Commentary

Disciples

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Wednesday, November 7, 1888.

     8 P.M. W. reading Frank Leslie's. "Some one sends it to me," he said. He spoke at once of the election. "Ah! What do you bring me—what news?" I said: "Harrison." He asked: "Is it Harrison for sure now?" He paused. Then: "I remember the election of four years ago—the days of uncertainty: so I have put aside to-day's paper, not wholly convinced." Now, however, he

 
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discussed Harrison. "I say it 's all right, of course: I am disappointed: a bit disappointed: I wanted it to go the other way if it had to go one of two ways: I own up that the result oppresses me. My chief resentment of Harrison is because of the Republican attitude towards the South and on the tariff: I do not forget that as affecting the main things (the real issues of our democracy) the election leaves us where we were. I am very warmly disposed towards the South: I must admit that my instinct of friendship towards the South is almost more than I like to confess: I have very dear friends there: sacred, precious memories: the people there should be considered, even deferred to, instead of browbeaten: I feel sore, I feel some pain, almost indignation, when I think that yesterday keeps the old brutal idea of subjugation on top. I would be the last one to confuse moral values—to imagine the South impeccable: I don't condone the South where it has gone wrong: its negro slavery—I don't condone that: far from it, I hate it—I have always said so, South and North: but there is another spirit dormant there which it must be the purpose of our civilization to bring forth: it can't, it must not, be killed. It is true there are a lot of us—like you, me, others—in whom there is developed a new camaraderie, fellowship, love: the farther truer idea of the race family, of international unity, of making one country of all countries: but the trouble is that we do not hold the whip hand. It is sad, sad, to me to face the fact that we have a family here: half the children on one side, half of them opposed, standing in antagonism: the situation does not seem to me to offer us the brightest prospects. Suppose Blaine is made Secretary of State? would that give us much hope? The trend is indicated—we see the lay of the ground: I must say it—I start with suspicion. Think of trying to extract any comfort from the sort of motive that finds expression in such a paper as The Press: The Press: a paper, a sort of paper, which, beyond all other papers, sorts, seems to me low, to have low ideals, to regard
 
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things from the mud point of view—to talk in filth, to exude the odor of sewage: The Press is even worse than the New York Tribune, which, though bad enough, still retains a streak of dignity, if one may say it. I shrink from such pandering organs of opinion: for America's future, the world's, there must be larger, freer, nobler, mediums of faith."

     I described my loafing in the streets last night: the crowds: the speeches: the parades: the good-natured banter everywhere of Cleveland Democrats and Harrison Republicans: the bands playing: the singing and whistling: the drunken gentlemen and the respectable toughs. He was all ears for it. Especially for "the drunken gentlemen and the respectable toughs," which he said "is too good to be lost and should be put down somewhere to save it.""Oh! I can see it all," W. said: "I have gone through it all: many, many a time have I enjoyed such crowds—experienced the thrill of the crowd: for what, from what, who can tell? I am at home in such places: I respond sensitively to the life of the street—its almost fierce contagion: it seizes you in spite of yourself, even against your sympathies, your dreams: I remember the big affairs on Broadway, many of them memorable, all of them historic: I never missed one of them. What you tell me goes to confirm my old faith in the masses. The good nature, the nonchalance, of the people—what may not come of that? I hope for all things from the crowd—the crowd needs no saviour: the crowd will be its own saviour."

     There was much noise in the streets over the election but it did not disturb him. He says: "My head must be much better: otherwise the clatter would have worried me." And again: "I am certainly a bit nearer normal: I find myself reading with more ease—paying more attention to things: not suffering such exhaustion." I asked him about the Notes for the book. He answered at once: "I have them mostly done—yet must say that I don't think much of them: they are not very good: maybe not very bad, either:

 
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I should put it that way: the way that I speak of my health: it 's not better yet it 's not worse. If I only get the job passably done—that will satisfy me. I am whimsical: for a time I thought I would say nothing: then the notion to say something came over me, took possession of me: I saw I must comply." He was still speculating over a possible dedication. "I want to do it: I don't want to do it: it don't seem to be just like me: yet there 's no reason I should n't do it if the disposition to do it grows strong enough: the inconsistent thing is consistent enough for me if I choose it."

