Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, December 20, 1889

     7.35 P.M. W.'s room. Asked after his health. He pleasantly shook his head. "Pretty good—for me!" and proceeded after a little silence: "I must always put it, for me—qualify it. In these days I must be thankful for negative blessings—be thankful I have what I have. There was an oriental tale—I always thought it a profound one—about a man who had no shoes to wear—was too damned poor for anything—and so for a long time had to stay at home. Till one day, somehow, shoes came and he was a free man again. So out he goes, and the first person he meets is a man who has no feet. It seems to me"—with a laugh— "the moral of that is sufficiently obvious!" W. had got out, to be sure— "to Vine Street and back again."

     The papers today speak of Whittier rather doubtingly. W. now: "Yes—he is 82, and quite feeble at that, too. It is quite wonderful how some of those weak fellows live on and on, into many years. Lord Brougham there in England, was a good sample." I called Brougham "an important man in his time," and W.: "I can believe that is in a way so—yet not wholly so: he was rather penetrating than imaginative—of the intellectual type." And anyhow— "the highest type personalities—I do not look for, do not find, in the literary class. Emerson shines as a superb example—exception. As I have been more and more confirmed in believing, Emerson, by his striking personality, suffices to redeem the whole literary

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class. This is his greatest fruit—his best result—showing after all, the infinite literary possibilities—certainly a rare gift—rare for any age."
I said, when it is asked what America has done for literature and art and so on—I point to Emerson, Lincoln and Whitman, and ask what could be more propitiating?—a trinity of giants, etc. W. said: "I should make a better reply: I should say, the glory of America is in its possession of 40 million high average persons, the brightest, cutest, healthiest, most moral, hitherto." I explained: "But in what I say of the particular persons, I imply all that. America produces them—they come of her soil. As if we spoke of a tree—of its grandeur and exceptional beauty—keeping constant remembrance of the air and the rain and the soil out of which and through which it came. In these men America is vocal." W. thereupon: "I see—and that's the point, exactly—a point to insist upon. America is not so great in what she has done as in what she is doing, as great, as I am fond of saying, because of her intestinal ebullitions—her cleansingness, so to speak—or tendency thereto." And as to the three men being what I thought them: "I see, you are right in your logic: I hope they are what you think they are."

     He had finished Herbert Aldrich's book—"Arctic Alaska and Siberia." When I asked about his interest— "I was not desperately, vehemently, so. Yet it is a book of the sort not to be denied, dismissed." Discussing German "tendential" novels: "I think Bulwer's 'What Will He Do With It?' must have been written on that method." And as to the wordiness and ornateness of Bulwer: "I always realize that those for whose critical judgment in general I have the most respect, would say what you have just said. Yet, after all, with Bulwer as with others, I come back to the question how it strikes me! which has an importance—a first importance—to me. I have never yet fully made up my mind whether I should most like to have that fine balance of critical judgment—dispassion—or not: it seems enviable to me: Emerson had it—had it to the full."


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