Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, February 6, 1890

     7.35 P.M. Went down to W.'s with Hugo Hund. W. was very cordial with him—questioned about his name till it was spelled for him. "I am always curious to know the make of names—to know the meaning of names, if there is a meaning. That was one of my pleasures in George Kennan's articles in the Century: when he struck a bad [hard?] Russian name, he would indicate how it was spelled. That seemed especially made for my benefit!—which is to put it pretentiously: for there's in fact no one thing on which an old fellow prides himself especially but is found the possession, gratification, so some other, many others."

     W. said again as to the dinner: "The journal—paper—there: Society, is it?—had better look out how it takes me up, thinking to boost themselves by doing so. Is there not a gun that reacts? Don't our best guns sometimes fire back as well (or worse) than front—more fatally. It might prove so to these fellows. I had some visitors today—Rees Welsh and one other, coming with him. And, by the way, they brought me some whiskey—which they mostly drank up themselves, till they were quite conversational. Welsh especially was affected by it—and told me about Morrow, the Methodist minister in Philadelphia—who took it into his head several years ago to espouse me—sent a letter to the papers—was prominently known in some such way at the time. It appears—so Welsh put it—that Morrow had an engagement to lecture a few days after—down here at Pleasantville: they had heard of his boldness—greeted him with quite a storm—a great noise—would not have him lecture: unless he said he was sorry for what he had done, would not hear a word from him. It was a new story

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to me and I was curious to know if he had retracted, for in that was the significance of the story—but Welsh did not tell me—and I did not ask."
"These fellows—any of you—may get into just such a mess—if you aren't cautious!"

     He took a photograph—marked 'J. Johnston—England"—which I picked up from the chair and questioned about. "That is the picture of one of a group there in England—a cluster—not a considerable number—but enough, many would say, considering their object!—which is the study, expounding of Walt Whitman!" And yet, he said: "We must make the best of the good words of our friends—even the few friends, if so be it our friends are few—as they have been all along, true enough! And the opposition, which is plenty piled on plenty—that"—throwing his hand gesturingly, and laughing sweetly— "That we will brush aside, not notice, as of no avail to deter us, despair us, hold us back, give us reserves."

     Discussing the question what was truth, what was lie, W. said, at different points: "The question would appear to be relative—the fact, rather. I remember my Washington experience: here were lives just wavering in the balance—life on that side, death on that"—giving his raised hand a swaying motion— "and the physicians would say, this man you ask about, he is just on the verge, may go over, may retreat. Oh! to those I would lie like the devil: the object of objects, to bring them about." And— "Yet there are some moralists who will contend, a lie is a lie, under whatever conditions (as no doubt it is)—a lie is never justified. But in certain critical cases, as in those I knew in the hospitals—in the case you tell from Helen Taylor"—I had just recited the pursued-man illustration: would you term the unjust pursuer wrong?— "a man's emotional nature would settle the case without elaborate preparation, self-debate: he would say the word, do the deed." Of course this was "debatable ground"—and "much is to be said on the other side." Yet we were to note "the great story-tellers—the writers—say Walter Scott, whose genius

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for taking us on the borderline of questions was great, superb, beyond precedent—are not eager to use situations of obvious results, decisions, but those that can excite divergence of judgment."

     Had Melville Phillips been in today? "No—but I had a note from the proprietor, Munyon—telling me the first picture experiment had been a failure and saying he would be over—send over—to take another. And tonight the men came—three of them: and here, with their flash-light (which nearly blinded me) they made their new trial. I sitting here just as you see me now. The fellows were wonderfully takable—I fell to them at once. Can you explain why it is I find such an attraction about transportation men, actors, men like these?—especially the actors, in which I flatter myself—tickle my egotism—by assuming I have quite a clientage?"

     Referred to "The Canadian preacher who set out to make me define—was bound to make me define my attitude towards Ingersoll—to condemn him, show our disagreements—which I would not do. The fellow finally made me mad. I said to him substantially: 'I think it a great thing to have a man who will tell the truth, irrespective of where it leads him—of what it leads him to deny or affirm: to me the recompense of everything or anything that had to be lost in the process.'"


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