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Wednesday, September 24, 1890

Wednesday, September 24, 1890

5:10 P.M. Had a fine strong talk with W., covering half an hour. He had just had his dinner. Was very bright. Showed him the letter received from Ingersoll today.

New York, Sept. 23d 1890. My dear friend:

I think that Mr. Baker, who has been with me for many years, had better go over to Philadelphia and consult with you. He can tell you what to do, as he knows all about the lecture business—advertising, tickets, contracts, etc.—which, by the way, is of itself a profession.

Of course, I care nothing about the action of the directors of the Academy of Music, or the Annex. I presume that some good place can be obtained. If not, we can have the lecture in this city, and Whitman can come over here. Still, I think some place can be found in Philadelphia. Horticultural Hall would do—and Mr. Baker tells me that he thinks there is a new opera house or hall uptown that might be secured if thought advisable.

However, do not allow yourself to be annoyed, or worried. It will all come out right enough. I have been through the same mill a great many times.

On second thought, I think that towards the last of October would be the best time.

Of course, you know that my real object is to raise some money for Whitman. I want every dollar to go to him, and consequently, everything should be done for the purpose of achieving a financial success. If we fail once—why, we can try again.

Considerable money will have to be advanced in advertising, and this I am perfectly willing to do myself.

With best regards to Whitman, I remain as ever,

Truly your friend, R. G. Ingersoll

He read it deliberately, some of it aloud. "The noble fellow!" he exclaimed. "So much more than any of us would have a right to expect!" And again, "Oh! What a splendid letter this is, so full of generosity and truth!" Adding, "I do not think my friends understand the extent of my advocacy and approval of Ingersoll, of his work. It don't matter about the few diversities, I make nothing of them, and they are slight anyhow. The main thing is, Ingersoll is a free man, free to his individuality, as all first-class men have been from the start. Fearless, frank, eloquent, with tongue of fire. These are things which stir him with genius. In all essential ways, Ingersoll's work and mine converge: I think even my intimate friends are disposed not to see this."

Our hope of getting Horticultural Hall is very good. Request will be referred to Board tomorrow. The man in charge is enthusiastic for the "yea," saying, "The people next door rent their building to promiscuous balls and performances, yet hesitate about giving it to a man who denies dogmas few of which they themselves believe in their hearts." W. "pleased," he said, with the idea of keeping up the fight here. "It is a phase to be accepted with all that it implies."

As I sat there the woman who is serving in Mrs. Davis' absence came in to say that a couple of children were below with flowers and asked to see him. But he neither went down nor invited them up. "I guess I must not see them this time," he said, explaining to me, "They have been here several times: are always interested to see the rat, the lion, the elephant, or whatever you choose. The dear children! But I cannot always humor them!"

He has forgotten my notes again, putting the blame as before on his "worse and worse memory"—would certainly do tomorrow.

Asked what had been heard of Harned's mother? I knew no change at all in her condition.

Judge Thayer today rendered decision in Philadephia favorable to Tolstoi's "Kreutzer Sonata." "I have just been reading it here," W. said, at my reference, pointing to the Camden Post, "but it is simply a sentence. Have you it in full? I had intended looking it up further." I read him last paragraph (I had the Call with me). He laughed. "That is certainly rich; that is full of hope: it is just the thing you would expect from a judge of the first class." And after I had handed him paper, he read the paragraph aloud, "Oh! how rich it is! How like the old decisions: and what a thrust! What could cut more keenly into the very vitals?" And then, "You will leave the paper with me? I want it! You can get another on your way up." Afterward speaking of "The Kreutzer Sonata" itself again, "My opinion of it continues, gives hue to all my recent thought. It is not a book for children, not a book to be easily understood. Nor a book for delicate palates—for elegant polite circles—for men who crave literary sweetmeats. It is like a magnificent nigger—superb, powerful, true to the first shred of nature—not to be admired because of his beauty, but because of his truth. Tolstoi's picture is the grandest I know of marriage as it exists today—of the institution, so called, as such. Marriage as we know it, in Europe, here in Philadelphia, New York, everywhere, lays itself open to all that Tolstoi says. Tolstoi does not make for marriages per se, but for marriage which is no marriage—the formal institution of marriage. Oh! the force of the blow is tremendous, tremendous. And the art of it too, how great! An art which is entirely hidden, which is not suspected, which leaves you the impression that here is brutal, crude, unstudied nakedness. And yet art set the whole feast, saw to every detail. The power to do that is the distinction of genius."

