Commentary

Disciples

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Sunday, December 2, 1888.

     7.15 P. M. W. lying on bed. Ed had told me downstairs that his condition was unchanged. It seemed really so. He said something to that effect at once. Once during my stay got up to urinate but could not. "The trouble seems to lie in the kidneys," he explained: "I am not relieved: the pain is intense: I am weak: have been lying here nearly all day." Dressed, of course. I had stopped by in the morning, at ten: he was not yet up. Ed said he had himself called his condition "only so-so." Looks very ill. Got up at eleven (yesterday not till twelve): read the papers: then shortly went over to his bed again. Harned in—brought along The Tribune: talked with W.: found him "all fagged out," seemingly: did n't stay. W. enjoys no consecutive sleep. Gets up continually in the night.

     Osler was to have been over to-day: did not come: W. expressed disappointment. Was pretty talkative, however, this evening. His first question after shaking hands: "What's up to-day? What have you learned new?" I said something about the birth of the boy at Harned's: my sister's courage and physical sanity and serenity. W. said: "Oh! that is a real confinement! How rare they are! And who can appreciate it better than I?" I told him that my sister had sat up reading Robert Elsmere last night. The boy was born this a.m. at 11. W. asked: "Is Elsmere that kind of a book? Has it that deep an interest?" It reminded him of a kindred experience: "When I had my great attack—my great paralysis—I was reading Bulwer's What will He do with It? I was lying on the sofa: it was comfortable: all of the others had gone home: it was one of the few times when I was deceived in my personal condition. I read, got up, felt sick, laid down again: finally I went home." He said: "Dr. Bucke gives some notion of all this in his book: but there was more to it: I suppose at that time I had got half through the book—the Bulwer: there were several volumes of it. I had got over fairly half."

 
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Then came his trouble. "It was severer than we expected it would be. A year and more passed." Had he read much between? "No: very little: nothing, practically: but afterward, when the storm had mainly spent itself, I took up the book—the Bulwer—where I had left off—at the very point, chapter. This was in Camden: I came here about that time." It "seemed curious" but "in some way there is a resemblance between your sister's interest in Mrs. Ward's book and mine in Bulwer's." He further said: "At that time, while I lived in Washington, even while I lived in New York, I read a good many stories from the Spanish—translations: bits, odds and ends of romance, anecdotry, short pieces, incidents, historicalities: here a story of love—romance: there an incident of common life: this murder happened at such and such a time—was committed by such and such a person: this shipwreck happened so and so and so: I was much fascinated by these things—was ready to be fascinated by them. Among them—in this mixture, this fund of chronicle, truth, fiction—I came across a queer little tale which I never have quite forgotten—which it would be in place to refer to now. I recall it clearly in outline: its essence: the larger features: the significance of it. Its hero was an archibishop: I don't know where located: whether in Seville, Madrid or where: a great dignitary: rather free in his ways, yet long tolerated. This man somehow was an accredited lecturer in some college, school, institute: lectured to nobles, priests, citizens, whoever: on one occasion, such an occasion, he was adjudged heretical: some official was present, through the empowerment of the king or a lord of some sort: the archibishop was therefore arrested. Time passed: they secured his release: his term was over: something turned up in his favor: he resumed his work." W. here laughed heartily, anticipating his point. "It is told of him that on opening his new lecture, the next in the course—third, fourth, fifth—he ignored time: said naturally (it was a famous mot): 'My friends, seigneurs, grand gentlemen, as we were saying in our last,' &c.,
 
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&c.! That was the way with my Bulwer: I resumed it where I had been interrupted, though a whole year and more had flown: resumed it naturally, too, as if it had been after an interval of a few hours—a day."
He said Bulwer had "always in great measure satisfied" him. "Bulwer had vista as well as a certain amount of skill in the delineation of character: I have always liked some of his tales: he don't flash: is not like Walter Scott, who seems to scintillate, especially in emergencies—could create, handle great situations. Bulwer did not have that quality: Scott seemed made by opportunities, Bulwer never reaching the highest point at all."

     I spoke of B. as "high-flown," as "gaudy." W. said: "Yes, he was writing for that constituency—that was his clientèle." He asked me if I had read What will He do with It? and when I said no briefly described it: "Bulwer deals mostly with high life, types, introducing low life, here and there, but only for contrast: he has contributed some characters: his men have a single aim—success: to get a place, fame, possessions: gold, name, fortune, reputation: the end is achieved: a government position, prosperity in affairs, the prestige of professional success, notoriety. Then the question comes up, What will he do with it?" This "expressed for" him "a spiritual content and impulse.""After you once get inoculated, initiated, Bulwer is very likely to satisfy you: he could tell a story—had the story-telling skill: was not of the first class, yet without a doubt was gifted—perhaps will be read, some of him, for a long time."

