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Friday, September 6, 1889

Friday, September 6, 1889

7.55 P.M. W. alone, in the parlor. It had showered in the early evening: therefore, he did not go out. I stayed till about 9—Harned coming in after I had been there some time, and W. engaging us both in vigorous conversation. Asked him if he had read the Bush piece—but: "No—it is still in the pocket of the coat I wore yesterday—I think it was laziness kept me form looking it up—that and nothing else or less." Nor had he looked up the steel prints—"did not open the package." In fact: "I had quite a bad day today—and it has been very hot, hasn't it? Now I am easier: this last hour or so has mildened things up considerably." We got on the subject of Indian names again—I had met with one today—"Kokendaugua"—which he much enjoyed. "It is as you say, something quite distinct and recognizable that they bear through which the Indian names appeal to us. They are totally genuine—we could say of them what Gilder said of my poetry—that they stand specifically alone—are not to be imitated—not to be manufactured." "There is nothing in all language, ancient or modern, so significant—so individual—so of a class—as these names. I have often threatened myself to make a collection of them—I don't know for what purpose or if for any—but have never done so."

They had discussed at Harned's last Sunday a point made in Gould's pamphlet, "Frankenstein"—that there was no such thing as an insane asylum in China. Tom said he had confirmed it. W. said now: "Yes I thought then and say again, I think that the most extraordinary, significant fact, statement, of all." And he added in the course of a discussion of the importance of Christianity: "I think the first five centuries of Christianity very precious and necessary to the history of humanity. It came as a protest against a too great leaning in one direction—a too great tendency—exclusive tendency—towards militaryism: among the Greeks to mere beauty. In an era which could acknowledge nothing but the military virtues—which, high as they are, are not by any means the highest—it came, filled great niches, wide gaps—furnished a purifying, freshening of the race. I should say of it as I might of our Rebellion here in America: our Rebellion confirmed, justified, explicated America: Christianity confirmed, justified, explicated humanity. I refer more particularly to the Christianity of earlier days—the first five centuries—before the split into Methodists, Presbyterians, theological conceits; then to what Hicks saw in it, Parker, men of that stripe, large-seeing." And he added: "Of course the orthodoxy of our day represents a revolting spectacle—an organization persistence of the so-called religious spasms of the commoner masses of the people, the lowest, most horrible ideals to be conceived. In our day the time had come to put down the brakes, and the brakes are being put down—put down very effectually. All the fellows of any value put the brakes down—all of them: among my personal friends I know of no exception whatever." "The miracles," he said, "will do for the Marines, but today they are a poor meal which everybody else refuses." As to the Gladstone-Huxley controversy: "Gladstone amounts to very little in that anyhow" and as to Dr. Furness' belief in the resurrection—"Well—we may say of that what I so often say of criticism—if it don't prove the resurrection, it at least proves certain things about the Doctor!" The Rev. Mr. May had once taken a very radical ground in church here as to birth—or at least confirmation—of conscience in Christianity. But W. shook his head: "No—that is as if we should say, there were no brave men, or only half brave men, before Jesus—before Christianity—an evident absurdity, arrogance." Tom asked him: "Are you still as firmly pantheistic as you were in the earlier poems?" And he at once replied: "Yes indeed, Tom—if anything more and more so!" "But how do you make that consistent with the immortality of identity?" "You think it conflicts then? It don't seem so to me." "But how can you prove it?" W. laughed. "I cannot prove it—I only believe it—feel it. And then you know, Tom, I'm an indifferent prover of anything. Even my dear mother long ago saw that, for she said to me there were two things I could never do and was never intended to do: I could not controvert, I could not explain! That is as much true now as it ever was!" Here he said: "I was reading the Sarrazin piece over again today. He makes a good deal of that point—the point of pantheism. And every time I read that piece I grow in my perception of the capaciousness, amplitude, of the man. I don't think there ever was anybody writing of us who more boldly—as boldly—grappled with what I may call our theory—theory is not a good word, but it is safe for us to use it here between each other—theory of evil—of good. He goes at it with a strange, wonderful daring—as needs—for it is a weighty charge and needs to be met weightily. Sarrazin says in effect—there have been many writers who have gone so far as to declare for evil a purpose as manure, as fertilizing, force in human character, but it has remained to our century and to America to erect evil and good upon equal pedestals and read in them an equal purpose. To that effect, not in those words. We must certainly get the piece published somewhere. I see there is a new magazine starting—the Transatlantic—devoted to reprint of the greater essays of foreign reviews. I thought to try that: we'll see."

He promised to read the autobiographic page once more before I returned the plate proofs, but—"I am sure there's no change whatever to be made." Harned referred to Gilchrist's distaste for the Gutekunst portrait. W. remarking: "Oh! we have gone over all that before—that is an old notion of Herbert's, but in spite of him, that is a great portrait, indeed, I incline to agree with Doctor Bucke—that that is the portrait of the future"—Tom dissenting but W. insisting: "Well—you are welcome to your opinion, Tom—I believe it will go down, perhaps as the best of all." Alluded to the Smiths—"I have been sending Pearsall something every day, almost, for a week past—papers, what-not—addressing them to Surrey—Haslemere." Tom asked at one point: "How about Mrs. Costelloe's religion opinion—is she radical?" W. crying out in a laughing way: "That's a pretty question for you to ask, Tom—she's as radical as any one of us!" But how could she stand Costelloe's Catholicism? "Oh! well enough: you know she's a thorough Leaves-of-Grass-ian—has no bigotries, no exclusions." But how about Costelloe—how could he suffer the great difference? W. again quaintly: "Oh! he's a woman's-rightser—I am sure: I think I was told by some one that all that was gone over. You know, I like Costelloe myself—like him a great deal—he has been here—we have talked together. But of the Smiths, I think Alice is the most American—the most democratic—best calculated to measure Leaves of Grass. She is coming to America soon—next month, I believe—and you will meet her. Oh! she is handsome, too—the finest specimen of womanhood I know—almost!""Alice does not take naturally to the English—she has a word for them—I forget it now—muggs—something of that sort—something to express insignificance." I sent the manuscript of Yonnondio to the Library of the Maine Historical Society today.

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