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Thursday, April 18, 1889

Thursday, April 18, 1889

10.30 A.M. W. was writing an addition to foot-note in preface and had written on top of proof sheet—"After correcting please give me five impressions." He wished to send one or two away. Title page he said would do. "I do not say I am enthusiastic about it, but I am willing to let it go and it will look better in the book than here."

"The Danmark," he said, "I see there is no word of it still. Oh! that is a fearful probability." Said: "I had a note there from Merrill—Bradford Merrill of the Press. Do you know him?" Merrill had sent him a circular—a symposiate circular again—asking—by number 1 and 2, what most had contributed to his success in life. W. said: "I guess I shall answer that as I answer all such things, merely by not answering it at all." I asked: "What could you have to say as to that?" And he: "That is so—what?" I asked him if he did not think his enemies had contributes something to his success? He laughed, but made no response. Merrill had written a letter with the circular—wished an answer within a few days.

I wrote Stedman a letter before going to W. Thereupon W. spoke of Hartmann again. I of the transparent falsity of his column. W. said: "There are wise, cute men, who set it down as sufficient disproof of what is called spiritualism that the messages it brings are none of them such as we could not equal and improve upon on earth here." W. said of his health that it was "only so-so"—that he had not go up "in very brilliant condition."

Clifford had enclosed in a letter to me Swinburne's "March" ode (Nineteenth Century) with the preface: "I have not your Swinburne ear" and this delightful play to follow:

To talk true, this tone tries to torture terms that tell trifling totals towards the triumphant tautologies therein tossed together, time, tide, today, tomorrow tumbled thus to turn trumpery tunes to ticket the tutelary tyrant that torments the twitterer. Alliteration (all iteration, and damnable, too). Imagine Walt figuring out the alphabet to its possible variations and agreements so! 
W. read with great enjoyment and laughter and to Clifford's closing two lines: "Imagine Walt figuring,"&c. "Yes, imagine it!" I stayed only for ten minutes.

7.45 P.M. On nearing house, noted darkness in W.'s room. This always arouses my fears. When in once, found indeed that he was in bed, resting, the night almost fully fallen, his room dark. The weather had grown much warmer through the afternoon. One of his windows was thrown clear up. As I groped my way for a chair, after shaking hands with him, I asked how he had spent the day. "Very bad," he said, "it has been a bad day all through—a bad, bad day." As if emphasizing this, by indicating how little work he had been able to do he said to Eddy, who shortly came in to ask if there was any mail to go: "There is no mail at all, Eddy—I have nothing there." But he added, after Ed had gone out: "I feel much better now—have felt much better ever since I had my dinner." Thence general conversation. His voice was good and strong—his thought clear—and of course his cheer was inevitable. It is rarely, indeed, one could find him with that all gone.

He said to me: "I have had a couple of visitors. Harry Bonsall came in—with him Buckwalter. You know Buckwalter, don't you? Buckwalter, of the public schools. We had quite a good talk—they were here about 20 minutes, I should suppose. Both good fellows, too!" I remarked that Buckwalter was a man of more decision of character than Bonsall. W. responded: "I don't know—it is likely. But I like Buckwalter—he is much of a man." I said: "After one gets through his peculiarity of speech, he is much liked." W.: "I am not at all troubled by that—it passes me by—I am used to it. You see, I have known Buckwalter for a long time: besides, that speech matter is the peculiarity—I may say the inevitability—with New England people, it is almost universal with them; even the wise Emerson had it, in some measure; all of them had it, have it;—I can freely say I accept it—never feel resentful towards its use. It is a sort of extreme grammaticism. Yet I confess that when it is made too prominent—when it is indeed insisted upon—when it is too much poked in one's face—I turn my back on it, it offends me." Added: "But I was glad to have the two come in." Visits from good friends, if not prolonged, threw blessed light across the days of his confinement.

In Standard, out today, Henry George speaks (London letter of 5th) of a drive out with Pearsall Smith. W. was much interested to learn of the affair. He has a way, when he particularly wants to understand what you say, of repeating your explanations after you, to find out if it is rightly caught. He did so now, for this case: "Do I understand you right?— that George, and our friend Smith, drove out together, there in London, or beyond London, and you think they had a good time and that they like each other?" Then after my assent and a pause, he went on: "Tell me more about it, then—tell me about the drive: what it amounted to, where led, who were along, all that." I replied by saying I would bring the paper down in the morning and let him read it in full. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "that would perhaps be best—I should be glad." Talk somewhat of J. R. Young, Ferguson, others. W. asked somewhat about methods of work at the printing office. Then: "Has Ferguson much work in hand now? Is he kept at it pretty close?"

