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Thursday, March 14, 1889

Thursday, March 14, 1889

10.30 A.M. W. reading Press. Sitting up, of course. He said: "I have been reading the account of the Priestley affair here: they have unveiled a statue or a tablet or something." It was a tablet placed on the First Unitarian Church, across the river. There were speeches by C.C. Everett, of Harvard, Prof. Leidy, and some others. W. said: I thought the story would give me a good résumé of Priestley's career—some adequate picture in outline: but there is nothing: whether nothing was said, or the reporter missed it if it was said, there's no way of knowing: all I read here is of the Gas President kind—emphasis on his Unitarianism: as if the world at large cared a damn whether he was or was not a Unitarian." Didn't he think the Unitarian sect an improvement on other Christian sects? "No: I consider the Unitarian as bad as any other sect—as bad as the Methodist." He had always been interested in Priestley from his "earliest youth." "My father was booked in all those things—took a great caper at all the progressive fellows. Priestley was a man who lived in a time that tried men's souls: the feeling against him in England was very violent. He came to this country—went off into Pennsylvania—out into the State. He was a man of the big kind: a genuine character—to go with Tom Paine, Franklin, I think even Voltaire: a scientist, but more learned than most scientists. This report, dealing altogether in gas-Presidential stuff as I call it, quite knocks me out." Had his father personally known Priestley? "No—no: not personally: but he watched his career devotedly." I showed W. a note I had from Stedman today. This:

66 Broadway, New York, March 13, 1889. Dear Mr. Traubel:

Just a line to say that I have received Walt's superb and unique volume—a memorable treasure—and your letter, and that I shall write him very shortly. A death in my sister's family (today) will require my devotion, etc., for a few days. With great affection,

Sincerely yours, E. C. Stedman.

At the word "superb" W. paused: "Superb? I don't know what is superb about it." But he added, "Well, the main point is, that he got it: that is enough." Had he sent Stedman the Sarrazin sheet? He appeared a little uncertain, but said: "I think I sent both of them—Bucke's, Kennedy's: folded them, put them in the book." And he asked me: "Did O'Connor get the sheets? I am wholly at a loss to recall whether I sent them or not." I remembered that Bucke had left one of the two sheets with O'C. when we were there. W. reached over—handed me a postal from a pile of books. "See this," he said: "the news is better and better."

Washington, March 13, 1889.

William is gaining but is very weak and not back to the place he was before the attack. We speak and think of you much. He has sat up a part of the day, but is now, at 4 P.M., sleeping. I hope to have still better news soon to send. With love.


W. advised me to take the postcard over to show to Bucke. "We will not encourage bad news—anyway will not admit it till it arrives." I repeated Dave's question to W.: Did he intend sending any press copies of the big book west to sort of pave the way for Dave's trip? W. said: "I have no desire to send any: it is all a speculation: it may do some good, it may not—in most cases does not: if Dave knows any particular spot which would be sure to yield to such an argument tell him to name it." W. here put on his poor mouth again. "I am making nothing out of the book—so far have not made myself whole: it has cost us considerable: now I am getting a little tight: I am not worrying, I am not overanxious, but I have to be on my guard." I said: "Now you have got your poorhouse spiel off again you should be happy!" He laughed a little. "Maybe you think I'm a millionaire?" W. had sent Ed up to Harned's with the wine bottle. I met Ed there and we returned together. I showed W. the filled bottle. He said: "Ah! there it is!"—then indicating the spot on the table: "Yes—put it there!"

