Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, May 31, 1890

     Day cloudless; temperature mild. I did not see W. till his arrival at Reisser's at 5.30. Had arranged with Bucke for him

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to come over with W., as he did, Harned and his wife along. Morris and I met at Reisser's preliminarily at 5.25. Gutekunst would have prepared to take flash picture had he not been notified too late (today). We put cards on the plates. The table spread almost the length of the big room.

     The first to arrive were Brinton and Frank Williams. After, the hosts floated in, one after another. Ingram with Johnson's daughter, Bertha (who late in the night, on going, W. kissed)—&c. &c. By and bye Bush, who did not know anybody, but asked for me—a fine, strong, youngish man—whose coming and whole trip was a refreshment to me, as to him.

     When W. himself came, the Chef and his big German assistant put their arms about him and literally carried him upstairs, he with his arms slung over their shoulders. A picture not to be forgotten—his face, with its rich color, strikingly set off by his light hat and garb. Brinton remarked— "His legs are not much use to him any more." W. went into the cloak-room at the back—sat there and held a sort of informal reception, one after another coming forward to be introduced, or, knowing him, to say a good and familiar word. W. extremely glad to see Bush, when I introduced him. Mrs. Baldwin brought in some wild flowers from Germantown—which I put in water and placed directly in front of W.'s plate, he much enjoying, and taking them home at the end. Later on, standing near the doorway, I saw Ingersoll come up, looking about curiously. Addressing him and introducing myself—he regarded me—saying heartily: "Is this you, Traubel? I'm glad, happy, to meet you Traubel!"—we chatting awhile there—Ingersoll going then with me to the back room, passing to W., who was very hearty. "Well Colonel—I am glad you came over: it was good of you" &c.—passing some courtesies of that order—Ingersoll then floating about the room. Corning, introduced to Intersoll as a Unitarian minister, I remarking, "I go you one better."


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     There were no formalities anywhere—perhaps one or two dress suits—(Ingersoll's open vest notable) but no more. I suppose there was a pretty acquaintanceship struck before we sat at table. In arranging the table, my idea was, to get those together who knew each other and would adjust well. Then, when the time came, we suggested to Boyle and Frank Williams, that as a committee they support W. to the table—this being well done, and causing the easy transition of the diners to their proper quarters. The tables looked well. The full list of diners was 31—4 of them women—W. much applauding this "tinge"—as he called it. W.'s appearance at this juncture rather weakened. I questioned him—had his "yes"—then ordered him champagne. (It must not be forgotten here, that all W.'s provisions were furnished from the money sent me weeks ago by Mrs. Fairchild.) The champagne revived him much—exhilarated him. He joked about its not being enough—yet would not have more when asked. There was on all sides quick geniality. Soon all were conversationally grouped. W. had at the start much talk with my sister and to Morris, his proximate friends at the left—afterwards to Frank Williams, at his right. Ingersoll for some time discussed affairs with Bucke—then Mrs. Baldwin exchanged cards with him and he turned her way, proving just as free one as the other. As might have been supposed, this was the center of the room. For a long time I could not hear what W. was talking about across the table. He and Ingersoll were simple as two boys in their ways. I heard W. at one moment speaking of the "damnability" of something in a raised voice—then again damning something (laughing, too) outright. Ingersoll's damns happened also. No one else would have dared, yet in these, the tone &c. seemed to justify. Ingersoll had much to say of Shakespeare—W. finally getting interested and himself participating. At one time Bucke and Ingersoll fell into a loud discussion—Bucke intense, Ingersoll quiet, smiling positive. W., to some of his assertions— "Do you say that, Colonel?"

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and— "Oh Colonel! that is very striking—very profound—and [well?] said, too! I have never heard it so well said before! But is it true? is that all?" W. after "that hidden something back of the plays—unwritten: what is it? I know it is there, yet I do not know what it is." Ingersoll, however, taking the simpler explanation of their spontaneous narrative—but W. shaking his head— "No—no—no: I feel something below all that: I could not outline it, but I am aware that it exists." Ingersoll not liking Epictetus for "I do not like the slave virtues, and he preaches them." W. much interested in that.—Conversation just so free.—Three or four times in the course of the evening there were sorties of this kind, at which speech at other parts of the table lapsed and attention was general. Ingersoll and W. discussed Bacon—Ingersoll not inclined to put first value on him, W. rather assenting to such tribute—whereat I.'s strong explanation and W.'s assent that "they are strong—great," yet did not fully convict him. Several hours went in this sort of colloquy.

