Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, January 29, 1891

     5:10 P.M. In his darkened room, his dinner done, W. was restfully dreaming an hour's vision towrds the north-west. Our talk was to me a happy one. He seemed free and unconstrained. He had read the proof of Kennedy's piece? "Yes—it is in the envelope there," pointing to the table. "You may take it with you when you go. I like it very much for its kind; it is certainly the best piece I know—certainly the best thing Sloane has done. And it would seem about time something was done in the direction of the recognition of the women: for some of us to dwell upon the lives of noble big women. History teems with accounts of big men—genius, talent—of the he-critters, but the women go unmentioned. Yet how much they deserve! I know from time to time there are spasms of virtue—some fellow sets up to describe the salons—as in one of the magazines lately"—Century— "but what is that? I have no admiration for the formal elegant lives of salons. I have in mind the noble plain women I have met—many of them—women to whom the word 'literature' even is unknown; mothers of families—mistresses of households—out over the country—on farms, in the villages: marvellous managers—tender, wise, pure, high—the salt of our civilization. I have often resolved to write this up myself, but am stayed: that would spoil it all to write it up!—and so have not done it."

     Stedman had thought Bucke "a lunatic" from his radical endorsement of W. There was one instance of Bucke's reference to W.'s "pink-white skin"—making much of it. Stedman said

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that had "excited the laughter of the literary fellows in New York." W. exclaimed, "And that is a compliment: I regard that as a plume in his honor. Why should he not? What are we here for? It is as natural for these fellows to antagonize as for us to be: they must, in the very nature of things. As to the color of the skin—that was not really new to Doctor, though he adopted it. Conway was once with me—I think on the Long Island shore: we went bathing together: and he remarked the peculiarity in one of his English articles. Of course, I know that wouldn't soften the charge if a charge belonged anywhere. But it is a poor argument, anyway, and I am surprised that a cute man like Stedman, any cute man in fact, should attach the least importance to it. I have told you about one of my meetings with Beecher? He declared once—in a company—I was one of them—that he did not know one drunk from another—boasted of it. I think—thought at the time—that the fling was at me. But though it excited an inward retort, I said nothing—held my peace. But what I thought was this: that it was very much as if a doctor would boast—'I know nothing of your guts, blood, excrement, urine, wounds, sores—it is all unelegant, forbidding, nauseous to me: I am the doctor of your proprieties'—very much that way—for what have we but to look for just those things? Not, it is true, to forget the daintinesses, in their places, but to have an elemental acceptivity, taking all as part of fact and history. And all this leads to what I was going to say about Doctor. Stedman should know me, know 'Leaves of Grass,' well enough to see that we look to reflect, to stand for, fact. Not pleasant fact only, but fact: and fact means all tempests, horrors, hoggishnesses—everything—whatever! I am always curious in just such points—complexion, the color of a man's hair, eyes, voice, legs, arms, trunk, port—all that goes to make him himself. And Doctor has but seen for himself what I have seen for myself. It is our method." As to the "halo" O'Connor had declared to Stedman he had seen about W.'s head, W. would say

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nothing except to remark, "It is new to me, entirely new," and then pass away, "but this skin story—this introduces a palpable concrete question."


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