Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, October 29, 1888.

     8 p. m. "Not one of the darkest, not one of the brightest, days." Reading Cooper. Read him two letters I had from Bucke to-day. W. welcomes the thought of Ed. Wilkins. Bucke gloomy about O'C. W. says: "Maurice is too conclusive by far: let's take another guess, a good guess, for William: I don't want to say the worst until there's nothing else left to be said." Had been reading the Scribner's but not the Birrell paper on Arnold: "It did not strike me: I was not impelled to it: but I read the railroad piece"—B. B. Adams, Jr., on The Everyday Life of Railroad Men— " it was exceedingly interesting: I took it in from beginning to end." How about the Sheridan? He nodded affirmatively. "That—yes, of course: and

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it was everyway worth the time consumed."
A newspaper suggests that S. had not written the paper. W. said: "I don't believe that myself: I think Sheridan wrote it: I seem to see his hand: it is the touch of a man who was there, on the spot—strong, active, vivid." Pointed to the frontispiece portrait of Sheridan. "They who contend that Sheridan is a numbskull make a mistake: it will not do to dismiss him in that style: he can't be puffed away: he was not the very greatest but he was quite a size." Admired the pictures in the magazine—especially one picture in the Adams article representing a railroad yard at night. "I looked a long time at that—a long time: it was compensating. It more and more strikes me, year and year, that art is advancing towards its democratization with unprecedented strides: take such a magazine in evidence—every picture good, suggestive."

     Again discussed the critics of November Boughs. "The pathos they discover in the book—the whole crowd—is purely imagined: they have all dipped their pens in the same ink: they have been feeding on newspaper talk for so long they've got the newspaper perspective, which is cross-eyed to say the least. They know that I am physically in a precarious condition: they imagine that condition as prevailing in the book—read it into, force it into, the book—when, as a matter of fact, as you know well enough, all that stuff was written before I was sick—nearly all of it: very little has been added since." Clifford writes W. again: "The predominating quality of November Boughs is of confidence, of victory." W. says: "A bugle note, eh? that is better—that is Clifford." Some reference was made to Byron. Had he outgrown Byron? "No, indeed: I stand where I have always stood: it has been a settled conviction with me for forty years." "But you have 'revised' on Bryant." "I know—but I have never had any two moods about Byron: I have for so long acknowledged his extraordinary genius it's not likely I'd take a turnabout at this late day: my faith has stood every possible assault, suspicion, treachery: is utterly without compromise."


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     After some general talk about "extreme, wholesale criticism," W. explained: "It is easy to get askew with writers—to reason, we don't like 'em, they're not for us, therefore they're of no use to anybody at all. But that is as bad as the priestly anathema. It is illustrated in my friend Mr. Smith—Pearsall Smith: he has the greatest horror of Carlyle: Carlyle was no good: Pearsall wouldn't hear to him on any condition. It is especially easy to get askew with a man like Carlyle: we should guard against it—for with a nature strongly perverse in some things there often goes the highest manifestations of nobility." W. here made some personal reference to Smith as "a good fellow: hospitable, kind: level-headed, too—truly my well-wisher, I do believe."

     Arthur Stedman sends me sheets of notices of his father's Library. I showed them to W. who read some bits and looked through the whole stuff casually. On the last page were opinions from Howells, Whittier, Higginson, Tyler, and others. I said to W.: "Here are words from your friends." First he said "Oh! Ah!"—then, putting his finger down on Higginson's name: "Yes, here's one of them—over the left!" Then he spoke of Whittier's note. He said: "Whittier cannot be considered my enemy: he is friendly: not an early comer—among those who come in at the round-up!" He spoke of Whittier's "severe moral tone:" "puritanic, even," but: "It is genuine—wholly, beautifully genuine." I alluded to Whittier's "moral eye" and W. smiled: "That moral eye did not prevent him from slopping over Burns: he did that at the first: he does it still—has done it this year." W. spoke of novelists, novels, novel-reading. He had "never seen Thackeray"—had not "heard him lecture." "I have read Vanity Fair and liked it: it seemed to me a considerable story of its kind—to have its own peculiar value. But Thackeray as a whole did not cast his sinker very deep though he's none the worse for that." He had read Dickens more generally: "But Dickens had something the same make up as Conway: if a story is not interesting make it so." I suggested that there was some difference between the obligations of a story

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writer and a historian. This W. acknowledged: "I concede that: but a man may be as false to human nature in a novel as false to dates and so forth in a history." "But your general feeling towards Dickens—what is that?" "Of great admiration—very great: I acknowledge him without question: he will live."

     Had he read Robert Elsmere? "No—nor have I much curiosity concerning it: though I am of course perfectly familiar with the discussion it has aroused: we have to be—the noise is so loud we can't help but hear it: but I don't seem to be tempted to dig into deep ground after its mysteries. Now—George Eliot was another matter: she was fundamentally vital, vitalizing: I have read her with great assiduity—she is convincing. Have you read Scenes from Clerical Life? They make up probably a couple—maybe more—good-sized volumes: as stories they are the most fascinating of all. I want to ask you, Horace—what was the character of her essay on Heine? I have no doubt I should read it—it would appeal to me: I always stand up for Heine—am hotly inclined his way: resent all the puritan criticism of his character as a man and his significance as a writer: am eager (more than willing) to recognize his high estate: to excuse (if excuses are needed, as they are not) his improprieties, his erraticism, his strayings off from conventional standpoints, as with Byron, Burns, Goethe. I find Heine everyway interesting—the simplest facts about him as well as the gravest." I asked W.: "Have you read many novels?" He answered with emphasis: "Cartloads of 'em—cartloads—when I was younger: indeed, that was a most important formative element in my education, nurture."

     W. did not meet Tyndall, Huxley or Spencer on their visits to America. "So far as I know none of the English scientists except Clifford have ever taken any shine to me." Then said: "I am glad enough, indeed, to see that Spencer's health is getting better." I wrote Bucke to-day to have Wilkins here so he could take Musgrove's place Monday morning next. Also told him to send Kennedy his extra copy of the North American. W. said to me to-night: "You'll be speaking for me many a time

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after I am dead: do not be afraid to tell the truth—any sort of truth good or bad, for or against: only be afraid not to tell the truth."
I said. "I promise not to help send you down into history wearing another man's clothes." He nodded and said fervently: "That's all I could ask, Horace."


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