Skip to main content

Friday, May 10, 1889

Friday, May 10, 1889

10.45 A.M. We were all sorrowed this morning to light upon this item in the paper: "W. D. O'Connor, assistant general superintendent of the Life Saving Service, died in Washington yesterday." When I went into W.'s room I found him getting up model for binder. "You come a little too soon," he said, "I had not expected you till later." But kept on working, I not disturbing him. He spoke instantly, however, of O'Connor—appeared calm and collected, but solemn. "William is dead," he remarked, "you saw?" And then: "It was in the papers. But I had two letters here about it—one from Nellie, one from James L. Sill." He handed them to me, and took up the thread of his work again as I read. W. said little after I finished, but W.'s whole look and tone were pathetic. "Poor Nellie! Poor Nellie!"

I retired downstairs—talked somewhat with Mrs. Davis—then sat with Ed in the parlor till about half an hour had passed. Going upstairs then, I found that W. had finished his work and was regarding a sheet of instructions he had written to go with the model. Here is a copy of it:

Walt Whitman's 'Leaves of 
  Grass' for the Binders 
  to be bound pocketbook form green 
  real morocco, gilt edged 
  all round 
  trim off the edges as closely 
  as they will admit—use 
  your own taste and judg- 
  ment—I like a little 
  more white margin at 
  bottom both in print pages 
  & pictures 
  six altogether 
  put the pictures as in 
  sample herewith—see to 
  this carefully—face them 
  carefully as requested. 
  (I hope the stitching will 
  be first-rate & strong— 
  the big book you bound 
  for me seems to be first- 
  duplicate sample of pictures 
  herewith numbered 
  No. 1—the frontispiece 
  2 to face page 29 
  3 " " 132 
  4 " " 214 
  5 " " 293 
  6 " " 383 
Punctuation altogether and form mainly as above. He had also tied up the different heads carefully and put most specific descriptions on the package. "We are fortunate with the binders," he said, "they seem to have not had a mistake with him. The pictures have always got into their right places." I tied up package. "I think we are now all done—for our part," W. reflected. "Tell Oldach we are now in his hands—that we wait now for the two models—that we ought not to have any delay with them."

Then of O'Connor again. "They will bury him in Washington, I suppose," W. said, "I can see now how well it is that things are as they are. Poor O'Connor! Poor William! Poor me! And yet," W. said again, "yet I can understand him. I knew him so well, I can comprehend how true it is, what Sill writes me there, that O'Connor himself dreaded anything like a long, persistent, lingering illness." Then he turned upon himself: "I am myself not so well today as I was yesterday and the day before. I quite anticipated a change—and I knew before I got up that I was not in prime condition. What it is, I don't know—probably the heat—the unpropitious heat." "Or the bad news?" I asked. And he: "Not that—I should not say that—for I have been anticipating that for a long time—the last day or two felt it was here—its shadow upon me. Though I know well enough that I am depressed by it—that it has borne in on my mentality, emotionality, to a deep, almost sorrowful degree." Yet it was no "shock." "I wrote postals to Doctor, John Burroughs, Kennedy, this morning, telling them of it: Eddy has mailed them." He had taken up the papers, shortly hit upon the terse three lines—had them ceased reading. The pictures of past days, the memory of old experiences, the Washington days, "eloquent with friendship"—these he only briefly touched today. His manner pathetic—in perfect command. Looked beautiful—complexion with some paleness intermixed, eye distant, at some of our brief touching references, tears out of their unusual depth.

W. said: "Boy—I have seen Tom. The fellows seem after all to set out to have a big time on the birthday. What shall we do with it?" I had seen Harned this morning. At the meeting yesterday, it was decided to have a banquet, 200 seats at $5.00, surplus to go to a W. W. purse. To be held in Morgan's Hall. Harned laughingly referred to W.'s "whimsicality." Had seen W. last night after my opposite talk and practically had his assent that he would attend. They plan for a big affair—toasts &c. Nothing except bare outlines so far. Harned advised with me about letters to men outside of Camden. May cable Tennyson. W. says: "We must submit, I suppose." And of the purse: "That would be nice! After the expense we have gone to the past year to get our book out, this would help reimburse." And I said: "We'll have the book there—they'll probably sell anyhow." He laughed: "That would be fishing with two hooks, wouldn't it?" Will not promise speech. Chair had not come up to the time I left. I picked up some writing paper from floor. W. said: "I never look for anything but what a lot of white paper turns up." This paper was ruled. "Oh! I use ruled paper, but I don't write on the lines!"

5.40 P.M. W. had just finished his meal. A terrible storm was raging out of doors—wind driving the dust about in a complete fog. I had just crossed the river, which was aroused to fury, the dust horrible, the boat tipped clean to her side, many passengers (women) terror-stricken in the extreme and crying. W. sat at his closed window regarding it. I had delivered the package to Oldach. The chair not having come at one, I went to Wanamaker's about it. They assured me it was on its way, as was the case, for now it stood there at W.'s in the parlor. Also delivered W.'s message to Ferguson, who expressed concern and regret. McKay had a letter from the West from someone who solicited all the portraits of W. W. &c.—which is laughable, when one considers the array of these that exist. I promised to get Dave copies of the Linton and the 70th year portraits. W. said he would look them up.

W. spoke of the storm. "I noticed it as I sat here—the dust flew up in a perfect cloud—I got my mouth full of it. Shut the windows forthwith—that is as forthwith as I could, which wasn't very forthwith." Ed had come in as I had, covered with dust. Now a quiet rain had set in. The green trees swayed to and fro. "It has already cooled things off," W. remarked, "how fine the breeze!" Had he yet tried the chair? "No—it is still down in the parlor. Mary asked when it came if she should bring it up and I advised against it. I have been hoping Ed would come in, so we could make a short trial trip around the block this afternoon. But the rascal, he's gone off somewhere. I sent him up to Tom's about 12 o'clock with the bottles, for what Tom calls the rum and the sherry; he has not appeared since." W. laughed heartily: "If Eddy was not such a sober fellow—if I didn't know he was strictly upright, I'd be inclined to believe he'd run off with the drink."

