Skip to main content

Friday, June 29, 1888.

Friday, June 29, 1888.

[See indexical note p396.2] 8.15 P.M. W. lay on his bed as I entered and talked from that place almost gaily and with apparent ease. "I seem to have improved this afternoon and evening: my mind is clearer than any day yet: less sore—with less of the drowsy befuddled feeling." Voice stronger, eye clearer. But when I helped him to his chair I found him almost a dead weight. Even suggested going down stairs to supper. Baker headed him off by appearing in the room with the meal. "I felt that if I was ever going to make a move I had to start sometime." Osler not over today or to be over until Monday.

[See indexical note p396.3] Had he concluded the will at last? "Oh, it is done, Horace—I got it through today—my last will and testament and so forth—it is all signed and sealed. I wrote a short note to Dr. Bucke about it today: not much, but telling him: and if you write in the morning (I hope you will) you may tell him again—it won't hurt. If I keep on fooling with one will and another I won't know which is my last. I will have to look the will over a little for slips before letting it go: I am not certain of it as it stands: then it can be put in Tom's safe." Baker and Mrs. Davis were witnesses to the will.

[See indexical note p396.4] W. had been reading Charles Morris' screed on himself in The American. "It is a surprising hubbub he makes, indeed—it reminds me of little children playing with jackstraws or brass ninepins or toy balloons. As to Frank's piece—Frank Williams'—I'm afraid that too failed to im- press me. I have been wondering whether the trouble is with them or with me—whether I have changed, gone back—somehow the fellows nowadays—so many of them—seem to be writing the strangest fol-de-rol." [See indexical note p397.1] McKay said to me: "Charles Morris started out by saying he knew nothing about Walt Whitman and proved it." W. amused. "After all these literary fellows are so much alike—almost the whole crew (always excepting a fellow like Frank, who contains real stuff): I often find myself lost, absolutely lost, in their monkey-like mediocrities."

[See indexical note p397.2] W. said he had known Greeley and Raymond and Dana. "In a general way Dana was favorable to my work—not in any thorough-going fashion. I interest the newspaper men as one of the strange fellows—they look for freakish characters—it is among these I come in. How few of them—of all of them—actors, writers, professional men, laborers—on whom you can't put a tag. [See indexical note p397.3] There was Emerson—they never could hold him: no province, no clique, no church: and there was Lincoln, who did his duty, went his way, untrammelled: but there are few others. I slipped out, avoided the beaten paths, tried a way of my own—that was my experiment. Has it failed or succeeded?"

Talked of his "medicine men," as he calls them. "Dr. Baker is a faithful henchman—obeys orders—puts me through the mill—I have to submit. Osler, too, has his points—big points. But after all the real man is Dr. Bucke. [See indexical note p397.4] He is the top of the heap. He has such a clear head, such a fund of common sense—such steady eyes—such a steady hand. As you say, Bucke is a scientist, not a doctor: he has had severe personal experiences—is an expert in questions involving the mind—is in every sort of a way a large man—liberal, devoted, far-seeing. I especially owe him so much—Oh so much!"

[See indexical note p397.5] W. said: "I see that I shall write no more." "Nonsense," I exclaimed. He laughed outright. "More nonsense?" he asked. I told him people sometimes asked me whether he possessed any sense of humor. "And you say—" "Then I tell them a few of your stories and get them convulsed." "Does that convince them?" [See indexical note p398.1] "It makes an impression. W. added: "So they think I am funereal—that I live in a coffin—that I am solemn—never laugh—look down my nose—so—" and to prove that he never laughs he laughed. [See indexical note p398.2] "I have been intending for forty years to put on record the fairest picture I could conjure of Elias Hicks. Now I seem too far gone to do the job. I think I am or have been peculiarly fitted, equipped—having the run of certain facts—to do this for him."

