Skip to main content

Tuesday, May 21, 1889

Tuesday, May 21, 1889

8 P.M. W. was in his room, lying on the bed. Mrs. Davis was on the big book-box nearby talking with him. There was no light in the room. Mrs. Davis at once arose to go, and W. protested, but she insisted, and so we were left alone. W. said to me without ceremony: "I did not get out today." Was it because he was ill? "Not particularly, though that in part—just thought to lie down awhile." Yet Ed told me W. had been quite disturbed the whole day through, and had spent a restless night. Asked me what news I had. I spoke to him of a letter I had today from Aldrich. "That," said W., "would seem to show that Aldrich is moving forward into the ranks: don't it seem so to you? The whole statement is important and significant." He did not think Aldrich had ever so put himself on record before. I referred to something Harrison Morris had told me today with respect to Lincoln Eyre's high opinion of W. W.'s character and work, as prophetic of the future America. W. was very curious to know all about Eyre. Then said: "The point is in this—not that he says what you say he does but how he comes to say it—the nature of his argument."

Shortly he essayed to get up, and I helped him. When I protested he replied: "Oh! I have been here a long while! It is time for me to sit up." I helped him across the room—but he insisted himself upon fixing the windows and lighting the gas, though it was a slow process. I could discover in his increased unsteadiness an evidence of the bad day: it is an invariable index. Suddenly he said as he stood up: "I should like that somebody write to Baxter about the dinner," and was pleased when I told him I had already done so. Baxter had a poem in the current American ("Sympathy") upon the mention of which W. was full of curious inquiry. "Are you sure of the name?" and was it "written first in the American, do you think?" &c., &c. "I have put your names together," he here announced, "such of them as were suggested to me. There may be more, but these seemed particularly near and necessary." This was a sheet indicating those he had particularly wished notified of the dinner. He makes quite a point of Cleveland—alluded to him again. "I haven't put Rhys there, but he should have been named." Had laid out a sheet from the Christian Register and marked in ink on the margin—"Agnes Traubel." "It is for Agnes," he now said, handing it to me, "she will like it—it is about something which always interests the girls—about Paris—the women of Paris. How well the women are doing nowadays! This Augusta Larned is a very bright woman, and there is Margaret Sullivan, too—the correspondent of the Paris Exposition, doing splendid work." "Parisian Street Life" was the piece by Miss Larned which he had marked for my sister. He had himself "read it with a great interest."

Spoke of having put up for me several things. "Kennedy writes me about Howells: have you heard of it? He thinks Walter Scott a humbug—prefers Tolstoi—there seems to be some discussion up about it. No—Kennedy does not endorse him—is on the contrary indignant. You have heard about it then?" And afterwards, a little pause between: "Kennedy sent me a copy of the Transcript—it is there in the package. It appears Stepniak—you know much about him?—is a reader of Leaves of Grass—enters quite largely into it. There is someone who writes to the Transcript to that effect. I shall have you read the paper and either send to Doctor Bucke yourself or give to me to send." He would indeed like to read "Underground Russia," which I named as among my books. He had "never read any of Stepniak's books." Stepniak, according to this correspondent (Harriot Stanton Blatch: London, May 9), had said to her: "Ah, here's another of my favorites" (holding up a volume of 'Leaves of Grass';) "An author who is not sufficiently appreciated in his own land." As to Tolstoi, I suggested that W. send him a book, and he said: "I will—I will send him a copy of our pocket edition: do you think you can find out how to address him?" I have wondered if Tolstoi had ever encountered W. W.'s book.

W. called my attention to the fact that Stoddard "has been essaying again"—and commented: "It is in Lippincott's—this time it is about Fitz-Greene Halleck—it is quite interesting in a light way—gossipy—contains nothing new that would be called of account." Morris had spoken to me of Stoddard as "sour." W. laughed. "It is sufficiently descriptive—it don't need addition." I said Mrs. Baldwin wittily describes Miss Repplier as Miss Replyer. W. was greatly moved. "Oh!" he said between his laughs, "that is very good: it reminds me of Mrs. Johnston—Col. Johnston's wife—who always spoke of Gosse—poor Gosse!—as Goose." He hunted up the magazine among his papers and handed it to me. "I should take it if I were you—it will not weigh you down but it is worth looking over."

I told him I had not yet had word from Stedman. W.: "Don't go on expecting too much—Stedman may yet be mad." I replied: "He may have been mad and may be mad, but he won't stay mad." He asked: "You think so?" Then went on: "I told you what Kennedy wrote about the Hartmann squibs—that he referred to my old letters and asked whether it would be advisable to send a copy of it to Stedman. I suppose he must have received that letter by this time. I told Kennedy—or intended telling him—that while making no public utterance on the matter, I might even ask that the letter he referred to should be sent to Stedman. About the piece itself I care little. Any man whose head comes above the horizon must accept—be prepared for such liabilities. But in the exact way that turned—hitting such a moment of union between us—I find plenty of cause for my vexation and anger." He had been reading Stedman's "Poets of America" today, and looking over the Cyclopedia—also reading Arnold's prose. Speaking of women in attendance at the dinner: "True enough we must not bar them out—but the thing that troubles me is, that they probably won't come anyhow."

Asked about reading of the Vistas last night. I had read, among other things, "Blood-Money," and had explained its exclusion from L. of G. on sectional grounds. W. at first said: "I don't know that there is any particular reason for their being where they are, except that they got there once and have been kept there. Probably they might just as well be included in Leaves of Grass; perhaps by and by will be." But afterwards he more or less acquiesced in my explanation. "There is a partisanism in the poem which makes it to some extent nonexact—nonrepresentative. In those days I fell in mostly with abolitionists—rabid abolitionists—noble, big fellows, many of them, but all consumed by the notion, which I never would admit, that slavery—slavery alone—was evil, and the universe contained no other. There will always be this objection to including those poems with the others." Had he written many poems in that early period? "No—not many—but some: there are two or three of them in Speciman Days, as you know."

He spoke of radical claimants to exclusive endorsement of him. "These fellows are too eager: I do not end with them: while it is true I speak for Anarchists, socialists, George men, whatever you choose, I include as well Kings, Emperors, aristocracies, financial men—not only am one with the masses, but with all men—with the mass that holds the masses. Even the churches find in me a friend: for while it is true I am radical—that Leaves of Grass takes the ground from under the churches as churches—for that fact back of all churches, all everything, I speak one enclosing word." Is anxious for the book. "I would give much to have some of them this week."

Back to top