Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, September 4, 1891

     4:50 P.M. Postal from Bucke saying he would be on today. Likewise one to W. to same effect. When I reached W.'s found him in parlor, his dinner spread on the serving board, Bucke in front of him vociferating his loudest in description of the trip. W. had his hat on—looked, I thought, rather haggard—the meal pushed aside—questions and cross-questions. Bucke

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looked mighty well—had his usual vehemence and fire. They were talking about the Costelloe-Smith estrangement. W. very serious—as Bucke says, "I believe the old man was ready to cry." As Bucke went on, W.'s seriousness increased, till at last W. burst out, "Don't let us talk of that anymore. Tell me more about the visit to Tennyson." The subject thus dismissed and not returned to. Bucke said, as we after sat at home round the table together—Anne and Mrs. O'Connor along, "I could not make the old man understand—the case is quite clear to me, but he would not take it in. I don't believe, either, that he ever will." Bucke adding, "The truth is, there is little change, except in Mrs. Costelloe—perhaps no change. Mrs. Smith and Alys never cared anything for Walt—on the contrary, Mrs. Smith has always disliked him. Smith himself told me this. We had a talk one day—a very free frank talk. I asked no questions but I set things as Smith kept on talking. He told me he could not understand my extreme admiration for Walt Whitman. And then he commenced to question me—to discuss the matter. Yes, I saw easily he did not understand the old man—never had understood him. He seemed to think I was—well, I had a loose joint somewhere. But my shock was with Mrs. Costelloe. Five years ago when I was in London I was received with all the honors of a member of the family—stayed with them, was every way handsomely treated. I knew all this was on Walt's account—that they knew nothing of me except through Walt and because of Walt. Now I went there—was received like a perfect stranger—as if I had been introduced only a day or two before—was not yet on easy terms with the family. I was knocked clean out—clean off my feet. Yet I never let on—took no notice of it—not the least. I went to London expecting to stay with them—had my letters addressed there. But when I found how things were situated I made no demonstration—went off and stayed with Forman." Bucke further describes his talk with Mrs. Costelloe. "She never said a word to me about Walt—never mentioned his name. When I gave her his messages—his love and things like that, she took no notice of it, made no reply—no

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more than if the name had never had any significance to her. She seems to have wiped that matter completely out—all memory, all thought, of it. I debated with myself whether she only seemed to abjure it—whether it was only held in abeyance. But no, I am sure it is all over, all past and gone. Yes, I explained to Walt—told him all—but somehow he don't comprehend it. He appears to have fixed his mind on another explanation or that there is no explanation at all. How do I explain it? Well, I will tell you. By several things. First you must remember what I have just said—that Mrs. Smith and Alys never liked Walt—that Mrs. Smith has a positive dislike. There was that pressure. On top of that again must be put the merely lukewarm feeling of Mr. Smith. He never cared for Walt nearly so much as Walt thought he did. Walt was mistaken. Smith wanted to tote him, to lionize him, to take possession of him—because it was the thing to do. Time passed—he could not do as he wished with the old man—he dropped him. Again, there is Costelloe. He dislikes Walt. He is frank to say he does. Or, to put it more properly, he fears Walt—his influence—the influence of his book. Of course, without understanding him in the least. That is another factor—and a great one. Did you ever notice how Catholics look with holy horror on 'Leaves of Grass'—look on it as a visitor from the pit, or something like."
And Bucke then went into particulars and experiences. Resuming, "Well, just imagine her position. Mrs. Smith on one hand—Costelloe on the other. Mrs. Smith thinking it unsafe for the girls to have anything to do with Walt, with 'Leaves of Grass'—fearing that they would exert an evil influence—perhaps a ruinous influence. Why, there's Logan. He's quite warm for Walt. But Smith, the old man, don't like it—sort of pulls the young fellow up for it. But"—and here Bucke was confidential— "there's another cause with Mrs. Costelloe, greater than any other. I don't know as I ought to say much about it, anything. But it is Mrs. Costelloe's mental condition: she is not responsible—not responsible to her children, to her husband, to her father and his family—has differences with them. Indeed, Costelloe had a long talk with me about it,

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hours of talk. He was very open—told me all about her situation—though he seemed unwilling to face what I told him. It seems to me that alone would almost make it unnecessary to inquire further."
Bucke had dined several times at the Costelloes'—had ridden into the country with Mrs. Costelloe, sat by her side for an hour and a half—she never alluding or noticing any allusion to Walt. "She talked about books—about everything else." Then she went to the Continent and Bucke had lost sight of her. The mental trouble "probably over-pressure—the result of strain through a number of years."

     Bucke went on to W. about Tennyson. "If I had been a cousin, or even more nearly related, I could not have been more handsomely treated than I was. I spent two full hours there. Yet in all that time I was subject to the most considerate attention—first by Hallam, then by Lady Tennyson, with whom I spent half an hour, then by Hallam's wife—a beautiful young woman, who, before I went, fixed me up some tea and crackers, English style—then by Tennyson himself. After having my talk with Tennyson, Hallam took me in hand again. We had a good talk together. Afterwards Tennyson rejoined us in the garden. Hallam said to me when I left, that if I ever came to England again, or as often as I came to England again, I should remember that they would be glad to see me. The whole reception was fine, considerate, noble and full of feeling. The time of my stay the horse had been put up—the man loafing back in the servants' quarters, and when I was ready to go, there was the carriage waiting for me."

