Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, August 7, 1890

     5:10 P.M. W. just finishing meal. Have a piece of cake?" he asked—handing me a rather doughy cut, which I struggled with and finally laid quietly aside. "You know how it is with the cooks," he remarked, laughing, "they hate to have things returned: it is a slight they do not forgive." Then, reminiscently—

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"I remember the struggle I used to have at Washington to get the things I wanted: it was life or death. At one time it was tea: it was hard to get it, hard to have landladies do it your will, and there was the rub." "I remember Sumner—Sumner had tea with him, would go about with it under his arm, sometimes in his pocket here"—indicating the vest— "I have often seen him with a bag tucked under his arm." This led to some talk of Sumner, of whom W. had, as I caught it, this to say: "Yes—Sumner was a big man—a noble-looking one, too: large—imposing. All Sumner's bases were right, sound, secure, but there was elegance, artificiality about him in unmistakable quantity—parts for which you and I, for instance, would criticize him, would differ. I should say, that things original—any real hospitality for inherencies—no, they were not for him, he shrank from them. Yet that is to state it strongly, too, for there was that to be said, then more: then something of the native pluck, strength, faith of the man. But Sumner had that damnable Yankee accessory—the shudder, for a word misspelled, misused, a false intonation. Even Emerson had it."

     Returned me Harper's Weekly. "I have been reading Theodore Child's piece about the Argentine Republic. It was quite interesting—especially the first part—thevoyaging part, though on the whole Child probably does not carry great weight." But who was Child? As to Lydia Maria, "I know of her—a little—and that is about all"—but— "there was another Child—I don't know—I suppose lives still—a man, somewhat in the line of Ellis, who flourished in the early part of this century, in England. You have heard of Ellis? Ellis was a great man of his kind—learned in curios. Child is such a man: rich in lore of that sort, important enough itself, however little important to me."

     Spoke of Ingersoll—the piece on "Nature" in "Prose Poems." "It only covers three of four pages—but away the best in the book. I should think we could all enjoy Ingersoll for his tremendous vitality. There is not a dull line in the book: I doubt if he could write a dull line. We can all go with him, though not

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always the whole length, often the whole length, too. He has a tremendous way of saying tremendous things—singing them: is full of light. I don't know but his highest quality is receptiveness, sweetness, sympathy: he receives everyone, everything: is gentle, sweet, caressing, mellifluous, at all times. I often think these things are his forte—his power, his master-genius."

     Then back to Sumner again, his "elegance—scholarliness." "I think I see such things in Symonds too. Oh! I expect the day to come, with it some equal man, when all these things will be scattered to the winds—literariness, polish, grammaticalism, all that—routed, damned, by some daring spirit, some bold, bold personality, full of defiance, straight in communication with the elemental forces." Had not "Leaves of Grass" done much such work? He hesitated a moment, then continued, "I don't know: it is not for me to say. The new man will have a flavor all his own, like a new climate, a fresh breath of northern air."

     Speaking again of this "new voice" he said, "I am at a loss to know at what point he will arrive—probably in literature."

     How soon would he be ready with copy for "Annex"? In fall? He smiled, "It probably will be a be—but just how big a be would be hard to tell." Writes day by day. I see new discarded notes littering the floor every time I come. If he gives me an apple for my mother, a cake for my sister, or anything for myself, he will perhaps wrap in some such slip from the mass about. These I usually preserve.

     Leaned over table—hunted—gave me an envelope with a Canadian stamp. "I am sure this will amuse you: here is a woman who is afraid I am to be damned—bless her! There's nothing in the letter: it's of the same parcel with others I get from day to day. But this is the latest."


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