Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, September 13, 1890

     5:10 P.M. W. kept entirely indoors by the rain. But in very cheery mood. Said he hoped to get up to Harned's tomorrow, "but I shall not be certain till the hour strikes and I am there." Further: "Warrie and I have been debating whether it would be wise for us to attempt to go out."

     Said he had looked through Holmes' Atlantic piece several times—shall want still to see it—to make sure of its "positions."

     The Critic (dated today 13th), in the "Lounger," has an extract from letter of O'Reilly to Waitman Barbe, Parkersburg, W. Va. W. read—called it "sweet" and said some kind things of "Boyle." On the next page a letter: "Walt Whitman Interpreted."

     W. read this with, as he said, "grave attention and interest." Did I know the writer? "No." "Nor do I," said he. "It is an entire new name," but added, "I think she is mainly right in her interpretations. That is about what I aimed to say, and yet the Tribune is right, too. I do not think my writing in that article would be called remarkable for clearness, especially that passage: it did not satisfy me when I wrote it, does not now. It does not appear to have difficulties for our immediate fellows. They have such knowledge, such aids, as easily shift them to the truth. I am not sure but I shall try the substance of that passage again—hitting out more direct—sweeping the decks utterly of anything that will interfere with clear sailing."

     Remarked dubiously, "I see that the Critic is getting into the habit of printing its headlines without periods. I don't know," shaking his head.

     Had got from Harned "The Kreutzer Sonata" and North

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American Review—they both lay at his feet. He said enthusiastically (I have not for long known him so possessed by a book), "I have read 'The Kreutzer Sonata'—read it today—and it's a masterpiece—as great a masterpiece as 'Othello,' by as great a master. I don't know but greater than 'Othello'—certainly more fitted to the intricacies of modern life—to our special problems." He gave me a sketch of the story: "It is a story of jealousy, of passion, not attended by quite horrible circumstances as 'Othello.' I think Tolstoi goes over the strong part very easily—does not make much of it, but it is probable enough—more probable than Shakespeare's often are. Oh! It is a great book—a work of art—filed down—thought out—greater than all the Longfellows, all the Tennysons of this age, any age. I confess the book has taken a strong hold of me—it has opened my eyes, made me feel that we have a master with us—a master as great as any. I know of no one who writes in English as he writes, or has ever so written: with such power, such nature, such absence of calculations. I feel that it is a picture of high life—a touch at the heart of so-called society—true in vein, in throb, in all colors and scenes. I am quite disposed to endorse it, too, for often it has come to me, the brutishness of the Orientalism, that gives man any monopoly he chooses with woman—that excites in him such a passion, frenzy, of monopoly, as breaks and wrecks her best sympathies and hopes. As to the indecency, I am astonished that even the blatherskites who attempted to suppress it should see it in that light: it is incredible, it is stupid, foolish to the last degree. If the book is as I read it in a translation where something certainly is lost, what must it not be in its original tongue?" I asked him if he remembered "Sebastopol." "Yes, that was great, but this is greater. This is more complete, more intense, more rich." And again: "I do not see that Tolstoi goes much into assertions of his own doctrines. Here and there comes a paragraph in which he vehemently says something, but in the main the story is is like a medical treatise: it is physiological, philosophical. It presents a picture faithfully, majestically,

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masterfully—and he does not spare the picture: he has his surgeon's knife—he cuts where cutting should be—he binds, he does his work. It is not a parlor—not a titillation of the senses: it is the great gorge, the canyon, the pass, we meet in the Rockies: it is the sea in its play: it is element and element. Those who go to it expecting sweets will be shocked, will fear, will shrink back to their luxuries. I read Ingersoll's piece about the book, and I do not agree with it on the whole, though some of the flights are as true, profound, superb, as at his best. His indirections—most all of them—very great, very rich, full of color. But he does not do Tolstoi justice on the whole. If I found it in my line, I should write out all I have been telling you—put it in print somewhere. But in the first place it is not in my line. Then, I am too lazy. But if there should be any occasion when it may seem in point, I give you permission to use it all—to put the emphasis you know I feel. If I were in easy hail of him I should write it all down anyhow and let him know it from me, but I cannot—it is out of the question."
Further: "I must read the book again—see if all this enthusiasm is repeated—confirmed—as Emerson always did." Referring to the attempted suppression, "It is but another breath of 'protection.' It is in accord with the fact that our globe is now circling in a region where every rod of air or sea or land demands or is given 'protection.' Yes, this despite Blaine's 'reciprocity.' Reciprocity has some little hope—some promise—perhaps may still be the egg from which all is hatched." And still again, "All the masters are not in the past: here is one as great as any. A man whom even Tennyson can't approach. Whose vigor, like the rock, has vast elemental bases, yet has freedom, too—as the flowing together of streams. It has been a revalation to me and an explanation, too, of the world's scorn of him. O, if only William O'Connor were alive! How he would take up a lance for him! And he would say that Tolstoi's picture was true, too, for William knew all those things well—had as keen an eye as ever opened for just such revelations, such frank, bare, sublimely faithful revelations!"


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