Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, April 18, 1890

     5 P.M. W. in his room. Looked rather pale, and on my remarking it, said: "It is true, I guess: I am not feeling well: these are not good days for me—bad days, in fact. Yet I have just eaten quite a good dinner—half a dozen raw oysters—and fine they were, too! What finer than a good oyster! But I am not well—am weak—do not sleep well,—gain no strength."

     He afterward said: "I had a long letter today from Australia—a literary letter in part, personal, too—affectionate—and all that"—from an Irishman, Bernard O'Dowd—Melbourne—a clerk there. A curious letter (dated 3/12/90) starting off— "Dear Walt, my beloved master, my friend, my bard, my prophet and apostle"—. Enthusiasm abounding. W. said: "Take it with you, read it: then let us send it to Dr. Bucke." W. had answered briefly—gave me the letter to post. Said he had also put together several pictures in a big envelope to send but "was staggered to find it needed a dollar and 24 cents postage—have it here still." Left with him a copy of Harper's Weekly.

     Will he write a Lincoln life? It seems a tempting proposition, to which he alludes only briefly. But how can he? "The strength that I have is easily played out." A picture of Rudolf Schmidt just received: placed on the mantel—a large head. W. asking: "Don't you see the Yankee in it? Schmidt is a marked man—intellectual—radical—progressive—advanced. His life these five years has been almost tragic. He was married some five years ago, and after he was married—not long—his wife went insane, and so continues, I think."

     Said he had not noticed Furness' critical judgment the other night in asking [making?] high mention of Grant's book, the Hay-Nicolay Lincoln, and Joe Jefferson's autobiography as "the great books—at least the great biographical books—of the time." "I should say it was ludicrous," W. laughingly replied. "As to Jefferson's book—it is dry, not supremely

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good-natured, not knowing at all in things of the past 50 years—things he should know or pretends to write about pass him by utterly—in much he writes he gives but thumb-nail glimpses, if that—the sun, the elements, the real firmament, beyond his reach, his sight. No great book was ever made of such lack-gifts. It may be I am harsh because I have not looked far enough into the book—yet I am sure this is not the whole story. There was probably some touch or event in Jefferson's book that moved the Doctor—and at once his adherence was assured. Of the Century books—the war pieces—of Grant's—all those special articles, what-not,—the mania of this decade, I feel—their importance lies in the documentary evidence they collect, preserve: all to be recast by the right man, when his time comes and he assumes the field: but not that any one now, so far, has come with insignia to know, to tell. The historian is not yet born: the voice of these times—the historic voice—[has] not yet spoken."


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