Skip to main content

Thursday, July 26, 1888.

Thursday, July 26, 1888.

W. still weak though mainly well. Century proofs arrived. Gilder acquiesces in W.'s wish to use the War Memoranda in the book. "Some kind words from my friend William Carey there—William Carey. So I set to and rearranged the piece: discarded some parts, changed the position of certain paragraphs, besides inserting here and there a new sentence or dropping a bit." The George Fox is finished. Fixed it with minute directions to the printer. This completes the copy for the book. In the Century piece—Army Hospitals and Cases—he had changed the title for the book to Last of the War Cases. He thought the new title called for because of the many changes made in the text.

Had a letter from "a Western professor", he said, giving him "some sound advice concerning the prosody of Leaves of Grass." "Did he offer to come on?" "No—but he intimated that if what he said in this letter was not convincing he had other material to back it up." "What a shame you did not call a council of the school-masters before you wrote your book!" He laughed a good deal. "Yes—yes: and now it's too late! The harm's now about all done!" "You get lots of letters of advice?" "Lots of 'em! and not all of 'em mere letters of advice. Some of 'em are even threatening. You take this advice, Walt Whitman, or, God damn you, we'll know the reason why! That kind of a gentle gentleman emerges from a schoolroom or a study once in a while to take me in hand." "But you are so stubborn. Why don't you do what they demand!" "I would—I would—but they can never agree together as to what they want. Some don't like my long lines, some do: some don't like my commas, some do: some cuss my long catalogues, some think them holy: some call Children of Adam decent, some call Children of Adam obscene: and so on, and so on, and so on. Nothing I have done but a lot of somebodies have objected—nothing I have done but a lot of nobodies have praised. What's the use? What's the use?" He was first serious then merry over it. Wound up with saying: "My old daddy used to say it's some comfort to a man if he must be an ass anyhow to be his own kind of an ass!"

Saw the Photo-Engraving Company today about the reproduction of the Hicks. They sent some samples over to W. who looked at them with great interest. Some of them were landscapes. W. said: "They make me feel home-sick for the open air. My proper habitat is out-of-doors." We found that the photo of the bust made by Frank Harned would not reproduce well. When I repeated this to W. he replied: "Never mind: I've got something that will serve better anyway." Reached for his batch of Hicks notes, opened it and took out an old steel-plate portrait. "After all this is better adapted to our uses in the book." Along with the engraving was a letter from Sidney Morse, a portrait of Hicks with a hat on, a small oil of Hicks, made by Morse, a replica of some original he found in the West. W. said: "This is a batch of stuff for a curio."

W. spoke of Cortland Palmer, just dead. "He was kind and friendly to me—was very hospitable—expressed every sort of desire to have me visit him, to have me as his guest. They all say great things of Palmer—of his big-minded, big-hearted ways. He and Ingersoll were dear friends, I am told. I have heard many stories about him and they were all the right kind—all on the side of love. Yes, he was the founder, the father, the good genius of the Nineteenth Century Club, the purpose of which, his purpose, was eternally fine. Palmer was what they call a free-thinker—and a free-thinker he indeed was. He left his impression on the public life of New York—of America, in fact. Such a man is a vital influence. He don't write books or paint pictures but he does something a big sight more important. They may bury Palmer—they will bury him—and I do not feel like crying over his grave. There's only one word for some graves—hurrah is that word. Hurrah is the word for brave Palmer!"

Letters today, among others, from Bucke, O'Connor, Kennedy—the latter containing an enclosure of a note from Rhys, dated 4th July, coming from New-Castle-on-Tyne. "I laid them here for you—you need not bring them back. They don't contain anything special, but then we all like to read what is said by the other fellows who are in the swim with us—afloat on the same stream, gyrating in the same circle." We talked about the mechanics of the book. W.'s memory for present things has not been first class for a few weeks. He fights a bit with me over details. Then he caves. Tells me of the Hicks: "Some of these bits were written as many as thirty years ago. Some of them I have written within the past year. They are a miscellaneous lot but they all belong in the same stream." Gave me a portrait of John Forney bearing F.'s autograph and W.'s own note on the reverse: "John W. Forney, Philadelphia 1879-80-81." "Forney was of the high-class journalistic type—a type that is passing off the stage. We no longer associate newspapers with great men but with great pocket books. The Greeley Raymond Forney sort of newspaper is gone for good—gone, rather, for evil. I do not suppose anybody pretends that the present newspaper with all its parts—and it has parts—I concede them: great parts—stands for that something or other above money and the monitions of money which controlled and inspired the journalist of the ideal stamp. Forney was not the last of his line but certainly was one of the last. Personally, to me, he was always noble, gracious, conciliatory: he had in a certain sense the grand manner, as polite writers are pleased to call it, but was a simple man of most loveable traits under all hauteurs." Giving me an old Burroughs letter he said: "That is like a visit to John: it is just as if I took a trip with him into the woods. I can taste his fruit—I can hear the birds sing. It is an old letter—it has been about this room now many a year. John was fresh at Esopus then: he had a tussle there at first—but he has won out: he is a master vine-dresser these days: and all the time his grip on himself has grown firmer—his intuitions have grown cuter. John is a wood wizard: things come out of their holes—present themselves—ask for orders—when John goes into the woods." W. had written on this letter: "ans. May 21."

Esopus, N.Y. May 17, '74. Dear Walt:

I rec'd a magazine (the Galaxy) from you yesterday, which I have been peeping in a little today, but the day has been so beautiful and the charm of the open air so great that I could not long keep my eyes on the printed page. The season is at last fairly in for it, and the fruit trees are all getting in bloom. My bees are working like beavers and there is a stream of golden thighs passing into the hive all the time. I can do almost anything with them and they won't sting me. Yesterday I turned a hive up and pruned it, that is cut out a lot of old dirty comb; the little fellows were badly frightened and came pouring out in great consternation, but did not offer to sting me. I am going to transfer a swarm in a day or two to a new style of hive. I spend all my time at work about the place and like it much. I run over to M. to look after bank matters for a day or two then back here. The house is being plastered and will be finished during the summer. The wrens and robins and phoebe birds have already taken possession of various nooks of it, and if they are allowed to go on with their building I must stop mine. During that snowstorm the last of April the hermit thrush took refuge in it. We are surrounded with birds here and they are a great comfort and delight to me.

Your room is ready for you and your breakfast plate warmed. When will you come? I know the change would do you good and your presence would certainly do us good. We are counting on your coming; do not disappoint us. I will meet you in New York if you will tell me when. Let us hear from you soon. Ursula sends love.

As ever, John Burroughs.

W. said further about J. B.: "Did you stop to take a second look at that line in the letter, 'a stream of golden thighs passing into the hive'? John's power is in his simplicity. He writes well because he does not try to write." "Do you mean that a man should not be deliberate? Your writing is deliberate enough." He replied: "I may say it this way—that we should try to secure expression but that we should not try to make an impression." "But don't expression make an impression?" "I see I have not said the thing very well myself. Let me say it another way. We make one sort of impression by sincerity and another sort of impression by trickery. I mean that we should not try to make an impression by trickery." Seeing I was satisfied he went on about Burroughs: "John never bowls you over with any vivid passion of speech—it is not in him to do it—but he calms and soothes you—takes you out into the open where things are in an amiable mood. John might get real mad—his kettle boil over—but his language would remain conciliatory. William O'Connor under the same excitation would blow fiercely and leave his mark on the landscape." "But don't both ways lead to clear weather?" He laughed. "Yes, they do, and I was about to say so, but you took it out of my mouth. Why do you take all the good things out of my mouth?"

Back to top