Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, September 27, 1889

     8 P.M. Brinton came over just a few minutes before 8 and we went to W.'s immediately, remaining there till the clock struck 9. Found W. in the kitchen with Ed and Mrs. Davis. He greeted Brinton cordially—kept his place way back in the corner away from draught and talked a good deal of the time freely enough. To B.'s inquiries after his health W. talked very freely. B. expatiated on an extract from one of W.'s letters to someone in England which he had seen in a Paris paper describing himself as a wreck. B. was chary of such belief. But W. said "Ah! Doctor—it is true—and that is putting it mildly, too: I am literally an old hulk—hauled up on the shore, in the mud! The last 3 or 4 years—especially the last year—has damaged me very badly—very." But did he not get out daily? "Often—often—though the last week or so has not once tempted me forth. I am a great waiter on the spirit—on whether the spirit moves me—and if I go, if I stay, it is because I am strongly moved to the one or the other. I have all my life observed this habit—so that now I am rather its victim than its devotee—it may be said to have possession of me. I can see how it has inestimable benefits—then I can see more—can see when it is a weakness, a drawback. How many's the argument I had on this very point with my friend Mrs. Gilchrist, in England—in most respects the finest, cutest, most womanly woman I have ever known. She was a great believer in deliberation—in pre-arranging things. For instance, she had a household in England—comfortable, children—

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she takes up the notion of coming to America—for several months calculates, arranges—then comes. That is what I mean. I could never do that—my whole make-up is opposed. As the spirit calls, so I follow—in no other way."
Brinton objected that while that was a felicitous arrangement of an individual life, he did not know that it would work as a general principle. W. assented instantly: "I can see that clearly—I realize that there is the one truth, then something more: in all individuals there is the countervailing force—the other thing, duly emphasized, active—that other thing weak in me beyond belief, as I know—but I am too old—now in my seventy-first year—to review my habits. I well comprehend, however, how the constitution of the cosmos is such as to make all such apparent failure right in the end—as I said, the countervailing force. Mrs. Gilchrist is enforced in the way processes of the worlds—the orbs, suns, all such work: work—not by my method—not by the fact of to-day, but by prearrangement: every turn prepared, provided for, not to-day, but thousands, tens of thousands, of years ahead. The one force—or lack of force—is countervailed by the other." W. then added with a laugh: "That is a part of my quarrel with Horace here about Emerson. He will not hear to it, but I always insist that Emersonism, legitimately followed out, always ends in weakness—takes all color out of life. Not that this could be said of Emerson himself, because, as I point out—as is plain to me—Emerson supplies his own antidote—teaches his own destruction—if seen at his best. Besides, it is more to know the actual Emerson—the corporeal, physiological Emerson—to come in contact with him, his voice, face, manner—for I believe Emerson was greater by far than his books." Brinton reminded W. of a time when he, B., too, had taken me to task for my espousal of Emerson. W. saying again: "But of course, I never will allow anything to be said against the good Emerson—I am sturdily his defender through thick and thin—will not hear him offended."


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     Brinton gave W. a specific account of his trip to Europe. Spoke of his Quaker ancestry. W. very curious as to the Arabian experience of the Doctor. Asked him many questions. As to their abstemious living B. was very explicit—also on the point of personal appearance etc. W. asked, "Are they still so utterly barbarous—just as you say?" and then— "And after all that is said, how are they as persons; individuals, companions?" And— "What is their amenability to civilization?" and "What manner of books or what not have they? none at all?—none?" B.'s account was full of strange detail. I could see how W. feasted on it, sitting there in the corner, saying little or nothing. After W.'s account of his breaking up, B. had protested in a rather laudatory vein. W. listened—here again said nothing. Inquired after B.'s wife—whether bettered much by her trip. The conversation developed at one point to the Bruno episode in Rome. B. gave some note of his experience—of the intense feeling grown out of the erection of the statue in Southern Europe. W. said: "That is all what we want to hear. There has been a great to-do about it in this country. I myself have rejoiced in it. It has made people ask themselves—as it made me—who is this Bruno they are kicking up such a devil of a row about—what did he do—to what extent must we all recognize him, denounce him? It is very important—very—to get even that far with such a man. There are letters to be read—or letters have been read—in all the churches about it—the Catholic Churches—deliverances by the Pope, bishops, others." B.'s recital of the outline of Bruno's life W. regarded intently—thought B.'s assertion of freedom "glorious"—and to a quotation from Spinoza he exclaimed quickly as though it had forcibly struck him— "So that is from Spinoza!" W. said at one point: "In this last year or so—perhaps more markedly still in the last six months—we have been boomed—boosted—as never in our life before. It would be hard to tell what it all amounts to—leads to." Of the dinner he said: "I was not favorable to it at the start—told the

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boys so—sort of felt it would be what they call a 'flunk.' But somehow it proved more than a success. I suppose [it] was a surprise to us all—even to the most expectant of us."
And again— "And perhaps what the dinner led to is the most important of all."

     On entering W. had introduced B. to Mrs. Davis— "My friend"—he called her—and to Ed also, in a similar phrase. B. picked up a book that he saw on the table—a veterinary volume—and W. said— "That is Ed's there—he is studying it." B. thereupon speaking of a volume of his own "in my salad days" on that subject and offering to send a copy of it to Ed.—speaking of his later dislike of the horse as having risen from his early plodding farm work with one etc. Before we went W. arose and insisted on going up stairs to get B. a pamphlet "about the centenary of the Grimm brothers"—bringing it down laboriously in a few minutes with the remark— "Perhaps it may seem a trifle but it is a sort of fillip, anyhow." B. expressed a pleasure in his visit and W. reciprocated, only adding— "You find me insufferably dull, but that is the attendant of my sluggish nature and my age"—adding too as to B.'s pleasure— "I will believe it when I find you coming often." B. went with me to Harned's, who was not at home. Thence to town, talking much by the way of W. I showed him Symonds' letter which he read with astonishment and applause. Says he is writing a book on Rhythm—wants definite talk with me sometime about W.'s origins etc. in art. A fine evening, which I think we all enjoyed. W. very simple, amply communicative, yet rather letting B.'s good talk flow on than interposing as much of his own as sometimes. The night clear and heaven studded with stars.


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