Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, December 27, 1889

     5.40 P.M. W. had finished his meal—sat there in the twilight, looking out to the north-west. He knew my step—and of course knew my voice. "Shall I strike a light?" he asked—and when I objected that I could see enough— "I suppose—but it is unlighted here, and a light may be had." However, no light was had, and I stayed till 6.30. He was in excellent mood. "I stopped in at your house today—saw your father—

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your mother—the picture. And this picture I should take to be quite a work—I don't know but the most effective extant of me. Who knows but that 20 years from now Aggie may find herself possessed of a valuable curio. How broadly your father has treated it!—making of it an almost perfect piece of art. And you say he loves it, eh? perhaps that explains a good deal—to be con amore with your work—your duty—signifies a world of advantage to start with. This picture struck me because it impresses without calling in any adventitious aids—no color, no tricks—a pure specimen of black and white work. One thing"
—laughing heartily— "Tom Donaldson, if he saw it, would not feel called upon to dub it foxy. That London News man's!—why, damn 'im!—that's no portrait at all: that's a bite, a wart, an excrescence." It was true he could imagine the News man's environment— "put myself in his place—in some measure realize his position—see his work as he does: a skilled man, after the world's approved manner—up in his art—maybe even in the good grace of the crown—with art ideals, tyrannies, of his to uphold, see to." Back to my father's picture: "When you go home, take another look at the eyes for me—see if they are not a bit dark—if they do not in some measure convey the impression of black eyes. I don't know that this is absolutely so—I know that with artists some emphasis of this sort is required and allowable. But the question is, if, 20 years from now, anyone seeing that picture would not think I had dark eyes—which you know is not the case. I had no other suggestions to make—even this I was inclined to brush away at first—but it has followed me home here—stayed—so I concluded to speak to you about it. How different this portrait from London!—in which I am dressed up as a tailor would dress a puppet—not as fits me, but as seems the mode to him. Tom Donaldson said someone who knew he was quite friendly towards me had brought him that picture—he looked at it a long time. It was then his 'foxy' came into his mind as the only word that would apply—and that is very

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good—very. Tom is very happy, often—misses sometimes, but is curiously apt in the main. Your father seems to possess particular faculty in this line, and this picture, I think, is his chef d'oeuvre. Noble works of art—fastened, clinched, held close to nature—are rare, rare, rare. In portraits anyhow I think I see curiously stereotyped forms. In what is averagely done in England, on the continent, among the painters, they make a man barbered, combed, after an emperorish fashion—a rule we must all conform to"
etc.

     Afterward we were turned upon another theme. "I had a letter from Doctor today—he ran to speculating—said he had been weary, overworked—would he ever get relief from this pressure? If the meter brought him lots of money, would peace then come? or would that simply augment his trouble? or all this failing, then would the life to come, our immortality, supply the defect of this—diffuse joy and rest—or would that life, too, be but the round of labor, duty, this one is. I turned the letter over in my mind a good deal today, and this evening, as I ate my dinner, the light dying in the west, the letter before me, arresting me again, I thought to myself—'Ah! Doctor—what boots this inquiry after the uses of immortality: better be certain first of the immortality itself!' Doctor is a very busy man—has many cares, many irons in the fire—not the least of them this worrisome, if not wearisome meter—and he is sensitive to the high performance of anything in the way of duty—I know him well on that side!" I alluded to the Doctor's remark to me that physically he could no longer work with impunity and stand unweariedly what was a light task of old—insensibly a change had come. W. at this: "Ah! yes! I know it well!" and then: "The English, men abroad generally, have unerring circumspection in some respects—they take care of themselves—often, rather, are taken care of—have wives, sisters, mothers—veritable and abiding providences. Incomparable, however, the valets on the continent." He well remembered Brougham, Gladstone,

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Disraeli, Palmerston— "What a wealth of performance even in their old age made possible" by the "watchful valet—an almost sacred instinct his." "In America we have no such person—no girl, no valet, no wife—expecting it—to do it—fortunately, few needing to be so taken care of. I remember a little incident with Herbert [Gilchrist] when he was here several summers ago—Morse was here at the same time. Sidney was one day blacking his shoes—an Irish woman was here—working, at the time, assisting Mrs. Davis. Herbert remarked to Sidney, that he should have let this woman attend to the shoes. I put in, that if we dared do such a thing the woman would probably up and curse us and leave the house. And yet Herbert explained, that what he touched upon would not have appeared strange in England—that in fact, the girl they had would feel hurt if not allowed to shine his boots. I could only say in reply to that, that this was democratic America—another state of society—in respects, another age." etc. I spoke of my preference, rather for the independent instinct of the Irish woman. W. then: "Yes—so do I: I abate nothing of my democratic sympathies. The self-reliantness of America, brightness, cuteness, remain to me what they have been, the top of the heap." But the valet service I said was consistent with democracy—might be cooperative, and W. then: "Yes, entirely consistent—the doing of all I have spoken of consists entirely with the most profound democracy." But our living was false, too often—not gauged by circumstances— "as the Arab, in his spare sand—living on a crust—no stomach, belly—yet adapted to his place—defying all our wonder how he can subsist on such means. You catch what I am driving at?—I seem sometimes to speak in enigmas."

     Advised me to go out to Harleigh Cemetery. "Doctor has written me for fuller particulars. Do you go out there sometime soon—ask for Mr. Moore—the superintendent—tell him I sent you. I think it promises to be a fine place by and bye. It is a mere walk—you can easily go it—why, two or

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three years ago I should not myself have thought it much of a walk."

     I left with him the Bazaar in which was a Rembrandt—"Rembrandt as officer." "He is one of my prime favorites—the earliest of all." Would send with me a banana for my mother—handed me one—hesitated—then brought forth another from the bag. "One looks mean," he said.


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