Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, November 19, 1890

     5:20 P.M. Spent well towards 45 minutes with W., who was brisk for talk and said he felt "reaonably well." Room dark. He sat in a small chair in front of the bright wood fire. "I have just been stirring it up," he explained. "That is why you see me in this chair." And he asked after the evening, which had become blustery, noisy. "I had a very good outing today, and was for having another, but this colder wind set in will keep me indoors. You see, I am mindful of the Doctor's injunctions: to get out as much as possible, though I don't know why I need to say that, either, for I know the importance, the necessity, of my getting out clearly enough of my own notion!" And here he laughed. I gave him an idea of the letter I had received from Bucke about his condition and told him I had written to Weir Mitchell, for M. or some other to come over to see W. He

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expressed no distaste (I feared he would), but admitted, "Bucke is mainly right in his prognostics," etc. I did not pursue it, nor did he.

     We developed somehow into talk of Ingersoll again, W. saying among much else, "I often wonder if the Colonel would be improved by caution? Whether that wonderful vital spontaneous flow of his life to his lips would not go with caution, too?" I objected that we might as well ask for caution of a tempest, which must do its work. W. then, "Yes, I see: and admit it, too. I only had it in mind in the shape of a question. He has that undefinable thing called magnetism to such an extent, I question if I ever saw its like in a man before. And his voice? I think for music, for change, freedom, ease, it is the best organ ever known—so flexible, so surpassing in its range, and flowing in, over, through you, without stop, without leave or hindrance." And further: "My question anyhow has no application to his platform addresses, his public work, writing, speaking. I have heard him speak several times, and he always justifies himself: what he does sets in its place—asserts its own place. His spontaneity, simple as a child—no reserves—light in him and out answering to light, a brave big presence." "Something in him ripples out over an audience," I put in, "with first words; and his satire has a peculiar crackle. And what is presence when he speaks unconsciously takes hold of his readers as well, though they have never seen him." W. to this, "It is a splendid touch: I know it for its best truth. Bob is like Burns. If Burns does not directly teach that all ends, culminates, rounds, in ideality—he leads inevitably to it, which is about the same thing. I know no grander light that shines out of such spontaneity as Ingersoll's: it is rare in any age—I think particularly rare in ours. And in such a time, when everything is toned down, veneered, hidden, lied about, pruded away"—note that word!— "it is well to have the giants make free with life. And so we ought to welcome Bob—those of us who know, who see, who believe."

     W. now turned to his chair nearby, took some loose sheets

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from it—I could not see what in the dark—folded them, handed them to me. "I was in the mood this morning—prepared some autobiographical notes for you—which you may father if you choose. I intended reading them to you, but now you are here and it is dark you might as well take them along—read them for yourself. You may perhaps want to use them just as they stand, with your own changes—such as come up as you go along." I had been in to see Stoddart and given him the result of our talk and agreement; and Stoddart was ready to have me go on—even mentioned two weeks for time, which, however, I did not assent to. W. liked the idea. I told him I could not say what I would do with his own matter till I saw what it was. Urged him to make it over his own name. But he dissented. "No. That would not do. I do not object to saying it—to having it known to come from me—but it would not seem to me in good taste to print it over my name. There are things in it which I wish said, and if you can use them—say them for me—well and good. Between you and me here, or with any others here, or anywhere, I would not mind frankly saying these things. And yet the other way excites my distaste. I can hardly tell you why. Perhaps this would make a little article in itself. It is anyhow rather a sketch of this room here than anything else. And it is something in the way of an answer to the many inquiries that are all going nowadays: who is Walt Whitman? what sort of bear, hyena—what-not? so that you might find demand somewhere for several articles bearing on the same animal. And besides, the little money that is in it, though not to be worried about, is not to be sneezed at, either." He thought Ingersoll's lecture could do us "immense good." "I met young Hall today—Tom's clerk—and he told me about his own joy in Bob's speech, but told me, too, that the man he went with, who was neither an Ingersollite nor a Whitmanite, had all his ideas of the critter revolutionized by Bob's power, eloquence, vehemence. Such testimony will bear to be thought over; it carries us along the way."


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     W. made no reference to any letter from Bucke, though he must have had the one Bucke told me he intended to write.


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