Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, October 17, 1891

     5:40 P.M. Spent nearly an hour with W., whom I found just about to close his blinds, preparatory to lying down. I protested, "Go on—I will not stay now." But he desisted from his determination. "No, I was making for the bed rather because I had nothing else to do than for any other reason. No, no, Horace—sit down—let us have a talk." But I still resisted, whereat he said, "You are welcome, I tell you. Indeed, I am glad you come. You spark up my native fires, which burn low enough these days, and need fresh air, youth, to rekindle them." Told me, "I have letters from Bucke and Johnston today—nice letters—but no news—none of account." I supposed Wallace had been here? "Yes, for an hour or so, about noon. He is a cheery body—swept away by the sunniness of his humor. He has now been about America some—has seen a couple of our big cities, a few of our smart fellows—but of America, essential America, 'Leaves of Grass' America, he knows nothing. Indeed, could not know, till here, absorbed in, absorbing, its rivers, skies, men, for a long period. Of course, he believes in everything he sees—is optimist to the core. And such a bright look brings to each day! And is capable of thoroughly wise accumulations! We talked—rather, I talked—for I grow garrulous, talk away at a great rate when once I get started. And by the way, Horace, Wallace wants to go to the tomb. I told him to go—perhaps tomorrow—but he was in doubt, knowing you had some engagements for him, how far he would be free. But whether he goes tomorrow or another day, it will be an easy trip. Tell him for me—go alone—go alone. And go more than once: go first time to find where it is—then go again. He will easily find it: out the road, out, just past the toll-gate. I had a notion to send Warrie with him, but then, I argued, Warrie might not care to go, and again, Wallace would probably be more content to go alone. And ought to go alone—he has the time, and it will touch him in better mood." I said, "He has promised to take back some calamus, too." "Well,

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that is easily done—there is plenty of it here."
"So I told him." "But you must be careful how you look it up. There's a counterfeit calamus, which is only a rush—has no root. But calamus itself, the real thing, has a thick bulby root—stretches out—this way—like the fingers spread. And it is a medicinal root—you know, of course—is often brought in town by the niggers—some people boiling it even, some chewing it. It always grows in damp places, along runs of water—lowlands. You can easily get it—it pulls up. Oh! yes! You will know it by the root, which is really the only way to know it. Wallace can undoubtedly have some to take home with him."

     I asked, "Did you know he had proposed to go home next Wednesday?" "No! Had he? The Wednesday coming?" "Yes, but I fought him—told him we would not let him go so soon!" "Good! Why should he? Though I can see how in a sense, his mission accomplished, he should now think to return. So many travellers coming to America have no definite ideas what they are after—come, loaf about big cities, see this or that superficial thing—often only the froth of our life—then go back and write books about us! Knowing nothing, absolutely nothing. But Wallace is different—came for a definite purpose—possessed that advantage—knew exactly what he had started out to do." But I remarked, "I tell him, however, that to see Walt Whitman, he must see America—can only see Walt Whitman by seeing America." "Which is undoubtedly true. 'Leaves of Grass' gives out its best to Americans—by whom I don't necessarily mean American-born, but American spirit. You are right, he ought to see more. He ought to see more of our concrete, living life—the daily tasks—work." Then further, "About Harleigh, Horace—tell Wallace what I have told you—tell him—he will understand. I do not doubt but he will like to hear my view. And tell him to walk, not to ride. That it is only a short distance anyway. And there are points by the way to be taken in. And another thing, Horace—about the dinner you proposed to have for J.W.W. Why not? Of course, follow your own notion—do it your own way. But I think a quiet affair, a

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dozen or so of you, would not hurt. No, not the least. And I would advise you, make it democratic—yes, democratic. Do not be afraid to grapple with simplicity. Our fellows are too much bent upon display—big set-outs, dishes, waiters, curtains, luxurious surroundings. But with us that ought all to be taboo. We ought to face the first facts—a little Rhine wine, cider, pork and beans, brown bread, such. And why not that and enough?"
I described my plan to W.: "A very plain meal—no arrangements, in fact." "Good! Good so far!" "And to take Wallace there, simply without a word what is intended—simply to go in, and he not to know what it is for, or that anything is arranged, till he gets there." W.: "I like that—that is a first-rate idea, scheme. I would advise you to follow it up. I don't think it will hurt the fellow! He seemed rosy with health, humor, today. If I could, I would like to be present—testify myself to his visit—join you—enjoy you. But that is hardly possible—certainly not probable. For nowadays I am hardly able to move out of my room with anything like comfort." And again, "How could we expect Wallace to know anything about America when our own people—we ourselves—do not!"

