Skip to main content

Friday, July 12, 1889

Friday, July 12, 1889

7.50 P.M. W. sitting at parlor window reading life of Cassius Clay. Asked me, "Did you ever know anything of Cas Clay?—ever see him, meet him?" Adding, "He was a great man in his day—must be a very old man now!" Looked very poorly. Deafness much increased. Nearly everything I said to him had to be repeated. Particularly fine as the day had been, he had not been out at all. To Mrs. Mapes, who came in and asked him how he was standing the hot weather, he replied, "Middling well—only middling well." I left with him the proof of Harned's speech, which he promised to look over before he went to bed, and "leave out in the hall," so I could secure it early in the morning, on my way to town. I wrote a short note to Bucke last evening. Told W. so. He said, "I had a letter from Doctor last evening, but so far have not felt impelled to answer it."

Gave W. some description of Hawthorne's picture of Lincoln printed by Fields in "Yesterdays with Authors." W. said: "I do not remember it: yes—bring it down. I should not wonder at any man mistaking Abe Lincoln the first two or three years in Washington: it is very rarely anyhow that men come to know the really great fellows even when they are through, much less when they are in process of making. When men get their calipers out—then what? Nothing very wise, generally. Lincoln was not a specifically great man, as greatness runs in the average mind. He minds me most often of a captain—a great captain—chosen for a tempestuous voyage—everything against him—wind, tide, current, terrible odds—untried seas—balking courses: yet a man equal to all emergencies, never at a loss, quiet, composed, patient—oh how patient!—and coming out at the end, victor—no one in all history more victor! How could the average men know him?—how know Washington—even Grant?—any man of the first class?" And then he said fervently: "Reckoning how much we owe to the fact of Lincoln's presence at that day—his service—one is lost in wonder, what had become of our states, fallen into other hands!" Then vividly, with his usual simple touches: "But it was the average soldier, after all—the average soldier, north and south—who was the golden swordblade of our war. I remember one man—a sort of teamster—driver of an ambulance. Off from Washington was what was called a convalescent department: I often rode out to it—whenever possible, rode outside, with the driver. There was one man among those who had known Lincoln in his early days—in the Springfield days—had worked in the principal store at Springfield, as clerk, helper, assistant, laborer, I don't know what. It was from him I learned many of my best things about Lincoln. Already at that time Lincoln was a man of some note—had a good home in Springfield—was married—ran things. He would come down to this store to buy. Oh! many's the little items of description this man imparted, how Lincoln appeared then—appeared in his purchasings, his buying this, his not buying that, why he felt he needed one thing, why not another: items, insignificant details, which the man soon understood were of an intense interest to me. This man, occupying a place as teamster, was very subordinate—I don't know whether very poor, but certainly not getting much out of this work. I said to him one day, 'Don't you know that Abe Lincoln is big Injun now—that he could do almost anything for you—put you in almost any convenient position?' He answered at once, 'Yes, I do!' Then I urged, 'Well—why don't you go to see him then—why don't you call? Don't you think he would remember you?' 'Oh yes, he would.' 'Well, why don't you call, then?' I shall never forget the man's emphasis in replying—the tone of his voice—his look—it was a poem in itself. 'What—me call on him? Add to his burdens?—on a man worried from morning to night not only by his great cares but by applicants for this, applicants for that, applicants for the other thing? No indeed: I could never do it!' It was a flash out of heaven: the man was a hero to me at once: I was enthusiastic over my discovery. Did I never tell you of this before? It was typical of the common soldier—not uncommon in any sense: my experience has been full of just such noble consideration, tact, cute human feeling, as this."

W. spoke of O'Connor—of his novel and the short stories. "'Harrington' was quite a big book—published by my Boston publishers—the publishers of Leaves of Grass—by Thayer and Eldridge. But it was by no means a pecuniary, a publisherial, success." Did the book give works of O'C.'s best qualities? "Yes—I think it did—it was full of vehemence, power. The book was instigated by the success of Harriet Beecher Stowe's 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' Harrington was an ardent reformer—a young man, probably 30, 31, 32, 33 years—interested in all the new schemes, the fresh theories: a man of the kind you know well. There were passages in it—asides—diversions—of exquisite beauty—then passages of great power. The short stories did have a wonderful—a marked quality: there was one—'The Ghost'—probably the best of all. And another 'The Carpenter,' which certainly has a great emotional—I was going to say, overflow. Its subject an old man on the Maryland line with two sons, one of them belonging to the Northern—the other to the Southern—army—their re-union." I asked, "And the Carpenter: was that the father?" W. responded—"No—the Carpenter was a new-comer—a visitor—a happener-in: was meant, in fact—so I believe—for me, though drawn with O'Connor's vehement, impressive, Elizabethan pen—with exaggerated lines—not halting or lame at all in its testimony. I have not a copy here—but Bucke has one, I am sure. This story—I think it was this—was printed in the first number of Putnam's Magazine—the revised Putnam's—if I am not mistaken: they were very anxious, positive, about having something from O'Connor for the first issue, and so he gave them this. It was a long story: Putnam's, then, had, I suppose, as many or nearly as many pages as the present Century: of these pages O'Connor's piece occupied 70." What sort of a volume did he suppose these stories would make, collected together now? "I don't know: would not like to say: there may be a preservative quality in them—I am inclined to believe there is: but a volume would be experimental."

He hears little from McKay about November Boughs. "I guess it did not sell—the usual fate!" Mrs. Davis came in and sat with us awhile. W. was very solicitous in inquiring after a woman next door, now much and dubiously sick, of consumption. From this went into general comment—gave hospital experiences—"hemorrhages of all parts of the system: oh! how much I have heard of these!" Despite evident discomfort of condition, the thought of the war, of O'Connor, aroused vigorous speech in him. Memory of old things still strong. Spoke of George Stafford—his physical trouble.

Back to top