Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, December 12, 1891

     8:05 P.M. Though W. was on the bed I found he was in very happy spirit, full of fire and thought. We talked three-quarters of an hour—he mainly, I only incidentally. Books over from Oldach at last. I wrote an imperative note this morning. "They came this evening, an hour or so ago. That job is every way satisfactory to me: I want Oldach congratulated." Asked, "Has anything been heard from Reinhalter?" Tom had counselled, "Don't tell Walt, it may worry him," but W.'s question and his condition and the fact that he will have eventually to know anyway constrained me to tell him about the lawyer's visit. He quietly said, "I am glad it has taken that turn. I wanted a good lawyer to get hold of it—to see Tom and hear Tom's statement. A lawyer ought to understand. Ralph Moore, the Reinhalters,

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do not seem to have the least conception of the enormity of that forgery—not the least: it is astonishing how they brush it off, as if it was a casual innocent act not to be mentioned or thought of. It is a revelation of pretty odd standards of right—of the square. No, do not be afraid: I have entire faith in Tom—in Tom's equipment—lawyerally and otherwise. And then the feeling of it. What surprises, astonishes me is the idea those fellows have that when I constituted Ralph Moore with power to watch the constructive details, he assumed the power to set me my financial bounds, too. Which is outrageous—of course not for a moment to be thought true. It don't need the dead to rise from their graves to convince us that I never measured out any such idiocy."

     Then he inquired, "What is news with you?" I read him Miss Porter's letter, received this morning:
Office of POET-LORE CO.,
1602 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.
12/10/91.

Dear Mr. Traubel:

Your notice of Poet-lore in The Conservator is one we thoroughly appreciate, and we thank you most heartily for it. We hope we may more and more deserve your commendation.

How is it about the final meeting of the committee you proposed? In my postal card reply to you I suggested the following Friday at this office, and not hearing from you, scarcely knew whether it was so arranged or not, but I went back to the office that Friday Evening after dinner and waited there till half past nine. I meant to have written about it before now, but the days have been particularly full. I enclose our Circulars for 1892 in which you will notice that the Whitman-Lowell Contrast is announced for January. It is one in which, as I expected, we would agree, in the main. The Dec. 15th number will have a little thoughtful paper, by Mr. Trumbull again, on the Whitman-Shakespeare Question, that has been waiting space for some time. I think you may be interested in it. But you will be certainly, I think, in our motto for the year's title-page which we have taken from Whitman's "Goodbye" etc. It is so exactly true, and large & sound. We thought of it as almost our poetic creed.

Yrs cordially,

Charlotte Porter

I send you a programme of the Br[ownin]g Soc. by same post with this & will you notice meeting for Feb. 11/92 marked? I wish you would feel like saying something apropos of point marked.


He listened, pleased (his deafness palpable: I had to read much of it the second time). Then he said, "I am a little surprised at that. Your paper must be pretty strong—even defiant: I hardly expected them to accept it, even to take any positive respect to it. And yet here they are, almost acquiescing." I said, "Even Wallace thought it rather stiff. Advised me when he was here to tone it down." "Did he? My own counsel would be, don't tone down or up: let go—give way to the spirit—it must come up right in the end. That passage from Kennedy which you have used is itself a challenge, a charge—a profoundly significant, vital utterance, not to be easily brushed aside or made light of." And still again, "I think I realize from what you told me that the import of your piece is deep as any—goes about to the root. That motto business, too, surprises me. You do not know the passage she proposes to use?" He has not seen my manuscript. Wonders if I can let him have a glimpse of the proof? "And we will want some extra proofs. Can we get them?"

     Mrs. Coates protested to Frank Williams at last Club meeting, "Why don't you say something in defense of the magazines?" instancing Century and saying but for Gilder there would be no poetry in America. W. remarked on this, "I have heard many a damned stupidity, but I think nothing more damnably stupid than that. My question would be, where is the poetry anyway? I do not see it—not a glimpse of it. Whittier, they would say, but was Whittier made by a magazine or did he have any lift from magazines? Besides, Whittier is but a

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snivel: not a line he ever wrote or writes but is propped—leans up against something. Though I admit he has the divine afflatus, too—has genuine gifts—a true voice."
As to the Browning Club's discussion of W.'s "Hermit Thrush," "I doubt if any one of 'em knows a damn thing about it. It is a shy bird, living its life through Long Island—all through the North, in Canada. Burroughs? O yes! He knows—he knows all—he tracks 'em right home! But these literary folk? No, they don't go close enough to the forests. Don't like Burroughs? I thought they did! I thought they looked on him—up to him, even—expectantly, with respect. If they do not, all the worse for them. John is fresher than all their scribblings put together. For that very reason, after all, probably, not liked—rather distressing them."

