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Monday, August 11, 1890

Monday, August 11, 1890

5:45 P.M. The day very cool. W. had closed the doors of his room, though sitting by the open window. Asked me at once if I had got to Morris' yesterday. I gave him note of thanks Morris had sent. Read and called him "a good fellow."

Spoke of postal he received from John Swinton, as follows:

Edinburgh, Scotland, July 31, 1890

My dear Walt—Again I salute you. I wish I had been at the birthday fest, and heard the beauteous words of my friend Bob Ingersoll about you.

We shall leave here soon for New York.

Ever yours, John Swinton

Said—"If you've any curiosity, keep it."

Then spoke of John Boyle O'Reilly's tragic taking-off. W. said, "I have not got over it yet—it was a startling story! And such a fellow! What the handsome light and shadow of the man! He had the fine port, the dark hair and eyes—of the Irish-Spanish mixture he was. When I looked at him I never wondered again why it was said to the credit of Ireland that it had come of Spain, or a thick Spanish mixture." Insomnia "a strange freak."


The Poet-Journalist Killed by an Overdose of Chloral.

Boston, Aug. 10 (Special).—John Boyle O'Reilly, editor of the Pilot, died at an early hour this morning at his summer cottage, at Hall, from an overdose of chloral. He was suffering from insomnia and took the dose to produce sleep. His wife for years has been a victim of nervous prostration and was compelled to use a preparation of chloral, and always had a bottle of the mixture at her bedside. Her husband was a vigorous opponent of all such artificial soporifics, contenting in a recent work that healthy diet and exercise were ever sufficient to cure just what affected him. Last night, after vainly endeavoring to slumber, he determined to violate his own principles, and stealing into his wife's chamber he took her bottle and drank the fatal dose. This was at 11 o'clock.

At 3 o'clock this morning, Mrs. O'Reilly awakening, found him absent from her side and for the first time in days left her bed in search of him. In the sitting room, at the open window, head on hand, as if looking over the eastern sea he reclined, sleeping heavily. Failing to arouse him, she summoned help. Physicians hurriedly detected his condition, but could only arouse him sufficiently to get him to mumble "wife's medicine." He died an hour later....

Spoke of Burroughs: "But in Burroughs sickness is the reushering of the Burroughs of 30 years ago. When he first came to Washington in the early years of the war, we did not think he would have a long lease—he was so frail, a blow would have knocked him down. Then he has domestic comlications which do him no good." As to the idea Bucke had that Burroughs avoided him: "I had never heard of that—had no idea of the sort from John himself. But then John has his caprices—I was going to say kinks, but caprice will probably give my meaning better. I find in all characters that live close to nature, capriciousness, variability—they seem to pattern after nature's higher rules. The children are that way, and dogs, cats—not but that their perceptions, intuitions, are keen enough, but with the capricious, too." Speaking of "the intuitive perception of children, knowing who look them well—are their friends," as he put it, he said—"Whatever of others, I don't think any child could long mistake the grandmotherliness of Mrs. Traubel." And further of O'Reilly: "He was a handsome man—chivalrous—noble—everybody liked him—there was spice of heroics, aromas of escapade, bravery, hairbreadth daring, moral heroism. He went everywhere—lived fast: ate, drank—was a merry man." I asked, "Wouldn't you like to give me something—some few lines—about him for the Conservator?""Yes—glad—if I can: if they come to me. I wish I could. The noble O'Reilly! I will see what I can do."

Read the following in Press yesterday:


An Interesting Volume of Memories of the Concord Seer.


A Faithful Record of the Poet's Opinions Freely Expressed in Familiar Chats on Literature, Philosophy and Criticism.

To worship Emerson in one's youth—that is common enough. Not to have outgrown the pure and purifying enthusiasm of middle age—that, we assume, is rather rare, and a sign of strength. There is one such, we are thankful to say. Mr. Charles J. Woodbury, who is an undergraduate of Williams College, came under the benign personal influence of the Concord Seer in the Autumn of 1865, and thereafter enjoying the most enviable privilege of familiar intercourse with him, happily fell into the habit of recording the precious monologues of the greatest of Americans; monologues now embodied in a volume before us, "Talks with Emerson" (New York: The Baker & Taylor Company). This book bears on every page sufficient proof of the authenticity of its report. It is the best of Emersoniana, the essential complement of Cabot's splendid memoir, and Edward Emerson's more intimate glimpse. The only possible way of reviewing it is by quotation, and for our generous use of striking passages we are sure we shall have the thanks of all thoughtful readers of The Press.

...Anything that excited remark in dress and demeanor [Emerson] avoided by instinct. "I remember he returned from New York, and told me that Mr. Walt Whitman, by invitation dining with him at the Astor House, had come without his coat." The extremes met then, though undoubtedly he enjoyed the unrestrained man and democratic poet, despite the odor his verses perspire. Long enough after the occurence to divert any suspicion of a connection, Mr. Emerson said: "Dress should reveal the spirit. There are men so brutally wilful and indifferent to civilization that they remind one of the veldt, the dhow and the kraal. They ought to go about, their faces smeared with woad, in skins of wild animals, with a bone club on their shoulders and a sword of shark tooth, beating drums of fish skin."...

I said to W., "I see you went to dine with Emerson in your shirtsleeves." He laughed, "So I see—so I learn, for the first time! I kept a copy of the Press here—marked it—supposing you might not hear. It is all a lie—an entire lie—and it is not the first edition of the same lie, either. I have got the character, and this only repeats and repeats. He gives it as though it was from Emerson himself, but if Emerson remembered, he would not have said it. The worst lies, as I have said, are those with just a shred of truth—enough truth simply to get the ear. This paragraph has an Edward-Emersonish flavor." Especially "his verses perspire"—excited W.'s risibility. "They must rub it in, or they would not be happy." And then, "You see—the story of the shirt is quite circumstantial—it has been told before—it is long put upon me and will stick—but they are all lies—all stories of the kind. It is like Lincoln and the smutty stories—time was, when a fellow got a particularly dirty story, he would say, I've heard a good one on Lincoln—listen—and all would crop up ears and Lincoln would be pilloried again. And so these shirt stories are put back to me." And further, "It shows what books may be worth."

Sent paper to Morse among others today—asked if it was rightly addressed. "Here," he said—opening a paper starch box on table—"these are sugared calamus bits—sent by Kennedy long ago—buried there in the mixture of things—I turned them up in looking for something else today. Won't you take some up to the folks?" Asked me, "Would you like me to jot down some memoranda for your article?" And at my assent, said he would write out what occurred to him.

Gave me papers for Morse and Rayner and letter for Harry Bonsall, for mailing.

Spoke of having given Buckwalter a copy of the Conservator containing Kennedy's piece.

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