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Saturday, March 2, 1889

Saturday, March 2, 1889

Hunting up Bucke at Dooner's, according to appointment, we took together the 8.31 train from Broad Street. We had a comfortable ride. Talked of things in general. A great deal about Walt and O'Connor. Discussed things ahead—the way out of inevitable difficulties. It was a clouded day. There was no rain. Now and then the sun would break through. Past Wilmington. Past Baltimore. This was my initiation trip south of Wilmington. I shall never forget the first glimpse of Washington: the dome of the Capitol: white—half hid in the mist: elevated above the red brick of a building on the road. Then Negroes everywhere. So many more Negroes than with us. I like the Negroes. Then the station. Crowds of people everywhere, ready for the inauguration. The sidewalks of Pennsylvania Avenue lined with platforms. Monday's celebration in the air. Flags flying all round. Multitudinous strangers sightseeing, more or less aimlessly going to and fro. Bucke said: "This is America." I said: "Yes: this is both the little and the big of it."

We got a snatch lunch. Then took a car (after inquiry) for O Street. A marked difference in the treatment of the Negro. A fine looking woman enters. She takes out her nickel and gives it to a Negro boy who sat near her and says imperiously: "Here: put this in the box!"—never a please or thank you. Bucke said: "Don't that beat hell!" Across from her a man turns to another Negro: "Here! why don't you get up and give this gentleman a seat!"—motioning towards someone just coming through the door. But the Negro did not get up. I was glad to see that. On the street corner as we got off a white man said to a Negro who was standing by the curb: "Hold this." The Negro said: "I ain't got time," and walked away. The man turned to Bucke, who was nearest him, and said: "Did you ever see anything like that?" Bucke laughed and said: "Yes: often," and we started on, the man looking after us. Bucke said: "We are in the southern country here for sure."

Of course everything made me think of W. The buildings everywhere. The Capitol. The Treasury. Here O'C. worked, and W., and Burroughs. It was all W.'s stamping ground. It has been the environment of his daily life. Was in his books. In his memories as he talked to me from day to day. I felt all sorts of things as I went and looked about. Just as we had been saying: "This is America!" I found myself saying: "This is Walt: Walt is this!"

O'Connor's little house. Two stories. Brick. The door was opened by Nellie. We were ushered into the little parlor. Talk. Quick questions and answers. Nellie said: "I am glad to see you both at last." And she added: "William is impatient: he has been asking ever since Walt's post came: when will they be here? when will they be here?" She went up to William. We looked at the pictures on the wall. Among them was one of Victor Hugo. Nellie called from upstairs: "Come up, Doctor." B. started off saying: "You come too: she means both of us." To the second floor. To William's room.

We stayed about two hours and a half, all told—most of the time immediately with O'Connor. There were two communicating small rooms. In the front room were the beds and chairs. Two windows. In the back room were O'Connor's books—what he called his "study." Nellie, "knowing Walt's fondness for details," knowing, as she said, that he would ask us "all sorts of minute questions" when we got back, took us about into every nook and corner. Showed me O'Connor's Donnelly manuscript, his collection of Bacon books, the place in which he did most of his work. He preferred this room. Nellie was very quiet, subdued, equable. She seemed well. O'Connor himself sat in the front room sidewise next the bed in a big arm chair. He looked mighty, but ill. No color in his face. His eye was lustreless—tired. He was stout, even thick—almost fat. When aroused, animated, the color would mount to his cheeks and his eyes would flash. Noble head, just stubbled with gray. He has a little cold, which made his voice a bit husky—but his voice was nevertheless very musical. Hands almost as beautiful as Walt's. O'Connor greeted us with great cordiality. At once after our hellos he sort of gestured back to himself and said: "Well: here I am: or, rather, here are my remains!" He was in a jubilant mood. Nellie said: "You have stimulated him: I have not seen him so for two years." William himself said: "You fellows are wine to me." He looked me all over: "So you are Horace? so you are Horace?" Then he laughed, turning to Nellie: "Here he is, Nellie! see him: he is the youth in our story—its poetry, its prophecy, made visible." To Bucke: "You know, Doctor, Horace is the romance of it all: with Walt, with us, in our notes, in our thoughts, it has been Horace, Horace, Horace: he is the wonderchild of our pilgrimage."

