Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, December 1, 1891

     6:05 P.M. W. just going across the room to chair. Greeted me on the way with extended hand (holding on foot of bed with the left hand), "Here you are, Horace! Well, sit down! Sit down! We can talk at our ease." Adding however, "But little ease for me these days!" As I picked my way to the chair over by window, "I tread onto this dust which Miss Gilder could not forget—this dust, which made her forget that you were here." W. thereupon, "Jennie is a queer girl: large, ample, all right in the timber, originally, but so overgrown, soaked, with conventionalisms, she witnesses little of her old self. And that social pressure, the life of the big cities, threatens everyone with the same fate."

     Visited Longaker last night. Found him lying down sick with a bad cold—scarcely able to talk for huskiness. Which explains his absence. W. had remarked and now said, "I can understand

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—I can see. Poor Longaker! But I suppose it's noway serious?"
Longaker had said, "Whitman came near meeting with a serious accident. I found his catheter the other day about ready to break off. Had it done so while he was using it, the damage might have been fatal—certainly would have been serious." Longaker seems to find things amiss with the bladder and talks of some examination and cleansing.

     No books yet from Oldach. But they promise them absolutely by Saturday. W. wishes to send some out for Christmas presents. "There are several I particularly wish to send—to my folks and one or two others." We spoke of Drexel Institute. "I delivered or sent your message to Drexel through MacAlister," I said. W. now, "I am much struck with the Institute. It seems to fill a great bill. Who knows but Philadelphia will in such things go ahead of all the rest?" Warrie reports some trouble with one of W.'s ribs, but says W. declares there is no pain from it—though seeming displacement. But "the body is sore," W. complains, and, "Don't know what it all means: probably the start of the end!"

     Somehow reference was made to McKean of the Ledger, W. saying, "I always knew he was inimical to me—was so from the jump. Thought my book a fraud, thought me a fraud—as, no doubt, I am." City editor of Times speaks to Clifford of W. as "a chestnut and a humbug." W. laughs and says, "That is another way of putting the same truth," laughing greatly. "We have a miscellaneous fire to go through—some of it ridiculous, some dangerous—but, anyway, or either way, we seem to outlast it, alive!" Had he read the McClure piece on Lincoln and Chase? "Yes, read it carefully: it interested me. It came close to my own way of thinking. If you get a chance to see McClure, I wish you would say to him for me that I endorse that article thoroughly—that, indeed, he might have said a great deal more and not overstepped reason. I think Chase was the rottenest man in high place at that time—doing a vast deal of good, too, but capable of damnable meannesses, past the ability of most even mean men. The timber in him was rotten, or gone. He was easily, early, stung

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with that respectability bee which made such havoc of Harlan and his fame—which made both of them big in the conceit of numbers—made them imagine they were upholders of holy hosts, set up by God specially and in manifold ways. Lincoln! Lincoln! He was leagues beyond all that—magnanimous, superb—with a gracious air, like summer breezes, to soothe, compose. And above all personalities, all bitter struggles for selfish ends—led on, on, ever, by the one blazing light ahead: nationality, the Union—losing sight of all in that."
"Figuring himself little that that might be great!" I exclaimed. "Nobly said! Yes, that. Out to save the ship, to pass the storm, to heed no criticism, croak—only to labor and triumph! No one can really comprehend what Lincoln did unless he understands the great fund of slavery feeling then here at the North as well as that at the South. Indeed, this Northern sympathy was hardest to bear, beset Lincoln with the knottiest problems. This feeling extended not only in a great city like New York, but beyond—for instance, out through the cities of the state (I saw lots of it!)—in Albany, Rochester, Buffalo—in places like Syracuse—so on. And not only among the low and the vile—no, not there—but in Methodistical, Presbyterianistic circles (yes, often with men essentially sound and good). Circles then bad enough, yet with good samples—splendid samples—left, but growing nowadays damnably worse and more vulgar. Lincoln watched, bore with, curbed, all that—never missed the right word, act—led us, in the end, victors! I don't know how there could be anywhere a more conclusive argument in favor of men as they average up than the life of Lincoln: a life right out of the popular heart—a hero august and simple as nature—supreme for his own ends, eligibilities. A man like Chase could not be expected to penetrate Lincoln—to know the first letter of his alphabet. Chase always constituted himself schoolmaster—as Harlan did—yes, as many men do, in official as in other history. He was fair to look at, serene, but in the deeper moral intentions, in the fundamentals, in bottom principles—he was vacant—did not grasp the situation—America."


