Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, September 14, 1891

     5:20 P.M. W. talked with great energy today. I had brought him proofs from Ferguson. Things were not just as he wanted them, and he was strangely irascible for a few minutes. "Everything is wrong—leads where there ought to be none, lines left and right, out of place—everything determined to run to opposites!" But very soon he relaxed, and we drifted into other talk. "Have you heard from Wallace?" he asked. "I have, and a letter from Bucke, too—thoroughly interesting. Wallace seems to be becoming reconciled to things. He will learn a good deal about America—in spite of himself, if that must be. See its best facets—face its best specimens. Canada—Doctor's place—the house—the children—Mrs. Bucke, the porch, the green lawns! Oh! the green lawns! I doubt if their like is to be found in England—extent, breadth, scope—acres stretching out before you! And he will see the staff there—the Doctors—keepers—the

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attendants (fine girls, too!). It is a thing to absorb. To be sure, we have our evils, too. None worse anywhere. Camden, for a small specimen, among the rottenest—and Brooklyn. I know Brooklyn well—the sneakiness of its official life—none too good for hell itself. Luckily, happily, the ensemble of our life in America is indescribably grand, splendid—the life of the people—the masses—the real play of our democracy. It is frightful, to go into the details of our politics. Philadelphia—take its business side—I know nothing meaner, smaller, more despicable. But beyond that are great things which overweigh the whole evil tenfold. I often think the small communities show the worst—or sneakiest—forms of corruption. But Wallace will not see this—to him will come only the deeper, more general influences—the influences which give dignity even to officialdom. As I have often said—often to you—I notice how our men, once raised on a pinnacle, popular favor at their back—inevitably assume a certain manhood—add to dignity, reserve, seriosity. Our presidents, from Washington down—not a single exception. I have written of one instance—a dark deep night in Washington (1865)—Congress in session—yes, it was the close of a session—night—men tired, drowsy—draggled-on-edness—life at its low ebb. Suddenly on the scene the tramp of a great storm—flashes of lightning—crash, crash, crash, the dismalest thunder that ever fell out of the heavens—a hurricane, seeming to threaten destruction everywhere, to everything—man, dome, house, city—nothing spareable. On all this an instant's dread—men pale (oh! I was there! I saw it all!)—a hush, suspense—then every sleeping member wakened—every head raised—shaking off sleep, fear, even disquietude, with disdain. At once the work resumed, the order taken up—calm inside, hell it self out—every person present lifted by the magic of personality into best selves, best atmospheres! I thought then—what Roman senate can best this! What Roman people bring more splendid dignity—the best fruits of pride, wealth of self? And these out of democracy's average—out of the thousands, millions, of our population. And I could match it, oh so grandly—by soldiers on the fields—in the

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hospitals—by laborers—artisans—the streaming, straining life of our cities—the farms. Oh! Horace, Horace! This after all is the great gem on our brow—the gem surpassing all others—the sparkling glittering gem—America—the real under the unreal—the substance under the show! How much of this will Wallace get? Yet this is the essential thing—this is the message of America!"
I asked if ordinary men, suddenly thrown into responsibilities—young men, girls, forced to support a family—did not enlarge to the area of the need, fill it, glorify it? W.: "Noble! Noble! And they do, Horace! It is a proud eminence—in all characters—in men, especially our masses—nothing more wonderful. I have always meant to write of this—write fully—make it a theme—oh! what a theme it would be! Here and there in 'Specimen Days' are glimpses of it, but nothing just as I would mean it—nothing adequate—nothing beyond the edges. But someone ought to take it up—exploit it! To me it is markedly American—more our trait than any nation's else—marks our young men. Yes, Wallace will not only stumble, slump, but be glad, too, he came—glad he saw America—learn worlds of new affairs—worlds out of the peculiar new hastening life here."

     W.'s mail consisted of a letter and paper for Wallace, a letter for his sister (Heyde), "There's money in it! Take care!," and a copy of "Good-Bye" for Tucker. "Yes, Tucker ought to have it. He sends me his paper. Then he is friendly—heroically friendly. We owe him more than anything so small can pay." And again, "I left Wallace's letter open—Rhys writes me and wants you to see the letter." He handed me Rhys—I read—but found it was not the letter he wanted me to see, but a book he had sent. W. said, "Is that so? Well, the book is here on the floor, in the stack, somewhere. It is a broadside—good. Yes, you will like it—or like to see it." I had letter from Bertha Lewis. W. put in, "So have I—a nice letter," asking again, "What did she say to you?"

     I write Wallace every day. W. remarked, "That is right. I myself have a feeling to write often while he is here. It will seem like welcome." My letters from Bucke and J.W.W. only outlines. W. gave me both his to read—wants Wallace's returned.

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Insane Asylum
London, Ontario
11 Septbr 1891

My dear Walt Whitman,

How I wish that you were here just now! The day perfect,—clear air, warm sunshine, with just felt breezes,—the beautiful park-like grounds—& the homely hospitality of your old friend, & of his wife and family. If only we had a Fortunatus-hat or wishing cloak to put at your disposal, we would instantly waft you here.