     Card from MacAlister and program about dedication of Drexel Institute next Thursday. Read to W., who questioned me about the program. The participation of Bishops Potter and Whitaker excited his remark, "The priests get in everywhere—everywhere—though I suppose if they are left in on such occasions no one should kick. It is about all that is left for them—a few gesticulations, ceremonies, rites." This led to another point of related interest. "It reminds me again of the last Century which I think a horribly stupid number, the angel business overdone. I thought, hoped, that was finished long ago, but they keep it up. And who cares for that stuff. What connection has it with the cares, the throbbing life of today? Important in its time, its time is unalterably past. Ministers, angels, virgins may well depart together."

     Reference to Miss Rice caused him to say, "How shameless she is! How shameless people are, at times, some of them, anyhow! The Reinhalters—this woman—and I do not know but Talcott Williams, too—our friend Talcott" (reflecting about Williams' retention of that manuscript). I told W. what I learned from Stoddart about the Rice manuscript. This pleased him. "Did you think you discovered in Stoddart new signs of friendliness? Poems? I will see: not, of course, for the January

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number—it is too late for that. Though I have substantially gone out of business."

     When I referred to the wines at Brinton's reception, W. remarked, "And Brinton himself don't drink at all!" I wondered and laughed, W. asking, "Why do you laugh?" "Because you are all astray." "Am I? Does he drink? I thought I noticed at the dinner that he did not drink at all." A mistake over which W. had his quiet laugh. "Oh! There's the greatest difference in the world in drinks! That champagne at the dinner—it was divine! How did you manage to get it? I believe it was the best I ever tasted. And but for it I could not have passed through that excitement. It took me back to Pfaff's. What a judge of wines that fellow was! He made no misses."

     Returned me Bazar. "I enjoyed that picture more than I could tell you. It is very fine—very powerful. Alexander, the artist, who was here making sketches of me, would have it that Velasquez was the top of the heap. Anyway, this picture is very grand. Yes indeed, Guzman must himself have been a wonderful character. Look at that face—its daring—its strength! In our English American life we do not half enough appreciate the Spanish dons—the old heroic Spaniards. They were a wonderful race, not without their virtue. We are too much complicated with the Mysteries of Udolpho business to enter into the rugged directness of such men." Had Garland sent W. his new book? "Not yet, nor a word about it. What is it to come to?" Then referred me to a copy of Century which he had been reading today in which one of Garland's stories appeared. W. remarked, "I read it. It is a potboiler, but genuinely artistic, too—in good literary form. The magazines now think that they must in each number have two or three short stories, no matter how utterly futile and stupid they may prove to be, and most of them do prove that."

     Brinton lectures for Ethical Society tomorrow. Suggests coming over to see W. after lecture. W. himself, "Let him come—you come with him—he is always welcome." Then, "What does he lecture about?" "Recent religious movements in Europe." This

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moved W. into some energetic utterances. "Carry me a message to Brinton. Say to him: it is my opinion that the great affairs of our time (perhaps of any time—certainly of ours) go their way, revolutionize things, re-make, re-form, away, apart from, all churches, societies, liberalizations of any sort; that beneath all the surface-shows are influences—great undertows—through which the world is pressed on and on. Not by cries of priests or tabernacles, but in the human heart. I should say that even to Adler, though Adler knows it as well as I do. We misplace our confidence—see to the wrong place—get hold of the wrong string—admit mistaken credits. It is not in forms, institutions, railroads, telegraphs, factories, stores—all our parades—no, no: these are but fleeting ephemera—these alone are nothing, absolutely nothing; only the absorbent spirit enveloping, penetrating, going beneath, above, all—only this is something. And a ferment on the surface—how little it may mean! And observations—how short the road they lead us!"


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