Nellie sent for William's Doctor, Hood. She wished Hood and Bucke to compare notes. Hood came in a few minutes. Bucke went downstairs to meet him. William turned again to Nellie. "Well—he's here, Nellie: he's Walt's: he's ours, too: how can he prevent himself from being ours, too?" Then to me: "Tell us about yourself first—then about Walt: yourself first: you have been a mystery figure to us: draw aside the curtain—bare yourself to us!" He laughed. "Oh Nellie! I'm glad he came before it was too late! It might have been too late!" Bucke called Nellie from the foot of the stairs. The instant Nellie had left the room William looking straight at me reached out both his arms. "Come!" he said. I went to him: he took both my hands: he drew me to himself—kissed my lips and eyes and brow: he pressed my body against his. His eyes filled with tears.

I went back to my seat. He said: "Now I'm happier!" and he added passionately: "Thank God you didn't come too late! thank God! thank God!" And he also said: "When you get back to Walt tell him you are mine as well as his—tell him that in our brotherhood you don't belong to one of us but to all of us!" He said: "I sit here all day, every day, and do nothing but think of Walt." I said: "That's what Walt does there all day thinking of you." He nodded: "Yes: I have felt that it must be so: events have drawn us closer together than ever." He talked of November Boughs. "I do not think Walt has said enough about the elder Booth: what he said he said with eloquence and has my approval: only, there was too little of it: there should have been more. I have wished to write to Walt about it but everything has stood in the way. I intended one letter for Booth alone: one letter, too, for the book as a whole." Contrary to W.'s fear expressed to me William does like the book. He fired up talking of Booth. Entered into a most gorgeous description of his "dramatic magnificence." I stood leaning against the doorpost, spellbound. He was so intense and so splendid. I never heard such flooding, overwhelming speech from anyone. He just let go. Now I understood Walt's frequent statement to us: "William is the most eloquent as well as the most really learned of men." Walt has always been saying also: "You won't know exactly what I mean by this till you meet William in person." Now I met him. Walt was right. O'Connor said: "Booth has power with everything else: he had no great body: it was a lesson simply to see him move, gesture, even when he was not speaking: he had a panther stride: his mere entrance deluged the house with electricity." O'Connor's whole form dilated, his arms were spread out, his eyes were fixed on me, as he said these things. Then he digressed to Rachel. "Too narrow between the eyes for beauty—but fascinating, as a serpent is fascinating: and as for voice—oh God! that voice! As her passion increased her voice would go down the scale: it was tremendous: she would often end a sentence in a sort of silence: the whole house would be subjected to her thrill—would surrender to her magic spell." O'Connor considered Edwin Booth "coldly intellectual though exquisite." I mentioned Salvini. "Ah! there's a man: I have never seen him, but I know what he is like: he has the panther!"

I asked O'Connor about the Hugo picture downstairs. He spoke of Walt's Hugoesque character. He said: "Yes, and it is so: I had it from an attaché of the French Legation here that that is the best picture of Hugo ever produced: I have known no other picture that so satisfied me: I call Hugo the Walt Whitman of France: Hugo has more culture, but they are innately related." We talked of Burroughs, Stedman, Gilder. O'Connor said: "I have a kind letter from Gilder, whom I have never met: and Stedman is getting to be rather fine and beautiful: I flatter myself that I had a good deal to do with bringing him within our zone." He asked me if we had seen Howells' notice in Harper's. He said: "I'm afraid Burroughs has changed towards me."

