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Wednesday, January 30, 1889

Wednesday, January 30, 1889

7.45 P.M. Harned there. He and W. animately talking. W. said to me instantly as we shook hands: "Ah! you came in to verify the saying about a man whose name we dare not mention: we have just been talking about you and you step in on us." Harned said: "Walt, you're not exactly a jolly joker but you're not as solemn as your critics say you are." W.: "Do you say that, Tom? Why, I pride myself on being a real humorist underneath everything else. There are some people who look upon Leaves of Grass as a funny book: my brother George has often asked me with a wink in his eye: 'I say, Walt, what's the game you're up to, anyway?' So I may go down into history, if I go at all, as a merrymaker wearing the cap and bells rather than as a prophet or what the Germans call a philosoph." He seemed to get a lot of comfort out of this sally. Harned said: "I didn't know you could do that trick so well, Walt: after all you may end up as a comedian." "I might easily end up worse," said W. Then he added: "I have heard from Bucke again: he says that he has a Whitman lecture for anyone here who wants it: that he considers it very good—thought he ought to be the last man to say so." W. then turned to Harned and asked: "I wonder who'll want it? Perhaps nobody"—ending in a laugh. W. gave me two Bucke letters of 25th and 26th, saying: "Take them both: then you'll be sure you have it." Bucke's sentence was: "If those friends of yours down there want a lecture on W.W. from me I trust to be prepared to give them a good one 'though I say it as shouldn't.' " In the letter of the 26th Bucke said:

"I am glad that the binding is settled, and I think from your description that it will do very well, though nothing to become especially enthusiastic about. I shall be glad to see it. Will not the price of binding cut into the price of the book a good deal? One dollar twenty-four is a big slice off six dollars. The price of the book should have been more than six dollars. I would not have put it a cent below ten dollars if I had had my way. I predict that a copy of that book will be worth fifty dollars in ten years and one hundred dollars in twenty-five years. But I suppose you will say 'we are living in '89 not '99 or '14.'

"So Rice wants you to write for his review. I wouldn't mind if he would print some pieces written by your friends and leave out such miserable trash as that written by Kennedy a few years ago. Do you remember when Pearsall Smith brought it home and read extracts from it at the tea table?"

I read this passage aloud as I sat there. W. and Harned both broke in on my reading vigorously. W. said: "No doubt everything would have been different, Maurice, if you had had your way: but thank God you didn't have your way. We're not making this book for faddists, collectors, curio hunters: no: we're making it for people, readers: nor are we making it for nineteen hundred and twenty-five: nineteen hundred and twenty-five will take care of itself: we're making it for eighteen eighty-nine: that's as far as we've got—maybe as far as we'll ever get." W. said again: "Yes: I remember that day at Pearsall's: they were the days when Pearsall had other notions about me: Pearsall has been gradually receding ever since then." Harned said: "Walt: ain't Bucke a trifle extreme?" W. said at once: "No doubt: so was everybody I ever liked: why, you're extreme yourself, Tom—and sometimes more than a trifle." W. shook his hand over towards me. "And as for Horace: well, he's the extreme of extremes: he's the craziest of the whole lot of us." Harned said: "If I'm extreme, Walt, I never saw it." W. replied: "No doubt: no man ever does discover it in himself." W. asked me: "Have you got the Scottish Art Review along?" We both got copies last night. "I should have sent it to Doctor." He asked me how it hit me. I said: "Not at all." He nodded approval. "So say I: it is not profound: has not depth: never mind, it'll do." Dr. Furness (William Henry) spoke at Unity Church Sunday. W. said: "The brave good old man: he still holds out to burn."

W. showed Harned the model of the big book. T. had asked for a set of sheets to bind in his own way. Turning this book over in his hands he said: "I don't think I could do better than that." W. broke in: "I doubt if you'd do as well: that is a handsome book: it was a discovery"—adding: "I mean to give you one to take home with you when they are finished." Was suspicious of a couple things in the cover that looked like "finesse," but still he said: "Let it go: on the whole it's about right." Asked Harned about the baby. "I am quite curious about it: you should have it photographed: it's a good-luck baby: with you and its mother and then with Herbert Spencer to boot: if he does not come to a good end it'll not be because he didn't have a good start." "When I get out again my first visit will be to that baby."

Inscribed for me the copy of Specimen Days which he gave me in the summer and was too sick to write in. Showed him Scribner's containing Professor Woodruff's article on Walter Scott at Work. Commented on frontispiece W. S. "It's very good but I have a better." Then after a pause: "Probably I say that because I have become accustomed to mine." Looking further and minutely: "This is fine, though, I admit: beautifully conceived: engraved: printed. The truth is, it takes many whacks at a fellow to get him all: each portrait contributes to the result." As to the article he said: "I am sure it will interest me: I know it: and tomorrow—no, next day—I shall have something here for you that will interest you." I don't know what he means.

