Skip to main content

Thursday, December 3, 1891

Thursday, December 3, 1891

8:05 P.M. Light down—W. resting on bed. Extended hand with warmth (tonight really a warm hand), greeting me with, "Bless your coming. It is like bread—for everyday!" Immediately thereafter, "Sit down! Sit down! And now—what is the news? Tell me that!" He has himself been stirred by the tragic position of Cyrus Field in New York—the wife recently dead, a daughter fearfully if not fatally sick, the son failed and gone insane. "It is too much for one to bear, all brought together!" [Showed him] paragraph I had put editorially in today's Post:

It should be said that the dubious stories promiscuously fathered and circulated, and from which the world might suppose Walt Whitman at death's door, by no means represent the facts of his condition, or sketch that aspect of his case which decency and sobriety of report would compel. Whitman's trans-Atlantic and other friends are writing almost daily inquiries prompted by the evil tidings thus grown current. The old man continues in his usual calm. He has but little strength, but he has a big fund of faith and confidence. He knows the dangers that beset him. But to friends at home and abroad he sends forth through us a loving salutation, with a benediction added, and to say that he still enjoys a life to which their love adds zest. 
W. said, "I did not see it. What does it say?" And at my statement—"That is right, I am glad you said it that way," adding, "There are stories nowadays invented out of the whole cloth. The reporters seem to lurk, or to make it appear they lurk everywhere—that the world hardly speaks a word but someone hears, or reports he hears. These stories about us have the sound of invention, wholly and unmistakably."

Nobody has heard from the Reinhalters. W. thinks, "Perhaps they mean to fight. If they do, I suppose I will have a writ served on me. But that hardly presents itself to me as a possibility. The thing that knocks me clean out is Moore's bill—his anxiety, too, to have it paid. Moore, anyhow, puzzles me. I do not understand him. Well, we have no more to do now than not to do. We must wait." Then, "But what's the news from Oldach?" "He will give me some books tomorrow." "Did he say so?" "Yes." "Thank God for the return of the hat!" After a pause, "But you really think you will get some of the books?" "Yes." "On what ground? How did he promise you?" "The bookkeeper, who is also a sort of manager, went upstairs to see and on his return said, 'We can't give you copies stitched today, but can give you some copies all done tomorrow.'" "Is that absolute?" "I think so." "That last looks like authority, to be sure."

He sank back on his pillow, closed his eyes. I said nothing till he spoke up again. The quiet strange, almost. I heard nothing but a slight crackle in the fire and his measured breathing. Five minutes fully so consumed. Then he asked, "You hear from Bucke?" "Yes." "What is he telling you nowadays?" "He talks a good deal about the complete 'Leaves.' I told him in my last letter that he would undoubtedly get a copy next week." "So he will! I shall send him one of the first—the very first, in fact."

Referred again to Jennie Gilder's Critic "Lounger" notes on the visit here. I then asked him if he had read Molly Elliot Seawell's piece in Critic, "On the Absence of the Creative Faculty in Women." He replied, "No, what does she say?" "She argues that woman is without creative genius—without genius, in fact, which is necessarily creative." "Does she seriously argue that?" "So it appears." "But what is her base-ground—on what does she build?" "History, or thinks she does." "Probably thinks." "She says women do not create character, write the great poems, construct the great stories." "How does she account for Sappho?" "She contends that Sappho is an imagined quantity—that her fame is unwarranted." "How about Homer's fame, then? They came to us together, a pair, equally revered by the Greek." "She discounts George Eliot and George Sand." "Indeed? By comparison?" "Yes. Asks if they are anyway to be rated with Thackeray or the great creators of character." "But who says they are not?" "She does—she mightily says, no, and asks what about Madame de Staël and others? Admitting that women have contemporary fame, but add nothing to immortality. And she goes on to argue the same way as to musicians—all creative workers, in fact. They are all men!" "Damn the woman! But stick to George Sand! That would be dangerous doctrine for her to pronounce in Europe. It would be hard lines for anyone to pretend that Dickens and Thackeray and that class can anyway approach the best women: it would show there was no sense in talk."

Back to top