Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, January 25, 1890

     8 P.M. Jake Lychenheim along with me when I went to W's. Found W. in his room, the Boston Transcript on his knees, and in his hands "The Deerslayer," now all but some 50 pages read. He cordially greeted us—not looking as well as mostly of late days. Had not been out. Spoke of "the long, dull hours" and asked that I bring him Cooper's "Red Rover"— "which will help me to while away the time." Jake's furnace at Swedeland chilled, entailing a loss of 10 or 15 thousand dollars. W. curiously inquired of it.

     I asked about "Demeter," and he answered: "It is gone already—Tom was in today and took it along—took it at my request. It is well worth looking into. But the greatest wonder is not the book itself but the fact that the old man, now above 80, pen in hand, paper, with his own arm, accomplished it, effected it."

     He had been reading today the debate over Presbyterian revision. The "lugging-in of Bob"—[Ingersoll] had "tickled" him, as he said. "But the points that took my time, mainly, were in debates on infant damnation, heathen damnation: it

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is a great fight for strong men—a great fight!"
—his laugh ironical. "I suppose the time has not come for the caricaturists to get hold of this—at least, the time for them to dare to—for I suppose no paper in America would venture to make much—if anything—even allow—caricature in that direction, much as it is needed—much as it seems in nature called for." I showed him the Tribute parody, written by W. J. Peterson. He read a stanza—laughed—and said: "That is a step in one's famosity, to be parodied: so they say."

     Morris had given me a rather amusing account of the memorial meeting held by the Browning Society in Philadelphia. W., to whom I detailed somewhat, said: "They are to have quite a big pow-wow in Boston, before long—the 28th—: let me see, this is the 26th: 27th, 28th: yes, Tuesday is the day. Tonight is Burns night in New York, I believe—and at this very moment I guess General Sherman is 'preparing to pucker,' or is puckering—and there's lots of hot Scotch flowing (to me the abomination of abominations). But these fellows, here at these dinners—what do they know about Burns? The average critic bases all he knows, says, thinks, of Burns, on two or three or four poems—on 'The Cotter's Saturday Night,' 'Tam O'Shanter,' 'The Twa Dogs,' 'The Twa Brigs'—some of which will answer the tests, standards, they bring to measure them. The real Burns was the Burns of out-of-doors, frolicking, drinking, farming, ploughing the fields—of women—of poverty—of struggle: the Burns we see in the letters, for instance—those incomparable, heart-given letters—and of all this these fellows make little account, if they even know. The fact is, as William O'Connor would say, that Burns has become established—it is safe to enthuse over him, to endorse him—and the world does it. And besides, it is a Scotch enthusiasm—a patriotism. Somehow—naturally, somehow—all Scotchmen are subject to the Burns enthusiasm. Even Dave McKay, I should claim, would resent an

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impeachment of Burns—Dave, the coolest of mortals, who don't seem to have any fire at all in him—and our friend Hunter, too, who came the nearest in this to warmth of anything I know—having the greatest penchant for Burns."
And this warm espousal, he further declared, "is much more marked toward Burns than toward Scott." And explanatorily after awhile he said: "The fact is, there is a tremendous element of pathos in Burns' life—in these drinkings, strugglings, laborings I have talked about—and it is these that take hold of the human critter. The mass of men—all of us, I suppose, are impressed by the tragic, the serious, the pathetic—it appeals to us—takes our sympathy by storm—we do not attempt to resist: all is well so given—we at least feel it well, do not reason it out—better not! We can almost be said to flourish in the tendency in us—reading Burns by the light of his idiocracies, idiosyncracies—all men so. Death, murder, pain, assassination—how much they put into history! Think of Abraham Lincoln, profoundly constituted throughout as he was—of deep political, moral, spiritual subtlety, reachings—open to varied influences—everywhere a big man, type, in himself—and simple—simple as a child in his power—of world-capaciousness—one of the greatest, sweetest souls everyway—think of him—think how much even Lincoln owes to his taking off, assassination! Immensely much, without a doubt." I instanced Amy Robsart in "Kenilworth"—and W. then: "Yes, that, too—Amy owes her persistence to that fact—to the fact that a trap was laid for her, and she fell into it—and so through all history—there's no end to illustration, instance, along the same line." This mention of Scott aroused his Scott-enthusiasm again, and he spoke variously, urging me to "read Scott, read Scott—you can get none better"—and saying again: "Yes, Kenilworth is one of the best—and have you read 'Quentin Durward'? Get it—get it in some 25 cent edition—paper—soft." And he added further: "There's

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'The Pirate' too"
—and laughing heartily— "get that, too—it is not one of Scott's best, but is one you cannot afford to miss—tasting the whole feast, that will be 25-cents more! There is a great satisfaction getting a cheap book—a soft book you can mush in your hands, so"—indicating— "a book you are not afraid to injure. 'The Pirate' is hardly a sea book—hardly to be rated with Cooper—Cooper's 'Pilot.' There are several shiftings-about at sea—but the story as a whole is a land story. But you will like it—it is the sort of thing I think belongs to you—to your tastes."

     W. quite facetious over the Rembrandt in the Bazaar this week—"The Wife of Christian Paul Van Bereskeyn"—saying, as to her neckgear: "It looks like a Dutch cheese: is most hideous—a Dutch cheese with a hole for the head to poke through"—and yet— "Our modern dress is about as bad—male and female: almost past idiocy."


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