Commentary

Disciples

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Thursday, November 22, 1888.

     8 P. M. W. not in the room. I sat in his chair by the light, took up his fresh copy of Lippincott's, read poem of Amelie Rives and looked over the Notes at the end. W. had cut none of the pages except those relating to new books. W. came in slowly from the bathroom, Ed leading him. Was cordial, but, as I quickly perceived, not as well as he had been on previous days this week. Sat down. Turned the gas higher. Questioned me for "news." "No news? Well, that is good: news might be bad news!" He saw me with Lippincott's. I spoke of it as dry. He said: "True, true: it is dry enough—light enough: but there 's a story, and it covers more than half the book: what ails that?" But I would not have even that—he laughing: "Well—I suppose we must agree!" His voice was thick. He seemed to find it difficult to hear. His bad days always bring along the same phenomenon. Several times he reached his head forward—said: "Repeat that"—pressing his fingers into his eyes as if his head hurt him. He finally rallied and talked some. "This has been a bad day for me: I seem to have caught a cold—a cold in the head: you know, all my troubles seem to tend that way. For two or three years now I have been greatly troubled with colds—colds—colds: a congested head: always the same indications. To-day it is on again: with it a perceptible pain—a dull pain: then an inertia: a certain cloudiness with it that prevents me from reading, writing, thinking." I expressed some concern. "Oh!" he said: "we 'll not ask that it get no worse: we 'll ask that it get better." W. had been looking into the magazine, "rather without fruit, however." Remarked some of the tinted advertising paper. "I have been wondering if there may not be a better paper than white for our books," adding: "Has the time not come for a change?" Yet he said: "I conclude that they have

 
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already been experimenting for centuries—three or four of them—and that this is the result: for white apper, indisputably for white." We found a promise of Walt's Hicks piece in the announcements. W. said he might give this to Walsh. "But nothing has been definitely determined about it. It all came from a talk—a supposition—two or three years ago: Walsh does not seem to know the piece was in the book." Some one had banteringly said of Walsh: "He is the laziest, least systematic an ever born." W. assented: "So he is—almost: the laziest but one: I am the one."

     I brought W. ten copies of November Boughs from McKay. Dave has an extra order for five copies from Boston. W. said George's wife had been in. Had seen and liked the stiff edition. W. seemed a little disturbed. "Did she want one? did she say she wanted one?" He was slow answering: "She should have to come to me: I have one for her any time she wants it: she came before when I had only the first five copies: she wanted one: I told her at the time it was imperfect." He got talking of his family—of Mrs. Heyde, of George, of Jeff—and his "niece, you know, who was here." He spoke of his sister, "way off on the east coast of Long Island—who comes least of all—never comes: has a big family of children: her husband is a mechanic." He always has Eddie in mind: "The poor crippled boy." He remarked that "none of them" were "literary"—laughing and adding: "Luckily for them." I quizzed W.: "Would you call yourself literary?" W. answered quickly: "No: it is true: I am not literary: it is as a man that I should wish to be accepted, if at all—judged." Had a letter from Hannah Heyde to-night. She is better. W. glad. He had me untie the package of November Boughs. "Untie them: leave them out for me: I shall send them to John: I must autograph them: nine he is to sell—to pay for: the other copy I will give him." Then: "I told you I sent one to Dowden, did n't I?"

     We spoke of W.'s manuscripts. "My position had been

 
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simple: sitting here day after day in this litter"—looking around—"my one idea has been to get rid of some of it, anyhow—making kindling of it." Bucke has not written either to W. or to me for a week. W. thought it possible B. had started down without saying anything. "I don't wonder that he is silent: I know at times I want the long silences: they bring a fellow back to his own level." Leaned forward to stir the fire—drew his coat about him. "It seems chilly: certainly it 's cold out?" Talked of writing letters. "Some men are gifted with epistolary talent: I should perhaps say of Bucke that he is conveniently fixed for writing: he has a quiet desk, a doorkeeper: they encourage him to write: making the conditions pleasant." Moved up closer to the fire. I read him a letter from Blake.

Chicago, November 20, 1888.


