Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, October 30, 1888.

     7.45, evening. W. reading quietly—poems of Walter Scott. Appeared bright. Had the day gone well? "Yes—mostly so: I can only say—I have got through it and here I am." Reported to him that I had word from Arthur Stedman of the safe arrival of the cut: that I had conferred with Bilstein but got no proofs from him as yet. W. questioning me concerning details of these and other matters. Then settled into general talk. I took him down the George Eliot volume containing the Heine piece. Was interested at once: looked over the pages casually—laid the book on his lap open: "I must read it—I am sure it will please me." I think W. is incapable of irritation on such a point, but the absence of acknowledgment from Burroughs and Morse as to books sent them excites his remark. "They'll come up," he says, however— "come up in their own time." He had spoken last night of Spencer. Here are two paragraphs of the note touching his health written by him to J. A. Skilton of the Ethical Association of Chadwick's church:

"I am glad to say, and you will be glad to hear, that I am considerably better than when I gave to Dr. W. J. Youmans the impression you quote. Leaving London in a very low state about a month ago, I have since improved greatly, and am now in hopes of getting back to something like the low level of health which I before had, though I scarcely expect to reach that amount of working power which has been usual with me.

"The information contained in your letter was, I need hardly say, gratifying to me both on public and on personal grounds. The spread of the doctrine of evolution, first of all in its limited acceptation, and now in its wider acceptation, is alike surprising

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and encouraging; and doubtless the movement now to be initiated by the lectures and essays set forth in your program will greatly accelerate its progress."


     After reading the first paragraph W. said looking up at me: "Well, I hope it will stay so: but he is doubtful of it himself." Then, as he read paragraph two he put his finger index-like upon it: "How fine the spirit of this!—let it be said, let be heard: it seems to me this and that or so and so: how does it strike you?—so goes the letter. This spirit of science: what a glory it has added to the world!" I described a highly-wrought, over-ardent Republican I had met in the forenoon who said: "If Cleveland is elected, if the American people elect that damned sneak, then I say let them have their fill: I hope they'll see riots, strikes, bloodshed, starvation!" W. highly amused. "That's a refreshing idiot, sure enough: I didn't know anybody cared that much about the election either way: I thought we were just in a cold scramble for office and didn't mind the morals one side or the other a bit. Well—let them who are of the blood to do so keep hot: America, the world, life, will go on unconcerned to inevitable conclusions. I don't think the fate of America hangs on the issue of a Presidential election—of all Presidential elections: the fate of Europe on the speeches of kings: indeed, these are the least, not the most, significant integers of historic progress: I say always that it is not a bit significant what the aristocrats, the swells, the kings and presidents, do—that it is everyway significant what the people do. When the people some day get stirred up as they must and will—it is inevitable—the rulers themselves will realize that nothing they can say contravening popular equality and right can count for much."

     W. gave me Bucke's letter of the 28th: "There's nothing in the letter—nothing new: but it's pleasant to have, to read, to hear, one may say: one virtue it has (it is the Doctor's virtue)—it keeps moving: movement, activity, life, is in every fiber of the Doctor's body. Doctor's trip east here is still among the ifs: he will come, will not come, to-morrow, next day, if, if, if."


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     Harned made some reference to the saying that Von Moltke "is silent in six languages." W. said: "I don't take that without a question: I don't know whether I believe in reticence—the common idea of it—as a principle: that it necessarily indicates extra fine points and all that. A man in public life, living in the public eye, may need to be careful what he says, how he says what he says: Bismarck, for instance, Von Moltke, Lincoln, Grant. There may be public reasons for reserve, for silence: but after that is said a good deal more may be said and better said. Indeed, it is my principal objection to the infernal noise created by the Sackville West letter that it takes reticence for granted—absolute silence: that men in positions of prominence must not have opinions or, having 'em, must not tell what they are. I for my part can see no reason why West should not have his say—why any man should not have his say: any man, diplomat or other. What is the notion of sense or justice which dares to stand in the way of the freest utterance of faith? I believe in the freest expression of opinion all around, all times, here, in Europe, yes in Asia, wherever men choose or happen to think or choose or happen to want to talk. It seems to me a grand heap more dignified for West to write that letter than for Cleveland to give ten thousand dollars to the campaign fund. Dignity may become a bugbear. Arnold complained of Lincoln that he lacked distinction. Is this the co-eval word—this, with dignity? What did Arnold mean? That must be an English quality: what is it? how do you tell it when you see it? I for my part am distrustful of any personal rules or public customs which interpose barriers between the leaders and the people. I like all fraternization between leaders, people, the masses: no travesty of reserve. It was charged against Hayes, too—want of dignity, going about the country speech-making, talking to crowds—President Rutherford Hayes. But this never troubled me. I read all the speeches—they were genial, good-natured, sensible, helping things along—South, North—especially South—Oh! I think they did much good there, simple as they appeared. I was in St. Louis at the time—sick: I liked the speeches—liked them much though

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they were much criticised: I thought them just the right thing."
Cleveland's speeches of last year he had not "so closely watched," and now "remembered little about them." "But in all instances—Houston (they pronounce it Hueston down South), Hayes, others—I am sure frank intercourse is the best intercourse, whether here, you with me, I with you, or among public men or between public men and the people. I have not the beginning of a feeling of resentment over the West letter."

     I referred to some one's criticism of W.—that he "must have led a wild early life" instancing one case the quotation of which had set Bucke off. W. took the thing smilingly: "That is a familiar story: I am not a saint—have never been guilty of setting up for a saint. I find some of my friends—some of the ardent eulogists—making very many claims for me which I would not make for myself. Neither do I feel that I am such an awful sinner: I have made mistakes—many of them: led an average human life: not too good, not too bad—just a so-so sort of life. I don't spend much time wondering whether I should not have been better or might not have been worse." W. said as I was going: "I've been looking over a heap of old things the last few days which I'll probably eventually turn over to you for safe keeping or for destruction—whichever you may decide to be for the best." Then he added: "I know what you'll do: you'll save every scrap of paper and lock it all up in a safe."


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