Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 497] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Tuesday, September 10, 1889

     7.40 P.M. W. in parlor. It has been a frightfully stormy day. W., after greeting us, at once spoke of it with [Harrison] Morris. "I think we will learn tomorrow that along the coast it has blown much more even than here." This caused M.'s reference to the Johnstown disaster, occurring in the very hours of the banquet and which W. called "most dreadful hours." Lincoln Eyre had had a brother out there. Morris described—and W. said, inquiringly: "He circumvented the flood, then, somehow, did he?" Frank Williams wife is at Atlantic City—communication cut off—W. saying: "Yes, I read in this night's paper that they're in the way of being

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 498] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
flooded."
I sat on the sofa in the shadow of the room—Morris taking position at W.'s side on a chair, which W. always keeps near to use the back as a rest for his arm. W. had at once on our entrance insisted on having a light— "Oh my, we must have on! We always do for visitors!" And when several matches "flashed in the pan" as I said,—he laughed and said: "Matches are not always what we expect of them"—which Morris took to be a good joke. I let them do the talking mainly alone, putting in a word only now and then, or when W. addressed me, as he did several times, once with the usual query: "What have you been doing today?" Morris asked him about the Sarrazzin article and W. said of the translation: "I liked it very much and sent word to you by Horace." And to questionings, said of Sarrazin himself: "He is indeed expert, penetrating: he seems to have exploited us all in the spirit which we should ourselves demand—in the spirit of our highest claims, in fact." "That's Heine's canon," he went on, "Heine says that to examine a thing critically—by just methods—the point is, to inquire of a writer—What's his spirit? What's his aim? Has he accomplished himself that way—his way? Not, has he done it some other way, but that way—not the way of some other, but the way of his own choice. That, precisely, Sarrazin has done. There's a new school in Paris, of which Sarrazin is one—very catholic—very Hegelian—including all—thoroughly tolerating—acknowledging other places than Paris, other men than Parisians. Among the old fellows, even so great a man as Victor Hugo seemed to start out with the assumption that there was no city in the world but Paris. But these new men have come to the conclusion—the conviction, in fact—and a deep conviction it is—that there is a wider audience, a vaster area of action, of big guns, populaces, ideals, what-not." And then he asked Morris: "Is Sarrazin's criticism of the other writers as free and trenchant—strong, noble—as this?" And he said as to Morris' dealing with the French: "I think you do well to

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 499] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
get well ingratiated—to well ingratiate yourself—with modern writers—modern Frenchmen. There's quite a difference in their handwork—the old, the new schools. In the modern writers you find new vigors, habits, modes. I don't know what it is—I don't know how it could be indicated—but it is a marked change. It's quite a difference like that a stranger encounters—a Frenchman—in reading Carlyle's books—Carlyle's peculiarities—idiosyncrasies, they may be called,—of style."

     Morris gave quite a circumstantial account of a French novel he had been reading. W. listened intently—said: "Yes—yes—I see it, I think." And then remarked as to realism: "Millet, the painter, had a saying—I think there was a good deal in it, applying to all these days—I can't repeat it in the French—but he signified—you have a right to deal with any subject, if you deal with it in a high mood—deal with it worthily. And that is very profound: to me it has always seemed as if that enclosed the whole story—saying that, all is said." Morris repeated a saying of Frank Williams': "It's the drapery that causes all the trouble"—and W. laughed greatly at this. "That's very good," he said. "Somebody says—some very witty Frenchman, I think—on a nude statue—even the most perfect—put a lady's bonnet—and the whole subject at once becomes strange, perhaps vulgar. It is really funny why—none of us can tell why—and yet I think everybody will tumble to it." I told him a story I had heard of Eakins—of a girl model who had appeared before the class, nude, with a bracelet on—Eakins, thereupon, in anger, seizing the bracelet and throwing it on the floor. W. enjoying it: "It was just like Eakins—and oh! a great point is in it, too!" I asked if Harned had brought his young minister in on Sunday, and W. said: "Yes—he brought him in. He is an Englishman, and I could see the mark of the young minister: but I liked his way—his atmosphere."

     Morris referred to Concord—his own visits there. W. assented:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 500] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Yes, I liked it—it is very pretty—New England, though, is full of just such places—Jamaica Plain, Roxbury—all these places—the Highlands, as they call one of them." And when M. referred to what he supposed were changes in Concord— "I guess the main lay of things is the same"—and as to a picnicking ground instituted at or near Walden Pond— "That to me would add nothing." The Thoreau cairn of stones: "That was there when I paid my visit—I carried a big stone—a stone as big as my head—and threw it on—we all did. But I have heard that it did not grow much—the pyramid is much as it was. Some one told me something of the sort, that it was not in good form to go on such pilgrimages—but at that time—we men—2, 3, or 4 of us—went, carried stones—rocks, they call them out West—threw them on." And he questioned Morris about Emerson's burial place: "You went up to it?—saw the stone?—found it white? White quartz, eh? Very pretty? No inscription? No monument of any kind?" Morris told him a story he had from Hamilton Gibson—of a twig, or limb, from the pine-tree over-arching the grave falling in his presence right across the stone—that he remembered Emerson's fondness for the pine—accepted it as of poetic significance—and took the limb home as memorial. W. called it "very fine and touching." As to Sleepy Hollow: "I've been there, but not many times—Emerson, you know, has died since then—Thoreau, Hawthorne, I think, and Thoreau's brother—and quite a number of celebrities, famous ones—lie there."

