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Friday, May 3, 1889

Friday, May 3, 1889

10.45 A.M. W. reading his papers. Did not "feel very bad—nor yet very good." Is really now enjoying a respite. "I had no mail this morning except a couple of autograph letters. They come and come—they are inevitable." I had brought him several papers to look over—two copies of Harper's Weekly and a copy of last week's American containing my signed piece—"They Cry of Forgotten Philadelphia." Looked at portrait of Pearson: "Oh! a handsome, noble fellow! and face, too!" And then in comment on the engraving itself: "They are doing wonderful, fine work now—wonderful, effective work!" And sighed of Pearson: "so young, too!"

I met John Curley on the boat last evening after leaving Whitman. Seems he was one of the two Record boys who did the reporting in New York. He assured me the accounts of the ball were not unfair. W. listened to all I thus repeated to him. "I can see—but I don't think it exceptional at all. Balls are more or less free and easy anyhow—they used to be so when I was a young man, anyhow." But these were the Elite of New York? W. answered: "Elite or not—put them at a ball and put some liquor in them and it's all one!" Some of the reporters had lost their coats and hats in the scramble. W. said: "That explains it—that explains it!" Curley had been deeply impressed with the ill appearance of Harrison. W. asked me: "And is it true the Bishop—Bishop Potter—is out in some kind of an explanation of his speech?" There was some such report abroad.

Talk then of night-cars &c. W. asked: "What is the peculiar nature of a night-car?" And when learning asked again: "It involves the abolition of all law, does it?" I rehearsed experiences, in which he was intensely interested. "What a thing it would be for one of the men on those lines to put down his reminiscences. It would make a great book!" I spoke of old conductors I had met. Then of the change in time, from 18 to 12 hours, made in their work of recent years. "They have accomplished that?" asked W., "well it is high time they had. They were driven at a devil of a rate—it was damnable—the whole old constitution of affairs!" Then he said to me reflectively: "There's something I want you to do for me, Horace, some day: I am going to ask you to make particular inquiries. There was a fellow over there on the Market Street lines: I knew him well—loved him—and he me, too, I am sure: Joe Adams was his name. He was a starter there. Occupied quite a humble, working, laboring man's position there—what they call a starter. We used to be on good terms together. He was an asthmatic fellow—had a wife and family: it has struck me—is Joe still alive? You can ask—make inquiries in my name. It has been now full a year and a half since I saw him last—full that—probably two years. I have completely lost track of him. You know, the months pass and pass. I have been in this room now nearly a year—and even before that for some time I was not getting about at all." I asked him for some description. "Oh! he was a sandy-like man—sandy hair—all that goes with that: not tall or strong—asthmatic, as I said—and sickly completed, too. Joe was Quakerish—showed it in his looks and way. He was born on the outskirts—his parents died when he was quite young; he was taken in by a Quaker family—inhibted their ways, had them to the last." Said he desired "to report" himself to Joe if still alive. "Ask anyone about there. It was right at the top of the hill he kept his station—was there all day. I remember the hill well—it was a great job getting up it—especially a job of a slippery day." I suggested asking the man there at the stand. W. tried to place the topography clear. "On the hill itself there was a paint shop—you remember that? then beyond, across the first street—Front Street—was a gin-mill. It was here—at the curbstone—stood the starter's caboose." And here his face lighted up: "Yes, you are right—I remember the stand there—the eating stand. They would know. Is the same old Dutchman there?" The old fellow is not Dutch but Italian—has been there from my boyhood. "He had a daughter—she must be 25 now—a very good girl"—after a pause—"of her class. Ask her, she would know about Joe. Ask her in my name—though I don't know if she ever knew me by name. Ask her in the best way you can: make a point of it—you might even do it today. Go to the stand, buy a penny apple or something—strike up a talk—tell her Walt Whitman had sent you—that he has it at heart." Further he instructed: "And should you see Joe—Joe himself—tell him about me: tell him I sent you—tell him I am confined here in my room—have been up here now for eleven months—but am still up—head up!—through them all." Joe was "a man of his own peculiar abilities"—was something of "a character": W.'s affection for him had been "honest and deep."

I gave W. a sentence I had hit on in Emerson today: "Nature never rhymes her children,"—and he repeated it over and over again, as if in huge enjoyment of its import.

7.35 P.M. Found W. sitting alone in his darkened room, his usual window open, and he, as he said, "meditating and not unhappy." Keeps well—sat much as I found him all the time of my stay. These days he is able to do considerable reading. His mind is in far better condition than for a month past. He does not encourage visitors—does not eat much—gains no strength—but is comfortable, for him, and more hopeful. Edwin Stafford in to see him tonight. Harry Wright was over, but coming while I was upstairs, did not ask to see W. Billstein did not have the pictures ready for me today, but promises them absolutely for tomorrow. W. was satisfied. Wants to send some of the three-quarter pictures away.

