Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, November 19, 1888

     7.45 P. M. W. reading Boston Transcript when I came. Quite cordial though not overly bright. Yet talked freely. I did not stay long. He motioned me to a seat—questioned me about my day's work, etc. I had brought him plate proofs of the three new pages of the big book. The printers had not accented the first o in eidôlons. W. not vexed but determined it should be done. He had marked it on proof. "I am very particular on that point: he must do it even if he has to go to some other office to get the o. It is the custom everywhere to pronounce the word eidolons: I always make it eidolons: this is right, too. I make considerable use of the word." Spoke of the possibility that John Wanamaker would go into the cabinet. Sneered at it. Then said of Alger, Quay, Morton, Platt, Wanamaker, who reviewed the Republican jollification parade in Philadelphia Saturday: "All millionaires? Well—it typifies the Republican party: nothing more needs to be said of it." Gave me The Bookbuyer. Had he looked at the portrait of Mrs. Ward again? "Oh yes! for a long, long time to-day: it is very fine: the engraving itself is a rare piece of work." Did the face appeal to him? "Thoroughly: the picture is noble in its negative qualities—the face is sensitive, fine, all that." He pointed out the grace of the neck: "It is swanlike yet strong."

     Called my attention to to-day's Post containing a report of Clifford's sermon—a column or more of it. Had again read Garland's Transcript deliverance. I said: "I think it good, Walt—probably among the best of them so far—though the criticism remains yet to be written." W. said: "I like it, too"—saying afterward as to Kennedy's probable further discussion of the book: "He will do it when

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the time comes: we must be content to wait."
I referred to Democratic Vistas: am struck again with its evidence of great power. W. said "That is a little changed in later editions: I added a paragraph at the opening: you will see it: see the new paragraph in the Collect of the prose volume." Then after pausing briefly: "I have never been able to settle it with myself whether that change was an improvement or not: often the first instinct is the best instinct." Mentioned Bucke's and O'Connor's aversion to changes in Leaves of Grass text. "Both object but O'Connor is worse than Bucke: O'Connor gets mad, mad!" "After all," I suggested: "You have to come back to your own point of view—to satisfy yourself." Whereupon W.: "That is gospel: there is no truth beyond that: but we can learn from the criticisms of our friends, too: I have got some of my best ideas that way: I not only welcome, I invite, that." I asked: " Is n't the best criticism that of friends? has n't the criticism of an avowed enemy less weight?"" W. said: "I am confident of it: but I always plant myself on my own plans in the end."

     Mentioned Charles Eldridge. "Charles is very fine—very much of a help, too. But my book has aroused his suspicions. You know, there is a sense in which I want to be cosmopolitan: then again a sense in which I make much of patriotism—of our native stock, the American stock, ancestry, the United States. Charles shakes his head over that. ' That 's not worthy of us, of you,' he says." "That is the same old question—adjusting the individual to the mass." W. repeated my sentence. "Yes, the big problem—the only problem: the sum of them all." But he considered that the advice had its place. "We must be willing to invite, to hear, even if we must refuse." In the end there could be no recourse but to the self. "Take the last edition of Leaves of Grass: some of the fellows think my changes have not improved the book: yet it is my final judgment that the book is just right as it is now—that it should be permitted to stand. One advantage a thing

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has if a man disregards the advice of his friends—it is all his own—an expression purely of his own personality: free of blemishes nothing could be, but freedom from alien influences: ah! that is necessary."
He suddenly commenced to root among the papers at his feet, finally hauling out a paper which he held up for me to see. "The Critic: do you get it? on this page here"—pointing to a study of Verestchagin's paintings. "He must be a wonderful man: I have marked a bit here"—indicating the blue pencillings— "what I wanted you to see: it struck me, without formulating or announcing them, that them 's my sentiments, my opinions."

"...a vision in which 'Holy Russia' lies revealed before him. The Slavic spirit descends upon him. At last the problem of the painter's art is solved. The word narodnost (nationality) seems written in letters of gold upon these mysterious, baffling canvases, each of which forms one stone in the kaleidoscopic mosaic of the exhibition. It is not merely that Verestchagin is a great painter, that he has a technique that would alone win for him a position in the front rank of art. He makes the careful concentration and personal egotism of the art of western Europe seem trivial beside the careless, luxuriant largeness of his creativeness. The Russian abandon leads him to despise concentration, and this is where, like all Russians, he runs the risk of misconstruction. Artistic form, for its own sake, may satisfy the artist of the boulevards, but it does not content the artist of the steppes. His genius is built upon larger lines—so large, indeed, that the conventionalities of art galleries and studios do not exist for him, and he towers above them like the peaks of the Himalayas above the clouds. Like Gogol, like Tolstoy, like Dostoieffski, his literary counterparts, Verestchagin works, not for art's sake, but for the sake of humanity—that is, narodnost. Modern Russian art, like modern Russian literature, is founded on narodnost—the development of the national idea, which was born into