His condition was very emotional. He spoke of his two W. letters—and his tears fell copiously as he did so: "John did not think them too radical at the time: they grew out of the purity of my heart: something needed to be done—and they were done! and they stemmed the tide! they stemmed the tide! they did that—and I know it!" He was wonderful. "One thing is sure: Walt has never changed: he is as he always was: he knows, as he knew, what I have always been driving at: I am not sure of John at all but Walt is irremovably steadfast. All of them knew that I meant war, that I disdained to trifle—that when I was once entered it was for no cry of quarter: I threw my javelin in the seats of the mighty." Back to Burroughs. "Yes: John is different: there has been a change: he may not know it himself: a change, certainly, as towards me. Has Walt ever said anything of the same purport to you?" "He has only said John no longer is the tonic he was formerly." O'Connor said: "That's it: that says it in a few words. John has rather gone stale—just a little bit, it may be, but enough to spoil the batter. I have had many talks with Stedman and have, I am confident, broken down most of his remaining prejudices against Walt." I said: "And your prejudices for Walt: have they survived?" He brought his fist down on the arm of the chair: "Have they survived? My God! they have increased and multiplied: they will populate the world with their progeny! Have they survived! Has Gibraltar survived? have time and space survived?" Then passionately: "You are Horace: you are the next to come: you will bear on the tradition and recreate it, maybe in your own image—who knows? As Walt came after all the others so you may come after Walt. Survived? My God! has my love of life survived? have my dreams survived?"

A sob burst from his throat. A smile broke out all over his face. He reached out: took my right hand between his right and left hands. "Horace: you must return as my delegate to Walt: take my body and take my soul, with you: set them down at his doorstep, under his feet, across his pillow: anywhere, so that he may know I have survived whole and entire and complete in the old faith: to this message I consecrate your journey back to Camden." He dropped my hand. Sank back in the chair. Closed his eyes. I was all broken up. He said then looking at me again: "You are the next of your race, but not the last: God was good: I thought I was never to see you, but here you are, the child of our flock, talking to me, face to face, in a man's voice: now I can die contentedly: my cup is full—my joy (though with sadness in it, too) is rounded and whole." What could I have said to all this? "I have said to Nellie: 'It will never happen,' but she always said, 'He will come.' Even yesterday after Walt announced that you were preparing to take the trip I said, 'It will never happen,' and Nellie kept on saying, 'He will come.' This morning I felt half buoyant yet half doubtful still. I said, 'Nellie, do you still think he will come?' and she said, 'William, I am sure of it: even now he must be on the way.' And here you are! God was on my side after all. I run my pennants up up into the air and fill the skies with my cry: Victory is mine forever!" I was not prepared for such an incident. He shook me to my foundations.

I told O'Connor I thought W. put the Sarrazin essay next to the O'Connor monographs. But O'Connor cried: "No: first! first!" I repeated it. "I said next: we have talked it over often and thoroughly: Walt puts the two letters first always: just the other day he said: 'They will always enjoy the same priority—nothing under God's heaven can displace them!'" William exclaimed: "So he said that, did he? You are the bearer of great news." Just then Bucke and Nellie came quietly into the room. O'Connor asked: "Did you hear that, Nellie? Did you hear what Horace said? No?"—turning to me: "Say it over in those same words again: let her hear them from you." Which I did. O'Connor then addressed her jubilantly: "What do you think of that, Nell?"—this time he said Nell—"Ring all the bells, build all the bonfires, blow all the whistles, for the ambassador with tidings of great joy is with us today!" Bucke pulled his chair up next to O'Connor's at his side and read aloud some passages from the Sarrazin sheet. O'Connor wildly stirred. "Great! grand! terrific!" he exclaimed at one place. Then again: "Oh! our fellows should slink into their boots for shame, for shame, that it must be left to Englishmen, Germans, Frenchmen, to say these things!" And he brushed the tears out of his eyes and added in a hushed voice: "It is fine, beautiful, superb! You will leave that sheet with me?" He again said: "It will come over America all at once, sometime, what an ass she has made of herself: then she will have the usual regrets: then they will canonize the dead again as they have so often before. Doctor, Horace here will see it all: we may not—I certainly shall not: Horace will live to pluck the fulfilling harvest." And he lifted an admonishing finger towards me gently: "And do you not fail to pass the trust on with becoming additions when at last the burden is placed upon your shoulders." Bucke exclaimed: "And what will we be doing all the time, William, while Horace is struggling with his prophetic responsibilities?" O'Connor laughed gently: "We'll have passed on, Maurice, just as Horace, too, in still farther years, will pass on, leaving what was given him and what he added to it to a younger discipleship." Bucke took on O'Connor's serious air. "It's wonderful, William, the way you put it: I guess you say just what's right: we must all face the music." William assented. "That's it: the music: I say, the heavenly music, Maurice," said O'C. "So do I, William," said Bucke: "the heavenly music: that's more like it."

