Smith met me at the station: he was thinner than ever and the wretched little cough shook him very often in spite of some lozenges that the doctor had given him to suck: I began to be alarmed about him and I soon came to the belief that the damp climate of the Quaker City was worse for him than the thin, dry Kansas air. But he believed in his doctors!
He boarded with a pleasant Puritan family in whose house he had also got me a room and at once we resumed the old life. But now I kept constant watch on him and insisted on rigorous self restraint, tying up his unruly organ every night carefully with thread, which was still more efficient (and painful) than the whipcord. I also put a lump of ice near bis bed so that he could end at once any thrill of sex. But now he didn’t improve quickly: it was a month before I could find any of the old vigor in him; but soon afterwards the cough diminished and he began to be his bright self again.
One of our first evenings I described to him the Bradlaugh lecture in much the same terms I have used in this narrative. Smith said: “Why don’t you write it? You ought to: the “Press” would take it. You’ve given me an extraordinary, life-like portrait of a great man, blind, so to speak, in one eye, a sort of Cyclops. If he had been a Communist, how much greater he’d have been.”
I ventured to disagree and we were soon at it hammer and tongs. I wanted to see both principles realised in life, individualism and Socialism, the centrifugal as well as the centripetal force and was convinced that the problem was how to bring these opposites to a balance which would ensure an approximation to justice and make for the happiness of all.
Smith on the other hand argued at first as an out-and-out Communist and follower of Marx; but he was too fair-minded to shut his eyes for long to the obvious. Soon he began congratulating me on my insight, declaring I had written a new chapter in economics.
His conversion made me feel that I was at long last his equal as a thinker, in any field where his scholarship didn’t give him too great an advantage: I was no longer a pupil but an equal and his quick recognition of the fact increased, I believe, our mutual affection. Though infinitely better read he put me forward in every company with the rarest generosity, asserting that I had discovered new laws in sociology. For months we lived very happily together but his Hegelianism defied all my attacks: it corresponded too intimately with the profound idealism of his own character.
As soon as I had written out the Bradlaugh story, Smith took me down to the “Press” office and introduced me to the chief editor, a Captain Forney: indeed the paper then was usually called “Forney’s Press” though already some spoke of it as “The Philadelphia Press”. Forney liked my portrait of Bradlaugh and engaged me as a reporter on the staff and occasional descriptive writer at fifty dollars a week, which enabled me to save all the money coming to me from Lawrence.
One day Smith talked to me of Emerson and confessed he had got an introduction to him and had sent it on to the philosopher with a request for an interview. He wished me to accompany him to Concord: I consented, but without any enthusiasm: Emerson was then an unknown name to me; Smith read me some of his poetry and praised it highly though I could get little or nothing out of it. When young men now show me a similar indifference, my own experience makes it easy for me to excuse them. They know not what they do! is the explanation and excuse for all of us.
One bright fall day Smith and I went over to Concord and next day visited Emerson. He received us in the most pleasant, courteous way: made us sit and composed himself to listen. Smith went off at score, telling him how greatly he had influenced his life and helped him with brave encouragement: the old man smiled benignantly and nodded his head, ejaculating from time to time: “Yes, yes!” Gradually Smith warmed to his work and wanted to know why Emerson had never expressed his views on sociology or on the relations between Capital and Labor. Once or twice the old gentleman cupped his ear with his hand; but all he said was: “Yes, Yes! or I think so” with the same benevolent smile.
I guessed at once that he was deaf; but Smith had no inkling of the fact for he went on probing, probing while Emerson auswered pleasant nothings quite irrelevantly. I studied the great man as closely as I could. He looked about five feet nine or ten in height, very thin, attenuated even, and very scrupulously dressed: his head was narrow though long,
his face bony; a long, high, somewhat beaked nose was the feature of his countenance:— a good conceit of himself, I concluded, and considerable will-power, for the chin was well-defined and large; but I got nothing more than this and from his clear steadfast gray eyes, an intense impression of kindness and good will, and why shouldn’t I say M of sweetness even, as of a soul lifted high above earth’s carking cares and strugglings.