     After the food, when the coffee was on—I suggested to Brinton to call for remarks—perhaps Ingersoll at once? Brinton proceeded opportunely, after a little—rising in his seat, gracefully alluding to the informality of the occasion, and asking Colonel Ingersoll if he did not have something to say. The Colonel was quickly up on his feet—pouring forth then a talk of 55 minutes (timed by my sister—though Walt thought it 40 or so)—rich in warmth, eloquence, grace—and simple. While he spoke W. pitched his chair back, folded his hands across his stomach, regarded him intently. The scene was memorable—sometimes touched by a ripple of laughter, again by tears, again to awe-filled admiration at some powerful stroke. The Colonel's voice was melodious in the extreme—his words simple and direct—his illustrations vivid—the whole speech cast in form of poetic cadence. Several times W. interrupted him. "Do you say so, Colonel?" And— "Great! Great!" It was a striking enumeration: after each

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quick point of review, Ingersoll facing W. direct, throwing out his hands, and saying— "And I thank you, (or sir, now and then) Walt Whitman, for that!" It was an apostrophe to freedom, an appeal to Whitman's democracy, a plea against respectability, a picture of spontaneous life as contrasting with artificial methods in letters and thought. W.'s interruptions were free—to one— "Do you say so, Colonel?" Ingersoll responding "I do, and I say further" &c.—this flowing into the speech as if a part of it. After he had sat down, there was a few moments' hush—a benediction: it had been a wave of great influence passing over us all. Then Brinton stood up—said some brief word and called on Bucke to follow. Bucke, however, full of feeling, doing no more than respond that he was no speaker, that in Walt Whitman's presence and after such a speech as we had just heard, it was not fair to call upon him. W. very hearty—had exclaimed when Ingersoll sat down— "Oh, thank you, Colonel! that is the greatest summing-up I have ever had!" And when Bucke was called up— "Yes, Doctor—let them hear you." Subsequently came Harned, Talcott Williams, Weir Mitchell, H. L. T. W. greeting each one in a simple characteristic way— "Yes, there's Tom: get up, Tom"—and— "Talcott: Talcott ought to say something"—and nodded Mitchell's way in his turn, and to me gave an approving "Tell them what you can, Horace," as I rose. In the midst of Harned's speech he interjected five minutes of his own talk—saying at one place (as to Harned's reference to last year's celebration)— "I recognized that for all it was worth—it was a great occasion, a testimony, word, from near friends, from neighbors—the man next door, across the street: an offering of affection. It was great, great—surpassed all that had gone before; but as that surpassed others, this surpasses that: especially"—looking across the table and waving his hand towards Ingersoll— "especially counting in with this the Colonel's statement—the fullest I have so far known—the most generous, unforgetting." And later he gracefully said to Ingersoll

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again— "Since the great ticket the Colonel over there has given us."

     When Brinton introduced me (I hoped he would leave me out, but my fear that he would not was justified)—I spoke to this effect: I could have little to say—I felt as though this was a battle we were in; I had remarked to Bucke the other day, that while the battle is on, combatants do not turn historians. The time has not yet come for me to bear my testimony to Walt Whitman. When it did, I hoped to do justice to the magnitude of that influence, both as it touched the world and affected me. At the mention of "testimony," W. waved his hand across to me. "That's so, Horace—the time has not yet come. Soon I will be gone, will be in my grave, passed away—then in many, many years you will say your say, deliver what remains out of these present stores." And then, while I stood up, waiting—he went on, depicting his own aims. "Often," he said, "it is by the things unsaid, rather than the things said, that give importance to speech, to life. I have kept the roots well underground. Leaves of Grass, be they what they may, are only in part the fact—for beneath, around, are contributing forces, which do not come out in the superficial exposé,"—and so on generously, to effect such as my notes day to day discover. After he was done, I said, "No one knows better than I know, Walt Whitman's admiration for what he calls the transcendental spirit of modern science, and in no man in America is that spirit more generously embodied than in Dr. Brinton, who sits at the table here with us tonight. I therefore call on Dr. Brinton to say something direct," &c.—as so far he had not done, only moving others forward with exquisite delicacy and himself keeping in the background. Brinton thereupon spoke. I should not have forgotten above, either, what was said by Morris and Frank Williams—both greeted, as were the others, by W. W. on Brinton's call. W. W. halted in one of his own talks to say:

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"But I must not be garrulous—this threatens to lead me far away."

     Then when all hands were at their ease, the speaking done, Ingersoll and Whitman got into a famous colloquy about immortality—the heavens—the purpose of life &c.—in this Brinton joining to some small extent: Bob brilliant, eloquent; Walt firm, picturesque— oraculor. "Oh Colonel! Colonel! Colonel! do you say that?" he inquired at one time. The Colonel if not negative, doubtful; W. affirming—giving his illustration of the locomotive (see the account in the Camden Post of June 2nd.)—the talk in noblest temper on both sides. Some of the retorts famous—as when T. Williams turned in his speech to Ingersoll and said: "Perhaps in the future world our friend will be surprised to find himself in agreement with Christ," or words implying that—to which W. quickly— "Perhaps Christ will be as much surprised to find himself agreeing with me." And when Brinton was skeptical, [as to] whether the animals fear death, Ingersoll instanced the roach— "Which, when chased and in fear, will never pause, if pausing at all, on the light spots of the carpet."—W. seemed most drawn towards the Shakespearean and Immortality controversies, questioning and speaking freely enough himself. At one point in Ingersoll's speech, when Ingersoll spoke of his preference for the love of pure womanhood above the love of God, W. said half under his breath, yet so we could all hear— "Bold, bold, bold!" It was a striking picture, as the controversy on immortality seemed warmer, the chairs moved closer, till clustered about Ingersoll or Whitman all sat with chained attention within a closer circle. In the end Brinton went back to his point of the table—and declared the dinner adjourned.