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literature with Pushkin and nourished by Gogol, to flower into life with the literary realists of the past thirty years. The romanticism of Pushkin became the realism of Gogol, and, progressing in the scale of evolution, resolved itself into the naturalism of the contemporary novelists, which, on its ethical side, has called forth proletarianism from nationalism. Russian art struck the national note much later than Russian literature, but when it did strike it, it was on the proletarian side. Thus to-day, in Russian art as in Russian literature, the words nationalism and proletarianism have one and the same significance."


      "Who do you suppose wrote it?" he asked: "Is it original with The Critic?—is it copied from somewhere?" Adding: "It is an unusual piece in such a place." Then he said: "Read the whole piece: I would advise you to give ten or fifteen minutes to it: you won't regret it." Here he indulged in further remarks anent nature in literature, bringing in Millet, of course. I insisted upon the likeness between W. and Tolstoy. Both regarded literature as an instrument not a thing in and for itself, &c. W. said: "I begin to see that much of a likeness myself: there are always great points in a life like Tolstoy's—so high, so courageous." I repeated to him the substance of Ivan the Fool. He asked me: "What is the genuine meaning of anarchism as now being more and more philosophically adopted?" I stopped at the mantelpiece to look at a strange little Washington-Lincoln photo. It represents Lincoln as being welcomed into the cloudlands and throwing his arms about Washington, who with a disengaged hand offers to put a wreath on Lincoln's brow. I spoke of it as "queer." W. laughed: "Everybody seems of the same mind—everybody but me: I value it: yet I could hardly tell why: probably because it made a favorable impression on me at the start. When I was in Washington I had it on my desk: the clerks got much frolic out of it: the chief clerk thought it was a cheap thing—the cheapest of cheap things. It

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is an old idea: a sort of Tom Paine Voltaire idea—the welcome to the shade."

     I asked W. if he wrote easily? "I suppose I can say that I do: I do not revise much: yet I do make changes: that change I have spoken of in Democratic Vistas is a good instance." I quoted Salter, who said the religious spirit of the time existed most characteristically in the ranks of the labor radicals—Socialists, Anarchists, &c. W. asked: "Can it be true? It sounds true." He repeated his question. "It is a great subject—a daring one—to ponder." Has been reading Symonds. Ed reports W. "the same." Rubs him once a day, when W. goes to bed, using the brush first, then the naked hands, generally continuing for well upon an hour, till both are in a sweat. It helps W. vastly. Ed says Walt is "all used up" by a bath. W. asked him today if he could not carry him? He gives his weight still as two hundred pounds, allowing nothing for his very perceptible losses. He told me just to-night that he thought Ed could carry him. I said something in my note to Bucke to-day about the possibility of W.'s getting out of doors again. "Well," said W., "these are bad days, but they won't all be bad days." Ed has a violin which he plays round the house. W's favorite piece in Ed's modest repertoire is Rock-a-bye Baby. Ed says quaintly: "I make it long for him—put in the chorus two or three times." Talked about the book—pushing it ahead. Everything now about in shape for the binder.

     We got on the subject of the O'Connor letter which W. gave me the last thing last evening. "Williams sends us good news from Russia, that most inaccessible of all countries. He warms up special for The Post and The Nation: are they worth it? We expect them to be on the other side—to be always in the respectable opposition: to drag back—to never be in the van, to never lead. Why should we kick about it, then?" I quoted William's phrase "moral literary ghosts," which made W. chuckle and say: "How more than good that is: William can do that sort of thing

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better than any man writing to-day."
I referred to Lanier. "Yes," said W., "I noticed what William has to say about him. Lanier was once my friend—once thought himself on my side: he shied off later— could n't stand the rough road: preferred the prepared ways, like the paved streets." W. shook his head over William's anti-Garfield argument. "Suppress the piece? Why suppress it? Let it pass: let it be counted up against me: William is too vehement—goes too far—asks too much." W. again: "What valuable stuff William unearths and proclaims: that Catholic Protestant data, for instance: who 'd have thought of diving for it but William? Of course he 's not the only one of his sort but he certainly is way the greatest of his sort."


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