“A nice old fellow”, I said to myself, “but deaf as a post.”
Many years later his deafness became to me the symbol and explanation of his genius. He had always lived “the life removed” and kept himself unspotted from the world: that explains both his narrowness of sympathy and the height to which he grew! His harrow, pleasantly smiling face comes back to me whenever I hear his name mentioned.
But at the time I was indignant with his deafness and out of temper with Smith because he didn’t notice it and seemed somehow to make himself cheap. When we went away, I cried: “The old fool is as deaf as a post!” “Ah, that was the explanation then of his stereotyped smile and peculiar answers”, cried Smith, “how did you divine it?”
‘He put his hand to his ear more than once,”, I replied.
“So he did”, Smith exclaimed, “how foolish of me not to have drawn the obvious inference!” It was in this fall, I believe, that the Gregorys went off to Colorado. I felt the loss of Kate a good deal at first; but she had made no deep impression on my mind and the new life in Philadelphia and my journalistic work left me but little time for regrets and as she never wrote to me, following doubtless her mother’s advice, she soon drifted out of my memory.
Moreover, Lily was quite as interesting a lover and Lily too had begun to pall on me. The truth is, the fever of desire in youth is a passing malady that intimacy quickly cures. Besides, I was already in pursuit of a girl in Philadelphia who kept me a long time at arm’s length, and when she yielded I found her figure commonplace and her sex so large and loose that she deserves no place in this chronicle. She was modest, if you please, and no wonder. I have always since thought that modesty is the proper fig-leaf of ugliness.
In the spring of this year 1875, I had to return to Lawrence on business connected with my hoardings. In several cases the owners of the lots refused to allow me to keep up the hoardings unless they had a reasonable share in the profits. Finally I called them all together and came to an amicable agreement to divide twenty five percent of my profit among them, year by year.
I had also to go through my examination and get admitted to the Bar. I had already taken out my first naturalization papers and Judge Bassett of the District Court appointed the lawyers Barker and Hutchings to examine me. The examination was a mere form: they each asked me three simple questions: I answered them and we adjourned to the Eldridge House for supper and they drank my health in champagne. I was notified by Judge Bassett that I had passed the examination and told to present myself for admission on the 15th of June, I think, 1875.
To my surprise the court was half full. Judge Stevens even was present, whom I had never seen in court before. About eleven the Judge informed the audience that I had passed a satisfactory examination, had taken out my first papers in due form and unless some lawyer wished first to put questions to me to test my capacity, he proposed to call me within the Bar. To my astonishment Judge Stevens rose:
“With the permission of the Court”, he said, “I’d like to put some questions to this candidate who comes to us with high University commendation.” (No one had heard of my expulsion though he knew of it.) He then began a series of questions which soon plumbed the depths of my abyssmal ignorance. I didn’t know what an action of account was at old English common law: I don’t know now, nor do I want to. I had read Blackstone carefully and a book on Koman law; Chitty on Evidence, too, and someone on Contracts — half a dozen books and that was all. For the first two hours Judge Stevens just exposed my ignorances: it was a very warm morning and my conceit was rubbed raw when Judge Bassett proposed an adjournment for dinner. Stevens consented and we all rose. To my surprise Barker and Hutchings and half a dozen other lawyers came round to encourage me: “Stevens is just showing off”, said Hutchings, “I myself couldn’t have answered half his questions!” Even Judge Bassett sent for me to his room and practically told me I had nothing to fear, so I returned at two o’clock, resolved to do my best and at all costs to keep smiling.
The examination continued in a crowded court till four o’clock and then Judge Stevens sat down, I had done better in this session; but my examiner had caught me in a trap on a moot point in the law of evidence and I could have kicked myself. But Hutchings rose as the senior of .my two examiners who had been appointed by the Court, and said simply that now he repeated the opinion he had already had the honor to convey to Judge Bassett, that I was a fit and proper person to practice law in the State of Kansas.
“Judge Sevens”, he added, “has shown us how widely read he is in English common law; but some of us knew that before and in any case his erudition should not be made a purgatory to candidates: it looks”, he went on, “as if he wished to punish Mr. Harris for his superiority to all his classmates in the University.
