Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, August 18, 1890

     5:15 P.M. Talked with W. till after six—W. in a most animated way. Yet he did not appear to me over-well. He spoke of one of his visitors today—Prof. Cattell, of the University. There had been several—his sister and niece among them. I thought they had somewhat wearied him. Said he was "rather favorably impressed with Cattell—he seems to be a man of intelligence. He said he was professor of metaphysics, or something of the sort, out there. I asked him a question—Oh! I asked him a number of questions, I suppose, among them this: if Hegel still held his high place among metaphysicians? He said that in America and in England he thought he did, but that in Germany he had been superseded. This was intensely interesting to me, arousing the wonder what and who had superseded him. I have never been able to tell how Hegel and Kant, for instance, are differentiated." I told him we expected Prof. Harris to speak on Hegel at our first fall club meeting (November). He said, "If you can get a word with Harris, ask him (I would if I could be there) what he would define as the difference between the two men—between Hegel, Kant." As to Harris' vocabulary— "He will plead that the themes impose it—that for what he is saying, other words would not fit. I have asked him myself—what's it all about?—what are you all after? And once, years ago, he sent me a lot of matter, which I picked up from time to time and tried to read, but it would not do—I could not touch bottom, if bottom there was. I have held Hegel the top of the heap so far because of his acceptivity: it seems to me he fit better than

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any other to America, to its democracy, its aspiration, its future. And that was a big key for a big door. I know Harris. Met him in St. Louis, years ago. And he was very kind, gentle to me. I saw him again after he went to Concord. He took Hawthorne's house there—whether buying or renting—which—I do not know. He showed me things—though I did not dismount, not feeling well. In one portion of the grounds is the little building for the School of Philosophy, where the big-wigs in that line pow-wow together. I must say for myself, I never have been able to cipher much out of the metaphysical wrangles. They no doubt have their place, only I can't specify it."

     Alexander Smith, in "Dreamthorp," says, "Emerson's writing has a cold, cheerless glitter, like the new furniture in a warehouse, which will come of use by and by." W. read this in a paper—pushed it aside—exclaiming— "Well that is one view, only one!" And would say no more of it.

     In speaking at Ethical Society meeting yesterday I had said, on the subject of intellectual integrity, [the subject being] discussed, that the bane of our current average literature was in its lapse from such honor—that it forgot its debt to man, to great ends, in love for verbal dress, etc., and sustained that excess of intellect had made Napoleon, excess of feeling emotional piety, the noble mien of both Buddha, Jesus, Socrates among ancient and Carlyle, Ruskin, Emerson and Whitman among modern teachers. After the meeting a man accosted me and said he had it in his mind to take me up on Whitman, but deferred till he got me in a corner, as now—wishing to say that he had intended to expose W. in some one of the papers for his treatment of a young poet (whom he did not name) who went to Camden for an interview. I laughed somewhat and explained I had no doubt W. had treated the man kindly and justly, even if he had refused to talk, etc. W. took the matter more seriously than I thought he would. "I make every effort to do justice to everyone who comes," he said. "If I go downstairs to see them, or see them in the room, I am sure that in 99 cases out of 100 I am kind,

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courteous. It is true I do not always consent to hear all that people may want to say—I could not: but when they come—young men, girls, whoever, I give the best welcome I can. There's one thing about me, however, which I don't think my best friends know—not you, not Bucke: inherently I have a bad temper—I have always known it—but"
—raising his arm and clenching his fist— "I am just as sure that I have nearly perfect control of it—that it never runs away with me—that I am its master, not it mine. My dear mother knew it well—warned me of it, counselled me. And it was not without effect. Yet if that visitor had been a poet," he said laughingly, "I have no doubt he wanted to argue, and I would not argue with him—that is generally the condition." I said I had never seen W. treat anyone harshly but had seen him go within doors and close himself in, etc. To which he laughed: "Yes—I see—I have no doubt I did that." And again— "But probably the story is a lie—our planet seems now in the orbit of lies. And they say of the meteoric showers, sometimes we fall within their orbit and they are copious, so with these liars, who copiously shower us from day to day."

