Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, April 28, 1888.

     Asked W. "How is November Boughs?" "Still getting ready." "I thought you said it was ready?" "So I did—so it is: about ready: but that about sometimes covers a multitude of cautions. You know I am a conservative animal—I don't jump till I must—till I'm pretty sure I can jump right." [See indexical note p077.2] "Well—I'm ready any time the book is ready." "I know—I know: we haven't said much about that between us, but you know, I know: give me a little more time, a little more room—then we can get our start: yes, start right."

     Early evening. W. had just been out on his drive. Not over well. Complains some. "I keep so congested—head, belly. The truth is, I have no desire to go out, though I do go—going mostly because I feel it to be a duty. There was a time—not long ago, either—when the mere pleasure of locomotion—of having my arms and legs going out of doors—was a joy to me."

     W. said: "I have this afternoon mailed two pieces to the Herald—two more throws against oblivion." I laughed—W. adding: "It does seem funny. [See indexical note p077.3] A man makes a pair of shoes—the best—he expects nothing of it: he knows they will wear out: that's the end of the good shoe, the good man. Any kind of a scribbler writes any kind of a poem and expects it to last forever. Yet the poems wear out, too

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—often faster than the shoes. I don't know but in the long run almost as many shoes as poems last out the experience—we put the shoes into museums, we put the poems into books."
He had watched at Gloucester the drawing of the seine. "I will put it into a poem: it was dramatic: it would make a wonderful picture."

     Frank Stockton has recently lived at Merchantville near by. [See indexical note p078.1] Had Frank called? "I do not think so, though I do not remember all my callers. I confess that my curiosity is slight, though I might like Frank at close quarters. The story writers do not as a rule attract me. [See indexical note p078.2] Howells is more serious—seems to have something to say—James is only feathers to me. What do you make of them?—what is their future significance? Have they any? Don't they just come and go—don't they just skim about, butterfly about, daintily, in fragile literary vessels, for awhile—then bow their way out? They do not deal in elements: they deal only in pieces of things, in fragments broken off, in detached episodes." [See indexical note p078.3] Mentioned Stedman again: "Stedman always feels that he must be judicial—the dominance of that principle has held him down from many a noble flight. Stedman seems so often just about to get off for a long voyage and stops himself on the shore. Why shouldn't we just let go—let life do its damnedest: take every obstacle out of the way and let it go? Why should being thought foolish or unreasonable or coarse hold us back? We can go nowhere worth while if we submit to the scorners."

     W. said: "Too much is often said—perhaps even by me—about my Quaker lineage. [See indexical note p078.4] There was some of it there, but back, altogether among the women, with my own dear mother and grandmother and her mother again. It is lucky for me if I take after the women of my ancestry, as I hope I do: they were so superior, so truly the more pregnant forces in our family history. The Quakers are very clannish, though I am not that way myself. I am like the

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cabbage in the fable which forgot it was a cabbage: a very varied experience has washed me clean of that fault."
He got talking along in matters of family history. Said some things about his father. "He knew Thomas Paine. [See indexical note p079.1] Did history ever more thoroughly victimize a man? The most of things history has to say about Paine are damnably hideous. The polite circles of that period and later on were determined to queer the reputation of contemporary radicals—not Paine alone, but others also—Fanny Wright, Priestly, for instance. The young radicals of that time have never had justice done them: they rallied—such of them as were in New York—about Paine and were far in advance of their time. Paine himself did signal, lasting work—work to which our people have been disgracefully oblivious. I used to meet Colonel Fellows four or five times a week in Tammany Hall. [See indexical note p079.2] I liked to draw him out reminiscently. He was an intimate associate of Thomas Paine—a man of imposing presence, of judgment, of recognised character, abilities. From him I learned the truth about Paine—how literally nothing true was at the bottom of all the vile slanders. Paine did drink: who did not drink then? The stories might just as well have be told of me—yet I never tasted strong liquor till I was thirty and heaven knows I drink little enough now. Fellows said Paine was sometimes somewhat hasty in speech, generally justifiably so, though sometimes also unnecessarily sharp and decisive, making enemies thereby. We talk of 'facts' in history. What are facts? [See indexical note p079.3] A good deal that gets written once is repeated and repeated, until the future comes to swear by it as a gospel. I have always determined that I would do all I could to help set the memory of Paine right. From my young days, with Colonel Fellows, I determined I would some day bear my testimony to that whole group of slandered men and women. My speech on Paine at a Liberal League meeting in Philadelphia some years ago was only a sliver—a little bit of rever-

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ence done at a neglected shrine. I do not know that the audience cared at all, but I cared a good deal: it made me infinitely happy. [See indexical note p080.1] Think of Fanny Wright. She had all of Ingersoll's magnetism and perhaps more than his tact, though I don't know that the Colonel travels on his tact. She was a brilliant woman, of beauty and estate, who was never satisfied unless she was busy doing good—public good, private good."
Why did he not himself write up this story? "I ought to do it: I have often said to myself that I would do it: I may perhaps be the only one living today who can throw an authentic sidelight upon the radicalism of those post-Revolutionary decades. The average historian has either not seen the facts at all or been afraid to do anything with them."


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