Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, June 21, 1889

     7.40 P.M. Though away at the moment of my coming, W. was not long in making his appearance. Ed stood him up against the house and hurried away to the Post Office. W. himself was more than usually cordial, I though, and talked at once. "We have come from the river again—were right down to the water's edge—lintered there a long time, breathing in the fresh air,—watching the boats, skies, city." But he added: "I have had a very bad day of it—very bad: but am better now, much better—though nothing to brag of yet." But whatever he may have wanted, he did not want in cheer.

     He had had several visitors today. "Bonsall was here—Harry—and I have him his copy of the big book." Had he promised him such a book? "Oh no! promised myself to give him one—that was all. I have made up my mind that Harry and Buckwalter should have copies—so as Harry was here, I

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thought he might just as well take it away with him. I though, perhaps he had come to pay over that surplus of the dinner, but he said nothing about it, and of course I did not."
W. laughed with great heartiness. "It is not my funeral, you know!" Then he said: "And there was a letter from Gilder today—a letter acknowledging the book. It contained nothing beyond an expression of his pleasure that I had sent it." He alluded also to another visitor: "I had a grand old man here to see him: his name was 'Lee'—spelled, L-E-I-G-H—and he was a genuine sample of a man. He came from Brooklyn—was one of the Old Brooklynites, who claim me as another of them. I felt almost ashamed to meet him: I had had a number of letters from those men there—never responded to one of them—not one, which was a churlish neglect, they had meant so well by me: such a wretch and scamp and scaramount I am! I have often taken to wondering lately, if my Quaker habit of waiting for the spirit or Socratic demon to move me before doing anything, was after all to be obeyed. But after one has gone through a long life and is at last at the finishing point, it is hard to change habits, so I suppose I shall go on as I have gone on to the end. I had waited for something to suggest an acknowledgment to these men, but that 'something' had never come into play. The old man begged me for a picture—and he said, too, picture with autograph. There was one picture up there which I had always thought wonderfully good—it was old—I do believe the only one I had, but I gave it to him—advised him to take it along, and included with it four or five others, all with my signature underneath. This special picture I had laid out to send to Doctor Bucke—I doubt if he has one: but now it is too late, and the old man is happy with it. He offered to pay for all I gave him, but I would not hear of it: I felt sure that that was little enough to do for him."

     He had not yet been on the boat in his chair. "Sometime the spirit will move us, and on we will go!" Adding afterwards: "You see how much a Quaker I'll continue to the last!"

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Spoke of having "read Mrs. Coates' poemet" in Lippincotts, but had no critical word for it. Some one had complained to him of Herbert Gilchrist's Englishism, but W. averred: "It never troubles me—did not that night of the dinner—never does in any way."

     At Clifford's church on Sunday C. had read in part or all, "There Was A Child Went Forth." Several who were present have spoken to me of the effect produced. It was an interesting coincidence that just as we started to talk of it, a group of boys came up—each one awkwardly to shake hands with W., and one to linger near him for some time. Reverting to our talk, W. asked: "And how did they take it? Ah! it is interesting to hear it said they took to it. Why should they? There is really nothing in it at all—nothing at all."—he gave a sweep of his hand— "It is a mere looking-about at things. There was a child went forth! It is a sample, perhaps, of what calls forth Edward Emerson's criticism—a cataloguing of facts—nothing in it except perhaps a suggestion—nothing in it except what is to be credited to the reader himsef—except what is stirred up in him." "But," I argued, "it is that very stirring-up which is important: that is the great and significant quality of all permanent literature. When Dr. Brinton argued with me that you gave us no definite philosophy, I admitted—no, he does not, but then I don't want that from him: he gives us the element of contact—and that is enough." W. turned to me as if greatly interested. "That is a good thing for me to hear you say. Curiously—or I should not say curiously, for it is natural enough for you to catch on to the truth of me: but I may say, happily, you take right hold there of the key-word to the book—the fact that lies nearest, dearest, to my heart. I do not teach a definite philosophy—I have no cocked and primed system—but I outline, suggest, hint—tell what I see—then each may make up the rest for himself. He who goes to my book expecting a cocked and primed philosophy, will depart utterly disappointed—and deserve to! I find anyhow that a great many of

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my readers credit my writings with things that do not attach to the writings themselves but to the persons who read them—things they supply, bring with them."
But was there not suggestiveness, even though the writer did not study chiefly or at all to impress or paint meanings? "Yes, there is that—the suggestiveness of this beautiful evening—twilight—the trees across the way there—the clouded northern sky—the river I have just seen—the city beyond—all these give suggestion—oh! suggestion how rich! But the idea that I must see all this, and not be content to see it, tell of it as I see it, but must give it an explanation!—that is not me—that is impossible! Yet I am one who attaches great weight to Brinton's lucidity—his knowing what he wants. No one more than I should delight to have him here now, this minute, expatiating, objecting. Bucke would be a good fellow for meeting the Professor on that point. You must contrive when he comes down again, to have them meet—then you must run the tide into this channel and let them fight it out. The last thing the world needs is a cut and dried philosophy, and that last man to announce a cut and dried philosophy would be Walt Whitman. Why, boy, there's just the secret of it—which you have always so well grasped: including all philosophies, as I do, how could I nail myself to any one, or single specimen—except it be this, only—that my philosophy is to include all other philosophies." He was quiet only an instant. "But after all it is a good thing for the people to like that little poem. Whittier likes it better than anything else I wrote those days—in fact, I don't know but it's the only thing he likes it all."

     As we sat there an old fellow, passing paused, greeted W., complained of ill-health. He suffered from insomnia—had daily to take anesthetic drugs to induce sleep. As he walked laboriously away, W. remarked: "It is a terrible affliction: if Dr. Bucke were here he would say, here is insanity—here is the beginning of insanity!" He paused, shook his head— "No—no—that may all be true, and yet something more needs to be said. The best doctor is somehow doctor before he is

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anything else—as the Methodist is Methodist, the Presbyterian Presbyterian, the Christian Christian—to me a more abhorrent state of mind! Yet I can realize the necessity that this should be just as it is—it is the working quality of the man's circumstances, his profession, it may be—a limit that adds to his efficiency!"


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