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Monday, April 29, 1889

Monday, April 29, 1889

10.45 A.M. W. in bathroom on my arrival. I sat down and waited for him, reading till his coming, and finally he did, Ed hurrying from downstairs to assist him. Sent of Carleton's book this morning. Said: "I have no mail at all this morning—not even the Critic, though that is usually here Monday morning." Spoke of Scribner's I had in my hand and with which he said he was finished. Eugene Schuyler's article therein with Tolstoi. He had read that. The group of Russians with which it was prefaced—Tolstoi, Turgenoeff, among them—aroused his thought. "They are a fine looking body of men—seem so solid, so compacted, so actual: Germanic, somewhat, and—you may think it strange, but it's certainly there—a certain dash of American."

Railroad accident occurred already, to pleasure seekers for the affair in New York [Celebration of centenary of ratification of the constitution]. W. expressed pain therefore. Then laughed at report in papers that in deference to Harrison's religious sentiment, his train last night, though boarded before 12, was not started till Monday was on &c. W. said: "That was just like him." Then reflected: "I suppose there will be a lot of people all along who will want to shake hands with the President—would with any president. It strikes me it would be a wise thing to have a big log and saw it into bits, let the people shake that! It is in such a suggestion as that we find the old Greek log story—and good, fitting, applicable, it is too!" I referred to Howard (the correspondent) and his argument once, that it were as well to shake legs as hands, (or something to that effect) so little sensible is this last. W. asked: "Jo Howard? Oh! I know him. Jo must be old now—quite as old as I am I should say. He is a cute, witty fellow—one of a group of fellows—bright, happy, necessary, just the men for the places they occupy. George Alfred Townsend is another I know—'Gath'—and he is good too. Both of them surface—indeed, all surface—of course, but important men, without a doubt." Z. L. White did not know. "He was a Washington fellow, too. But now he is dead! And Ramsdell is dead, too! Poor Ramsdell! I knew him—he was owner of the Republic there at Washington: is the Republic in existence yet?—and worked hard. Ramsdell was a department man—was ousted by Cleveland." Clouds still go scurrying across the sky, though it has not rained today. W. said: "The weather still seems unsettled. It will be a bitter dose if rains hits the celebration."

McKay asked through me on Saturday for W.'s bottom price on export copies. I left the question with W. to con. This morning when I referred to it again he replied: "I have not thought it over at all." And now did lapse into quiet for full 3 or 4 minutes—then seemed decided: "Tell Dave that for the foreign trade—for Gardner, if he will take a lot for 25—bound as we have 'em here—taken right out of the lot as it stands—I will sell him the book for $3.80 per copy. I should prefer to have our cover retained, but shall not insist upon it. I should like the fellows over there to see, to have, it. They will understand, embrace—especially the Whitmaniacs, as they are called—though there is another Whitman constituency than that, too. Dave has got taken possession of by a stubborn dislike, has had it from the first, and it will not down. Tell him for me, I think he had better drop it—at least, in some way get rid of it—it is nothing but a kink. It is singular that he is the only one of all who have seen it who now refuses to accept. The printers, binders, book-men par excellence—all agree to its success: only Dave dissents. I put a good deal of faith in the word of my binder: I told you of him—he is a specialist—knows whereof he speaks: he was quite sure of our success—called that a first-rate book. Dave should take his kink and throw it overboard—let it drown—as they do with the superfluous kitten." The cover anyhow on the commercial side was "a small matter" and "ought not to arouse difficulties with Gardner." I asked: "Would it not be well for Dave to say in writing to Gardner that this cover is peculiarly and only yours?" And he said: "Indeed I do—in fact, he should make it a point to do that."

Although Brown had said to me that he was expected to put the book in press Tuesday, W. was dubious about it: "Tomorrow is a holiday." I said, "But Ferguson will be open." W. persisted: "no matter—printers are printers. You know printers as well as I do—know that they take all the holidays and more too." "But," I argued, "these presses are fed by girls." This appeared to excite his interest. He questioned: "And who does the heavy work about the presses? Years ago, the ponderous steamers required each a couple of able-bodied men." I explained that in Ferguson's one man did all the necessary heavy work on two or three or perhaps even more presses, "while the girl who feeds keeps on her perch undisturbed."

