Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, April 23, 1890

     5.15 P.M. W. in his bedroom: dinner just finished. Stayed about half an hour. He was reading the local paper. Said he had been out for about 2 hours in the chair. "It has been a

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delicious day. I enjoyed the fresh air—the change from much in-doorness."

     Left word with Warren in the early morning that he wished to see no one—no one to be admitted. Said he had "sent off a great number of Posts: a good score and more abroad." Laughed when he learned I had secured seven. "It will get circulated!" Returned me Harper's [of?] last week.

     I urged the matter of the dinner list again. He promised to give it some attention. It's a tiresome job, getting such a thing from him, between his "lassitude" and his "bad memory" (his own words). Said he felt much better than for many days past.

     Much occupied with the account I gave him of a debate over oysters at Boothby's, the night before between Morris, Frank Williams, Jastrow and (myself) after the Club meeting. As to the point there discussed, that W. lacked humor, W. said: "That charge is not new—even so high an authority as Ruskin has urged it. And I think it ought to be urged, if for no more than eliciting the truth. It has its part to play in the drama. O'Connor should have been there with you—he would have enjoyed it—a five-minute charge would have satisfied him: a rush, a sabre-thrust—and then? He would have proceeded somewhat in this way—would have instanced a colored woman—a negro—we knew in Washington: I have heard him quote her often—the mother of a brood of children—superb in body, in health, vigor—no flaw in all her physiological being—He would have declared: see her,—see her body—see the ludicrous phases of it all—her absurdities, perhaps of gait, depth of color,—the side of her provoking risibility—all that: see it—note it! Well, I would not say Walt Whitman does not see it, too—does not even make allusion [to it]—but he does not allow it to obstruct him—he is occupied with the larger purport: the whole being, man, woman—this woman. It is true that he sees that quality, component—knows it exists, recognizes, includes it—but he knows, too, after putting it to its minor uses, that it is subordinate—that

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after all humor, however largely construed, is a very small part of the cosmos. Besides, suppose he takes you out to see a sunset—the gorgeous panorama—the waters of a flowing river—the forests between: you go with him, you look—your business then is with the sunset, the stream, the waving trees,
he indicated these— their meanings, signs, prophecies, and nothing else. It is along such a line William O'Connor would have argued. He, at least, would consider it conclusive: I have heard him urge it with his vast fiery speech in its torrential potency, all going down, surrendering. More than once, more than a hundred times, I have known him meet criticism of this sort, other sorts, readily, magnificently—at least for him, however I came out of it."

     And then: "To know me to the full, they must not know only the poems, but the story there in prose, too—'Democratic Vistas,' certainly, if none other."

     Hunted up a letter from Garland which he said "smacked of a significance" and he wished me "to see—to take note of"—but in the debris of the floor he could not trace it. "Let it go," I suggested, "it will turn up of its own accord—looking rarely benefits in here,"—and he laughed heartily: "I see you have touched one of my frailties." But he did let it go, saying again however— "I want you to see it—measure it."


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