     W. called my attention to a box on the floor. "It is a book sent me by Harrison Morris—the book of selections, poems—sea-poems—you know it." Yes, and Morris had wished me today to see that W. knew it had come from him. "O yes! I knew how it came! Indeed, have written a postal there for him, acknowledging. It is a beautiful book, and I ought to feel flattered. For my name, work, appears many times. The whole thing is elegantly produced—pictures, letter press. And the selections are well made. Harrison has done his work well. But do you know, Horace—there are mistakes—several—and they have stirred my ire. I always had an idea Lippincott's proofreading was very near perfect—but there are several trips here. The fact is, I should have insisted on seeing the proofs of my own pieces. Yes, yes, the damned misplaced commas, but that is not the worst: words, even, omitted—serious words, too—necessary. I am rather surprised. But no matter—it is ungracious to growl in the

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face of so good a compliment."
W. had written on the blue box: "'Where Meadows Meet the Sea' Harrison Morris' book of sea-poems (tho'ts and incidents) W. W. largely quoted Oct. 17 1891." "I want you to take the book along. It is even like to be more interesting to you than to me. It is a question, how much such a book is needed. But it is made, and that is enough; we might say, is in itself conclusive."

     I had just read in the paper accounts of the death of James Parton. W. said of that, "I have read it, too. Poor James! Yes, I knew him—knew him many years ago. He married Fanny Fern—then married her daughter—who, now, I suppose, survives him. James did a good deal of work in his day—a good deal. And it was of a varied kind. His Voltaire? Oh! Have you read it? I suppose it must have been a good bit of work. Sidney liked it? Quite probable—and Parton was a great Voltairean anyhow—ranked him very high—held him up, oh! way on mountains of esteem! There were some people in the old days—in my youth—early years (some of the freethinkers, some scholars) who looked upon Voltaire, well, I suppose as about the best salt of the earth—the greatest man so far, beyond all odds. And not fools either—wise men—noble fellows—big, devoted, clear-eyed. But whether or no, Voltaire is a vital breathing force in all our modern life—a majestic great figure, set up in the eyes of history—yes, in man's heart, even. And who could measure what he has meant for America, even—freedom? One of the subtlest men, too, in all time, any land—wise not only in what he did do, but wisest in what he did not do. Able in all the difficulties of that period to steer a safe path—to keep power, protection, on his side—to baffle enemies—oh! the worst enemies!—to meet dagger with more than dagger: science, art, the buttress of philosophy. Oh! Cute as a modern Yankee! Great for France—great for the world! Able to cope with the damnablest foes—to damn them all. I can see no more necessary figure in all history. He brought gifts, courage, insight, the like—and won a new world by them—remade Europe, made America. Did you ever read accounts of his triumphant entry into Paris that last

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year or so of his life? It is one of the most instructive recitals possible. I never forget it. Power several times got him—seized him. He had been in the Bastille, suffered banishment, all that, but was never without friends—heroic, influential friends. And in that last year went back to Paris. Oh! What a triumph! The very elite of the then world—fashionable, intellectual, brilliant Paris, all at his feet—nobility, populace—the proudest bending low to this old man. The throne—the king at that time (who was he?)—turned the thing over—determined not to recognize Voltaire. So it was understood there was to be no reception at court, which was enough to fire the pile—to bring out every latent factor of adoration—noble, people, savant, all. Indeed, so wild the demonstration that in spite of the old man—half mad, half happy—frowns, smile mixing—his horses were unharnessed from the carriage—he dragged in more than state (what state was ever like that?)—king, malcontents stupefied. The old man was very old then—yet master of the situation. But a few months after, died. Curiously, Rousseau died about that same time—a little later, I think—without reception—poor, in poverty, neglected—taken care of by the charity of some pitying noblemen. Rousseau—that other giant! And, Horace, did you ever think deeply, determinedly, of the significance of these two lives? Oh! The stream runs very deep! There is a wise man somewhere who sums up this way: Voltaire, says he, moved kings, priests—toppled over false honors, thrones—brought men back to external realities; Rousseau moved their hearts and minds—souls. And God knows who greatest! Which matters little. Voltaire is not yet reckoned at his true worth, except perhaps in France. What he did for freedom, Europe—our own republic, life—has so far evaded, eluded, historic statement."
Very impressive, adding, "I see by the papers that the pope has been giving out a speech, to this effect—that Rome is too small for both him and the king—which is to say that one of them had better step out." "That won't be the king," I said. W. seriously, "God save us—save Italy!" Then, "The pope is a past tense! The world drifts on, on—no more to be held by makeshifts!"


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     As I was about to go, "Horace, if Dave comes Tuesday, as you say, I hope to have a conclusive talk with him. This question of the books ought to be about settled!" And as I left, he came downstairs.