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     I picked up from the floor a book, "Modern Authors: A Review and a Forecast" by Arthur Lynch, into which the author had thrust this note:
London
October 1891

Dear Walt Whitman

May it be permitted to offer, as a tribute of admiration and affection, this little book of a young Australian to the great Poet of America.

Arthur Lynch


I called W.'s attention to the book. Had he looked into it? "Yes, it came yesterday. And by the way, you had better take it along and read it. It is singular, chaotic. Full, too, of touches about Walt Whitman—which might give it integrity!" Laughing, "I told Bucke about it today. As I say, it is chaotic—a jumble, many ways—but fairly sound—written with swing and vigor. You will find I have marked many places there. I have hardly made up my mind how to take it. But, whatever, do you take it, report on it."

     Law sends me this note:
Camden, N. J.
Nov. 30/91 (St. Andrew's Day)

Dear Traubel:

I'm sick wi' the caul' hence this pencil scrawl, but I could hardly postpone writing you. Maybe you remember my last letter to you regarding the Burns Exhibition at Glasgow, Scotland, Jany 1892? My friend Collins has had another letter from Mr. W. C. Angus, the great Burnso-maniac, and it seems he is considerable of a Whitman enthusiast as well.

The first intimation we have is when he writes on the back of the envelope containing his last communication: "L. of G. will be the first American Book to go into £100.00"pounds, mark you, not dollars. On perusing the epistle: (Date is Nov. 9/91) "I have a strong admiration of Walt Whitman (a line to itself). I would like to have Whitman's copy of Burns. I wish you could get the Poet to write his name on the title-page

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 196] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - of any good edition of Burns, if he won't part with (loan) his own copy. Whitman's Burns should be in such a collection as I am forming. I have some very distinguished books—five at least from America—and I should value none greater than Whitman's. I cannot afford to buy mss., but I would not grudge a good fee for a Whitman Burns. It would give distinction to my gathering. Is this too big an order?"


Then again by way of Postscript: "It may interest you to know that a Pack-Merchant—one of the old school (By the way his book has gone over $600.00, like Wilson-Law) fetched several copies of the first edition of 'Leaves of Grass' from America to Sunderland (Yorkshire, Eng.). The late Wm. Thos. Dixon (a cork-cutter to trade) to whom Ruskin addressed 'Time and Tide by Wear and Tyne' purchased several copies and gave one to W. B. Scott, who gave it to Rossetti, who republished the book. This was the introduction Whitman got to the old country."

Now, do you think there is any encouragement for such a man? Can we hope for anything Whitmanesque at the forthcoming exhibition?

Robert Louis Stevenson is to write the preface to the Book of the Exhibition, and a host of other literary lights will contribute. I should be pleased to hear from you at your leisure—having come direct to you as I consider you without any question or cavil the nearest to the Poet of all men of our time. Future ages will envy you the privilege you now enjoy.

Wallace I guess has gone home some time ago. Wish I had seen more of him, but I'll have to bury myself for a long time yet. And while I regret it, as far as I see it cannot be helped much.

My "Dream's Home" has been well received in America—nothing from home so far, hardly time yet. Autograph—or rather holograph letters from Whittier, Holmes, J. W. Riley, Wheeler Wilcox, H. H. Furness (the finest of all perhaps), Dr. Bolles, Gen. Wilson, and many others—the Scotch Americans responding in noble style.

Am driven almost to death at the factory, business increasing daily—doubled since last year!

Remember me to Mrs. Traubel, and with kind regards to yourself, hoping to hear from you at your early convenience, believe me,

Yours very truly,

James D. Law.

P. S. Half the time I pencill'd this I had the baby on my knee! Five months old—and one tooth!! Your time is coming!!!



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Have not yet referred to W.

     Met Harned this evening. The Reinhalters did not get to him yesterday. Still confident they will appear and wish to settle.

     Hear from Bucke (date 29th).


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