Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, September 16, 1891

     7:20 P.M. W. sitting in the dark parlor, at closed window. But knew me instantly on entrance, extending hand. "It is you, Horace? Ah! Another night! I am glad to see you again!" And I sat down on a chair at his side. Said, "I am feeling pretty well. This getting downstairs itself is improvement. And I have had a doctor here today. Talcott Williams came over—with him a Doctor Schweinitz. I have his card upstairs. I don't know how his name is spelled. This doctor gave my eyes an extended, elaborate examination. He is an oculist—a youngish man—very pleasant: I liked him. He laughed at the idea that I was going blind—said,

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there's no danger of blindness for you. I see defects, losses of this and that—but no fatal break. The result of all which is, that Talcott is to send me over a new pair of spectacles. No, he did not condemn the old pair. You remember, I got these only three months ago or so. I didn't like them first at all—in fact, laid them aside. Then by some accident lost the old pair and had to use the new, getting gradually quite accommodated to them, though never convinced they were just the things I wanted. This man today was very pleasant—made a good impression. And if the glasses turn out as good—well,"
stopping as if with a question.

     Morris in to say he had heard from Gilchrist, to the effect that someone in England tells him of a talk with Lowell there (while minister, probably) in which Lowell admitted that Walt Whitman had more to him than had in earlier days seemed the case. W. said, "It is of no importance what Lowell thinks." "Except for its bearing upon what you said the other night." "That is true, Horace!" And as to Gilchrist's severe mention or naming of Lowell in the letter to Morris, "No, we will not follow that course ourselves; there are many stars, differing in glory. And I am surprised anyway to hear that from Herbert. He ought to be quick enough to perceive the real Lowell. Their art has a great deal in common."

     W. asked, "What are you reading now?" "I read 'Leaves of Grass' today." "Oh! and what of it?" "I read 'By Blue Ontario's Shore,' 'Inscriptions,' 'Starting Out from Paumanok.'" "How that reminds me of William Swinton! William liked the 'Open Road' poem, 'Blue Ontario's Shore'—some others, but these particularly." I added, "I enjoy 'Leaves of Grass' most in the open air, when I am active." "So you should." "I think then, I read it as it was written." "So you do, Horace! You do! You do!" Adding, "It is a very good plan—I know no better. I got the pocket edition out, to make it possible."

     The Times man telephones me today. I find he wished to learn date of the Colonel's lecture last year! W. had not caught his idea. Have talked with Miss Porter, again. Read her Symonds'

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letter, which arrested her. Says she saw O'Donovan's head—and when I spoke of it as an intellectualized Whitman, she assented at once that Miss Clarke and her, going to see it, had carried away a like impression. W. put in now as I told him, "That is very significant—that goes a long way!" And she further, "You have never been out to our room yet, Mr. Traubel, to see us. I want you to come, and your wife, too. We have there a copy of an old Homer—I call it Walt Whitman, or could call it that. The resemblance is marvellous." This called out by my quote from Burroughs, that W.'s head was Greek and modern, beyond any other he had known—inaugurating a type, in fact. W. now enlarges, "I think I know of that head—have seen copies of it—a Homeric head—a head of Homer—deposited in the British Museum. If not authentically Homer's, at least greatly accepted by scholars. Very grand—ample—very fine—a certain swing of strength about it, refreshing to see. That must be the head Miss Porter wants to show you. But O'Donovan—well, somehow I hadn't any confidence lately that he was on the right track at all. Now he seems to have come to the same conclusion. It then remains that the only substantial thing so far done—the only creative piece—is Sidney's—yes, the sweet Sidney's—standing head and shoulders above anything we know—perhaps to go into the future alone—standing for us—for the vital, breathing, yes, and the seeing critter. For Sidney has put something into the bust, something, indescribably subtle, deep—and the whole affair throbs with life. It was a hit—a flash—a sudden reaching-forth. I often look at it—feel myself there indeed!"

     Again to Miss Porter—her judgment, literary. She had spoken of human art, of the human as paramount, of Whitman as putting the emphasis in the right place. W. at this, "She evidently is coming around—or is around, perhaps. It is wonderful how that idea takes hold, once it gets fairly into a fellow."

     Referred to dinner report as "a vivid presentment of its kind—in fact the best I know." Spoke of the old correspondents—Gath (G. A. Townsend) and Jo Howard—as his friends.

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"I always had the good luck to get into the good graces of the reporters."

     Is not satisfied with the purple leads I had lately brought him. "They are a suspicion of the right color—yet not the color. Some damned adulteration, rather. Some fellow in the first place makes an honest pencil—then another thinks, if I put in a little fraud—a little gray matter, costing nothing—I can sell it for so and so—cheaper—undersell. So forever after maker number one goes out of the business of making pencils. It is industrial deterioration—and time comes that we can't get what we want even if we are willing to pay for it!" He is quite exclamatory on the question—the other day took his pencil to show me on the edge of a paper that it made "only the suspicion of an honest line." Though for my taste I should have thought it good enough purple. But I promised him a new look about.

     We discussed our proofs somewhat. "I suppose, gradually, by process, and waiting, we will get things in the shape we want. There don't seem a short cut to it." He is a little annoyed that Ferguson's men did not perfectly interpret his orders.


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