Talk developed of Emerson and Alcott. I said I did not think Alcott could last. But W. was himself "not so certain" of his "entire" disappearance, of disappearance at all. Described a visit Alcott once made to him. "It was in Brooklyn: he came in about noon—perhaps later, but at any rate near enough to the dinner to be invited and to partake. My Mother had a fine bit of beef there that day—it was especially well prepared—she was a fine cook anyway. When we sat down at table she sliced off a special bit for Alcott—put it on his plate. When the meal was done, we noticed that he had not touched it—that he had eaten vegetables, bread and butter, perhaps even cake—but never a bite of the meat. Nor did he offer any apology for it, either—if I am clear about it, did not remark it at all. Even the absence of apology was quite characteristic of him. Alcott had no belly at all—no body of great amount: was tall, slim—with quite a splendid, beautiful head: but his animality, as they talk of it—especially often when they want to whack at me—was nil. He had no 'bodjal' power at all—'bodjal': that was said by a girl I know." I objected to the word, that it was an obscure liberty, and W.: "It will not last—I am persuaded it will not: words do often come that way, but that word—bodjal—is too far-fetched." "But although Alcott did not broach his vegetarian doctrine that day, I have heard him say he was a vegetarian. But I don't know that Alcott could have fulfilled his mission except by being just what he was. He felt deeply that he was above all else to uphold the supremacy of the spirit—pure thought, the poetic, the spiritual—we might almost say the high falutin'. Not a universal man—not like the sweet and wise Emerson—but a specialist: a specialist much as we know doctors to be nowadays—as it is said doctors must be—not doctors of the whole man, of the body however affected—but controlling a department only—ear, eye, teeth, brain, what-not—doing that well—oh! grandly superlatively well, to be sure—but only departmentarily after all. Alcott was such a department man. The greatest surprise is, that knowing this, he started out a thorough-going almost overwhelming admirer of me, who am accused of all opposites—and indeed am of a stripe that could be rated different. I always had the impression that Alcott cooled off from this—gradually, surely: I can't quote to prove it, but that has been my notion." Emerson had far other inclination and habits: "He thoroughly enjoyed a good meal—would eat heartily and much, too, I think, in his own way." I repeated the story I had heard of Emerson's criticism of Alcott, that he could not write but could talk &c.—very pithy, when rightly told. W. said: "That I never heard—that is strange to me." Our talk of Alcott had arisen out of my remark that Camden had got its fame through W. W. Yesterday's Press contained an article, with portraits, describing young men to who Camden owed so much of its development. W. himself remarked having read it. Then my objection as above. W.: "It was true of Concord, anyhow—Emerson there—Alcott, Hawthorne."

7 P.M. W. sitting in his usual place by the window: the night coming on—he simply ruminating. Looked very well, and talked well. Makes no remark of his condition except that he gains no strength. Complained of his mail today, that it had amounted to practically "nothing at all." "I have not received the Critic at all, which is quite unusual. But there was a short letter from Doctor Bucke—only of passing interest, however. Doctor brings up the Baltimore Hospital again—drives the nail farther and farther in." But W. had still no comment himself to make. I asked Mrs. Davis if he had spoken to her of the matter and it seemed that he had. He had explained—then asked her opinion. She had replied that she thought it might be well for all hands to set to here and make him comfortable, and this seemed to impress him, for he evidently made some acquiescent reply to her. He keeps saying all the time: "It would be difficult for an old fellow like me to conform to rules," &c.—and again—"impossible even."

Asked me as is his wont: "Where bound to? tell me!" Tonight Tom Davidson's last lecture—this on "Savanarola." W. said: "Savanarola? I know little about him—very little—too little. What was his date? He was one of the olders, was he not? long before our century?" And after my reply—"He was a priest then?" I asked him if he had not read George Eliot's "Romola." "Yes, I have read it, in a fashion—probably skipped half of it—it did not take hold of me." I said: "You must have skipped the Savanarola portion, for I do not think you would have forgotten that if you had once read it." And so he questioned me further. I said I understood that Miss Repplier and Morris would be there together. W. smiled—thought I would "probably meet Miss Repplier" and when I looked dubious, said: "It is a good and safe rule, always to take care to be introduced to the fellow you don't expect, or don't want to meet. These do us the most good. It is not a man's friends from whom he gets the most benefit—of course you know that as well as I do—but often the man who despises you, won't have you on any terms, is most rich in benefits." And yet he laughed, confessed it was true, meetings had their own best natural course, anyhow—and as for the denouncers, "certainly they come anyhow, asked, sought or not."

