Commentary

Disciples

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Tuesday, January 15, 1889.

     7.20 P. M. Found W. and Harned animatedly talking: questions of diet, drink, &c. Harned vehemently opposed Bucke's notion of abstinence in W.'s case. W. very mild regarding it: very humorous over it, too. "Whether right or wrong, one of the main considerations with me is that I have it, I want it, I get it." And then he said: "Besides, it is very little I take: I am living on a very low plane: everything is shaved down: way down: eating, drinking." Then he asked: "Tom, what do you think of McAlister: Dr. McAlister, the young man?" Then: "What a pleasant fellow he is! He has come in place of Walsh, who has been quite ill: he is very young, it seems." T. expressed his fear of the Camden doctors in important cases. W. shook his head. "I don't know about that, Tom: I think the Camden physicians are about as good as any others. The trouble is not with the doctors alone, but the patients: the patients, too, are responsible for the tomfoolery. The patient wants the worth of his money, so he must have a powder or two—some medicine—what not. Then the whole medicine business is a sort of a now you see it now you don't affair, sifted down, don't you think?—eh, Tom? I expect McAlister in again to-morrow." And so on. T. still skeptical: W. mildly so: W. putting in a word now and then "for doctors in general." I said: "I did not bring down John Burroughs' piece in The Christian Union: I did not suppose you would be interested in it." W. asked: "What did you say it was about?""Miracles!" W. then positively: "No—I would not!""not even if he disproves miracles. What's the use of disproving anything that never has been proved?" Harned asked: "Well did you settle the question of the evolution of ethics the other night?"

 
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W. said: "That 's easily settled: at least as easily settled as such things can ever be: settling them—which is not to settle them at all."

     H. had not brought Robert Elsmere yet. W. seemed indifferent. They discussed belief: who believed, what was believed, &c. W. not warming up, however much prodded. Said that was a question he "always kept clear of personal entanglements.""I have had letters now and then from ministers." Favorable? "No: they don't seem to take to me: I don't know why—could not explain it: yet they have come here: we often meet, encounter: I get along wonderfully well with them—chiefly, however, the priests: I met many of them in Washington: wonderfully equipped, open, free. Long as we worked together I can remember no sharp word, no bad blood, at any time." But the "facts" of the church were for him "utterly incredible," though "if we accept the saying, 'whatever is is right,' we must conclude that all these things, bad and low as some of them appear to us, have a place. I think Matthew Arnold had this view—did n't he? you know." Talk of people—the masses—Tom saying he had no inclination to distrust them, W. nodding: "Right, Tom—right!" Referred to Howells' Anne Kilburn—its position that workingmen want and must have clean homes (their own) &c. W. exclaimed: "Good! But then it could be replied that we all agree to that: all of us: and we might ask the question, believing it so: Why don't they have them? Why don't they take them?" W. said the main thing was to study to reply to the second question.

     I took him down Holmes' Emerson. Seeing it in my hands he asked: "What's that? What have you got there?" I said: "A book for you to read." He put on his glasses—opened the book. The Emerson picture appealed to him. "That 's him: that 's Emerson: that 's as I knew him—as I have seen him often: that 's as he looked sixty to sixty-five." Added as he turned over the leaves: "I shall enjoy this, I know: what print, too, and paper! All beau-

 
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tiful, all just right. How well they make the books nowadays. Yes: I am sure I shall enjoy it: sure." His pleasure in the book was childlike. Said again: "There is not a picture of Holmes here? I was looking for that." Talked of other Lives in American Men of Letters series. My mention of Lounsbury's Copper aroused W. "I should like that—I know I should." There was the Margaret Fuller, too. But when I mentioned Higginson as the writer he seemed instantly to cool off. "There was a life of Margaret Fuller years ago: made up by several: Emerson was one of them: others: that was very good: I read that at the time." Discussed her: her marriage, &c. Harned questioned the marriage of literary women as unfruitful of good, &c. W. did not combat but question, I thought curiously. The Gilchrists—were they hurt by marriage? W.: "No—why so? how could they have been? No!" He added: "I never met Margaret Fuller, but I knew much about her those years: her life: the tragedy of her death: oh! how sad this was—all of them, three together, drowned. I remember the impression it made on me at the time."

