Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, December 5, 1889

     7.45 P.M. W. at his usual spot—but not alone—Mrs. Davis sitting there conversing with him. She rose to go when I entered, but W. said: "No, sit still Mary, there are other chairs here, and that is what the chairs are for anyhow." But she withdrew. Had been reading Current Literature, now on his lap. I saw Brown today about circular. Asking me about it, W.

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said: "After having delayed things as much as I could myself, now I am impatient about the least delay in others. That's human-like!"

     Asked me about Othello. "I read the piece in the Press. It was in the main favorable—very favorable—but it had a bone to pick, the amount of it being, this Othello is brutal." I followed with, "Yes, as an average reader would think Children of Adam brutal—naked, bare, natural, but brutal. Or think anything brutal, that impresses them direct out of nature." W. thereupon: "Yes, I could read as much between the lines. I know the signs of it well. It is the Willie Winter criticism, a thousandth time, a millionth, repeated." There were lines in the play last night in which Salvini's magnificent voice and passion forced a close resemblance to O'Connor. W. listened to my detail of this with apparently intense interest. Of the play itself he questioned me closely. "What was the Iago like?" and so on. "I have seen many Othellos—Forrest's for one. Then there was an actor named Adams [Gus—or Edwin?]—about forty years ago—who was very fine, strong. The greatest Iago of all was the elder Booth. After him nobody can play that part." Mrs. Bowers had been in yesterday's cast. W., who had known her in old theatrical days, asked me questions as to her vigor, port, voice—how all had lasted. "I saw her Emilia long ago. Emilia is not a great part. I think anyhow, if Shakespeare had any weakness, it was in his women. All his women are fashioned so: in King John, in Richard—everywhere—the product of feudalism—daintily, delicately fashioned. Yet I suppose all right, occupying a fit position—in themselves a reflex of their times, though to us, to our eyes, open to criticism."

     He said afterwards: "It has been a dull day," but attaching to that a qualification in the shape of an exceedingly comical account of one of the day's incidents. "I have had a visitor from Harleigh Cemetery. We had quite a talk. He wishes to give me a lot in the Cemetery, I to write a poem on it." I called it "a curious bargain" and W. assented merrily. "I know

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it is, but I promised to consider it favorably. So you folks had better be prepared now for the worst!"
I inquired, "Haven't you a lot at West Laurel Hill?" "Very likely. I am very careless of my possessions. I have a farm somewhere which I have never seen—and lots, the Lord knows where. A more possessing man, you see, than you thought I was!"

     I read him a letter from Blake, received today, acknowledging the birthday book, and going on in this strain about an old promise and his remorse.


21 Laflin St.
Chicago, Ill.
Dec. 3 1889.

My dear Traubel,

I must thank you warmly and gratefully though rather tardily, for your book, the Whitman testimonial. It is very good. Your work in it is excellent collecting and editing and warm earnest writing. I am displeased with myself for not having my name in that company as you kindly gave me ample opportunity to do. The fact is the subject was so august to my mind that I never got courage or time to sit down to it. If I had supposed I could lift myself into that company by such a shabby little note as some of them sent, I would have done much better than many of them I assure you.

Now about my obligation on November Boughs, I despair of doing what I wish to do. But an idea has occurred to me. I like once a year, when I can, to give my people a good thorough dose of some noble works. Last year I took the Kalwala [Kalewala?] and gave three lectures in one week, 2 hours long each. Now I have bethought me of doing so this year with Whitman, studying him slowly all winter and then in May giving three or four long critical sympathetic lectures. I get 100 people to listen. Now if shortly I send you the money—$6.00, I believe—for Whitman's entire works and then give those lectures, will you not call it square on November Boughs?

Heartily yours,

J. V. Blake.

Grateful remembrance and homage to Whitman.



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     W. was considerably taken with the note and thought it "a good exchange—one we ought to rejoice in." Adding that he "could well see" that Blake's work would again be, as it had been, "solid and colorful—we might say authoritative."

     As to someone's taunt that in a poetical compendium W. W.'s portrait had been conspicuously omitted he only said: "It's not the first time, Horace, I have been left out—nor likely to be the last! Leaves of Grass and I have had a great many leavings-out in our day."


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