Dr. Abell spoke to me today rather contemptuously of Harrison in the course of a talk over affairs. W. remarked (Abell having been a Republican): "Ah! that is significant—vastly significant. Let me predict that that will more and more spread. Harrison will finally be recognized for what he is—ignorant, superficial. Yet there is something fit that the ignorance and superficiality of the American people should elect him as its representative. I wrote Dr. Bucke something about to this effect: the great celebration is now over—quiet has come again—the days have calmed down—it was a wonderful pageant: but on the crowded canvas, the most insignificant item was the man we call Harrison—the man who is our President today. I even assert that Harrison looked cheap in the pictures." I described to W. a Puck cartoon representing Harrison putting muzzles on the Press—Reid, Halstead (attempted) Rice and so on. W.: "Was it good? oh! I think it must have been good!" Some Republicans had called Harrison "a gassy fizzle." W. was much acquiescent. "You see, I am not the only on inclined to speak of him in severe terms. I should without hesitation adopt those words as my own. 'A gassy fizzle!' Yes, surely! and they'll see it more and more so as time passes. I commenced to question him the minute of his inaugural address—that turned me at once. And things since have but added fuel to the fire—fuel and fuel—the speeches there in New York with the rest. But the matter will settle itself—mark my words, will find its level—the fire will burn itself out!" He shows intense feeling on this point. "The high future of America" he asks "what has it in common with this but to have it come and pass away?" And he insists again: "The people stand up and cheer the office: it is the office that excites the awe, the acclaim, not the man Harrison in it!"

Reference to a Millet article by Wyatt Eaton in the Century. "Yes," W. said, "I saw it—and read it, too. The pictures were very good—I was much moved by them: one picture there of Millet himself—it was very satisfying." But W.'s mind never loses it critical force: "But after all, as an article—taking the literary side of it—it was not of what we call devouring interest. But interesting it was: being about Millet, that could not fail. We might put it in this way: it was an article one would not miss reading because it was about Millet." We discussed the studio—its simplicity contrasted with the great Parisian studios—the nature of the reproduction of the sketches &c. W. asked me: "What do you know about Wyatt Eaton?" adding for himself: "He apparently stands high. I know Watson Gilder used to give him a great importance—I don't know but he does yet. There was the Holland picture: I have spoken to you about it—grand beyond any picture of the sort I have known." Thence much talk of probabilities in connection with the future of American art. I argued that so far no man had done for our art that W. had for our literature, but that one coming with that intent, would find his path smoother in that W. had preceded him. But W. was dubious. "I know that is to be considered, but I am afraid it is not such plain-sailing as appears. There are stubborn facts—these will invite a stubborn contest: and long and long before the battle is won! It will try the mettle of any man who attempts it. American art today is not in a temper to receive it. Our art is a good deal more committed to the schools, the traditions, than our literature ever was: body and soul, both are committed." He spoke of the art of Paris as "natural" to its belongings. "London I may call semi-natural"—but American art—"it is entirely given over to a bandage." This too, "not only to the Greek models—all signified by the ancient art—but the modern, the Parisian as well."

Yet he had looked at the Harpers Weeklies I brought in this morning—at the Salon pictures from Americans therein reproduced and written about it by Theodore Stanton—and found them "very worth while" seeing and knowing. And, if I did not want to take them with me now [as I did not], "I'll probably look over them again" for he found that "with such things" if he kept them by him, he will go "over them again and again." Took him a copy of Current Literature—the May issue, which, he said: "I shall have much joy in reading." I asked him if he had read H. S. Morris' poem in the Century? "I saw it there," he replied, "but I can't remember it now at all—even what it was about." This means no lack of memory, but of impression: the Eaton piece, which had appealed to him, was well enough remembered. "The trouble with men of our time—even the men of power—the cutest of them—of what we call the literary classes, is in their disposition to avoid sharp corners—to smooth everything down till every pulse of feeling is taken from it." Men of our day are too much built up "of models of models of models, back illimitably." I contested stoutly that whatever was the case now, our art was bound in the end to have its masters. Just now it is mastered. And I said: "Just as sure as that you came and were inevitable, just so surely will others come." He fervently prayed that America would have open soul for the new inspiration—"I, too," he said to me—"yes, boy—I, too!"

Someone had raised the question in a circle—what so far as America's most distinctive and effective creations? While everyone else spoke of the concrete results, I said, in my turn: "Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, perhaps Abe Lincoln!" W. asked: "Did they take that as something novel and starting?" And then he referred to Lowell's touch the other day in New York. "I was glad for it, too—it was a grand thing to him to say there." I said to W. further: "I do not believe any man in history, having such friends as you have had—received by such men as have received you—ever failed of immortality." W. said: "That sounds grand—seems like a solemn thought—but"—and of course he would say no more as to that. But when I said: "The fight about you is now 30 years old—you are better received, more recognized, today than ever before." W. acknowledged: "That is true—of course—I must see that."

Ed came in with the mail, asking: "Shall I put on the light for you?" But W. negatived: "No—Ed—no: I will do it myself: it can easily be done." And he started to do it as I left. I alluded to going to the city to Mrs. Fels'. W. said: "Ah! our good people who sent me the soap? You must give them my best regards—tell them I use the soap every day—that it is good for me—smells good, feels good, is good—and a remembrancer too!" Although not able to find Joe Adams himself, I had found out today in town that he was yet alive and at work on the line, though no longer a starter. But forgot to tell W. in hurry of other talk. He is anxious to have me see the Vereshtchagin pictures. "You mean to go, don't you?" If he "could get about" that would be a mission, he says, among first missions, this week.

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