His interest in the New York celebration immense—his allusions frequent. I have not heard him express a single regret in words that he cannot be present, but his whole absorption in it and the tone of his talk indicate that had he his body, the occasion would not be missed. "I see," he said to my more ignorant self—"I see by the Camden papers that the naval affair came off all right—the weather fair—not a rain today at all, was there?" And after a pause and my confession that I had not seen an afternoon paper: "It was from 9 on this morning—and successful, thoroughly. I am glad. The weather seems getting more favorable" (though not clear yet). "Is it a great deal cooler?" The wind out of doors was blowing the fresh green leaves of the trees. W. pointed it out. "I see it must be strong: and here are our windows rattling too" &c. So he dwelt on weather and event, intertwining—regretting even the fugitive clouds, lest they might join and destroy the plans of the celebration. Mrs. Davis came in with violets in a tumbler—beautiful fresh stems: she had them from the backyard; handed them to Walt with a few words from the Lincoln poem—and took from the table the old bunch. W. protested as to the last: "You are going to take them, Mary? But don't throw them away—they are too good still": and put the others to his face an instant, inhaling their fragrance, ere placing before him on the table. Mrs. Davis departed—he looked long and pleasedly at the pure new stalks.

Morris, whom I met today in the city, had spoken quite anxiously of the Hartmann perpetration which it seems the boys in the city had been discussing. W. asked at once: "And what do they make of it? do they see through it?" Was anxious to know how it would be regarded by casual readers. I said Morris had at once realized that it was bogus. "And the others," he asked, "What of them?" But here I could not fill in his information. He adding: "I cannot believe that anyone—anyone with eyes and ears—could be imposed on by it. It is thinnest of thin—not bogus only, but bogus bogus—tepid water watered—what they call on shipboard six-quarter's rum. Such sayings as that about Emerson, for instance—ignorant, dull, beyond power to expose—and Taine—and Holmes." Morris had alluded to the Lowell touch, but W. said: "I do not remember that at all. The whole thing is bitter enough—work, throughout, that is self-damning." But had he written Stedman? "No—I have not been moved to"—and after a slight pause—"yet. Yet I confess I am deeply vexed, uneasy, to have had this trouble arise." I spoke of Hartmann's as away the most flagrant offense ever committed against W. But he was for an instant serious: "I don't know, Horace—I don't know." But when I said, "I know you have been abused and denounced, but abuse is its own condemnation, while here is something more subtly put down as offense in you," he recognized the distinction. Yet nothing seems to move him more toward any public expression on the subject. "I know there is a special bitter twist given that paragraph about Stedman—and it is marked out, as you say, from all the rest, by that particular quality: therein its sadness.""Nothing—nothing at all—either word or sentiment, mine. Even if they were—if anything so generous could be said of anything so vulgar and low as Hartmann's whole report—even if they did even approximate my sentiments, while that might in a measure condone the offense, it could not wipe it out."

Ed came in—got postal for Will Carleton and several papers for others. W. desired Ed to buy him ten foreign postal cards, wheeling his chair about to the other table in search of the money he had there laid out for them. I asked Morris today who it was among Frank Williams' folks was dead, describing Curtis' few words last week. It seemed that Mrs. Williams' mother had been subjected to some surgical operation which proved fatal—this in the presence of Frank himself. When I went over this story for Walt he exclaimed: "Poor Frank!—Poor Frank! I know how he must have suffered. I did not know the Mother, but have somehow gathered the impression that she came of uppish stock: how I came by it, I do not know—that they have wealth too,—people of a high place—standards, as it is called,—in Society." And then it was "Poor Frank! Poor Frank!" again, and a word or two more of solicitude. And goodbye and out!

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