Commentary

Disciples

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Wednesday, March 27, 1889

     10.30 A.M. W. reading Record, which he laid down instantly on my entrance. Had gone through the Press. I found him considerably exercised over a postal he had from Washington. "Yes, here is word—from Nellie: and ill word too—almost the worst." Handed me the postal. "He is no better: he has not recovered from the last attack: it does not seem as though he had the power to recuperate: on the contrary he seems rather to be on the down path—nothing they do is enough to arrest him." Mrs. O'C. wrote of his "pitiable" condition—said: "I am glad you can't see him" and described him as not yet mentally clear "and weak beyond words." I said to W.: "William puts it all down to overwork in the department." But W. protested. "I don't know—I don't know: anyhow, it is not profitable—it is indeed useless—to hunt for causes for such a thing. It is a sort of Notes and Queries business—in the end really tells nothing: like the search for the origin of words, the debates—all that." I said: "That's often so, not always: you yourself have spoken of Max Müller's wizardry in getting at the beautiful genesis of words.""Oh!" exclaimed W.: "when you speak of Müller you speak of a horse of another color." Was he familiar with Müller's work? "Hardly: but I know it—I have sized it up: he has my respect: his erudition is profound. Müller has what every scientist must have if he is to ascend beyond materials—imagination, the sense of the poetic, the feel of the mystic. Such qualities in Müller are the keys by which he opens the doors of the East."

     W. struggles against his O'Connor convictions. "It may be that he will build up again—get out of this: is it a crime to say so? I know the chances are almost all against him but I won't say end, finale, till I have to—till there's nothing else to do." W. had another old O'C. letter for me. He said: "Every time I turn one of them up in the chaos here it gives me a thrill: I think of what was once, what can never be again: I face the dreadful fact that the fire in this wonderful man—our darling William—is nearly burned out: it leaves me almost faint, gasping: I can scarcely realize myself as being in the world without him."

 
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Washington, D. C., May 9, 1882.


Dear Walt:

     Yours of the 7th came duly, and I am very glad to get the outline of the facts in the Osgood matter. I mean to use them, for they make the case worse for Osgood & Co. than before, inasmuch as they show that the book was published at their solicitation, and with a knowledge of its character, and a distinct understanding that there was to be no excision. If you had not accepted their proposal to abandon the publication, you would have the best grounds for a suit against them for damages. I intend to excoriate them for their shameful part in this shameful transaction.

     I am at work on my Tribune letter, which I hope will prove satisfactory. The composition is difficult for several reasons, brevity being necessary to ensure publication, and tact and adroitness being requisite also, in view of the general prejudice and bedevilment of the public on all sexual questions. Nothing is more melancholy than the horrible omni-prevalent sophistication of people in these matters.

     I am glad you are to have an article in the North American, and only wish it were to be longer. Anything from you in exposition of these poems will be valuable, but a careful, powerful, dignified, elaborately reasoned paper from your pen would be an immense light and service. I read again last night what you wrote on this subject in your letter to Emerson in the second edition. It is magnificent, both in matter and manner, and might well be reprinted.

     When such a thing is done as the State Attorney has done, it is time to make roaring war. I mean to open the cannonade anyway, and it will go hard if abroad, at least, we don't hear the response of rifled ordnance from the batteries we planted. I charged John Burroughs before sailing to make it his business to fire the British heart on every occasion. I only wish I were not tied up as I am with this weary office, and work monstrous and endless, as it is.

     Take care of your health all you can. The season is dangerous—a late spring, mutable and treacherous. But the bland weather is near at hand.

     I shall hardly need the raison d'être of your article for mine. The

 
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outrage is sufficient excuse for the ventilation. I only hope I can say what I want to, and get printed.


Faithfully


W. D. O'Connor.

     I gave W. the McKay picture. W. is to sign it—have it ready when Dave comes. He laughed over it. "Photographs, photographs, photographs: eternal photographs! signatures, signatures, signatures: eternal signatures!" I said: "A photograph is a fragment: a painted portrait may be a whole man." He said: "That's so of the first classers—but what about the rest? I'd rather have a good photo than a bad oil: I am getting more and more in spirit with the best photographs, which are in fact works of art."

     "I have had a short note from Tom Aldrich acknowledging the book," W. said: "but that was all—that was the amount of it." I repeated to W. what Blake told me yesterday as to the Song of the Open Road. W. said: "He surely did not read it all? It would have been a long story." Then reflectively. "So he used it?" continuing after a pause: "which all goes to show that we are moving on—that the nest is being made—slowly, but, it would seem, effectively."

