- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 244] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sunday, September 2, 1888.

     2 P. M. Last night W. told me he had not felt up to going over the plate proofs. I went home and worked until two o'clock on them. We have promised them to Ferguson Monday. Worked again until eleven this morning. Now submit them to W. He sat reading the Century as I entered. "So it's Horace again?" Looked rather well. How was he? "Not a bit nifty—not a bit nifty," he replied. Nifty? what was nifty? "Did you never hear that colloquialism—nifty?—n-i-f-t-y—sassy, on edge?" Continued: "I have sat about here, have read some, have dozed more—that is the history of the day." No down-stairs today? "No nothing," he said: "not an adventure—not a single sensational event!" We examined the proofs together. Very particular in certain details. "That's what we're here for, you with me. We won't fuss but we'll be exact." "Does this all worry you?" "Oh no! it rather brightens me up." I did not find him anxious about spellings. "I regret my ignorance of German: German is the one foreign language I am sorry I did not go into when I was young." He objected to some changes I suggested. "They are not wrong—they are only my whims, oddities: as such I must let them pass." When we reached page thirty-seven I tried again to have him see the errors in An Evening Lull. The last line he conceded to be

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 245] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
wrong. "Did I write it that way? It seems impossible." Fixed it. Did not touch the other line. He is more conscientious in his reading of the verse than of the prose. "That puts us in good shape," he said after we had finished our job together. "I see you look sharply at such matters and it is good to do so." Here he laughed gently: "I wrote to Doctor today: took your advice—addressed him in a rather concessional spirit. I have not finally decided the question of price—whether to make the little book a dollar or more or the big one five or six or ten dollars. I never start out bent upon doing anything by a particular method but let events grow their own way. Bucke takes the book more seriously than we do—is almost agonizing about it: writes me it must be so and so—must be—or we will all be ruined, or such like rot. That must is damned disagreeable no matter who says it! But I don't doubt Bucke's items—they are about correct. Bucke sometimes gives out the show of being precipitate but that does not fairly represent him: he is on the contrary rather Socratic, rather inclined to calm, to accept things as they are while they are, stoically, in fact optimistically."

     He suddenly took another turn. "Here is Mrs Coates' piece—I did it for you"—handing it to me from the table—very handsomely copied. While we talked my eye lighted on a pamphlet lying loose among other papers at his feet—Richard II: home-bound in brown wrapping paper. "What is that?" I asked—he looking first at me and then down towards the floor— "This?" picking up the pamphlet. "What a flood of memories it lets loose. It is my old play-book, used many and many times in my itinerant theatre days: Richard: Shakespeare's Richard: are of the best of the plays, I always say—one of the best—in it's vehemence, power, even in it's grace. I took the sheets from a book—a big book—from a book too big to carry—and bound them so for practical use. The book itself should be here somewhere"—commencing to root in a couple of piles of books at his feet— "Ah! here it is"—handing it over to me. The gap was found and the abstracted sheets were put back in their place. "Home again!" he exclaimed, as he closed the

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 246] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
book, "home again, after all these years of wandering." The volume was printed in Germany in English text and was called English Classics—Shakespeare, Milton, and others, making up the collection. W. said: "A whole hogshead of precious fluid—the juices of all savors, climes, poured into the one cask—distilled at last into a bottle an inch long—the size of the joint of your thumb! That is Richard—this same Richard. How often I spouted this—these first pages—on the Broadway stagecoaches, in the awful din of the street. In that seething mass—that noise, chaos, bedlam—what is one voice more or less: one single voice added, thrown in, joyously mingled in the amazing chorus?" He continued to finger the book, talking of its Germanicisms: "I found several in the preface: see—I have marked them:" alluding also to "its wonderfully legible print—a joy to my bad eyes."

