Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, July 21, 1891

     7:20 P.M. W. reading papers. Had spent a better day. But "not much built up, anyway: the weather is against us." Our talk, however, very active. "First of all take the Washington paper. I have laid it out on the bed for you there. It deserves your notice. And you will like to read it. It is altogether the best piece of work I have known George to do. And deft, too. The way he puts in his dig, yet shows his respect for the Colonel, is artistic, if no more. O yes! He seems intensely admiring—is devoted to the Colonel—yet sets out now to give him a drubbing. I object to being classed as a Baconian myself. He seems to set me up that

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way—but for the rest, well, it is a good touch. I confess I never had any faith that George could do as good a piece of work. It is the kind of thing which the Colonel himself would enjoy."

     Read Wallace's letter to me (of 10th). "It is written in the same mood in which he dipped mine—enthusiastic, full-hearted. Wallace seems disposed to worship 'Leaves of Grass'—to see it as the summing-up"—but said it kindly. Told him I had left photos with printer. Satisfied. "We will come out all right with them in the end." Then, "I can see Wallace's enthusiasm, its basis—can see what you suggested, that the dialogue breathes a Socratic spirit—takes a fellow back to Plato, Alcibiades."

     Mrs. O'Connor had shown me the second draft (never finished) of "The Brazen Android." W. said, "I should have a curiosity to compare, had I as much strength as I have time." And, "How William would storm and cry out if I made a change in 'Leaves of Grass'—a comma, even. He was worst of all. And Bucke next, easily next—though not quite as bad. And even Mrs. Gilchrist, who, if she ever showed passion at all, came nearest it in the matter of revisions." I put in, "Bucke tells me of a Long Island accident, by which he saved 'Leaves of Grass.'" W. laughed, "How?" "Why, you had started to cut it up and out and he protested." W. smiled again, "Oh! I remember the event you hint of in that. But Bucke probably did not tell you the whole of that story—did not, it is like, know it. I have always been like Emerson, to wish to see how things look from all sides. What I did then was no finale, but a trial—the point being, to try with this, without this, without that, with that—so on, every way. Bucke probably does not know that long long ago, before the 'Leaves' had ever been to the printer, I had them in half a dozen forms—larger, smaller, recast, outcast, taken apart, put together—viewing them from every point I knew—even at the last not putting them together and out with any idea that they must eternally remain unchanged. Bucke mistakes the danger: there was no danger. I have always been disposed to hear the worst that could be said against the poems—even the

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most rasping things—everything, in fact which would serve to give me an honest new point of observation. That was a necessary part of my career."

     Mrs. O'Connor tells me of W.'s imperturbability under fire: "Everything rolled off him." Even the day of the discharge "he came around—cool, undisturbed—William too stunned himself to vent the fire he afterwards felt." W. declared, "William was what I said in my little piece, a shield for the oppressed—a knight of chivalric ages, flying to the defense of the injured and maimed. It was always his forte—that seemed what he was made for. The clerks in Washington stood up for him, he first for them—all loved him. He was first of all literatus—yet a literatus of the highest type—not the New York ilk. They could not touch him." Further, "George Bacon's acceptance of the Baconian theory is very hot—he seems to take it in emotionally. William was different—his poise admirable. Such knowingness, such fidelity! He saw the problem intellectually."

     W. much relieved to find by Wallace's letter that the bundle of photos sent had safely arrived. "Few people realize the many-sidedness of 'Leaves of Grass'—understand how varied the life it reflects, expresses. Yet an understanding of that is of the first necessity." He tells me, "There is somebody in Washington I had it in mind to have you go see—but your stay was so short, I did not mean to break into it. That was Crosby Noyes—previous owner of the Star—an old man now, retired—has a considerable block of money—lives with children (having several there)—always a true friend of mine. I hope when you next go, you'll hunt him up." W. said as to the Rice manuscript, "It is rascally—it ought to be demanded at once—it belongs no more to her than to any other accidental person. You should see that Nellie gets it, Horace." Then, "So it was from reference to 'Leaves of Grass' that it was condemned? How like O'Connor, to say his say—to let the rest take care of itself! A knight armored with nothing but the sense of justice! Modern life—certainly literature nowhere—gives his equal in that! Such courage, such

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justice, such mentality rarely comes together in one person! Noble William—child of best generations—picked from all—the flower of the modern!"

     The Eakins fellows not yet over to take [photos of] tomb.


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