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Thursday, April 4, 1889

Thursday, April 4, 1889

10.45 A.M. W. reading paper. Paused, invited me to the lounge, talked freely for a while. When I asked him how he was he said: "Well—I am here, I am up!" But looked rather pale. Is evidently still laboring with his cold. "I have not been able to write or do anything towards the book," he said, apologetically—"neither last night nor this morning have I written a word: but I shall try to get at it today: it should be done; we should not encourage delay: if we do not find the portraits, we must in some other way make up the three hundred: I have others, of another sort—enough of them." George's wife was in this morning. W. gave her for one of her friends (endorsing it) a copy of the Rossetti edition in red cover. W. spoke of Winter as "one of the intellectual aristocracy of the Sam Johnson order to whom smartness is above all things the truth."

Subject of Booth's sickness at Rochester (reported paralysis night before last) introduced. W. had read accounts in the papers. "But I wait for further reports: I know Booth is a notionate man—full of odd turns and twists: he must have felt very bad, dull, numb—and this it is, often, that the Doctors call paralysis." Barrett had "evidently" been "too greatly alarmed" at the moment, so that his speech to the audience "was overanxious and despairing." W. said: "I have seen Booth—the present Booth—and seen him often: he is a man of bright parts, interesting: you can enjoy him: but he is not a genius of the first class—not anywhere near first class, indeed: I have read the Press sketch this morning: it is right good, too. They say very clearly there, the public are agreed that Booth is a great actor—demand to have him—but that the critics are by no means so agreed, though in the end the public has had its way. That is pretty well stated: the public, perhaps, is justified in its position. Booth is a man who has had a great many troubles on his back: his first wife was a bad one—then there was the brother." "At that time, there in Washington, Booth was inclined to withdraw from the stage, but he wisely abstained—went on with his work."

What was W.'s impression of Wilkes Booth? "I saw him several times: he was a queer fellow: had strange ways: it would take some effort to get used, adjusted, to him: but now and then he would have flashes, passages, I thought, of real genius." Reference to Edwin's "intellectuality." Was it so marked in the father? "I should not say it was: Junius Brutus was intellectual enough, but was more, too—not intellectual in the conventional way, to be sure. The prime good point in the elder Booth was his all-aroundness: he was big, grand, in his style: he cohered well (can it be said that way?): all his parts were related: as an actor he always seemed to me to be consistent with himself. He had beautiful personal points: take his treatment of the niggers, of the lower orders so-called, everywhere: was quite noble—to me was wholly convincing. I know he would get drunk—get as drunk as the devil: but in spite of that he always appeared to be equal to his job: besides, I think he escaped that devil demon in his later years: it seemed rather to have connected itself with a certain period—burned itself out there." Then after one of his slow pauses: "It is very hard for the present generation anyhow to understand the drinkingness of those years—how the 'gentlemen' of the old school used liquor: it is quite incommunicable: but I am familiar with it: saw, understood, it all as a boy. At that time such things as prohibitions, pledges, abstinences, could hardly be said to have been known: a good deal of the difference consisted, I suppose, in the fact that the whiskey, rum, gin, of those days was genuine—thoroughly genuine: not adulterated, as it nearly all is in our time."

Professor MacAlister, when he came back from Glasgow a couple of years ago, described to me the terrible drunkenness, especially among the women, there. I asked W.: "Was that bad whiskey or bad economics?" W. said: "I guess the economics play a part: that's rather your cue than mine: I have heard about Glasgow: the women all over the British Isles—even on the continent—drink much more than our women." I put in my question again about economics. W. said: "I am willing to allow you your economic theory." I stuck to it. "You say bad whiskey: I say bad economics." W. said: "Say anything you please: I'll not deny you that joy, consolation." I asked W.: "How much have you looked into the subject of the economic origin of things we call vices, evils, sins?" He said: "I have done some thinking in that matter: I suppose I have not gone very far—or far enough: the more I have looked into these problems the more I find myself impelled in the direction you are so peremptory about." I said: "For a first lesson that'll do very well." He smiled. "You know how I shy at problems, duties, consciences: you seem to like to trip me with your pertinent impertinences."

