Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, May 14, 1891

     7:30 P.M. To W.'s—some time—20 minutes—before Miss Belghannie came. Meanwhile I talked with W. He had cut one of

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his sets of the sheets—seemed to have read it. "Have you been prospecting?" "Yes, and curiously, some of it seems a new field! But the printing of the book—oh! it is a success. You must tell Brown I think so." Remarked a letter he had from Bucke today. I had noticed a perfumey odor and remarked it. "Well, I tried an hour or so ago to wash myself. Perhaps that's the cause. I feel refreshed and weakened at the same time." Frank Williams in to see me about birthday—anxious lest it might be passed over, but agreeable in face of my plans.

     I went up this afternoon at four and caught O'Donovan at his work. Quite a long talk—fully an hour and a half. Eakins on a lounge in front room, asleep, huddled up like a child. After a while came sauntering out and entered into our chat. Both of them interesting men—Eakins more the genius, with cut free and original—dry humor, sententious—disposed to look at you and make his quiet, wise criticisms and cease. O'Donovan was at work on the bust—which, in its present stage, did not impress me. Gave me a little photo to take over to W., showing its progress. "But only for that," he said, "for the rest—expression, etc.—is not yet even hinted of." I found both men possessed with admiration of W. They only had one other copy of the photo left with W. yesterday—pinned on the wall—not so good for our purposes—not so clear-cut. O'Donovan advised me to use W.'s copy. An accident anyway—no negative that size—it was thrown up from a smaller negative, copy of which he gave me—fine in itself but without the mystery of the other—which was only a thrown-up print.

     Eakins brought out his own Whitman—said, "I am sure it has good points." Had several times been at Harned's house. Would Tom buy the picture? I told him of the understanding with Bucke. He said, "I thought it might help the old man to sell it now, before he is dead." Neither one have any admiration for Gilchrist's work. Eakins regards G.'s Whitman as "quite horrible, missing at every point," telling me that the students at the Academy—some of them—had advised Gilchrist that

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they wished no instructions from a man who would paint so wretched a thing as the Whitman.

     O'Donovan had fully 25 photos pinned on the wall near his stand—many of them done by their man—a picture even of the empty chair among them—a splendid "catch" of Mrs. Davis, sitting in the yard, in the armchair, sewing—infinitely natural! O'Donovan spoke of my New England Magazine article. Had he seen the Lippincott's article? "Yes indeed—while I was in Washington. It was mainly that which brought me at this time—though I have often had the notion I would do Whitman." What did Eakins think of Alexander's painting of W.? He answered with a question, "Did you hear, that he finally made the picture from a photo?" O'Donovan said, "The Century will reproduce it. But won't they be mad when they see this photo of ours?" O'D. also said that the great difficulty was the hair—to give the sense of its mass yet also of its thinness (for it is quite thin now)—Eakins interposed, "That was one of my difficulties, too, but at that time the hair was heavier than it is now." O'D. tells me some anecdotes of his trip to Camden—is particularly amused at W.'s vehement criticism of Herbert Gilchrist's portraits (and others) with "the damned Romeo curls." Related anecdote of the butter woman's application to Gilder for a letter to W. and Gilder's refusal of it as "an insult." Portraits of Weda Cook (full figure, singing, the hand and baton of the leader protruding at one corner) and of Mrs. Talcott Williams on easels. Eakins talks of Miss Cook as "lively" and of Mrs. Williams as "sickly." "Something always happens when I expect her here."

     I went over the main part of this for W., and with other points of our talk, which he said, "all seems as if you'd had a good time"—adding— "Yes, that man Eakins is sui generis himself—I like him—you will like him more and more." W. asked, "Well, what has O'Donovan done?" I exhibited the little photo he had given me and said, "I am not attracted so far, but should not like to set this impression up as a finality." W. then, "I am

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satisfied—I see—you are right."
He examined the little picture but said nothing at the time except, "I see it is in a state of unfinishedness," saying no more after. I had been in to see the "process" people and they promised to do what they could to finish the thing in a week. W. satisfied. "No argument," he said with a smile—holding his head, "tell me results: as soon as I hear an argument I am befuddled." I had brought him samples of work. He felt the glazed paper. "This has a popular value," he remarked, "but it is no bribe to us. A sign of elegance, but not necessarily of good work, though this is good work—I admit it."

