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.