Skip to main content

Friday, July 19, 1889

Friday, July 19, 1889

7.50 P.M. W. in parlor at window. It rained hard, which he remarked. "Wasn't it long acoming?" he asked. "At least—plain enough that it was to come, but long making up its mind?" Ed came in after awhile and sat at the other window. Some reference being made to eyesight, W. exclaimed, "Well—that's my case exactly—I am getting worse and worse fixed—so that by and by my sight will be altogether gone." I protested, "But having flung the Doctor's medicine away you'll be strong again?" Whereupon: "I have stopped it, and feel better, but really think, however, it may have had its good effect: except that we must not forget there's no way under heaven to give me my youth back again." I repeated Ingersoll's picture of the youngster tugging at the greybeard's sleeve at the table of life and indicating that the time had come, etc. W. laughingly: "So that is the Colonel's: it is very good—very worth the telling!" Adding after a pause, "And true, too: oh! I do not complain,"—looking at me—and he does not.

Said, "I got 'Mr. Donnelley's Reviewers' from Tom and sent it to John Burroughs today." Added, "And I had a long letter from Charles Eldridge, who writes from San Francisco. He says he is at a desk again—is Internal Revenue Collector for the district covered by California, Oregon, perhaps one or two other states. Charles is a Republican—probably got left in Cleveland's term—now on deck again." And in speaking of Grace Channing and one of the women out there who was deaf, W. said, "And she is greatly to be envied in her deafness, too. I have told her so, often, but she always looked very glum about it, saying to me, "Ah! Walt—if you knew what it was—really realized it—you would never say that!" Then: "But I am getting to know what it is! All my faculties seem to be settling down into a masterly incompetency, dullness." Harned goes off to the country tomorrow again and W. thought, "There must be something fascinating about that lay of country to make him so eager." I suggested, "The baby, for one thing"—whereat he laughed—"Sure enough—I had not thought of it!"

Gilchrist sent me the letter from Hallam Tennyson, acknowledging for his father G.'s letter about the banquet. G. thought we could use simply the phrase "All congratulations," which occurs in the letter, but W. urged, "Use it all—don't garble it—though remaining very careful not to claim more for it than the law allows. Tennyson is very conservative—almost squeamish, I might say—writes little or nothing—would no doubt resent us if we made too much of this note—made it mean what it does not." I had read the whole note to W. I expressed willingness to use all if G. would consent. Ed went upstairs, got me a postal, which I wrote to G. as I sat there. W. said of Tennyson, "He don't write much any more—in the first place, because he can't—then because it is not in his disposition to do so. I think Hallam does some—or a good deal—of his correspondence. There was a time when Alfred's wife wrote for him, but that is past now: she is sick, ailing, must be old, spends a good part of her time sofa-ed, confined—and I am told Alfred is everything to her that is noble, tender, quiet, brave, devoted—all that nobility, tenderness, bravery, devotion, mean! Have you never noticed how these men are backed by women—how fortunate they have been?—Gladstone, now—Disraeli, Tennyson, others: and see what an age they live to! I remember, Pearsall Smith spoke of this to me, remarked that the caretaking was more notable in England than here." But W. instanced even here the longevity of literary men: "Emerson, Bryant, Longfellow—even Whittier, though Whittier has been frail all his life. Yes indeed, Whittier has been more than temperate, I should say—even abstemious—and that has saved him. I easily picture Bryant in his old days—the last 15 or 20 years of his life, always the long beard, the bald head, the shaggy brows,—though with a sallow complexion. John Swinton used to call him 'a cadaver.' That was John's word, and I suppose Bryant justified it—nevertheless I like him. In his old days I think Bryant shied at loneliness—liked to be about—to meet friends—to be entertained, an altogether opposite frame of mind from that which had previously prevailed in him—ordered his life." Even Lowell was "well along in life—though ruddy and fat and healthy enough." And W. W.'s age, too, "is getting along, I must admit for myself." Referred to Bright, Carlyle and others.

"I left proofs of title page and his own speech and Rhys' poem with him. He would examine them tomorrow. Had not been out today. W. said: "We ought not invite the carpers—ought not to deliberately put ourselves in the way of the carper." And then retracted with a laugh: "But what do we care for the carpers? They will carp anyhow, whatever we do! All we can do is to do the best thing in ourselves!" Gilchrist had addressed a letter to me (written in Phila.) to "Camden, New Jersey, U. S. A." W. laughed—"That is thoroughly characteristic of Herbert—I can see him in it!" W. laughingly asked me at one point: "How is it, Horace—are we America? In Canada I was always astonished to hear people speak of us as Americans—as if they were not as really American as we were." I said, "Ask Ed." W. thereupon, "How is it Eddy?" W. then went on: "Of course there is no difference at all—we all acknowledge it—and yet we go on calling ourselves exclusively American at somebody else's expense. Why not all American—the Canadian, the Mexican, the Panamanian, the Nicaraguan—what-not!" Adding: "It affords an astonishing instance of how corruptions get legitimized—gain currency—become orthodox and are defended."

Back to top