Commentary

Disciples

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Monday, December 3, 1888.

     7.50 P. M. Light down in his room. Ed admitted me. W. "about the same—no better." Bad. But Osler had been over at last. Seems finally to be awake to the dangers of W.'s condition. Says W. undoubtedly has kidney trouble—of just what nature he is not sure. Will be over again Wednesday bringing someone else for consultation. Ed in

 
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the meantime to sample W.'s urine. W. himself says: "The Doctor talked and talked: what it amounted to I do not know—is doubtful to anyone—even—""Even to the knowing unknowing doctors," I put in. "Yes—even to the knowing-unknowing doctors: Horace, that 's very good: the knowing-unknowing: that punctures the balloon." He said the pain was much what it had been: no change for the worse—none for the better. Was up once while I stayed—about an hour and a half—otherwise recumbent: now and then raising himself on his elbow to emphasize some point of interest. Hands folded across his stomach. Light half down. I sat at the foot of the bed—on the bed. His voice unusually strong: sometimes it works badly. He looks tired, worn, but his brain is clear: he talks not only with coherency but fluency.

     After shaking hands W. dived right into talk. "The first thing—the first thing before all else—is, how is the mother, how is the boy?" And when I had given him my good report: "How good for her—for Tom—for us! How rare a story: health: health where health seldom exists: entire unequivocal health." Letter from Bucke. "Nothing new in it: much the same report: Bucke has put much of his heart in Leaves of Grass—then in the meter!""Some day," I said, "the meter may get hungry for first place and drive out Leaves of Grass." W. smiled but said: "That sounds like fun but more surprising things come true: when men go for money they sacrifice everything else: even Doctor is not safe: no." No word from anyone else. "Morse, Kennedy, John, William—all silent!" About O'Connor: "I feel uneasy: I might say I have felt uneasy before—each time, as it turned out, not justifiedly: but now the spell is long: I am much more doubtful—deeply uneasy: often thinking as I sit here, lie here, of him, of his sickness." News not extra all around. Dave's wife is very sick. Told W. of Ferguson's accident. Fell from a car—severely injured the sinews of his back, he saying: "How strange the little things make so much ado!

 
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We are the most fearful when we are least in danger: a little knock of the joints—a simple muscle: in some seeming trifle lay for us battles and sieges of blood."

     Saw Dave to-day. He gave an account of Gardner's (Glasgow) title page November Boughs, saying: "Look at that price—three dollars!" W. laughed when I related this to him. "Well, let Gardner go on: I hope he will make something out of it: we won't." Did not succeed in getting a definite promise from Oldach on the hundred books. He promises to hurry them through all he can, however. W. a little disappointed, but said: "We must wait our turn: it will come"—adding: "The book was wonderfully well done considering its pretensions: no particular scheme proposed: the label looks good: it is a sort of loose preparatory idea: I grow into an even greater liking for it. The man seemed to have caught on to my idea almost before I expressed it: the green ends, the tipping, the paper—all seem a revelation." I found the man for Walt at Oldach's to-day. They told me in the shop: "He drinks like a fish: he 'll have no trouble getting rid of the fifty: yet he 's the best binder we have—the one to whom we entrust all our best work." W. said: "Well, well: that might be thought a miscarriage: but we must hope it will do no harm: I am still glad I did it: it was very small but was a recognition: I set much value on that—the recognition."

     W.'s copy of The Critic is here. He said: "It contained more of the poetry affair: I looked over it: did not read it—have not in fact read anything to-day: looked into the papers—no more." Yet about the poetry discussion: "There seem to be things said there worth noting: yet on the whole it strikes me that this is a third or fourth rate controversy, amounting to nothing—zero." He expressed some surprise that Stedman had not contributed to it. I told W. Gilchrist was to be one of the speakers at the next Contemporary meeting. W.: "Well, I hope he does well: Herbert ought to be able to tell them something." Verestchagin expected in Philadelphia. W. much interested.

 
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"I have no doubt we would find many common objects, grounds, facts, principles: I could draw something from one who has so much—values unprophesiable." He thought it "all right for clubs and fashionables to do the courtesies to such men: it certainly helps the strangers along: the mistake comes when these masters go away and imagine that this is America—this ultra world: imagine that seeing that they have seen America. But this America? this the heart of America?—the dear heart of America? No!—no! no! they are all far, far, impossibly, cut off who think they come to a full revelation of America by such a pathway.""This club America," as he calls it, "is the America which says: Look, see, observe, wherein our greatness is attested: see that we too, as the best of your historic places, have fine dinners—plate, finger bowls, hangings, rich foods, silver tureens, ladies, full dress, ten thousand dollar cooks, foreigners, decorations, china, glassware, jewels, music: we too have these historic places, have fine dinners, plate, finger bowls, hangings rich food, silver tureens, ladies, and full dress and ten thousand dollar cooks and foreigners and decorations and china, and glassware and jewels and music. We, too, have them—have them in abundance—share their distinction with London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, St. Petersburg." The average traveller encountered this: the rest was blank to him. "But what a knowledge this must be: not a sign here of the vast underflowing current that most signifies the national life."

