Commentary

Disciples

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Saturday, July 13, 1889

     7.50 P.M. W. sitting at the parlor window. Again, had not been out. In shirt sleeves—looked fine—fanned himself from

 
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time to time—then would take out his knife—plays with the blade of it. I left with him proofs of Grey's, Harned's, Gilchrist's, Williams' and Clifford's speeches. Said he had had a letter from Burroughs today. "He tells me he has got the book—then that he is going away—that his address for a while will be Hobart. I sent the letter off to Doctor at once. John spoke of the dinner—said he would have been down here except that a return of his insomnia—about two weeks of it—badly tried, distressed him." I said, "It is just as well he did not come. Had he come we should not have had that letter." W. smiled—"I see! And as I always say, everything is right—and if John did not come, it was best so.""But," W. went on, after a short silence, "that insomnia—that baffles me—I do not see its inciting cause in John: he was always a wise man with his body—never squandered it. In fact, his later years have been his best years. It is very clear to me that in going to New York, John, gaining much, lost a great deal—lost irretrievably. John's place by nature would seem to have been from the first out of doors: his best books are the early ones—'Wake Robin,' others. But John was never satisfied to remain out of doors—to view field-life—report it. He always had a hankering after problems, explanations, metaphysicalisms—to me an obvious weakening. I never disguised from him or from anybody that I thought it a bad investment. It is true he did this work itself remarkably well—contributed inestimable discoveries, all that—said novel and inviting things: but to me none of it, whatever value it had, had the best value of the man. And yet I know that in criticism he had written superbly—for instance, has said some of the best things said by anyone about Carlyle." I protested the, to me, natural greater importance John's critical work had, and that "certainly his work—whatever touching—has been always noble and unusual." W. at once said, "You are right—of course mine is the [severe] view—he deserves your statement—and your statement belongs right at this point,
 
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too. Then it is true, I have certain knowledge of Mrs. O'Connor and Burroughs—of both—which—while I a not privileged to disclose them, or would not, tend to illuminate their characters—to explain many things inexplicable otherwise."
He alluded here to "John's house" and "the Hudson country in general"—its "malarial tendencies." I said, "If it is malarial, it is good you did not go there to spend the summer." W. hereupon, "Oh! I do not mean to say that it is all charged with the evil—only that it has a tinge of it: for instance, that it is not by any means as good a place for me to be in as this south Jersey country—these sixty or eighty miles up from the Cape. Not as advisable a place, in fact, as New York City itself—built mainly on rock, sand—in the sea air, practically. Good sand, such as distinguishes our parts here—poor enough from the standpoint of tillage, but sanitarily excellent." And again, "John's fault is then, metaphysics as Burns' was, literary criticism. You remember there came a time to Burns when he imagined he was called upon to put estimates on writers, books. And of course he made a bad mess of it. Sort of realized it himself, only that he never got out of it, the snake having bitten him!"

     At this juncture he said suddenly: "By the way, speaking of Mrs. O'Connor—Doctor's last letter was written in a terrible strain: he proposes to me that, Mrs. O'Connor having no place her own now—nothing to do—that we somehow set up a bargain—that she keep house for me—that we go into alliance, get spliced. I wrote the Doctor at once, explaining why I thought it impossible, or at least unlikely. As I feel now, I see no way but the way I am pursuing. It is, I know, impossible to tell what will occur. It is very probable—probable that before long—death will cut the knot—settle the intricacies now so baffling. But if death does not come at once—if I eke out for some time longer, an existence like this, or a worse, as is likely, which is needless [Oh! the tone in which he said this!], it is not impossible other considerations will have to be

 
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allowed. Doctor says the impression has got abroad that I am not rightly cared for—that I live in squalor—litter—all that. But what a mistake all that is! As for the litter—that is of my own choosing: I need not have that except as I elect to have it—I could have anything different. And I am sure—notwishstanding Hamlin Garland's fear, I am most blessed in my Camden friends: who more blessed in friends? I consider myself nothing but fortunate in having had you all about me—such faithfulness, loyalty! And in the house here, Mrs. Davis, the boys, Eddy—all are kind, attentive, serve me!""I know all this solicitude starts right—that it is natural—that it really comes of honest affection: only, they don't know all things—do not rightly realize our condition." W. said again: "The attempt to unite the life out in nature—the life of the woods, of the fields, of the rivers—with what is called the intellectual life—often with the metaphysical tinge—is always bad—always."
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