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Tuesday, May 14, 1889

Tuesday, May 14, 1889

7.15 P.M. W. I found sitting in the parlor, in his big arm chair, facing the open window. It rained out of doors. The night, however, was pleasant, the storm light. W. said: "We had our trip long ago—if we had not I should have been 'left'—this rain would have trapped us. We have had quite a jaunt down along the river. We found a good point, there at the foot of Cooper's Street—Ed wheeled me in—then we settled ourselves. Yes, I was out of the chair—for a few minutes." Ed says W. composedly sat on a log for a little time. "The river was there—the great city opposite. Being fixed as we were, there seemed an impassable gulf, but it was very enjoyable." He said again: "The chair has certainly been a great success. It provides us an open way." "I saw Harry Bonsall on the way—stopped at his place for a few minutes—the Post office. He did not enter onto the subject of the dinner." He had observed how the Pennsylvania Railroad was extending its wharves out into the river. "It seems to be accomplished by a complot: railroad officials, politicians, perhaps even judges—anyhow they make their point and the public may whistle." As to his health: "I am not extra well: this cold in the head—this catarrhal trouble keeps up a buzzing and fluffing and stuffing; it is very irksome, continuous. But as one can't have the whole man, having to pay some penalty for being here still, I suppose I should regard this lightly, as indeed I do." He tries in every way to test his strength. Often, he will come downstairs alone—seizing a moment when nobody is about, so as to avoid their offers of assistance. A dangerous procedure. All this has come about since the arrival of the chair. It seems like renaissance.

I spoke to W. about Bucke's new propositions. "Yes," he responded, "I have taken note of it. Doctor thinks I am not occupying here the quarters he could wish for me—thinks I am not well enough fed, housed. Perhaps I am not. But I think I must reply to the Doctor by repeating a story I read long long ago. A man wandering in a graveyard found this inscription on a tombstone: it said, 'I was well—I wished to be better—I consulted a Doctor—I am here,' or something to that effect." W. told this with huge enjoyment. And then stated it in another way: "I was well—I thought to improve on what was unimprovable—I called in artificial aids—with result that you see!" And W. reflected once more: "And that I must carefully apply to myself now—take it, use it, as sufficient present answer to the Doctor." He did not say this with any disrespect. He listens to all Bucke's counsels physical with great attention.

W. said: "I had a letter from Kennedy today." Tried to find it in his pocket but it was not there. "I thought I had it with me. Kennedy put a question to me there. He says that in one of his last letters—perhaps the very last—from O'Connor, William said that he wished no memoir of himself written after he was dead—no memoir, either short or long, or for any place. Kennedy wants to know from me—asks me quite fixedly—how far I think that request should be regarded, if regarded at all. What do you think about it, Horace? I cannot see that Kennedy is any way bound to observe it"—and undoubtedly Kennedy was not. "What Kennedy designs doing he does not specifically state: I judge he will get up some satisfactory memorial paper about O'Connor, of what cut I don't know—don't know even that Sloane has written or will write anything. It all seems now in the air. But there are hosts of magazines, papers, of countless kind and sizes, over America, and one of these might be glad to have just that particular article."

I had received my article back from the Critic today, with this statement—(which I now read to W.): "We have a letter or two of O'Connor's, which will give our readers some account of him—pretty much all we can allow ourselves." W. said to me: "Read it again, Horace—I don't entirely take in the significance of it." And after I had done so, he was quiet for several minutes, remarking then that he did "not exactly like the tone of it" and urging me—"Anyhow—let me give you a piece of advice; send it off to the American—I should not hesitate a minute." And he asked, "Who is the note from—do you think—Jennie or Joe?" And when I said, "I suppose from Joe, by the writing, though it is not signed," he added: "I suppose from Joe—I suppose most of that work—the disposition of such matters is left to him." Then further: "And how would it do, Horace, to cut out from the little article, the Walt Whitman portion—some of the reference to me?" I objected and stated why they were pertinent as they are, whereat he acquiesced. "So you think they are necessary to its integrity? I can see—I can see!" Thence talked freely of "the New York literary crowd"—adding "with not a really first class mind among them! The literary school over there keeps its own counsel. A man like O'Connor is a monstrosity, a pestilent fellow, to it—he is by all means to be avoided. How would they understand him? There is anyhow something despicably little about that whole atmosphere—something so small, petty, picayune, about it. It is true, they have just such like classes in London and in Paris—but these have at least this to excuse them—that is they have intellect, power—indeed, in the case of the Frenchmen, especially, the typical Parisian writer—a force and brilliancy that amounts almost to genius." "But one would despair in New York with having to search for a first-rate—or first-class mind. The staple of their material is of the Willie Winter, Dick Stoddard, order—even smaller than these, if it were possible to have anything smaller than Willie Winter." He spoke generously here of Stedman, as if to make an exception to his large criticism: then—"I read the Critic. The Lounger is DeKay, isn't he? I have thought so—it seems to me somebody told me so." But "DeKay is flat enough, Lord knows! He has written volumes of verse—'Nimrod' was one of them. They have been sent to me. And how handsomely produced! I think DeKay is Watson Gilder's wife's brother. It has been my impression always, though perhaps from no actual knowledge at all, the DeKay is rich—comes of big family connections. His books have been sumptuously produced—oh! beautifully: and yet must have been produced at his expense. I cannot imagine a state of affairs in which any publisher would be willing to risk five cents on DeKay's poems." As to Gilder as poet, W. said: "Oh! he might count for more. And then as things are now, his position itself gives some currency to a book sent out in his name." But W. felt: "These fellows make family, cabalistic affairs of their literary actions—cabals, cliques."

Referred to Critic notice of Linton's two volumes of verse. W. described Linton thus: "He is a man of varied parts, as they say—polished, informed—as full of knowledge of tradition, of human history, as any man alive—yet radical as a boy—even a socialist—all around I should judge a William Morris sort of a man." W. is very solicitous to know "How does the work in the bank go?" indicating a position I newly assumed on Monday. "I should think you would be exactly suited in it: it will give you time to do your writing—jaunt it about some—all that—a semi-freedom, at least!"

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