Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, December 19, 1889

     7 P.M. W. sitting in his room, but not reading. Very cordial and spoke of my birthday, this day. "Thirty-one! You would pass for twenty-one, you are so quick, so spry—so alive!" He spoke of his watch—asking me the time. "I have a good deal of trouble with this piece, now-a-times—it don't go by method any longer." And when Warren came in shortly, he commissioned him to get off to a watch-maker with it.

     I had a copy of The Standard in my pocket. Read him from it an editorial on Browning, in which the writer went off at a great rate about the poetic "artifices" of our time, W. laughing and assenting with considerable vehemence—at the end asking, "And who is it is saying all that?"—remarking that somehow the agents of truth arrive and have voice— "here and there—and often in the most unexpected place." At this calling my attention to a copy of Poet Lore, "Do you see it?" Adding: "What a host of papers, magazines, seem to exist now for no other purpose than to expound, exploit, poets—Shakespeare, Browning, Shelley. I can see they may have an importance, too, of their kind—recondite, curioish"—W. laughing over the "exercise" of "some of the fellows" in Poet Lore (Morris, Williams and others) in imitations of early English balladry. A letter therein, too, from Donnelly, in applause of O'Connor. "My first impulse was, to have you read it, then pass it on to Dr. Bucke; but on second thought, I saw that

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Nellie O'Connor has the first right to anything that concerns William—so I shall send it to Washington."

     The other evening I picked a copy of the Boston Transcript from the floor—found in it Emerson's letter to [?] Wheeler, recently in print for the first time. W. now referred to it: "I have read it. It is interesting, as all Emerson's letters are, but not what would be called notable." Going on then to Sanborn's letter in a later Transcript (17th): "It aims to set somebody right who says Thoreau did not go to Staten Island tutoring. I know that Frank was right in what he says, because it was in one of those periods Thoreau called on me. I think that Sanborn has Thoreau on the brain: I mean that in a high sense, of course. It is not a matter of our affection for Frank, or again no-affection—but a matter only of judicial opinion—how far he is right, wrong. The great vice in Thoreau's composition was his disdain of the universe—his disdain of cities, companions, civilization. I have very little room for the man who disdains the universe. One of my first questions is always that—not always spoken—not methodically thought, even—but in a way taking its measure: do you, or you, accept the universe and all that is in it? It is an important question." I laughingly queried at this point: "Can't you leave it with the universe to settle with the man who disdains the universe?" W. responded seriously: "O yes! that is to be said, too—indeed, I think if Frank was here with us now, and I should say to him what I have been saying to you, he would warmly take it up and remind me that the universe contains and sustains the man who disdains it as well as the man who accepts. But yet I think there is a damnable disposition sometimes to deny, to affront, the substance, the spirit, the life, the joy, of things." And he continued with amusing vigor, referring to "the women across the street—eight of them—who will come out instantly after a storm with their stinking buckets, to drive all the neighborhood crazy, to wipe out all vestige of the storm—as if nature had been about a bad business." This was

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rather occult to me, the point of the reference—though he followed with saying: "That is typically damnable. I know it is severe to take such ground with Thoreau, nor do I, only measurably—but Thoreau does not at every point show the marks of the greatest nature." He appreciated "Frank's loyalty," "say what I have to say qualifyingly of Thoreau nevertheless." Gave me The Transcript that I might read Sanborn's letter therein.


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