Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, October 22, 1891

     8:10 P.M. W. reading Scott. What of the day? "Bad, bad. Wallace was here, but only for a little while. En route, I think, for somewhere. Do you know where?" Some one-time Bolton neighbor now living in Creamer's Hill. W. then, "Anyway, he was here—I was glad to see him. But I have had a head inhabited by a hundred devils all the day, so I guess he did not find me very bright. He brought down the Canadian picture. It is not the one I thought it was, and not so bad, either—in fact, good in one particular or two, which on the whole is about all that can be expected for a photo—often a child of speculation, chance, so far as human agency is concerned." He had given J.W.W. the bundle of phototype prints. "I think we may reasonably regard them as good—with distinct virtues." As to the Gutekunst card photo Wallace had brought yesterday, "I don't like that, at all. I admit it is elegant—all Gutekunst's work has a title to be called that. But this is in fact too elegant, that's what spoils it. They have touched it into vacuity, almost—touched all sense, even sight, out of the eyes. The eyes would be my main criticism."

     Then W., "Wallace has decided to go to Timber Creek Sunday—proposes to walk down. Yes, says it is your wish to have him go then—that you have him engaged for Friday and Saturday nights." I reminding W. of our plans—his tone seeming a little doubtful—whereat, "No, it is all right, you are right—I am sure of it. I want him to see all of our fellows he can. And once he is back home, he will not be sorry, however it may seem unimportant to him now."

     I asked W. indirectly, "I wondered about the Seward letter, why it was never delivered?" Very frankly W. said, "For a number of reasons, probably—for one, I did not altogether like it." What was there astray? "I don't remember, I only remember my impression: there seemed something awry, not just as I felt for the best." No idea at all what that point was? "None, not the least. Probably it was an impression, not to set down and point out reasons. I kept it, therefore, from that feeling, for one

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thing—though mainly, on the whole, I suppose because there was no call to deliver it."
Then, "I give them to you, put them in your hands, but advise you not to print them—or, rather, it, for one is long in print. Do not print for the present: that would be my counsel." I said, "The letter has an importance running easily and far beyond its immediate occasion." "Tell me how you get at that." "Oh! I mean as reinforcement—yes, reassertion—of the 1855 letter." "Two years after?" "No, eight: 1863." W. quickly, "Sure enough—how did I get that impression of only two years! Eight. Probably you are right." Then after a pause, "You think it has weight—is significant testimony?" And he had me, led by his questions, go on at length, he carefully avoiding any further expression of his own ideas, until I said, "It was struck out in a heat—I am sure of it. Now that I see the handwriting, it is like the script on the wall." "How's that?" "A judgment on all who in what they think Emerson's defense deny that Emerson adhered to his salutation." "You mean it came from the heart, and the heart gives truth? Yes? So it did: I am sure of it. The book was just out—could not have been long in his hands—only out in May or June. And the letter? Oh! It was struck off at a heat! Must have sprung out of his spontaneous feeling. It carries that weight, if no more: cannot have been careless, unthought of (Emerson free from that—no one accuses him of that). And so we regarded it at the time."

     Then W. spoke of Seward, "I saw him—saw him often. Met him, yes, and talked with him. He was a good speaker, a splendid speaker: luminous, good presenter of 'logical conclusions,' as they were called. Cool, knew how to say his say in the strongest terms. I heard him first out on Long Island, years before he came to Washington. Knew him, of him, thoroughly well." A man for his place, evidently. "So we thought, though he had enemies, not all of them unreasonable. At the time of the Trent affair he was for war with England—almost warm for it—though borne down by, passed over by, not receiving the endorsement of Lincoln! Oh! the sage, sagacious, far-seeing Lincoln! How much he did and undid, but for which!"—stopping then in the very rush of his

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grateful sensations, resuming again, "But Seward had his idea on the matter, too, which was this: that a war now, at that time, with England, would be a big factor by which to cement the States—the loyal States, anyway—the copperheadism, rabid Democratism, of the North—cement it, attract it, cohere it, by presenting an interest greater, if that could be, than the interest of our sectional war. It was probably a mistake—not admissible—Lincoln was undoubtedly farther-seeing, but Seward was by no means without ardent endorsement." Further as to Seward, "Yes, he came near being President. When minister abroad, before the war, they were so sure he was to be President, they paid him special attention, honors. But things were otherwise ordered, thank God! Though Seward, in his place, was a man of moment—as Lincoln well knew!"

