Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, May 12, 1891

     5:50 P.M. W. sat with his lap filled with papers, evidently very busy. Seemed to me to look better, and I said so. He responded, "I have had a poor day, nevertheless—very poor. Though a doctor who was here—a man named Kerr—a Philadelphian—tells me I haven't the look of a sick man. Isn't it curious? Longaker has been here today, too."

     Book is on press. Brought him a sample signature. He looked at it, he said, "with a great delight." Handsomely printed. "I want you to tell Brown—this pleases me beyond measure—is almost a surprise—paper, letter, impression, make-up. Surely, if this is an average sample, we are going in for a good job this time." If completed tomorrow wished Brown to fold us three or four copies. "One for Doctor at once."


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     Gave me a copy of Black and White for my father. "He will be interested in the Exhibition pictures—they struck me as very fine—very." Had read Dole's poem in Literary World—also Morris' letter. "I like the letter better than the poem—yet do not dislike the poem, either. I know Dole—it is a friendly hand—has one good feature—is a sign of vital feeling, which is a good deal in a time when poetry has gone way down into trickery—fallen simply to an art. And it is refreshing even for an instant to have a fellow break the rules—the iron bonds—of literariness. I may quote or adapt Heine—that it is something like a triumph that the poem is not damned bad—though, to be sure, I don't think it is damned bad, or anything like it." And then, "At any rate, Morris is true to us—we have reasons to acknowledge his fair feeling." Someone had sent a copy of the paper to him from Boston, "and I have made it up there for Doctor Bucke"—I afterwards taking it with other things to Post Office.

     I wrote Stoddart the other day, suggesting that letters and talk at [forthcoming birthday] dinner be reported for Lippincott's. Today I received his note. Went to see him—had a long friendly talk—conclusion of which is, that I am to make up a round robin, to include letters and talk—a stenographer to be present and report every word, from which I would excise and make up article—letters to be naturally interwoven. W. very well pleased. First I told him I had a secret. He put on mockery— "Dreadful! Dreadful! What will I do with it? Had you better tell me?" And after I had told, "It is a good one anyway, and I will keep it. No reporters, no strangers, no interlopers? I understand, and that is best." Then, "The dinner last year was ideal—it took care of itself, and such a care! But there was tragedy to it, too—the loss of that marvellous speech—gone, gone, gone! It is one of the despairs of my life—to listen, to lose! I shall never recover from the disaster! Now, Horace, protect us against that! What a triumph if the Colonel could come! It would bring us vitality, freedom, elementalism! What a great train of great things he carries with him!"


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     Stoddart said that the obscenity in their round robin talks was frightful. W. exclaimed, "Dreadful! Dreadful! Is it so? And yet I know it is so, too. You know I am no prude—you know I face facts—am not afraid of free manly unbridled speech, even. Yet it seems to me there is no necessary connection between a dinner and filth—though, God knows!—they are often—oftenest—joined! It is astonishing—the amount of absolute filth current that way, on such occasions—horrible, utterablest filth—not a trace, gleam, even an echo of wit in it all. I can appreciate a story—even a loose story—if it have wit, if it pass for a good purpose—illustrate, illumine—but otherwise all my instincts revolt. Oh! my dear mother!" What a touch that, in indirection and tone! "I knew a young man in Washington—a bright fellow—noblest impulses—loved good books, good things—loving, honest (I loved him)—a man of some importance in one of the embassies. For a time this thing ran away with him—he seemed unconscious of it. What a list of dirty stories he accumulated! But one thing deserves to be said of him—he never used the stories but for a purpose. They always led out into some apt lesson—which was something—though it was a bad habit anyway. The time came when it disappeared—the fever was past. But I loved the boy and never forgot it." Asked me, "We will have the girls at the dinner, yes? I always should speak for that when I had a say. And I have thought, Horace—how would it do to have drink only—no food?" After a pause, in which I objected, "I guess you are right. I suppose I said that because I thought I, myself, should not eat. And I suppose you remember that the 31st is Sunday? If it suits you fellows as well, I particularly want the dinner that day."

     In this connection called my attention to the following in today's Press: "Chief Brown, of Pittsburg's Department of Public Safety, has refused to allow Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll to lecture on Sunday and charge an admission fee."



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And then he said, "I feel as if I particularly wanted to do something to show where I stand in such things as this. Of course this is not 'Leaves of Grass.' The great Colonel! He wars a great principle!" Would he mix us some punch—a bowl—at the dinner? "I do not feel as if I ought to promise it. I am not up to promises. It probably will be a great deal for me simply to be there. As for the rest, that must be held in abeyance." Yet he laughed, "People think it amounts to nothing to mix a bowl of punch—only whiskey, water, sugar—a few things. But it is more than that—that is only a part of the story." Stoddart asked me, "Shall Hawthorne come?" W. to me now, "Tell him, yes: Julian is a good friend—we owe him friendship."

     Desired me to arrange with Ferguson for 400 copies of "November Boughs"— "same size and style—paper—as 'Good-Bye'—the two to be bound together."


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