Bucke introduced the Donnelly affair. O'Connor said: "I find it hard to get a publisher for my book: you know the Donnelly book has been a flat failure: Donnelly's publishers have an idea of publishing my book in order to accelerate the sale of The Great Cryptogram: but that, too, is still uncertain." O'Connor then called out with a sweep of his hand: "St. William of Stratford is too strong for me!" O'C. said he would vouch for Donnelly's honesty though he "would not wholly endorse his manners." A facsimile of the Shakespeare folio was brought out. O'C. wished to show us some things Mrs. Pott had called his attention to. He gave B. a circular from Mrs. P. explaining some defects in the facsimile by the fact that so much was lost in the process of reproduction. O'C. said: "It's a big tussle getting this thing done but everything we do will assist towards the inevitable triumph. The time will come when people will wonder how anybody could ever have believed St. William, who couldn't write his name, was the author of reams of plays of the most astonishing quality."

O'Connor had woke up with some derangement of the stomach. He had made up his mind not to eat for a day or two. Nellie appealed to Bucke. Was this wise? Bucke said: "No—he should eat." O'Connor asked: "Do you seriously say, eat?" Bucke nodded. "Yes." O'Connor cried, throwing out his arms: "Bring in the fatted calf!" He was tickled when I described Walt's aversion to being doctored. I said: "He seems to think the doctors treat him professionally rather than humanly, like a priest handles a congregation." William exclaimed: "How good that is! how to the point! how like the old Walt!" He said W. had told him of the German translation. If a copy was available he'd like to have it. I promised to have both this and the big book sent on my return. He said: "The brightest lights in these days are the postals from Walt."

O'C. described his last attack. "One bright morning about six weeks ago the Department woke up and found itself deprived of its right arm. That was me. It all happened in the night." Today the windows were open wide. Some days, he said, his eyes would not stand it. "But I want the light: when the light is shut out life is shut out with it." His legs are no use at all. "I'm gone," he said, "below the waist-line." Last night in being wheeled from one room to the other he slid to the floor. He could not get up himself. Nellie was not strong enough to lift him. So they had to call in assistance from the outside. William said: "So you can see the half of me's very much dead while the rest of me's very much alive." Bucke asked: "How's your topknot?" William smiled. "As good according to some and as bad according to some as ever!" But he said he was easily tired. "The days get to be a great drag: they try me more than they do Walt. I am of a more impatient spirit. I don't fret, but sit here thinking of all the things I have intended doing that remain undone—of all the things I might do if my body had not gone back on me. There are so many marches still to make, so many people still to be helped, so many fights still to be fought, in the good cause. I sit here helpless, surveying the field outstretched before me: oh my God, Doctor, don't you understand? and you, Horace,"—taking my hand—"don't you see what it means?" He broke down completely. Covered his face with his hands. Then he smiled at us through his tears: "But it will get done—someone will do it: no one man, no one generation, can expect to do it all: I must not be greedy: I myself have done in my own way perhaps—I always hope I have—some little to lift the standards higher, to advance the frontier lines, to enlarge the horizons: I console myself with that reflection: that's all I have left." He paused. Then he addressed Bucke: "May you never come to such a pass yourself: may you die in harness, fighting!" I said: "Walt says it's as beautiful, even as magnificent, one way as the other." O'Connor admitted: "I suppose it is, but we have to remember that while Walt's one kind of a man I'm another kind of a man." Bucke broke in: "Yes: but you're both going to die sometime and you're both going to live always: you're alike in that." O'Connor said: "True, Doctor: I'm not worrying about what is to come hereafter but about what is here now." Nellie interposed: "But, William"—but he interrupted her: "Nellie, there are no buts: I am not willing to hide the truth from myself: I am still alive and yet useless." Bucke contradicted him emphatically. "That's nonsense: you'll never be useless even when you're dead!" O'Connor said: "Have it as you please, Maurice." Then addressing me: "But the fact remains that the future is with you and those who come after you! May you never betray the faith!"

