Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, September 29, 1891

     5:35 P.M. W. on his bed. A storm had prevailed and passed over—sunset sublime. He had noticed the golden-green crowns of the trees. "I wondered—now I see. And it is cooler." Yet not much cooler? "But anything is much, after what we have had. As with the man whose back would break if another straw was added." Had passed a "pretty good day" and was on the bed only "for the change it gives" him. "Wallace writes me very industriously. I get about two letters a day from him. Got one this morning and another only a few minutes ago. He is coming down now—is turned our way. But when to get here I don't know." And told me somewhat in detail what would be Wallace's movements.

     On the bed the new sheets for McKay, with some "printerial directions." "I don't think I will write Dave a note. You see him—talk with him. We have had pretty definite talks. You know my notions. Make him understand them. I have to trust mainly to you anyway." Was he done with Forman's letter yet? "No, I want to read it again. Then you shall have it. I have sent the books, with them a loose copy of 'Two Rivulets.' The other book impossible."

     Spoke to W. of the report years ago that Walt Whitman was dead—killed in a railroad accident at Croton. Mrs. O'Connor showed me a long obituary notice. "Yes," says W., "that was in the New York World. I was treated at some length, but as a curio. It was very funny. I was not dead, in spite of all. I was going along Pennsylvania Avenue one day—in my usual easy-go-lucky way—this way and that—taking in people, the stores, the sky—when a young fellow in Taylor's bookstore (I knew him well, he was a good fellow) seeing me pass, rushed to the door, called after me, 'Here, you, Walt Whitman, what are you doing, roaming the streets in this style. You've no right to do that—you're dead!' I looked back at him, thought he was into some mischief, saying, 'I suppose you mean that for wit, but I don't see the wit of it.' But he insisted, 'Never mind, you are

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dead—dead. Yes, dead and buried, and here is the whole story of it,'
which was said in a way to induce me to go back, he taking me in and showing me the paper. It was quite funny. I enjoyed it to the best."
I had known Philadelphia papers in 1888 with obituaries set up and afterwards to be distributed. W. laughingly, "I suppose, and it was bad to disappoint them. But we had to do it, 'for reasons.' Jennie Gilder wrote me about that time, asked me about some dates, saying very frankly, 'You are an old printer and will appreciate my position,' she having an order to write one up, have me ready, I think for the Herald." After a pause, "If things keep on I suppose there'll be a big batch of stuff to memoir me with. The French, they say, excel in that—have funds and funds of it—memoirs to serve is a literal rendering of their words. I understand that Paris—the institutions there—are full of everything, every treasure, in that direction—art, literature, science—every way. Yes, yes, the French notion is very alert—full of flash, brilliant. But sometimes too prone to turn serious things to levity. Heine had a touch of that, but was saved by the seriousness of his nature. I detect even in his wit sadness, melancholy, a pensive strain: his most determined sallies mellowed by feeling. Noble gifted fellow! A child always nature's—always!"

     Somehow the talk reached immortality, W. saying, "You are right. It is personal identity—the whole question hinges there. And who knows, to be sure! Yes! Yes! Horace, the scientific men, theirs is the true attitude! Sweet to me, full of the modesties of opinion. Of course, we don't know, neither do I know if other worlds than this are inhabited. Yet I am as sure they are as that we talk about it here together this minute. Yet we do not know, there are senses in which we do not know—I know and I don't know. The Colonel? No, I don't think it denial. Like the scientific men, he says he don't know—that's not denial. Indeed, I take it as the noblest, most splendid yes: a yes to honesty, anyway, which, as things go here, is the preciousest possession of all." He alluded to some of the Colonel's repartees. "It is foolish

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for anybody to open the way for his lance. He gets to the heart, everytime—has an aim, precision—oh! excelling any in anybody else, anywhere, our time!"


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