Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 095] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Tuesday, October 29, 1889

     7.55 P.M. W. sat in his room, handling over quite a formidable roll of newspaper clippings. Some of them looked like

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 096] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
proofsheets. I asked, "Are they proofs?" to which: "No—they are one out of the many applications of authors I get. They have just come—Warrie just brought them in—from England. Oh! no one who is not here all the time can know what a center I am of the fancies of young and old—poets, writers, beggars, what-not." He folded up the scraps, looked up and put on them a rubber-band, but just as he was about to put the bundle down on table, a new thought seemed to strike him and he offered it over to me. "Here you take it. I don't know of any better way to dispose of it. The unexpected meal is always the blessed meal. It is not always the thing we crave most, look forward to most, that we most enjoy, but the thing the girl, the housewife, puts on unsuspected—brings in at an unusual moment. So—take this package—see what you can make of it—it may be the blessed meal!" The package of poems, I discovered, was from John Ryley Robinson, evidently of Yorkshire. I have not yet read them.

     Referred now to the birthday book: "I like it more and more—it fulfils all expectations. The last few days, as I have gone through it again, the balance of the book impresses me as it had not before—its entire, I might say, singular, balance. I have thought of Herbert's speech there—how well it enters into its place—and of Bonsall's. Bonsall's is a great deal better than I thought it would be—and in fact, all of them. Tom's, too: and they pass on and on—letters, speeches—without interfering, one with the other." As to Morse's bust: "It pleases me more and more—is a constant new revelation—opening singularly to me"—gesturing— "part by part, like the several lays of the telescope." "I wrote Doctor today, that last night you brought me palpable evidence of the book's completion—that I held it in my hand—a bound book—the consummated deed at last!" He commented on the fact that Sanborn had ordered 10 copies from Harned. "The good Frank! And no doubt they'll be profitably distributed—he'll put them into good hands!"


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 097] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     Quite a noise on the streets tonight—brass bands, drums, etc. Not knowing for what, I remarked it to him, and he said: "Oh! it is for Grubb—the Republican candidate for Governor—he speaks right up the street tonight"—proving better informed than I of local currents. And he asked: "Do you take no interest whatever in the fight? I notice you seem quiet about it, as if it held none of your stock. Tom astonished me the other night by saying he intended voting for Abbett. I suppose he is disgusted with the family aspect of the management of politics in this county." On the chair a local paper containing a picture of Grubb. I picked it up. Grubb looked badly blurred, and W. made merry over it. "He looks like a Nubian," he said, "we might believe that was intended that way—to get hold of the nigger vote—to show Grubb up as a blackamoor. For my own part, I would not rise out of my chair here to go into the fight—to cast a vote."

     He asked me about the Conference. "I read the Ledger account, read Clifford's speech there—thought big of it—of the speech. It seemed to me the report was a very good one." Then after asking, "What is it? A Conference only?" and having my "yes"—he quizzed, "What is it all about? What is it all for?" Following this up with the laughing comment, "It reminds me of a story—you have read it, no doubt—Southey's, a story—poem—used in the readers—at least, used when I was a boy, the Peterkin story. There is an old man—with him a child—a boy, Peterkin: the man is telling of some battle—colors borne high, din, powder, shot, havoc, charges, retreats, wounds, blood flowing like water. And as he goes along enthusiastically in the story, the boy asks—but what was it all about? what was it all about?—the man only replying, no matter, no matter—we had a terrific tussle—and then he goes on with his story—and tells and tells—and again the boy asks him, but what was it for? what was it for? the other still replying, no matter—no matter: we had a big fight—we gained a big victory! But the boy was not satisfied: in the

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 098] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
midst of the story—carnage, hell-to-pay—the boy still asked—but what was it for? and the man still replying, I don't know—but we had a devil of a fight and gained a big victory, the poem ending with the boy's question, What was it all for?"
W. laughed out his application: "So what is all the Conference for?" Took an absorbed interest in my account of Clifford's noble speech—its unwelcome—its courage. "That," he said, "is the making of Clifford—that is Clifford."

