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Saturday, September 20, 1890

Saturday, September 20, 1890

7:50 P.M. After having got back from his trip in the chair, W. sat in parlor, as he said, "for several hours." Kept his hat on and the window by which he sat closed. Sometimes complains of his sight, but I note how readily he knows me however dark the room, and tonight that the reflection on the house opposite, caused by the glare of a bonfire on 4th Street, caused him to ask me, "What is that unusual light?"—not satisfied until I had leaned out the window and told him.

W. asked me, "What do you know new?" and without waiting for an answer said, "I hear nothing, but wrote a short note to Johnston today." I told him we had not yet succeeded in arranging about Academy, finding it hard to get the proper custodians, but expected to Monday. I had the following letter from Johnston, of which I told W.:

New York, Sept 19, 1890 My Dear Traubel:

Fire away. You are on the right track and need no lessons from me.

The stage idea is splendid. I hope to see Ingersoll tomorrow and will get all I can from him as to what he thinks best to do and how to do it.

Hastily yours, J. H. J.

W. did "not know about Gilder" but was "not inclined to take a severe view of his position," adding, "As I said before, Philadelphia seems to me Ingersoll's field—I could say, his bailiwick—and whatever his subject, whatever he takes up, I think he will treat it grandly, easily, magnificently, eloquently: it is in him and he simply must do it. That kind of a man is under just such influence. There has been something in the air of Philadelphia—I must say it though I am thought stupid for saying it—from the days of Penn even, to which he is response and inspiration." I told him Frank Williams was in to see me. "And he was opposed to Ingersoll, wasn't he?" I said, "On the contrary he heartily concurs: thinks it was a generous, noble thing in Ingersoll, and even that our private supper after is a necessary feature of the event." W. exclaimed, "That's a surprise. A victory, even: and good for Frank, too. I had expected you to say something quite different." And he continued after a pause, in which I said nothing, "I have been feeling myself that Ingersoll's area, scope, influence—the circle of his accepters, understanders—has been growing, perceptibly growing, even here of late. I am heartily in favor of the supper, too. It would pass well, for you boys, for me—for Ingersoll, most of all—as it should."

He spoke (he has done it before) of Justin Winsor's "The Perils of Historical Narrative" in the Atlantic. "It has a true ring. I enjoyed it very much. There's a flavor of the genuine wine, and pithy, to the point. A man, I should say, not precise, not literal." And then, "I don't know anything about him; yet the name is not altogether strange, either."

Then we touched again upon Holmes' piece. I said of it, "I don't like it even on the recommendation of your second reading. It is too prolonged; sounds as if Holmes got out of wind and begged again and again of the pumps for a new supply." W. laughed. "That was pretty near my first thought, though I went it even worse than that. But along later I softened a little, till now I am even prepared to give it virtue, if not point." I remarked, "Holmes is smart enough not to commit himself: he does not seem to take an absolute stand; plays around the subject, as if possibly with an idea the future will disprove him, or may." W. responded, "That is quite just. I saw that plainly myself. I think anyone would admit your point, for it is allowed by every sign we see. I think most of all, Holmes is unjust to Emerson, for Emerson was modest if ever man was modest, or is. And even the Phi Beta Kappa oration, or essay, or whatever, was no denunciation, no pronunciamento, in any offensive sense, but a quiet statement of primary things, quite in Emerson's inimitable and beautiful attitude, which was never one to aggress. A quiet statment of this: that if any man would be anything, he must be himself—write, speak, think freely, out of his own spirit. And on the literary side Emerson never deliberately outraged tradition, broke the traces, though in reading this of Holmes we might be persuaded to believe he did." I put in, "But Holmes evidently feels Emerson's insistence everywhere for freedom, that men should plant themselves on their instincts, abiding there, etc., that no literary tradition or any other should imprison the soul—and he probably finds in this a correspondence with your own declarations in 'Leaves of Grass.'" W. assented, "Yes, I guess that's what caused his criticism. Still, I think, he should have acquitted Emerson of even the suspicion of a charge. One of the most interesting things in the paper to me, is the passage from which we may learn the most that men like Holmes can say against 'Bill,' 'Jack,' 'Walt,' and so on, which is practically nothing at all." And still again, "Not even in my good humor can I altogether get rid of the notion that Holmes felt: 'I'm in for a 50 or 100 dollar piece here: what shall it be about? Oh! I see! So here goes,' and that will account for some things I can in no other way account for." And further: "Timothy Dexter was not an utter myth. There was such a book. And I don't know but that punctuation business was very funny, after all. It was issued at a time when all the schoolmasters discussed punctuation marks, phraseology, formal technique; so Dexter printed a page, or several pages, of punctuation marks of all sorts, as if, and meaning to say, 'It's impossible for me to punctuate to suit everybody, so just each man for himself take these marks and put them into what he may think their proper places in the book!'" W. laughed heartily, "It was not bad. I don't know but it even had some positive value."

I asked him if he agreed with Morris, who said to me today that he thought Whittier had no future? He replied, "No, I do not agree. I think that Whittier's paper will pass," and he added that he felt he could "thoroughly reciprocate" my feeling that Whittier had never sacrificed his convictions to simply art aspirations. "It will stand to his great honor."

Speaking of "slanders" of which he is a victim, W. said tonight, "I could say, 'if you knew the truth, you would know worse than that," as Socrates said. Only, it happens that these fellows mainly hit upon the very evils that do not exist." He said Holmes' piece had "the one virtue that it was not written, so far as could be seen, in ill-nature."

"Progress," he says, "is by great strides now, where once it was a matter for long years and patience," so that "the world will come up with Ingersoll, or his protest, in a near end."

I used an expression, "Making of character a sea, upon which to invite spiritual commerce," and he said, "That is very fine; that says a great deal."

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