     Letter from Maine to-day, from a stranger, asking after his literary habits—whether he wrote with pen, pencil, typewriter, &c., &c.: from some stenographic association. I asked: "Did you reply in full?" He laughed. "No indeed—not a word." Then turned to the table. "I have his stamp here: the envelope is in the waste basket with the letter!" He remarked that "almost daily" he had "curious beseechments of one kind or another""some of them genuine, some of them subterfuges, but all of them to be equally disregarded." Explained to W. that I took his slip to Oldach to-day, directing him to adhere to W.'s wording but to use his own judgment about placing it. W. said: "Did you say that? I 'm glad you put it that way." Commented on probable sales in England. W. not sanguine at all. The thought struck him: "There may be copies required there: there are a great many libraries in England: often private libraries: men who are immensely rich, collect

 
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curios, fine bindings, rare editions: the British Museum itself must be a marvellous place." Harned had been there. Spoke of it enthusiastically. W. greatly attentive. "Yes," he said: "in the Museum our problem of a cover will not effect anything. They would rip it off anyway: any book that comes in: off goes the cover—this way"—violently with hands: "Then they put on their own bindings—yellow for books of poetry—and what for history? do you know?" Had he ever been in the Boston Public Library? He thought not. "If I was ever there it must have made a very slight impression on me."

     Reference to England suddenly shifted W.'s talk. "Horace," he asked, turning to me—"you remember the draft from Edward Carpenter?"—and on my nodding assent—"I sent it down to bank, to deposit it, and today the runner came up and said that Shoemaker"—it is drawn on J. L. Shoemaker and Co., Phila.—"declares he has already paid it—paid it nearly a year ago." W. said he had "looked up all the records—check book, note book"—to see if he could "possibly have slipped the matter—made a mistake"—but had found no record. Had found a deposit of three hundred and some odd dollars July 2d, but no items, and he did not think that covered the matter. "I am sort of bitten with the suspicion of suspicion—just a hint of doubt—that my memory fails me: and if that should prove to be the case then I shall conclude that I am near the toppling off place"—for "besides the memory of depositing I should have the memory of acknowledgment, and Carpenter says and I believe myself that I have acknowledged the thing." A check for such an amount was "too momentous to go unnoted or be passed casually: and surely if received, even if forgotten for the months between, should have been recalled when I was jogged by its duplicate." He would have to wait. "If it is not my memory, then only forgery can explain the matter." It was interesting to see him struggle into the facts. He said last evening: "Wait: it will come"—he was after a name: "I generally come to

 
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my own if I push around long enough." We will get the bank to go back and report on W.'s deposits. I guess the trouble is with his memory. The whole matter new to Harned.

     Rooting around on the floor I hit upon a paper—German (Germania, Steubenville, O.)—which I suspected to be the Knortz paper, as it was. W. took it—looked at the blue pencil marks: "Sure enough, there it is! the long lost!" Then he advised me: "Take it along: send it to Dr. Bucke when you are done with it." He said: "I can't read a word of it." If I thought it worth while I might bring him a translation of it from my father. I found something else on the floor which I picked up and asked W. if I should take along. "What is it?" he asked. I handed it over. He put on his glasses and scanned it. "Oh!" he said: "a letter to Brother Jeff: War time, too: yes, certainly, you may take it: why not? It 's just such stuff I want you to have: it 's getting ruined here: you will find it contains some interesting, valuable, statistics: they belong with your data papers." I read him the letter aloud. But before I had got started he broke in with some remarks about the work in the hospitals: "I had to drive myself hard at times: then I would pursue a leisurely policy: it seemed as if a fellow had to be cautious—go slow: not break his nerves down by a too insistent habit: by devotion, days and nights of unutterable anxiety: sitting there by some poor devil destined to go: always in the presence of death. That was fearful business, Horace. My folks were always worried about me—my mother especially: some of them regarded it as a crazy whim: I think George has always had more or less suspicion of my sanity." He laughed his gentle laugh. Then: "I think George would have been pleased, better pleased, if I had written in rhyme. He said this to me in a burst of confidence: 'Damn it, Walt, I think you have talent enough to write right: what are you up to, anyhow?' Then he waited as if I had something to say—as if I was bound to give away my secret! I made no reply:

 
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he still waited: I busied myself about the room: finally he broke in again: 'I say, Walt—have you nothing to say?' I nodded: 'Nothing, George: I just did what I did because I did it: that 's the whole secret.'" I asked: "Did that satisfy George?" He said: "Satisfy him? no: he did n't understand that any better than he understood the poems. He only said: 'You 're as stubborn as hell, Walt.' So we abandoned the subject." I asked: "Shall I go on with the letter now, Walt?" He cried: "O yes! do so! I had almost forgotten there was a letter!" So I read:

Washington, Jan. 30. 1865.