“Impartial persons in this audience will admit”, he concluded, “that Mr. Harris has come brilliantly out of an exceedingly severe test and I have the pleasant task of proposing, your Honor, that he now be admitted within the Bar, though he may not be able to practice till he becomes a full citizen two years hence,”
Everyone expected that Barker would second this proposal; but while he was rising, Judge Stevens began to speak.
“I desire”, he said, “to second that proposal; and I think I ought to explain why I subjected Mr. Harris to a severe examination in open court. Since I came to Kansas from the State of New York twenty-five years ago, I have been asked a score of times to examine one candidate or another. I always refused: I did not wish to punish Western candidates by putting them against our Eastern standards. But here at long last appears a candidate who has won honor in the University to whom, therefore, a stiff examination in open court can only be a vindication, and accordingly I examined Mr. Harris as if he had been in the State of New York; for surely Kansas too has come of age and its inhabitants cannot wish to be humored as inferiors.
“This whole affair”, he went on, “reminds me of a story told in the east of a dog-fancier. The father lived by breeding and training bull-dogs. One day he got an extraordinarily promising pup and the father and son used to hunker down, shake their arms at the pup and thus encourage him to seize hold of their coatsleeves and hang on. While engaged in this game once, the bull-pup, grown bold by constant praise, sprang up and seized the father by the nose. Instinctively the old man began to choke him off but the son exclaimed:
“‘Don’t, father, don’t, for God’s sake! it may be hard on you, but it’ll be the making of the pup’. So my examination, I thought, might be hard on Mr. Harris; but it would be the making of him.”
The Court roared and I applauded merrily. Judge Stevens continued: “I desire, however, to show my self not an enemy but a friend of Mr. Harris whom I have known for some years. Mr. Hutchings evidently thinks that Mr. Harris must wait two years in order to become a citizen of the United States. I am glad from my reading of the Statute laws of my country to be able to assure him that Mr. Harris need not wait a day. The law says that if a minor has lived three years in any state, he may on coming of age choose to become a citizen of the United States, and if Mr. Harris chooses to be one of us, he can be admitted at once as a citizen and if your Honor approve, be allowed also to practice law tomorrow.”
He sat down amid great applause, in which I joined most heartily. So on that day I was admitted to practice law as a full-fledged citizen. Unluckily for me, when I asked the Clerk of the Court for my full papers, he gave me the certificate of my admission to practice law in Lawrence, saying that as this could only be given to a citizen, it in itself was sufficient.
Forty odd years later the government of Woodrow Wilson refused to accept this plain proof of my citizenship and thus put me to much trouble by forcing me to get naturalized again!
But at the moment in Lawrence I was all cock-a-hoop and forthwith took a room on the same first floor where Barker & Sommerfeld had their offices, and put out my shingle.
I have told this story of my examination at great length because I think it shows as in a glass the amenities and deep kindness of the American character.
A couple of days later I was again in Philadelphia.
Towards the end of this year 1875, I believe, or the beginning of 1876, Smith drew my attention to an announcement that Walt Whitman, the poet, was going to speak in Philadelphia on Thomas Paine, the notorious infidel, who according to Washington had done more to secure the independence of the United States than any other man. Smith determined to go to the meeting and if Whitman could rehabilitate Paine against the venomous attacks of Christian clergymen who had asserted without contradiction that Paine was a notorious drunkard and of the loosest character, he would induce Forney to let him write an exhaustive and forceful defence of Paine in “The Press”.
I felt pretty sure that such an article would never appear but I would not pour cold water on Smith’s enthusiasm. The day came, one of those villainous days common enough in Philadelphia in every winter: the temperature was about zero with snow falling whenever the driving wind permitted. In the afternoon Smith finally determined that he must not risk it and asked me to go in his stead. I consented willingly and he spent some hours in reading to me the best of Whitman’s poetry, laying especial stress, I remember, on “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed”. He assured me again and again that Whitman and Poe were the two greatest poets these States had ever produced and he hoped I would be very nice to the great man.