[See indexical note p398.3] W. said to me tonight again as he has before: "Some day you will be writing about me: be sure to write about me honest: whatever you do do not prettify me: include all the hells and damns." Adding: "I have hated so much of the biography in literature because it is so untrue: look at our national figures how they are spoiled by liars: by the people who think they can improve on God Almighty's work—who put an extra touch on here, there, here again, there again, until the real man is no longer recognizable."

[See indexical note p398.4] W. gave me a letter from Standish O'Grady. "You remember that Dowden alluded to him in one of the letters I turned over to you? He seems to have been a young man of great spirit—talent: of high and masterful ambition." I found W. had put this memorandum on the letter: "from Standish O'Grady: sent photos to him Dec. 14, '81." Where was Standish O'Grady now? "I do not seem to know." "Did he get diverted?" [See indexical note p398.5] "Possibly: he does not seem to have kept me on his list. The young fellows come—the old men go—often, often: they serve an apprenticeship with me, in their youth, when they are getting their roots well in the soil—then they die, maybe become professional, adopt institutions, find that Walt Whitman will no longer do."

Dublin, October 5, 1881. Dear Sir,

[See indexical note p399.1] My friend Mr Bagenal has written to me from America describing his interview with you and the kindness with which you spoke of myself. For years it has been a hope to me that I may see you and be able to tell you personally what your writings have been to me, every line breathing hope, admiration, trust and love. [See indexical note p399.2] For myself I can safely say that except William Rolleston no reader or student of your poetry has studied it so closely or so taken it into his nature as myself.

As a practical advice I would suggest that you would cause a certain number of advertisements to appear in our and the English press announcing that copies might be had from you personally. I procured mine from Trubner & Co. London paying two pounds ten when as I understand they may be had from you for two pounds, and I see no reason why publishers should fatten while the producer is neglected.

When Mr. Bagenal was in Ireland, I remember, he used to laugh copiously at the form of your poetry forgetting that account given by Alcibiades of the outer form of Socrates with the images of the gods within. [See indexical note p399.3] Now I find that from having met you and conversed, seen and heard, he is also one of us, and reads, marks, learns and inwardly digests.

One thing in your poetry I will refer to, that is the love of the heroic successful or unsuccessful. It chances that I have given a good deal of time to the study of the primitive literature of this country, a race in which the note of heroism and chivalry ever sounds. My impressions regarding this literature I have published in various works. One of these recently published is History: Ireland, Vol. I, Critical and Philosophical. I directed Scribner & Co. to send you a copy of this knowing your acquaintance and love of early Norse literature, which is kin to the Irish, with the heroes of the Niebelungen Lied: you are well acquainted and have praised them, but I think Cuculain our primitive Irish hero is equal to any of them, but English literature has the ear of the world and wilfully ignores everything of the kind. [See indexical note p400.1] May I ask whether you have received the book? If not I shall send one direct. My other works are History of Ireland, Heroic Period, Vols I and 2, an epical representation chiefly of Cuculain's career but not blameless as I have molded the chaotic poems and tales into a complete whole and so the student can never be exactly certain what is and what is not my own.

[See indexical note p400.2] I dare say like most men but for you I would have swung round to the theory of strong govts, an aristocratic ruling class, &c. I think from your comments on English literature that you don't appreciate Shelley. In the Revolt of Islam he has a fine Panegyric on the future of America. For my own part I put him high very high; his meaning lies fold within fold never to be exhausted. [See indexical note p400.3] For example, his love poetry is chiefly mystical religious, the divine bride, "perfect wife," is the object.

I find as I change I cannot so change as that I do not meet in you the expression of every changing ideal penetrating even the remotest parts of my nature with a profound sympathy as of his who knew what was in man.

[See indexical note p400.4] Farewell. Know that there are many in the "ancestor continents" of whom towards you might be said what was sung of our Irish hero Cuculain meeting his friend, "He poured forth a torrent of friendly welcome and affection."

Standish O'Grady.
Back to top