Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, May 24, 1890

     7.50 P.M. W. in the parlor, hat on—a shawl on his lap—the window closed, and he remarked the coolness of the night.

     Spoke of his poem and "note" to the Queen in today's papers.

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Had appeared in the Press and the Ledger. He said: "I sent it to the World and Herald, too." Had it appeared in them? "I wonder?" He did not know. "The papers printed them quite accurately. Yes: I have them on slips, too: you shall have slips if you choose." And further: "I have wanted for a long time to say something to this effect of the Queen to bear my testimony; for it is a sentiment that involves a good deal. Not many realized to the full then, or could now, as I did, the gravity of that situation, the tact and excellence of the Queen in relieving it."

     We spoke of the dinner. I had received a letter from Johnston today saying he could not come. W. said: "I had a visitor today, introduced by Johnston. In the note Johnston told me the same thing." Josephine Lazarus wrote me to the same effect. W. regretted. She said (to my question) she could not tell me who "The Lounger" was in the Critic, nor who had written the favorable Whitman reviews: she thought the main part of that routine was done by the Gilders themselves.—W. exclaiming: "Then 'The Lounger' must be Jennie Gilder, who has experienced, perhaps not a change of heart, but a new dispensation, an awakening, a fresh birth." He continued as to the dinner: "I would not apply to anybody to attend—have it quite in bounds—only 15 or 20. I take it, this dinner is a good deal like my Lincoln lecture, which I did not write because I thought I had anything new to tell, any striking antitheses to set up, but because I felt the world needed a reminder, that I needed to write it—the [ ? ] right to read it. And so it was done. The dinner's importance is in there being a dinner: we want to hold it—to confirm our preparation, our attitude." Said he was particularly sorry Johnston could not come because he "wished to see Kitty," and hoped Johnston would bring her.

     W. remarked again: "Our fellows must make great, big, generous, comprehensive, satisfying allowance for Gilder—for others like him, there in New York—crowded upon by a

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howling mass of literary fashion, who hate Walt Whitman from their toes up—will have none of him—would stamp him out, stay him, tread him down, as a growling fire. This feeling has no doubt protested with Gilder, pressed him. He is situated there as Emerson was in Boston."

     Mrs. Davis was in the room, and W. desired her to "go upstairs—bring me the red book on the foot of the bed for Horace." After she had brought it, W. said: "Yes—I have read it—a part of it—very carefully, especially the Heine. The Heine is not as good as Arnold's—both are good but Arnold's the better. In fact I think the Heine the best thing I know of Arnold's,—though on the whole I don't think Arnold has any particular message for us—for America. This is the book of a young man—a college man—not of an old stager. The Whitman is very good—at moments very penetrating, having flashes of pure insight. It is not all through the same—here and there he fails." Bucke had thought Ellis put W. "the top of the heap," but W. said: "I do not think so—I rather feel that in America he gives Emerson ascendency, if he indicates it anywhere—which, belonging anywhere, belongs to Emerson. But he don't speak of it that way—brings it into other connections, rather." And he added: "But read it—read it well: see what you make of it." Adverting again to Heine— "He is not done justice to. If only we could get a life of Byron and Burns and Heine in which all is told—bad and good, light, shade, everything,—there would be a biography worth while. We have such a life of Burns, in a way—he tells everything himself—but of the others not." Morris had told me of a guest at a dinner, who, between John Foster Kirk and Horace Howard Furness, asking judgment as to what constituted as accurate biography, received for Kirk's answer— the absolute truth, every fact; Furness', that the shade should where possible be left out. W. considered— "Kirk has hold of the varmint's tail."

     Asked me about the portrait he had given me other day.

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Did I not see an intellectual cast to it? "And is that me? I am inclined to doubt. It is more in position than anything else." Had read Stoddard's paper on Boker in Lippincott's. "It is full of venom—not venom against Boker but others—and in that spirit. I don't think he understands Boker or turns his good side out with the bad. He is like one who makes much of the piano tunes in a man's life—of his fingerings of things, and failing to mention the supreme strophes, the essential ingredients. Biography cannot be written that way."

     Thought "William Cary and Robert Underwood Johnson, of the Century, might be invited to the dinner if several more names were required to fill up" because "I count them good friends." Am to take down to him in the morning Morse's medallion of George Eliot.


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