Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, July 25, 1890

     5:30 P.M. W. in his room. Took him up the two local papers, thrown in hallway by newsman. "The Post seems to be doing some good printing for itself nowadays." Was reading Kennedy's piece in Conservator again as I entered. Asked me about city life—curious for incidents. I told him of a man with torn foot, thrown under a wagon. When I saw him, bleeding, reclining, waiting for patrol wagon, which had been signalled for. W. questioned me—the wound, how the man seemed to take it—was he pale? did he tremble? conscious? and all that, and "the curious, inquiring, yet hurrying crowd" took him "back into war times, to hospital scenes."

     Returned me Harper's Weekly, which he had laid out on the bed. I left Bazar with him. "We ought to know what is being done, even when we find it not done our way."

     While we sat talking the bell rang and shortly Warren came in, handing W. a letter and paper left by the mail-man. W. laid the paper aside and opened the letter. He had put on his glasses. I noticed the change in his color. Noticed, too, the familiar hand (his brother-in-law, Heyde's) as he held the letter up. As if oblivious to my presence, W. suddenly shook the letter fiercely with clenched right hand, exclaiming passionately, "Goddamn your soul to hell! Damn you! Damn you!" looking at the letter for a long space—breaking forth again: "Yes! damn you, I say!" Then seeming to wake to my presence, driving at me half a

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dozen vehement questions without stop: "Have you ever had one near you who was a persecution, a perpetual filch, a damned lazy scoundrel—full of pretense, hypocrisy, lies, sneakiness? A hog, a poison, a snake, a dog, a beast? A person who defies honor? A man (can I call him a man?)—a man who never comes with a direct question but always with an innuendo? A man who trades on your anxieties, preys upon your good nature, whose presence is a loitering, whose whole life is hollow to all high and excellent purpose? There's such a one here," clapping the letter passionately. "He writes and writes and writes: begs, begs, begs: does not threaten, but would if he dared: something comes every two or three days, and I send something—always from two to ten dollars—and send willingly, sure enough. God knows it's not the money that vexes, worries, storms me! But that such a dog has a hold upon me. The misfortune of the case is, that he happens to be married to my sister. You know the Mrs. Heyde, at Burlington, Vermont. Do you know what it is to stand in such a relationship?" I knew about Heyde: he is a perpetual worry and pain to W. Often I come to W. at night and he tells me, "Dismal news by letter today," which, when I probe, I find to be another letter from this scoundrel, full of poverty and despair and devilish indirections. W. thinks, "If I send nothing, then what of the sister? Perhaps suffering—what-not." And he sends to her, as I understand him; in sending can sense that this fellow reaps benefit, which W. is helpless to prevent. That was the burden of his talk now. I mentioned Samuel Johnson's brother as an allied case, but W. passionately shook his head. "But that is a brother! I can see how it should be with a brother: a brother has big claims. Claims? God! I think all have their claims! But here is a man, arch in hypocrisy, double-dealing, a scaramouch of the worst sort, nowise related to me, who is a constant spear in my side, who commerces my anxieties, troubles, trials—my brotherly affections—and my sister there, she is not a well woman. And he makes arguments of everything—a man who almost shames me and my gospel of the divinity of evil. I send

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money cheerfuly when I can, but to send it to such purpose! Drink? Yes, I suppose that with other things, but that would be to draw his offense mild, to give only the smallest item!"
And so for some time. I never saw him in such a storm of indignation. He looked at me all the time over his spectacles—the letter in his hand—his voice raised; I having little to say. "No," he shook his head, "I suppose they are very rare, cases like this. Thank God they are rare. Humanity is way way way above all that, even in its average." And suddenly he folded the letter, put in envelope, said to me quietly, as if restored, "But no, Horace: I must not let this work on me. I have not been feeling extra well today anyhow, and this will not better me."

     I turned conversation to the paper (Bazar) he had in his lap. He crossed the line by easy transition and soon was in the friendliest mood of reminiscence. "I want to predict about the Illustrated American—it cannot last at 25 cents a week—25 cents is too much. I think I surround all the arguments for keeping prices up—realize them all—then I say, it is no use, it is a fatal position. There is no use resisting the tendency to cheapen things, to democratize literature. It will be democratized." He laughed with the critic who had said, "Ruskin wrote for the people at a guinea a volume." "That is an exquisite satire. I know nothing better. It reaches the heart of the matter. Why," he added, "I always went in my early days to the 25-cent place in the theatre, and it was my breath of life, what I got there, however cheaply secured. What opportunities were tallied! What gates opened! I suppose you did so—do so—too. Yes, and all you say about that"—I had spoken of abandon, ease— "is true. I, too, used to meet and make new friends in the galleries. Often we would go in parties. We heard the best plays, operas, in that way. My early life especially was full of it. I suppose the average man doesn't object to high prices because he only wants to go to the theatre about twice a year. I suppose that satisfies him, but for the wanderers, for the

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Bohemians we are—many, many times are not too many. The time came when I was on the papers, when I had a pass, by which means I fell literally from my high estate—from gallery to parquet, and it was a fall—I felt it to be such. It was comfortable to have the seat reserved, I admit that, but something was lost—the greatest something. Besides, it was at the top I heard best—got the greatest distance, effect—ensemble most impressive."
I told him stories of my own experience and I evidenced his interest by his questions, which were many.

     Some new man has been doubting W.'s humor. He laughed, "He has good backing, however, for full 50 per cent, even of my friends, have their doubts in the same matter." I told him of people who had asked me if W. ever laughed himself—could appreciate a joke. Had they heard his laugh at this they would have been convinced. "That is very funny. My intimate friends would have their best fun with a man who brought them such a doubt!"

     Gave me several things to take in to Mr. Button next door: an envelope inscribed, "perhaps Mr. Button would care to examine this," or words to that end; copy of Conservator, etc.


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