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Sunday, September 28, 1890

Sunday, September 28, 1890

9:40 A.M. Down to W.'s on the way to city. Had already seen Burroughs for a few minutes at Harned's. W. eating something—late breakfast. Returned me proofs. "I have read it, every word, several times," he said, and added, "If I wrote on the subject at all, that would be about my position." Said he was tempted to write about the "Kreutzer Sonata" book itself but as yet his humor had not taken decisive tone. Told him Burroughs hankered after one of the Gutekunst pictures, and W. said, "He shall have one, too, if he wishes." I left with W. the Tucker translation of "The Kreutzer Sonata." Said he would read it. The morning papers spread out on the chair. Was fully determined to go to Harned's.

Went up to Harned's in the afternoon, about 4:20, with Anne Montgomerie. W. already there and Burroughs with him. Sitting by parlor wood fire, Anna serving Harned's mixed toddy, of which both men partook, and Harned finally with them. W. joked with Tom about the excellence of the mixture: "If the law ever goes back on you, Tom," he said with a laugh, "you can hire out for a barkeeper!" and saying after he was composed again, "Warrie has asked me what we would do if poetry failed. I said, 'Why, hire out to a show'—and Warrie took it very philosophically, too, saying, 'Well, I'm not so sure but that's a good idea!'" This led him to say something of Warren's fitness for the work: "He is nonchalant, doesn't care what people say of us." Wilkins had been more sensitive, even to the comments of children. "But Warrie pushes right on. There are boys and girls who follow and deride us, out of a pure deviltry of soul to follow a mite and more," and with a laugh, "I think the girls are most brazen, too, if that could be." After a little my mother came in. He was cordial—took her hand and held it—started to introduce her to Burroughs, not knowing they had met last night. Then spoke to her of the boyish greetings in the street—that he "liked the 'Walt' even from the youth—it seems so an expression of his chivalry, though for this very thing that I like so much, I have heard mothers rebuke their boys." Anne had gone upstairs on our arrival, then came into the parlor. W. took her hand, held it very long, gazed at her fixedly. "I know you, my dear, don't I? Haven't I known you somewhere?" and several times again took her hand, as if self-provoked that he could not remember the precise circumstances of an earlier meeting. She sat there at his side until time for dinner. A little later Clifford came in, but declined the drink Harned had saved for him, saying for this time he had been determined to see how it would go not to take anything at all. In the meantime W. had talked of many things: freely, spontaneously, abundantly, but for now, as for the rest of the evening, most copiously of "The Kreutzer Sonata." He said he had "read again in the last several hours—looked over—the Tucker translation of the book." I thought it "must be much better than the other"—Lyster's. "Oh! he beats us all—all!" W. exclaimed. "I should think all the realists—Zola—all the others—must feel to pause, to listen, to applaud: for he tops and crowns them all. Obscenity? Obscene? Oh! Is the surgeon's knife obscene? It might just as well be said of the one as the other. This is a picture to the life, a cut to the bone. It is not a pleasant book: it is horrible, horrible, in its truth, its graphic power." Did he think it would be more than ephemeral in its influence? "Yes, I think its influence will be a long one, and profound: that this noise over it today is but the beginning. I cannot conceive that such a giant personality should appear but with the result to affect in some way the whole history of society."

Later on Harned spoke of divorce, that it meant "chaos," etc. W. interrupting, "Say, rather, Tom, freedom." Harned objected to Ingersoll's lax views on the subject. But W. still protested, "I myself am in favor of the free view: it will open a thousand things for the good of society." And then he said to Harned with a laugh: "I have often noticed in you, Tom, a combination of extreme conservatism with extreme radicalism," etc.

At the table W. said, "I think champagne and oysters were made for me: that they are prima facie in my domain." He drank easily but not much—though I joked with him that he never protested to Tom (as he refilled W.'s glass), "Stop, Tom, that's enough," till the glass was full.

At one point in the dinner, he sat with a piece of chicken suspended on his fork and entered into quite a talk about the "meanings" of "Leaves of Grass," that "it can never be understood but by an indirection," and adding, "It stands first of all for that something back of phenomena, in phenomena, which gives it all its significance, yet cannot be described—which eludes definition, yet is the most real thing of all." Then finishing his bite and passing to another subject.

Burroughs referred to the absurdity of the sizes of the American Army and Navy, and W. endorsed him: would rather "let them bombard our coast" than have America "make any stand for military tradition," adding explanatorily, "It is my Quaker blood that says all that."

We sat at table, Harned at head, his wife at other end. To Harned's right Whitman, H.L.T., Anne Montgomerie, Clifford; to the left, Burroughs, Thomas, Anna. W. always tucks napkin in at the neck. He ate quite freely, though, as he said, "with caution." We asked if Bucke's ears burned that W. was here at Harned's table again, Bucke always fearing that the rich food may injure Walt. W. said, "Bucke is a typical scientist: he knows all about the things that are knowable, and then he forgets that some other things exist which defeat his principles: these special features, making the special laws for each individual. And often the most important, too."

Spoke again of O'Connor's "catholicity": "If I were to write the piece over again, I should dwell upon that, make it the keynote of all." But why not do it anyhow? The book is not yet out. But he added, "I shall not recall it now. But in O'Connor that trait was so large, no account of him can leave it out and be a living portrayal."

He spoke of Ingersoll in this way: "My version of him is, that he is coming on—he is in constant movement—today reaching new things, tomorrow new other things." Burroughs thought Ingersoll "always" successful in his tiff with the clergy.

W. said, "There is one thing which it seems to me someone will someday come to write up: an account of, say, half a dozen of the radical fellows of our revolution epoch, and of the French time contemporaneous—Paine, Voltaire, Rousseau—examining the times by a statement of certain of its typical lives." When we questioned him we found that he knew nothing about Morley, yet was curious to know, questioning greatly, knowing Morley only from the political side.

I quoted a note in the Critic, quoted again for the London Times, to the effect that the laureateship seemed narrowed down to Swinburne or nobody, and as it could not be Swinburne, it had better be nobody. W. said with a laugh, "That's very good, one of the wittiest things I have met in a long while."

Discussed Watterson's Boston speech, in which, in the Negro question, he took the ground that the Negro franchise would never be truly granted till the Negro vote was a divided, not a class one. W. said, "I know enough of Southern affairs, have associated enough with Southern people to feel convinced that if I lived South I should side with the Southern whites." But how did that consist with his democracy? "I should be forced not to explain that: I would have to evade the issue. And yet I feel with Watterson strongly." Burroughs endorsed this view.

The whole day was characterized by this freedom. A little after seven Warren came in for W. and he went off promptly, Burroughs attending. Full of cheer to the last. These are memorable days.

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