     I spoke of the general interest in W.'s religious opinions, of the number of people who inquired of me. So markedly was this so, I thought I should like to give at least a paragraph to them in the New England Magazine article. W. laughingly said: "So they want to know if I think the human race is to be damned?" I returned: "No—not that: the people who ask me are themselves mainly not orthodox." He responded: "Well—I do not know, but if something comes to me to say I shall write it down with my pencil here and give to you." But he jocularly turned the matter off by a story. "Did I never tell you the Long Island story? It is a good one—I heard it first when I was a boy." And then went on with a narration, the humor of which as he told it was superb. I lost some of the preliminaries, but from one point on I retained all. "The old lady—the mother—had been converted—taken the Methodist turn, what-not. And her friends were taking good care of her, lest the devil should get her in his clutches again. One night though he came home—it was late—towards midnight, he expected to be received as usual—get bed, eatables, comfort. He knocked at the door—knocked louder. By and bye the old lady's head was thrust out of an upper window. 'Who's there?'

      "'It's me—Sam.'
"'Well—what do you want here?'
"I want to get in: it's late—I'm tired, hungry, sleepy, wet.'
"Well, go 'way—you can't come in here.'
"'God damn it, I must! Don't act the fool: come down and open the door for me.'


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 099] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

      "But the old lady stuck it out. 'No—no—you can't come in here.'" He asks then, 'What's the matter with you, anyhow: what makes you act so foolish?' Then she tells him, she has got religion and he replies—'Well, what does that matter—what's that to do with letting me in?' She informs him, 'A good deal, you don't believe in hell—don't believe men are going to be damned. No man who turns his back on that can come in here!' And he admitted that he didn't quite believe in damnation. Then the story goes on—oh! I must make it short—it is very funny—goes on in this way, the two arguing together, she relenting a little by and bye by asking, 'Well, don't you believe some folks are to be damned?' And he rather inclined to say some deserved to be if they weren't. And she asking again, 'Well—tell me, how many?' 'I don't know—I would be willing to allow, say 200 thousand' which broke the ice—for she said that would do, and admitted him." W. went over this with a thorough laughing spirit—asking me at the end, "I wonder if I am expected to admit the 200,000?" Saying further: "I thought it a happy illustration—that story. I don't think I have repeated it strictly, but that is that marrow of it."

     He spoke of the Press article about actors I had left with him the other day, that it was "interesting—and accurate in the main"—saying as to Harry Placide— "he was a great actor—in his way a man whose like I never saw." "People have an idea Jefferson made the stage Rip Van Winkle—but that is a great mistake. That original Rip was Hackett, who was in his prime in my early life—who was a grand man, standing to Jefferson as the old Booth does to our Edwin. A vastly bigger man than Jefferson. The opinion of theatre-goers of those times [of him] was very high, and what I realized myself in Hackett's presence—my emotional, mental, sympathetic self—goes altogether in the way of confirmation—convinces me the public judgment was correct. But I notice in these modern writers a tendency to bring some to the fore who were not thought great at that time and really were not great, and a corresponding tendency to forget others who should be

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 100] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
mentioned. I can vividly realize those old stage-settings, characters—the audiences—houses. Harry Placide, Hackett, Mrs. Vernon and a man named Reiner."
W. spelled for me, saying, "not Raynor but" etc.— "these were the giants—and giants of real stature." After awhile noticing my interest, he asked: "You find it attractive, do you? I suppose it is: I live graphically in it, sometimes: a touch brings up scenes and scenes." Spoke specifically of all— "the noble, gentle Harry Placide: elegant, yet acting the rough coachman to the letter—with an exquisite skill—the very coarseness of it," and Mrs. Vernon— "English,—a truly gracious gift to our stage." And Hackett "a Long Islander—had a home off near Babylon. I knew his son—met him often." He spoke of Polonius: "It is a great character—a big opportunity—never realized: yet I have known Hackett to realize it—nobly and highly. It was noticeable of Hackett, too, that he did not emphasize the farcical Rip—did not lay stress upon the humor—made rather more account of its seriosity—and here touched bed-rock—was delicately grand." And then: "There were touches in there which would hardly pass current on the stage of this day." Spoke further of "costumes: oh! Mrs. Vernon had what would even now be acknowledged a great wardrobe." Qualifying it however— "but the acting that was the thing—that was what made her great!"


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.