7.30 P.M. Reading Aeschylus. Said his health was about the same. "The Doctor was here an hour or two ago: longer ago than that—about four." Then: "I find the Doctor worn, worn." I asked: "Wearied and worried?" "I mean worn—just what the word signifies: I find he is much more exercised over things than I ever supposed possible: as they say, taking things more to heart: is more borne down by responsibilities—here, up home: I have noticed the expression of his face ever since he came, particularly the last few days: he is surprisingly prone to get hold of little things—let them work in him: intensity, I may call it—intensity of feeling." I said: "Doctor gets resentments in differences of opinion—makes too much of them, holds on to them too long." W. said: "I have not noticed it but it is probable: he seems to me more eligible now than years ago for such things: well, in your case I should treat such idiosyncrasies just as if they didn't exist: indeed, I think you do so." Then after a pause: "We must not forget: the Doctor is getting older: it is now ten years—ten full years—that I remember him: I remember he was at that time as lively getting around as you are: now he seems tired, weary, almost worn out. Oh! how the years pass! they don't give you a chance to realize they're come before they've gone!" Reflectively: "No one can know—poor William, he knows!—no one can know what an awful deprivation powerlessness is—the loss of legs—but those who have been there." He half flung the coverlet off his knees. "See here what it has done for me." Ed came in and got W.'s mail—three postals and one newspaper. W. asked, as he always does: "How many are there?" and upon Ed's reply: "Yes, that's right." He turned to me. "One of them for William," he said. Then he added: "I've had some things today to help me: I'm glad for the news from Washington: I'm glad too for the little word you have from Stedman: such things help a fellow to live."

W. spoke of a visit from his brother George today. "It is curious," he said: "curious that you never met him there on Stevens Street: you came often." I had in fact seen him there often, but we had never talked together. "He is a large man: not as tall as I am, but with more belly: weighs twenty pounds more than me, I should say." "Healthy?" "Yes—thoroughly." "Was he injured by his imprisonment in the War?" This aroused W. He spoke up. "Those Southern prisons were hells on earth!—hells on earth!"—continuing quietly: "George was not injured in any permanent way so far as I could see; he was one of a batch captured—taken to prison: got fever there—something like our typhoid: he weathered it all without serious reactions." I wrote O'Connor. Among things told him of Osler's analysis of W.'s urine. W. said: "I could not write that way myself: I fill my letters with what Mary Smith calls frivol, gossip, something light: yet you are right: he will like to hear it—hear it described in your own way: indeed, if you could write so every once in a while when the spirit moves you it would be well—well for us all." He talked variously of Washington—"the undoubted developments." Asked me of the depots: "the old Baltimore & Potomac depot—did you see that?—that is the depot of memories." "They must be much changed from my day: a depot on Pennsylvania Avenue would seem a very obvious thing—I am surprised, now I think of it, it was not done long ago, long ago!"

So he questioned and intercalated. "We were all in the Treasury building—John, O'Connor, with me: in different rooms, departments, but under the same roof. I was for years there in the Attorney General's office: he had a fine series of rooms." He advised that if I go again I "go for a week": "I can myself give you a whole armful of commissions: I have even a couple of books to send, people for you to see, messages to deliver." Here he described the "lay-out" of Washington. "It is curious to see how little is known of that—the reasons why: it is almost lost—the history of it." "I have been told the story a number of times by old men—I have quite a penchant for hunting up the old roosters, having their stories from the farthest back possible." "Their stories seemed wonderfully to agree—seemed plausible. It may have been put into print—somewhere probably was—but I have never seen it." He pushed his chair back, took up his cane, indicated the Capitol: then "the radiating avenues—the grand avenues—and they are grand: laid out liberally, wide, starting out so, from the center like the spokes of a wheel—the initialed streets, A. and on, and the numbered streets, crossing the avenues. The early fellows—Washington, Jefferson—brought over an engineer, a topographical engineer, one of the military engineers, who had been in the rubs between the people and the aristocrats in France." This man had "so set the ways of Washington that troops could be massed at the Capitol, or sent from it, at a moment's notice." It was all so clearly arranged. "Washington is one of the easiest—perhaps the easiest—city in the Union to understand, to learn to get about in." To my description of the first glimpse of the Capitol: "Yes, it is grand—vast: it sits so proudly on the top of the hill!"

Clifford said in a recent sermon, commenting on the ill-keptness of Faneuil Hall in Boston: "The cradle of Liberty is so dirty, without and within, that no decent baby will consent to be rocked in it." This provoked W. to great laughter, which was increased when I told him of somebody at Germantown who had asked Mrs. Burleigh: "Who is this Single Tax man who is to speak at the church? If he's another crank like that Doctor Bucke, I won't go: for he was enough, with care, to last a life time!" W. exclaimed: "How rich! how funny! and have you told Doctor? you should tell Doctor!"

Saw Ferguson today about pocket edition. No definite arrangements yet. I could not find the paper man. W. said: "I am aware of all the requirements— aware that we must have an opaque paper, that the book must not be made too bulky."