7.30 P.M. W. reading one of the Stedman volumes. "It's getting to be my steady diet," he said. Did not look well or feel well. He said: "I feel weak: I've got a cold." "See," he said: "here is a letter from Doctor: see what he says: though there is nothing particular in it: he argues for the alcohol bath with which to baffle a cold." Would he take the whiskey bath? "No—neither inside nor outside: I think I shall fight it off as I am, in my own way." He had tried to work. "I have attempted to draw up a sketch of the title page." It was there on the table. "I have done nothing: what I've done I'll have to throw away." Then: "But, surely, I must gather myself together, make a spurt—a heroic effort: it will not do to tarry in this way with so little time left: bellyache or no bellyache, headache or no headache, anything or nothing, I should do this little job: I know it: May 31st is looming ominously close ahead!" He wrote two postals. One to O'Connor. One to Bucke. He said: "We were talking of inquiry—the habit of looking into traditions. Our age is the age of inquiry, de novo: no age in history transcends ours for such cuteness—may I not say integrity?" Cooler tonight. A comfortable little fire in the room. Strong odor of apple. W. pointed to the table. A couple of beauties there. "Don't they look luscious?" Odor of burning wood. Very warm but not close. "My sluggish blood forces me to appeal to outside fires." He said: "I sit by the open window every early evening for an hour or so to sniff in the fresh air." Ed says he sees in W. a growing indisposition to move about. "He is thinner, too." I got up to go. W. said: "Before you do that I want you to read a letter to me." I wondered if he could stand it. "Oh yes!" he said: "as I mean for you to take the letter away, depositing it in your archives, I thought I'd like to make a sort of mental note of what it contains." I read.

59 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London, April 28, 1887. Dear Walt Whitman,

Your two postcards are to hand. I expect the printed slips to Preface and Additional Note have reached you ere this; I told the publishers to forward them. We have taken great pains to make the reprint correct—following the American spelling, &c., faithfully. It is all out of my hands now, and I do hope everything will turn out well. It has been rather a troubled time with me lately, with far too much work on hand to do everything with the ample margin for revisal that I like, but all's well that ends well. As there was some uncertainty about the process reproduction of that photo, for frontispiece or inserted plate, and having the unlucky experience of the portrait in L. of G. to go by, we decided to leave the portrait out altogether. Better none at all, as you say, than a bad one.

By this post I send a copy of the Pall Mall Gazette with a paragraph taken from the Additional Note to the new vol. The P.M.G. usually treats me rather cavalierly over my own things: the young fellows who do the literary part, and do it capitally too—Henry Norman, O. Wilde and so on—are most of them university men, with rather a contempt for unacademic outsiders. In the case of this paragraph I got young Horne to propose it to Norman, and so worked the oracle. In the same paper, notice the article, Some April Insects, by Richard Jefferies. I think you will like it. Jefferies is one of our best writers on Nature over here; his writing is at once true and subtle, and very natural and simple withal. ["Yes," said W.: "I liked it—the little of it that came my way: it was genuinely profound—and sympathetic, as all outdoor stuff has to be to be saved from statistical science!"] Did you ever read his Story of My Heart? ["No," said W.] A very passionate confession of faith and fear it was, with a sentiment in it that made some of the critics say it must be inspired by your L. of G. ["Did they say that? did they?"] If you have not yet seen it, I should like to send it on. Jefferies is editing the vol. to follow yours in the series—White's Selborne. He writes to tell me that he is an invalid, poor lover of all things bright and helpful. He lives down in Sussex, near the sea. ["I had not read the book when Rhys asked about it: I have seen it since: someone brought it here: was it Tom? I may say I still have not read it: I have looked it through: it contains great passages—is profoundly emotional, undisguisedly genuine: a little too much inside rather than outside to me. I should not criticize it: I have not studied it intimately."]

W.S. Kennedy sent over a fresh batch of addenda for his book. It is unfortunate—this delay through Wilson's illness; but Kennedy takes it very cheerily. He seems a fine impulsive fellow by his letters. ["By his life, too!" exclaimed W.] In the last one he proposes that I should try some other schemes for getting the book afloat. We shall see. This evening Herbert Gilchrist is coming down here to look through Kennedy's book, and something may suggest itself to us. We are going on afterwards to Costelloe's, as H.G. is anxious to know Mrs. C., who has been away in Surrey over Easter with her husband. I look forward with delight to seeing her again. She is truly a most noble and delightful nature. ["That—and more than that, too!"] She is a little afraid perhaps of your deterministic theories (further elaborated by Doctor Bucke) and non-moral apotheosis of evil; but that is natural enough. ["I shouldn't wonder: yes, it's natural enough: few can stomach me whole: I don't blame them!"] I, too, often doubt any absolute empire, even the most cosmic, over the human will: that is my feeling only, for I don't pretend to any philosophical complete creed.

I was glad to hear of the great success of your Lincoln lecture. Would that I had been there to hear it. I should like to have come over with H. Gilchrist, but cannot manage to leave so soon. He will be with you I expect in the course of a few weeks more.

Are you going up to Doctor Bucke's place for the summer?

Affectionately yours, Ernest Rhys.

W. was greatly interested, "almost as if I heard it for the first time," he said. He said: "It's newsy, breezy, with pith and moment: it contains history, our history—valuable bits of it: shows a situation: charts some of the turns on our devious road."

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