Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, January 6, 1890

     6.20 P.M. W. in his room, just lighting up. Gave me a cordial welcome. I picked a cracker up from a full plate on the table. He laughed. "Hungry? Take more—take half a dozen—and take some cheese with it—there is cheese there. If I did not know it was useless I should ask you to take some toddy. All the ingredients are about me,"—pointing to stove and table. I was just on my way home from work. He added: "I can easily make a good plain meal out of bread and crackers—have often done so."

      "The world," he afterward said, "appears to be going on its own pace, nothing in the daily records to move us greatly." He hardly ever knew "a more placid" era "so to speak." Had not yet read Blake's book. "It is one of the good things to come."

     I was reading today the Hay "Lincoln"—now at the point of L.'s assassination. I referred to it as "a lost opportunity." W. thereupon: "Yes—it is absolutely without the vivid touches that belong to the event. One is hardly excused for writing of it at all if not better than that. Beside, as you say, it lacks

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entirely in perspective—is partisan—full of blackguardism, so to speak."
I had put it: "The writers seem utterly unable to protect themselves—to get in other hearts but their own. They cannot get over the idea that Booth was a scoundrel—any other notion seems impossible to them." At which W.— "You hit the nail on the head there. They are not in the least Greek, Homeric. Old Homer, as long ago as that, had the good sense to make Hector a great man—to fill him out—make him expansive—indeed, so markedly so, as to incline some to demur. But it was a true instinct, necessary as well at this time as that. I think I see all through this life of Lincoln a tendency to blackguard the South—the Southern men—this is a spirit that ought to be altogether gone."

     He had "heard somewhere that Stedman has come into a fortune"—adding— "What do you know about it? Somebody was here—told me: I was going to say it was Tom Donaldson, but it was not—it was some New Yorker, I am sure. How good that would be for Stedman! I hope it may all be true! How it comes—of all that—I know nothing."

     Said Boyle, the sculptor, had been over today. I knew him slightly, and knew of him from various quarters. W. inquired very specifically. "I was wonderfully taken with him—he was so plain, so hearty. He came about the cemetery lot. When Donaldson was here he spoke very enthusiastically of Boyle—said he was just the man I wanted. I was very favorably disposed to hearing him. But I don't know—all is in the nebulous condition—I have no ideas on the subject at all." Speaking of Boyle's work— "I should think the danger of his work—as of the work of all sculptors (and others, too, for the matter of that) is in the temptation to make their work genteel—to bow before the gentility of the world—and you know there's no one in the world more despises all that. I am a confirmed enemy to gentility, respectability—yet, as I often say, more respectful to both than their own advocates—finding a place in the scheme undoubtedly belonging to them—insisting,

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indeed, they shall have it. How much the artists, writers, surrender to gentility! It is astonishing—the extent of the sacrifice."
"I am so opposed to respectability, they think I'm not respectable!"

     Referred to my father's big charcoal Whitman. "I hope he has not touched it since I saw him—it seemed to me on the whole there was nothing more to be done. The devil in artists is to keep pegging away at a thing after it really is all done—pegging away at it done, till it is undone." I happened to say Tom Harned did not like that version of W. "That surprises me some, because that is so obviously to me among the best if not the very best."—I objected— "Of all but mine on the wall there at home!" W. then— "Well—I know: Tom Eakins always would say to me— 'that is the chef-d'oeuvre—that has the indescribable something called magnetism in highest degree.' And I know O'Connor liked it immensely."—I put in— "And saw resemblance to Hugo (or Hugo to it) in it." "Yes—so I believe. And I can see why you fellows like it—its power, its mid-age immensity" "as all pictures of an able-bodied in his prime ought to be."

     I picked up a large blue envelope laying loosely with other matters on the floor, and asked him whose it was. He put on his glasses. "Ah! Bertz! I think you will find it worth while to take that along with you." It was a letter of last July, containing an extended account of B.'s American experiences and how he came to know Leaves of Grass.


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