      My dear brother: Your letter has only just reached me though I see the Brooklyn post office is January 27th—I was gratified with Babcock's and Smith's letters, though I am very sorry they neither of them mentioned the date of Lt. Caldwell's letter from Danville. If it should be much later than George's, which was November 27th, it would be a relief to know it—but I presume it was one of the same batch. Jess, I have this morning written to Capt Mason, telling him where George is, and asking him, as that would be ten times more likely to get through, if he will have (or direct some proper person) to put up a box of things to eat, and given him George's address to send it through the lines, and said that I or you would pay the bill of course, and be most deeply obliged to him and that I would have enclosed the money in the letter I sent him, but thought it safer to wait and see whether it reached him. I have written to George since I have been here in Washington. Also a few lines to Han. We have had very cold mean weather here ever since I arrived till to-day,—it is now moderated and very pleasant overhead. I am quite comfortable, have a comfortable room enough, with a wood stove, and a pile of wood in the room, a first rate and good big bed, and a very friendly old Secesh landlady, whose husband and son are off in the Southern army—she is different from any I have found yet here, is very obliging, starts my fire for

 
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me at 5 o'clock every afternoon, and lights the gas even and then turns it down to be ready for me when I come home.—I get my meals where I can—they are poor and expensive—You speak of the Indian Office—it is a Bureau in the Department of the Interior, which has charge of quite a large mass of business relating to the numerous Indian tribes in West and Northwest, large numbers of whom are under annuities, supplies, &c. from the government. All I have hitherto employed myself about has been making copies of reports and bids &c. for the office to send up to the Congressional Committee on Indian Affairs.—It is easy enough—I take things very easy—the rule is to come at 9 and go at 4—but I don't come at 9, and only stay till 4 when I want, as at present to finish a letter for the mail—I am treated with great courtesy, as an evidence of which I have to inform you that since I began this letter, I have been sent for by the Cashier to receive my pay for the arduous and invaluable services I have already rendered to the government—I feel quite well, perhaps not as completely so as I used to was, but I think I shall get so this spring—as I did indeed feel yesterday better than I have since I was taken sick last summer. I spent yesterday afternoon in Armory Square Hospital, and had a real good time, and the boys had too. Jeff you need not be afraid about my overdoing the matter. I shall go regularly enough, but I shall be on my guard against trouble. I am also going to some of the camps about here; there is a great chance among them to do good, and they are interesting places every way, for one who goes among the men. I have thought every day of Mother—dear Mother I hope she gets along well this bitter weather—(about the hoop iron, I think it was the right thing to do—the least they can do is to take it off)—My dear brother you must by all means come and see me —Martha my dear sister, I send you and the dear little torments my best love. Jeff give my respects to Mrs. Lane and Dr. Ruggles.




Walt.

 
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     I asked: "Walt, did you ever write such letters to George?" He shook his head. "No: George and I—well, we were never quite so near: not that I have anything against George or that he has anything against me: no: but we were never cheek by jowl, as Jeff was with me, I with Jeff, always. Being a blood brother to a man don't make him a real brother in the final sense of that term. You have seen enough of George here to realize what I mean in what I am saying: I love George: I am of the clan: the Whitman clan—the blood: it appeals to me: I don't go back on the stock: I am wholly loyal, even sort of tribal, regarding the matter from one side: but then there is another side—something else prevails there: you understand: the general big human appeal: it possesses me—it bowls me over. I have given you some of the drafts of letters I had here—still had here: old letters: letters to the boys: they show my point of view—they serve to indicate who to me are finally my brothers, wives, mothers, and the rest. You see, then, that I draw the line—that there I break the line: that George like me is the son of my mother: something goes with that: something special (O dear, dear mother!): but there is another call which while it may not wipe this call out at least refuses to permit it to longer exercise any exclusive activities." I said: "Walt, there 's another thing in the letter. From the way you speak of your Washington job there your enemies would say you were sojering on it!" He laughed and took my hand. "Horace, what wouldn't my enemies say with or without provocation? They are literal if they can hurt me be being literal: they are figurative if they can hurt me by being figurative: their idea is to hurt me—to down me if they can, no matter how. You remember what I asked Emerson: 'what is there about me that my critics don't suspect?' At that particular period in Washington I had to coddle myself some or I would have gone completely under. I did everything that was required of me in the office: what the government did n't get from me in the office it got from me in the hospitals. If there is any

 
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balance in that matter I don't imagine it 's on my side: not that I overvalue myself: only, the fact remains that I threw myself body and soul into that public work and came out of it without a cent and with my health shattered. But I always say, as you know: thank God I had the chance! I regret nothing!"
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