Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, April 26, 1888.

     With W. Read him a letter I had from Morse about the Hicks bust. [See indexical note p069.1] "The bust wears well. Say so to Sidney for me. Tell him I've had a bad head on me lately—have written few letters and nothing else. Say the bust wears best—tell him that. It will please him: I want to please him." W. not very well. Had been in excellent condition for three or four days. "Now I suffer the old heady feeling again. I wonder what it is all coming to? Something is brewing."

     Talked of Marston. I said M. did not attract me, W. replying: "I can see why and approve why; but then you know Mrs. Moulton is a gushing woman. [See indexical note p069.2] Marston did not have the good fortune to be thrown up against the rough of the world—to get out into affairs, the trades—but was taken care of in parlors by friends who were never forgetful of his affliction. This shows in his verse. Day by day, in these older years of my life, I see how lucky I was that I was myself thrown out early upon the average earth—to wrestle for myself—among the masses of people—never living in coteries: that I have always lived cheek by jowl with the common people—yes indeed, not only bred that way but born that way. I was in a sense a boy of the farm and the streets; it was my fate, my good fate. Marston needed such an encounter (which was impossible in his case) to complete his education."

     W. had been reading Gladstone's reply to Ingersoll in the North American Review. [See indexical note p069.3] W. shook his head: "It won't do, Mr. Gladstone: you may try: you have the right to try—you try hard: but the Colonel carries too many guns for you on that line." And after a pause he added: "Besides, Gladstone's day for that work is gone. Old men are too apt to insist upon being in the swim after their virility is departed. [See indexical note p069.4] It was so with Bryant, all of whose late work was poorer than indifferent—who should have retired and

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taken it easy twenty years before he died. This was not, I know, true of Emerson. [See indexical note p070.1] Emerson was gently snuffed out—the mind of Emerson—before he had quite reached the danger line. The essential Emerson was there to the last, but his faculty was passive—it no longer asserted itself. Gladstone has a great personality, or had, no doubt, but he stands his ground now more because of his proximity to great events than because of his own necessary superiority.

     I asked W. about the Boswell—would he finish it? He seemed so little interested. "O yes! I'll whack away at it. I don't care much for it, but shall finish it as a duty. [See indexical note p070.2] I always remember that sometimes a fellow has to choose to do the unpleasant thing. 'Doing your duty' the preachers and the mothers call it. Sometimes I do my duty: not always: not because I live by any special method. Duty, duty. It is a free word—it is a slave word. The mothers make it a free word—the preachers make it a slave word." [See indexical note p070.3] W. said of Sidney Morse: "If he is not actually a genius he is the sort of stuff out of which genius is made." I spoke of Morse as "a non-organized, not a disorganized man"—as "lacking in consecutiveness." W. assented. "That's as good as it could be about Sidney: a sort of thumb-nail sketch, profound and complete. I think of him as lacking in coherency, which is about the same thing."

      [See indexical note p070.4] W. had found the Stedman book. It is inscribed in this way: "to Walt Whitman with the love and sincere admiration of Edmund C. Stedman. New York April 14th 1887. Dies memoriae et lachrymarum." W. said the book "interested him." "But it is not convincing. With all its scholarliness, it kindliness, its receptivity, its genuine and here and there its striking talent, it still lacks root—still misses a saving earthiness: what shall I call it?—a sort of brutal dash of elemental flame, which burns, burns, oh, burns, but saves." [See indexical note p070.5] Then after a stop: "How strange it is how much better all these fellows are than their books.

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Stedman is full of this brotherliness—full of affection—is always doing good deeds—is always reaching out, reaching out, for something he knows but never can quite master, quite make his own: he sees, yes, he sees—he almost gets it, it seems almost in his grasp: yet that last spark, that sharp flash of power, that something or other more which gives life to all great literature, is not his or possible to him. [See indexical note p071.1] It was in Emerson—it was in Carlyle: Hugo had it. What is it? God knows. But it is. Just the other day at the dinner someone quoted a sentence from Emerson—I do not remember it now—which is the best summing up of that idea I have ever heard."
"And yet you advise me to read Stedman?" "I advise everybody to read Stedman: Stedman is an education. [See indexical note p071.2] I do not deny him power. But I do not think him conclusive—beyond him is another Stedman whom he never seems able to reach: I have been talking about that other Stedman."

     W. remarked that three Englishmen had been in to see him today. [See indexical note p071.3] "They were not célèbres but were none the less—perhaps the more—welcome on that account. They talked about matter of fact things in a matter of fact way—about their aunts and uncles and my aunts and uncles: about their voyage over—some mighty interesting experiences. They were the best kind of plain men—you know the sort I mean: the best plain men are always the best men, anyhow—if there is any better or best among men at all. The cultivated people, the well-mannered people, the well-dressed people, such people always seem a trifle overdone— spoiled in the finish."

     W. loves to receive letters—any letters, provided they are in the true sense human documents. [See indexical note p071.4] He is always disappointed if the postman passes without stopping. This evening, while we talked, Mrs. Davis stuck her head in at the doorway and W. quickly asked: "Any letters?" "No, not one." "Not one? Not one? That's bad luck." W.

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suggested that I should read Mrs. Moulton's book. He expressed no sort of interest in it. [See indexical note p072.1] He has hung the Millet. He welcomes every allusion to Millet—every anecdote, every criticism. Parkhurst across the river, has studied Millet some and lectures about him, illustrating the talks. I said to W.: "I will ask Parkhurst over." "Yes, do—ask him at once—have him come—come any time—as soon as you can." "You seem very eager." "It's never too early to hear about Millet. Millet is our man—we must make the most of him." [See indexical note p072.2] W. has some framed photographic reproductions of Gerome's work left there by Eakins. He sometimes speaks of these, comparing them with the Millet work. "But the grand does not appeal to me: I dislike the simply art effect—art for art's sake, like literature for literature's sake, I object to, not, of course, on prude grounds, but because literature created on such a principle (and art as well) removes us from humanity, while only from humanity in mass can the light come." Had he read The Critic's criticism of Arnold's recent essay on America? [See indexical note p072.3] No, he had not read it. I described its chief features. He said: "I most likely agree with it. I don't object to Arnold's trip or his writing his trip up. But how can his three months' journey equip him for the real task of the traveller? A traveller must first of all write from the starting-point of sympathy. Every antagonistic word is wasted—strikes wide of the mark. Arnold was not inside himself friendly to America. He always approached it with a question mark."

      [See indexical note p072.4] Speaking of great men W. said: "It is hard to make or justify comparisons of great men: stars differ in glory: who shall say one star is eminent beyond the rest of the stars? But we have an instinct in the matter—you have yours, I have mine. Shall we quarrel about the stars?—have wars of the stars, as one time they had wars of the roses in England?" [See indexical note p072.5] When I got up to leave and went across the room to W. he took and held my hand and said very seriously:

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"It's about time we were thinking of bringing out the Boughs, don't you think? I am reckoning upon you to help me—indeed, I cannot bring them out very well if you say no: I am depending upon your good will (your love?) to stick by me for this job. [See indexical note p073.1] We ought to make a good team working together. I could do little or nothing alone: I am lame, housed up, physically useless." I did not say a word. I only pressed his hand. He laughed merrily: "I knew you would say yes." Then I left.


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