Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, September 23, 1890

     7:15 P.M. W. in his room: reading, he said, and as I could see, a letter just received from Dr. Bucke of which he gave me some particulars. Just in from trip in chair. Alluded to the "autumnal beauty" of the evening, "the inspiration of the wind," and how exhilarated the outing had left him.

     Asked me for "news" again (his usual question after salutations), at which I exhibited the following letter from Ingersoll, received today.


New York, Sept. 21st 1890.

My dear friend:

Your letter expresses the scope of what I wish to say, and the subject or subjects upon which I think it will be well for me to speak. The details, of course, I leave to you. You can let me know at any time the day you can have, so that I can accommodate myself to it. If in November, let it be a little time after the election.

Give my very best regards to Whitman. You can tell him that I read, for about the twentieth time, on yesterday, his "Sprig of Lilac" that he placed on Lincoln's coffin, and every time I read, the poem seems greater and more pathetic.

Very truly your friend,

R.G. Ingersoll



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     He read deliberately, exclaiming as to the last passage, which he read a second time, and aloud. "Yes, it is beautiful. Yes, it is Bob: his voice, gesture, tone, vitality, is in it all, and it corresponds with what Johnston tells me in a letter today." Later he persisted in getting up and hunting me this letter, saying, "You should keep it in your collection, if you have one, and with the others, too, for it is worth while."


New York, Sept. 22 1890

Dear Walt:

It is very nice to know that you are well enough to write two such nice letters. It is wonderful—the rallying power that dear Nature gives us.

I am glad you are pleased with my idea of Ingersoll lecturing.

It will be a great event. One that us Whitmanites will rejoice over as long as we live.

I got Ingersoll interested two yrs ago in Saratoga.

Since then he has dipped into L. of G. very often (I can tell) and now—what do you think!! The other day he said to me, "Johnston do you know that I think there is nothing greater in poetry in our language than Walt's tribute to Lincoln."

Ingersoll has a great soul, and it did me good to hear him say it. And it was then I suggested the lecture, I want an address by him in permanent shape. That dinner speech ought to have been saved for posterity—now we will perhaps have something as great or greater.

Excuse great haste. Regards to Mrs. Davis.

Yrs sincerely,

JH Johnston


     I also had a letter from Johnston today, which W. read with interest. It reports this of the talk with Ingersoll:


New York, Sept. 22 1890

Dear Mr. Traubel:

I saw Ingersoll this morning. He thinks if Nov. is chosen it better be after election—but if it should be the last of Oct. it will be the same

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to him. He will come any night that you can secure the Academy or other big place.


He will fix on a name for his theme, but it will be Walt Whitman whatever else it is, in the way of frills to sound nice. Excuse great haste.

Sincerely yrs

JH Johnston


     W. afterward said to me, "When the proper time comes, when things are fully arranged for, we might give out a little item of news, which I have not given, must not now give, to the reporters, this: the Young Men's Christian Association refused me their hall for Elias Hicks, the Academy people refused Ingersoll their hall for Walt Whitman. There needs no more be said than that, all in two lines, which tell their own tale—measures, metes its own significance." I told him of Edward Sharples, as I understood a leader among Friends, to whom we sent a couple of copies of the Conservator, which he tore into pieces and returned. W. exclaimed, "Oh, shame! shame! shame!"

     Told him of postal from Clifford, saying he would probably be over with Neidlinger on Thursday. W. said, "Let them come. I am not afraid. Clifford always belongs with us."

     I reminded him of the notes he had promised me for my article. "There!" he exclaimed. "It is my memory again! I have not written a word of it, not a word." And after I had described to him somewhat the scheme of the article, he remarked, "I like it very much: it has great attractions for me. I know how, after a man disappears, the mists begin to gather, then fallacy of one degree or another, then utter myth, irresistibly mystifying everything. It is a lamentable twist in history." I asked, "Isn't an honest diary first-class history? Pepys, for instance?" He assented, "I was just going to mention Pepys. I should say, the thing to have is the truth, not to be satisfied even with the spirit of truth, but to demand the fact itself—

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the divine, unaided, uncircumlocuted, unmanipulated fact, however bare, however it forbids—only in an adherence to this is the safety of history. I am much attracted by a story that comes to us from the Greek, either in its literature or by some tradition. It tells that a hero, after he has gained one or two great victories, is celebrated by a colossal sculptural counterfeit in some public place; that after he has added to these victories, made them four or five more, and very very very very great—great beyond dispute—then this is taken down and a simple statue of life-size substituted. Oh! it is a sublime, a profound story! Kept for us moderns by the Elizabethan writers but very little dwelt upon by modern writers because too profound, too full of significances and rebuke, for them."
He had noticed, he said, that Ingersoll never indulged in personalities; he always discussed classes. "I think that is very wise and the secret of much. The explanation of things gone and things to come. I am more and more impressed and attracted by his work, his method of work, if so to be called."


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