Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, May 1, 1890

     5.30 P.M. Stayed with W. about half an hour. When I came in he was reading the Boston Transcript. Said he had read all Dayton's piece last night. "It can be explained, I suppose, by the statement that he probably had to fill out that space, and not having the material from his visit here, added enough to make an interesting and a foolish article." And he added— "It was all utterly stupid, too." Done with Current Literature. "I have read it pretty well though: it is a good table—a well-filled table: probably the best table for public appetite, which carves a solid meal of plain grub."

     The Century here. Morris has a little poem therein. W. made no direct comment on it—only— "I should say of that as I do to the boys who wish to learn to swim: go to the water again and again and still again—finally the skill will come."—Added however after a pause: "But Horace, you should remember that there are many portraits painted—thousands and thousands and thousands of them—and yet very very few of them that really are portraits: they are rare enough—great portraits—to count on a few fingers." He afterwards added in a similar strain: "I have read my own Century piece over

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today, and like it well—am thoroughly pleased with it: for one thing, pleased with its absolute unliterariness: as if I had utterly, disdainfully cast it aside, would have none of it at all! This is not a new sensation. I have always been best pleased with what seems most to disregard literariness: the artistic, the formal, the traditional aesthetic, the savor of mere words, jingles, sound—I have always eschewed: language itself as language I have discounted—would have rejected it altogether but that it serves the purpose of vehicle, is a necessity—our mode of communication. But my aim has been, to so subordinate that, no one could know it existed—as in fine plate glass one sees the objects beyond and does not realize the glass between. My determination being to make the story of man, his physiological, emotional, spiritual, self, tell its own story, unhindered by artificial agencies."
Some one had said, on reading the Century poem, that W. was evidently more moved by war subjects than any others—but W. demurred— "I do not think that the case: what I have just said is rather the explanation."

     He took up another theme: "There are certain literary traditions, and the man who violates them is quickly advised—'Damn you! cut none of your capers here—no kicking in the traces!' One of the things that has tickled me of late as I sit here—right in this line of thought—is the major-generalship, with pay, given Frémont. He must be an old man now—probably 80: but he was always a come-outer. There was a time in the war when everybody was willing to damn him. In the West, in Lincoln's time, he proved too previous. Lincoln, with his wiser, clearer eye, seeing so much farther, having regard, as Frémont had not, for the enemy in the rear as well as the enemy in front. All Lincoln's life was turned to a generous key. When he went to New York, as I have described it, at a time when men's hip-pockets abounded in knives and revolvers—the men only looking for a chance, a pretext, to whip them out, to set the town ablaze, to murder Lincoln,

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others: at this time, at all later times, Lincoln's policy was, not to offer this opportunity—not to strike this spark. Who can measure the value of such a personality—in its way all-seeing—to America at that time?"


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