Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, December 12, 1889

     7.55 P.M. Went to W.'s with Morris Lychenheim. Stayed full 45 minutes. W. quite willing to talk. Said: "I have had a visitor—a young Mitchell—not Weir, nor the Doctor-son who has been here to see me, but another—a younger. I sent a copy of the leather book through him to his father." At this I alluded to the 25 dollars recently sent me by Weir, this being a considerable recognition. "I liked the boy," W. said, "it was his first visit—he seemed bright, intelligent." I said then: "I have another of my contributors who has given me 80 dollars so far" &c.—meaning Edelheim. W. at this suggesting: "We ought to give him a book, too—it is the least we can do"—and questioned me, whether this should be a complete Whitman or a leather volume. I finally advised him to make it what he thought best. He ruminated—then: "Probably the morocco book is more appropriate than the other: for what it starts out to be, it is complete—though not all, as the other is." He laughed that Tom had called the cover of the Complete Works "damned shabby," and interposed— "Others—who have handled old books—old-book-men—would say, it is well—most well—just as it is."

     I had brought him the 3-dollar gold pieces. Also the poem from McKay, elegantly done-up, type-written—Dave not wishing to risk it in the mail. W. did not read it while we were there—only remarked: "It is finely type-written, if not other-written, anyway." Returned me the Scribner's. Had not read the Stevenson piece entire. "I read what applies to me. The piece seems forced—as if he set out 3 or 4 big sheets before him and declared—these will I fill." As to the "Birmingham" reference— "I hardly know what to make of it except to say what you do yourself. I have been much criticised for my use of the term—'divine average.'" I reminded him of the man who had said of Cleveland— "We love him for the enemies he has made"—so of L. of G. Then further, me: "I always tell the

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new reader of L. of G., who comes to me: you will be shocked and staggered at two points at the outset—you will stagger at W.'s disregard for literary form and tradition—you will stagger at his spiritual attitude towards the body: but if you can stand up after these, you are all right—you will know L. of G."
W. exclaimed: "That is very fine—inclusive: I know no better." As to Morris' exclamation to me in a discussion today— "If you were to see those Corots you would see an art that is better than nature"—W. said: "All I can say is, if a man starts out for an instant to get something better than nature, then I say, God help him!" Lychenheim quoted from Ruskin about the impossibility that young people could be critics—but W. said: "That is easy to say, but hard to justify. Criticism has no rules—you cannot predict it. As a rule it is a humbug anyhow: it means only this—that Jones' digestion is good or is not, or, if the critic is a woman, that perhaps she has not been invited out to the party at Mrs. Johnson's. The most minute, the most personal, factors color the criticism. I had a friend who had always to ask—well, how shall I write, adversely or to applaud? And the young? Oh! the young hold the stage after all. There are things in young lives, young critics—imaginative quality, elasticity, vehemence, power, which years cannot supply—only dim. These are treasures after a high kind. As some one told me once, in a comfortable old age—'yet for all I have there is one great gap—one avenue closed. What now can make me happy as in those days when I was content with my dinner-pail—the bread, pork, sip of coffee out of a pot—and digestion was good, and mid-day brought me rest.' That is past, irretrievably!"

     Said he had not been out today— "I suppose for the main reason, that Mary was out—leaving Warren and me to keep house." And then of his meals: "I don't know—for a good, strong, healthy man three meals a day are none too many, but to an old, broken-down, badly digesting [one]—the digestive apparatus very shaky indeed—two meals will do. I get my

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dinner about 4 or 5—and my appetite keeps up amazingly—I don't flunk one meal out of 20: I have a very ready appetite even for breakfast."
And he asked then: "Don't you see how fat I keep?"

     On the table an old German paper (1883) in which were 4 portraits, Whitman's with Lindau's, Heyse's and one other. Of its kind the portrait really very good. W. said: "I recovered that from the debris here for Dr. Bucke. You are right—that is altogether satisfactory—a good picture. The Germans anyhow excel in that line. I have hoped our fellows would capture the burin as well as other instruments—but so far they have not." And he pointed out Lindau's head to me: "It is fine—strong and fine: I have had a long look at it today."

     Gave me a copy of the big Gutekunst portrait for Agnes, who means to have it reproduced large, in charcoal, by my father.


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