Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, June 17, 1890

     5.20 P.M. W. had just gone out in his chair. Mrs. Davis reported him feeling very well. I had cards with me but did not leave them—having word to go along when I did.

     7.20 P.M. Down to W.'s again—found him just returned from the river—sitting in the chair, directly in front of the step, facing east (to avoid the glare of the electric lights). Stayed about 20 minutes. He talked with extraordinary freedom.

     Said he had had word from Ingersoll today. "He wrote a letter—then sent me the book called 'Prose Poems'—they came together in the first mail this morning—made me a good breakfast. Ingersoll protests in the letter against the title—'Prose Poems'—which he says was the choice of the publisher, not his own. But I like the title well enough myself—can see no objections to it. There seems to be a great collection in that book—mostly touches at this and that in a few lines—but some near complete: the Lincoln piece, for instance—I had read it before several times—today I read it again. It is a great statement—will bear reading ad infinitum. The vastness of Ingersoll is that he is vast—has no shams. I know no one who at his best flights can any way equal him. I find myself every now and then saying 'no' to his specific religious, historic, literary, judgments. But beyond and above

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all my objections are facts which make all of them slight and counting for little. After the mistakes are the higher qualities (or before them), qualities that place him far, far above us all, out of reach—qualities of character, background, atmosphere, out of which he emerges, into which and in which he flings and bathes, and plays a sublime melody through it all. It is a wonder, how he glorifies, almost justifies, even his mistakes: it is the grand manner of the man. Yes, he is the fat boy described by Bartol—then he is much more—and it is that 'much more' which the ill-feeling of the time fails to see. The book is in every way elegantly produced—covered with what would be called tree calf—every page elegantly pressed—too much so—too fine—overdone. But Ingersoll has probably no more to do with that than with the title—he has a worshipful publisher and that explains it. It is a book selling, I should say, for 5 or 10 dollars."
Then he continued the subject: "I have read many of the small pieces today—then the Lincoln, then the Voltaire—exquisite rare work all. I know no one else in our day doing it or able to do it. Yet we are a nation of gabbers—all talking at once—probably for that reason to so little effect. The great wonder with Ingersoll is the art of it all—the superb certainty—ease—suavity—a direct simple quality of which I nowhere else catch a clue—the art of the lily, the rose, that grow because they must: it surpasses explanation—we only know that it is—like the sunset, the trees overhead"—looking aloft. Did Ingersoll say anything about his speech here? "No—not a word—I have no idea we will ever get that—it is gone, forever. I confess that I, for one, cannot say I am just as happy to have it lost as to have it. I am as greedy to have it as I was the night it was spoken. I mourn its loss. It was one of those superb bursts which gush from the push of the heart—that comes forth without a break—exquisite melody of speech, fire of life, possible only in fortunate hours, as if by some unpredictable play of elemental forces."


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     Had "enjoyed" his evening "profoundly," he said. "We sat by the river for a long time. It seems to be a quiet day on the river—less movement, activity—fewer boats—and I did not regret it: I enjoyed the peace, the serenity. And oh! the atmosphere, the haze, that bathed the water, the city across there, the sky!"

     Advised me to write something about the birthday dinner and send it to the Boston Transcript. "They call it a tea-table sheet up there, probably in contempt, some of them—but it has more than that to be said for it on the whole—has quite a receptive nature for new ideas."

     I left cards with him and he would sign them.


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