Nothing could be more depressing than the aspect of the Hall that night: ill-lit and half — heated, with perhaps thirty persons scattered about in a space that would have accommodated a thousand. Such was the reception America accorded to one of its greatest spirits, though that view of the matter did not strike me for many a year.
I took my seat in the middle of the first row, pulled out my notebook and made ready. In a few minutes Whitman came on the platform from the left: he walked slowly, stiffly, which made me grin for I did not then know that he had had a stroke of paralysis and I thought his peculiar walk, a mere pose. Besides, his clothes were astonishingly ill-fitting and ill-suited to his figure. He must have been nearly six feet in height and strongly made, yet he wore a short jacket which cocked up behind in the perkiest way. Looked at from the front, his white collar was wide open and discovered a tuft of grey hairs, while his trousers that corkscrewed about his legs had parted company with his vest and disclosed a margin of dingy white shirt. His appearance filled me — poor little English snob that I was — with contempt: he recalled to my memory irresistibly an old Cochin–China rooster I had seen when a boy; it stalked across the farm-yard with the same slow, stiff gait and carried a stubby tail cocked up behind.
Yet a second look showed me Whitman as a fine figure of a man with something arresting in the perfect simplicity and sincerity of voice and manner. He arranged his notes in complete silence and began to speak very slowly, often pausing for a better word or to consult his papers, sometimes hesitating and repeating himself — clearly an unpracticed speaker who disdained any semblance of oratory. He told us simply that in his youth he had met and got to know very well a certain Colonel in the army who had known Thomas Paine intimately. This Colonel had assured him more than once that all the accusations against Paine’s habits and character were false — a mere outcome of Christian bigotry. Paine would drink a glass or two of wine at dinner like all well-bred men of that day; but he was very moderate and in the last ten years of his life the Colonel asserted that Paine never once drank to excess. The Colonel cleared Paine, too, of looseness of morals in much the same decisive way and finally spoke of him as invariably well-conducted, of witty speech and a vast fund of information, a most interesting and agreeable companion. And the Colonel was an unimpeachable witness. Whitman assured us, a man of the highest honor and most scrupulous veracity.
Whitman spoke with such uncommon slowness that I was easily able to take down the chief sentences in longhand: he was manifestly determined to say just what he had to say, neither more nor less — which made an impression of singular sincerity and truthfulness.
When he had finished, I went up on the platform to see him near at hand; and draw him out if possible. I showed him my card of the “Press” and asked him if he would kindly sign and thus authenticate the sentences on Paine he had used in his address.
“Aye, aye!” was all he said; but he read the half dozen sentences carefully, here and there correcting a word.
I thanked him and said Professor Smith, an Editor of the “Press”, had sent me to get a word-for-word report of his speech for he purposed writing an article in the “Press” on Paine, whom he greatly admired.
“Aye, aye!” ejaculated Whitman from time to time while his clear grey eyes absorbed all that I said. I went on to assure him that Smith had a profound! admiration for him (Whitman), thought him the greatest American poet and regretted deeply that he was not well enough to come out that night and make his personal acquaintance.
“I’m sorry, too”, said Whitman slowly, “for your friend Smith must have something large in him to be so interested in Paine and in me.” Perfectly simple and honest Walt Whitman appeared to me, even in his self — estimate — an authentic great man!
I had nothing more to say, so hastened home to show Smith Whitman’s boyish signature and to give him a description of the man. The impression Whitman left on me was one of transparent simplicity and sincerity: not a mannerism in him, not a trace of affectation, a man simply sure of himself, most careful in speech; but careless of appearances and curiously, significantly free of all afterthoughts or regrets: a new type of personality which, strangely enough, has grown upon me more and more with the passing of the years and now seems to me to represent the very best in America, the large unruffled soul of that great people manifestly called and chosen to exert an increasingly important influence on the destinies of mankind. I would die happy if I could believe that America’s influence would be anything like as manful and true and clear-eyed as Whitman’s in guiding humanity; but alas! —
It would be difficult to convey to European readers any just notion of the horror and disgust with which Walt Whitman was regarded at that time in the United States on account merely of the sex-poems in “Leaves of Grass”. The poems to which objection could be taken, don’t constitute five per cent of the book and my objection to them is that in any normal man, love and desire take up a much larger proportion of life than five per cent. Moreover the expression of passion is tame in the extreme: nothing in the “Leaves of Grass” can compare with half a dozen passages in the Song of Solomon: think of the following verse:
“I sleep but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew and my locks with the drops of the night
“My beloved put his hand in by the hole of the door and my bowels were moved for him.” And then the phrases: “her lips are like a thread of scarlet” “her love like an army with banners”;
but American puritanism is more timid even than its purblind teachers.
