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Monday, March 25, 1889

Monday, March 25, 1889

11 A.M. W. sitting in his room with McKay in animated talk on book matters. Arguing prices, bindings, &c. W. very keenly alive to the niceties of the question. Everything courteous and friendly, of course. Some of W.'s talk very quaint. He opposed leather cover. Said he would go back to the original choice. Would sell Dave sheets for three thirty-three. Dave said: "No: that's too much." W. then: "I feel that I must adhere to my original message, proposition: if you cannot accept that, well and good: if not then I shall run the risk and keep the sheets in my own hands." He said again: "There are many signs that the book has hit: every week, in fact, I have greetings from people to that effect—many of them: in a year or two it will bite like hell! I must get more money out of it: I need more money: I am coming short: I may live a year or two yet, though that is doubtful: If I do then I shall need soups, blankets, coal, all that: I must provide for it." He said to Dave direct: "We must not forget that the book has new features—is not just like any other book." Dave said: "It was printed from the old plates." W. said: "I know it was, I attach little importance to that: as the book is now, it is a curio—portraits, notes: a curio, much as I am a curio—a mixture of curio and monster." McKay said: "Yes, Walt: you want to do as well for yourself as you can and I must do as well for myself as I can: I don't blame you and I hope you don't blame me." W. said: "I don't blame you, Dave: I understand your limitations as well as my own." McKay then asked: "What about review copies for papers, Walt: should there be any?" W. said: "I have thought to do the big thing by the Herald: it has even occurred to me to send three copies there—one to James Gordon Bennett, one to Walsh—you know Will Walsh?—and one to John Habberton." McKay said: "I knew Walsh was your friend, but what you say of Habberton surprises me. Bennett, you know, is in Paris—lives there." W. then: "I suppose Bennett wouldn't care a cent anyhow—for anything: probably I shall send books to Walsh, Habberton—to Julius Chambers, of the World"—and after a pause: "and one to Gilder, too."

Dave felt that "some" books should be "judiciously spread about" but said to W.: "You are quite right in not wishing to waste them." W. said: "It's a good deal done to get drummed into the skullpans of the reading public the fact that such a book is out." Dave said: "The sale of such a book is bound to be largely personal." W. answered: "I am aware of that: that's why I think anything of any account put out in advertising, review copies, gifts, would be wasted. I can see the necessity on some cases of extensive advertising, giving: some books depend for their sale on making a devil of a racket: but my book is of another order: it is the collected statement of my life— of my work: a statement of what I signify in the literary, the American, firmament, if anything: it will be taken that way or not at all: it is in a way my good-bye—to be recognized as such after I am gone."

Dave tried urging W., but it did not work. "I see all that you say: I am alive to it all: although I am inclined to think I shall strictly adhere to all I have said, what you argue for is to be weighed, considered." Spoke of McKay as "more than ordinarily friendly from the start," and wished—addressing him—"to put in your way all I can in the shape of privileges, monopolies, if there are any." Here he laughed slightly. "Though this is a small thing enough, I suppose—a trivial publishing venture: I am aware there cannot be much in it for you." Again: "You wished me sometime ago to pledge that the present printing should be all ever of the author's edition: I could not do that: not then, not now: but I can say this—that I have no more doubt than of my sitting here this minute that this will be the end-all of the matter—of me, of my book."

At one point in Dave's argument W. broke in almost impatiently: "I am aware of all that: I know every point you recite as well as you do," &c.—then "still," &c. He did not "set these decisions down as absolute," but "rather thought" they would be. "It probably is a whim—my whimsicality—but so it must be." Again: "I know well enough the publisher is in a great measure to be considered." Dave said: "Only in a measure"—not wholly: something to that effect: but W. persisted: "Yes, considered—greatly, predominantly, considered: the public, the publishers—the author has necessarily to defer largely to them." This case, however, was exceptional. "The book as I first bound it is me—illustrates me—is inherently characteristic: as I put it in a homely way, though rough, is like a calico dress on a handsome woman—the best thing, the most becoming thing, after all." And so the argument drifted along till W. was rather tired of it. He suddenly picked up the poker, leaned over and commenced to tinker with the fire. Day still warm, and now clouded. W. then: "And how are the babies, Dave?" Then social talk. Dave said Hunter had visited them yesterday. W. said: "I have taken a great shine to Hunter: he is so big, lusty: he has such a cheery, hearty manner—especially when he tells a story." Then he asked Dave: "Did he say anything about coming over here?" Afterwards a few words about settlements. W. asked: "And how about the December settlement?" Again: "Am I to be paid for the big book, too?" Dave said: "I'll be over Wednesday, about noon: I'll make the December settlement then." I promised to drop in on McKay this afternoon. He then left.

