Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, August 26, 1890

     4:40 P.M. I sat with W. for half an hour. He finished his dinner while I stayed, but talked freely, both before and after Warren had gone off with the tray.

     Feels "relieved" he says, from having had the cable from Wallace acquainting him with "Johnston's safety." Has so written Wallace.

     Expressed some curiosity about just published volume from Conway on Hawthorne. "I read a notice of it in one of the papers today." Had also read New York Herald reported interview with Zola on Tolstoi "from beginning to end."

     This reminded him of a sheet he picked up from the table. "I have started here a list of a few of the books I have here about me—say a dozen or 20 of them—my entourage. You may want to mention them in your article."

     He laughed over statement now running about over papers—that Swinburne's last poem (in some way touching Russia: I have not seen it) had "destroyed his prospects for the laureateship." "I do not think it needed much to destroy that chance—in fact, I don't think the Queen, Prince of Wales—anybody having any power there—ever gave him even a distant chance." And as to the notion he had seen broached, that the U.S. should pension literary and scientific men— "I would say to that—to use perhaps a severe word—it is despicable. I don't even know that the word is too severe, especially if we consider (as we might have considered, speaking of Swinburne)—that England itself has now probably come to the time to drop her laureateship and all that—probably will drop it after Tennyson."

     Spoke of the Times "farrago or worse" yesterday. "I suppose it may be said nine-tenths of that is simply and entirely Jim Scovel—one tenth not mine, but some hodge-podge, perhaps suggested by things I said. All my talk was low key—all of it: for instance, take that passage he gives about Blaine. I said

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only that Blaine's recent actions had placed him in better light than ever before in my mind—or something of that tone—and out of such moderation he makes all this extravagance."
But he added, "I suppose it is essentially harmless, anyhow. Hartmann's sin was in his making me voluminous in flings at the literary fellows—even by name, with a distant unrecognizable connection in fact, if at all."

     Long article in Press yesterday, "Russia and the United States." W. talked of it with some fullness. "Do you think it was written by Smith?" he asked, moved by something I said. "That did not occur to me. But I liked the piece—liked it because it rebelled against the English sources of information about Russia, which are the only ones we know." And after some seconds of quiet, "Do you know Horace, it is a curious thing: all the men we send to Russia soon grow into and come away by and by with the same notions? See Cash [Cassius] Clay"—(always pronounces it so)— "yes, he is living yet. He sent me the first volume of his autobiography—you have seen it downstairs—sent a letter along with it, too. I have read the book nearly through: it is scrappy, but interesting—goes over ground I have travelled and know well. Clay has vehement defense for Russia." And he still continued— "Have you ever met any Nihilists? I have met a number of them—bright, brilliant fellows—women sometimes. Mrs. Gilchrist had many inclinations that way. When she was here I met several in her house in Philadelphia. One of them a naval officer—handsome, intellectual, brave—that way disposed, despite his position. Then there was a couple—man and wife: she is clear to me to this day, in all her vivacity, energy, absorption."

     Discussed then German and French reserve physical force in war. "I can see how it should be that the German military boards have a scientific tinge, if not more. And that must have had its effect in the last war with France. When the war broke out, there were some of us in Washington—O'Connor, Burroughs (I think), others—all vehemently and at once on the side of the

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German: looked for every sign of news to show German progress, victory. But when the German army, after Sedan, got into France, moved towards Paris—then we all as suddenly changed—our sympathies turned to France—it was a curious revolution."
He thought this had come, "even if unconsciously," from the new color given to French affairs by Republican ascendancy. Then he took Smith up specifically as "not fully just" to the English feeling in our struggle, which "was not all hostile." "Things were badly against us then in Europe—Napoleon in particular hated us—made no secret of his attitude—damn him!" I laughed and exclaimed, "What use?—Germany damned him!" To which he replied, "True, he is already damned, in history and conscience: no need for me to add anything." Then pursued his reflections: "But it has seemed to me very few realize, will admit, the debt we owe to Albert and Victoria for that time—there seems to be very little recognition anyhow of the stand they took—for it was heroic. But for it, even England might have been actively arrayed against us. All the Tories, aristocrats, snobs, cockneys, were against us then—the group of our friends was very small—a few—Bright, I think Cobden, John Stuart Mill, Frederick Harrison, and so on—a minor group. You know, Dudley was there then—I think he did his duty there well in those difficulties—and they were many and sharp—it is the most interesting phase of his talk nowadays—away from his protectionism—damn it!—this gives him a tinge of heroics. This English complication I shall never forget—it has not had justice done it." Then W. turned to another aspect. "I know that what Russia did is open to the construction that it was done out of self-interest—that her interests imposed it—which has its measure of truth, too. I remember vividly several talks with Boyle O'Reilly on this subject, and how wonderfully we agreed in all I have been saying."

     The next drift was to an entire new quarter. His facile temper today struck me forcibly. Now he said, "Warrie was down to Atlantic City on Sunday—came up yesterday morning. The

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accounts he gave me of things he saw there moved me more than you would suppose. Perhaps I took it all too seriously. The new thought—the fear, I was going to say—has vexed, followed me since. The rush, din, delirium, passion of life there—the visitors—all of them with lots of money—the whole bent of things towards fun—simply fun—the American idea of having a good time. Warrie described the shore, bathers, not hundreds of them, but thousands—perhaps ten thousand—and the costly liquors drank, clothes worn, food eaten—the whole thing impressing me as pandemonium—a horrible medley—with conceptions of life rather vulgar than true or profound. But there was more than cloud, too—light, as well as shadow: for instance, Warrie said that with all the thousands—the passion of fun—the freedom—there seemed no drunkenness. And there was a prevalence—a general prevalence—of suavity, good humor—everybody prepared to think, say, do, the best-natured thing. I confess when he told me this many of my first impressions were sent flying or at least thrown into doubt. Perhaps here was a new solvent—the very good nature itself the major stroke for freedom, progress—its guarantee. I have sometimes thought, put this nature into general play; as here on this special field—and by and by—perhaps not long—we would have French Revolutions here."
To him, the serious phase in all this was "the frivolity—the shallow impress put upon character, personality"—that, in fact— "the American ideal of pleasure, joy, seems set so low."

     Happening to make some allusion to Denver—a subject that always inspires him—W. asked me, "Did I ever speak to you of Mrs. Farnum? She was a power here years ago—was matron or what-not at Sing-Sing. She told me it was much the same in California. You put a blanket on the ground—another about you: can then sleep with impunity. She said a week's experience of that sort did not hurt her—and she was not a powerful woman, though not a frail one either. I have always considered her one of our big women—a woman of force, intellect—and she was

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finally displaced: this very power the cause. She was too radical for the Board of Managers—much as Bob would be too radical—that is to say, would not believe in Presbyterianism. The chaplain there was against her. She was a woman of many commissions—sent here and there, to that duty, to this, because full of the ability that could do any task justice."

     I urged that he put the Post paragraphs on Ingersoll in book. "Do you think I should? I am not averse. Do you think them important enough?"

     Said Frank Williams had been in today. "For a few minutes—en route to Atlantic City."

     W. thought his mail came to him "well in hand"—that little estrayed. "They may not come direct here—I find some of them taking curious voyages: but finally they land at our doors, even if from the Dead Letter Office."


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