Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, August 23, 1889

     7.45 P.M. It rained very hard this afternoon and evening. W. of course in-doors—in the parlor. Had been talking with Warren, who had brought some fish home from one of the engineers on the road. Mrs. Davis brought them in, a candle in one hand. W. leaned over and regarded them: "Oh! the beautiful fish! Why—they are the most beautiful I most ever did see!" Adding: "They have had their last swim—poor fellows! I sympathize with them!" And after Mrs. Davis had gone and my exclamation: "How beautiful in their own element!" He went on: "Beautiful even on the stalls in the markets! But in their own element, oh! how more beautiful—beautiful!" I spoke of his visitors last night: "They took it as a great treat," I said, to which W.: "Not a greater treat than I to have them come!" Then he asked me for the names of Mrs. Fels and Miss May. I told him they had been reading Bucke's book most of the morning. He remarked: "Bucke's book is a good idea like the birthday book—has everything in common with it—is all sugar and honey—don't make enough

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of the other side of the critter—and there is another side, as all you—all my friends, well enough know. If it was not that I am old, weak, toppling, full of defections—if I had some of the vigor of other days—I should rise up, fear this praise, to be applauded in this way, think it dangerous. But as it is, I think I am safe—that this but goes to offset the extreme antipathy I have had to encounter."
I put in: "It is of more significance to have this youthful endorsement than any other." W. affirming: "So it is! So it is! And these girls too—the girls! And you say they read Leaves of Grass?"

     I asked him about DeKay's piece—if he would not like to see it? He replied: "I suppose I might just as well—bring it down." And when I said: "It is non-committal—he commits himself to nothing," W. affirmed quickly: "No doubt—no doubt: that is the New York crowd—that is their sign, by what known: the attitude supercilious, one-eye-glassed which fits the literary dandy: without color, holding aloof from the crowds, from facts, appeals." Then after a pause: "But do you know, Horace, it more and more seems to me that that is the finale of Emersonianism—that this is always and inevitably, its result?" To my demur, explaining: "I know that is the harsh view—that there is another. But I do not throw it out as finality, only as a suggestion, a hint, a possibility—something for you to prick with your pin. Emersonianism seems to lead to this—don't commit yourself, don't surrender to anything, don't be decoyed: it matters little—all is a fraud anyhow—so look out, be on your guard, lest too much is deferred!" Then he said, quietly: "It is hardly known of Tennyson abroad, that though he has written the most polished—perfect—poetry of our era, he himself is not at all like that—Tennyson the person—that he is rugged, crude, even coarse in a sense—would say a thousand things—use words, folk-phrases—which would shock and shock society, so-called—not nasty words, but vigorous words, native"—yet of this the whole world shrank. I asked W. if he had read

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the Hugo piece in the little book I had left. "Yes, indeed—and how interesting it is!" The conversational sayings of Hugo there quoted had particularly attracted him. I touched on O'Connor's delight in Hugo's Shakspere. W. then: "Yes—and for good reasons. I shared the feelings—I felt it one of the best of Hugo's published books." Somehow referred to Lowell. I described Clifford's early distaste. W. then: "I can well understand. And O'Connor, too—he had a powerful dislike—powerful. John Burroughs was worst of all—he realized a sort of venom towards Lowell. But I think John has got over that now. He has got over a good many of his dislikes—and I don't know but his likes, too." I quoted Burroughs' saying to me, in his inclusion of literary men at large: "Whitman is the man for America—Matthew Arnold for England." W. asked: "They are his own words? The sound it—and they are indexical—they tell the story. It is the later story of John's life—what some would call his evolution, I suppose, but I don't know."

     He took from his pocket an envelope marked "Autobiographic note (to go in one page)" and handed it to me. "This is the manuscript you wanted for that page—I guess it will serve." This practically completes the book. I spoke of having read "Song of the Rolling Earth" aloud in my room—of the delight it gave me. He commented: "I can comprehend—there is a mysterious, wonderful, quality in the human voice which no plummet has yet sounded—to which literature has not done any sort of justice—as it could not, I suppose. There is a wonderful passage in Legouve's book on the voice which relates an experience of Rachel—I think it was her—and I must have you see the book. It is about here somewhere among my trash and would serve well for you to know. I often say to the elocution fellows, that in spite of all their study, the deepest deep of all they have not yet sounded. There is the consciousness of abounding presence in a fine organ—a superb voice—I have known some—Alboni's 40 years ago—the magnificent

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contralto. Among speakers—Cash Clay's, John P. Hale's, and, I have heard, Tennyson's: have you been told? In Tennyson it is a factor that has not been sufficiently dwelt upon—hardly alluded to—a monotonous grandeur, I have heard—profound power, music. And there are some women who have it—have it to a marvelous extent."
I spoke of Salvini—W. said: "I have never heard him." I suggested: "How would you like it for us to arrange to have him come over to see you in the fall, while he plays here?" To which he replied: "Who knows? If I am still floating about here when the fall comes, it might be—it might be!" Alluding to Garrison's speech in the book: "Some of them say it is obscure—that nothing can be made of it—but I think not only see something there, but something quite worth while."


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