Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 299] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Monday, February 17, 1890

     7.40 P.M. W. reading papers: had several on his lap. Hugged up close to the light.

     Morris had brought me in today a copy of the Press of Sunday week [Feb. 9] containing the following:

A Letter from Walt Whitman.
Special from the Dunlap Cable News Company.


London, Feb. 8.—A private letter from Walt Whitman to Ernest Phys [Rhys], dated January 22, says that he feels no very marked change is happening to him, but he is slowly but surely ebbing away.

"America," he continues, "is still busy all over her vast domain, talking, plodding and making money. Every one is striving to get to the top, but there is no special individual signalism. I guess it is just as well."

     This I gave to W., who said: "That's curious—how that comes around to us! It sounds much as if I might have thought it—yet I doubt if I said it just that way. Still—I don't know. How could it have got out? How did Rhys come to give it

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 300] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
out—or did he? No—there must be some other explication. It's curious how inevitably the things we would wish published are sedulously hidden, and things we would not are hurried to the light!"

     Spoke of Harned's having come in yesterday— "the first time for weeks—yet looking the same as ever." When he learned I had seen the Alexander picture at the Academy yesterday he was very curious, like a boy. "Sit down," he said, "tell me about it—tell me all you know about it!" I gave the opinions of others—he then: "And now, what did you think of it! That's what I want to know." I spoke of it as better than Gilchrist's at the head; G.'s trunk better—but described the picture as a whole as inadequate—the head not badly painted, but pinched; the coat black or very dark blue—the neck scarcely more full than the fashionable neck—the hands faulty in extreme—hair back of head rather good, and forehead notably so—but beard wooly, defective: something in the expression rather good, but the general appearance meagre—head too large for body—coloring good throughout—as a piece of art, probably a good one. W. laughed out: "I see—I see—and that is bound to be the case—they'll have it their own way—the art-way—, whatever occurs. You would think that if an artist wished to make a picture of me—of anyone—he would seize upon me just as I am—skin, bones, hair, coat, pants, all—but no—somehow that does not satisfy them—nature can be improved upon—and so they improve and improve and improve, till all the nature is improved out of a picture." I said something about the necessity of knowing a man inside as well as out in order to paint him. W. thereupon: "That is so—that cannot be questioned: yet the artists all act by a contrary rule." And to my further saying; "It is not everybody who can paint you—" W.— "No—you are right: but then the statement can be much enlarged: we may just as well say: it is not everybody who can paint anybody." Then he went into some interesting details: "I am

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 301] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
not surprised at the result you speak of. Alexander was here—came several times—made some sketches. He came originally at the instance of the Century Company. I don't know how it was effected, but it appears his pictures were not satisfactory—were never used there. Perhaps it was because things I said at the time were somehow heard there. This is all surmise, to be sure: but I clearly remember that the sketches did not impress me—took no hold on me—on the contrary were unsatisfactory—and I was free to confess this—did confess it to several. I don't know whether anything I said was carried to New York—probably not—yet possibly it was. And I am sure neither Gilder nor William Carey, my friends there, would refuse to give some weight to my words in that connection. Oh, the failures and failures and failures of artists!—the deliberate failures of artists! They bring us perpetual disappointments: though in a way we can be said to expect just what we get. Think of Eakins' picture—of Sidney's bust—by contrast! Sidney had a curious genius for carrying images—would seize something in you, and hold it forever—work it out, be you present or absent. And Eakins! How nobly he conforms to the Carlylean standards!—the standards which declare: you will come to this first in doubt, chagrin, perhaps: but here is an art that is nature—that will grow, grow, grow upon you: develop as you develop—is finally all opened to you as a flower! Who can look at Eakins at the start and be satisfied?—but looking longer, revelation comes—little by little discovery, discovery. Oh! there is no doubt Eakins is our man!"
And to my phrase "brutally natural" he said— "I like it said that way: it takes us back to the elements."


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.