W. needs a mammoth pen holder. He showed me the big pen squeezed into a little holder. "Get me a holder: I've lost mine in the mess here: I like the mammoth pens: they are easy to write with." He acknowledged that "it makes a great difference what sort of a pen" he has. "I am sensitive—I especially hate the little bits of pens—the dwarf ladylike pens: I don't seem to be able to do anything fullsized with them: they interfere with my ideas—break my spirit." Harned said he wrote with a stub. W. said no. "I don't seem to take to the stub: I like my vast pen with its sharp point better: you see I'm like everybody a creature of prejudice."

I picked up his yellowed copy of Richard II from under my feet. Handed it to him. He looked at it. "That's the copy I used to take to the play with me—in my pocket: carried along in my walks: kept with me down on the Jersey shore: such pieces of books made up in that way by me out of whole books for my own convenience." He spoke of the Richard as "a favorite play" of his. "It is typical: the most likely, conclusive of the Shakespeare plays." Harned referred to his facsimile copy of the First Folio. Who wrote the Plays? W. very vehement. Harned said this book kept him a Shakespearean. W. dissented. "That by no means closes the case, Tom: contemporary evidence is not necessarily the best evidence: look at Mirabeau, in France: undoubtedly in many ways a noble man: always esteemed as a friend of the people: in fact, one of the people: yet undoubtedly, as it is now conclusively proven, the paid stipendiary of the court. To have said this at the time or even fifty years ago—even twenty or thirty years ago—would have been taken as the rankest blasphemy: yet there is now no more doubt of it than of the fact that you are this moment spread out there on the lounge listening to me talk."

Then was Mirabeau wholly false? Was history altogether mistaken in him? "I should not like to say that: do not say it: only that he was paid by the court: got pockets of money in that way. He was a wonderful man: in many respects was the most wonderful man of his time: a democrat, probably"—here W. paused: "Perhaps not that, not a democrat in any sense that would be acceptable to us, but still inclined to hear, even argue, the cause of the people." He specified one of the Greek "masters" similarly reputed in his time, "yet now acknowledged to have been corrupt." "We talk of the necessary accuracy of contemporary evidence: that's poppycock: I do believe, for instance, that for truth, for what is positive concerning the great masters, this book here, this book written by Addington Symonds, written in our own day, is better, more to be relied upon, than any record kept at the time, than anything written since, in all the ages between." He "would not be at all surprised" if "some day there should appear absolute authentic data establishing the origin of the Shakespeare plays," and in that time "I am confident that it will be shown that many men, not one man merely, had a hand in the work." In that age "it was not considered becoming for noble lads to have anything to do with writing plays: with playhouses: with receiving twenty-five or fifty or a hundred dollars, as we moderns do, taking it as a matter of course." "But the group of bright fellows there in London—Sir Walter Raleigh, the Earl of Pembroke, the Earl of Southampton, Lord Bacon—are known to have accepted Shakespeare—to have been cheek by jowl with him, in fact." Out of this the authorship must have grown. "Shakespeare was under contract with one of the London theatres to produce two new plays a year: a contract much like mine with the Herald: so many pieces, large or small, a month: if less, then the full sum to be made up the next month, beyond default."

Then Shakespeare was to palm the plays off as his own? Was that the idea? "In the rough—yes: and I know how that would be described by the orthodox: how it was that Shakespeare was a plagiarist, a thief—all that: but I should hesitate to pronounce judgment so cavalierly. Shakespeare took it all as grist to his mill: accepted all: kept his counsel—and his contract." He did not think Shakespeare was the chucklehead O'Connor had called him? "Oh no, no: I never believed that: besides that's not O'Connor's to start with: he repeated it jocularly: it didn't originate with him. It was Delia Bacon who was most severe on that point: handed out the most contemptuous terms: rarely referred to Shakespeare except lightly: called him 'the butcher of Stratford': always applied phrases of that character to him."

W.'s own skepticism had "preceded Donnelly's book"—even preceded his O'Connor experiences—"though William is easily the greatest, while the most vehement, of living men, of any who have lived I may say—certainly of any Baconian we know of." But as to Shakespeare: "Instead of being a chucklehead I should say he was one of the sweetest, wisest men who ever lived. Hume says of Queen Elizabeth that she is charged with being a trivial creature, though surrounded with wisest counsellors, but he insists that it must have been greatness of a sort which summoned such counsellors—which recognized, made use of, accepted such personalities as the aids and abettors of her policies." So with Shakespeare. "He was no fool, no butcher: his, too, was no contemptible greatness: he chose well: he was circumspect: he knew what he was about." W. said he had no idea that the Plays all came from the same source: "There are evidences that various influences were at work there: a group, a cluster of the Plays seem to show signs of the same craftsmanship." But "it's not necessary to infer that all the Plays came from the same hand." He thought the Plays indicated "a great taste for glitter: a desire to surpass, overawe: a resolve to overdo: to create the fiercest emphases: to succeed by the very force of the flood—a literal inundation of power."

