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Saturday, August 31, 1889

Saturday, August 31, 1889

7.45 P.M. Went down to W.'s with Jacob Lychenheim. W. in front of door, on chair—Harned sitting on step talking to him. Had just returned from trip to the river. Looked in fine condition and talked well. We stayed nearly an hour, and he discussed various matters with great vim. Spoke of his work. Had he written anything lately? Harned asked, and W. responded, "O yes! several things—the Century has one piece—two pieces. One piece on my 71st year—a proof came of it today—it probably will go into the November number—only seven or eight or so lines. And you saw the Inness picture the other day?" turning to me—"Don't you remember it? 'The Valley of the Shadow of Death'? The most surprising thing of all—the Harper's wrote for a piece on that. And so I sat right down and did it—did it the other day. It was not a long job—it was quite easily done—and a third of it—the first third—I cut wholly out. Just as I was folding it up, the thought struck me that I was not satisfied with it—with that part and so I cut it off the sheet—let it start with the other—sent the mutilated piece. And in a couple of days comes to pay for it—so all is now done on that!" He had called my attention to the Inness picture several days ago—asked me—"What do you think of that? It is by Inness: Do you know anything about Inness? What? Tell me." Harned now asked him if he had yet written the Tennyson piece for the North American Review? But he answered quickly—"No—not a word of it—nor shall I. I have no such intention. I have said all I want to say—should say—about Tennyson. There is nothing I could add to that." I asked— "Why not Tennyson write about Walt Whitman?" He laughed. "No—that involves another question—that would not do. For one thing, Tennyson has never written about his contemporaries and I have. Then Tennyson is in England. And there are plenty of better reasons than either." Added, "Herbert Gilchrist thinks I already think too much of Tennyson—have written too much about him—made too much of him, but I do not—have not the slightest suspicion of it myself." Harned spoke of T.'s "Lordship humbug" but W. retorted—"Oh—that does not matter—don't disturb me in the slightest—I make no account of it whatever." Tom said what he loved in W. was his consistency, whereas Tennyson, etc.—to which W., "Who knows, Tom, but he is as consistent as I am? Back of the formal stately, Tennyson, anyhow, there is the great, rude, rugged Saxon Tennyson. It is true Tennyson is the poet of parlors—of our topmost civilization, so-called—of the infinite graceries—all that. Why is he that? It is not easily told. He is that, because—well, because!"—ending with a laugh. "Then besides, I feel no call to write of Tennyson—no call—no inner command." But he ought to, Tom argued—whereat W.—laughingly—"No—that is not so, Tom. Did you ever hear the story of the woman, who asked her neighbor to return her her borrowed tubs? The neighbor replied that it was impossible, and for several reasons, which she gave—'In the first place I never received any tub from you,—in the second you never had a tub to send me, in the third I never had a tub myself'—and so on through half a dozen explications. And it is so with me, Tom: I never had the tub—nor did the North American"—and he ended it in a slight but hearty laugh.

Reference to the London strike. "Yes indeed—it is extensive—it has great ramifications. It is wonderful, the great internal, industrial troubles of the nations in these later days—in England—over the Continent. I call them intestinal troubles. I don't know but they're in America, too—but then I am in the habit of saying of America that she has such a big belly that she can easily take care of them all." He was silent a moment, then resuming: "Mrs. Gilchrist happened very often to say to me,speaking of turbulent, revolutionary, other, tendencies of our time, that we were 'going somewhere,' and I suppose the sour old irascible Carlyle would say, 'yes, going somewhere—going to hell, all of us!'" Spoke of Huxley's debate with Wace and others—Harned enthusiastic—W. saying: "He is great man—this Huxley. A man, I should say, who, on these questions, plows deep deep, below even Colonel Ingersoll." Adding—"Oh yes! for us—these stories, fables, legends, of the orthodox, were settled long ago—long ago. Myths, piled on myths—then myths again. But as to accepting them literally—oh! how could we? They have an importance—had a necessity—their place in the line could not be questioned—a quality like the evanescent tint of a sunset sky, of the fish that swims the waters—here—gone— but actual, oh! how actual!" Tom gave an amusing rendering of Huxley's discussion of the Gadarean swine story. Was it a moral action in Jesus, to so destroy another man's swine, etc. W. laughed tremendously—turned jokingly to Tom: "In New Jersey, Tom—in any one of our States here—wouldn't that be an actionable offense?" And to Tom's "Yes indeed!""And even in England, I suppose—even in the Archbishop's own country!"

Referred again to the Gutekunst picture and to my copy of it. "I shall put it in good shape for you!" he said. W. quoted in effect Kant's "Two things in the Universe strike me with awe—the starry spaces above, the law of Duty within"—I gave him this, he saying—"No doubt that's the phrase—I was blundering towards it—a grand and efficient statement." Then he turned questioningly to me—"But how do you explain it, Horace—how?—that in my old days, I more and more make morality so called take a back seat—relegate it—subordinate it? Take it away with you—carry it in your cap—don't attempt to answer me now, but when you come again—then!" Tom invited him to dinner tomorrow. W. said—"I may—to get a drink! But for the eating—well, you know how all the Doctors caution me about that." And as to the champagne—"Have you the same—the same you had—good as ever was?" And to T.'s assent—"Well—there is no better to that best. As in the story of the peach—the man—Sidney Smith was it?—who said, God no doubt could have made a better fruit, but no doubt God never had." Finally— "Well—Tom—probably I shall come—did you say one-half after one? Well—if I can—if I feel so—I shall come!"

W. said as to Ingersoll: "There is a young writer for the press there in New York—someone—a friend of mine, I believe—who gives Ingersoll first quality in poetry. How does that strike you? No doubt it is at least in part true." Harned told a story of Beecher—how at the time of his trial, in a company of a young lady had asked a gentleman present, "Do you think Mr. Beecher is guilty?" and got for reply "Guilty of what?" W. laughingly saying, "Surely that was a poser." Then adding—"I have heard a good story of Beecher himself. They were discussing the nude in art—a young lady asked him—perhaps an old—a lady, anyhow—woman—'Now don't you, Mr. Beecher, consider so and so indecent?'—mentioning some statue. Beecher replied: 'I must confess, Madame, I do not think it indecent,—but I think your question indecent.'—which was one of the best I ever heard." Harned quoted words or lines from "In Memoriam" W. exclaiming as he listened—"Splendid! Splendid! There's nothing to beat it!"

Harrison Morris put the question today—Would it be pleasant to W. to have him discuss the Sarrazin essay in the American? W. said of it: "Oh! let him fire away. We have put ourselves in the way of the public, to be whacked at, pecked at—investigated, and so we must welcome all comers—all!" Said he had seen by the papers that Talcott Williams was back in town. Alluded to fact that the Williams' had money. "It is queer how the folks lose their money, get more, fall down, are set up again. John Swinton and his wife had a fortune left to them—an old uncle, somebody, died: John thought he had a call to start a paper—put his money in it—then duly lost—in a year was poor as poor—then came another fortune—even more—which now he has, I believe."

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