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Monday, July 29, 1889

Monday, July 29, 1889

7.55 P.M. W. at parlor window. Had not been out. "Not extra well," he reported. It has been a very hot day. Read him a letter I had today from Brinton, (Geneva). The passage following—

It gave me especial pleasure to learn that our national poet's 70th birthday had been celebrated in so successful a manner, and that he himself is feeling at least no worse in health than when I left, and is, as ever, and as he must ever be, so firm and so serene in soul. When I was at Parma, I saw a picture by Murillo, one of the greatest of that greatest of masters, representing Job in his direst affliction, lone, naked, deserted, his potsherd in his hand, but looking up to heaven with an utter faith, that I have seen in no other painting, and that, as I told Mrs. Brinton, I could parallel in nothing else than in those lines of Whitman's on Columbus— "Poor, old and paralyzed, My God, I thank thee."  
I am certain that in these noble words the poet has expressed the calmness in affliction which is his own, and though I cannot share in the faith which it breathes, I honor and admire any disposition of mind which lifts the man above his fate.
Seemed greatly to touch him. "That is very fine—fine indeed!"

Harned (came to town today) had a letter from Burroughs, in which B. questioned the importance of the W. memorial volume. W. remarked: "Neither John nor I may like to confess it, but it is true, nevertheless, that in the last 12 years or so there has a great change come over him—the literati have seriously affected him. It is the Emersonianism in John—the spirit that starts out to gather all it can of others, that gives an ear to everything. It is partly a result of John's body, the corpus, John physically. By instinct he is sound, but his body militates against him. I remember this was so when I first knew him. But this pessimism—this insomnia—is a quantity not to be accounted for, inexplicable;except you start out with the hereditary sense of the man—the ancestry—and trace it from that, which is the real fact at last. For instance, in that Bacon controversy: John never took an intense interest—in spite of himself he was inclined towards the literary position. There are consciences and consciences—a moral conscience, an aesthetic conscience—all that—but these are quite different from that conscience of which Elias Hicks so often spoke—the conscience of consciences,—that conscience which ordered the largest measure of fact—that penetrating, fibrous, spinal quality which over-arches all. The literary consciences, and here it is John has been touched. It is the spirit of Emersonianism, which is the spirit of culture, of knowledge, of elegance. Not that Emerson had it in the least, but that Emersonianism leads straight to it, and it is dangerous, Horace—dangerous from the start—it is a playing with fire. O'Connor never changed in spirit—to the last he was what he had been." As to J. B.'s criticism of the book, W. protested: "John is wrong: even to me—certainly to our group—to our earnest fellows—it is plain that here was a sign of progress —an evolution. There was Gilder's speech: I did not object to his changes—the whole speech reads well and it is quite radical enough and now this puts us right at a point showing the importance of the book—that it has an importance for here is Gilder applauding at the very point at which the Philistines have long stormed. I do not object that he cut out the little colloquy, because he substantially inserts it anyhow in the text—yet it might have remained and been a good addition—fit well in the place." Buckwalter thought Gilder "finicky," but W. declared—"anyhow, he is radical enough for us here."

I met Buckwalter today. Among other things he told me W. had once a couple of years ago promised Bonsall to carefully search L. of G. for a certain sort of errors or unfortunate repetitions, lapses from art, etc. W. said very positively: "That sounds very doubtful—I know nothing about it—especially the part of it, that I went down to Harry and excused myself, saying I was too sick. That alone would stamp the story, is not me. You see, Horace, that is the way history is written. I should say, this story is not only essentially wrong, but wrong in detail. I am but a fragment, anyhow—Leaves of Grass is a modality of but fragments. If I should attempt to perfect it, I am afraid the result would be as with Balzac's proof sheets, that the cause the whole matter to be set up again! Why, it would be a hell-of-a job!" And he added—"You see how it is: the little a man says is often made a world of, and stretched wholly in the wrong direction, too: this, undoubtedly, if it arose in anything, arose in something quite different from what is reported."

He had read the proofs I left him yesterday carefully. "And do you know, boy, that speech of Lincoln Eyre's is one of the best—I do believe as good as any—especially the way he speaks of democracy—delivering stern blows, defined, undeniably strong and to the point. I don't know how the excellence of that escaped me before, but it did." Said he: "I guess you are right about 'Henry L. Bonsall.'" I had explained. Spoke of the little book again "It is a step forward: I could easily say that if the book involved another: then why not now?" I sent off the Mazzini book to Clifford and pictures to Mrs. Bush today. W. said as to Bush's inquiry which was the best W. W. edition for him to buy: "Tell him the big book: that is complete, authorized—that is the book." Then reverting to Bonsall W. exclaimed: "How foolish it would be for me to make such a promise! The book Leaves of Grass as it stands now is the book as it will stand in the future if it stands at all. I shall substantially never touch it again: it must go, make its way, be what it may be, just as it exists now—nothing added, practically—nothing taken off!" "I look upon L. of G. as it now stands as the final version, utterance—the last pledge, statement." W. spoke of Canada: some one had lately taken a trip—been enthusiastic—W. thereupon, "Yes—I do not wonder: it is full of scenic surprises: among other features, has a thousand little lakes, from a mile to 5 miles in length, which are not found in the maps, but are of wonderful beauty and interest." Speaks of having "the laughing philosopher" cut narrowed. "As it is now, it will not go into any of my books." Eventually he proposes to use it in Leaves of Grass. Was interested to know if negative had been returned to Cox yet. I told him the negative had not after all been used. Having to reduce the picture, it was found easier to do so on the print.

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