Harned said: "The Plays are so great won't they stand alone for all time?" W. objected: "I know that is the orthodox view but I don't accept it. Wilson Barrett here—here in this house—has said the same thing: has said an actor dares not question it: but I question it: question it fundamentally. It has come to be with Shakespeare as with the Bible: we are born to it: we have sucked it in with our mother's milk: the schools, colleges, writers, drive it at you: one can't get away from it: the man who denies the claim is queered." W. threw himself forward in his chair, pointed upward as if to the heavens, and said with intense earnestness: "It is wrong! wrong! wrong! It is as if we should fix our eyes on one of the stars there: should say: Let that be the only star: let that stand alone in glory, purpose, sacredness: let all the rest be wiped out: let that alone be declared legitimate: let that alone be our guide. Yet there are millions of other stars in the heavens: millions: some as great, some greater: perhaps some we do not see surpassing the best we see: so there are writers—countless writers: some swept away, lost forever: some neglected: some yet to be recognized for what they are."

Harned said: "Walt, you're hitting a lot of nails on the head today: you almost weaken my faith in Shakespeare." W. said: "Shakespeare stood for the glory of feudalism: Shakespeare, whoever he was, whoever they were: he had his place: I have never doubted his vastness, space: in fact, Homer and Shakespeare are good enough for me—if I can by saying that be understood as not closing out any others. Look at Emerson: he was not only possibly the greatest of our land, our time, but great with the greatness of any land, any time, all worlds: so I could name galaxy after galaxy." Harned asked: "You have decided feelings about the defects of Shakespeare?" "Yes: it is not well for us to forget what Shakespeare stands for: we are overawed, overfed: it may seem extreme, ungracious, to say so, but Shakespeare appears to me to do much towards effeminacy: towards taking the fiber, the blood, out of our civilization: his gospel was of the medieval—the gospel of the grand, the luxurious: great lords, ladies: plate, hangings, glitter, ostentation, hypocritical chivalry, dress, trimmings"—going on with the strange long catalogue "of social and caste humbuggery" pronounced with the highest contempt. "I can say I am one of the few—unfortunately, of the few—who care nothing for all that, who spit all that out, who reject all that miserable paraphernalia of arrogance, unrighteousness, oppression: who care nothing for your carpet, curtains, uniformed lackeys. I am an animal: I require to eat, to drink, to live: but to put any emphasis whatever on the trapperies, luxuries, that were the stock in trade of the thought of our great-grandfathers—oh! that I could never, never do!" Then suddenly he fired out with more heat than ever: "And now that I think of it I can say this fact more than any other fact lends weight to the Baconian authorship: I have never written, never said, indeed I have never thought of it as forcibly as at just this moment sitting here with you two fellows: but the emphasis that the author of the Plays places upon the fripperies points an unmistakable finger towards Bacon. Bacon himself loved all this show, this fustian: dressed handsomely: tunic: fine high boots: brooches: liked a purse well filled with gold money: the feel of it in his pocket: would tinsel his clothes: oh! was fond of rich, gay apparel: affected the company of ladies, gents, lords, courts: favored noble hallways, laces, cuffs, gorgeous service—even the hauteur of feudalism." W. then added: "Feudalism has had its day: it has no message for us: it's an empty vessel: all its contents have been spilled: it's foolish for us to look back to some anterior period for leadership: feudalism is gone—well gone: peace to its dung: may my nostrils never know its stink again. One mustn't forget, Tom, and you, Horace, that thankful as we have a right to be and should be to the past our business is ahead with what is to come: the dead must be left in their graves."

Were the Shakespeare plays the best acting plays? W. said: "That's a superstition—an exaggeration." Harned said something which induced W. to add: "If O'Connor was here and heard you say that he'd quarrel with you." As to Shakespeare as actor W. said: "Even if he never got beyond the ghost, as has been said, we must acknowledge that to do the ghost right is a man's not a ghost's job: few actors ever realized the possibilities of the ghost." W. said: "William speaks of Winter as Littlebillwinter—all one word: I often think of Ben Jonson as Littlebenjonson—all one word: I remember what Emerson said of Jonson: 'He thought himself a good deal greater man than Shakespeare.' " The "Shakespeare personality" was "very mystifying, baffling." "Yet there are some things we can say of it." "Whoever Shakespeare was not he was equal in refinement to the wits of his age: he was a gentleman: he was not a man of the streets—rather of the courts, of the study: he was not vulgar. As for the Plays, they do not seem to me spontaneous: they seem laboredly built up: I have always felt their feudal bias: they are rich to satiety: overdone with words." I never saw W. more vigorous. He finally said: "I am so sure the orthodox notion of Shakespeare is not correct that I enter fully into the discussion of those who are trying to get at the truth." Harned said as we left together: "You can't stand up against his splendid power when he talks in that way."

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