Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, February 14, 1891

     5:10 P.M. W. seemed improved—talked freely and heartily. Yet confessed himself moved by General Sherman's death, reported this afternoon (1:50). Had just eaten dinner. "It helped me on my feet." Gave me letter, "I had it from Bucke today"—and another—an old one. "Bucke urges me to autobiographize myself! Well—well!"

     Referred to the American generals. "Yes, they are mostly gone—all the first-class fellows—we have a number of the third and fourth class yet. We have had no one from the keel up so American as Grant. Sherman? No—not Sherman. There was a good deal of stuff in Porter—Admiral Porter—who died yesterday. If not a star of the first magnitude, he was a star. There is a

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curious thing told us by astronomers—that there are orbs which, by the laws, or the heavenly powers, or whatever, are dark—utterly dark—do not shine—yet are as big as anybody! I suppose it might be said that to the right man, fame will—must—come—sooner or later: that if it belongs, it appears, inevitably, and yet—and yet"
—shaking his head— "Why should we say it is certain?" After a pause, "Think—for one instance—of the telegraph corps in the war: no division of the service more intricate—nobler—requiring more courage, penetration, faithfulness: its necessity, too, a very high development of the moral sense—the sense of duty, virtue. These fellows—19, 20, 21—to 26 or 27—boys and men—knew everything, could tell everything or anything—yet, so far as I know, there is no record of betrayal in the whole story of the war—nor this, even at times when the departments in Washington were full of traitors—when knowledge was barter—when every secret seemed sold. But who hears of these men now? —heard of them then? The memory of it, almost, is wiped out." Of Fitz-John Porter he did "not think much: he had ability—as some writers have ability: was a product of schools—knew the rules of his craft, its traditions—yet was without genius—lapsed utterly on that line."

     Wayland had compared Washington unfavorably with Lincoln on his speech the other day—Washington a product of monarchy, Lincoln most immediately out of our soil. Was that "Leaves of Grass"? W. said, "It has something of the sound—but more should be said: I would not say it entirely in that way. Of course Lincoln was more Western—his habits so—his dress—speech, but in the things which really establish the hero, the majestic genius, he was Roman, Greek, Biblical—had the towering individuality which peers over all border-lands of race, is one with the great characters of all ages." What were these virtues? "Farsightedness—not the ability to see tomorrow, but to see panoramaed the whole future—ages; penetration—the most wonderful, vast; a patience, suavity, cheer, out of all danger of confusions; and candor! It amounted to genius," etc. I had heard the criticism that Grant was greater than Napoleon.

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Napoleon fought all his battles in the accepted rules of war—Grant met new fields with new weapons. W. said, "There is a striking ring to that: in some ways it recommends itself to me—goes straight to the truth—at least about Grant. Whether Napoleon is the right man to quote on the other side I doubt. It seems to me Napoleonicism—to make a word—means the very thing praised in Grant. The old fellows would have said—'Cross the Alps? It is impossible—fatuous!' Which only excited Napoleon the more to say, 'Impossible? Then we will do it!'—and other impossible things he did—till at last his mastership could not be denied. All genius defies the rules—makes its own passage—is its own precedent. But I can see how all this is emphasized in Grant: it is part of him. I more and more incline to acknowledge him. His simplicity was much like old Zack Taylor's."

     W. said that Harry Bonsall had mentioned our prospective Lippincott's pieces in Post. "It was several days ago—in four or five lines. Harry is distinctly favorable to us. I always count on him. Why don't you often send him items? He likes them." And W. asked again, "What has become of John Russell Young? He was one of our men." We discussed Cleveland's silver letter, which Republican papers try to say has destroyed all hope of his new nomination. W. remarked, "Damn 'em! They don't want him nominated, but before that time comes this and a hundred other things will have blown over. I think the letter one of the best things he has done. I don't understand all the intricacies of the question, but have some general judgments. The smart man in the Press—the fourth column man—today gets off a twit, that Grover has made the most reputation on the smallest capital, etc.—to which I might answer, if it deserved an answer (and, it does not)—that so do all strong men make much out of little things—simple, direct, manly method."

     W. had seen mention of himself in Press editorial— "Three-Score-and-Ten"—this morning: "Seventy-one counts in its list Signor Crispi, John Ruskin, Walt Whitman, Sir Lyon Playfair, and General William T. Sherman, who, it is hoped, will rally and

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celebrate many more birthdays."
Wondered if Talcott Williams had written it. "I am sure Talcott will stand by his guns."


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