After Dave had gone, we discussed the cover. I said: "If not the leather cover then your original cover: that's my vote: don't let's have any more experiments." He was "glad" to hear me "say that." Believed they would "sell somehow." "If the worst comes to the worst I shall send an advertisement over to the Herald that these books are here for sale by the author: that they will go gradually in a couple of years I have no doubt." Would even acquiesce in my idea of "dealing direct with big wholesale booksellers in other cities." "I should not charge a publisher more than four dollars." He added: "It is very significant, the word here from Tom Aldrich. Aldrich is a good fellow—you have never met him: a delicate, dainty man in his tastes: up to all the traditions, proprieties, of book making: a handsome fellow—one of the dressy men we see, observant of all the combing, stiff-shirt, ironing business: all that—the whole code: but genuine too: strangely, too, always well affected towards me (I can't understand that): was that as a youngster of twenty-three, I believe. Now it is significant, as I have said, that he fell across this book—accepted it." He said: "There are some people we can't go after: if they come we'll welcome them: if they don't come we'll not mourn after them: that must be our doctrine of procedure. We need have no fear of the Whitman constituency, that it is exhaustive: it'll never be that: it's only a quiet flow—no more: never popular: Leaves of Grass is not like the latest English novel or like Longfellow's poems, which everybody has." He said it was "one of the efficient traits of the Whitmans not to bluster, but to quietly weather things out—worm through the darkest difficulties: lay low and wait." Then finally: "We will let Dave go his own way concerning this book and see how we can work out its fate unassisted." I had cut this from a morning's paper to show to W.:

"The Steamship Colorado on Saturday morning while at sea seventy miles east of Cape Henry encountered a life raft with two dead bodies upon it. The Colorado afterwards steamed through the wreckage of a steamship, but there was no means of identifying either the dead castaways or the lost vessel."

I read it to him. He said: "It takes us to the unseen—it is a poem—the supreme fact of art: it is the end of the story, the finale: there is no more."

I told him I had seen Brown. "I have not thought further of the head, but I don't think I shall ask them to make another trial: as you say, it is a speculative matter whether these things produce themselves well or not: as we have come out so victoriously on three points, we must not quarrel if a single speculation goes to pot. I want you to say this in substance to Brown: tell him the figure is thoroughly satisfying—that the more I look at it the more right it seems to me." Should I go to Gutekunst and make some inquiry concerning a possible photographic reproduction? W. said: "Yes: we can never learn too much: I think of having fifty or a hundred of them—say fifty." He "forgot yesterday to ask" me to get him the Herald. "I am anxious to see Walsh's page there—the book page: you can get me a copy when you go to town this afternoon." Insisted on my taking the nickel for the paper. He thought I should have three or four of the big books if I want them, "of course without pay." Wished to pay Oldach's bill—also Brown's. Referred to Emerson, his "quiet courage." Then: "The redoubtable Yankee: he is everywhere: what finer picture than of the wise Emerson, the young Emerson, taking his pack—going off to lecture: inspecting halls (the five, the ten, dollar halls), selecting that one which he thought best adapted to his purposes, his peculiar constituency."

7.30 P.M. W. reading paper—seemed bright and cheery—complexion good and voice strong. "Ah!" he said: "how goes it? Sit down! Sit down!" Called my attention at once to a paper which he handed me: The Commonweal (London). "It contains a short paper from Edward Carpenter—a very good one, too: he has an article there about an old English harpist who once lived in his neighborhood—a man he has often written me about—and quite a character, too: I have read it—like it: so will you: this is William Morris' paper—organ of the Socialists there."

I had secured him his Sunday's Herald: "an immense mass—pile," he called it. He quietly surveyed the pages, and threw one sheet after another in the waste basket, till he came to the few he desired to look over. Harrison's letter to Blaine there in part facsimiled. The Herald claims that B. left this in his N.Y. Hotel on his way to Washington —that "it gave the whole Blaine case away," showing that Harrison had in effect notified B.: "I am the administration, you are not." W. said: "I saw the stuff in an afternoon paper but it had no importance in my eyes one way or the other. I don't care a damn who runs the administration—it's a hell of an administration anyhow. Harrison always falls very short of being the real stuff any way I look at him." Another paper contained the symposium Walsh asked W. to contribute to and Williams regarded as a bait to catch W. with. I spoke of it as "prosy." Whittier was there with others. "Prosy, is it? then perhaps it is quite as well I didn't add any bad to an already bad job."

