Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, December 21, 1889

     8 P.M. W.'s bed-room. Said he had been out today. "We stopped at Tom's office on the way, but he was not there." Enjoyed it much. Alluded to "the forthcoming number of Lippincott's." "It contains a piece by Stoddard on N. P. Willis. Strange to say, this is marked by the entire absence of Stoddard's usual sourness, asperity. I don't know how close he came to Willis. Willis was evidently kindly-disposed—indeed was anyhow the best of men that way—a polite man, a proper man, in a sense I have never known in any other, and to an extent, almost brusque, entirely free of soft-soaping, yet never giving out the impression of offense. This piece of Stoddard's amounts to nothing at all—I could write more myself, though my knowledge of Willis was not ever intimate."

     Another matter: "The Press this morning printed quite a liberal culling from Tennyson's book. Oh yes! it was good—yet not remarkable, either—very soft, sweet, very Tennysonian. Demeter is another name for Ceres, and Tennyson gave that story over again—a story often done, and well done, by men of the past—this may be called the Tennysonian version." I quoted Harper's Weekly, that Browning "alone in his generation has contested the palm with Tennyson," and W. said: "I suppose that Time must settle all this about Browning—Time, which may be said to settle all things. Browning may be the man for 200 years hence: that remains to be developed. I do not think all this investigation of our time goes for nothing." But when I said, "contemporary fame is chance," he assented— "Yes, nothing more so"—but Browning "seemed to have a quality which defied his envious contemporaries, too—and this it might be which by and bye would most largely persevere."

     Spoke hereupon of Mrs. Fields' Scribner article on Leigh Hunt, returning the magazine to me: "Fields had his possessions in plenty—I saw them, in a way—books, pictures,

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china, bric-a-brac—I don't know what all. Yet in his models he was the most orthodox of men—afraid of individuality—planting himself on the old forms, literary traditions"
—but a man "of first-class quality of its kind." He was "not surprised" that Stevenson should not understand Scott. "How could he? the antipodes of Scott in all things! Scott was too simple, too natural, for him. Scott had a great love for the medieval—persons, equipage, what-not—a real love, running in him deep: yet was as free as a child—loved to get out in the air, breathe, grow, commune with nature—a splendid, healthy personality,"—Stevenson "morbidly of another type."

     Speaking of his health he said: "There is an old man comes to see Mrs. Davis, and when she asks him how he is, he replies curiously—'still doing my old business—still making baskets.'" And W. then laughing: "I am still at my own business—still making baskets and baskets." He thought "we have a good friend in Judge Garrison here in Camden: I think he must have distributed as many as 30 copies of your book—I should say he has had almost that number from Tom." Of the London Illustrated News picture he said: "If you don't mind, let me give it to Herbert: I wish particularly for him to have it." I suggesting, "He is welcome—I have no desire to keep it"—W. then: "Nor do I: I do not want it about," but thought "there are particular reasons why Herbert should have it."

     While sitting there we heard the play of the whistling buoy down the river at one of the ship-yards at the foot of Camden. It has a rising inflection—sings on for a minute or so, then dies by gradation away. W. put up his hand—we were silent— "Did you hear it?" he asked. Then: "Sometimes when I sit here and the wind is south, it is extreme in its power, music. It has a large and liberal—an expansive—tone." Then of steam-whistle-tones in general: "Some are incredibly fine—as in the case of boats, often. I never realized a demonstration of the sort that was as striking as on the Saguenay river, up in Canada. I heard it—it was distant—a sound, as I thought, of

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a band—insisted that it was a band—though they tried to persuade me not. Yet it was a boat leaving off steam—that was the whole mystery. I had a hard job to believe it."


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