I casually mentioned having read "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" last night. W.'s tone (I could not of course see him) seemed to deepen in interest at once. "Ah! and now tell me, what did it suggest to you, what were certain of its prime features: tell me what most deeply affected you—if anything—in the piece." And after a pause, during which neither spoke: "Was there anything pictorial in it—pictorial?" I spoke briefly in reply—of pictorial factors, but others, too: its indirection exquisitely rich, &c. Then of objections often urged that W. was too indirect, too suggestive, presumed too much in powers behind. W. "recognized" that criticism. "That I see—and see its reason." On the other hand, "I suppose no one but the habitue could grasp fully—even measurably—the pictorial significance of the piece: no one who has not been there as I have been, a frequenter of ferry ways, boats, wharves, men, bustling commerces." And he more fully explained: "I have been there in the presence of all its thousand and one changes of color: mine was no casual contact, but the contact of years, love, association—of childhood, boyhood, manhood, maturity—the sailing on the waters, the going out with the pilots in their pilot boats, the tripping it to the sea and back again—Sandy Hook, down to Navesink. Only by such-gathered lights and shades can anyone really know, appreciate, enter into, the fine tones of meaning: that is, by actually living, breathing, bathing, in the life of it!" Only yesterday one of the old boats at New York was burned: the New Brunswick, built in 1866. W. very carefully inquiring after its name. "It was a real old boat, it seems: I do not remember it. Was it a Brooklyn boat?" And when I said, "No—it was a Jersey City boat," he said his interest in it was just the same, even if not so immediate. Spoke of his passion for the waters and his memories of the old days "there in the New York harbor." Further talk of our boats here: the old Delaware now in service again, temporarily. Then of the Kaighn's Point line, which has secured several old boats from New York. Of one of these, the America, I asked W., but he did not know it: "It must have been a North River boat—the name is new to me."

I gave W. the proof as he lay there on the bed. Afterwards, a little while, he moved as if to get up, and laboriously at least was upright. The room still dark. Ed had offered to light the gas while in the room but W. had said, "I don't know of any reason why it should be lighted now." With my help went across to his chair—he himself attending to window—alluded to his "absolute knowledge of the lay-out" of the room—to his weakness, nevertheless—and then said of himself:"I am much shrunken," but no more on that point, nor to my questioning. Then became seated. At the first flow of the light I caught sight of the long-lost package of the Sarrazin sheets under the chair near me and near his rocker. "Ah!" I exclaimed, "here they are at last"—and then directly to him—"I see you have found the Sarrazin sheets!" He swung about, chair and all, as is his way. "How did you know?" I pointed to the package. He laughed. "Yes! there they are"—turning meanwhile to the table. "They turned up today. I made up a couple of envelopes of them for you"—handing them to me. He had endorsed one "Translations (two) of Sarrazin's article" and the other "copies of both) Translations of Sarrazin's article"—both in a splendid bold hand. "There are two sheets in each," he explained—"One Doctor Bucke's and one Kennedy's." One of these was intended for Mr. Coates, of whose friendliness—"and the wife's"—W. spoke with tender feeling.

W. here said: "I must not let my fire go out"—but when he leaned over to examine it he found it was gone out, practically—at least, only a spark left. And although he flung a log on it, and tried to start it up, his efforts were of no avail. Then surrendered it—threw himself back in his chair. The room was really very warm anyhow. He did not look extra well—I could see that his head trouble was active again. I looked half-scornfully at the stove (our new stove of the Fall) and quoted Hinton's contemptuous description of it—"A sheet-iron stove, rusty." W. laughed most heartily—then said: "I don't think much of Hinton's article, anyhow. He has sent me a copy of the paper himself—it arrived today. It may seem ungracious—even unkind or harsh—to say so (for Dick is my friend and means me well) but his piece impresses me most by its emptiness—impresses me as a big tumor or boil, much swelled, inflamed, bulging, but nothing after all. No! No! I don't like either of them: they seem by no means justified."

