Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, July 1, 1890

     5.15 P.M. As usually the case at this hour, W. musing in his own room, dinner being over. We talked freely together for 20 minutes or half an hour.

     He saw a book in my hand—questioned what it was—then, hearing it was from Frederic Harrison, questioned me about it. I read him from "The Choice of Books": "Balzac wearies us by a sardonic monotony of wickedness; George Sand by an unwomanly proneness to idealize lust." This excited W.'s indignation. "Does he say that?" he exclaimed— "I should say, then—he has no right at all to put forth a word on the subject—not a word. Pfuff! 'Lust'—does he use the word 'lust'? What does he know about it?—by what authority speak?" And further, where Harrison names "Consuelo" with a mass of Hugo's and Balzac's and so forth—calling them "books of extraordinary vigor," adding— "but it would seem to me treason against art to rank even the best of them with immortal masterpieces, such as Tom Jones and the Vicar of Wakefield." W. insisted: "That is as poor criticism as well could be—he has never read Consuelo—not read it in that sense which takes its measure—gets at its meaning." My objection that The Vicar of Wakefield and Consuelo were books not to be compared, "not to be classed together," W. assented— "I should

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endorse that—it is well taken"
—but felt that Harrison lacked in "deeper discrimination."

     Kennedy sent me a short article for the Conservator—"The Quaker Traits of Walt Whitman," of which I spoke to W., who expressed so much curiosity I got on my feet and read to him aloud. I usually read to him, if at all, with vehemence—as, if I do not, he misses many necessary points. After I was done he exclaimed: "That is good—that is idiosyncratic—very good—a piece of Kennedy's self."

     Speaks rather indignantly of the insistence of the papers that he has "gone out and selected his [my] grave"—explaining— "There's only enough truth in that to make it hold together—not a bit more—but I suppose that's plenty enough for the reporters." Returned me Scribner's I left with him the other day. Williamson writes me to know how much truth there is in the reports of W.'s serious sickness. Had been abroad, to London &c. I suppose this is an echo of the Record alarmist reports a month and more ago. W. W. little concerned.

     Reference to Ingersoll's fight with the doctors over vivisection—W. thereupon: "That reminds me to ask you something I have been thinking about. What would you say of Ingersoll? Is he before all sceptic? I am not certain, but that seems the word for him—not denier, not affirmer, but one in suspense. Etymologically, is that the right use of the word? Ask Brinton, ask Alder—they are the men to know. I have had my curiosity aroused on this point. The more I see of Ingersoll, think of him, the more I feel that I can endorse him—endorse him even as regards immortality—for as I read him (these are great pieces he sent me) I understand him to mean mainly that what is to come we know nothing about—at least, that he does not—which is about what I would say myself." I said— "Ingersoll of course contradicts himself as often as you do—is in fact poet first of all," &c.— "speaking in pictures—the passing panorama." W. then: "I can say amen to all that—in fact,

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it is indispensable to see it before pretending to an opinion."
And as to Ingersoll's aggressiveness: "After the conventions, the formalities, respectabilities, such aggression clears the atmosphere. After Emersonism—(I do not mean Emerson, but Emersonism)—after Emersonism, the entrance of such a positive force, knowing something, insisting upon something, is refreshment: I applaud, love it: I think it is our voice, asserting its own."

     Had not been out today. When I left, rolled down his sleeves. "I guess we'll start out now."

     Gave me mail—a couple of books for England, with postal announcing their dispatch, a letter for his sister, Mrs. Heyde—papers. The man in the post office said, "I never weigh Walt Whitman's packages: I send them off just as he leaves them." W. gave me a copy of the Boston Transcript containing a letter (Paris) from Marchioness de San Carlos, of the Nouvelle Revue, discussing American writers. "It will interest you: it is curious certainly—not profound—curious."


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