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Friday, October 9, 1891

Friday, October 9, 1891

7:58 P.M. W. very cordial in his greeting. "Glad to see you again! So it is, day to day! Meet—part—meet again!" News? Who had news? His old question. Told me at once, "I have a letter from Wallace. Yes, written from Albany. He is probably in New York now, has the note you mailed him yesterday." I too had a note from Albany, 8th. W. went on, "He seems journeying back leisurely enough, which is the best way, no doubt. You don't think the Colonel will speak in Philadelphia?" "No more than that you will give a poem!" "Well, it's certain enough I shall not give a poem. In the first place, I doubt if I have been asked (I get so many requests, I forget most of them), then again, I couldn't give the poem if I could. All that is past for me." And again, "Wallace will probably be along Tuesday. He will finish on Long Island, unless you break in on him with a summons to hear the Colonel, which is unlikely."

W. then asked, "Did you get one of the printed copies of Doctor's Montreal address? Yes? It is a handsome document, don't you think? I started to read it today—did not get very far—yet far enough to see that this is probably Doctor's crowning work, probably the best writing he has ever done. But I could not go straight through it. It is a thing not to be passed lightly over, not to be dashed through with, but must be studied, page by page." And still again, "It displays considerable esprit—is quite professional. But good, apparently, every way."

I had a note from Garland. Said W., "Good! Good!" as to the first part, then, "I don't know about the book. Sure enough, did he send the money? There's a doubt in my mind! Indeed I had forgot the book—it is not sent. I remember his letter quite well, but remember nothing about the enclosure. But anyhow, I shall send the book—he shall have it." Is this W.'s memory again? It is likely. I had written Garland I would refer his note to Walt.

W. asked about Clifford, "How does he like his place? Does he fit to it? Make something of it?" Somehow we got talking of O'Connor—I don't know how. W. saying, "I tell you what, Horace, you ought to make out at some length a magazine piece about William. Any magazine ought to be glad to take it—Lippincott's, such. Though, of course, I don't know. To tell the story of William's life—what he seemed here for—what he stood for—the aim, accomplishment: that would be a great pleasure. You would thoroughly enjoy it, once started. And one point, Horace—if you write, caution yourself: do not make much this time of William's connection with me—touch it lightly—pass on. Then again, later, in other ways, have a special article dealing with nothing but that—our meeting—the eternal friendship (yes, eternal—it will, can, have no end—here, elsewhere). Your point would be to tell of that life—go into any details you chose." Someone had spoken of O'Connor as W.'s St. Paul, but W. shook his head, "Anyway, we will insist that William must be recognized by force of his own genius—does not need us, anybody, to lift, assist him—will anywhere account for himself, on his own terms." Would he help me in such a paper? "Yes, give you letters—dates—facts—add to, help you in any way." Burroughs thought there would be an O'Connor revival—a demand someday to know more of him. W. asked, "Did John say that deliberately? It is significant. I am sure it will be the case. Such superb personalities cannot be wrecked, lost, swept away, forgotten. And I think you could do a good deal even now to bring about that shift in the current. Just put the idea in your pipe—smoke it." And more, "You would want to set out the strong features of O'Connor's life just as simply as possible—to go underneath exteriors—to get the world to understand really what manner of man he was. And after that much is done the rest will easily follow. The noble William!"

In course of our talk, I said, "I often wonder if 'Leaves of Grass' does not after all and most of all mean good health." W. quickly, "How is that? Tell me how you come to ask that." "Why, it always fills me with such entire satisfaction, abandon, as a fine day. After I go from it, I find I always feel well. I find that I am large—that all my meannesses and doubts have dropped off." "Oh! that is noble! Oh! You give it a noble credit! I wish it could be so! Yes, I do!" "But it is so for me: that I am positive enough of." "But what of others? Develop it for me, Horace." "My judgment of a book is not by its ideas, or its sections or chapters, or its ornateness, but by the condition in which it leaves me. And 'Leaves of Grass' always leaves me whole, aspiring, full of courage." "A splendid criterion: I know none better! Tell me more of it, Horace." "There is no more—isn't that enough?" W. with a smile, "Sure enough—enough: if only it were justified." I adding, "Some books make me feel mean, small—the worm that never dies—make me ask why the devil I came and am alive anyway. But 'Leaves of Grass' expands me—makes me feel limitless. Yes, it fills, crowds, me, like a great grand day!" W. exclaimed, "O proud fame! If this should ever come to the 'Leaves'! And anyhow, Horace, you have touched a deep chord. I feel in it the throbbing life of a great thought. I hardly think you know yourself how deep you have sounded. Who knows? I guess there is no longer line." I mentioned Hawthorne, "He leaves me oppressed; 'Leaves of Grass,' glorified." "Does Hawthorne have that effect?" And several times he declared, "You have opened my eyes to the best future I can see for the 'Leaves.' To leave men healthy, to fill them with a new atmosphere." Then hauls himself up suddenly, with a laugh to me, "But what proof have you of it anyway?" And shakes his finger at me, "Be careful of your claims—guard your retreat well. For after all"—relapsing to quiet, thus abruptly—then resuming—"Yet William and I used to claim everything (like the politicians), at least set our claims way towards the top!" This reminded him of something, "If you write about William, write a good deal about his Lincolnianism. Tell how he came upon the significance of Lincoln at the jump. Yes, penetrated to his marrow—made no mistakes—was staunch, irresistible. Indeed, I think my own Lincolnism was a good deal the result of William's pressure—Gurowski's. I was borne down, the very momentum of the men sweeping all before it. A negative? He would not hear it—no, not a word of it—there was no question! And armed that way, nobody could resist O'Connor." I asked, "A tale might be told of his life among the clerks—his heroisms there." "Yes, a bright glorious tale. Nobody knows so well as I do what wealth of life O'Connor threw into his work at the department." I mentioned a notebook about children, left with me by Mrs. O'Connor, showing that O'Connor was planning to write on the subject. W. thought, "It must have a rare value. O'Connor's love of children, demonstrations towards them, were exquisite." I said, "I am scheming to write something about Walt Whitman and the children." His whole face lighted up, "What a chapter you might make of that! I had an inroad of the children just today—little Harvey (you know little Harvey, my friend, darling?)—and with him half a dozen others. It was a flash of light—a bit out of dawn."

We spoke of the marked friendliness of newspaper men to Walt Whitman. I quoted a talk I had with McClure last fall, anent the lecture, McClure saying, "I will do anything for either Walt Whitman or the Colonel." W. asked, "Did he say that? Were they his words?" Adding, "I always felt somehow that I could count on Aleck. And you think the newspaper men generally accept, or credit, me, and the literary fellows not? That has been my own experience. The high-jinks shrink from the issue, but the newspaper boys have no qualms." Miss Porter told me this afternoon that she and Miss Clarke were amusing themselves writing an imaginary conversation between Sidney Lanier and Walt Whitman. W. said, "It ought to amuse them, taken rightly. They might give it a great turn." The two men both patriots, yet with different ideals for America. There the subject at issue. Find the two women strangely and more markedly warm towards Walt. W. says he has sent a postal to Wallace at New York. What of the Rome brothers? "They are both alive—splendid average fellows of their class."

I have been speaking in notes recently about Pan-American Congress. I should have called it Pan-Republic Congress—a different tribunal from the P.A.C. which met in Washington.

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