Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, June 11, 1890

     5.20 P.M. W. in his room. Not yet out. Very warm—up in the 90s. Looking over his own big book—open before him on the table. Had read Scribner's— "much attracted"—and "Mrs. Davis has it now—I wanted her to read the story 'Jerry.'"

     Showed him proofs of the card. Was perfectly satisfied with my arrangement of it. Some defects in the verse, for which another proof tomorrow. Left him Harper's Weekly. "I shall like to look at it: I am always anxious to see all that is written and done, not so much to read, investigate, all, as to know what is transpiring."

     I had a letter as follows from Ingersoll this morning, written in reply to a request the other day.


LAW OFFICE
Robert G. Ingersoll,
45 Wall Street,
NEW YORK, June 10, 1890.
Horace L. Traubel. Esq.,
Camden, N.J.

My dear friend:

Most people have peculiarities. One of mine is, that I cannot

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recollect any speech I have made. It would be impossible for me to give even an outline of the remarks I made at the Whitman banquet.


I can write out an address, putting in as much as I remember in making up the balance. How would that do?

With regards to yourself, and to Walt Whitman, I remain,

Yours very truly,

R G. Ingersoll


     W. read and was much taken with it. "You told him to give you that? Good! That is the right word in the right place. Anything from him, to the effect, would be a crown for us." I had said to Ingersoll, "not for publication," but W. insisted— "I should not have said that—there are very many who would like to see it. I have just had a note from Kennedy, asking for some full report. There are glimpses of it in the Inquirer—but how poor, how thin, all that to the reality. I do not suppose the Colonel would object to our using it." "Ingersoll was our Kohinoor: he topped our gems." And then: "It was a great event. I was much—most—interested—in the marvellous spontaneity of the man—how his speech bubbled out, apparently by no effort, yet to sublime results. It has always been one of my chosen delights, from earliest boyhood up, to follow the flights particularly of American oratory. I went into the courts—when there was a good preacher about, went to church—heard all the best specimens of Southern speaking—the big lawyers, Senators—Congressmen—but none of them brought such conviction to me as Ingersoll—the speech that night at the table—such suavity, ease, suppleness, capacity—such power to say, yet not to appear to know all the gravity and wonder of his power. It was a revelation—brought me conviction of many stray thoughts, observations—was in itself confirmation of my philosophy, if I may be said at all to have a philosophy—of the doctrine to keep close to nature. Nature follows close upon the mood of the mind that contemplates her—is moody as it is moody, bright as it is bright, laughs in its laughter, weeps in its tears. And this, written large in Ingersoll's

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manner, established for me his pre-eminence—justified him as it did us."—
"It is a vast gift—too vast a gift for mathematicians to measure. Great speaking, what we call great speaking, is plenty—we know it in many peculiarities—the Websterian grandeur—all that; but speech like Ingersoll's—this gravity, linked with such joy—holding the worlds at tongue's end—is a divine gift, a divine fire." Then he said smilingly: "Doctor writes me here," motioning towards the table— "questions me— 'Who wrote the Post piece?—was it Horace?'—he laughed— "perhaps it was finesse." But added— "No, not that—Doctor is not that kind of a man—not a finesser." Here seemed suddenly reminded: "Now that I think of it, Horace, and you are here, I want to ask you: it was on my mind last week. When I was in the midst of my talk with the Colonel—the talk I touch up in the last paragraph there in the Post—was coming upon my close—reserving for the end my sally, my big guns—as the Irish carter, who kept his beasts slow, that he might end up roundly—before I could free myself, deliver the word, Weir Mitchell came up, put his hands on both shoulders, so"—indicating— "and said— 'Well, I'm going to adjourn the meeting now'—as Brinton did at once. Was I breaking up? did I show signs of a collapse?—or what was it? It sat down without mercy on my Irishman's spirit. I have wondered and wondered what Mitchell meant." Perhaps Mitchell's fear had something to do with it; W. was grown very hoarse. But as for anything else— "I was not conscious of it myself—I felt on the contrary strong to the end." He had not noted Bucke's discomfiture that evening. He added: "The whole thing was an act of grace—the table itself was arranged with great art." When I told him my trouble in doing this— "Well—it was well done at last, which is the important point. Yes, yes, as you say, no such event could be planned—it can only be hoped for—as Burns wrote it, it is certain a child will be born, but whether to be a saint or a damned scoundrel remains to be seen."


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     I told W.: "O'Connor said to me last year— 'If you ever meet Ingersoll, you will find him a great big eloquent child."—W. putting in now— "Ah! he said that? So it has proved. This dinner, great in itself, was cemented by Ingersoll's presence, took historic place."


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