetite. Certainly the world of our time achieves richness, magnificence, if no more."

     There was a picture of Boker in Harper's. I asked how it struck him. "Yes—I knew Boker,—this is reasonably good—you would know it. I met Boker a number of times—dined with him two or three times. He was good company—a man you might want to be with—a good man for neighbor, to stop in to see you once in a while—good brain, good heart, good many things—yet I would not say without irritability, though the irritable side of him I never saw." Clifford had wondered

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 235] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
how much of B.'s life was wasted?—given up to easy living &c. W. insisted: "I should hardly say his life was wasted—his life will bear deeper looking into than that. He was Elizabethan—polished to the core—like the Elizabethans, seeing to it to have a thing handsomely done, a piece of art, irreproachable from that standpoint." Boker had once written some sort of pasquinade— "Yes, I have heard of a volume of that import. Boker had that too in common with the Elizabethans—lugging his personal quarrels into even his poetry, his art. Shakespeare had it—putting his enemies into verse—into a play, what-not. They tell a story of Michael Angelo—that he had an enemy—that he was painting some sort of an apostolic picture and gave to his Judas the face of this man. But that afterward it came forcibly to him, this was not wise, not large—this was a weakness—and that finally he erased the portrait—put in some other face. It has been many years since I learned that—read it—but I have given you its substance. I doubt if the greatest, biggest, fellows ever gave way to such temptation. Boker was a fine sample of the physiological man; a good diner—and yet more than that, too, just as we know that often-times the biggest body is consistent with the biggest other things—soul—spirit. Boker at bottom—the base of him—as was true of Burns, too—was hypochondriac—not that he was altogether that, without higher, other moods."

     He spoke rather curiously on another matter—laughing the while: "I got a letter today from a man in New York named File—the envelope was marked Editorial Rooms New York Sun: he asked for a piece—enclosed me a check for 10 dollars—but what it was all for, Lord only knows—the letter itself gives no sign of a purpose, except the general one that he wants something for print." Hunted the letter up—it had already got badly confused with the rest of things in that corner. Finally, however, he fished it out. "Here it is—judge for yourself—read it." Letter extracted was a short communication from the Tribune from someone who parallels recent

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 236] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
resembling verses from Whittier and Tennyson. File wished from W. 5 or 6 hundred words on the subject. W. asked, "How do you interpret that—is it verse he wants or prose?" It was easily prose, for he suggested to W. "it might be happy to quote in your matter some extract from your own poems." "Ah!" said W. "Then you think that concludes it? I guess it does—I proceeded on that basis." Then—on my asking what he had clipped from the Tribune extract (I noticed it was cut): "There were two verses quoted—one from Tennyson's poem 'Across [Crossing?] the Bar' and the other from Whittier's 'Burning Driftwood'—I thought the last a fine touch." I asked: "So you acted upon the man's proposition at once?" "Yes. Wrote the matter—sent it off forthwith. How it will hit him is another thing. Do you know anything about File? Never heard of him? Neither did I." Then he inquired: "What do you take to be the meaning of the word verse? O'Connor used to insist that one line was a verse; but that is not the general understanding, however generically correct." And he supposed there was no longer any way back to O'Connor's meaning, when the whole world had set upon another.


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.