     Evening. Supper at home—Wallace there when I arrived from W.'s making up his own notes. "I have had a grand talk with Walt." Read me some hits out of what he had written. Very satisfactory—true, too. Anne had liked them. Gilbert and wife in shortly and all to tea together. Mrs. G. had brought over some luscious selections of fruit, and a basket—these to be arranged to go to W. I had promised to take them. But we were very late going. By some grace of the girls, the fruit was given to J.W.W. to carry—Gilbert himself along (thus three of us).

     9:15 P.M. Time of starting I felt doubtful about catching W. up—yet we went on and down, reaching the house a trifle after nine and being admitted by Mrs. Davis—from whom we gladly learned that W. was still reading. (Warrie in kitchen, asleep on lounge.) We went upstairs—I ahead—Wallace next, then Gilbert. In the room W. extended hand, "Ah! Welcome again, welcome! And you Wallace—oh! and Mr. Gilbert, too: how do you do?" I plunged at once into the reason of our coming, Wallace putting the heaped basket on his lap—he entering into proud mention of its "beauty"—for it was flowered, the fruits colored more than rainbow's colors. He looked very well—in good flush. Was reading Scott—"Robert of Paris." Though intending to stay but a minute or two, W. let out such a continuous stream of talk that we had no chance to break away (even if we had wished it)—though I stood most of the time, and the other two stood the entire time, of the stay. (I sat on bed next him for a while.) I found a bill of the '89 reception on the floor and gave to W. with remark that Wallace would probably like to have it. W. then, "Then he shall take it, of course." He asked from whom the flowers had come—by whom they had been made up—spoke of them as his "prize"—the "best bequest of days." After he had held it for some time, I offered to take it over to the table, he consenting—even specifying where it should be set down. The group

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fantastic—the hot room (a leaping light fire in the stove)—W. facing the two attentive faces—straight in front of him (strong in lineament, both). I standing nearer W., looking down over his right shoulder. I never knew his voice more mellow, or the ease and grace of the often-ascending hand more marked—and as he became animated, opportunity for observation was liberal. He spoke again of Wolcott Balestier's London offer. The sheet given to J.W.W. (Lincoln portraited thereon) brought out talk of Lincoln—W. full of fire to tell us how Gurowski had "from the first taken in the Lincolnian spirit"—known Lincoln for his genius and soul and fitness for the great grapple. "Things looked dark then, as if everything was going to ruin," but Gurowski was faithful. "And though disappointed in many of our public men, he knew Grant—yes, from the first: went down to the White House—a reception given then by the President to Grant. We met Gurowski afterwards, as he came out—met him on Pennsylvania Avenue. O'Connor was with me. Gurowski threw up his arms—he had a way, this way"—indicating— "cried out, 'I have seen him! I have seen him! I have seen him!' 'What do you mean, Count?' asked O'Connor—O'Connor always called him 'Count.' 'What is the matter? Who do you mean?' And it turned out that he meant Grant. 'He will save you! He will save you! He's the man!' the Count went on. And never once after that lost faith in Grant. And it was just in that way he had percepted Lincoln. The very first look, touch." W. dwelt upon the Count's peculiarities—for Wallace's and Gilbert's benefit. I asked W. (anent some remark about Wallace's knowledge of Lincoln) if he had read Herndon's life of Lincoln. He said, "Yes, I have read it." "Is it of any value?" "Yes, I should say it was—of distinct value." After a pause however, saying, "But you know Lincoln is a vast subject: he is not to be discovered, revealed, in books. He is like the opening of a new world. It is not easier to tell of him than of any other big bit out of natural phenomena. And the element of mystery! It opens a great field—is a comprehensive subject." And then said, "Gurowski, O'Connor—yes, they accepted Lincoln from the first. And so did I. And for some time we stood alone. That is

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to say, among our immediate friends. Though, of course, there were others, but Washington, the North, at that time, was full of growlers, critics, traitors, shaking-heads. Chase himself, for one—yes, damn him! A bad, bad egg! Handsome, smart, but a bad egg! And bad eggs were plenty!"
Along with this, said, "I was in a very depleted condition, that Washington trip. When I first went, my pocket was picked on the way. I was without a dollar. And then was the report that George was fatally wounded, which, however, was not true. Curiously a spent slug struck him in, went clean through, the cheek—went through, and he took it out of his mouth with his fingers. Though it caused him discomfort, the doctors would not think it serious in the midst of so much more solemn business. He came through all right."

