Skip to main content

Friday, July 27, 1888.

Friday, July 27, 1888.

W. much today as on other days this week but not quite so much interested in general matters. No mail, except a note from Frank Gilman, asking W. to autograph a photo, which W. did without hesitation. An autograph letter yesterday started, "I am glad to see that you are about again," and then said, "would you be kind enough," &c. This made W. laugh. "He thinks I'm about again just for that." But running a pen-line A Page from a Burroughs Letter to Walt Whitman. across the written page and pointing to the reverse side of the sheet, W. said: "Those fellows have one virtue—they always use good paper: and on that I manage to do a good deal of my writing." He averages two or three letters of this character a day. I saw the process people about the Hicks picture with a result which induced W. to say: "I guess we may take it as decided that the Inman is our picture. If the reproduction comes anywhere near it I shall be satisfied." We are to pay four or five dollars for the work. W. talked of the Hicks: "Hicks I remember as a presence rather than in outline as a concrete body. I do not know that such a picture as this would in itself have been recognizable. I was too young when I saw Hicks. But Inman was a famous man in his day—one of the greatest of the artists—and I do not know but he is still highly regarded. I have always understood that this particular portrait of Hicks is as good as it is rare—and it is rare indeed. What a study it all is—this of portraits: no two of them identical: every interpreter getting another view. What amazing differences develope in the attempt of a dozen observers to tell the same story!" The engravers today said of the Morse and Inman portraits: "They are too unlike to be of the same person." W. replied: "Not so—not so: there are as many views as there are people to take them." W. was "Not proud of the photographs of" himself. "I've been taken and taken beyond count—taken from every side—even from my blind side"—laughing—"taken in utter wretchedness of posture for the most part. No man has been photographed more than I have or photographed worse: I've run the whole gamut of photographic fol-de-rol." I kicked. "It seems to me many of your pictures are better than good—better than you deserve, maybe." He regarded me with great merriment. "Better than I deserve, no doubt—that's what consoles me—but still damnable."

Spoke of Last of the War Cases. He had put "last" into the title because the incidents cited "were left over after the close of the war, having to do with the final batch of the injured and needy." In this connection W. remarked: "By the way I have saved you another document of the war period: here it is now—take it along in your pocket." He handed me an envelope on which he had written: "Oct 5, '63 Margaret S Curtis care Charles P Curtis Boston, Mass." He got the impression that I proposed to sit right down and read it. It was a rather long letter. "You can read it when you get home. We had better finish our talk first." He had the Hicks proofs on his lap. Was he satisfied with it? "I am not disappointed—I could not say I am disappointed—but I am not enthused, either. It is so far—so very far—from the thing I dreamed of doing. It was to have been a very complete story—I had the largest hopes, designs, for it—still, as I read it now, it's not so bad (though bad enough) as I feared it would be. I must be satisfied now if I have succeeded in hinting at matters which it was a part of my original scheme to enlarge upon. On the whole it is not a radical failure—neither is it a radical success."

Having read the full account of Cortland Palmer's funeral yesterday W. confessed that he was "aroused by Ingersoll's speech." "Ingersoll certainly has what I would call a genius for such a function: all his funeral addresses are marvels of beauty: short, musical, rich in cadence, pithy, never too much, never too little: and the best part of Ingersoll is, I don't think anybody ever loses interest in him who hears him speak—ever goes to sleep—ever goes wool-gathering to other scenes in his presence. He is one of the very few—the very select few—who are alive and keep others alive with them." W. did not like Phillips as well. "He was haughty, noble, powerful, but without Ingersoll's jovial reactions. He never spoke but to cut—cut somewhere: with a keen blade, infallibly cut."

Called my attention to a newspaper clipping in which he was again taken to task for not going to the front and fighting during the war. "I had my temptations, but they were not strong enough to tempt. I could never think of myself as firing a gun or drawing a sword on another man. Higginson has more than once, and in print, too, called me to the same account, quoting my record decisively to my discredit, seeming to regard it as an argu- ment entitled to a great deal of weight—indeed, as being final." He pointed to a haversack on the wall. "That's a souvenir of those days: it was given to me by Allen, of the Commissary Department, I think. I often used it at that time in going about Washington—in the hospitals—among the soldier boys: slung it over my shoulder in a way to make it comfortable. I have never once used it since I came to Camden. [Several years afterwards W. presented me with the haversack and it has ever since hung on my wall. 1906]

Ingram called today but was not admitted to W.'s room. W. sent his regrets. Ingram was hurt, Musgrove tells me. But W. explained to me: "I love the old man but cannot stand his busy talk in my present mess of mind." Hinted that he might "make a try towards going down stairs to-morrow." W. and I had a little jollification over a bit of his writing that I picked up off the floor. "Burst in lecture (or poem)" it was called. This is the way it reads:

"We talk of our age's materialism—and it is too true—in gloomy hours—how, amid all the sordidness, the entire devotion of America, at any price, to mere pecuniary success—merchandise disregarding all but direct business and profit—how for a bare idea and abstraction or mere heroic dream and reminiscence—this war burst forth in its great devouring flame and conflagration, quickly and fiercely spreading and raging, and enveloping all, [break] into two great ideas—that of the Union cause—and the other—a strange, deadly Interrogation point, hard to define what—have we not now safely confest it?—Even that other, with magnificent rays, streaks, of noblest heroism, fortitude, perseverance and even conscientiousness, shedding flashes of light through its pervadingly malignant darkness. Was there not something grand—and a perennial proof of American grandeur—in that war."

"That," said W., "is a piece of an unborn oration: it was to be a burst, but the bomb never exploded—though I don't know but the substance of it got into the books somewhere anyhow." "You often gave yourself advice on paper." "I suppose I did: I wrote things down: I saw them better in my handwriting than in my mind's eye—could tell better whether they suited me or not." "Ingersoll once asked me whether your writing was pretty well finished before you wrote at all or whether you wrote mainly, and revised, on paper. I told him I thought you made lots of use of pens, inks and papers." W. smiled and assented. "So I do—so I do: your answer was the answer I would have made myself." As I left W. said: "We are not keeping Ferguson on the anxious bench nowadays. He is a patient man. He suffered a heap from us, didn't he?"

Back to top