Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, March 15, 1891

     4:40 P.M. W. looked much better, though still declaring that he suffered from "the great depression" that had "recently beset" him. Proof ready on bed and with it new prose copy up to the appendix. To make up pages had laid aside "For Us Two, Reader Dear" and "For Queen Victoria's Birthday," writing this on margin: "Set these taken out pieces with the rest on the galleys—they will all be bro't in elsewhere—(please give me two proof impressions of the whole—these set out pieces)." Explained to me, "That is the best way I know to keep up the symmetry of the pages." I asked if he had prepared anything for young Stoddart? "Yes—that is, I have something for him. I have taken a piece out of the book." He thought, "That ought to do for him—but if it does not, well then it does not!" Opening as I sat there a book of poems—just brought in by Warren from Post Office—a man named Black of Chicago. W. smiled, looked it through for a few minutes, then laid it down. He has changed the name "Have we a National Literature?" to "American National Literature: Is there any such thing—or can there be?" He had seen a "spice of asperity" in the old head—thought this would "mend" it—adding the footnote, then, as it stands in the book, as still further softening its flavor. Thought himself "entitled to this change," for he had "intended no sharp criticism, statement, in the first place."


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     I told him what Johnston had quoted from Stedman about W.'s Lippincott's piece—putting it rather in the way that this was not up to the mark of W.'s other prose pieces. He admitted, "I have no doubt Stedman tells the truth—instinctively. All I can say is, that that piece was the result of a mood—and moods are not always fragrant, manageable." Then, "My friends must understand that: it is one of the bottom principles of 'Leaves of Grass.'"

     On the table was the appendix to "Good-Bye My Fancy." I picked it up and examined. "How does it seem?" he asked. I replied, "I am only glancing at it—my impression is a good one: I always like your personal chit-chat." He laughed, "So do I! But you really like it?" Afterward inquiring, "Does it seem actual? Has it an aroma—a personal, sentient touch—a flavor of truth?" To my assent proceeding, "And yet there are some who would doubt all that—doubt it utterly. That which you told me the other day—that some, even of our fellows, question whether this paralysis came of the war, was not the result of the youthful"—he hesitated and laughed— "indiscretions, so to say—that was news to me, news. Yet it is not the worst that has done duty against me. I remember one man—at least one—who thought all this sickness of mine—the old age, paralysis, what-not—was sham, thorough sham, without a breath of justification. There was a man in Washington—we knew him well—caterer for Chase—who always contended that Lincoln was a fraud from crown to toe—that he wished election, re-election, but that he might put government money into his private pocket. He would contend stoutly for it. We knew him well—O'Connor, Burroughs—and he was a stiff-believing curious character. We were all convinced—the rest of us—otherwise; that Lincoln was the sanest, wisest, moralest political man ever known on the stage—the noblest saint in all history of states: Democrat, aristocrat, both in one—the life and lift of the time. But this fellow stood us out to the last. We were deceived, foolish—he knew it. Remembering such—plenty other—examples I know—I am satisfied not to be understood. Besides, it is

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useless to kick—what will happen, will."
Here was Dr. Benjamin, in W.'s own town, who thought him "a damned fraud," having reference to the literary side of the man. W. said, with a laugh, "I sympathize with him—he must be about right." Then referring to his caterer again, "I always had a penchant for such men: they are a queer combination of culture and craft—trade and books. Curious to know, giving forth an odd life—always a study to me."


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