     After that Walt was not long in getting away. I slipped around and asked him how he was. He had talked till he was hoarse. Some of his friends pressed forward and shook him by

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the hand. Sulzberger, whom I introduced, said he thought he was a veteran, and all the others were young, for he had read the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855. W. turning to me as he was led off and saying— "And he is, too." At the door he turned to me— "Where are my wild flowers, Horace?" I going back to the table and getting them. On the way to the door again, Ingersoll put his hand on my shoulder. "I want to see you a minute, Traubel." "I'm going to take these flowers to Whitman." "I know it, and that's why I want to see you"—drawing me aside—taking a roll of bills from his pocket—counting out 5. "Does that make 25 dollars? Yes? I cannot see without my glasses." And then when I put in my "yes"—he added— "Give them to the old man and tell him they'll help him out of some of his scrapes." I hurried downstairs—W. already halfway—plodding. When in the carriage I gave him first the flowers— "The exquisite wild blossoms," he called them—then gave him the money with Ingersoll's message—to which first he laughed— "Did he say that?"—following [with]— "Oh the good Colonel! Good to the last!" Further I asked him how he stood it—how he felt. "Well, here I am: I feel tip-top—more alive if anything, than when I came." Soon was driven off. Several fellows came up to the carriage for a final hand-shaking—Ingersoll, Talcott Williams, Bush &c. Finally the carriage drove off, Harned and his wife, with Bucke, along.

     I went upstairs, got my hat and went to the cars with Mrs. Baldwin. With fine intuition she said: "I won't let you go home with me Traubel: you ought to be back there with those men: I can get along very well." Had this not been her wish, and had I not gone back, a great experience had been lost—for when back, though Ingersoll had at first thought of going home in the midnight train, he was there with a cluster of fellows (had been persuaded back) in the back room: Morris, Brinton, Ingersoll, Bush, Traubel, Buckwalter, Sulzberger, Smith, Frank Williams, Edelheim, Schelling making up the

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party. We were there till 12.30, some smoking, others drinking, some doing both. Ingersoll took a nip of whiskey, but not much, going most for Apollinaris. Insisted likewise in give me 5 dollars for the dinner. We sat there till nearly 1—amid the happiest fire of social wit and wisdom I ever knew. Ingersoll evidently in his element—communicative, free, eloquent. Here was all his secret: to talk on his feet as he did to us at his ease sitting here. Anecdote, theology, what is idealism—what is poetry &c.—all up. Many of Ingersoll's bits stick to me—among them this: "Every true poet must keep his stern within six feet of the earth: all true poetry is winged somewhere between Shelley's skylark and Burns' daisy: go above the skylark and you get among the gods and angels: and no human heart was ever moved by them; get below the daisy and you come into the region of dragons and devils: and no human heart was ever glorified by fear." To Ingersoll Walt Whitman was great because he stuck to the human &c. Much discussion of immortality. While we all sat there, near 12, who should come stalking back but Bucke! He threw down his hat, took his place in the circle naturally—was there till we all left.

     Ingersoll gave some marvellous Shakespeare quotations—analyzing differences between French and English drama: the French the drama of type, the English of character. Also recited the first three verses of Whittier's John Brown poem in a way that made Morris exclaim— "I never thought much of that poem before, but you make it sublime tonight." A brilliant fire of question, quotation, analysis. He did not think much of Tennyson— "he is a one-tone poet: if I were to express him on color, I should say he was grey"—and when "In Memoriam" was instanced, he shook his head— "it is all on one string: all good-byes, I'll see you again, farewell" &c. And so was Whittier such a poet, in one color. Shelley to him "a vast sea"—Keats' Grecian Urn ode "a perfect bit"—but Byron, after all, the greatest English writer since Shakespeare—

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and so on—impossible to follow. As we were about to go off together, Ingersoll said—looking around the circle that sat there, easy and composed— "Boys, I believe it has done the old man good to come over: it has probably done us all good to meet each other face to face. It has been a great night—a night none of us can forget." We then all sauntered up Chestnut Street together, Ingersoll going in at the Girard House. He shook hands separately with us all—in saying "Well—good night to you all," adding— "I live at 400 Fifth Avenue: there's not one of you would not be welcome in my home at any time. If you come to New York, do not forget me." And so it was good night: a night fervent with comradeship, under fair skies and happiest results. Who could have arranged it all? It came because it must. My efforts had all been to get the diners there—all else admirably took care of itself. We all parted in such happy enthusiasm.

     Bucke's coming back happened thus—he got on a Market Street car at the Ferry—at 5th Street Frank Williams got on—had to take the train. Bucke, learning we were there yet, got off at 6th Street.

     W., enviably unforgetful: when leaving the room asked Weir Mitchell about massage, which Warren is wishing to learn scientifically.


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