I induced William to talk about W. as he was in Washington. "I could hardly do anything in words to describe Walt as he looked when he first came here: his uncommon grace, his unmistakable grandeur: his figure—he was then narrow at the flanks: the beard: the red of his face—not bloat (I know that well) but a sort of sun-flush. He commanded attention: people looked at him as he passed—some scornfully, some with admiration, some with simple wonder: but everybody looked, from one interest or another: he was a man who could not have gone unnoticed anywhere. It was always, Who is that? Who is that? or it was, That is Walt Whitman, That is Walt Whitman: one way or the other. Although many people would, did, regard him as a crank, I remember one man here, who was very conventional, who didn't like Walt a bit, who said to me one day: 'I'll admit, O'Connor, that though he's peculiar, though he goes his own gait, there's nothing foolish about him.'" W. has often quoted O'Connor as saying: "Walt, why do you always like the most idiotic pictures of yourself the best." I mentioned this to O'C. He laughed. "That's so: I did say it: he would often express the greatest joy over the most trivial, often the silliest, of his portraits."

I asked William: "What broke you up?" He answered at once: "Overwork." I asked: "Is life hard in the Departments?" He said: "If you take it seriously, yes: I took it seriously." I asked: "How did Walt manage not to break down?" "Oh! by not working hard. He would come in of a morning, sit down, work like a steam engine for an hour or so, then throw himself back in his chair, yawn, stretch himself, pick up his hat and go out." Then O'Connor was grave. "But that was the making of him: don't mistake that. If he had been any other sort of fellow we never should have had Leaves of Grass." O'C. said again: "Two things in Walt we must always bear in mind: they explain so much: his prophetic nature and his masterly composure." I said: "Yes: if it wasn't for that masterly composure he'd be dead today." O'C. said: "Undoubtedly—not dead today, dead long ago!" Smile. O'C. added: "I of all men should know what that signifies: if I had had that composure I would not be where I am today: but the Irish in me won't do for me what the Dutch in Walt does for him."

O'Connor was full of talk. "I don't know where to begin knowing I must so soon end," he said. He said: "We must not show any anxiety to placate the New York fellows: not even Howells, Stedman, Gilder, worth while as they may be. They are honest: Howells is honest: I know him. That is as far as they can see. We must not quarrel with them because they cannot see more." He spoke of John Burroughs. "They all talk to me of John's sanity—by which they mean gently to remind me of my own craziness. They call John's interpretations of Walt sane and my interpretations insane. I, too, believe in sanity, but I believe in blood and passion, too. But because I believe in blood and passion it must not be thought I believe in foolishness—in making biased or rash claims or statements. Critics have said so much of this tenor that I'm afraid John has got tinged with it—that he has latent, positive, increasing, fears of me. There has been an undoubted cooling off occasioned by this or by some other reason." I said: "Walt says John has been a trifle frostbitten by his later association with the New York crowd." William said: "I have suspected it myself: it's marvellous to me how inveterately Walt puts his finger on the nerve: his insight is incalculably subtle." And he said again: "Do not mistake me: John is most parts the same John: but lately something has been added or subtracted. I love him still—but some regret has been coupled with my love."

O'Connor said he was going to make a collection of W.W. photographs "as soon as" he got "about again." "I shall take care to have it full and complete: it would make a most remarkable presentment: I have always desired to do the thing." A few minutes before he was so sure he was going to die. Now he seemed to be sure he was going to live. I said: "I wonder if Walt is not the most photographed man that ever lived?" William said: "It looks as if he was." Bucke said: "There's no doubt of it." Nellie said: "He was always being run after here by the artists." I said: "His enemies say he ran after the photographers—that the photographers didn't run after him!" William said: "I've heard that said myself. He didn't have to, even if he felt so disposed. They did the running first."

