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Monday, August 12, 1889

Monday, August 12, 1889

7.55 P.M. W. at parlor window, hat on. "Yes," he said, to my question, "Yes, I have been out—down to the river: and how beautiful—oh! how beautiful!—it was there tonight! These have been rare days anyhow—these last two: and such thoughts, recollections, they raise in one!" But his health today had "not been extra good." I brought him a bundle of pictures printed by Billstein. "Oh!" he exclaimed—"is he that far along? I had no idea he would steal that quickly on us! We must move along. I started to get the other pictures ready today—even to writing directions." Intended having the steel 1855 picture used. Was curious to know if "we could not best tie our envelopes with floss—I think it is floss. It is a fine, silky, broad, tape or something: they used it in Washington in the old days—used it round special documents sent to the big nibbses, dons—foreign diplomats, state fellows, others. I like it; we must hunt it up; I should think any of the big stationers would have it."

I gave him copy of Christian Register containing reprint of part of preface of Renan's "History of the People of Israel." "Yes indeed," he said, putting it in his side pocket, "I am glad to have it: I have heard a good deal about the book—a good deal, and all good." Of Renan's autobiography—"I know nothing: if I ever heard about it, all memory of it is now fled—but I guess I never heard. Did you say this was the Christian Register? Oh yes! I know it, to be sure!" Then after a pause, he asked me, "Have you seen the Critic this week?" Adding further—"Among the book reviews was one of another Russian book—a book by a man named Brandes [Georg Brandes, "Impressions of Russia"]. How do you pronounce it?—I see! It appears to be an extensive volume and the review itself has a vast charm—rouses in me a great curiosity to see the book. Though not a very great one, either—for nowadays—these later days—I have no ambition to tackle big books—take a great plunge—start out for a long swim. But this book seems to have a peculiar fascination perhaps in part the fascination for the Russian character itself." I interrupted— "And they seem to bring forth some of the biggest men." W. responding—"That they do—a literature in some respects the greatest—but all of it, as the Frenchman says—yes, all of it, all of it—soaked in pessimism. Not the notion, perhaps, that the world is all going to the bad, absolutely, but that things are in a bad way, need repairing. The Russian is a marvelous character—I watch it very closely, wonderingly—regard it as bread in the making—dough not yet in its final shape—the dish, however, proceeding!" But the "pessimism" was "possibly a result of conditions—at least so in part. Russia seems to suffer from what afflicts—seems to afflict—all governments, organisms, institutions in our day—peculation, fraud, hypocrisy, humbuggery, cant, outrage—Russia, surely, and I don't know but all of 'em." I laughed at his vehemence, and said, "But there's enough virtue in the universe to bear us all on," to which he responded, "Oh! I believe that, too—enough for all—all. Underneath this surface—underneath this forbiddingness—underneath the drift—is the great sea, still deep as it ever was, still sound, still fortifying, sustaining, washing clean!" "The integuments of national character are always marked interesting—to me full of attraction. It must have been ten years ago, I met Russians—a number of them—at Mrs. Gilchrist's. She lived here at that time—on 22d street, opera. There was a Russian vessel came up into the harbor about then—several of her crew got in the habit of stopping at Mrs. Gilchrist's—so of course I met them, benefited, enjoyed. One was young—fell in love with one of her daughters—even proposed marriage, which was declined. But he was a fine interesting character anyway, and a great field for me, from which I plucked much!"

I asked W. if he had read the Lounger account of the Doctor's evidence, and he said— "Yes—and I think the Lounger must be Jo-Jo Gilder. But what is Jo coming to? As he tells the story there it is quite different form the Ledger's and takes quite another tone—loses all its humor, in fact. As we read it first, what the fellow said of Shakespeare,—his way of saying it,—had quite an unmistakable flavor of humor. 'Twas very funny—at least to me—and I am sure I made no mistake." The Lounger in the Critic for Aug. 10, 1889, writes:

If we find a man questioning the sanity of the man of imagination, we may put him down as himself unbalanced. I should have very serious scruples about calling in, to attend anyone whose life I valued, the "expert" called to testify for the contestant in a recent will case, who testified that the testator was demented because she was a poet in a small way. [The following paragraph in smaller type.] He based his opinion partly on the fact that Miss C—— had occasionally written poetry. He thought that all poets were insane, more or less. Milton and Walt Whitman, he always thought were insane. From all he had heard of Shakespeare, however, he believed he was a man of considerably ability.

After desultory talk on matters connected with our work he remarked: "The Press is full of this elixir of life business. Not one day, but all days lately. And its accounts seem to be written up by some one interested in borrowing the discovery." As to Brown-Sequard, he said—"He is a sensationalist in medicine—a man of great ability, to be sure, but rated by good judges, by the best doctors I have known, as a man of schemes, sensations." I asked if he was in Washington during war times? W. said: "I do not think so—I never heard of it—I am sure I should have remembered it had he been there. At least, I am certain he was not there in any public capacity—connected in any way with Lincoln. This business seems more or less of the sorcerer sort—of a kind with Cagliostro, in France, in the last century, and previous to that, way back, with Paracelsus. Dr. Hammond has written about it—he is one of the big surgeons—he gets furious, in a rage,—because somebody accuses him of believing in the elixir. The point seems to be, that it is a tonic—a tide-overer, one may say. Some one sent me a paper—a Transcript—maybe it was Kennedy—with a long article on the subject from a Dr. Palen"— spelling his name. I spoke of "humbug"—and W. said then— "Yes, it is from that standpoint Palen writes. It was an interesting article: I sent it at once to Dr. Bucke." When I asked him if he was going to try the Elixir, he laughed heartily. "The river is my elixir," he finally said—"and such." But the subject "interests me—the papers are full of it—so of course we discuss it."

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