Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 123] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Saturday, November 9, 1889

     7.55 P.M. W. had a book in his hands as I came in (bedroom, as usual)—laying it down and remarking: "I am at Fields' book again, you see." I said: "I thought you were done with it?" And he then: "Well—I pick it up again and again. I have been reading about Hawthorne tonight. What a devil of a Copperhead he was! I always more or less despise the Copperheads, irrespective of who they are, their fame—what-not: but aside from that, all my tendencies about Hawthorne are towards him—even affectionate, I may say—for his work, what he represented. I never saw him—no. My impression of Julian as I met him here at the dinner was a good one—very good." Had never read Lathrop's "Study of Hawthorne"—though "might like to." I quoted a paragraph about Williamson's Hawthorne

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 124] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
collection from the "Lounger" in The Critic this week. "That's the way the fellows do—get their kink—work it. I know a lawyer in New York, MacKee is his name—who is after relics of John Howard Payne—has been collecting and collecting for about 30 years. So, you see, one man has this, one the other, notion—person—to attend to—attends to it—and the matter is done." "I have enjoyed the book immensely—have repeatedly gone back to it. I like the way in which Fields put it together—the letters, for instance—put in there entire—just as I would have desired." And when I spoke of Fields' modesty: "Yes, that too. There's no doubt Fields is one of the scarce good and true men—Emerson, Frank Sanborn, Jim Fields—these, anyway—and others I cannot remember now—a sterling and modest man."

     Had he had new thoughts of the Sanborn letter today? "No new thoughts—but some thoughts. I wrote of it in my letter to Doctor—that you had such a letter—that it was not to be publicated, at least now—that you would undoubtedly talk with him about it some of these days."

     Apropos of Williamson's Hawthorne collection I said: "He would much like some Whitman manuscript—wrote me once that he would pay a good price for it." W. thereupon: "Well—why should we not give him a bundle—a good bundle,—without pay? I would be willing—in fact, would be anxious—to give it him—give it anybody who had staked on us—stood up for us especially when putting up the actual cash, as he has done."

     I received today a letter from Mrs. O'Connor. I read it to W.


South Weymouth, Mass.
Nov. 8, 1889.
Care Mrs. E. T. Joy.

My dear Mr. Traubel,

Your kind letter of a month ago, Oct. 6, came duly, & I have only waited to answer it till I should know what to say in regard to

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 125] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
the stopping to see Walt on my return. I was on the point of asking you if on the whole it would be more a pain or a pleasure to him in case I could arrange it, when yours came. Of course it involved my staying over night some where, as I could not return from Camden & get back so as to reach Washington before night, & I could not return to the lonely & shut up house alone at night. The staying over involved a Hotel bill unless I could stay with a friend, & I think now that I have been able to arrange it. It is humiliating to have to confess that the question of a few dollars could stand between one & a dear friend. I think sometimes that it IS a disgrace & crime to be poor! I am very sure that William never foresaw where his lavish generosity would land me, & in his last years, after he was himself disabled he could hardly refuse any one in need. I also feel sure that he also felt that my home would be with my dear sister Mrs. Channing, now of Cal. where William spent some six months; but they are now in such pecuniary trouble that I could not add to their burdens.


As I said, however, I think I have arranged it. My plan is to leave here on Monday next, the 11th & go by Fall River, & stop over in Phila with a friend.

From there I will send you a line;—or is it not necessary;—to say when I will go Camden. I wish you would send me a line as soon as you get this, & tell me what cars to take, & how to reach Walt's house. I am wholly deficient in locality, & always go the wrong way unless I have plain directions. My dear Jeannie used to say that when I should be an old lady she should never let me go out alone.

I don't know who will be my guardian now!

I have not been very well, my head, which seems to be the great trouble, giving out at all times, in the most unexpected fashion. I have lingered long, & must own that some cowardice has mingled in my feeling; the dread of returning to that lonely house, that has been shut up since I left. I have not heard from Mr. Kimball, he was to send if he had any good news in the way of getting a position for me.