It was commonly said at the time that Whitman had led a life of extraordinary self-indulgence: rumor attributed to him half a dozen illegitimate children and perverse tastes to boot. I think such statements exaggerated or worse: they are no more to be trusted than the stories of Paine’s drunkenness. At any rate, Horace Traubel later declared to me that Whitman’s life was singularly clean and his own letter to John Addington Symonds must be held to have disproved the charge of homosexuality. But I dare swear he loved more than once not wisely but too well, or he would not have risked the reprobation of the “unco guid”. In any case, it is to his honor that he dared to write plainly in America of the joys of sexual intercourse. Emerson, as Whitman himself tells us, did his utmost all one long afternoon to dissuade him from publishing the sex-poems; but fortunately all his arguments served only to confirm Whitman in his purpose. From certain querulous complaints later, it is plain that Whitman was too ignorant to guage the atrocious results to himself and his reputation of his daring; but the same ignorance that allowed him to use scores of vile neologisms, in this one instance stood him in good stead. It was right of him to speak plainly of sex; accordingly he set down the main facts, disdainful of the best opinion of his time. And he was justified; in the long run, it will be plain to all that he thus put the seal of the Highest upon his judgment. What can we think and what will the future think of Emerson’s condemnation of Rabelais whom he dared to liken to a dirty little boy who scribbles indecencies in public places and then runs away and his contemptuous estimate of Shakespeare as a ribald playwright, when in good sooth he was “the reconciler” whom Emerson wanted to acclaim and had not the brains to recognize.
Whitman was the first of great men to write frankly about sex and five hundred years hence, that will be his singular and supreme distinction.
Smith seemed permanently better though, of course, for the moment disappointed because his careful eulogy of Paine never appeared in the “Press”, so one day I told him I’d have to return to Lawrence to go on with my law work, though Thompson, the doctor’s son, kept all my personal affairs in good order and informed me of every happening. Smith at this time seemed to agree with me, though not enthusiastically, and I was on the point of starting when I got a letter from Willie, telling me that my eldest brother Vernon was in a New York hospital, having just tried to commit suicide and I should go to see him.
I went at once and found Vernon in a ward in bed: the surgeon told me that he had tried to shoot himself and that the ball had struck the jaw-bone at such an angle that it went all round his head and was taken out just above his left ear: “it stunned him and that was all; he can go out almost any day now”. The first glance showed me the old Vernon: he cried:
“Still a failure, you see, Joe: could not even kill myself though I tried!” I told him I had renamed myself, Frank; he nodded amicably smiling.
I cheered him up as well as I could, got lodgings for him, took him out of hospital, found work for him too and after a fortnight saw that I could safely leave him. He told me that he regretted having taken so much money from my father, “your share, I’m afraid, and Nita’s; but why did he give it me? He might just as well have refused me years ago as let me strip him; but I was a fool and always shall be about money: happy go lucky, I can take no thought for the morrow”.
That fortnight showed me that Vernon had only the veneer of a gentleman; at heart he was as selfish as Willie but without Willie’s power of work. I had over-estimated him wildly as a boy, thought him noble and well-read; but Smith’s real nobility, culture and idealism showed me that Vernon was hardly silver-gilt. He had nice manners and good temper and that was about all.
