Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, February 3, 1891

     7:55 P.M. To W.'s—found Harned there: the conversation active and positive. To Tom's questions W. said, "No, I have not been out in four weeks or more. What is worse, I don't feel moved to. There's some damned thing working in me, preparing"—laughing— "some tumor, cancer, something of that sort. Oh! there's no doubt about it!" No further word from Bucke. W. said, "I am anxious—exceedingly: I can't shake off

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the fear."
But, "There was word from Kennedy, too: he sends back the proof," reaching forwards, taking up and pitching a package of letters. In a big square envelope was the proof, much changed. On the envelope he had written: "This is the proof of the Dutch piece from Kennedy. Give it to some good careful compositor or corrector in the office, to be fully and minutely accomplished. Let me then have a 2d revise proof (with this proof same time). WW." Kennedy's note (quite long) accompanied.

     Had with me copy of "Leaves of Grass" belonging to Law in which W. put his name and the date. Also wrote noble autograph, with place and date, in middle of a letter sheet of paper—for me to send to Aldrich. Stedman had asked it. W. said, "I am willing to do anything of that sort which Stedman or Aldrich wants." In the process he suddenly exclaimed, "Yes, Tom—this whole crowd, of which Stedman is the pick and treasure, is bitter—bitter with New Yorkism: not one of them seems spared, not one. All the tendency seems to be to a surrender. And you show signs of it yourself, Tom. Yes, you do." Tom seemed a bit startled. "What is it?" he asked, mystified somewhat. W. replied, "Why the sense of the presence of materials, riches, ten thousand a year—all that; the feeling as though this was the necessary accompaniment of art, literature. Oh! it is there—there—in politics, art, society, religion—all are dominated by it. Yes, I would be even more extreme—say that it even touched Emerson at points—that Emersonism inevitably leads it. Yet I regard it hopefully, too, look upon it as a step in the process. The American literary fellow—the American himself—is too smart, cute, sensible, to be totally entrapped. Someday he will shake the whole burden off. But as things are now, none of them possess or even respect the simple, elemental, first-hand, Homeric qualities which lie secure at the base of all real work—of all genuine expression. Of course I do not undervalue the canny qualities, either: the disposition to keep some background

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in goods, money: it has its place—but no first place—no superior place."

     Tom told some story of how Scovel had come to him Sunday for Whitman "bits" for a "pretty" piece he was to write for Lippincott's! W. laughed and said, "Jim don't know how thoroughly we have headed him off, but he will wake up before long. I shouldn't wonder but the magazines were all now printed—the whole business." Tom described how Jim invited himself to supper to Mrs. Harned's great indignation—and even so much as drank several bottles of champagne. It amused W. very much: "That is about the Scovelliest thing I know—thoroughly characteristic," etc. W. is writing several autobiographic pieces now; he calls them only "gossip—poor gossip," etc. Had forgotten Stoddart note today—would, however, make a "memo" for me tomorrow, if not a note direct. Several times referred to Bucke, always in terms almost melancholy.

     Stedman advised me to take up life-saving service reports—O'Connor's—and edit a descriptive volume from them. Said O'Connor had lavished much of his power in that work. I asked W. if I had not better write Mrs. O'Connor about it? He asserted, "Yes, do it. I suppose I have all the reports here, if I could put my hands on them, but to put my hands on them: that's the thing!"

     Had he sent Truth Seeker book away? He jokingly asked me, "How do you spell that name—that town? Why the hell don't these fellows write it as if it was intended somebody should read it?" Tom asked W. if the literary center was not shifting from Boston to New York? W. thought, "That is very much as if you would ask if a cloud had not shifted from one place to the other."


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