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Tuesday, April 23, 1889

Tuesday, April 23, 1889

10.30 A.M. A carriage at the door. W. had a couple of visitors of whose names Ed was uncertain. After a little while went in and found W.'s callers to be Will Carleton, who read here in one of the churches last night, and Curtis of the Ladies' Home Journal. I was amused when W. introduced me as "Horace Tribell." The visitors had already arisen to go. Carleton spoke with W. briefly of the 1887 reception in New York and his absence (enforced) therefrom—a regret coming after by letter, to which W. said: "I think I remember—it came here." He had known C. as "among the absentees." Carleton expressed some hope of seeing W. in New York again but W. was dubious, said: "If I could get out on the pavement only—that would be a great triumph." Adding: "I do not anticipate recuperating." Carleton is rather a handsome fellow—a good body and splendid complexion—sunniness put into flesh. They talked a little about Frank Williams, to who Curtis referred as evidently in mourning for someone. W. said: "I know Mrs. Williams well, and Frank Williams too, the husband"—adding as to the mourning—"It is not any of the children? I know them all. Frank has large connections." Curtis referred to his own paper, of which W. remembered somewhat when I mentioned that it was the paper Ferguson so largely printed. When they had gone W. turned to me in amused comment on the paper's enormous circulation. "It just shows, a big thing is spread the whole earth over and we know nothing about it."

Rather despondent about his health. "It's nothing extra—not really good at all." And he looked significantly at his fire in the stove: "It is much colder this morning, isn't it?"—seemingly much surprised that I replied in the negative. Had been reading the papers, specifically what is therein about the Danmark incident. Wishes me to see Billstein and get him a few copies of the three-quarter pictures at once. "I want to see them before having the whole edition printed." Added that he meant to have a hundred extra printed anyhow for his private circulation. "To make assurance doubly sure," he said, he would make up a dummy for Brown, so the method of arrangement "could not possibly be mistaken."

As to Disraeli's description of Gladstone—"A sophisticated rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity"—W. said: "the damning weakness of that is in its elaborate making-up." Letter from Mr. Coates acknowledging the Sarrazin sheets, "Which," he said, "I am glad to have." W. gratified—said he always "warmed up towards these people."

Evening 6.45 P.M. W. sitting by open window reading Lippincott's. Asked after "new things," and wondered what I had done in town today. Pleased that Billstein would have us half a dozen of the three-quarter plates by Thursday. Of himself said: "I have practically done nothing—seen nobody: not a stranger the whole day." I spoke up: "Not even Will Carleton?" W. smiled: "oh!—I forgot him. Yes, Will Carleton." I asked him if his days were long—if one day did not often seem two. "I do not know about that; I know today has been a bad day—bad indeed. I have been seriously troubled with the cold in my head—it has given me a fluffy, stuffy, congested feeling"—here he made a funny circle with his arms—"and carried a sense of being that size and shape!" Spoke of the Missouri-Danmark incident. "I did not go into the Press account; it was too long, too full: I took up a shorter, compacter statement—the statement of the Record. Even of that, did not enter into elaborately, studiedly." But the event was "deeply impressive" and "however little" he had read, "no one's thought had been more awake" to its importance.

Referred to Tom Davidson's seeming belief that Dante was "the greatest poet that ever lived." W. considered: "I know that is sometimes believed, sometimes said, but to me the statement is not conclusive." And reinforcing himself with Carlyle, Davidson said again that Dante's was "the serenest""the most earnest" book ever written. W. again: "This I do not believe at all." Then acknowledged Dante's high place. "The translations have been many, and, curiously, all good ones—remarkably good ones, too. I know them all—Longfellow's well. But it seems to me that greatest among them—indisputably so—is John Carlyle's, Thomas Carlyle's Doctor brother's." As to Davidson's apparent belief that in order for our modern world to get properly adjusted it would yet have to back to the Bonaventuras, Dantes, Aristotles, of history. W. said: "The sufficient disproof of that is in the undoubted existence today of as sweet, high, enclosing, natures as ever existed in any past age. It is to be remembered of Bonaventura that he was a picked man—one of myriads, one of unknown millions. In our life today exists as good samples as the best that old times afford. Take the average of men—take measure of the great qualities in what is called the mass of our population—and you find in fact an elevation never achieved before. And this despite all the acknowledged bad, the evils, the poisonous tendencies. And this, too, as applying not only to worldly situations, conditions, so-called, but what we call gifts, benefits, of mind, the spiritual endowment." This W. considered "remarkable among remarkable considerations." And even among exceptional men, we can match if not excel the past. I mentioned Emerson and Darwin. "Yes—these, and indeed, more than these. In science,—which is the sun of the system—leaders in all branches—first-raters all: not an avenue left unoccupied, not an unwilling heart in all the group: and all of them devoted, unfailing, working on and on irrespective of everything, but to find what is the true." I asked W.: "And don't you think that ultimate?" He affirmed fervently: "It is indeed—there is nothing beyond that. No age of any land ever had such a record of such devotion as ours—not one: and you may pick all history for it": as indeed "no age has presented such a spectacle of the elevating of the masses."

