Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, January 15, 1891

     Arthur Stedman came in to see me at Bank. A small, frail fellow, with a cough, and tired voice and deafness—and the air of physical misfortune generally. But frank and good. Started in almost at once to apologize that they had sent no more money for W.—I urged him to desist, it was right as it was, etc. Took him over to Morris and they went to Camden together at once—this, between one and two. We talked briefly on the way of affairs—he of his father, I of W.—then of the Johns Hopkins lectures. Arthur loth to go to Camden if it would at all interrupt W., but could not stay till late afternoon and go with me because he needed to go directly home, the illness oppressing him. Morris came in later, described their trip and how it came W. gave Stedman one of the Morse paintings.

     5:20 P.M. In to W.'s myself. In his dark room, looking out on the twilight skies. Dinner just done. The fire burning steadily, a strong ray escaping from the half-open door and striking some of the pictures on the western wall. W. said immediately as to my cold hand, "How good that is! How it takes me out of doors. This hand of yours has become my daily escape from these

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walls!"
And after a merry word or two and a laugh more, "This has been a field-day for me—visited ever since I got up. First was Herbert Gilchrist: he came in early—took breakfast with me—was healthy, happy, invigorated. Then about noon the Stoddart party appeared. Stoddart himself, with his wife, daughter, another young lady, and it was a cheery party—Stoddart himself bright, good-natured, happy. He explained to me exigencies through which he was constrained to reject the reprint pieces, and I am satisfied. He brought me my proof—there"—pointing to a chair in which I could faintly catch its long line— "and I shall send it back tomorrow. I find it will make five or six pages, and that, with your space and the poems, will probably be quite enough. Well, they were here—did not stay long—but it was a brightening visit. After them was Stedman, with Morris—nor did they stay long—but I had some good talk with Arthur and was glad he came. How frail he is! It is evident something vital is the matter with him. It was long ago his mother spoke to me of his fragility," etc. Then, "We spoke of the lectures—his father is to have six, I think." I thought eight. W. laughingly, "Well, perhaps eight—and that makes it all the worse. It is a big undertaking, with such a subject to deal with." He had given Stedman the Morse painting that had hung over the mantel? "Yes. I noticed that the poor fellow clove to it: looked at it, talked to me, looked back again—at me—at it—and finally I told him to take it along. He insisted, but I insisted more—and now it is gone. You remember my old story—that every woman, every man—has his or her mate, waiting somewhere on the globe, if only the proper hour and place comes. And this picture found its mate. I liked Arthur: he has a weak, pensive, melancholic attraction—but I like him. He seems to have a genuine streak, and I honor that. I think his fancy for the picture a compliment for Sidney—for Arthur must know quite well the good things in that line, being right in the swim there in New York." Then as to the Johns Hopkins lectures, "It is formidable—hard to say what will come of them. Aesthetically,

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emotionally, Stedman comes near—accepts—but in spite of the deliverance, there's something in which he defers to the formal side of art, life—the mob aims, luxuries, elegances, fripperies. Yet not much of this, either. The fact is, only the very greatest entirely shake off these alien influences—and this is rather because they overbear them by the tremendous force of their vitality than because they are absolutely untouched. It is a curious problem—how far men are free anyhow. But we know of the masters at least this—that they put whatever is left of evil in its proper subordinaton."

     What was this Bucke wrote about Symonds? W. had said nothing to me about it. "No? I meant to—and at least meant you should have the letter when it came back. It was a letter sent by Symonds to Johnston in acknowledgment of the little pamphlet—has an almost pathetic personal flavor—is very applausive, lifts me high—our work—is pitched in a tone I hardly understand—painful perhaps, yet genuine, too—noble. This I have is only a copy which Johnston made for me. I told Bucke to return it."

     Had looked at the picture of Stepniak, "and shall do so again if you will leave the paper another day. A marvellous national Russian face—and nobly human, too—transfigured with the human divine qualities. I like it, it is high, it is vigorous. A man's face—a true man's."

     I had letter form Bucke today. Could not read; the room too dark. Explained the substance to him. "Noble fellow he is, one of the men we pass out to"—with tender intonations "and we love him." The passage about Ingersoll arrested him. "Bob and Shakespeare! Oh! if you hit on anything out of that anywhere, let me know—give me a glimpse of it. It is a curious thing about the Colonel. He has in some ways dropped out of sight—but will up again—must—inevitably. Such genius cannot be hid, even by modesty. Some fellow—a perfect shorthand man—ought to follow him about—catch up to the divine things he may drop. No one can tell with a fellow like the Colonel—he could

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not tell himself—at what time he will fire his big guns. He has great gifts,"
etc. And then, "If ever we had any, Ingersoll is our man," etc. Such men "are always complicated with the purpose of 'Leaves of Grass.'"

     By and by he suddenly broke in on a moment's silence, "Oh! there was another visitor, too—an actor—Francis Wilson; he came in today, and I liked him, he has his points," but no enthusiasm or warmth, as often over actors. I spoke of Wilson as a "low comedian," W. assenting. "Yes, I supposed so: I saw his name in the papers but knew nothing about him." And then, "But that is the stuff the world now seems to want—the absinthe, burning, burning—the strong liquors. A plain cup of water is an insult—bread and butter, anything less than the toppiest flavors—artificiality." I said, "But it is a passing phase." "I don't know—but I have no doubt it is one reason for the enmity which 'Leaves of Grass' excites—a strong, potent reason." But surely we will outlive it? He ceased his more serious tone: "Yes, I think we will—we must; we have weathered worse storms—but it is a storm."

     Discussing Stedman again, he said, "We must defend ourselves against a too-severe, top-loftical judgment: it is a great deal for him to have come into a recognition of the true big things—even if he can't do them." And much more in affectionate "response," as he called it, to Stedman's manliness.


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