     Much else went on—word after word—and theme playing with theme. We were astonished to see him so stirred—so shaken up and shaking us. But in the midst of it all happened an extraordinary and unlooked for thing. Kicking about the floor—as often—I turned over a couple of yellowed letters fastened by a gum band and, picking them up, found my heart to stand still at the inscription that met my eye! The Emerson 1855 letter at last! And by strangest accident, which no one could have foreseen. Often had he promised me this letter—never knew where it was. "When it turns up, it shall be yours." Was always confident he had it, and I doubting. Now to have its thousand eyes look at me from this heap of debris! At the first pause in the talk I extended letter to W. "I have made a great find, Walt." "What's that, Horace?" "Look!" He took it while I said, "A letter you have often promised to give me but which I did not believe you would ever find!" Without for an instant opening it, "What is that?" "Emerson's 1855 letter!" Then he took it out of its yellowed Fowler & Wells envelope (it had been sent in their care). "Sure enough, this is the letter. Did I promise to give it to you?" As if half hoping he had not. "Yes, often." "Well, then I'll keep my promise. But it seems almost too precious to part with." And with a smile, "It must not be written of us that we did not keep our promises!" However, "I will keep it

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for a day or so—look it over. Do not forget to remind me of it when you come tomorrow!"
Then he asked me further, "How did you happen to find it?" "Oh! kicking about on the floor here!" This made W. laugh lightly, "Just like!" "I found it along with the other, Walt—in a gum band," handing him the companion envelope. "What an interlacing of names!" he exclaimed, pointing out the envelope's inscription: "Letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson introducing Walt Whitman to William H. Seward," adding—melodiously, "There's a whole history in that, Horace! Well, well—leave them with me together. You shall have both—they shall be yours." And so carefully thrust them in a safe place under papers on the table. My heart was strangely moved by this incident. We have talked the letter over so many times, I had so feared that it was destroyed (I think W. half feared it, too) that the happy accident of our visit with the fruit bore better fruit than we took!

     W.'s eyes appear strained by the light. I suggested a drop-light—said I would provide one. Wallace gave us an idea of a white light (carbon?) used by him. Would not that serve for W.? Anyhow, the glare ought to be avoided. W. said of the ramshackle burner on the east table, "I used it till it was no longer usable. I found the pipe leaked, so I changed quarters to this side of the room." W. finally said—after hearing us debate—that he referred us to his committee in such matters, quoting an anecdote by the way—some politician's—intimating that he would use whatever we provided. Wallace asked W. twice, "Is Horace your committee?" But W. did not hear him.

     As we were about to go, W. (with the true grace which belongs to him) thought himself that he had given Wallace something, and promised me—and that Gilbert stood neglected. So he got up from his chair, saying to Gilbert, "If I can put my hands on a picture, I want you to have one. Our friend"—turning to me— "has never had anything from us." So went over to his chair at the middle window—toilsomely—picked a bundle from the floor—untied it—and took out and autographed a processed copy of "The Laughing Philosopher." Gilbert grateful, and we

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then departed—not, however, before he had replied to our protestations that we did not wish to worry him. "You do not worry me—it is in fact a relief from the tedium of sitting here alone." Then all up, first stopping in to see my father and to look at his pictures.

     Wallace says he is getting quite contented with America—is surprised at himself. Will stay over Wednesday. I have had a serious talk with him. He owned up that he had wished to run off on Bucke's advice—that three or four days would be enough for W. I said, "I can see Bucke's reason for saying that. If you went down there a good deal, to worry the old man, I would say—yes, go home—the sooner you sail the better. But if you take my advice—go for half an hour a day—a week more than Wednesday will benefit you a good deal and not hurt him." Wallace replied, "I confess I should like to stay, that there's nothing to hurry me home except Bucke's advice. The personal affairs that I at first thought made it imperative are smoothed out and no longer exist as an argument." A good deal of talk: of W., of affairs of many orders. Wallace, however, too tired to wax fat on them. I wished to hurry him off to bed but he would not go before the rest of us. I find he tells some stories inimitably. Says he has no sense of humor, but contradicts himself by his laugh, and this story-telling faculty.

     Showed W. while with him this evening (as he spoke on Chase), Mrs. Fairchild's letter, and its "delicious sweet message" as W. called it. I had said, "I have a letter from the wife of another secretary of the Treasury."

     W. further said, "I have great friends in the women. My best friends have been women. Put that in your pipe and smoke it." I asked, "What is there better than the friendship of a woman?" W. fervently, "Nothing at all, Horace, nothing—nothing in this whole world!"

     I quoted for W. this afternoon a review of "Good-Bye" from Times. Told him, "The writer says for one thing, you display a very creditable faith in God!" W. blazed out, "I do, do I? Thank him, too, for that. Our friend, oh! Walt Whitman, yes! he is a

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very good man: he does not put his hand in his neighbor's pocket!"
I could not but laugh at this outburst, whereat W. joined his laugh with mine, "Well, Horace, it is very funny with these fellows without a doubt—it always makes me mad and makes me laugh!" Had not the critique with me but would bring it down.


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