Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, December 11,1889

     7.45 P.M. W. again reading the Stedman book. I left with him the Scribner's containing Stevenson's "The Lantern Bearers." As to Stevenson's "Birmingham Sacredness," W. was "not sure" that he "at first look" touched near its meaning. Asked me about the Contemporary Club meeting last night. "Were you informed on that Eastern question?" And when I said— "No, I gained very little indeed"—he went on— "I thought not—I read what was in the Press there this morning, and it seemed entirely empty. I have long wished to come upon somebody who could enlighten me—give me a good general idea of affairs there. But so far I have had to go ignorant." Had been out today—briefly but enjoyably.


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     Gilchrist said to several who were in a group discussing Eakins' Agnew picture in the Haseltine Art Gallery last evening—the Contemporary Club meeting being held in the next room—that while it was true a certain thing in it was natural, was as it appeared no doubt in nature, still the putting it there was an artistic defect—some way should have been taken to overcome it. W. said, having listened all ears, as I could see: "That is very significant—I don't know but there—open there, lies the whole question—the question of art. To us it seems very obviously not true as Herbert put it. Yet there is an interest to that view not easily ignored. I should like much to get at a full statement of reasons on the other side—for that side obtains, without a doubt—is dominant, in fact." But his own "love, affection, penchant," was for the "simply, grandly natural—not a line readjusted in the interest merely of art."

     Asked me: "What of the evening? Is it clear—beautiful—moonlighty—out of doors? I suppose the world moves on equably. Are the waters stirred? Is the world at peace? The Bible has it, the spirit of God moving upon the waters." I said: "The spirit of God surely has moved upon the waters this evening." And proceeded to tell him of the river as I came across tonight: the cold and early moon—the full-sailed sloop—the cutter swinging in the tide—the tug puffing its way up the river—multiplied beauties that much impressed me. W. further as I paused: "It is almost incredible what a little stretch of nature will do to arouse a fellow—convert him, so to speak. I cannot think of a rarer experience than one I met on the river Saguenay, up there in Canada. The river's water is an inky black—a curious study, I believe, to this day to the scientific men: take it up in a bucket, and it is still unmistakably black—the color of the stream. Oh! that great day! Down the stream a boat—sails open—wing-a-wing—one one side, one the other—patched, stained, heavy—but oh! how beautiful! It was a curious revelation out of little

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means. Wing-a-wing is rarely fine anyhow—I have not known it much in pictures—but few artists can accomplish it. See then, the large result of what may seem a small impulse. Why should we go hunt beauty then—I should rather ask—where can you go to get away from it?"

     He thought "ministers and professors" anyhow the last men to impart really vitalizing truth. "I once told Collyer, years ago, in New York, in a company of people—they had been talking with a great flourish of the mediatorial office of preachers—to me a ridiculous pretense. I said then, that I could not allow an importance to that view. To me the time propounded other questions—indeed, I wondered if the time had not arrived for the entire abolition of ministers and churches; I said I could conceive how five centuries ago or so the pulpit could have had a function—but today, all and more than the pulpit did then, is better done by other forces. There were several of my friends present there—vehement friends—and they thought I had made a great mistake to talk so—and perhaps it was uncalled for—I am not prepared to say not—but it is a long-held notion with me. It seems to me that in these days ministers exist as in the nature of things, obstructions. I should ask of them, why cumbereth ye the ground?" And while most men might disagree [?] to this— "yet in the realm of thinking, nine-tenths of men amount to nothing, anyhow."

      "Even the Unitarians have an orthodox respectability," he said again, and as to a newspaper that seemed statedly to avoid mentioning Walt Whitman— "I can understand the newspaper index expurgatorious: so much the worse for them if they can't stand me." And he laughingly narrated an experience. "There was one of the department heads at Washington who conceived a great dislike for the word virile—gave out orders that it should not be used in any of the documents issuing from that department. I was very curious about it, and asked him once how his antipathy (and it was a virile antipathy!)

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arose. He said that he hated the word—that it called up in him images of everything filthy, nasty, vile. It was very amusing. I remarked to him: 'Did it never occur to you that the fault is in you and not in the word? I use the word—like it—am never once brought by it into touch with the images you speak of.' But he was obdurate—remarking only: 'Well—whatever: I won't have it! I hate the word!' And yet he was a man of force, filled his place well, in all the usual ways was sound and sensible."

     Referring to the current N[orth] A[merican] Review which I had with me W. said: "To me the important thing is, to know what the fellows are talking about rather than to read in detail all that is said." Called my attention to a letter from McKay. "He enclosed me payment for the three books. One of his questions was about the Carol of Harvest—now printed as 'The Return of the Heroes'—I answered that question at once. But then further along he writes that some one has left with him a poem for me—which he did not include—why I don't know. He suggests that you stop in for it." This I promised to do.

     Then—as I was about to go: "And that reminds me—now the point is on: I am going to do something again that you did well for me last year. I want you to go to the mint—bring me along 5 three-dollar gold-pieces: you got me three last year." And as he took out his pocket-book and from it a 10 and a 5-dollar gold-piece: "There's a history connected with that ten. When Horace Howard Furness was here a few days ago, he told me of a man off in Australia—a devoted friend of Leaves of Grass—who, writing to him, the said Furness, sent along ten dollars, as testimony, and all that." I remarked: "Your friends are at the ends of the earth." And he: "I am not surprised to have friends in Australia—I am a sort of Pacific, Oceanic, Californian critter, anyway." And to my remark: "Australia is more American than English, anyway—" he said: "Yes, it is so: see how well Sarrazin confirms you in that."


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