     I told W., "We stopped in front of Parry's the other evening. I said to Wallace, 'This is where Walt and Bucke get their good gray hats!'" Wallace exclaimed, "Ah! Is it so?" and looked with a curious eye, saying to me with a smile afterwards, "If I should go back to England with a suit of gray and a gray hat, would they then think I was a thorough-going Whitmanite?" I laughed—he had such a tone—whereat he continued, "But I am more concerned to be a Whitmanite inside than out." Which I told to W. as "good doctrine," and which he said was that, "if Whitmanism itself was a part of good doctrine, which a few people seem to doubt!" placing an amusing emphasis on the "few." I find by various indications that Wallace bears this notion out—accepts W. not as a conclusion but as forerunner, as beginning a line, perhaps, certainly not ending one—averse to having comrades die as disciples, or Whitmanism expressed in clothes. (Why are not Whitmanic articles of faith as foreign to "Leaves of Grass" as any other? I ask, and Wallace grants. To write verses, or wear coats, merely to shape like W.—it is poor tribute—runs the stream dry almost at its source.)

     After leaving W.'s went to Harned's, where I met Wallace. We were there till eleven, Wallace and Tom talking, Anna and I playing euchre at a little table nearby. Before we left, W.'s

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places and nooks, chairs, etc., were all pointed out to Wallace, who absorbed with evident relish. Tom uncovered the Lincoln picture to show him—displayed the tea-kettle (the famous punch brew). Wallace sat down at W.'s place at the table, said something about its power to make him realize the situation more nearly. Oh's me! That form will never take the place again, the noble, gray-summited man! I think this must in some form have crossed Wallace's mind, for his face seemed to go for an instant into memory and shade. But we were aroused. Into the parlor: there the old fireplace. (The toasted toes, the stories told, the cane, the quiet dwelling lingering eyes! It all broke upon me, like lost or lapsing music on distant shores.) And still there on the wall the "Dismantled Ship"— "That's me! Yes, Tom, that's me!" And the big soft chair, which stood against the window, and over the arms of which the children would climb and roll to his lap. Here I felt Burroughs' hand again—and Kennedy, observant, waiting, critical. Will Walsh, for another, comes in (sent by Mary from 328, where he had first called) to ask W. a question: Is the Elias Hicks yet ready? And devil-haunted Dan Dawson, not to climb to W.'s world, by hook or crook of intellect or expedient of art, "Who is this Elias Hicks, Mr. Whitman?" Tom Dudley, Harry Bonsall, Adler (aglow with his manhood's brave belief and enthusiasm); Clifford—deliberate, seeing transcendent things—voice and brain nearly thrones of gods; Bucke, quick, loud, vehement, clean, pugnacious, gentle, loving; my father and mother, at times and to W.'s expressed delight; always of course the children, free to come and go as they chose. I could see the phantomed comrades—the chasing, quickening memories—all by a flash, as together we looked about the room. These and others untold, untellable! What could it have meant for Wallace? For me it meant a dip into old seas—a brush with ancient waters again—all the old days, companions, back again! No more to be—the waters receding, the tide gone out, the sun fallen below western hills. This room, these rooms, with old voices haunted, and old discussions, and best things—incomparable and incomparably said, to adapt

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Emerson—are to me perpetual, exhaustless suggestions. The recurrence this night sent something of a pang to my heart, yet gladness too. Sorrow for the things past, gladness they had ever been! (Among other things shown to Wallace by Gussie and Tom—a dozen notes, curious, pathetic, noble.)

     Then up and hence and some further talk and preparations for the morrow. Wallace had seen W. was not in good shape and had not tarried today. He meets me at Press office 4:15 tomorrow. I wish him to see Talcott Williams. Then will come our supper together. As to this, I have written Clifford, Law and Buckwalter and sent word to Bonsall. Harned goes to Washington forenoon but hopes to get back to join us. Wallace speaks of returning 28th. Will make inquiry tomorrow. But I made him promise not to engage passage without my knowledge. Is embarrassed by Bucke's counsel. Wallace continues his notes. I shall sorrow when he turns his face east again. And he says to me, "It is heartache, almost, for me to think to go," yet probably heartache to stay, too. Impulses conflict—but duty? Alas!


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