Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, November 27, 1889

     7.55 P.M. Went down with Morris Lychenheim. W. in bathroom. We sat waiting for him and chatted. Finally heard him coming: I sprang to the doorway—and dim as the light was,

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he recognized me from the distance. On his arm his coat. "I will ask you to take it," he said. "I know the way well—I can get along—and then the railing here is very strong," he added. Once in the room, he thought he would put on his coat, which I held for him. I remarked his size and weight. "I am noted for neither," I said, "I could not even get on the police force." He took laughing exception: "Never mind that—I remember the doctors at Washington—and the Generals—especially the Generals—telling me that the greatest heroism, the best marching, the most enduringness, was among men who were under-size—not only under-size, but underweight. The doctors made that report to me in the hospitals: how they liked best, the fellows who would yell, indescribably growl out, moan, fuss, over their wounds—to these there seemed more hope. The quiet men—these the doctors feared for. I remember one man—he was a small man—for whom one of the doctors had serious doubt. The doctor confided to me that the man was a marvel of quiet—was too quiet—had settled into a sort of sweet resignation—though suffering undoubtedly the greatest agony, never made a sign of it—evidently facing the worst undismayed. I can sort of feel how this justifies itself—this growling, howling, yelling—this giving vent to the sensation of the moment: like the opposite of constipation, a sort of clearance, at least for the time being. Yet this is not all—we cannot set out rules: there is one man—there is a second man—a third—so on—all to go by their own impulses, unconstrained."

     This led to discussion of oratory— "great public speaking," as W. called it. I thought Ingersoll's speeches undoubtedly prepared. W. said: "I do not know—I heard him several times—once in full, and his great force then seemed to be in his spontaneity—in his marvellous, indescribable bubbling up. After other men, a refreshment of the first order. There seems to come a time with the speaker when he reasons, that what he is to say the public will print, retain—so instead of

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waiting for the impulse of the moment, he sets down beforehand and primes himself—marks his whole path out with deliberation. But then he is done for. I remember Beecher said—said to me—that he fell into such a danger himself—realized it, however and henceforth trusted to the moment, his hearing, his own impulse to carry him through—only using a few notes on a slip of paper."

     On the floor was an advertisement circular which I picked up—the Magazine of Truth. I laughingly asked W.: "Are they not all magazines of truth?" W. then: "The better question would be, is thereone of them that is? or newspaper, either?" Remarked: "The world seems agog over Tom Aldrich's new poem—'Wyndham Towers'—what have you seen of it?" I said it seemed to me an "elegant poem" from what I had read. And he: "Yes—that is just the word, 'elegant'—an elegant poem: that is Tom!" And to my remark that Aldrich however was much more likable than Stoddard, except for some of S.'s early poems, W. said: "Stoddard at the start, read Hood— modelled himself on Hood—unconsciously, perhaps, but did it—showed the influence."

     I touched upon a point in one of Bucke's recent letters, that he was reading Sydney Luska [?], and with interest. W. said laughingly: "That's not the whole of it, either—he has been taking to Rider Haggard—reading him—liking"—, but W. added: "Doctor is like the lover—who sees charms in his mistress because he is eligible to see them—not so much because they are in her as because they are in him." I remarked— "I used to say sometimes, half of Shakespeare's greatness is in his reader, which startled people." W. then: "That is the same idea." Returned me the North American Review—remarking: "John's article is fine—the best he has ever written in that direction. John has that great quality shared now by the greatest men—the faculty that is the mark of the their greatness—not to be too damned sure about anything." I spoke of some I had met who questioned me about W.'s spiritual condition—

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what did he believe about immortality—were not satisfied with anything less than cock-sureness. W. laughed. "Yes—I know the critter—I have met him—he is plenty; they want a categorical explanation."

     W.'s phrase, "The Last Bard," describing my father's picture—had attracted me. "It is a great subject," said W., "would make a great poem—your father's little piece itself is fine—I liked it a good deal." Then discussion of the word "bard"—I saying I had noted a recent tendency to confer that word on him, as including poet, but covering more, something else. W.: "Yes, I have noticed it, too: though it hardly forced my attention. But I can see we ought to look into it—see to its subtler meanings. I suppose, even if it had not that broader meaning, it might be justified in having it at the hands of those who use it. We should look into the Century dictionary—see what is said of it there." I spoke of a man in the city—a scholar—who told me he thought the dictionary a failure. W. said: "I do not think so"—quoted Dr. Bucke's enthusiasm—yet finally said:— "I wish, however, you would inquire of your man in what way it fails. It would be well to know—we ought to know!" And then: "I sent my own word in to Whitney: not to him direct, because I do not know him—but to Dick Gilder, enclosing it on a card and asking that it be forwarded. I don't know that it'll go in, but if Whitney knows himself, it will. Presidentiad! There is no word like it in our language and it has all the authority of its root—is rooted in the soil—has parentage. To describe for instance the term in which Jefferson, Adams, Monroe, was President—what other word is there?" I asked if there were not other such words in Leaves of Grass, and he admitted there were, only this appealed to his fondness. "This not only has its origin—but is native, too, autochthonous—smacks of the soil—belongs to America." Lychenheim spoke of the word Sesame, and W.: "We have no equivalent—yet are adopting that. We come in all this under the protecting consideration that the

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English anyhow is a composite tongue—is made up of world-contributions—the Century dictionary having 200,000 words. In this last hour or so in which we three have been talking together, I suppose 9 out of every 10 of the words we used are derived—and this applies especially with respect to America, for America may well be—must be—in her language what she is in her physiological composition—a complex of agencies from all quarters of the globe—a mosaic—the most remarkable natural combination of time."

     In leaving with him a copy of Current Literature I tried to point out an extract from Ingersoll, but could not find it. W. said: "Never mind—I shall not miss it: I always keep my eyes open for Bob." Talking of persistence of the functions W. said his "sense for fragrance has lasted almost if not quite unimpaired." I told him that Foxy, a deckhand, had sent him good wishes for Thanksgiving. He exclaimed: "What! Foxy, that fat deck-hand? The good fellow!"

     Said among other things about immortality that "only the tyros" were "certain" either way. Alluded to "that damnable combination that is sold in the saloons as whiskey." Gilchrist walked in the front door just as we were leaving. I had a few words with him.


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