Skip to main content

Saturday, August 23, 1890

Saturday, August 23, 1890

5:00 P.M. W. later with dinner than usual, in the midst of it when I came into his room. But he was in great good humor, and talked with me, as he ate, for half an hour, with more than common vehemence.

He always questions me about any packages I may have, or papers. Today I had Scribner's July and August numbers—both with something in from Grace Ellery Channing, of whom he spoke in a fine affectionate way. And asking me about Critic, and having me tell him, "It's a dry enough number," he seemed well satisfied—"Very like"—saying this with a smile. But I mentioned Whittier's poem therein, for Mrs. John A. Logan, which caused him to say, "I like both Tennyson and Whittier these days—what they write. It is very fine—and sweet—exquisitely tender, sweet."

On table a card photo of a young military man, marked on reverse by W. as having been sent him in 1880 by one Richardson, Citadel Quebec. Seeing me pick it up inquisitively, he remarked: "It was a young fellow I met up there at the time I paid my visit to Bucke—we favored each other and he sent me that after I had got home. I was in Quebec—I think Bucke had gone somewhere for a day or two—I don't know where or for what. The English soldier, true to his Englishhood, would show me some of his courtesies. When I went to the fortress—oh! it is a great one—I can hardly think Gibraltar can be so imposing, covering such a sheer and magnificent height, such a wall of stone—as I was saying, when I went to the fortress, this young man was given to convey me around, which he did. He was very illiterate, could hardly read or write, but was bright—very. A sergeant, I think. He had gone into the army young, was out of a big family, poor, needing to be helped—had been there about two years. He showed me every kindness, all those sweet graceful generosities of youth." And afterwards W. went on—"I often think, what a vast fund of English reticence is packed up there in Canada. The English character has its reserves—the Irish and French are more possessed of the genial human traits—can have a good time, whatever the nation or individual it treats with. The Englishman broods, muses, reserves himself for a group, a few friends, his family. The French and Irish certainly have the advantage here. And no one can overvalue the importance inhering to this eligibility to comradeship."

Talked of the remarkable old age of literary men of our time—and scientists—Whittier, Tennyson, Emerson, Ruskin, Bryant and others—Darwin. W. said, "I read in a paper here this morning of a group of men, friends, eight of them, living within a stone's throw of each other—whose united years were 700. It is a vast stretch—a vast one. Dr. Bucke assures me there's nothing in the charge that average age decreases—nothing at all. It confirms my own observation. And there is Kossuth, too—living still—nearly 90! I knew Kossuth—talked with him on several occasions. He still lives, as bright intellectually—the same fine noble soul as ever. When I saw him he was a small man, eloquent to a great height—vivacious. Kossuth made a great mistake after his coming here. He had been almost importuned to come here by officials, by Congress, was brought in an American man-of-war. At that time any one of the nations—Germany, Austria, France, Russia—would have killed him—hung him—if they could have got him in their hands. But Kossuth's great mistake after he got here was to make an effort to have America range herself in his cause. We all recognized it at once as deplorable. We could not have done it then, could not do it now, ought never to do it. Yet he went up and down through our states, pleading for it. I am even opposed to Congress petitioning the Czar to investigate Siberia—even that is out of our province. We can never be in a position to arbitrate—enforce our arbitrament—in European contests." This had not affected his love for Kossuth, "but we could not feel it for anything but what it was—a sad mistake." He talked of Kossuth's power of speech. "It was great—but it was not the power we know; it was elegant, strong, full of Southern properties—of the French, Italian—but without that absolute freedom which we look for in oratory at its summit of excellence. For instance, as in Ingersoll. I understand that English speakers all stammer, hesitate, at the start—that they lack abandon. And I doubt if even Castelar and men of his stamp can reach Bob's magnificent ease, suavity." W. threw his right arm out as if to address me. "See Bob in that—absolute mastery from the first word—and not a break: a simple majesty, a divine composure—as if it was a stream flowing along its natural course: breaks, curves, but nothing that lessened its force or grace." And again, "And Bob is so elegant, with all that: his words always fit—they throb, vibrate, inspire—they have a simple beauty, seem the necessary accompaniment of the big royal body and soul—the strong great voice. And the thought has come to me, how could all have been impromptu that night? I do not mean the idea: he must know about me—he knew O'Connor—they were intimate friends: but even with the thought all ready, long ready, how could such words take such tones and work in us all such response? But as you say—using my old story—I suppose the whole secret is that there is no secret—that he is natural—that he is an element, a primal force—working as these must work, for big ends, grand results—and that is all!"

There's a whistling buoy at Kaighn's Point which is often heard over this entire neighborhood. It sent forth its cry today—W. listening intently—then smiling, "It has a sound as if from Ulyssean seas."

Back to top