Skip to main content

Thursday, April 11, 1889

Thursday, April 11, 1889

10 A.M. W. sitting with the Record on his lap. Had just finished breakfast. Looked rather better than yesterday, but evidently felt utterly miserable, for he said—"I don't feel myself changed, and yesterday afternoon I felt as dreadful as a fellow well could feel and stand up at all." Asked me "Did you ever see Mrs. Gilchrist's 2nd piece—her 'Confession of Faith' as she calls it? I have laid a copy here aside for you." Scraping his chair across the floor to the east table where he had folded up a copy of To-day. It was a curious little way he had of preserving this for me. The article itself fine, with certain paragraphs in red ink by his own hand.

"And something more," he said, after giving me the package, proceeding then among the papers under the table. "But I suppose it is still hopeless. I had hoped to hit upon the Sarrazin sheets before this—but you know things have been put to rights, which means buried, lost! I think there used to be a prize offered in the Philadelphia Press for the man who will put the Jersey news where nobody can find it—and their prize man must have been let loose here, working through our women. There was a time when I could go into the other room there, and, with a little difficulty, get anything I wanted. But now nothing is in its place, or near its place, and I am utterly at sea!" "About here"—motioning toward the several confused but overflowing baskets—"everything is indiscriminately mixed with everything: there has been no taste, no tact, no selection, no nothing!" He was considerably aroused—has been much searching for this bundle, which was large enough, it would seem, not to have been hidden far. "I shall set Ed to work to-day—see what he can do towards finding what we want."

He had his window thrown up—the air outside was mellow—the fire crackling in the stove. He spoke hopelessly of the thought of getting out. "But give my love to all the ferry boys—to Ed Lindell, to Tommy—Tommy Logan—to Foxy, to Eugene Crosby." I took him a copy of fine photo-engraving from photo of Gruetzner's painting "The Connoisseurs"—I think the finest specimen of process-work of that kind I have ever seen. W. put on his spectacles and studied it a great while, with great and manifest enjoyment. "Everything is impossible—till it is possible!" he said. And yet, "nothing seems impossible to the human critter," once his mind is fairly on the track of an idea. I left the picture with W., who had "no doubt" a "few more looks" would be an enjoyment.

Evening, 7.35. Saw on approaching the house a light in W.'s room, and concluded he was better, as indeed proved to be the case. Once in the room, I found him looking much improved, and willing to talk. Higher color, clearer eye. But the room fearfully and wonderfully hot. Last night he took one of his powders. Had it acted yet? "No—I don't think it has." When I asked him if he was not relieved, he said "I don't dare to say I am, for fear I may fall back again—get shame of all my boasting." Had at last finished "preface," which he sends along without a headline, with simply date and "Camden, New Jersey, U.S. America." It is to immediately precede "A Backward Glance." Enclosed with it a sheet of instruction for general make-up of the book, (all but a few lines of this written in pencil) and then wrote in ink on an envelope enclosing

best respects to 
  Mr. Ferguson 
  15 North 7th Street 
  to Mr. Myrick 
  & to the proof readers 
  & printers 
  Phila: —— 
arranged just in that way. "This," he said "gets us all under way again. Now we ought to be able to go right ahead: a week done before the hour is better than a week after: and this is a special book, occasion, which should not be achieved when the hour is struck." But the pictures had not yet turned up, nor the Sarrazin sheets—"though Eddy looked about here today some." When I spoke favorably of pictures,—"I like them, too," he exclaimed—"and all the more unfortunate then if they don't appear!"

I had this afternoon called on Jo Fels at their soap-factory on North 3rd Street, and had been taken by him through the large establishment and had its mysteries more or less (some of them greatly less) cleared. He insisted among other things that I should take a box of soap "for Walt Whitman," which I did, much to W.'s enjoyment. He slowly unfolded one of the cakes. "It is quite providential," he exclaimed—"quite in the nick of time—hits the nail square on the head. Look here" uncovering a corner of the table, on which some change had been laid out—"Just last night I put that there for Eddy—told him I wanted soap: and somehow, providence made the rascal forget to go for it today!" He kept the cake a long time at his nose—then laid it down—then took it up again—then once more laid it down. At this last Ed came in with a letter which W. took. "See here Ed," he called out, as E. was about to go (E. thereupon coming back near W.'s chair) "What do you think of that?—a present of soap!" And as Ed said—"The room is full of it—I smelt it the minute I opened the door"—W. laughingly followed—"Now when you go out to the store, you'll only have to get the matches—the rest is provided for. And do you see how fine it is?—the color of it—the odor!" W. took up his knife—Ed said he would "bet" it was an autograph letter—and this it proved to be, W. retaining stamp and destroying the rest at once. W. first said—"I have no letters at all today"—then corrected himself: "Yes, I have two—a letter from Bucke—but inconsequential—nothing new whatever there with him."

I referred in rather warm words to Mrs. Gilchrist's article which I had read today. W. reflected: "It is indeed very fine: it certainly ought to go with the other—the two be always and everywhere associated. I think it in many respects the most subtle & far-reaching of all discussions of Leaves of Grass—a wonderful bit of analysis." I asked him if he thought any of her literary power had descended to Herbert. "No—not at all—none of it whatever. Mrs. Gilchrist was a great woman—a woman who, I am fond of saying, goes the whole distance of justifying woman—of proving her power, her equality, her consummate possibilities—actualities, in fact. There is a vast gap between such a personality as hers and another's—one like Herbert's—a vast gap. Herbert is not strong—put no resisting front to the conventionalities of the time—butshe—oh! she was all courage, bravery, power—yet all womanly, too—not a jot of the womanly abated for all the force. She was never conventional, unless she chose to be—unless she thought it was as well to be conventional as not." All the time during the rest of my stay he had the soap at his nose. "It is the odor of roses," he explained—it seemed to appeal to him.

He asked me about our Club meeting tomorrow night—Ely's address on Socialism, whether I expected a discussion or not, what would probably be "the drift of things." Then by natural transition he spoke of having read an account of a reception to Wanamaker at the house of the Manufacturer's Club. "It is very easy for those glorious fellows to have their splurge in 250,000 dollar Club houses, but after a while will arise the question—why is it so easy for those fellows to have their 250,000 dollar Club houses and 20,000 dollar dinners?—and then will come the fun. As they said in the play I used to go and hear when I was a young fellow there in New York—'let these fellows go on—let 'em keep on sinning—let 'em keep on believing there is no hell! but by and bye a day'" Retribution he looked for as surely as for to-morrow's sun. But did he think through revolution? "No—there will be a wrench—a pretty severe wrench, maybe—but not revolution. The vast area—varied interests—the fact that revolution would be weakened by being so spread out—no power at any one point—would defend against violence—at least, concerted violence." But the "wrench he "certainly" foresaw—and what shape that would take had yet to be determined. "This whole protection of working men—this whole business of building handsome club houses—luxurious displays—for the good of the working man—it will have its day, but will be exposed at last!" He asked me about Fels' views on the tariff, which I thought were rather liberal. I asked Fels once if Free Trade would ruin his business, and he said not. Today he told me he even exported a great deal of soap to England.

Back to top