     Spoke of visitors—said they were few. "Tom was in—only for a few minutes—in the forenoon: it must have been before the event up home: he said nothing about it." Then: Corning had "come around," asked after him, "but he did not see me: it was in the afternoon, at a time I was feeling my very worst." Baker in to-night, but did not come up. Had H.G. been here recently? "No—I have not seen or heard from him for some time": then he paused and seemed to catch himself: "But wait—I have heard from

 
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him: he has sent me a letter of introduction: it was for a young man named Pease—English: said in the note that P. could give me a good deal of information about the London literati." Was Pease a man of note? What was his business? W.: "I do not know: I never heard of him." Adding: "It was rather queer of him: he came only to the door—left the note—did not show any sign of wishing to come up: said he had desired to have a talk with W. W.—words like that: so I understood from Ed: then was off." I suggested: "Perhaps Ed made him understand your condition?""No—that is not likely: I think Ed handles the callers a good deal different from Mr. Musgrove. Musgrove always acted out of the kindness of his heart—meant well: all that: but there was something more needed—he had no diplomacy: was good in still waters but not equal to situations." I said to this: "Exactly." He had had a further caller: "a young fellow—one of my family—from East Long Island: he is jaunting about: is handsome: Mary took a great fancy to him: he talked to her downstairs before he went. Did not stay but a few minutes here—was not talkative: did not seem to have any particular reason for coming."

     W. was brightly humorous, in spite of his weak and dispiriting condition. Full of drollery about someone Mary Costelloe had written him about—a woman in "some queer sort of business—(it would make you laugh!)" "whose name" he "could not recall at once." Suddenly he said: "Ah! she is a decorator of some sort—what we call here a decorator: when Mary first spoke of her—of her profession—I thought she must be an actor, a speaker, a writer—she called her an artist: by and by I learned she is a decorator." I spoke of Morris as in that same business. "Ah! that is so: I believe this girl went to Mary Morris—William Morris's daughter—who has a genius, they say, for something or other, I don't remember what. Decorating seems to be a considerable business over there: is greatly overdone: we don't have so much use for it,

 
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though we, too, seem to be getting a big mass of people who build big houses, palaces, showcases—then have to look about for something to put in them." Here he lifted himself on his elbow—looked straight at me in the half light: "What do you think about it? We might bring the decorators here—see what they could do with our quarters!"—bursting into a hearty laugh—falling back on the pillow again, folding his hands over his stomach: then talking with his eyes shut: "The last three or four years I have tried to arrange everything here with respect to poor me—my convenience—to spare my poor head"—then, after a pause—"but the habit now seems to have developed into a disease: I am tempted to point to myself as a warning."

     While I sat there—there was a lull for a moment—I heard him fumbling in his pocket: he was after his purse. "I was thinking," he said, "I had half a dollar here, but I have not. Have you change for this?" extending me a dollar bill. After I had made the change he said to me: "I am wondering if the man over there at Oldach's who hit off the book so well to my taste should not be shaken hands with, congratulated: so you must give him this for me: tell him to go out to-morrow—take a glass of beer—some cheese—lunch—for me." Here he paused: then added: "He is a German, I suppose? anyhow I want him to have it." Suppose he is not a German? "Well—he 'll know how to eat the lunch anyway." W. proceeded: "In business it is too much the custom to sink labor in money values: which is all the more reason why I should break through the custom—show that I put quite another estimate upon work, product." W.: "I have looked over the book again: more and more like it: more and more feel it to be a happy inspiration. It is queer how I often plan and plan and plan, yet do not get what I want: then again, another time, with scarcely a hint given, make a hit that is almost miraculously perfect." He had determined to get a hundred instead of fifty done up in this way. "We must send one of the

 
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first to Bucke—then send him a package, three or four, for his own use up there: Kennedy, too, should have one from the first batch." Recalled the old Quaker lady: spoke of her "seeing November Boughs and then wanting to see all that Walt Whitman had written." He remembered that he had promised me the checks to-night but pleaded off. "Unless you insist upon it I won't get up now: I am best here." I did not insist. Has not yet examined the stamper's design. "I doubt a little if I shall like it even when I do." I reminded him of what he said last evening about the Bad Gray Poet. He laughed gently—then grew serious. "Yes, I want to speak to you about that but we won't do it to-night: probably to-morrow night." W. gave me a Miller letter:

Lapierre House, Phila., Friday (Dec. '77).


My dear poet:

     I wrote you from N. Y. asking you to be the chief figure in a box with Childs, Dayton and self on the eve of the 24th inst at the opening of my play at the Walnut St. Theater. I have not heard from you. My dear friend, are you not well enough to come? Longfellow was with me at Boston. Come over. We will pet you to death. We all want so much to see you.


Yours,


Joaquin Miller.

     W. made no comment on the letter but said: "Miller is big, wholesome, does things his own way, has lived in the open, stands alone—is a real critter: I rate him way up."

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