Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 155] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Saturday, November 23, 1889

     7.15 P.M. W. said quickly, after our greeting (he in his room as usual reading): "I was out today, for a while—enjoyed it very much. It did not seem to me cold, but Warrie seemed to be afraid it was, and hurried me back. We went as far as the bank—went about a little—then home. I did not get out of my chair." Said he had had letters "but nothing significant"—even Dr. Bucke's letter "only cheery, not newsy."

     Had read Burroughs' article in the Review. "Much to my surprise, I became interested in it—greatly interested. I think it the best thing John has lately done—the best thing of that sort he has ever done. He cuts way below the crust of the Christmas pie—cuts way into the Christian pudding down deep and deep—to the very vitals, with a penetrating

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 156] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
blade. If it is true—if John is right, then it's all up with Christianity—then Christianity had better emigrate."
Had also read the divorce articles: "Read all of them—the Cardinal's" [Gibbons']— "the Bishop's" [Potter's]— "and Ingersoll's. But it struck me none of them—not even Ingersoll—got near the heart of the matter. Divorce is not to be argued of as a thing in itself—unrelated—a flower of today. It is like the French Revolution, a result of results—the growth of soil on soil on soil on soil—layer after layer: and looking at it as that, we find it is counter to restraint—that it is the rebound against restriction—that the human critter seizes this with other modes of escape from false entanglements. We know that marriage as it is today justifies itself for today—but for the future—who shall say?" And as to Prof. Adler's proposed discussion of it in Philadelphia tomorrow: "I doubt if even he will have anything to contribute in the matter. Marriage is an affair having ways of its own—coming, going, growing—defying prophecy or statement."

     Asked quizzically: "You did not bring me proof?" But I had—this reminding me. I gave the sheet to him out of my pocket. The printer had not followed his instructions, as I knew, and his laughing condemnation amused me. "Why, he has in no sense followed me out. Has he eyes? Can he read? He could not have done worse if he had set out to do everything the opposite of my instructions. Damn him! I'd say it to his face if he was here!" And where the word "enveloped" appeared as I have it rather than with W.'s "'d", and we looked it up and found W. had inadvertently placed it so on the copy, W. laughed again. "Yes—I'll be bound! If there's a mistake you make, that goes in—but the rest, they suit their own pleasure with!" Adding then: "The printers are determined to have their way whatever abides." And laying the proof aside: "I'll look over it tomorrow—perhaps accommodate myself to their ideas, as they won't to mine!"

     Referred to a letter from Alys Smith at Bryn Mawr. "She is 19 or 20 or so—is not studying with reference to anything in

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 157] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
particular—neither medicine nor anything else—simply going to school."
And then of her merriness and buoyancy—continuing: "She is most Greek, I believe, of any girl in America—Greek from top to toe. That is what Sam Longfellow said of Leaves of Grass a long time ago—that it was Greek from top to toe." I wondered if Longfellow still adhered to that view—W. simply quietly repeating— "I wonder," but arguing upon my comment on Longfellow's conservative temper, "That seems to run in the blood—is hereditary. Henry was extremely cautious—as he lived along he dipped more and more in European literature—German, Italian, Scandinavian"—I put in with a laugh— "Especially Scandinavian"—W. echoing me with his own laugh and words— "Yes, especially Scandinavian!" Was H. W. Longfellow ever known to give an opinion of Leaves of Grass? "The only authentic utterance—and that about a specific piece—was about the little song, 'A Child Went Forth.' I learn from several quarters that he put a generous estimate on that—quoted it sometimes." He had told me this before, only as referring to Whittier. This I told him. "Did I? I did not mean it for him, to be sure. It was Longfellow—I know all about it." "Sometimes that piece is much talked up: I do not understand it: it is the most innocent thing I ever did. Yet while some take the Longfellow view, there are as many—in fact, many more—who take the opposite view—deny. There was one critic who quoted from Wordsworth to prove that my picture was not only not new, but was deficient—was neither rich nor strong. He brought forth certain lines of Wordsworth's—conventional lines, I was going to say, but I hold that back—the subject could hardly be treated conventionally." I referred to Clifford's reading it from his pulpit—not mentioning W.'s name—and his amusement over the surprise of some people when they learned who had written it. W. then: "I think Clifford has a fine vein of irony, among his other strong qualities. That seems to be characteristic of the true-born Yankee, anyhow. It was in Emerson though I don't know but a better word

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 158] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
might be found—ought not be found. Ingersoll has the quality, too—only in him it is extraordinary in its power—deeper—subtler—more penetrating."


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.