Returned me copies of Current Literature. "I have read them with zest. It is a crowded supply: a great feast, spread with all the eatables—yes, and all the drinkables, too, I may say, of the calendar: there is food there to satisfy everybody: there is but one quarrel we would have together—over the headlines; the headlines are not at all felicitous. The book is full of poetry: I suppose you would call the poems the drinkables of the feast? But they italicize the headlines in the same type as the body. That is not in accordance with the modern idea, which is for more display, and wisely for it, I think." But I should bring more—they were "good to have on a fellow's lap here."

Was in to see Brown (photo-engraver) who was still willing to re-try head if W. asked it. But W. said: "I don't think I shall ask it: I doubt very much if it would be included in the book anyhow. There is something—an inarticulate, inarticulated something—about it which don't repel but don't satisfy me." But we will "thank our stars" over "the good luck with the other." I gave him the bill and he said: "We will pay for both—you will leave this with me?" (Also gave him Oldach's bill, which now he wishes to pay.)

I took big picture to Gutekunst. He will reproduce for twenty dollars and give us fifty copies. The rate beyond that would be much lower. If we are not satisfied with proof, will release us on payment of about four dollars for plate. Size to be maintained, &c. Gave me a sample portrait—a portrait of Emperor William (the old). W. regarded it intently—remarked his great cluster of decorations, &c. Did he think it a bad face? "No indeed: a good one, I should say: the face of a man in all respects, nearly, it might be said, diametrically opposed to us in ideas, ideals—yet a good man, too, according to his light. Oh Horace! it may well be that a man can look at things in an entirely different light—out of strangely distinct circumstances—yet be a good man, as good as any." Then after a pause: "I was just thinking, this is not from a recent picture—this must have been taken twenty or thirty years ago." Then of the advisability of having his own portrait reproduced: "It seems to me we will have it done—but I must not say so this minute, without thinking it over." "It seems to me reasonable enough," he said again—and: "Oh yes, I know their work—they did work for me, and very good work too." Then again: "We should not be surprised at Brown: he did handsomely: those fellows had in ours a job quite out of the ordinary: they usually are called on for interiors, for the combed gentry: here was something freer, something not like any other something he ever did."

In at Ferguson's, but not in shape to make arrangements yet. W. said: "We must proceed deliberately but we must not take too much time: May thirty-first will drop down on us before we know it. This will be my birthday gift to the world, my last, my parting, gift: the world has made many birthday gifts to me: a fair exchange is no robbery." Then, smilingly: "But would the world consider it a fair exchange? I'm afraid not: the signs are rather against that flattering supposition."

W. had "laid aside," as he said, for me, four portraits of himself. Two were by Sarony. One was by Potter, Philadelphia. One was Alexander Gardner's, Washington. "I have duplicates of them all: I am glad to let you have these copies—if you think them anyway important in your collection." I asked W.: "What would you say offhand was the succession of these pictures—which was first, which last?" He took them back from me. Looked them over. He held up the Gardner. "I should say this was the first: yes, this: then these"—turning the two Saronys facing me—"then of course the Potter last: I should say that's the genesis to revelations of it." He laughed. "You are more successful with me with questions than anybody else: I have the most unreasonable dislike for the most reasonable question." Paused. Said again: "Yes—that must have been the order of it—Gardner, Sarony, Potter." I said: "There's a wide difference in the pictures superficially: yet you must have been the same you through them all." He asked: "Is the difference evolutional or episodical? Taking them in their periods is there a visible bridge from one to the other or is there a break?" W. picked up the Potter: "It has a shipmastery, country-storekeepery sort of a swagger, don't you think?" I picked up the Gardner: "What sort of a swagger has this?" He said: "Almost the old professor look." I said of the Saronys: "These have the not-on-your-life swagger!" He laughed. "But you have not answered my first question: are they evolutional or episodical?" I said: "Why don't you answer your own question?" "I can't." Here he laughed: "Though there is almost a dissonance in the pictures." Then I said: "Now you've answered it anyway."

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