     W.'s appearance this morning not bright or cheery. Good color, though. Looked tired. "I frequently wake up so, but I get my nerve back as the day wears on." His breakfast on the table almost untouched. "Yes," he said: "my appetite went back on me—lost its edge." Again: "I have a slow but sure body: you know how it is with me: I process lethargically: my blood takes its time: flows freely, has substance to it, but goes its own road at its own pace." I put in Goethe's phrase: "Without haste, without rest." W. said: "Yes: that's about it: that says it all."

     Returned me Harper's Weekly. "I have read Winter's article—at least, gone through it: it was not uninteresting at all—but long, long. It is the same old story—the whole drift of the thing is usual—that is to say, for preservation: yes, for saying, let us preserve what has been done, let us cling to what is already assured: which I acknowledge becomes more and more hateful to me the further along I get. It is as if at a big feast, spread, everything was sugar—dishes, lists of dishes, all of sugar: sugar everywhere: and then someone brings me more sugar. I sit, eat: everywhere the sickening sweetness: then comes another at my shoulder with more, and still sugar,

 
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sugar, sugar! A fellow palls on that—aches to get away from it." The spirit "back of this sort of thing" was "always hateful" to him. He stood for "the opposite things" from the start. "I could never accept such sweets as the staple of life."

     W. gave me Bucke's letter of two days ago. W. pointed his finger to one line: "We hope to be making meters by the autumn." W. said: "Oh Maurice, Maurice: not this autumn or any autumn, I'm afraid!" Then he took the letter back from me, put on his glasses, and read this passage aloud: "One thing I would like to know (though I suppose I never shall)—that is, how Harned accounts (to himself) for his failure to carry out his agreement with us?" W. said: "Now what does he mean by that? I have heard both sides of the story: if there was a failure on either side to carry out anything I'm afraid the guilt is upon Maurice's soul." I laughed. W. asked why. I said: "The thing has an opéra bouffe side." W. laughed too. "So it has: Doctor's millionaire visions furnish a beautiful background for comedy."

     I gave him receipt from Oldach whose bill in full—sixty-one dollars, twenty-eight cents—I paid yesterday. Brown not in when I called so could not settle engraving matter. The photo mounting people on Arch Street could not verify my remembrance of two cents a copy, so I must see them again. I said to W.: "You must now add Carnegie to that list I gave you." W.: "How's that? why?" I read him this note:


New York, March 25, 1889.


Horace L. Traubel


My dear Sir:

     I am very pleased indeed to be allowed to contribute to the cause you mention. If necessary at any future time to add to this, please call upon me.


Very truly yours,


Andrew Carnegie.

     Carnegie sent fifty dollars. W. expressed pleasure. He said: "You don't seem to be glad!" I laughed. "I wrote on your account, not my own." I said: "I'd rather never have gone to him." W. then said: "Well—if I'm the cause, forgive me!" Returned me Current Literature. "It's a mine of stuff," he said: "I know nothing to equal it for

 
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excellence on this side of the Atlantic." Spoke of O'Connor again: "He is from Lynn: whether his parents, mother or father—or both—were born in Ireland I do not know: I met his brother there in Washington several times: he was in the naval service. I liked him much." Talked of the birthday book. He's getting stirred up a bit over it. Thank God. His deliberateness sometimes takes the starch out of me. "Go into Ferguson's, too, today, if you can: we have no time to lose: I am not particular about paper: it need not be very thin: the book is not very large—only a matter of four hundred and twenty pages: there will be no margin: the paper must be good—strong enough to take and hold ink, writing ink: I shall have to sign them on the title page or somewhere else. I do not think I have more conditions than these to lay down—these from the necessities of the case, of course." Adding: "Ferguson ought to know what we want: we ought to get our paper out of stock somewhere: it should not be necessary to have the paper made." W. said again: "If you see Tom, talk with him any about the Doctor's little fling—tell him I am on his side: I am myself convinced that the Doctor is all wrong in the matter: not wilfully but normally wrong. The fact is, Maurice is unaccustomed to such affairs: to Tom they are everyday matters: Doctor only sees one side: Tom sees all around."

     W. had me help him to the stove. He took his poker and worked at the fire, turning the logs over and over—getting them in position. The light danced out of the stove door into his face. He said: "You are my right bower: I can't play the game without you."

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