     The room was rich with the odor of fruit. I remarked it. He smiled and pointed forward and about him. "You see, I am environed with riches.""There are pears: grapes too: bananas: apples." Here he stopped and his eyes twinkled: "And wine too: don't forget the wine." He went on some about his drinks: "I like the wines—sometimes: I have moods of revulsion: but I like the wines—sour wines especially"—explaining: "sugar does not tempt me." Did he like Rhine? He said at once: "Yes—pretty well"—pausing: "But then I should not say I 'like' it: 'like' is not a word I should use about any drink"—and yet: "The champagne up there at Tom's is the finest in the world: and Tom knows what I like, and Mrs. Harned too: whenever I come there is a bottle: sometimes two bottles are put out: and luckily for me no one else who comes there seems particularly to care for champagne!" After a brief stop, closing his eyes: "Can we ever forget all the good days at Tom's?"

     W. picked up Moulton's Magazine of Poetry. "The thing amounts to ciphers—no more: is only a flea in somebody's bonnet: it is a flea. Take it: read it: then I'll send it to Bucke." I asked: "Or shall I send it?""No—bring it back: let me send it: I will mail it along with other papers: I don't want Doctor to imagine I attach any importance to it." Then he added, as if explanatorily: "I get many curious documents: most of them are rot: I don't

 
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spend much time making up my mind about them: I turn them over then into oblivion"—pointing to the stove: "I find them handy to light the fire with." I read him a Bucke letter I received to-day. He was pleased. "I depend upon you to keep Bucke posted: he asks me questions every day which I expect you to answer: tell him the exact truth about me." I found a copy of The Esoteric under my feet. He regarded me with amused eyes. "Look at it," he said: "look it through,"—and as I started to do so—"dull—don't you think? death itself?" Then: "I wish you would take it along with you: it suggests the very sublimity of prosiness, of opacity, if it is allowable to say so: I hardly know how to characterize such a mixture. Gaustich—I think that was his name—wrote a story in which he said somewhere off towards the end, in the last ten pages or so, something like this: 'Dear reader, you who are moved to pronounce this book dull, pause for one minute while I say, it is dull because it treats of a subject that is dullness itself.' I think Gaustich may be taken as the apologist for this magazine."

     I don't know what turned the talk to Emerson. W. said: "Emerson was a most apt, genuine, storyteller: his whole face would light up anticipatingly as he spoke: he was serene, quiet, sweet, conciliating, as a story was coming. Curiously, too, Emerson enjoyed most repeating those stories which told against himself—took off his edge—his own edge: he had a great dread of being egotistic—had a horror of it, if I may say so: a horror—a shrinking from the suspicion of a show of it: indeed, he had a fear of egotism that was almost—who knows, quite?—an egotism itself. Yet Emerson was on the square—always so: who ever doubted it?" I quoted an anti-Emerson piece written by a Presbyterian in which Emerson was charged with being "egotistic and self-sufficient." W. took that up at once. "No—no—no—no—: there never lived a sweeter, saner, more modest man—a less tainted man, a man more gently courageous: he was everything but self-sufficient,

 
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taking that word the way it was meant in this instance."

     He turned to the table and fingered among its books and papers hunting for something. "Oh! here I have it!" pulling a newspaper slip from under a bunch of letters: "I put it away for you—saved it: it is from The Transcript—about Mrs. Ward, the Robert Elsmere woman: it interested me much and will you too without a doubt: it is statistical, biographical, not discussional: gives the sort of information I always like to get hold of in connection with any one who attracts me." I said: "The Sunday School Times pronounces against Robert Elsmere—says it 's a dangerous book." W. looked across at me curiously and laughed heartily. "Is it really so? How could they do it? If that is so then I must read the book: it must be one of our books." He said no more for a few minutes. Then: "Yes, it certainly must be one of our books if the preachers are against it." W. quoted a Voltairean hit at the Index of the Catholic Church and remarked: "I have been prohibited in Russia—under ban: John Swinton, who has a good deal to do with the Nihilists there, told me of it.""How did it occur—what was the ground for it?""I cannot tell positively in detail.""Because of your democracy?""Not exactly that, I should suppose, though also that after all, it may be: probably because I am understood to excuse the assassination of emperors." He spoke of a pamphlet or circular he had received to-day. "It was odd: it came evidently from Boston." He turned upon me with a question. "Do you know about Victoria Woodhull? She was back of your time: she has been in England—was married there: is now a Lady Brasswood, or something of that sort. This pamphlet was made up of sayings purporting to have originated with her: I have not gone through it fully: this is the upshot of it: it looks like a slanderous effort of someone to blacken, malign her: it was most filthy, obscene, rotten: it must have been sent out with a motive of revenge, of spite. I wondered what to do with