     Morris inquired if W. did not think well of Julian Hawthorn's speech at the banquet? "Yes—I thought it good"—but ran off from that particular matter by asking: "Do you see Julian's letters in the Press?—the labor letters there? They're wonderful good"—talking at considerable length then on the subject. "There are 3 or 4 fellows writing those letters—they're all good—I read them all with care. They're the only newspaper things I read with care nowadays. They

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 501] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
have such a natural flavor—unspoiled—have the attraction I always find in simple recitals—a sort of word-of-mouth manner—as if the men sat here and told us what they eat, do, where go, how act, so on."
Morris suggested: "They give the American point of view." And W. assented: "Yes, a good deal that. One thing I get from it that I learn also from other sources—that although we are a great country—in machinery, territory, institutions, wealth, progress, yet there's a world—I spoke of the new school of Frenchmen, for instance—a world of other men, measures, industries, greatness, than ours, still to be accounted for—a world in many ways superior, in all ways wonderful. We are great in machinery, in cuteness, in intuition, in labor-saving-ness—everything in that direction. Then after that there's another thing"—and in speaking of the work of mechanics abroad— "at the last point they seem to surpass us—do it by an impalpable something—something in the feel in which they get ahead of us." And again: "We're not only ahead but behind the mark." And as to the cutlery business: "We equal them in much—probably go ahead—but we don't equal them in the touch—the last finish—of something—of razors. That touch, that is the thing—the thing not to be acquired. In one of his letters Julian says that men who give that last finish were not new men, but men of fathers in the same line, and their fathers, again—an inherited delicacy, aptitude—like a sailor—born on the sea." And to Morris' expression of American self-congratulation: "That kind of thought or boastful consideration is not needed so much as the kind of things these fellows are giving us." And he told the story of the Long Island man and his expression "hold your horses," with great zest—and averred: "We ought to adopt it in our America"—adding— "We need not indulge in brag and wind over our abilities, which God knows are great enough: there are other spots smiled on by the Almighty. These letters not only read well but are well—not ephemeral—make a deep cut, notch. Probably they will be collected—they

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 402] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
are but beginning. I have been waiting to see Talcott Williams—I fear the letters are cut—the high protection editors probably cannot stomach all they would naturally contain. Yet these are the very things we want—without them we have the doctor who leaves out of a great case the very necessary warnings. I am not certain of that, but have the suspicion. They seem to have gone there with the determination to see the truth—tell the truth—they are almost as faithful as a mirror. They are wonderful in modern literature—wonderfully good even in point of literary style. Julian Hawthorne's letters you would expect to be so, but these others are almost equally good. All these exquisite modifications and correctiveness—little shades of new meaning, foreign, unsuspected,—that we didn't know—these are the things we have to learn. This matter is astonishing—certainly a hit—is consistent with the modern spirit—the democratic spirit. With the principle of free communication added to inform, refine, we inaugurate a new era, gain ports long needed—all the ports needed."
And so he discussed the subject, even more fully than I indicate.

     Pointing to some apples on the table: "I have had visitors, some girls—and they brought lots of things—apples, pears, flowers. I have gorged the pears—I am weak on pears." As to coming down stairs (W. having gone up and said to us: "Don't move—I'm only going for a minute or so"—going to his room, walking about there for something—coming immediately down): "I am pretty thoroughly disabled—I often sit here—come here for the change." Then he spoke of "the curious and remarkable specimen of humanity out at our hospital here"—a man "paralyzed completely below the neck—yet keeping up a show of cheer if not cheer itself." And as to Morris' laughing reference to Brown-Sequard's Elixir: "There is no such thing as an elixir of life"—but the mind cure, "that is a very important part of the material medica"—Morris laughingly wildly at this sally. W. then told

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 503] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
the story of the Englishman whom a doctor had treated by a thermometer—the doctor having put it in the patient's mouth to find the temperature— "the patient at once felt better—the imagination so acting upon him. So the doctor treated him regularly that way, with the result, that in a time the patient declared himself entirely cursed." Morris gave W. some account of Furness' explanation of the miracles, which W. called "a mumbo-jumbo sort of business."

     We finally sauntered off, W. asking: "And what is the programme for the rest of the night?" I sat back on the sofa most of the time, taking notes in a little book. Several times W. asked me: "Where are you boy? Where are you Horace?"—Morris sitting in such a way as to interrupt the vision. W. altogether in good voice. Severe as the weather is, it does not appear to break him in any respect. Morris was highly elated over the talk which he called the best he had ever had with W. I walked through the storm to the ferry with Morris, when we parted. Gilchrist had told M. today he expected to be over, but the violence of the storm evidently deterred him.


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.