Commentary

Disciples

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Monday, November 5, 1888.

     7.50 P. M. W. reading George Eliot. Very cheerful though speaking of an only "tolerable day." I asked him at once: "Did you get the manuscript completed to-day?" He answered: "No, I could not make it fit: it would not come out as I wished it." He had attempted it. "The prefatory note is satisfactory—all done: the other is helter-skelter." He would stick to it. "If I can't manage it in a day or two I must let it all go." I protested: "But you will manage: if you have anything to say you must

 
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find a way to say it: if you have nothing to say why write at all?" He seemed to spur up. "That is wholly true: you give me my resolution back: I have something I want to say: I still expect to find a way to get it said: I feel that it will come if I but wait." I had sent the picture to Blauvelt and asked him what he intended to use it for. W. assented. I read W. a postcard received from Burroughs to-day:

West Park, N. Y., Nov. 2, '88.


Dear Horace:

     I rec'd the book all right and wrote so to W. W. in a few days. Many many thanks. I shall find time to read it by and by. I see there are new things in it. I am busy with the farm these fine days and pretty well. I hardly need to tell you how much joy your letters have of late given me. With love to W. W. and yourself.




J. B.

     W. said: "I guess John wrote if he says so, but the letter never reached me. If you write tell him this. Make it plain to him always that he is eminently present to me always here: no matter what happens, remains vitally with me, sharing my life." He reached towards the table. "I have had a letter to show you: it came to-day: from Sidney—Sidney Morse: I laid it out somewhere for you." He struck upon it after considerable difficulty. "It is in his worst hand." I was looking it over. "But in his best heart," I said. He said: "Yes, that: Sidney is notable for fellowship: radiates, illumines: is the whole, not the piece, of a man." Brinton informs me that Ingersoll's name is taboo in The Ledger office—is prohibited by a standing order. I said to W.: "To judge by the rare appearance of your name there you must be under a similar ban." W. rejected this idea: "Hardly—hardly me: McKean would not go to that extreme: indeed, I am occasionally referred to, and kindly, though without enthusiasm."

     I reported to W. that Acton was proud to have the portrait. W. was happy over it: "It 's fine to be able to do

 
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things to make people happy: I like to confer unsolicited benefits—to give people what they don't ask for: I dread the spoils hunters, especially the autographists: but I am willing to please the rest of folks all I can." Had the new nurse turned up yet? W. laughed. "Now—that 's funny: why did n't we speak of that before? Ed? Yes: I think he 's in the next room this minute"—calling out: "Ed! Ed!"—and when Ed seemed not to hear: "Open the door, Horace"—I doing it and W. calling again: "Ed! Ed!"—Wilkins coming in at that and towards me. W. introduced us. "Ed, this is one of my friends—this is Horace Traubel." Ed scanned me. He was tall, young, ruddy, dynamic. W. regarded him approvingly. Ed had been writing. He stood, his arms folded up, against the foot of the bed. He was in his shirt sleeves. There was a half smile on his face. I moved about, sitting, standing, in different places.

     W. talked freely of various things, Ed remaining. W. addressed himself to Ed: "Do you know that you have plunged into the very heart of protectionism? that the merest breath against the tariff is blasphemy here? stirs the whole community against you? Some one says, if you have an odious law, enforce it—let it be seen for what it is: maybe: Grant said something of the same import: there may be good sense, philosophy, in the idea: but the question is, can you enforce it? If most people or a tremendous mass of the people (a large minority) is against it, can it be enforced?" Then he inquired playfully of Ed: "But There 's nothing to keep Canadians out, is there? If a Canadian chooses to come over what shall we do with him? That raises a point which if settled humanly right impeaches the whole system." I asked if Bucke was an out and out free-trader. W. seemed uncertain: "I don't know: don't remember that we ever talked of it: but he should be—it would seem logical for him to be: by his antecedents, tastes, training in science: what else could he be? It would seem like gross self-contradiction for Maurice

 
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to have any tariff notions whatsoever." W. said again: "The tariff business is all flub-dub anyway."

     W. asked me some questions having to do with to-morrow's election. "I'd like to smash out two damnable idols—the tariff and the bloody shirt. I don't want to see Harrison elected: yet I don't anticipate anything special from the election of Cleveland—in fact, from any President as Presidents go, with party policies as they are these days. We have in a sense been fortunate in our Presidents: no matter what their backgrounds may have been the Presidents after they become Presidents have borne themselves well—the whole line of them: carried themselves according to their lights""Yes, dim as some of their lights have been," I interrupted—he was laughing: "Yes, dim as some of them undoubtedly were. But if they had all of them except Lincoln been inadequate, impossible, he would have redeemed, justified, the tribe." Then after a pause: "But there have been other forcible goodsized men: there was Jackson: he was a great character: true gold: not a line false or for effect—unmined, unforged, unanything, in fact—anything wholly done, completed—just the genuine ore in the rough. Jackson had something of Carlyle in him: a touch of irascibility: quarrelsome, testy, threatening humors: still was always finally honest, like Carlyle: Jackson was virile and instant. Look at some of the other Presidents: take Andy Johnson and Frank Pierce, who were the worst of the lot: they tried every way they know how to steady up—to redeem themselves from their weaknesses. Take Buchanan: he was perhaps the weakest of the President tribe—the very unablest: he was a gentleman—meant to do well—was almost basely inert in the one crisis of his career: though at the last, in the two or three weeks before his retirement, he came to himself, stood straight again, saved his soul. It goes much so all the way on. Start with Washington: come down to our own day—to Cleveland: the selection of men from the first to last registered a certain average of success. We are too apt to pause with

 
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particulars: the Presidency has a significance, a meaning, broader, higher, than could be imparted to it by any individual however spacious, satisfying. There is no great importance attaching to Presidents regarding them simply as individuals put into the chair after a partisan fight: the Presidency stands for a profounder fact: consider that: detached from that it is an incumbrance indeed, not a lift, to the spirit. We need to enclose the principle of the Presidency in this conception: here is the summing up, the essence, the eventuation, of the will of sixty millions of people of all races, colors, origins, inextricably intermixed: for true or false the sovereign statement of the popular hope."