     W. listened to all this with an interested ear, putting in a question here and there to show the direction of his hope. "All that is good—good! It carries out my, our, idea, as we formed it from your letter. And it is like Tennyson—is a significant demonstration." Bucke hereupon said, "The Smiths tried to persuade me against going. They did not think you had a right to give me the letter of introduction." "What is that? Say that again?" And when Doctor had repeated, "How did they argue that? Why not?" And Bucke, "Why, I suppose for the same

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reason they would call it impudence for me to write a letter introducing anyone to Lord this or the other."
W.: "That is curious! But go on, Doctor, you are telling us an interesting tale." And Bucke proceeded, "They told me I could not possibly see him. They said he was in permanent charge of a nurse, who went with him wherever he happened to be; even intimated that he was mentally broken or gone. Nobody saw him, nobody was admitted, he was not fit to see strangers—all that!" W. broke in, "Was it so? Is it so?" Bucke answering, "No, it is not so. He is a little dense with regard to things about him. But on all other points, in questions philosophical, spiritual, psychological, he is clean, clear as anybody. What's more, he had no nurse about him—nobody at all. And he is a grand old man—grand, grand—just grand! Just as noble an old fellow as you would see anywhere. The trouble seemed to be that the Smiths were not admitted—never got to see him. The girls seem to have been disappointed in their visit." W. interrupted, "Isn't that a mistake?" "No, not as I got it from them." I put in, "But we gathered from their letters that they were not only satisfied but gratified with the result of their visit." W. seconded me, "So we did—we thought they had seen him—been well received—come away perfectly contented and happy." Bucke followed, "That's not the way they put it now. But anyhow, all that I saw was a contradiction of what they reported to me. I don't know whether I was surprised. I can hardly say I was. Yes, I went back. I felt happy enough, you can bet. But I made no boast of what I had found—simply alluded to, detailed, it in the most matter-of-fact way. I think they were astonished. They must have tried hard to explain it. However, it was not alluded to." W. exclaimed, "That's all curious, interesting to me, Doctor. More than you know, maybe."

     We talked then about the storm Saturday, of which we had read much and Doctor had seen little. W. said to Warrie, "If you will take the table away, I think I'll let you help me up to my couch." Warrie proceeding—W. when seeing table folded laughing and saying, "What an institution that is! I'd give my life but

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it's the invention of a Yankee!"
W. said a few words anent Wallace. He is going to London with Bucke after spending a few days here—may then return—staying in America about 40 days and returning on British Prince. W. went towards stairs, Warrie helping. "Good-bye, all! And Doctor, come tomorrow!" "Towards noon?" "Yes, towards noon. That's a good time." Bucke said, "You have kept up wonderfully, Walt, wonderfully. I don't know but you are better than before the birthday." W.: "Perhaps, Maurice—but very weak! very weak! But I have nothing to complain of. Things are about as good as could be expected for them."

     Shortly a cab came and we went up to my ranch, where supper, comparison of notes and talk over manuscript. Bucke brought back translations—Rolleston, Knortz, Schmidt, Benzon—and his own original manuscript for book. Says the Benzon piece not certainly as favorable as W. had thought. "I had never taken the trouble to examine it critically myself. She says some tough things of the old man."

     Told us many things about the English trip. "The Bolton fellows! Oh, they are a wonderfully good set! Sturdy, too. Wallace is rather a slight man—not sickly but nervous. He has a perfect infatuation for Walt—W. afraid as the devil to come over." I told Bucke of Wallace's expression to me, that he would consider it as grand simply to see W. from across the street. "That's the fellow!" Bucke exclaimed, "Exactly!" Then I detailed to Bucke what I had written Johnston about undue personal reverence for W., Bucke allowing, "It is good—I second you fully. I fully endorse that. But it's the English of it. They think if they like a man they must always be telling him of it." I laughingly told Bucke, "When I was uptown in the factory, I noticed the difference in the workingmen. The foreigners invariably unhatted before the boss—the Americans kept their hats on in the most nonchalant and natural manner possible." Bucke, "That illustrates it. But of course, the Bolton fellows are genuine—they mean it all," which of course was allowed. Bucke said again, "I guess Wallace understands Walt as well as any man living. I want him to go up with me—stay a

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month—then spend the remaining days down here before sailing. He himself only wanted to make a short visit—then go right back. But the fellows there say—Keep him in America till he is well."
In answer to my question Bucke said, "Yes, I think I enjoyed the first reception better than the second: it was more of a surprise. I spoke—I think well on to three-quarters of an hour" (Johnston says 20 minutes). "I don't know what I said, but everything passed off well and they told me I spoke with feeling and effect. Perhaps I did. I don't know. But I do know that they all listened, which has a certain sort of significance. Johnston's wife is a splendid kind of woman. He has a good practice there—but not a wealthy one—his people are mostly poor. O my! They are as hearty as any set I was ever led into! It is all so significant—so much to be welcomed and remembered. Indeed I think it in some respects extraordinary. Of course the old man must have been pleased."

     We are arranging for a carriage tomorrow. W. still in doubt about going. He said as he went upstairs tonight, "I am about to send Johnston some word. Have you fellows anything to send? I will of course say that Bush and his wife are yet to come—yes, of course want to say Doctor is arrived here at last. And you, Bucke, did you get all my letters?" W. had kept an account of them, but Bucke had not.

     I left manuscript of piece for Post with Bonsall—greeting of Wallace. Not in Post today. Was up till two last night to finish it.

     Harned said yesterday, "One of the best things about Mrs. Davis is her cheer. She always encourages Walt, even when she don't say a word."

     Among papers recently from W. an old letter of Bucke's (Sept. 18 '90) endorsed with a note. Also some scrappy odds and ends of notes.


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