Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, August 24, 1891

     5:25 P.M. W.'s first question to me was, "Is there any shift in the weather?"—adding— "I feel only the faintest breath of breeze—no more." Then right quickly after, "You see," pointing to the floor, where the papers lay open, "I have been reading the Critic—reading about Lowell. But it was a hard job—the stupidest piece I have known in a long while—dull, obfuscated. Whose is it do you suppose? And rates Lowell high—above Emerson? Yes, I see that, too, but what does it count for? The writer himself has so little power of statement—none at all, in fact—I am not surprised that he rates Lowell at the top. I believe this is about the dullest piece on Lowell that has appeared anywhere." And again, "Such stuff does the Critic no good—adds nothing to its weight, a good deal to its stupidity." Had he found Young's piece as dull? "No indeed—I read it through. On the contrary, it was very interesting." And true? "Yes, I feel it to be true, too. Why shouldn't it be true? Young was on the scene—was a remarkably bright young fellow—saw, noted, volumes. Of course his article has all the merit and power, and with these the evil, of newspaper dash—the having to say things well and say them hurriedly. But on the whole its genuineness is very apparent." Not a word from Bucke, he reported, "But Kennedy writes me. And he wants to know if we can let him see Bucke's Tennyson letter. He says he'll be ever, ever, ever so careful it shall not fall into the wrong hands." I promised W. I would mail the letters—the one to him, the one to me. (Later I did send them off.) W.: "Kennedy naturally has a bit of curiosity about it

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all. And he'll take care, I've no doubt."
He had written a letter to Logan Smith.

     Said to W., "The other evening I read Lowell's ode and your Lincoln poem, one after the other, to try myself. And I again felt what I had always felt before, that his stood for the past, yours the present." W. remarked, "I should get and read the ode again. It is so long since I read it I forget pretty much what it is like." And as I had the volume containing it I promised to bring it down.

     W. thought, "It is right to cut out, put in, prune, change, to your heart's content—but God help you if the world detects you at it! To the world a poem must each time be a new discovery—not seem old, stale, made. Everything depends on that—to not make anything of the labor obvious." I said, "My description of the master is that his art is so close to nature for so long, it at last becomes a part of her." W. exclaimed, "That is noble—admirable! I know nothing better." And when I added, "The Rhine castle, so long threatened and blown by wind and shone upon by suns, it has come to be as natural as the mountain on which it stands." W. cried, "Noble again, Horace! Yes, you are on the right track." And I concluded, "If the poems live so the life of nature, in all the changes of seasons, why should not they, too, become elemental—finally form a part in the natural play." W. again, "That is all the best gospel, Horace. And now that you talk as you do, let me give you an idea of my own. I think we ought to go to Joe Stoddart and say to him that Lippincott's ought to contain a Lowell eulogy and then such a statement as this you have been making to me, running counter. Lowell ought to be treated as an orthodox—explained as an orthodox influence." I put in, "My idea would be to admit all that the formalists claim for Lowell, then to ask whether there is not something larger—whether poetry has not something more than art can give it." W. at once, "I like that: that would be my idea—to say to them, yes that is true, every word of it—but is that all?" He laughed merrily, "I would write or see Joe at once—it should be done. Perhaps Harry Walsh would do the other. He is

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competent. A few pages each would be worth while."
My notion had been to headline the article "James Russell Lowell, Walt Whitman," then to indicate the line of demarcation. W. considered, "You have an admirable notion of our position—it is a view that ought to be exploited, especially now, when the other seems secure in possession. Someone ought to say—we agree to all that, yet we think we have something profounder to offer, something that goes deeper—into the heart and sinew of the situation. Eh? Horace? That is the view you seem to hold—and you may say for me anywhere, Walt Whitman says amen—always amen to this and this!"


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