Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, June 20, 1889

     7.45 P.M. W. was not at home on my first arrival. Had gone out, they told me, full two hours before. But shortly he came wheeling up, admonishing Ed promptly: "Get the book and the letter, Ed—and hurry up to the office: you have no time to spare!" Nor had he. "I" W. said, "will just stay here—out of doors—up against the house"—to which Ed wheeled

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the chair and left. We talked quite briskly together. W. said: "We have been down to the river again—and it was so fine!—so full!—the time high and flowing strong! I look off across the water a long, long time—a long time! And there was just enough air stirring to take hold and refresh one!" Now they can get down to the edge of the wharf, he wants to go. We talked about the work of the day. I wrote to William Carey in the way W. had wished: and explaining now to him, he said, "That was right."

     Gilchrist came up as we sat there talking. Reference having been made to John Burroughs and Poughkeepsie, Gilchrist spoke of "Po'kipsie" as an approved pronunciation and W. confirmed it. "That is the new way," said W., "and is coming to be the accepted way—rightly too: but I suppose some of the old codgers will still stick to the full word." Gilchrist gave an amusing account of Tennyson's pronunciation of Schuylkill. W. laughed heartily. "If he was to come here and get that off a few times, the local fellows would set down on him!" Current mis-pronunciations quoted—for one, asparagus. W. enlarged: "I know about this word—but now it has come to be pretty decently adjusted, even to the common consciousness: even the market men now say 'asparagus'—or at least compromise with 'sparagus.' I know, thirty or forty years ago it was everywhere 'asparrowgrass'—today it is asparagus." He asked again: "I wonder how Tennyson would pronounce 'Norridge.'" And he brought up the question— "And Lun'on, too—how about that?—how does that hold there?" Gilchrist explaining that it was a word so misused by rustics, farriers, &c. "Thames" as pronounced universally, was a puzzle to Walt. Gilchrist at first did not understand W.'s point, and asked: "But how would you pronounce it?" W. said: "'Temz,' of course? But certainly," he added, "It don't spell 'temz', whatever it does spell!" And in a humorous way he brought up the word "pumpkin," pronounced here, "punkin." "Why," he exclaimed, "everybody here says 'punkin'

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—even some who think themselves great 'punkins' too! I know it is not right, but sometimes a fellow is glad not to be right: he gets into the way of the locality, the people, allows their habits, their phrases,—and better to do so, too! I have no doubt I often offend—often horror-strike people—in parlors—in all ways. Yet some of the nicest people I now say 'pumpkin'—make it plain-sailing."

     Gilchrist remarked "the wonderful grit" of American women. I said, "They have more grit than stuff"—and both at once took in my idea. Was it, however, stuff or guts—the English phrase? W. laughed—said it was "guts"—a vulgar phrase "of course" in "the mock-modest, over-delicate, parlor society of America." He had on his best grey suit this evening and I remarked that he looked, if possible, unwontedly fine. He laughed and said, "Yes: now I suppose I am the good grey poet again! Well, I mainly wear the grey: but in the old times, down there in Washington, I used navy blue through summers: that was in wartime."


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