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Friday, June 14, 1889

Friday, June 14, 1889

7.50 P.M. W. sitting out of doors, in his chair. Was very cheerful, but not unusually so. After we had talked a while Harned came up, and after him, Gilchrist. The conversation was various and vigorous. Bonsall gave me the manuscript of his speech today. A rather severe reference therein to Tennyson which Bonsall was willing to cut out if we thought best. I spoke of it to W., who said, "I am free at once to discredit the story," adding: "Instead of being ostentatious, Tennyson is just the opposite." Saying, too, as to the title: "It is the old story—the old story of the fellows who don't like the cabbage: I don't care for the title, but that is no reason why the other fellow should not eat the cabbage if he wants to." But Tom argued that it involved more than that, W. readily conceding that such was the case. "I know—and I know I wouldn't care for it myself—to me Carlyle's treatment of such tenders was more admirable, more democratic, modern. But Alfred Tennyson did it for his family—he thinks a good deal of his family—his son, his wife, all." And after all, was not Carlyle a democrat? "Yes indeed, a democrat of democrats—one of the truest that ever lived. A raspiness in his democracy at times, but true to his star, never deviating or having it obscured."

Referred to Gilchrist's speech, of which he said mildly: "I liked it very well—just as I said at the time—delivery and content, both." Harned urged W. to take dinner with him Sunday. It would be the last Sunday with his family all together. They are going to the mountains. W. would not "promise" but was "impelled to go." The day only could definitely tell whether it was possible. Said: "I have a copy of Harpers Weekly: it is the worst yet—has a paragraph about the dinner, not more than an inch or two, with at least one error to every line: takes prize form all I have known." He instanced several with great enjoyment. "These are samples: it goes on so to the end."

Said as to the Morse head, the proofs of which I had left last night: "I don't like it—don't like it at all. I don't pretend to know what it is, but there's something there that shouldn't be there. For one thing, it gives me a wedge-shaped head—yet my head is not wedge-shaped—nor is the bust: if anything, my head is rather chunky." Had we best try again? "Perhaps we had; anyhow that does not please me." Directed me to his room, had put the proofs in John Burroughs' "Indoor Studies." "You must take the book along: you'll want to use it—read it." "I had a bunch of notes from Hamlin Garland today," he said, anent his mail—"he wished them authenticated: I authenticated them and sent them back." What were the notes? "Oh! of our talk together—views. I don't know what he wanted to use them for, but he will use them, and wished them seen by me before doing so."

W. in some way alluded again to the Herald's refusal of his poem. Tom had not heard this. "Why," he asked in astonishment, "did they send it back?" And W. laughed: "Yes, indeed: there's a new man on the throne there: the King knows not Joseph longer." I had looked in the World but it had not appeared there today. Tom inquired: "Will they use it?" At which W.: "That's in suspenders! We'll wait and see! The Herald brings back one of the good stories of my dear Daddy: there was a man named Smith, or something, who ran off, owing a lot of money, among others to my father—perhaps a hundred dollars or so to him. When told of it—that he would lose with the rest, he didn't worry at all—simply replied: 'Never mind, I charged him a damned good price for it!' And so with the Herald—I charged it a damned good price for it! I sent off two little bits about the same time: one was promptly returned with a check—that was from the Century"—(he explained he meant "returned" in a broad sense of return) "the other returned rejected. After all, that's pretty good luck, one out of two!" Harned questioned him about subjects and titles, but W. curiously fenced off all direct or definite answers. "That World piece—it's only a little thing—it may not take at all" and about the other—"It is only a thumb-nail—about five lines in all." Harned lamented: "It will probably be a long time before appearing" at which W., with a smile: "Probably—the important thing is, I have the money for it!"

Talked of Garrison's speech—whether to publish it in extenso. W. said: "I should not advise that; publish what you yourself elect out of it." Gilchrist hoped soon "to have the pleasure" of "inviting some of" his friends to see his big painting. W. inquired after its subject, and when knowing it was a Cleopatra, remarked: "If the truth were known if such a person as Cleopatra ever existed." This raised an amused outcry: "You don't doubt that she existed?" To which he responded: "Oh no! I don't mean to question that; what I was going to say was, that if such a person as Cleopatra ever existed, it would be found that she was a bright, brilliant, vivacious little creature, quite different from all our pictures, our ideals, of her." He referred to David's Napoleon—described it vividly—put himself in attitude. "He pictured Napoleon crossing the Alps—on a shining war-horse, brandishing a sword—this way: it was terrible—it was all hell!" W. said again: "This picture took the ladies, even the gentlemen, of France by storm. But it was left to Delaroche to adjust history to truth. He had hinted to him that this was not the true version—investigated—found that Napoleon crossed the Alps, not on a snorting charger but on a lean, lank, quiet, composed, trusty mule; that he sought out an old guide—a stand-by there—probably as lank as the mule—a fellow resembling the pathfinders: you can still find few of them in the West here—old, think, wizened, but not too old to be alert, nimble. Equipped so, Delaroche proceeded to paint the real Napoleon. I knew the picture well—when I was a youngster it was brought to New York—a number of Delaroche's best pictures were brought here at the time: I can see Napoleon's figure now—it much inspired me—the cloak up on the neck—the head bent over—he seemed to be talking to the guide." And so the puzzle was, what was the real Cleopatra? "And even Jesus—who can show us the real Jesus—as Horace says, recovered from the myths?" He said finally: "The antique ideals of beauty were different from ours." Tom expostulated and W. defined: "Oh! I don't mean to say anything derogatory to modern men or women—only that the ideals were different." But then "surely" the ideal "of modern woman—our modern ideals of what constitutes a pretty face,—are damnable!" And there was "the waspish waist" and "that abomination out of hell, the modern bustle"—&c. W.'s vigor was marked. We all shortly left and went up town together.

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