     I picked up an old piece of manuscript written on the reverse of a blue billhead of the City of Williamsburgh. Had it ever been used? "Maybe—maybe not." "Have you much unused manuscript about here?" "Not a great deal though I have made a good bit of manuscript that never got directly into print. Think how many things go to produce the weather—east, west, north, south: things unaccounted for, at least to the eye. Out of such process of selection Leaves of Grass assumed the shape you know." This is what was on the sheet:

"The idea that in the nature of things, through all affairs and deeds, national or individual, good and bad, each has its own inherent law of punishment or reward, which is part of the deed or affair itself, identical with it, and with its results, goes with that deed, that affair, then and afterwards.

"The idea that the Woman of America is to become the perfect equal of the man.

"The idea of the good old cause, Liberty—that it is to be honored here, whatever day, whatever question, it presents itself in—that the relation of master and slave [W. had written on here at a later date: "this was written in 1855"] is to go the

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 247] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
same road out of These States that the relation of kings, lords and commons, has gone."

     W. mentioned Gilchrist. "I expect him, I may say hourly. What mystifies me is, what calls him over? He comes in the British Prince to Philadelphia. One point occurs to me—he must have made some money—have had some success with his work. Herbert is pretty poor, like most of the fellows, but not extremely so. He came before on the fifty guineas or so paid him by the publishers over there for the Life of his Mother."

     Evening at 8. W. sat reading the Emerson-Carlyle correspondence. "Where have you been this afternoon?" "To the Zoo" "You don't say!" "I do say." He smiled. "Well, its good news—I thought everything in Philadelphia worth while was shut up and barred for Sunday. Sunday—Sunday: we make it the dullest day in the week when it might be made the cheeriest. Will the people ever come to base ball, plays, concerts, yacht races, on Sundays? That would seem like clear weather after a rain. Why do you suppose people are so narrow-minded in their interpretation of the Sunday? If we read about Luther we find that he was not gloomy, not sad-devout, not sickly-religious: but a man full of blood who didn't hesitate to outrage ascetic customs or play games if he felt like it on Sunday. The Catholic regards Sunday with a more nearly sane eye. It does seem as though the Puritan was responsible for our Sunday: the Puritan had his virtues but I for one owe him a grudge or two which I don't hesitate to talk about loud enough to be heard."

     W. advised me: "Read Burns—don't skip Burns: Burns will do things for you no one else can do. Hunter always dilates on Burns. Hunter is a sly old dog, after all, and cute, too. I will ask him a question. He will say: 'I don't know anything about that.' Then he will go to work and prove to you that he knows all about it." I laughed. W. asked: "Now, what is there amusing in what I say?" Nothing—except that Kennedy in a letter to me applied the same expression to you—sly old dog."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 248] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
W. replied at once: "But it don't fit me: that's not me: I am more outright—especially outright with my ignorance: I don't seem to have enough finesse to throw the least observant person off the track. Hunter has a little flirtiness in his composition—likes to play out his learning diplomatically. Horace, he is a very engaging character to me." "His coquetteries have won you?" "Perhaps it's that—I don't know: it may be said that way! When I first met Hunter I thought he was of little consequence as a scholar, but he led me on and on, by little and little, until I found myself of my present admiring mind about him."

     He further said: "You find me cautious—that I do not throw myself at people, events?" "You are willing to take time enough to get the right time." "That's a mighty good way to say it: yes, time enough: I never fire my gun before I cock it—I never cock it until I know just exactly the game I am after." "That is, you have discovered that you're no good in a quick charge but a sure thing in a long siege." W. looked at me fixedly: "That's damned clever, Horace: but look out—you mustn't get yourself in the habit of saying clever things—it's a dangerous practice—lands many a man many a time in a lie. Still, it happens that this clever thing is also true, so I forgive you. Yes, I have made the best of my sluggish pulse by trying to keep it sure, strong. Every man has to learn his own best method: my method is to go slow, extra slow. All great work is cautious work—is done with an eye on all the horizons of the spirit: in the absence of such gravity we become dabblers—the big things don't get said, don't get done." I did not stay longer, though he asked me to. "It does me good to have you here," he said. I don't always think it does. As I left he reached forward and again took up the book he was reading as I entered.


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.