Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, August 17, 1891

     5:20 P.M. W. in very good humor and quite ready to talk. His first remark was, "What is this we read about Whittier? I find in the Record here this morning a paragraph that Whittier was quite sick. Is it so? It is not confirmed in the other papers. I went straight to the Press—looked it over high and low—but did not find a word." He said again, "I am pretty well, and I indulge myself these days—live upon nothing but tomatoes and peaches. I haven't fully tested the prunes yet—tell Anne—but I guess I'll do so time and again, after this peach and tomato season is over." I picked up a letter from the floor—noticed it was from Heyde—who had addressed it "Walt Whitman, Poet-Philosopher, Humanitarian." W. remarked, "Yes, humanitarian—the damned scoundrel!"

     W. said, "No letter from Dr. Bucke, but one from the other doctor—from Johnston," which he gave me. "It contains some curious things about 'our church.' I wonder at such a name!" Thereupon exhibited him my Johnston letter of 8th. W. said, "Good! the leaves are there!" And as to Wallace's coming, "It is for him to decide—his is the judgment, and there are enough points between heaven and earth we may not dream of—and these will finally sway him, this way or that." W. also read Wallace's letter with zeal. "The fellow always warms my heart. Will he come? Well, whether or not, it is all one—it must be for best." Yet I am sure he would like to see the good disciple. "It is interesting, how the sentiment came, grew—then Johnston's visit, the love, Doctor's trip to England—now Wallace."

     Mrs. O'Connor writes me (date 15th Saturday), at one point referring to Lippincott's piece thus: Thanks to you, Mr. Traubel for the papers with reports of Dr. Bucke's reception etc. Also for the Lippincott,—as I read it, I sighed, I could weep, to think of the more brilliant talks at the dinner anniversaries

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we used to give Walt, when he, & William O'Connor were at their best, & Eldridge present, & sometimes Ashton, & little Jeannie O'Connor, the quaint little girl who sits for the portrait of Lilian in the "Carpenter,"—we had royal times, & always Christmas & Thanksgiving & all holidays we had Walt with us till the break came. Such talk, such wit, such wide-world topics, nothing was debarred, & we often sat till into the morning. But no record was kept, & they live only in the memories of those of us who remain. I have often thought since you were here of what you said, that you never saw Walt in his perfect health. I saw him for so long that way, that I still think of him as he was then.


This I quoted to W. (had not letter with me) and he said, "No, I think that a mistake. This dinner was as good as any—free, spontaneous—many good things said. Then besides, the whole thing would have been impossible in Washington, those days. We had not the years, events, recognitions, back of us. We are in a changed time. Yes, William was a choice debater. I used to think it a great right to see him take up some fellow who was very certain of something or other and expose him, humiliate him, explain how little after all was known, or the certain man knew, on the subject. Indeed, there was our difference, besides my admiration—though no serious difference either. I often thought William carried his opposition too far—drove with too deadly a determination—told him so. He would take a poor devil—shake him like a cat a rat. But often he would go on when there was no necessity—when in fact he should have stopped. Yes, we had our talks then—brilliant, too—but this Lippincott's condensation brings a heap of good thinking, plain speech, together. Its very unpreparedness gives it a greatest charm—the best touch of all. Burroughs was different from William—always quiet, serene, slow-paced. And Burroughs had caprice. I suppose you would wonder to hear me say that, yet it is true. He would talk fancies, dislikes—then nothing could move him—nothing. William was ardent, impulsive—yet no man spoke out of a greater knowledge. He was a man to clinch—to drive the nail clean through—turn it down an inch the other side. I suppose there's a word for that. I do not know it, yet I

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suppose I ought to know it. He and Ingersoll are greatly alike, yet different, too. William was choked with a various knowledge—always spoke out of that. Ingersoll lays himself open to attack more often. I mean by that, the Colonel is sometimes whimsy, spontaneous, a lightning flash—poetic—a strange mixture—inspirational—great gift of insight. William was even—his passion, fire, always lasted. As the Irish coachman said, hearing complaints during the trip that he was slow, 'I'm giving him wind, so he may go in in style!'—the last half hour being to him the important stretch. William always came in with great splendor. If he could have been here, how he would have enjoyed our dinner!"
Burroughs has said to me, "Walt remains what he was—talks just as well as in old times." W. interrupting me, "There is a feeling with me that the Bolton fellows, Burroughs, some others, go too far—see in me things which no glass will reflect." As to whether Lippincott's would print the "Good Gray Poet" sequel, W. says, "It must be a great piece. When William gets started, he's for a great way—goes on and on, almost with increasing power. Yes, he's the Irish canter. As for the dinners—none could have been better than the last—its spontaneity, spirit. We now have a history back of us—that alone would set the new apart from the old." Had "whole bundles" of O'Connor's letters. Would give them to me. "Someday you'll want to make use of them—extract from them." And, "Sometimes I wonder and wonder what will come of the wonderful letters, for I can hardly feel they can be buried."

     Mrs. O'Connor sends me a letter to mail to Bucke. Will he get it before sailing? W. thought not. After leaving W. I got another from her. Mailed two together, addressing to steamship.


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