Skip to main content

Thursday, October 18, 1888.

Thursday, October 18, 1888.

4.35 p. m. Down with Clifford: first saw W. in his room—sitting at table, started into his afternoon meal. Clifford had come over: would he see him? He looked at me: "Who?" "Clifford." "Oh! if Clifford is here he must come up, if only for a minute or two." Talk meager—only about ten minutes. W. looking bad—eye dull, manner listless. He told me at once: "I am not very well today." As usual on ill days he asked anxiously concerning book matters. Had the Linton cut come? Asked that twice. When Clifford came in and had greeted W. there ensued a little talk, mainly about foreign visitors to America. It came about naturally. W. had asked me to tell him about Arthur Stedman. I described A. S. as he had been described to me—eye-glasses, deafness, &c. W. exclaimed: "Why—he's almost up to Gosse! Gosse wears glasses," &c. Then looking at Clifford and throwing his head back as a laugh escaped him: "Yes, Gosse—and what a hell of a fellow he is, too, to come across here to tell us about America! What a damned set of roosters come over here anyhow to tell us what we are! We don't know that ourselves! Gosse, Matthew Arnold—such fellows!" Here he referred to Lord Houghton as "a man of another ilk." Clifford asked—had H. been here and to Camden? W. answering: "Yes: and a true man he was, too: Lord Houghton, Moncton Milnes." W. continued: "I could get about better then than I can now: he was in to see me: was plain, ate a baked apple—enjoyed it: afterwards we strolled out on the streets together. I could closely observe him as we went along: his manners—frank, open—to workmen, laborers, anybody we met." W. afterwards said: "He was a traveller—a born traveller." "It is by such things," W. further said, "that I estimate a man."

I quoted an incident of the last birthday night—Harrison Morris' trip to Philadelphia with Kennedy: M. telling me afterwards how simply Kennedy had invited him up to a street stand to take a glass of lemonade. W. asked: "That was Kennedy?" "Yes." "It's like him—it's like our fellows: our gospel means simplicity of life: Houghton was characterized by simple impulse and let it go—was not always drawing himself in—belonged naturally with the gang who can resign themselves to a ten cent meal—sit down to it as though there was nothing else in the world but to just do that: entering into, surrendering to, that." Spoke of "the indefinable attractiveness of some men: we cannot describe it any more than why we are attracted by a tree, a field, a boat, a road—only we know that it is and that is all."

W. clear, bright. Asked us about the weather, asked Clifford about his trip, very briefly—spoke quietly of Bucke's photo, which I had picked up and handed to C. He had stopped eating when we entered—did not eat while we remained. C. said he came over if for no more than to shake hands and thank him for the book. W. said: "If there came no more of it than that that would be enough: I can chew on that—respond in kind to that, at the least," &c. Perfectly frank and loving talk on both sides: a little joking, too: we all the time hat in hand—finally, good-bye: and then the brief call was past.

8 p.m. I took W. Conway's Carlyle. Found him reading—stood full two or three minutes beside the bed before he raised his eyes and saw me across the room. Then we shook hands, he cordial as ever—brighter than in the afternoon. Took the Carlyle book from my hands—looked at picture of Mrs. C. "How good it is—favorable—how Scotch. Don't you see that—the Scotch? It gives quite another impression of her. How much better this is than the picture in the book of letters!" I remarked a resemblance to T. Carlyle, W. putting in: "I see it too: it is undoubtedly there. It is a remarkable face: a face that speaks beautiful things for itself." I exhibited to him the book I had secured from Weston: Fanny Wright's A Few Days in Athens. W. regarded the portrait in the book affectionately. I spoke of her as "evidently beautiful." W. shook his head: "No—no: she was more than beautiful: she was grand! It was not feature simply but soul—soul. There was a majesty about her. Yet this is rather a youthful picture: I did not know her so young. There were people who objected to Fanny Wright as radical and all that. She was sweeter, nobler, grander—multiplied by twenty—than all who traduced her." Then he handled the book fondly (Mendum, Boston)—looking it all over, cover and inside. How familiar it looks, feels: the edition seems to be the same I knew: the same plates. I guess they have printed them again and again from the same plates adding this portrait." He asked finally: "Are you going to leave this with me?" I answered him: "Yes, if you want it." I knew he did want it but he said he would wait when he found that I had not read it myself.

