Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, June 30, 1891

     8:00 P.M. To W.'s, to find him in bed. I entered very softly but he was not asleep, instantly saluting me and extending his hand. He reported, "I am as well as I have a right to expect—but bad enough, anyway." I asked about many inconsequential things. He had written to Bucke: "He ought to get this letter before he starts—perhaps another tomorrow." Warrie up—helped W. to a chair. I lighted gas. Strange matter in papers today about Bismarck. W. had "glanced at it" but not read— "not feeling to sit down over a big article." Reported, "I have read the Lippincott's piece over again today—read it and read it—more carefully, I think, than before. I do not feel to criticise it in the least. I feel as I look at it, that Symonds, Conway, Bucke, touch the deepest chord—oh yes! Doctor—it is a great thought—and not praise overdone. These seem to me to have each a great get-at-able-ness: a far, priceless something worth while to start for, to persist towards, to get at last—a curious gemlikeness—though I don't like that word, either. I cannot think why anybody wished to cut the Doctor out—to unload that: it will hold a proud head

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anywhere."
And further, with a laugh, "That was a keen thrust, Tom Donaldson's at Morris, eh? Tom went right home—it was cute, quick, decisive." Then, "But do you know, Horace, as I get older, I feel to want to hedge. You know what that means? To shrink from personalism—to be less gabby, less self-talky, less disposed to make free and easy. As I read the Lippincott's piece, I wonder if it will come by and by to assume an offense—do you think?" I protested, "It is the best history; it takes you as you are—conveys you—makes neither much nor little of you—makes nothing of you—simply leaves you as you are." W. further, "The old fellows who wrote history—Gibbon, Hume, the like—kept up a certain stately pace—a dignified exterior, at least." I urged, "But we are now after nature—not to stand before the light, or say where the light shall shine, but to let it go its way, to expose what it will. In that sense, such matter as the Lippincott's talk is the best light—the very best." W.: "True—I do believe—I do not know but that touches the high notch. I feel how subtle, unanswerable, it is." I moreover said, "Lincoln did not have distinction—yet will live: you know why (in spite of Arnold and his dictum)." "Yes, that is true: he is an ever-living new day." I argued, "And as to distinction—we can do well without it." "Yes, better without it—if Lincoln could be what he was without it, it cannot be very necessary to the making of a man." And what good was it to Arnold himself to have it? W. laughingly, "How true! The big qualities never come into file—parade at call!" This led him to talk of the "Imprints." Not yet yields to our argument to use it—saying, "I do not quite know what to think about it. Could it be done without damage? I am much inclined to submit to your judgment—to Doctor's—saving the gab I have just talked about. It is a question whether we should do more in this line—yet not a question, either, if what you have argued is true—and I am disposed to think it is. There seems to be a revolution in the writing of history—the new fellows won't have the old on any terms—science presents new methods—more than that, insists on them. I liked your paragraph about

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the dinner"
(in June Conservator). "It goes to the heart of the matter—touches center. Stick to that—assert it everywhere—it is our gospel, if we have any."

The dinner given Walt Whitman in his own house, May 31st, his 72d birthday, brought together notable men, and set forth the best music of good feeling and recognition. I have edited an account of it for Lippincott's. The utterances of Whitman and his friends and correspondents, wound together conversationally, take the mind back to Socratian literatures—the simple, profound part taken by Whitman especially having Greek flavor and melody. This event will cluster historic meanings, and I look to see the record of it preserved for its certain priceless odor of the prophet. A feature remarked by Mr. Harned—Whitman's composed front when disasters the most serious surround him (his very welcome of death, as Ingersoll puts it, with outstretched hand)—will go far, as even to-day it has far influences, towards the final universal appreciation of his philosophy. The emphasis set upon this conviction by Mr. Harned had the charm and freedom—the careless eloquence—of personal feeling: it was the testimony of no casual traveler, passing from a moment's observation, but of a close friend, a long intimate, to whom Leaves of Grass, as William Rossetti believes, is the greatest gift floated on modern shores.

     As to attempts of friends to commit W. to special reforms, "I am not favorable—it is not me. I am willing to hear—to welcome—to have experiments tried—to aid even to have them given the freest play. For the rest I must be excused. Yes, I think you understand me on that point. My sympathies are all on the forward line—with the radical—but any close study of methods is out of the question for me." As I was leaving and we shook hands, "What you said there tonight about methods of history—personal history—Horace—has moved me to some new ground. I am stirred by it."


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