W. has lately talked a lot about the Southern war prisons. Today he gave me what the yellow envelope inscribed in his hand called an "anonymous letter sent to Atty. Gen. Speed Aug. 1865 (Andersonville prisoners)." W. wrote these words in ink. Later having a second thought in the matter he inserted the query "bogus" in pencil. I asked W.: "Now it's many years ago: do you still suspect the letter?" He laughed. "Read it: see for yourself whether I should suspect it." No place specified and no personal signature. I asked: "How did Speed get it?" He said: "It was handed in, I think—though I'm not sure."

To Mr. Attorney General Speed.

Sir: I notice that it is the intention of holding Captain Wirz responsible for the sufferings of Union prisoners at Andersonville. I was nearly eleven months held there as a prisoner and I know that Captain Wirz was uniformly kind to us. No man in his situation was ever so tried as he was. I have seen the tears running from his eyes more than once at seeing the suffering of some of our men from disease and want of such delicate nourishment as their sickness required, and want of such remedies as their disease required, to say nothing of being exposed all annoyances and want of good nursing; but no honest or fair man did I ever hear charge their sufferings to Captain Wirz. There was far from inhumanity or unchristianlike treatment from him. In fact, he had to punish some of the prisoners for their outrageous illtreatment and brutality to their unfortunate companions. The complaints of thousands, and not without reason, was very bitter against the U.S. authorities in not having them exchanged, so that such as were sick or suffering from their wounds could have been better attended to at their homes or in the U.S. hospitals. Thousands of our officers and men consider all that they suffered in the Confederate prisons was aggravated by their government officials' heartless disregard of their welfare, and will never volunteer their services again. Stanton is remembered with the utmost hate, and if he ever puts himself in an attitude for political favor he will learn if he has not ere this how much he is despised by the volunteers.

The committee to investigate the conduct of the war furnish a scandalous and most infamous chapter in relation to the "cruelties" of the Confederates towards our prisoners. They furnish drawings of some cases of disgusting disease of the feet! Had it not been for the unnatural and criminal practices of those worse than brute men, they would not have been so afflicted. Sodomy was the cause of their disgusting condition, and the Committee disgrace themselves by their miserable attempt to irritate the people against the South by such infamous exhibitions. It was the greatest wonder that thousands more did not die from their filthy habits. The men generally seemed to hate to wash even their faces.

Yours respectfully, A Private of the 5th Pa. Cavalry.

After I was through W. asked: "Well—was it bogus or genuine?" I said: "It smells fishy to me—but what right have I got to an opinion? How does it smell to you?" W. was fiery at once: "It does not smell to me at all: it stinks to me: this man may be real or not: his story may have been true or not: I can't make up my mind: prisoners are real—pigpens are real—but they raise a hell of fuss with a man's nose. I wouldn't take sides, except to say that such allegations as he makes are not borne out by other testimony in our possession. We have talked the subject over so often. I have so freely expressed my opposite view, I have felt it to be but just that you should see this curious version. It leaves me where I was: I have wished to think other things in this matter: I have a prejudice in favor of the South: this is, however, a blemish—a damned spot that will not out."

Pocket edition up again. W. said: "I want this to be a purely personal book—not a publisher's book: no, not that: an author's book. I want everything we do to contribute to that end: if Dave wishes to cooperate in an advisorial capacity, well and good—but we will use him no farther: I want to sell the book, but I suppose I'll mostly have to give it away: I have been thinking of my birthday this year as a good time to bring the book out: think that over—tell me how the idea strikes you." He said: "I am seeing much less of Doctor this trip than I hoped to—than I would enjoy." Again: "I'd get jealous of the meter if it was worth while: it has interfered with our visit this time—made Maurice's comings and goings only casual." I said: "Bucke had a debate with us at Dooner's the other night on the subject of annexation." W. said: "He's an annexationist whole and whole." I said: "So it seems: he said nothing in God's world can finally keep us apart: that we are destined partners in spite of hell!" W. laughed. "Did he go as far, did he talk as strong, as that?" W. said: "I don't suppose the Canadians would take kindly to such talk?" I said: "Bucke said it would happen if need be in spite of both Canadians and Americans, it is evolutionally so necessary."

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