On the table a paper addressed to John Burroughs. W. said: "This big racket they are getting up—would you call it a bar testimonial?" I laughed outright—he said it in such a way I thought he was hitting at its drink features. "What's the matter?" he asked in astonishment. And when I said, "I thought you spoke satirically," he caught the idea and laughed heartily himself. "I see," he said, "but I did not mean that. I saw here so many names of members of the bar, I thought it might go by such a name. There is a pretty good statement of it in both the papers tonight. The Post, The Courier: and it is all right—I take no exception to it." I told him Dave had already given me $5.00 for his ticket and W. said: "Good for Dave! But Dave is a good fellow anyhow!" Would he speak? "I not only did not promise to speak, but did not promise to be there. How can I promise anything? It is not yet even proven that I can get out at all. Then see how I feel. I am sure I have been miserable all today, though now I am a little better. Such a day as this would wholly disappoint the affair." "I suppose the unusual and sudden warmth has something to do with it, but then so also has my general sensitiveness." But who could explain the blues? W. said: "Poor O'Connor! He had 'em! Would get 'em in the most violent way—was subject to such attacks. Poor O'Connor! But it was constitutional with him. Thank God! my own tendencies—inherent belongings—have been of another character—I can say of an opposite character—reaching into buoyancy, joy, confidence: a result of most beneficent progenation!"

I read W. a little piece on O'Connor I had written today. It was quite short, would not fill a column in The Critic. I asked W. if I should send it to the Critic? and he said, "Yes indeed—yes indeed: it ought surely to go there." Several times as I read, I could see his eyes watering—and as I finished, he exclaimed fervently, still looking out across into the northern sky: "Good! Good! The grand fellow"—adding reflectively after a pause—"O'Connor was a chosen knight—a picked man. Like the Arthurian heroes, true as steel, chivalric to the bone, high in hope and intention. What the knights were to chivalry, O'Connor was in literary action. He had an ideal so high—a human, literary, social, moral, religious, aspiration so pure—a passion for right, justice, the race, so intense—a disdain for mere literary craft and skill so overwhelming—he seemed out of place in the modern world, its so-often mean ambitions. A cat in a strange garret indeed. The grand O'Connor! Who can take his place today? Who can take his place for me?"

W. when sending to Harned for his drink, had defined his desires on a little card, and closed with this: "My dear friend William O'Connor is dead." I spoke of having Stedman here at the dinner, if possible. W. gladdened. "That would be very good indeed, if it could be accomplished. Did I tell you about Kennedy—the letter I had from him the other day? You remember what I said about the Hartmann column—that he had offered it to Kennedy—oh! it was months ago—indeed, more than a year, for it was before I was sick—that Kennedy had written me about it—that I had at once replied, disavowing, saying they were not only not my thoughts but the very opposite of my thoughts. This was about the time of the Walt Whitman Club business that I put my foot down on. Kennedy wrote me the other day—I think only 3 or 4 days ago: this week, anyway—asking if I would consent that he should show my letter to Stedman—send him a copy of it. I have a bad habit nowadays of losing my letters—dropping them everywhere—so to make it certain that this should not be passed unreplied-to, I wrote that same day, that afternoon, making a special point of it—of course saying 'Yes.' Perhaps Stedman has the letter by this time." I said I intended writing to Stedman, telling him of the Herald refusal to publish the contradiction. W.: "That would be well, too! The good Stedman, who for years now has been so generous and kind to us!—and here, in the very latest moment, giving us extraordinary evidence of his feeling on the big book!"

On his table a flower. "What is it?" I asked. He smiled: "That's the question. None of us know. I had a couple of visitors from Boston today—Oh! what were their names? Let me see?" But they would not been seen. "Anyhow—they were young fellows—only came in a minute—left this flower. This is a poor place for it—there is nothing propitious in a warm room—it needs the free air. I am going to have it set down in the garden, where it can no doubt be made to thrive." I suggested that we bring the chair upstairs for him to see. At first, he thought not, but finally consented to have it brought in for inspection. I went down for Warren to help me up with it. When it was once in the room W. was greatly struck. Started to rise instantly. "It looks like a glorious opportunity!" he exclaimed, "Guess I'll just step into it at once and have the question settled." And when once in: "It seems just made for me—or I for it! A perfect fit! And so easy too!"—and he sat there composedly. "Move it, Horace," he said, "let us see now how she goes." And when I saw that the mere motion seemed to rejoice him, I said jokingly, "If the worst comes, Ed can wheel you up and down the room," he replying, "That is so—but that would be a poor apology indeed for the real thing!" I called Ed in, and he came, moving it about, manipulating it easily. "And would it tip over?" W. asked. Ed advised W. to try, and try he did, but it would not tip. "If it was to tip over, it would knock my neck badly out of joint. But then," he said with a laugh, "I shall not go to any trouble to knock my neck out of joint just yet!" Warren kissed him good-by and went out—and Ed left after him. W. said: "I guess I'll stay in it a while. With my usual instinct to keep comfortable when I am so, I'll stay in this good position!" And so there he sat, still in the middle of the floor, cane dangling from his hand, when I left. "Over there on the box," he said, "is my red handkerchief: will you hand it to me?" And he put it about his neck. "I have been accustoming myself to this, and so it may be better to be on guard." And W. urged me again: "Yes—send the article to the Critic. Don't expand it—let it go just as it is. I do not see how it could be condensed."

Back to top