     While we sat talking Mrs. Davis came in with a couple of letters. He seemed pleased with the superscription of one, saying to me after regarding it fixedly, "It is from Symonds," and after he had opened it: "A long letter, too—and in the same plain hand—if not a plainer!" And after a pause, with a quiet smile, "He calls me master—opens the letter 'My dear Master'"—and then went on to read it. He started off with an acknowledgment of a postal, and regret that he had not sent thanks for "Whitman's letter" before etc., forgetting that he had. At one place W. stumbled in the reading, at the last; downbreaking— "Oh! It is Latin! 'As Horace says,' but all worse than nothing to me, for I can't tell a word of it." And further on Symonds spoke of some misquotation of his from "Specimen Days," or quotation in "Democratic Art" from early edition changed in later—in "The Future of Poetry"—and said that as

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the edition of essays now out was small, less than a thousand, in the new one contemplated he would set the quote right, if not recast the whole drift of the essay. W. stopped here curiously, took off his glasses, and looked at me. "Don't that sound curious to you?—change the whole drift of the essay? and that reminds me"—and he laid the letter down, to go into the new subject. Just then Mrs. Davis came into the room to say that the census-taker was downstairs and wished to talk with him a minute. W. directed him sent up, and after he had come, entered into quite a streak of questions and comments as to census in general. The stranger said he had come to get more specific information about W.'s paralysis. W. said he was "perfectly willing to tell all" he knew about it, yet had no idea that they wanted much more than he had given. "There were so many foolish and stupid objections made to the census, we determined to tell all that was asked, to show we could appreciate its value." Asked to see the letter from Washington, asking the further facts. Said: "I was paralyzed in February, '72, first—and was about to recover from it, when domestic troubles, very sad and serious to me, set me back, so that I never fully got on my feet again. Walk? Bless you, I can't walk from where I am to you without assistance, cannot stand without leaning against something. It is paralysis—at the time—the immediate trouble—was called left hemiplegia. It affected all this left side—though in about four days I recovered the use of the left arm, though never in great strength. My legs are completely gone—but the paralysis hardly touched my speech, and, as far as I know, did not affect the brain. I will write all this down definitely if you wish it, though I think you will understand enough to satisfy them." Asked then about methods, how they went to work, the questions asked, etc. "For instance, that about mortgages. How many correct answers out of a hundred do you suppose you got? Would anybody confess the extent to which their house was mortgaged? Not that I am opposed to it—on the contrary, I would want it known—want mortgage, mortgage, mortgage posted everywhere, to show how

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Americans grow, pretend, over-live, luxuriate on nothing. Though I don't know that the sin is American alone—it is human nature, probably, a parade of possession which is detrimental to the whole race."
Then he suddenly asked, "How large would you say was the proportion of honest answers?" The visitor was sure there were not more than a dozen who failed him out of the 400 and more houses he visited. W. asked, "Do you say that?" And to the assent— "Good! That is the best report yet." Finally, the man appearing to get off into garrulity, W. picked up Symonds' letter, at which the other excused himself and went out. W. then said, "I was about to say—as the man came in—that Symonds' hint that he may change the drift of his essay reminded me of something Cattell said. Cattell said that Symonds was not a rich man—that he had something—but not much—had mainly to depend upon his literary handlings for a living. This was new to me—throws some light—even on the books there," pointing to the red books at his feet. "I asked Cattell, are you sure of that? and he said—substantially— yes, I do not guess it. I know it."

     Then W. started to read the letter again, and suddenly his face paled in the strangest way and he laid the letter down and said, "I talked with him too long: it has tired me out." I stayed till he had recovered himself somewhat—told him he could speak of it again—then left.

     He was most cordial in all his ways, but overworked. Said that some days "the visitors fairly swarm."

     He spoke while I was there of his postal to Wallace in England the other day. "I am anxious about Johnston! He went away from here, expecting to stop with my friends—the Romes—to see them—in Brooklyn—then set a time distinctly, due at Doctor's—but he (Johnston) not only has not been there, but has not written a word explaining it. I have not heard of him since his departure. I shall not feel easy till I have heard from him or about him. When he was here he made his headquarters at the West Jersey Hotel. Wallace has been very kind to me—

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and I sent him by Johnston one of the last Gutekunst photos. Warren was with Johnston the last day—went with him to the Haddonfield station, when he took the train for New York. He was to have sailed for Europe from Quebec, I think. I have no idea what has happened, if anything."

     Gave me mail to take to Post Office—one bundle of papers for his brother Tom—letters for Bucke, Kennedy, T.J. Whitman—addresses of all fearfully blotted, yet readable.


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