I stopped at Philadelphia on my way to Lawrence just to tell Smith all I owed him, which the association with Vernon had made clear to me. We had a great night and then for the first time he advised me to go to Europe to study and make myself a teacher and guide of men. I assured him he overestimated me, because I had an excellent verbal memory; but he declared that I had unmistakeable originality and singular fairness of judgment, and above all, a driving power of will that he had never seen equalled: “Whatever you make up your mind to do”, he concluded, “you will assuredly accomplish, for you are inclined to underrate yourself”. At the time I laughed, saying he didn’t even guess at my unlimited conceit, but his words and counsel sank into my mind and in due course exercised a decisive, shaping influence on my life.
I returned to Lawrence, put up a sofa-bed in my law-room and went to the Eldridge House nearby for my meals. I read law assiduously and soon had a few clients, “hard cases” for the most part, sent to me, I found out, by Judge Stevens and Barker, eager to foist nuisances on a beginner.
An old mulatto woman kept our offices tidy and clean for a few dollars monthly from each of us, and one night I was awakened by her groans and cries: she lived in a garret up two flights of stairs and was evidently suffering from indigestion and very much frightened, as colored folk are apt to be when anything ails them: “I’m gwine to die!” she told me a dozen times. I treated her with whisky and warm water, heated on my little gas-heater and sat with her till at length she fell asleep. She declared next day I had saved her life and she’d never forget it “Nebber, fo sure!” I laughed at her and forgot all about it.
Every afternoon I went over to Liberty Hall for an hour or so to keep in touch with events, though I left the main work to Will Thompson. One day I was delighted to find that Bret Harte was coming to lecture for us: his subject “The Argonauts of ‘49”: I got some of his books from the bookstore kept by a lame man named Crew, I think, on Massachusetts Street, and read him carefully. His poetry did not make much impression on me, mere verse, I thought it; but “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” and other stories seemed to me almost masterpieces in spite of their romantic coloring and tinge of melodrama. Especially the description of Oakhurst, the gambler, stuck in my mind: it will be remembered that when crossing the “divide”, Oakhurst advised the party of outcasts to keep on travelling till they reached a place of safety. But he did not press his point: he decided it was hopeless and then came Bret Harte’s extraordinary painting phrase: “life to Oakhurst was at best an uncertain sort of game and he recognized the usual percentage in favor of the dealer”. There is more humor and insight in the one sentence than in all the ridiculously overpraised works of Mark Twain.
One afternoon I was alone in the box-office of Liberty Hall when Rose came in, as pretty as ever. I was delighted to renew our acquaintance and more delighted still to find that she would like tickets for Bret Harte’s lecture. “I didn’t know that you cared for reading, Rose?” I said, a little surprised.
“Professor Smith and you would make anybody read,” she cried, “at any rate you started me”. I gave her the tickets and engaged to take her for a buggy-ride next day. I felt sure Rose liked me; but she soon surprised me by showing a stronger virtue than I usually encountered.
She kissed me when I asked her in the buggy but told me at the same time that she didn’t care much for kissing: “all men”, she said, “are after a girl for the same thing; it’s sickening; they all want kisses and try to touch you and say they love you; but they can’t love and I don’t want their kisses”.
“Rose, Rose,” I said, “you mustn’t be too hard on us: we’re different from you girls and that’s all”.
“How do you mean?” she asked. “I mean that mere desire”, I said, “just the wish to kiss and enjoy you, strikes the man first; but behind that lust is often a good deal of affection, and sometimes a deep and sacred tenderness comes to flower; whereas the girl begins with the liking and affection and learns to enjoy the kissing and caressing afterwards”.
“I see”, she rejoined quietly, “I think I understand: I’m glad to believe that”.
Her unexpected depth and sincerity impressed me and I continued:
“We men may be so hungry that we will eat very poor fruit greedily because it’s at hand; but that doesn’t prove that we don’t prefer good and sweet and nourishing food when we can get it”. She let her eyes dwell on mine: “I see”, she said, “I see!”
And then I went on tell her how lovely she was and how she had made a deathless impression on me and I ventured to hope she liked me a little and would yet be good to me and come to care for me, and I was infinitely pleased to find that this was the right sort of talk and I did my best in the new strain. Three or four times a week I took her out in a buggy and in a little while I had taught her how to kiss and won her to confess that she cared for me, loved me indeed and bit by bit she allowed me the little familiarities of love.