     I went downstairs for a while—talking with Mrs. Davis in the kitchen. Till, by and by, the bell was pulled, and Mrs. D. admitted Miss Belghannie and a friend from Philadelphia. I greeted her—then went up and told W., and he asked her up (through me). Immediately she entered the room he offered his hand, which she took and kissed—ejaculating her joy that after long waiting and repeated failures, admission at last had come. I pushed a chair forward—she sat down—I sat, hat in hand, on the edge of the box at the other side of the bed. It appeared that she knew the Costelloes, the Ford girls, Carpenter and other of W.'s friends there—of whom he immediately asked and about whom she fell into easy description—much to his pleasure, I could see. Her voice was melodious, strong—emphatic her manner. He was attracted. At one moment he leaned impulsively forward, "Do you know, dear, you remind me of my dear dear friend, Mrs. Gilchrist." And again, "I felt at once when I looked at you, that when she was a girl, of your age, she looked as you do now." Miss B. flushed a little—saying that others singularly had spoken of just such a resemblance. W. said he had understood this was her fourth coming—that he was "glad to see" her now, "however the interruptions before." He asked her what she was to speak about down at the church? And she told him—the forming of wage-women in union. He did not appear to be greatly struck with the idea, yet would say, "It is well to go fishing—to fish—to see if anything is to be caught." This led to some considerable talk—she of "the good time coming" and

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admonishing him not to go back on "Leaves of Grass"—and he saying or asking, "Don't you think all this inevitable?—that it is because it must be—that in the swinging orbital movement of planets, all that is becomes the right and the just," etc. And then he sent me looking for a package—I finding it eventually on the bed—in which he had "put by several things" for her—asking her name, how to spell it— "I have an awful memory nowadays"—and starting to write. After he had written her name he paused and dropped into most eloquent dissertation. "I should say, my work, I, stand for, solidarity—not only of what are called the White or European peoples, but of the whole earth—and other earths if there can. I myself do not share any policy of restriction which may obtain among Americans—restrictions—the tariff." She protested the broader policy of England. "Yes, I admit it, and I often think I see in the English character a higher growth of fair play—the willingness to hit and be hit. Indeed I often think of it, and ask myself, if for that they are not eminent, above all lands, peoples, others—though I am not sure, of course. Not but they have bad enough—very bad—as all of us have." And as to her labor work, "Well, go on with it—make all that can be made of it. I myself read things in this way, for however these things may exist—be deplored—may be reformed for—they are but bits, fragments, segments—a part of—a necessary ingredient—but not the whole fabric, not universal, not super-enclosing. And they are evils, too—I know it—but like evils, prove the good—just as I said to my doctor yesterday: that sickness is the proof of health," etc. Here he finished the inscription—protested he must not delay her longer—she now standing up and I the same, opposite. Yet still he continued, "The greatest lesson of all—the supreme—is that this great earth—swinging in its orbit—freighted with life, mystery, beauty—going round, round, round"—he swung his hand— "points everywhere to an indescribable good—goes on, on—we do not know to what, but we feel to just ends. Oh! an indefinably august power enclosing, explaining, all. This is 'Leaves of Grass'—this most—above all else—pervades, possesses it." And so for some little time, in tone,

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with gesture, easy, musical, graceful. It much impressed her, as it did me. And when he bade her farewell she kissed his hand again and expressed her love and veneration and said that it was not to her alone, but to whole groups of women in England, that this welcome was extended. As to the package, W. said, "It has a picture—the latest—and some little things I put together when Horace told me you would come." Miss B. in high glee—her fine ruddy face bright and eyes twinkling—went down to her friend, and both then off with me to the church. She later on discovered in her package not only picture but several bits of manuscript and printed slips—and so precious did these seem that she insisted that they should not be put away with her coat and hat but kept in the hand of her friend while she spoke. I so liked the woman and her ways that I was glad all went so happily. After the lecture I went to the ferry with her. She spoke well, in flow and with emphasis. Not very tall—full, fine complexion, healthy eye—grasps your hand as if for comradeship—is free (at foot of stairs at W.'s exclaimed, "I do believe my lace is undone," and put her foot up on a chair and set the defect right)—very positive in speech—independent—not afraid to say no in a way to be understood. Evidently throughout a healthy happy nature. I had felt sure these things in her would attract W., and it passed so.

     Longaker tells me he will have Dr. Harrison Allen (specialist, distinguished) come over about W.'s deafness, which L. thinks ominously increasing.


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