Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, August 10, 1891

     5:30 P.M. W. at his middle window, fan in hand. Hearty—asked me instantly, "Isn't this the hottest day ever was?" And again, "Is it hotter in Camden than in Philadelphia?" And when I said, "I think it is rather hotter over the river," he allowed, "Likely, likely—but it seems here as if a few degrees more would finish us all." Had been "able to do but little," he said, "to sit, to think, to doze—that is about the start and finish of my life here." What of Baker? he asked me. "I see nothing in the papers about him—not a word. Yet I am anxious. The rascally papers baffle me—make me mad. Then last week I would look for this news—look through and through—through the five or six papers I have here—and at last, after an hour's search, I would hit upon a three-liner of no importance, saying the shot man was no worse. Yet I do not suppose I was the only man interested to know about Baker—there must have been thousands scattered in various places, equally anxious."

     Mrs. Davis brought in a big mug of ice water. "Is it something good?" W. asked. "Milk? Oh! ice water. Yes, that is good, too," and sipped it every now and then as we talked. I found W. greatly interested in reports that the French Catholics had swung their forces round to the support of the republic. I had read a paper from a Frenchman, Girard, in the Unitarian Review, outline of which I gave W. He said, "Yes, I have heard of it, but in a vague, uncertain sort of way—hardly knowing how much to take and how much not. What does it mean? How to take it? I see no great mystery. For one thing, it shows a determination on the part of the Church to plant its standard forward—to make a perceptible advance. And I should say of the

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republic—it matters little to it that the Church does not give its adhesion, it matters little to it that the Church does. Either way, the republic is strong enough to be indifferent. And so in America: America is the future—the Church is only an incident on a big roll."

     Something brought up the question of spontaneity of public speaking—oh! some quotations from a paper by Huxley on his own early trials in public speaking. "There is a good deal that is puzzling, baffling, about all that—about this matter of speaking to audiences. It is hard to be sure of any one thing with regard to it. I remember what Beecher, Ward Beecher, told me about that—what had been his own trials, experiences. That at first he relied upon notes—copious notes—but that even this did not finally give him the freedom he wanted. In the end, he came to rely almost exclusively upon a few stray notes, sometimes not consulting them at all. But Beecher said his main point after all was contact, touch with his audience—even to depend upon that—to trust to the communications of the moment—to feel the throb—joy, sadness, expectancy—of the people gathered together. But along with this preparation of the subtlest sort—of course to get soaked with the subject—to know the main lines of attack—to even go into partnership with every incident—turn incident to profit—not to be nonplussed—to keep absolute open door for occasion. There was—never is—the spontaneity people imagine in a speech, even the best. It must have something back of it—something—and care—oh! such care!—and especially where important matters come up. And ready wit, to mass and throw out comparison—and fire! Men like the signs of spontaneous utterance—they like to be approached direct. I remember vividly the long talk with Ward Beecher about this. I haven't the least doubt but he himself was full of resource—reserve—and our friend the Colonel—who knows but he, too, is full of art that is not art—of the quick flow of spirit—certainly embodying the greatest power—speech, music, vocal—of our time. No one in the multitude of their gifts to anywhere approach him." The closing

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passages of the Whitman address "are a study to me, day and night." And then, "The orator must anyhow brood upon his work, day and night—sunshine, storm—till at last the bars are taken down and speech is free."

     Miss Porter wrote me, thinking the bust "very fine" when she last saw it (O'Donovan's). W. remarked, "That is one judgment one side. But what was that you were telling me about Tom—that he thought O'Donovan had rather hurt than helped it the last two weeks? I am far from sure myself that he has grasped the situation."

     Inquired of W., "How about fruits, Walt—is there anything I can bring you—anything at all?" He shook his head, "No, nothing. I am well-kept in best things." Then, however, suddenly, "There is something, Horace—prunes. Sometime, if you can, if you get in the neighborhood by some good store—find out from me whether it is possible to get prunes—real prunes—of the first water, so to speak. Oh! they are delicate, rich. Yes, I like them cooked, like them not cooked."

     Had a batch of letters for me. "I have heard again from Bucke and Wallace. Mark what Bucke says of Mrs. Costelloe. What will it lead to? And good warm gentle loving Wallace!" The packet contained: Wallace's letter 31st; Bucke's 31st; letter from Clare Reynolds, April 13th—clinging to this a slip on which he had written; and pieces of manuscript headed: "I had intended the words for the title of a little olio."


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