One day I took her out early for a picnic and said, “I’ll play Turk and you must treat me” and I stretched myself out on a rug under a tree. She entered into the spirit of the game with zest, brought me food and at length, as she stood close beside me, I couldn’t control myself; I put my hand up her dress on her firm legs and sex. Next moment I was kneeling beside her: “Love me, Rose”, I begged, “I want you so: I’m hungry for you, dear!”
She looked at me gravely with wide-open eyes:
“I love you too”, she said, “but oh! T’m afraid: be patient with me!” she added like a little girl. I was patient but persistent and I went on caressing her till her hot lips told me that I had really excited her.
My fingers informed me that she had a perfect sex and her legs were wonderfully firm and tempting, and in her yielding there was the thrill of a conscious yielding out of affection for me, which I find it hard to express. I soon persuaded her to come next day to my office. She came about four o’clock and I kissed and caressed her and at length in the dusk got her to strip. She had the best figure I had ever seen and that made me like her more than I would have believed possible; but I soon found when I got into her that she was not nearly as passionate as Kate even, to say nothing of Lily. She was a cool mistress but would have made a wonderful wife, being all self-sacrifice and tender, thoughtful affection: I have still a very warm corner in my heart for that lovely child-woman and am rather ashamed of having seduced her, for she was never meant to be a plaything or pastime.
But incurably changeable, I had Lily a day or two afterwards and sent Rose a collection of books instead of calling on her. Still I took her out every week till I left Lawrence and grew to esteem her more and more.
Lily, on the other hand, was a born “daughter of the game” to use Shakespeare’s phrase and tried to become more and more proficient at it: she wanted to know when and how she gave me most pleasure and really did her best to excite me. Besides, she soon developed a taste in hats and dresses and when I paid for a new outfit, she would dance with delight. She was an entertaining, light companion too and often found odd little naughty phrases that amused me. Her pet aversion was Mrs. Mayhew: she called her always “the Pirate”, because she said Lorna only liked “stolen goods” and wanted every man “to walk the plank into her bedroom”. Lily insisted that Lorna could cry whenever she wished; but had no real affection in her and her husband filled Lily with contempt: “a well-matched pair”, she exclaimed one day, “a mare and a mule, and the mare, as men say, in heat — all wet”, and she wrinkled her little nose in disgust.
At the Bret Harte lecture both Rose and Lily had seats and they both understood that I would go and talk with the great man afterwards.
I expected to get a great deal from the lecture and Harte’s advance agent had arranged that the hero of the evening should receive me in the Eldridge House after the address.
I was to call for him at the Hotel and take him across to the Hall. When I called, a middle-sized man came to meet me with a rather good-looking, pleasant smile and introspective, musing eyes. Harte was in evening dress that suited his slight figure and as he seemed disinclined to talk, I took him across to the Hall at once and hastened round to the front to note his entrance. He walked quite simply to the desk, arranged his notes methodically and began in a plain, conversational tone, “The Argonauts” and he repeated it, “The Argonauts of ‘49”.
I noticed that there was no American nasal twang in his accent; but with the best of will, I can give no account of the lecture, just as I can give no portrait of the man. I reeall only one phrase but think it probably the best: referring to the old-timers crossing the Great Plains, he said, “I am going to tell you of a new Crusade, a Crusade without a cross, an exodus without a prophet!”
I met him ten years later in London when I had more self-confidence and much deeper understanding both of talent and genius; but I could never get anything of value out of Bret Harte, in spite of the fact that I had then and still keep a good deal of admiration for his undoubted talent. In London later I did my best to draw him out, to get him to say what he thought of life, death and the undiscovered country; but he either murmured commonplaces or withdrew into his shell of complete but apparently thoughtful silence.
The monotonous work and passionate interludes of my life were suddenly arrested by a totally unexpected happening. One day Barker came into my little office and stood there hiccoughing from time to time: “did I know any remedy for hiccoughs’?” I only knew a drink of cold water usually stopped it.