I referred to the Globe—last number—in which W. H. Thorne, discussing the "The Kreutzer Sonata," devotes a foul paragraph to denunciation of "Leaves of Grass" as bestial beyond excuse and relief, etc. W. said, "Yes, I knew of it; my attention has been called to it." Did he know Thorne? "Yes, I have met him. He is a foul shameless man. No, it is not worth while getting the magazine: I am not curious to see it and it has no value for you, as you say. I think Thorne lived in Camden several years. I met him at the Scovels'. He is worse than Hartmann, which is saying a good deal. The Scovels with their womanly instincts—and I joined them, too—always revolted to think of this man leaving his wife to suffer, living himself in something like ease, or the best he could get. He would eat up the best food, wear the best clothes, and she would be without both—be in rags, without good stockings to put on her feet. The fellow was rather good-looking, too—not without brains. When rebuked for his selfishness, would say that he was expected to face the world and had a certain respectability to keep up. Yes, respectability, damn him! He travelled as a sort of Unitarian minister. I would warn you and Clifford to beware of him, to steer a passage away from him. He is a plausible, not repulsive man to meet. Piety? Yes, all the piety he had was of a formal cut. As for real piety: he never had a suspicion of it. At one time he professed to be very friendly to 'Leaves of Grass,' even put his friendliness into print. I remember he once wrote asking me for a copy—indeed, several copies—of 'Leaves of Grass.' He already had one: I did not answer his letter, though I probably would have given him the books had he come for them, but ever since that time he has pursued me with his insolence. I should not care to add anything to this. He was not, is not, a man of high instincts, and his religion is only a matter of words." W. referred several times again to the brutality of this man, to "the poor wife, and my heart always went out to her" and his "hypocrisy."

After I had left W.'s I went and had a talk with Harned on the Ingersoll matter. Then home. Somewhat disquieted. Would the New York fellows think I arbitrarily intervened or insisted upon Philadelphia? Or would they see the several reasons I had in mind? I do not favor W.'s going to New York because it may be a danger to him. He might go through the ordeal safely. But if he did not? Better not risk anything that might shorten his life. Then there were other reasons. If W. were in sound health or even somewhat stronger than he is, I would say, New York was the place. But Philadelphia should have it now because it is pretty clear W. will be with us there—not so clear about New York—and his presence is necessary to make the meeting a grand oration rather than a lecture gathering only. Then we have the Philadelphia issue injected by the Academy managers. But with all this, what was my right on the premises? The right to suggest. No more. My mood was this. Could not quiet myself till I had written notes to Ingersoll and Johnston, asking Ingersoll to answer me two questions: whether he would prefer New York and whether he did not think we ought to insist upon having it in Philadelphia; telling Johnston that I would put the matter point blank to W. whether it should be in New York—would then go to W.'s tonight in quest.

7:20 P.M. To W.'s again for reason as indicated above. I told him what I had just written Johnston. He remarked, with a smile, "I don't think I want to put myself on record in that at all. If it is New York I shall make every effort to get there—very likely be there; if it is in Philadelphia, I shall be satisfied, too. The chief thing is, the event. The chiefest, perhaps, Ingersoll himself. What a great splendid nature he has! Doing the natural generous things—in this thing probably simply transacting himself—no more. The letter you showed me has been my surprise, my rejoicing." Then he added, "I think our jeweler Johnston should be considered, too: he is true blue, devoted, warm-hearted." But, after all, Ingersoll might be the man to defer to if he greatly desired it in New York. "I don't know but that is best of all: to wait and hear from him," adding, "I like your spirit in this thing: each to defer to the other. I think the world has never paid enough deference to that principle of Quakers, which, in their meetings, prevents a mere majority from deciding policies, actions. One vote or several not being sufficient to make a rule operative. Always suggesting to me a silent sweet deference to minorities, to the spirit; not doing all out of awe of numbers. I am sure it is a rebuking contrast to all that is accepted in the methods of legislation. Let us keep it in mind."

As to Johnston's idea that if W. came to New York, the literary people there would call on him almost en masse, W. said laughingly, "But suppose Walt Whitman would not receive—would not be recepted? And no doubt he would not. The times for that are gone, if it ever was, which I doubt."

Inquired how I was writing the New England Magazine article: whether in a way he could read. "I shall want to remind you of things," he said. "It is impossible to go through such an article without appreciating the importance of forgotten, perhaps minor but important points. The instinct to have you add will no doubt move me again and again."

I picked a piece of paper out of wastebasket. He laughed as he always does. "What to do with it?" he asked.

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