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Sunday, March 17, 1889

Sunday, March 17, 1889

10.30 A.M. In for a few minutes. W. reading paper. I took him Current Literature, which he examined. "I think there must be much in it: and the print itself is very recommendable." Asked details as usual as to price, who published, where, &c. "It is a good deal for the money." Said: "Doctor was here last night—came in late, after you had gone: I expect him back again this morning: the meter affair seems in a fair way to be closed: I think he meant that they had settled to telegraph the lawyer—Dane, isn't that his name?—to come on Monday so they can bind the bargain."

I asked W.: "How about Washington? anything new from William?" He said: "No—but that reminds me." He picked up a letter that he had tucked under a pile of letters on the table. "I found this four or five days ago: each day I have forgotten to give it to you: it's an old letter from William: when you asked about him I was reminded of it: it's as alive as if he had written it yesterday: it stirs up curious questions, memories, too: you will see what I mean when you read it." I took the letter out of the envelope. "Look at that handwriting!" cried W.: "Did you ever see anything like it? it looks as if it was done with a graver instead of an ordinary pen." W. interrupted frequently as I read the letter.

Washington, D. C., July 2, 1864. Dear Walt:

Your note of June 25th did not reach me till the 28th. Since then another word has come from you to Charles Eldridge.

I was very glad to hear from you and am quite vexed with myself that I did not answer the note at once, as I meant to do. Procrastination seems to possess me of late years. I think it must be in the Washington air, together with other vices. ["Together with other vices" seemed to hit W.'s funny bone. He repeated it over and over and laughed.]

I am very much encouraged at the prospects of your recovery. I never can say how anxious I was about you when you were here. It was so lucky that you left just when you did, for the three or four days succeeding your departure were fearful for dead heat and I don't know how you could have borne them.

Many thoughts of you have come to me since you went away, and sometimes it has been lonely and a little like death. Particularly at evening when you used to come in. ["A little like death to me, too, William, since I was away! Oh those sacred evenings!"] But, on the whole, every feeling submerges in gratefulness and thankfulness that you were away from this great sultriness and where you can have the rest and help it was not our fortune to be able to give you here.

I do not attempt to write you a letter this time, but only a note or noteling by way of proof that I exist and do not forget you.

Everything here is much as it was. Nelly is not yet gone, but probably goes next week. She will write to you. ["Twenty-five years ago! and I'm still looking for letters from Nelly though under very different conditions. Go on, Horace."]

I wonder what the future for us is to be. ["Here we are, a quarter of a century after, still wondering!"] Shall we triumph over obscurities and obstacles and emerge to start the Pathfinder, or whatever the name of it is to be? I wonder if it is so written on the iron leaf. ["It was not so written, William: but other things, perhaps better things, were written!"] Shall you live to publish many great poems amidst recognition and tumults of applause? ["I have lived to publish poems: but the recognition, the tumults of applause"—here he laughed: "We are still waiting for them!"] Shall I live to write my Shakespeare book and a score of gorgeous romances? ["Alas! No!"] Or shall we never meet, never work together, never start any Pathfinder, never do anything but fade out into death, frustrated, lost in oblivion?—

"All the dawns promised shall the day fulfill, The glory and the grandeur of each dream, And every prophecy shall come to pass And all hope be accomplished."

So says Master Robert Browning and so it may be. ["And so it is, William—so it must be always: though there never was any Pathfinder—never were many things that at the time looked possible or were hoped for."]

At all events I hope you will get well very soon and make preparations for eternity by publishing your Drum-Taps. ["We are all always making preparations for eternity or eternity is always making preparations for us—one way or the other: but as for Drum-Taps? well—that was long ago!"]

I hardly believe you will come back here. But I hope you will. That is, when the weather gets decent. ["I did go back—though the weather was indecent as well as decent."]

Do go to the seashore if you can. I wish I could. O the rough green of the illumined surges! O the briny odor! Thalatta! Thalatta! It revives me even in this sweltering air just to think of it.

I will now stop writing and send this miserable and wilted letter—a better than which I will write next time.

Rely on me, Walt, for anything you want done here, or anything at all in my power.

With much love, your faithful W. D. O'Connor.

After I had finished reading the letter I went off to Philadelphia. W. looked very well. He said: "I am not wholly myself but there's something of myself still left in me."