I opened the roll of proofs and indicated which one Myrick wished him to return. Remarked too that I valued his addition to the footnote. Said he "rather liked it himself." Then conversed of plans of procedure. "We are now about in shape to let the printer take it in hand." And he added: "I am figuring out the affair of the portrait—of an order for the plate-printer to go on. I have about settled upon this—perhaps I may change, but for the present this—to use the three-quarter picture, the McKay picture, as frontispiece, to use the steel in its old place, 'The 70th Year,' the Linton: these in addition to the photos. What do you think?" And he proposed, "Going right ahead with the new small edition of November Boughs," which would give him the chance to print the Hicks portrait with more care, by special arrangement, than had been before. "As it shows up in the book there, it disappoints me." Although he had plenty of the old steels about, already printed,—"I think I shall have that man print me more: I am so struck with the way he does it. I would rather have his steels." And again: "I quite recognize the necessity of having these special printings of the process plates. I had hoped not, but a particular delicacy seems required in handling them." Then of things in general, instructed mechanics, &c—I quoting the University professor, Young men—learn to do something well—even if it is only playing a jewsharp." And the old brick-layer who replied to his son's remark: "Oh! this is good enough!"—nothing is good enough till it is good!" W.: "They are both to the point—oh! full of the meat of truth—both stories!"

I told W. I had acquainted Stedman in my letter of the forenoon with our intention to issue a pocket edition on W.'s birthday. W. said: "I am glad you did. I have several times today been impelled to write to Stedman myself—a few lines, anent that affair; for considering his handsome, recent treatment of me,—kindness, consideration, generosity—it seems very unhandsome in me to let the matter pass without direct reference. But I have not felt well, and then there is the demon: you know, Socrates had his demon, and that demon made up the whole calendar of life—and my demon today was not altogether persuaded." Perhaps it would be as well to wait and what S. had to say, if anything, in response to my letter. He said: "I know you would like Stedman: he is a quick, all-alive, man—earnest, affectionate, frank." He had often seen in classification, "Stedman and Gilder placed together" but this was "unwarranted" since "Gilder is by no means the man we know Stedman to be—is good, and of course has his abilities—but has not the fine emotional, sympathetic nature that enriches Stedman." Besides, "has not the acumen, the intellectual, the literary, power." "Gilder has written several volumes of poems—I have seen them, but not read them—at least, not read them with any sort of attention."

Then he spoke feelingly, in reply to my word—"We ought to be glad that so much has been accomplished the past year, when we think of the anxiety of June that nothing would be done""Yes indeed—and I am. It was first of all a great victory to have got November Boughs out. And the big book, bound there as it is, with notes, portraits—I am happy, content, for having secured it. And now this—this on the high way to success! We have indeed had a varied but auspicious experience—things nearly all in shape now. Even this book, this edition, seems to me to have a simple, settled, purpose, all its own—to be made distinctly for a place—bound up as it is, the poems and A Backward Glance together, well-cohering, well-belonging in connection." "I cannot just put my finger on the spot—yet am convinced the significance is real""I have allowed myself more egotism in these later words—in what I have written the past year or two—especially in connection with these last books—notes, &—than ever before. Yet have accepted the privilege with every consciousness of its dangers, knowing full well that there are a thousand eyes,"—I interrupted, "or thousands""Yes,—thousands of eyes, ready and eager to see and announce errors, offenses, whatnot.""But not fearing results—certainly not wishing to have my friends misunderstand me, I have gone on. The final point anyhow being, that I shall satisfy my own second thought of what should be done and what foregone." He referred again to his joy to thus live to "get together an authenticated volume" to which futurity, if for him futurity be, must come: "for authoritative word"—of him, "if word at all." Much interested in the whole drift of talk.

I left and went across the room. The misty evening on the water (I had crossed a couple of hours before) engaged him. We spoke of his possible outing—perhaps a trip up Market Street in Philadelphia and down Chestnut in the city to see changes. "How much must have been done since I last wandered that way." But he expressed no hope of such a trip.

Alluded to Bradford Merrill's statement in letter, that John Burroughs put W. at head of living authors. W. said: "And by the way, John thinks a good deal of Gilder—thinks there is considerable to him. It is a judgment to be weighed." Clifford had seen prefatory note of pocket edition. I met him on the street the other day. He could see no decline of vigor or beauty. Did not know of another now living who could write that way. W. said: "That puts us on our mettle, even in our old age!"

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