Reference to the Danmark again. W. asked me about the reception to the Missouri's Captain in Philadelphia Maritime Exchange at noon today. "He seems to be a veritable Johnny Bull. And my man I told you about yesterday, he was a bonnie Scotchman. These things whack our prejudices." Then of prohibition amendment to Constitution. W. enjoyed it. "I see they have their nose badly knocked out of joint." Asked somewhat after approaching election of the same question (16th June) in Philadelphia. "It is a curious mania and will have its day." And then he fragmentarily spoke of old experiences and thoughts, apropos. "Did I ever tell you of D'Avezac, my old French friend there in New York? It was long ago that I knew him—I was a very young fellow—but I can see him now, just as he was, with all the aroma of life upon him—and such a life! D'Avezac was a French Radical—too Radical to stay over there. He was a soldier, with fine human qualities. He was elected to the Assembly from one of the districts of the city. At the time there was such a stir going on—much such a stir as we see about us now. He got up one day in the Legislature and said: "Meester Speakear, I have ze pleasaire to propose" —W. going on in inimitable style with detail—"and so he went over a series: hereafter lying shall be prohibited, shall be no more; hereafter adultery, being bad, shall be absolutely abolished; hereafter all forms of chicanery, fraud, shall go, be stopped, as decreed by legislative enactment. The speaker referred to this as 'nonsense,' but D'Avezac, seriously sarcastic, said: "No, it was not nonsense—not more so than other laws proposed and enacted: that these were all good things, we all acknowledged them so, and if the law could cure one, why not all?" I asked W.: "That is historic?" and he responded: "Oh! absolutely so—that and more too. D'Avezac—that is his name, he spells it so"—going over the letters. "I knew him well. He was very popular then in New York—dined, feted, received, addressed—and altogether an inimitable man!" W. spoke of "his bald head," his "significant individuality." Then: "And I have had wonderful good luck anyhow in my life to have met a number of such originals—not men of usual build, of usual ways, but men inherently set apart, a world each for himself. There was Flynn, too, my Irish friend"—spelled his name, also. "And Count Gurowski—I have spoken to you of him. Never more remarkable men, notable, anywhere." And none of them ever written of? "Hardly—the Count perhaps a little—the others not at all." I suggested: "Why don't you note them?" He assented: "That would be a good idea, wouldn't it?—to touch them off with a few lines—a sort of instantaneous photograph. It would make an interesting, a noble list. I don't believe I could find a better thing to do these days than just that. It is interesting, too: all these fellows were of foreign birth. Flynn was something in the noblesse line—had had great monies. I used to have the notion—I have spoken of it to you—that all the great photographs needed to be made in America, but I have come to discover after all that the best are produced across the sea." We had this to remember—at least in a measure—of men, too—of the sea-captain heroics, of the D'Avezac-Flynn-Gurowski logic. Courage is international. He had himself clipped a bit from an English paper commenting on the heroism of American sailors at Samoa, and pasted it on a card. There it was now on a chair. Human nature fairly vibrated with the honor belonging to such men and such events. And when I spoke of America as "greater than any or all, her own or other that ever were conceived," W. assented with directness and fervor, but said it was a fact too little recognized and too little cherished when seen.

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