     W. dropped the political talk here. He produced from under some other papers what proved to be an "undecipherable" letter. "Here is a specimen note from one of the illegibles," he said. I turned it over. "Read it if you can," he said. I asked: "Can't you read it?" He answered: "It has never been read so far as I know: I never have read it: I read enough of it to get its purport: I managed to read the postcript, which was meant for me." I commenced to puzzle over it. W. demurred: "I wouldn't bother with it now: take it with you: devote yourself to it some day when the time hangs heavy on your hands.""You call Houghton one of the illegibles?""Yes: there are two illegibles: Miller is one, Houghton is the other: curiously enough this letter is from one to the other.""I wonder how they like taking each other's medicine?" W. broke into a hearty laugh. "I wonder?"


Chicago, Sept. 4.


My dear Miller:

     Here I am in the heart of the old country and directly on the borders of the new. We (I and my son) have had three pleasant weeks in Canada—a Dominion not to be snubbed as you Americans are in the habit of doing.

     I don't know how you have found your way to that "inferior

 
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Europe," as you call the Northern cities. I told everybody you were going to Japan and India—but this was on your own authority—which of course I ought n't to have cared for.

     I myself expect to be there about the 29th and shall stay in the neighborhood of New York and Boston through October. My son returns on the 29th to England, to the University of Cambridge.

     I have been intending to write every day to Mr. B—— in answer to his cordial letter but did not like to do so till my plans were a little clearer. I shall do so as soon as I have quite made them out.

     I have to thank you for verse and prose. I did not care for the subject of your Poem as much as for that of your others but the treatment and diction are very powerful. The story of the Sierras has the difficulty of following Bret Harte. I wish you had been the first in that field. You would have done it as well and won both fame and gold. The publishers said your Italian novel would be out soon. I await it with interest.

     Please give my best regard to Mr. Whitman.


I am yours very truly


Houghton.

     W. said: "Miller sent me that letter on account of the postcript, but it is, all of it, a valuable example of touch and go from a traveller. I have talked with you before about Miller and Houghton: Miller, rugged, careless, happy-go-lucky, earthy: Houghton, titled, refined, cultivated, in a certain sense an elect: they were both my friends: I feel warm towards them—towards their work. Miller's work? Oh! Miller has broken loose some—been more or less free in technique: Houghton wrote in the old ways, hugging the traditions."

     John Forney is often spoken of in Philadelphia as Buchanan's son. W. said: "I never heard of that. I do not believe it. Yet I have been aware of Buchanan's signal

 
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interest in Forney. Forney I knew well: liked him, honored him: he was warm—a man of passion: a strong anti-slavery man—stronger than I ever was: I always was anti-slavery, but I never looked at slavery as the beginning and end of crimes. His presence was fine in the extreme—was noble, fascinating." I described a speech I had heard from Forney on election night 1876 to a crowd of bitter disappointed Republicans. He spoke from his bay window on Seventh Street. It looked as though Hayes was defeated. I stood in the torchlit crowd. W. said: "Oh! that is graphic to me: I can see it all: Forney was just the right man to figure in such an episode."

     Clifford said yesterday: "If Doctor Bucke is to come on and comes out here why should n't he speak some Sunday from my pulpit?" I repeated this to Bucke in writing to-day. W. said: "What you tell me is surprising: Clifford must have a phenomenal church: he is himself phenomenal. Did I say what you tell me is surprising? Well—I hardly meant that: it would be surprising emanating from any other man: coming from Clifford it seem natural enough." I asked: "Suppose Bucke should give them a Leaves of Grass sermon?" W. answered: "Suppose? I can hardly conceive of it: they have never made much of us in pulpits: I know of no case: there have been allusions—some of them strong (some kindly enough): but for the most part we have been ignored or damned." He said Conway when in Cincinnati had treated him liberally. "But then Conway is not the man we find Clifford to be—not as true, not of nearly equal weight and measure, however brillant." He advised: "Don't take Bucke's simple no as sufficient: insist upon the speech: let him come down: tell him of a Saturday evening without ceremony, $lsquo;Your sermon comes on to-morrow morning$rsquo;: he will go, find his message, speak. Maurice has his head full of things which people over there might like to hear."

     Harned came in. He sat on the edge of the sofa. W. asked: "Tom, who's going to be elected?" Tom did n't

 
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answer direct. He made some general remarks. W. said: "Of course you will vote for Harrison"—adding: "You 're chained—you have to." Tom looked annoyed—seemed about to put in his dissent. W. stopped him: "I don't mean that invidiously: I mean it fairly: chained as I am often conscious I am chained: old habits, associations, speculations, hopes, reasserting themselves." W. said: "Tom—here is Ed Wilkins: Ed, this is my friend Tom Harned." Then he said, with Ed still present: "If Ed suits as well as Baker and Musgrove I'll be satisfied: he has got to prove himself." Musgrove is greatly disturbed. When he settled with Harned he was completely out of humor. W. said: "I saw that, too: he is put out—indeed I may say, mad." W. is glad of the change. That is easily seen. But he is unwilling to have Musgrove imagine that he rejoices in his retirement. W. said as I left: "You are getting to be more important to me than my right arm: I suppose I might get along somehow without you, but I don't like to think I could: somehow, needing you, and having you respond to my need, seems entirely right for us both. That 's how it looks to me: and you?—how does it look to you?"
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