Skip to main content

Saturday, June 8, 1889

Saturday, June 8, 1889

8 P.M. W. sitting out of doors, a red-dressed little child on his lap, Tom on the step next him. He appeared in quite a lively humor, though saying: "This has been one of my bad days and I have done nothing." Had not written to Carey or in the books or worked in any way. "But I was out—got my trip with Ed—just came back a little while ago." Read him a letter received from Morse today—dated the 7th—in which he was deeply interested—saying when it was done: "Well—that is one of the very best letters from Sidney in a long time." Everybody speaks to him of the strength of the World poem. He is pleased thereby. But when the Ledger today, as proved, used the closing stanzas, leaving out the pictorial earlier lines, he said: "Well, that's the way they do it—they prefer—but to me they are the lines for which I care least except as they go along with the others." He rides less in his chair now to the river—more out in the open, where the boys play ball, the game much engaging him. The little girl on his lap played with his big hand, his beard—finally, murmuring something, slid down and played around the chair. The father afterwards came for her.

W. said as to the pamphlet: "When you get your matter all in shape, I want you to bring it down and let me see it." He had laid aside some letters, &c., for me—had found the Irving telegram, and one from Mrs. Spaulding, Boston, and put them with a copy of his speech he had pasted on a card and a couple of letters from Bucke. Also along with them a curious letter from Cuneo, Italy, and a letter from Dr. A——t of London, Ontario. "Some of these," he said, "will be of use,—some not: you will have to discriminate." He had sent Ed up stairs for them—was very specific—"a package the size of an envelope, tied up in a red string."

By some mention of Garland and his advocacy of the single tax theory we developed quite a warm talk of social questions. W.'s part in it was warm and large, but taken without any understanding of the peculiar base of the theory. He said: "I would not put a straw in the way of the Anarchists, Socialists, Communists, Henry George men," but he did not see that "while such a theory as George's might be very wise and necessary in a country like Russia—or in crowded England, owned by a few titled frauds," he could not see its pertinency here. His objection mainly was that some had cited it as a panacea. "But is that not the attitude of every special reformer? Look at Wendell Phillips—great and grand as he was: with him light and darkness were all for the one ill and that alone—all: he was one-eyed, saw nothing, absolutely nothing, but that single blot of slavery. And if Phillips of old, others today." "But my contention is for the whole man—the whole corpus—not one member—not a leg, an arm, a belly alone, but the entire corpus, nothing left out of the account. I know it will be argued that the present is the time of specialization, but that don't answer it." I presented objection at points—for instance, suggested that it was no answer to the George theory that it would not bring about perfection. But he persisted: "It is an answer for me: I want to lift the whole man—to elevate the whole man. I know it is argued for this that it will bring about great changes in the social system—even perfect adjustment, some would content. But I don't believe it—don't believe it at all."

"In Europe, the fact of landholding means one man out of a hundred, in this country 60-70ths of the population anyhow." He pointed to the great west. "The great question of questions" (he had a question himself after all, and laughed when I pointed it out to him!) "is, to have small holdings in fee simple, the whole population of America participating and enjoying"—which was in fact just what in essence the George theory at least aims to accomplish. "But go over the great west: millions and millions and millions and millions and millions beyond, and millions beyond that, of acres of untilled, unoccupied land." Was not that field and solution in one? He quoted Tennyon's line again—"the poor in a lump is bad"—and—and—"Look about at the great body of people in all the cities—in Camden here, for instance—in New York, in Philadelphia: don't you see they are a bad mess?" To legal objection to the George theory urged by Harned, W. gave no attention whatever. Would not the argument against specialization have thrashed [?] the anti-slavery logic? But he said: "No—not at all: the idea of slavery—of the holding of one man by another, in personal subjection—under dictatorial investments—was palpably bad—damnable—not only condemned by civilization,—by development—but condemned in the first breath of our American genius—of that force and faith at the base of American institutions." And he said further: "We all believe every man born should have a fair chance, move about as he chooses, possess and retain what justly belongs to him: it is the entrance step to all the rest." But suppose the land question involved a point at which a man was not guaranteed possession of what was rightfully his and therefore suffered the slave's condition? Here he stumbled, but with a laugh turned to me and said: "No—no—Horace! I am not to be entrapped into a retreat by any subtle question such as that, or to be drawn into finespun argument. I am a great contender for the world as it is—the ill along with the good. Indeed, I am more and more persuaded that the ill, too, has its part to subserve—its important part—that if ill did not exist, it would be a hopeless world and we would all go to the bad"—a singular paradox! "Look at the elements—think of this Conemaugh* disaster—horrible, cruel, almost cowardly—the elements evilly at work, with terrible effect: and stormy disasters anywhere—are they not all part of the scheme? And is the scheme invalidated because these exist—or the social scheme, that Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, possessing their hundred millions, exist? No—no—no!" "I must confess that the come-outers—the Anarchists, Socialists, Georgeists, Communists, Bob Ingersolls, do not take hold of me clean down to the heart and gizzard." But the minute after, when I contended: "You may be a great contender for things as they are, but you yourself have been a rebel against such things ever since you were born, and have been condemned by your own argument," he laughed heartily and said: "That is so, too: all my sympathies are with the radicals, the come-outers, I know."

Back to top