Ingersoll was mentioned. William was aroused at once. "Now there's a man. You don't know him, do you, Maurice? Except for Walt—Walt's an exception to all rules and measurements—he's the biggest man around. I should say, the biggest man in sight—excepting Walt again—on this side of the water." Did he see a great deal of the Colonel? "Not a great deal—but I have seen him often: we have spent many odds and ends of hours together: I recall one night in particular. I took a long walk with him. There was a reception at Dan Voorhees'. We went there—talking by the way of Walt. Ingersoll was enthusiastic—spoke beautifully, eloquently. It was a fine night. The stars were all out. He called Walt a child of nature—the sweetest born of our day, the 'inheritor of the infinite childhoods of all the past,' as he said. Ingersoll is himself a child of nature. 'Bob' they call him and 'Bob' he is: it is very fit. Ingersoll is overflowing with good heart, as they say: a good man, a good woman, could not hear him laugh, see him laugh, and say he was not good. The twinkle of his eye, the curve of his mouth: no one could resent it." He was interrupted by Nellie, who asked: "Is there anything you want? I'm going downstairs for awhile." He then continued: "Ingersoll's fault is, he is too negative: that, too, is puzzling to me: negative, yet recognizing and accepting Walt, who is the most full of faith of all men alive today. But Ingersoll is a genius: no one can explain genius: it comes and goes by its own mysterious impulses its wonders to perform: he is rich in the real stuff: generous, hospitable, sympathetic, to the core."

While we sat there Walt's postal of yesterday was handed in. A pamphlet from somebody came along with it. It was addressed to "Hon." W. D. O'C. William held it up for us to see. "What have I done to deserve this?" Why had he allowed himself to be so imposed on by the Department? "They get to know a man's qualities. They discovered that I could not write. From that time all reports and special letters—even if not properly in my zone—were handed over to me to take care of."

We had to leave at 3.30. William said: "I hate to have you go." I said: "We hate to go." Bucke too: "Yes, William: we hate to go." I felt that we were going for good. I was sure I would never see him again. William said: "Your visit has not been an invasion: it has been an illumination. Your departure will leave me in the darkness." I said: "I'd rather you had felt like saying, 'leave me in the light.'" He looked at me, all eyes: "You are a wise son of your father: it will be that: you'll leave me in the light." Bucke said: "We are hoping seeing us will help you as seeing you has helped us." William said: "After the immediate shock of your leaving me is gone I have no doubt the rest will be a glad memory." Nellie stood just outside the bedroom door watching us. She seemed habitually restrained and composed. Bucke and William and I were face to face. William looked up at us. He held one of Bucke's hands and one of mine. Nellie moved off towards the stairway, choked. William said: "Well." Bucke said: "William!" I said: "Love always!" No more. William reached his hand to Bucke's face: "Bucke, you're true blue!" And then he pulled my head down between his two palms and kissed me: "You are the pride of the flock!" Bucke and I edged off towards the door. Outside we waved back our salutations which he returned. Then I saw his head drop on his breast. Nellie was waiting for us at the foot of the stairs. "It has all been beautiful," she said: "he will carry it with him into the next world." So we left.

Into the crowded streets again. Cars and horses everywhere. Strangers with bags, residents, Negroes. The Capitol. The skies still clouded. My unspeakable reflections.

Our train left at 4.10 (P.W.&.B.). Three-quarters of an hour late getting into Broad street. Bucke said that on the whole he found O'C. better than he expected. Hood gives O'C. six months to a year. Bucke wrote a note, in pencil, for me to give to W. from him in the morning, B. not being able to get over. Supper at Dooner's about nine. Then to Camden. Passed three twenty-eight. All dark there. Home soon. Took a bath. Found considerable mail. A few words on a slip from Walt left probably by Ed. "Welcome. Do not postpone coming to me in the morning." A quick crowded day.

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