Give my dear love to Walt, & be sure that I am ever truly and cordially yours—

Ellen M. O'Connor



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 126] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     W.: "Then I am to see her probably in a very few days! Good! Yes—I think it may have—is likely to have—the good effect both ways—to her, to me." I wrote to her at once this evening instructing her how to get to W.'s.

     W. said: "The worst piece of news in the papers today to get over is the defeat of the Tilden will.

      [Samuel Jones Tilden, a distinguished American statesman, died in New York in 1886. The bulk of his fortune, which consisted of several million dollars, was bequeathed to trustees to be used for establishing a great public library in New York City, but his will was contested successfully. An heir relinquished her share of the estate and this was the nucleus of the Tilden Foundation of the New York Public Library.]

      "It comes of the damned pettifogging of lawyers. What we need is something of the definiteness of Baconian principles. It was Bacon who, as the story goes, sitting in a contested case, cried out"—W.'s whole manner vigorous—head thrown back—finger raised admonitorially—voice strong— "cried out to the big wigs, who were fighting like fury over unimportant technicalities, statutes—'Gentlemen, Gentlemen: we are not here, that this statute or that statute should be proven true, but that justice may be done!' Our lawyers never seem to think that—do not seek the manifest integrity of a case, but the trifling lapses—the weak points—the little indefinitenesses here and there that are bound to occur, whatever the caution: for no more is a law perfect than lawyers—than any being, fact, that ever existed: Socrates, Aristides—the best land, nation, age, person, theory—nothing but what ever legitimately has weak and failing purposes—much more failing purposes if pecked at—turned over—inspected for such! The great lawyer is the sun—shining to illuminate, not to distract. I sometimes think that this is the dark and damned spot of our national character: pettiness, prettiness, quibbling, finery. We have everything—we are big, heroic, grand, smart—

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 127] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
oh! as for smartness, damned smart! too damned smart: but after our heroism, this. And what will come of it? that is the question.
I called it "Agnes-Repplierism," and he: "Yes! a good word! It often occurs to me, escaping all other dangers, will not this finally engulf us? We seem afraid of the natural forces. John Burroughs puts it well, says, if the American is only dry, he is not content to take a drink of pure cold water, but must put sugar into it, or a flavor. To me, these things—the things of which these are the type—are the prominent dangers in the future of our America. The Greek character was not without them—without smartness, for one thing but then the Greeks had something more—something beyond that—which was its master, a sublime surpassing idealism—its saving quality—possessing the whole race— giving it its immortality." He discussed this in the most earnest way. "Even in the French," he continued, "with its finesse, dress, ribbons, delicacy, persiflage, is, at the spine, strong, pure, whole-serious: indeed, I do not know but it can be said of all the European nations, that they possess this final reserve force, fund, on which to draw. Our America has her many serious problems." And he said again: "If anything were wanting to make Bacon's immortality sure, I think his definiteness, rare justice, would be that straw. Our big-wigs seem never to wake up to the truth that the law should render justice—justice always—justice alone. What case under heaven but in the hands of a cute lawyer may not evidence white black and black white. But that is not justice—not America—cannot secure our future. The damnedest, pettiest technicality outweighs the most palpable facts. In this case, there's not a man in America who does not know what Tilden wished done with his money—not one: yet here are the big-wigs—the medieval quibblers—who do their utmost to confuse the issue—defeat the noble purpose—out of the lowest instincts of their craft. I could not tell from the papers this morning if this ends the matter, but it is lamentable for us all." And once more: "After

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 128] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
America's grandeur, promise, breadth—then this drop of poison."

     I asked him if he had yet prepared me the religious statement for my New England Magazine paper. "No—but I will: I will put together a budget of opinions: then you can quote what you elect from 'em! In the meantime whack away—scrawl notes on all the odd bits of paper you come across—they'll all find a place when the time for construction arrives."

     Alluding to the "Tilden pettifoggers" again: "They are like our romancers—you remember what I said the other night about Bret Harte—men of that stamp: how they take up a single phase of our life—lay such stress on it that it would be supposed all was concentrated there—there was no other life—when in reality this is but a drop in the sea."


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.