I enjoyed the journey here immensely. The novelty of the luxurious Sleeping Car interested me to begin with, and everything was new & interesting. We turned in about 10 o'clock, & both enjoyed a refreshing night's sleep. Morning clear & fresh & beautiful—the landscape & farmsteads American! Stopped for an hour & a quarter at Buffalo, where we had breakfast. Arrived at Niagara Falls (Canadian side) about 11.15 & had to wait for a train at 3. So, after the Custom House officers had examined our Baggage we took a conveyance to the Falls. Took long looks at them from several points of view, silently absorbing. Sun shining gloriously, blue sky with light clouds here & there. I won't attempt to convey my impressions of the Falls. Only that I was quite unprepared for their delicate & exquisite beauty. The effects of the wreathing spray were beyond description & unique. In coming to America I was indifferent whether I saw Niagara or not. Now I am very thankful that I have seen it. But I did not care to stop too long, as "I only hold a pint," & we came away while the impression was still fresh. We had a good dinner at the Depot, & then put in the time till train came in—Dr. reading, I scribbling. Then a 4 hours run to London—country beautiful all the time. "Blue Ontario" like a sapphire on our right for a time—snake fences, stumps of trees, homesteads, character of scenery, perfect loveliness of day—all of constant interest to me. Dr. visibly impatient to get home, his heart going out to his wife & family & friends after his trip—silent & absorbed.

At last—1/2 an hour late—7.30 we arrived at London, & stepped out on platform. Dr.'s son came up, followed by two of the Drs. here. Conveyance in readiness & at 8 o'clock we arrived here. As we approached along the Avenue a band struck up, playing by lamplight, the new moon shining overhead. Mrs. Bucke & family all waiting in the verandah. I never saw such a homecoming & shall never forget it. Dr. moving about, shaking hands here, now there, & exchanging greetings.

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Everyone manifestly glad to see him back—talk & laughter, band playing all the time—now "Home, Sweet Home," now "Should Auld Acquaintance be forgot," etc. etc. This quite a long time—half an hour at least. Then the band stopped (half of them patients) chorus of frogs still sounding, a few words of thanks from Dr.—dispersal—& then into the house. Tea or supper, a little talk & bed. I noticed that early enquiries were made about you, & about Traubel & his wife.


Immediately after breakfast this morning we had a drive down to town, getting back about 11. Since then I have loafed, written letters, etc.

Mrs. Bucke notices a perceptible improvement in Dr.'s appearance, & he seems to be unmistakably better for his trip. How I wish you could have one too.

I wished it all the time we were out in Fairmount Park & Germantown. It was so beautifully fine.

My dear old friend! My heart goes out to you more than ever now that I have seen you. For one thing you remind me so much of my dear mother. And in so far as I still felt a distance between us you have "disillusioned" me indeed, for you seem to me now as near & intimate as well as dear as my own kith & kind—nay, dearer.

If I were not so helpless & stupid! I would gladly do something to please you, while I am over if I only knew what.

I am glad to have seen Mrs. Davis & Warry, & feel that they are more my friends than ever. And I am very happy to know Traubel & his winsome wife. God bless them both.

Well, I think I will stop now. I feel sleepy & write stupidly & will rest a little. It is now 4 o'clock, & at 1/2 past Dr. B. will come here & drive me round the grounds.

Love to you, renewed and deepened, & my best prayers & wishes. And love to all.

J. W. Wallace


"That reception of the band—it is characteristic—that must have stormed Wallace. The whole scene there—patients, attendants, doctors, the quiet life—oh! they entourage the best life on the continent!"

     W. admitted he had spent "quite a favorable day." Who could have any excuse for feeling bad with such sunshine about him?

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The ride Saturday had unmistakably done him good. I exhibited O'Connor's letter, spoken of the other day. He remarked after reading, "Now that I see this, I am reminded of the time—the incident, almost—though not of that either. But I vaguely bring back the event—and if I am not mistaken, I afterwards gave them the manuscript they wanted. It was for some big memorial volume—American writers, I think—to be deposited at Harvard. I do not remember this letter at all. If I ever saw it I did not make much ado, for good or bad, because of it. Yes, among William's multitude of qualities, he had a hot temper. This note a curious beautiful illustration how he would flame up. But William did not understand the friendliness of Fields, who always took opportunities, direct and indirect, to show tenderness for me—for my book. It may be Fields himself afterwards got the manuscript—coming to me, asking me. As to this review by Lowell of the Piatt poem, I know nothing—never read it—though, from the words, signs, set out here, it must have been pretty tough—pretty much Lowellian. Lowell only negatively opposed? Now that would be a mistake. Lowell was actively bitter—remember the Lord Houghton story—wasn't that Lowell? He was every way, bitterly, set against me. William knew it well—stormed upon him for it. And here, Horace, comes one of the most remarkable histories—a history with a long tail—Lowell's. For I have been told of late years that Lowell markedly toned down his criticisms—came round a good deal. I have it from Trowbridge, who thought it was a revolution. Trowbridge himself has always been my friend—personal, certainly—and friendly towards the books, too."

     I remarked that in looking over the new title-page I had felt impressed with the seal—it seemed to set "Leaves of Grass" in shape for all the future—to drive the last efficient nail. W.: "I mean it so. I am sure you will like it—confess it, by and by—or now even. I am sure you will see the necessities which drove me to the exact form in which I must leave the book. The book is all seasons, together for a year! Thus it must stand—no hand to remake, to mar, it." But, "I am still deadly opposed to two

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editions—different books, one less than the other. I would rather be in favor of two editions of the same book—one for three dollars, the other for one dollar—both to be complete. Dave seems to forget that the making of the book to me only matured after stage upon stage of experience, thought—is not to be denied by the whim of a day or the fear that it may take the bottom out of his profits. The book is ours and we will hold the reins."

     W. remarked, "Doctor speaks of being head and ears in work. But I guess he keeps well—is able to cope with it. But I am glad you got down that Tennyson interview before you went. It could not be done with any safety later on."


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