12.15 noon. In again. Harned, my sister Gussie, the boy, Clifford, along. W. in bright mood. Talked fluently. This energy remarked by the others. Was talking of Sir Samuel Lover when I entered: "Oh, yes! I met him. He was the poet and balladist: an hour or two of such talk as his was memorable." Harned took him some cake and a Tribune. Grateful for both. Had been reading Current Literature. As to Ingersoll's speech: "Oh! it is fine—fine: seems a better version than the one we had before: I don't know but it's the best thing in that line he ever wrote." Harned spoke of Ingersoll's big fee in the "boodle" case in New York—then of the prevalence of political corruption. W. exclaimed: "Alas! poor Scotland!" Harned detailed still more—spoke of the time when W.'s optimism would have been equal to it all. But W. persisted: "No, Tom—no, Tom: it is yet: alas poor Scotland!" W. still believed "this is the state of the surface only—the scum thrown up there—the water flowing underneath still fine and strong." Adding, "I suppose in a sense a certain amount of corruption is necessary, under present conditions. I remember Col. John Forney, my friend Forney, said to me in his office there at the Press building, that if, out of all persons of fame in Philadelphia—political fame—he were asked to put his finger on one individual, one identity, whom he could pronounce pure, he would not be able to do it—not on one, not one!" W. spoke this with great emphasis.

Harned said Bucke had conveyed to him Walt's suspicions of the wine. W. rather not pleased—saying: "That was gratuitous, Tom, entirely gratuitous: I never said it that way: that is the trouble in this world: we are subject not only to other people's doings but to their sayings also." And to prove the action by the word W. said to Tom: "I'll take a swig of it now"—and did so. Picked up a box of candies which he gave to my sister. "That is for little Annie," he said: and when my sister made some protest he said: "No: I want her to have them: they are too much for me. I have a great sweet tooth—but I want to get them out of the way." The boy looked at W. as if to say: "Where do I come in?" W. detected the look and said: "Yes—you can have one or two, Tommy: but they are for Annie—I meant them for Annie."

Speaking of Cleveland's St. Patrick speech in New York, W. asked: "Wasn't it padded—made up—Tom? It seemed to me that it was." Added: "No, no: we have not seen the last of Cleveland yet: take my word for it, you'll have his head poked out of the door again before he is through." After W. had taken his sherry, telling a story of someone who "does everything that is bad," W. said: "I'm afraid that's me, too: I guess I do everything that is bad." In the midst of some talk, W. turned to my sister: "And the baby?"

I said to W.: "Clifford has said your say for you in the Priestley matter in his sermon this morning." W. said: "Is it so?" Then addressing Clifford direct: "Did you do it? though I might have known that you would some time or other." Clifford said: "It was done for you as well as for me, as Traubel said." W. said: "I must see it—hear it: I want to know what it is." W. looked at Clifford. C. said: "If it's all right I'll read it to you." W. said heartily: "Do—that's just what I want." Clifford opened his manuscript and read:


"It is curious to see in what childish conceits even the courage and faith of so-called liberal bodies in religion may rest. People who proudly raise monuments to the martyrs of past ages, whom they can bring to some support of their own heresies—as of old the Hebrew generations built the tombs of the prophets their fathers killed—will yet persecute openly or secretly the true spiritual successors of the men they honor, the brothers walking by their side today. And what irony of egotism and narrowness in their very commemorations and eulogies! In a neighboring church the other day a monument was dedicated to a philosopher of a past age simply or chiefly because in religion he happened to anticipate the denomination of that church in some of his beliefs. Vain appropriation of what really belongs to mankind to glorify the name of a system which as surely as other systems will have its day and cease to be! In the name of the human mind let us claim larger honors for universal men."


When C. was through W. cried: "Bravo! bravo!" Then: "Yes: yes: Priestley is my man too—my man as you present him, but not my man in the aspect these others find him." Then he shook his forefinger at Clifford: "But if you keep on talking like that what'll they do with you in the church?" Clifford said something to the effect that "that will take care of itself."

Harned said to W.: "Walt, if there's anything I've got to complain of it's that you don't ask your friends for enough—you won't let them help you when they want to." W. said: "Tom, all of you are too good to me: my friends: you give me so much without my asking I'd feel like a scoundrel to ask for more." Harned said: "You are doing us favors; we are not doing you any favor." W. shook his head: "No, Tom, it's both ways: I wouldn't care to have it otherwise."

When we came to go he shook hands all around except with little Tom who opened his hand as the others had done but was lovingly seized by W. in his arms and kissed.

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