Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, March 1, 1890

     7.50 P.M. W. reading the Century—Jefferson's piece. Seemed in good trim physically, and said he felt so. As to the May dinner: "If I am as well then as I am now, I shall be glad

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to put myself in your hands. But you must tell the boys, I make no promises: I am not in a condition to be certain of the future—even of tomorrow."

     Said he had had "a good long letter from John Burroughs" which he had "sent off to Doctor Bucke this evening"—explaining— "He speaks of you; wishes to hear from you when you are inspired to write. He is back again at West Park, prepared to go into the new season—to dig and dig away again. The letter is very good—but in the pessimistic vein. It seems the onus of the poets of our time—the literary fellows everyway—writers, thinkers, what-not—to turn everything into pessimistic explication—everything. The writers in the magazines—to question—to exclaim—what a devil of a monotony is life!—and such like. The public wants it—it seems to be the tendency of the time. Even Bryant was touched by its poison—seemed to like to write of death—to dwell upon it." But was there not a Greek calm in Bryant's dealing with the subject? "I suppose that can be said of Bryant—he felt it was a natural fact—as such to be noted as you pass. But the average drift is not a healthy one: it goes downwards." It was "hard to account for even a hint of the tendency in John" but "there it is."

     I read him an article Chubb had sent me today—a supposed conversation between a visiting Englishman and a native American. W. listened—enjoyed. Then he said: "That is all to be said—but this cat of democracy has a very, very long tail, not to be all unfolded in a few questions and answers. I don't remember whether I said so to Chubb when he was here, but I know it was my feeling to say of our American life—some of it—that it was all tapering off into gentility—that genteel was the word, that everyone, striving to be something, thinks there is no something but as it is found in gentility, respectability. It is a bad sign—it augurs ill—yet augurs not ill, too—according as we look at it—from what side we regard it. I have no despair—I am free to say that. Since the

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war, I have no longer had the least fear but an eventual issue of freedom was secure. Since the war I have sat down contentedly, convinced that we were to be righted at last. Oh! there is no doubt of it! And not the most to this end is to come of the civilizee himself—the man of cities, knowing as he is, and prosperous—for civilization, cities, are also a great curse. I know in the armies the clearest-brained, cleanest-blooded, of all the soldiers—were the farmer-boys. In them was the future—democracy—America."


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