Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, December 9, 1889

     7.15 P.M. W. reading Stedman's big cyclopedia. After he had shaken hands with me, he said: "The McClure syndicate has taken my Brazil piece—may use it as a little Christmas bit." He had finally decided to send it there, overcoming his inclination to make no use of it at all. He spoke of it as "the Harper rejected poem." Asked me of the night. "And is it true the stars are out? I could not have believed the shift possible. I have spent a dull day. No—not sick—but sluggish, dull." Said he had sent off nearly all the circulars I had brought Saturday. Was not able to get the rest today. Shall tomorrow.

     Gave me back the copy of The New Ideal: advised sending it to Bucke. "Oh yes! I have read your piece—every word of it—you may be sure of that. Doctor would be interested: he has a big net—puts forth his net into many seas. He reads copiously—has a maw—oh! what a maw! Gets into all roads and by-roads."

     Reference in this morning's Press to the popular and artistic disappointment at Millet's "Angelus," now on exhibition in

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New York. W. said: "I am not surprised." And then spoke of Col. Shaw's collection, as he often had done before. He said of Shaw himself: "He has a home full of treasures: Japanese ware—laces—decorations—the most incredible mass—the finest, rarest. Shaw is a good specimen combination of the Bostonee and the travelled man. I don't know that he has any deep artistic, aesthetic appreciation of the things he has collected there—doubt very much if he has. The Angelus was like the Sower—there were several versions of it. Col. Shaw has what is called the first version of the Sower: I liked it profoundly—was much more deeply moved by it than by the later versions. There was in it what, for the want of a better word, I should call a wild fury. That was a great day for me at Shaw's: I went with quite a party—encouraged the others away, so that I might be alone—and was alone there, gazing, gazing, thinking, for an hour—for several hours."

     Morris informed me today that he had been written to by someone from Canada who had seen his article in The American, asking for advice as to the translation of the Sarrazin book entire. W. said: "Let him do it—it is a big mouthful to chew. To ask a man to translate such a book is to say to him what was said to the man in the Roman excavation who had unearthed—and broken in unearthing—an antique statue: 'Having broken it, I shall expect you to restore it as good as new.' That is a big statue to restore, after all the breaks, tumbles, of translation! But of course it is public property—he must do as he chooses with it." As to such a translation making the publication of ours unnecessary— "Not necessarily—we may feel that there are reasons and reasons!" Robert Louis Stevenson said in his sketch "The Lantern Bearers"— "—or he would not be average. It was Whitman who stamped a kind of Birmingham sacredness upon the latter phrase; but Whitman knew very well, and showed very nobly, that the average man was full of joys, and full of a poetry of his own." I quoted this to W. (having first read it today)—whereupon

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he said: "Stevenson commenced by being, as I understand it, overwhelmed by Leaves of Grass. Oh! there was no word for it, it was so great! Then a year passed—then another year—then another—and now he got the suspicion that he had better be more cautious, had better not commit himself too far in that direction—had better, in fact, recall some of his gush—and this he did—writing a vile and silly essay—which was published in the book, you know. Then again time passed—and with passing time passing views—and this time a return to the original applause. He questioned himself if after all he was not right in his first instincts. But he did not withdraw the piece—evidently feeling,—well, that was what I felt at the time I wrote it, so let it go as part of the record. There was a book published some years ago called 'The Night Side of Nature'—I have often thought, if there was not a night side of human character, too—of literature—of personality—a sort of phantasmagoric delirium tremens." I had used the word night-marey as describing "The Lantern Bearers" and W. exclaimed— "Good! it is an apt word!" Again when I spoke of Stevenson as "of Hawthornesque tendencies, without Hawthorne's body," he assented: "That is profoundly true. In Stevenson it is opium—I know the sign of it well—the opium nature." And then back after a pause: "Mrs. Stevenson has been here to see me—I like her much." He thought despite "the morbid delirium of his nature" "Stevenson has his audience—I don't know but a large one. Scribner's gives him a great welcome—an abounding welcome, and he is paid well, without a doubt." He desired that I read the Whitman essay spoken of (I had not so far). "I have the book here—within hands-reach, no doubt—and I'll find it, lay it aside, for you."

     I picked up from the floor a Mss. in pencil of an early draft of the Exposition (Paris) poem. He said I should "put it in my pocket" if it was of interest— "though how can it be?" Had further to say: "Today I found the Forman [?] poem at last—it turned up out of the mass and ruin of things here"—and advised me to "see what could be made of it."


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