 
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it: I hate such things: so"—he thrust his thumb over towards the fire—"I slipped it into the stove. How could anyone stoop to such deep-dyed damnable inexcusable malice: and why should they send the miserable thing to me?" I instanced an anonymous vilifying letter which Clifford had received. W. said: "I think I should like to have somebody write a piece entitled, 'People who Love Poison for its Own Sake,' or 'People who Love to Spread Poison simply for Poison's Sake'—something like that." W. made an effort to find the envelope in which the thing came. Gave it up. "No—I can't do it: I tried to locate the sender, identify the sender, in some way: I could n't do it: the handwriting itself was palpably a disguise." Then he asked again: "But why should they send the stuff to me? Why? Why? I can't understand it. Thank God there are not many such creatures: only enough for samples: the samples are enough." I wrote Burroughs to-day. W. said: "That 's right: keep in touch with John." He inquired after the Cæsar. I had forgotten it. He is more interested in it than I supposed he would be. I got up to say good night. W. reached into the pocket of his gown and pulled out an O'Connor letter which he handed to me. "You had best take this: put it into your files: read it after you get home: we can talk some about it to-morrow: it is in William's best manner—bulging with vital energy." It should go in right here:

Washington, D. C., June 29, 1882.


Dear Walt:

     'Rah! I have yours of yesterday. It is just delightful to know that you have a publisher, or rather publishers, though I have felt sure from the turn things have taken within two or three days, that you will not want for publication. I am sure there is going to be a big row.

     Rees, Welsh and Co. promise well. Only be sure your contracts are in form. Will it be advisable to have a long contract? You may have a better offer yet. I hope Rees, Welsh and Co. only have life. If they take advantage of

 
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the present uproar, and advertise you on the crest of this wave, they may secure a great sale. A publisher with money, ardently believing in your book, "fresh, vehement and true," as Thomas Davis says the Irish guard were at Fontenoy—devoted to your interest, and on the qui vive to turn everything to swell the fame of his venture—might effect a sale which would be tremendous. I am delighted at your prospect.

     I earnestly hope they will print Bucke's book also. It will help. I wrote for him, in a whirl of bitter work and many cares, a long helter-skelter sort of introduction, for my old pamphlet, which he was to print as an appendix. He thought my prolegomena good, and I am sorry I could not make it better, but if Rees, Welsh and Co. publish his book, I will strive to refurbish my contribution and make it better.

     Dr. Channing wrote me from Providence a fortnight ago in great indignation at what had been done to you, and proposed to reprint The Good Gray Poet in Boston at his expense. I explained (did I tell you this?) that I had promised the republication to Bucke and could not in honor take it away from him. Besides, I felt it would not be as timely as I could wish. The thing for a pamphlet will be my letters upon Oliver Stevens and company, when we get to a stopping point, which will be some time during the summer. I propose to print them under the caption The Suppression of Leaves of Grass, and they will make a good tender or pilot-fish to your publisher's venture.

     After long cogitation I have concluded, from internal evidence, and feel that I can't be mistaken, that "Sigma" is simply Stoddard, and I am going to answer him now and give him hell. The way I shall manage it, I think you will approve. The rationale of his infamous communication is to give a basis, through the vilest calumniation, to the tottering action of Oliver Stevens and Marston. I mean to point out this fact and exterminate his effort, announcing that I do so simply as preliminary to the arraignment of Marston,

 
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who has thus far escaped scourging, but shall presently know the meaning of the word knout. Then I shall go for Marston. Also Tobey, the Boston postmaster. He shall have a sample of the Day of Judgment. When I heard that George Chainey's lecture on you had been suppressed, I at once wrote to him and got the facts by telegraph. Then I went to see Col. Ingersoll, and we had a red-hot time over the outrage, and arranged for a session with the Postmaster General on the subject. To-day we have seen him, and Ingersoll was magnificent. The Postmaster had, however, heard nothing of the matter (you will understand this chenanigan when you read the accompanying copy of a letter I have just received from Chainey) and said Chainey must write him a letter. So we telegraphed to Chainey accordingly, and this afternoon Ingersoll will concoct a letter to the Postmaster General, with my assistance, and we will put in a copy of this letter of Chainey's. I think we can manage Howe, which will score heavily for us in the game.

     I'll keep you posted. Pretty soon I will have a petition started in Boston for the removal of Tobey; also Marston and Stevens. This will make Rome howl. Even if we can't effect the ruin of the scoundrels, it will make a prodigious uproar to roll up several thousand signatures against their retention, and meanwhile I will subject them to the noble art of composition, and my pen will blacken them forever.

     Depend upon it we are going to have music. I hope I shall see everything the press has. I saw the Boston Sunday Herald, with your rendition poem printed with splendid effect. Shall watch the Boston papers. Charley was going up to Boston, and would have made me an exhaustive report on the roots of the matter, but unluckily has been ordered to Memphis. Too bad! Good bye.




William D. O'Connor.

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