My dear Mr. Traubel:

     Your letter of the 17th is just at hand and I am glad to hear from you—always glad. Yes, Mr. Morse, I think, is getting established. But you must not think he is the rage quite yet. He has made some good, influential and very warm and admiring friends. But, after all, he will go on, as always he has gone on, appearing in the main to but few. However, to fill a few full is to have a great mission in life. We well know Morse does that, therefore let us be thankful for him, and sorry that the price he has to pay for it is so great. As to Walt Whitman, I am glad that my little note pleased the good and grand old man. Will you give him my greeting from afar and from near—from afar in space but from near at heart with which space has nothing to do? What ground I may take about the name for his writings I have yet to consider, but with regard to the inspiration of them, the fervor, nobility, power, there is no question in my mind. They are life-giving to the soul. It may be some time before I can take up the November Boughs in a worthy way. I must wait the time. I often feel that the succession of events and of work is a thing hardly in my own hands. When the time comes

 
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I do it; or, more truthfully and humbly, it gets done through me.


Very truly yours,


J. V. Blake

     W. interspersed exclamations. "Good for Sidney!""That sounds bravely!""The name? we won't worry about that!""Gets done through him, not by him! yes, that's it: all the best things do: how, how: who knows how?" Finally: "It is a good letter—strong: sounds as if it came out of deep waters." Ed came in with a bottle of glycerine. "It cost only fifteen cents," Ed said. W. had given him a quarter. "Then I 'm ten cents in!" he exclaimed. I laughed. "What are you laughing at?" he asked. I said: "It occured to you that you were ten cents in: it occured to me that you were fifteen cents out!" He laughed quietly. "It 's according to both ways, to be sure." Asked Ed to close the door and the window. I noticed his wonderful bulging scrapbook on the floor mixed up with the firewood strewn before the stove. I said: " O Walt! you must n't forget yourself and use that for kindling.""No indeed: that 's too precious, too useful: then besides I 'm too much accustomed to it—know it too well. It has been about me now for fifty years: I am very close to it: it is one of my bibles." I asked: "Is it Leaves of Grass in foetus?""Well, who knows? The book, most of it, was just as it is now half a century ago: I have added some pages, perhaps: otherwise it 's the identical volume.""Talking of growing accustomed to things reminds me of Amelia Barr. She went to Holland: designed getting initiated into, saturated with, Hollandish customs, manners: got herself a house: chairs, tables, everything Dutch—believing she would so accomplish what she wanted. She had two daughers with her: there she lived, there they lived, there she tried her experiment. It must have been a process worth watching." He stopped just a minute. Then: "And by the way, do you know anything about Amelia Barr? She

 
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is a worthy woman: I have always been interested in her: she has written a great deal: I read all her writings I light upon: I came across her first years ago in a magazine: she wrote about Robert Burns—Bobby: wrote well: wrote in a way to attract me. She is best in sketchy reminiscence—things of that sort." Has she ever written of you? "Not that I know of: I rather guess not: she is a Southern woman, living still: probably old: I have never met her. Yes, Southern: I like the Southern women—they draw me close: there is something a bit mobile about them: perhaps a good deal: don't you feel it?" Spoke of the man who came to see him about Swinburne last Saturday. "I don't feel that he rang true: I judged from what Mary told me that he was an imposter or a bore or both: I must avoid bores, espcially: the imposters might be interesting: many bores come here: some even get up stairs.""What could I say of Swinburne that the Encyclopedia Britannica could wish? the whole thing is transparently a device to trap me: I really have no opinions on Swinburne to publish." We hear that some one is to review November Boughs in Saturday's American. W. told Ed: "Play your violin: play it as much as you choose: I like it: when I am tired I will tell you to stop." Ed at first played in the next room. I advised him to play down stairs. But W. said to me on the side: "I don't altogether like the screeching, but I do altogether like Ed, so I can stand one for the sake of the other." Sunday I sent Ed to some musicale at Unity Church. W. said: "That was right: I want him to get about: I don't feel right to have him tied here too fast." Took him Tatui Baba's pamphlet on Japan. "Yes, I want it," he said: "I never like anything Oriental to get away from me."
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