     W. alluded here to John Van Buren—asked if I knew anything about him. "He was the son of Martin Van Buren: I knew him well: a bright, manly fellow: full of life, vivacity: built like Tom Donaldson, with much of Tom's humor, animal spirits. John told me a story about Andrew Jackson—authentic I learned and believed: a story whose scene was a metropolitan dinner—a swell political dinner: in the earlier life of New York City." Van B. lived in Brooklyn. "It seems something had gone wrong with Jackson, so the fellows in New York—all hands—made

 
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up their minds that they would give him a reception, a dinner, a big splurge: Tammany, Cincinnati, some other society. Everything was to be sumptuous, overwhelming. The affair was duly prepared: Jackson came over." W. here suggested that the story was "not so important in itself" as for "what it hinted of." Then went on to say Jackson was with a friend who "drew him aside" and said: "Now Jackson, this is an elaborate dinner: we want to do the best we can by you: have you any delicacy, any favorite dish—anything which you particularly affect or desire? What we will get for you is submitted to your own choice." Jackson hesitates—thinks—finally says simply: "I don't know: what can I specify? Perhaps some rice and milk!" W. thought this "rich in itself and rich in the way John had of telling it!" Besides, "John never spared the concomitants in telling a story." Rice and milk!—"of all things to be thought of, if thought of at all: the last thing, with that elaborate kitchen in the rear—the guests about—the expectation—would be the rice and milk!" W. had studied Jackson—"that story seemed like him." Had he ever personally known Jackson? "Oh! yes—often talked with him: Jackson was a very simple man: ate little." This story of John's had "Oh! so great a significance to me in the fact that one man out of that mass—the formal, conventional, everywhere first considered—dared to be perfectly plain, himself, frugal, hopeful."

     I quoted Henry George as calling Jefferson "among the greatest of the great." W. added: "Yes, greatest of the great: that names him: it belongs to him: he is entitled to it." W. said again: "You should see David's figure of Jefferson at Washington." I said: "My heart warms to him.""Then I should say, all the more reason that you should see the statue: and the Washington statue. It did once stand in front of the President's house—the White House: now I hear it has been removed. Who was it told me? I guess it must have been George Shoemaker—yes, surely him." W. had "wandered Washington over," taken

 
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in "sights, persons, the rushing world, the characteristic life of the place—especially during the wild days of the War": and here, before the Jefferson figure, often and often I paused." He continued: "Many, many hours, long and long and long, have I studied that piece of work." The public "seemed to give little heed to the statue"—in fact, it "is often harshly criticised—the people never seeming to be aware of its excellence, its value.""David, I believe, lived in Jefferson's time: this seemed to me a worthy bit of work taken direct from life." I asked what he thought of the Washington monument? "Oh! I cannot say I have n't thought of it: I have seen it, been in it—rather liked it. People habitually ridicule it: I never felt impelled to ridicule: it is an obelisk, a simple plain line—a shaft: all of it plain: interior chambers: a winding stairway: the building being hollow. It was designed to be filled with contributions from the different nations—kings, emperors, czars—presidents, magnates." He described "the occasion upon which the Pope offered something, which was rejected.""Some of us then were highly indignant, aroused—called for the rejection of the rejection. Whether the point was later on reexamined I don't know: I thought the original monument idea on the whole a good one—that it might mean something in the friendship of nations: all that: my favorite idealization."

     Back to Van Buren. "The scandal at the time was, that John seemed to have no parentage—no absolute genealogy: that Martin Van Buren was not his father: so at least it was charged, gossiped: it was said John was the child of Aaron Burr. I have always doubted the story. John did not look the least like Burr: did not look like either, in fact. Build, face—nothing in either resembling either. John was big—not handsome. Burr was as small as Martin Van Buren himself: the best informed people of that day all agreed that it was a foolish conclusion—scandal. I always looked upon Burr as a handsome man: barring certain differences I should say he is something like Osler

 
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who comes here. Osler is fine looking: examined, he gains on you: you realize him: his forehead is beautiful: have you noticed the mobility of his eye? Osler, though a Canadian, is yet, as I put it, Southern and French: he shows indications of both: I have myself been puzzled on the French point." Osler small. Were big men the men? "We are forced to doubt it: a great many of the great fellows in history were pretty small: I don't know, however, but we must attach some importance to the question." I asked him earlier as we talked of Verestchagin: "How large was your club life?" He laughed heartily. "I have had no club life: no, none at all: it did not tempt me at the start—was not offered—would not have been welcome if it had been!" He had "escaped all that": his was "a larger life": "some would judge it smaller": "at any rate it was not that life."
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