“I’ve drunk every sort of thing,” he said, “but I reckon I’ll give it best and go home and if it continues, send for the doctor!” I could only acquiesce: next day I heard he was worse and in bed. A week later Sommerfeld told him I ought to call on poor Barker for he was seriously ill.
That’ same afternoon I called and was horrified at the change: the constant hiccoughing had shaken all the unwieldy mass of flesh from his bones; the skin of his face was flaccid, the bony outline showing under the thin folds. I pretended to think he was better and attempted to congratulate him; but he did not try even to deceive himself. “If they can’t stop it, it’ll stop me”, he said, “but no one ever heard of a man dying of hiccoughs and I’m not forty yet”.
The news came a few days later that he was dead — that great fat man!
His death changed my whole life, though I didn’t dream at the time it could have any effect upon me.
One day I was in court arguing a case before Judge Bassett. Though I liked the man, he exasperated me that day by taking what I thought was a wrong view. I put my point in every light I could; but he wouldn’t come round and finally gave the case against me. When I had collected my papers and looked up, he was smiling:
‘I shall take this case to the Supreme Court at my own expense”, I explained bitterly, “and have your decision reversed.”
“If you want to waste your time and money,” he remarked pleasantly, “I can’t hinder you”.
I went out of the court and suddenly found Sommerfeld beside me:
“You fought that case very well”, he said, “and you’ll win it in the Supreme Court, but you shouldn’t have told Bassett so, in his own — “ “domain”, I suggested, and he nodded.
When we got to our floor and I turned towards my office, he said, “Won’t you come in and smoke a cigar, I’d like a talk — ”
Sommerfeld’s cigars were uniformly excellent and I followed him very willingly into his big, quiet office at the back that looked over some empty lots. I was not a bit curious; for a talk with Sommerfeld usually meant a rather silent smoke. This time, however, he had something to say and said it very abruptly:
“Barker’s gone,” he remarked in the air, and then: “Why shouldn’t you come in here and take his place?”
“As your partner?” I exclaimed. “Sure”, he replied, “I’ll make out the briefs in the cases as I did for Barker and you’ll argue them in court. For instance”, he added in his slow way, “there is a decision of the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio that decides your case today almost in your words, and if you had cited it, you’d have convinced Bassett”, and he turned and read out the report.
“The State of Ohio,” he went on, “is one of the four States, as you know, (I didn’t know it) that have adopted the New York Code — New York, Ohio, Kansas and California” — he proceeded, “the four States in a line across the continent; no one of these high courts will contradict the other. So you can be sure of your verdict — well, what do you say?” he concluded.
“I shall be delighted,” I replied at once, “indeed I am proud to work with you: I could have wished no better fortune”.
He held out his hand silently and the thing was settled.
Sommerfeld smoked a while in silence and then remarked casually, “I used to give Barker a hundred dollars a week for his household expenses: will that suit you?”
“Perfectly, perfectly”, I cried, “I only hope I shall earn it and justify your good opinion — ”
“You are a better advocate than Barker even now,” he said, “but you have one — drawback” — he hesitated.
“Please go on,” I cried, “don’t be afraid, I can stand any criticism and profit by it — I hope”.
“Your accent is a little English, isn’t it?” he said, “and that prejudices both judge and jury against you, especially the jury: if you had Barker’s accent, you’d be the best pleader in the State — ”
“I’ll get the accent,” I exclaimed, “you’re dead right: I had already felt the need of it; but I was obstinate, now I’ll get it: you may bet on that, get it within a week” and I did.
There was a lawyer in the town named Hoysradt who had had a fierce quarrel with my brother Willie.
He had the most pronounced Western American accent I had ever heard and I set myself the task every morning and evening of imitating Hoysradt’s accent and manner of speech. I made it a rule too, to use the slow Western enunciation in ordinary speech and in a week, no one would have taken me for any one but an American.
Sommerfeld was delighted and told me he had fuller confidence in me than ever and from that time on our accord was perfect, for the better I knew him, the more highly I esteemed him: he was indeed able, hardworking, truthful and honest — a compact of all the virtues, but so modest and inarticulate that he was often his own worst enemy.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51