Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, June 2, 1890

     8 P.M. W. by the parlor window, which was closed, though the evening was very warm. After he had greeted me he said, "I can't get over Ingersoll's great speech: it was the culmination and summing-up of all." And again— "I could not get over it, therefore wrote about it—and what I wrote is in today's Post: I sent it there." Then advised me to "see that the boys get copies." Further— "I should like it myself—and of course it might just as well be known that the piece is mine"—which, though unsigned, does not need this telling.

     Asked how Ingersoll was to be addressed in New York. Then spoke of the champagne at dinner. "It was the finest I ever tasted—but I feel short of my measure of it—some one of the waiters must have confiscated it, or a part of it. Some rare brand, stowed away somewhere for select ends!" Yet— "I suppose I got as much as was good for me—am probably in

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better condition for not having all that was my share!"
Said he was "recovering" his "poise somewhat"—had been "shaken" by the event— "but I feel a sort of triumph in it."

     Would think over the matter of the cards. Spoke of Leaves of Grass as "under ban in Russia" "perhaps blacked out, as Kennan describes it"—which was "not surprising—would be surprising were the case other."

     The Ledger today contained a notice of the dinner.

     The account from the Camden Post of June 2, 1890: INGERSOLL'S SPEECH
He attends the Celebration of Walt Whitman's
Seventy-second Birthday


Walt Whitman is now in his seventy-second year. His younger friends, literary and personal, men and women, gave him a complimentary supper last Saturday night, to note the close of his seventy-first year, and the late curious and unquestionable "boom" of the old man's wide-spreading popularity and that of his "Leaves of Grass." There were fifty or sixty in the room, mostly young, but some old or beginning to be. The great feature was Ingersoll's utterance. It was probably, in its way, the most admirable specimen of modern oratory hitherto delivered in the English language, immense as such praise may sound. It was 40 minutes long, in a good voice, low enough and not too low, style easy, altogether without mannerism, rather colloquial (over and over again saying "you" to Whitman who sat opposite,) sometimes impassioned, once or twice humorous, amid his whole speech, from interior fires and volition, pulsating and swaying like a first-class Andalusian dancer.

And such a critical dissection and flattering summary! The Whitmanites for the first time in their lives were fully satisfied; and that is saying a good deal, for they have not put their claims low, by a long shot. Indeed it was a tremendous talk. Physically and mentally Ingersoll (he had been working all day in New York, talking in court and in his office,) is now at his best like mellowed wine or a just ripe apple; to the artist-sense too, looks at his best, not merely like a bequeathed Roman bust or fine smooth marble Cicero-head, or even Greek Plato; for he is modern and vital and veined and American, and (for more than the age knows,) justifies us all.


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We cannot give a full report of this most remarkable supper (which was curiously conversational and Greek-like) but must add the following significant bit of it.

After the speaking and just before the close, Mr. Whitman reverted to Colonel Ingersoll's tribute to his poems, pronouncing it the culmination of all commendation that he had ever received. Then, his mind still dwelling upon the colonel's religious doubts, he went on to say that what he himself had in his mind when he wrote "Leaves of Grass" was not only to depict American life, as it existed, and to show the triumphs of science and the poetry in common things, and the full of an individual humanity, for the aggregate, but also to show that there was behind all something which rounded and completed it. "For what" he asked, "would this life be without immortality? It would be as a locomotive, the greatest triumph of modern science, with no train to draw. If the spiritual is not behind the material, to what purpose is the material? What is this world without a further Divine purpose in it all?"

Colonel Ingersoll repeated his former argument in reply.


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