Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, April 1, 1888.

     At Harned's. A crowded table. W. in fine fettle. Felix Adler there: also Tom Dudley, once consul at Liverpool and now retired. Dudley is among high-tariff apostles as high as any.  [See indexical note p006.3] W. is a free trader. The talk went hot, hit and miss, on the tariff. W. declared: "I am for getting all the walls down—all of them." "So I suppose," said Dudley, sarcastically: "even the walls between the planets, if you could." "If I could, yes," retorted Walt, with spirit: "that's what the astronomers are working all their days and nights, especially nights, to do!" He was even more explicit as the argument proceeded: "While I seem to love America, and wish to see America prosperous, I do not seem able to bring myself to love America, to desire American prosperity, at the expense of some other nation or even of all other nations." [See indexical note p006.4] "But must we not take care of home first of all?" asked Dudley. "Perhaps," replied W.: "but what is home—to the humanitarian what is home?"


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     At the table Dudley toasted Lincoln. Opposite Whitman, on the wall, was a portrait of Lincoln. [See indexical note p007.1] When Dudley offered the toast, W. lifted his glass, turned his eyes up to the picture and exclaimed: "Here's to you! Here's to you!" Adler cried: "I shall always wish to remember Whitman as he looked at that moment." And to the table in general Adler remarked: "I feel honored in having three things in common with Mr. Whitman—I like coffee, I admire Millet and I love the lilac!"

     W. caught at the name of Millet. [See indexical note p007.2] "Yes, there's Millet—he's a whole religion in himself: the best of democracy, the best of all well-bottomed faith, is in his pictures. The man who knows his Millet needs no creed." Harned interjected this question: "If Millet is enough and to spare what's the use of Leaves of Grass?" "That's what I say," replied W.: "If I had stopped to ask what's the use I never would have written the Leaves: who knows, Millet would not have painted picture! The Leaves are really only Millet in another form—they are the Millet that Walt Whitman has succeeded in putting into words." [See indexical note p007.3] Dudley broke in: "But what about the Constitution of the United States while all the rest is going on?" W. laughed: "Good for you, Dudley. After Millet and Whitman we seem to have left little room for anything else. What about the Constitution? What about last year's almanac, the weeds back there on the lot, the ash heap down the street? I guess these things crowd into the scheme after all; and after all Millet and Whitman need not feel so lonely."

     W. is often described as lacking humor. [See indexical note p007.4] But this quiet play of pros with cons enters more or less into all his conversation. One of Harned's little boys slid himself off his high chair, after being thoroughly bored with our tiresome sallies in economics and philosophy, and remarked, to nobody in particular: "There's too much old folk here for

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me!"
 [See indexical note p008.1] W. heard the youngster, laughed heartily, and declared: "For me too: let's all get young again. We are all of us a good deal older than we need to be, than we think we are. Most of the brilliant things we have been saying to each other here are very old, very few of them are very good. I don't know but I might as well say for us all, as well as for myself, that this is a sort of bankruptcy court of ideas. Yes—yes—there's far too much that's old here—far too much. That is, always excepting Dudley, whose seventy years don't count!"


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