Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, August 5, 1890

     4:50 P.M. With W. full half an hour. He had just finished his dinner. Warren, pipe in mouth, came in for the tray. He asked, "Are you done with it, Mr. Whitman?" to which W. in laughter said— "Don't it look so?"—the food, indeed, literally all gone.

     A picture by Barnard and Graham, an avalanche in the Rocky Mountains, attracted him for a long space. It was of full dramatic execution. "Dr. Bucke should see it," W. said. "He has been there—perhaps even in such situations. I know, in desparate ones." Also copy of Day-Star (N.Y.) with article by [Da Harnel?] in which was mention of W.

     Someone had said Donn Piatt kindly towards W. Now W. said to me: "I do not know him—or know about that—only this much, that the newspaper boys always had a more or less friendly feeling towards me—perhaps it was an expression of their clannishness, for they are clannish for their own men—

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and in Washington I got along well with all. Perhaps one exception might be mentioned—Uriah Painter: he did not like me."

     Asked me how to pronounce "Kreutzer" in Tolstoi's headline—"The Kreutzer Sonata"—then wondered if I had the book. "I should not be surprised but Tucker had made a big stroke with that in America." Then: "Has the order of the Postmaster General—the prohibition—absolutely gone forth? Or was that only the feeler?" And further— "If you have occasion to write anywhere in this matter, keep space to ask why it was Comstock dropped out of the prosecution of 'Leaves of Grass.' Oh yes! he was at the back of it all—Kennedy at one time set out to collect data about it, did get a good deal together, but I advised withholding it: the time was not ripe—nothing seemed particularly to call for it—the public was not interested. I suppose things came to bear which Comstock could not resist. I had friends in Philadelphia: there was on the one side bitter enmity—then also strong friendliness—among the friends near here a preacher." I gave W. his name: Morrow. He said, "Yes, that's it. I liked the little man—he was a nice little fellow—plucky—had his turn: I met him."

     Showed W. a few paragraphs on Savonarola from Castelar. "Yes—I shall read it with interest—anything from Castelar has a flavor to my taste. Often think, too, that after all our mental force—all the power of Northern peoples, in philosophy, science, the arts—at last it becomes us, it inspires us, to see the other side of the shield—to invite the Southerns—listen to them—their passion, warmth." But as to Castelar's life of Jesus, announced: "Poor Jesus!—to have come down these eighteen hundred years, to be biographized by us moderns! He hardly deserved it!" And then: "I often enough take into my mouth again and chew on Elias Hicks' saying that as for him, he had times when he wondered whether Jesus had not done full as much harm—perhaps more harm than good in the world; it is a pregnant reminder."


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     This paragraph seemed to excite his amusement in certain respects:

The clever critic of the Boston Budget declares that Mr. William D. Howells is striking a new note in fiction, and is giving to American literature its most marvellous presentation of the Comédie Humaine. Delicately fine in method and art as are those searching studies of every-day life of which April Hopes was the last and one of the subtlest, the critic believes that in Annie Kilburn a nobler success was gained, for in this book as in that brilliant story, A Hazard of New Fortunes, there is felt a profound sympathy with humanity, and the novelist shows himself to have the soul of the poet, the heart of the philanthropist, and the knowledge of a critical student and polished man of the world.

      "This element of 'profound sympathy with humanity' arouses my suspicions. But I must remember the story of the Judge, who, having heard one witness who was certain he had not seen a thing, and a dozen who were certain they had, decided it was 12 to 1 and ruled the single man out. I must let the dozen have their way. This paragraph has the look of Garland: Garland writes so. What do you know of the Budget? I think well enough of Howells, too. He is very much like our friend Dr. Johnston, whom you did not meet—looks like him, though fatter: Howells is really fat. He is inclined to be suave, kind, courteous—has his parts and holds them well." Tolstoi would say, it had been better if Aldrich had continued bankclerk and Howells printer, so to keep close to humanity. W. said however— "I don't think that necessary. A man might be human literary and still human. We know the artist has plenty of sins and this with them—but must it be? I doubt."

     Had read of Lafcadio Hearn's assault on Stoddard. "Stoddard is not without talent—but he is a snarling, soured cur, too."

     Was so "tickled," as he said, with the "ingenuity of it—a

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sponge-headed mucilage bottle"
I had brought him a while ago—that he wished another.


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