W. still persists with his careful reading of the sheets of the big book. Is now far in Specimen Days: says he has not yet found one error—that it makes him happy to think he "has been in such good hands." He explained to me his trouble of the afternoon: was glad Clifford came—sorry he "could do no better for a talk." "I don't know what from, but my head was struck by a strange qualmishness. That was just the moment Clifford came: the climax—the stomach sick, too—head and stomach together." He had been "a little mystified by the trouble" it came upon him "so entirely without warning." "When you came in I was just about to tackle the meal—see if it would help me any." Then he continued: "I had been signing the sheets when suddenly I gave out: whether from leaning over, turning round (as I had to do in fixing the sheets) I do not know." "The sensations for awhile were anything but comfortable—I had ceased eating when you came in. But the meal finally did the business: eased me: I find myself much improved this evening."

Harned was in during a part of our talk. I gave him Bucke's picture to look at, as I had Clifford, W. saying, meanwhile: "It is a study in shadows—beautiful, compensating: the deep shadow, and every feature shining through, clearly, vividly." I said to W.: "I have never known you to speak of any woman as glowingly as you do of Fanny Wright." He answered quickly: "I never felt so glowingly towards any other woman." "Are you sure?" He was very serious as he said: "Quite sure: she possessed herself of my body and soul: I have said much to you about her—much, much: but I have not said a word that I would not stick to—not a word that is not rather under than over the truth." There was some banter between W. and Harned over the prospective reviews of the book. H. said: "There'll be lots of criticisms and they'll be interesting reading." W. responded: "Yes, for the first two or three: then they'll be a bore—then we'll send the bore to Dr. Bucke!"

Read W. a short note I had from Williamson in which I find this referring to N. B.: "You may imagine me this evening with paper knife and slippers enjoying its pages." W. laughed: "Slippers and paper knife sound rather big for November Boughs. Why not jewel case, also?" Called my attention to a little silver knife he had in his hand: "Somebody gave it to me as a fruit knife: I have put it into general use: look at the swell handle: I use it for everything but an axe." Harned not in since Sunday. W. said: "You must look out: the next thing you know we will court-martial you for desertion." H. said that he had seen Jerome Buck in New York yesterday. W. said: "He wrote me a brotherly letter in which I take a brotherly pride. Did you see it? No? Horace, have you still got the letter about you? Read it to Tom—read it to me: I want to hear it again."

New York, Oct. 16, 1888. My dear sir:

Please accept my lasting acknowledgements for the copy of November Boughs so kindly sent me through the persuasion of our friend Mr. Harned. This expression of your goodness I did not expect nor deserve. I sought only through Tom Harned a line from your hand to place in my copy of Leaves of Grass. 'Tis many a year ago that I learned to love your noble, honest, robust nature, and the immortal lines that flowed from your virile and vigorous pen. Your poetry above all others is stamped with intense sincerity and rugged beauty and I love it for its entire absence of pretense, cant, affection and hypocrisy. If you ever come my way I know a place hard by where a bottle of the reddest Burgundy may be found that will dispel the November chill of age and make our hearts as joyous and generous as its own ruddy hue.

Jerome Buck.

W. asked H.: "How's that for high? Don't you think we might enjoy that Burgundy if we had it here some night?" Harned laughed: "You told me the other day that you had given up all tipple of all sorts, Walt." W. in mock severity: "So I did, Tom, but that's no reason for you to rub it in." W. said he had no idea where Ellis had got his Whitman quotation for the Ibsen preface. "I know nothing about my books: Bucke would know—he knows everything of that sort: he can quote the text like a priest." Clifford had spoken of the title page portrait today—that the "curls" were, to him, not an insuperable objection, &c. W. remarked: "He is right there—nor are they. I consider that portrait a perfect piece of work. But while the curls may not be absolutely damning they are an inexcusable tampering with the individual." W. gave me a Bucke letter of the 16th. "Doctor says: 'I, too, am uneasy about O'Connor!' It would be strange, so strange, if William should beat me out after all.'"

Back to top