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Sunday, October 18, 1891

Sunday, October 18, 1891

Up at seven, Wallace about eight, he going to work on his notes at once, I occupying myself about various affairs. Gilbert rather dilatory. But a hearty breakfast all together. Then to Philadelphia. Wallace and Gilbert with me, the girls later—St. George's Hall. Clifford to speak there—did speak. Small audience. Afterward Longaker approached and introduced himself to J.W.W., as did Clifford—talking on both sides (greetings) pleasant. Wallace admitted he was at once attracted towards Longaker. After the meeting, to Camden—G., J.W.W., and H.L.T.—the girls going ahead to Gilbert's to prepare dinner. At W.'s we all went upstairs—about 1:50—and were there the greater part of an hour. Gilbert and Wallace sat at W.'s left, I in front of him. W. in great good trim—doing the most of the talking himself—led on by questions, mainly mine. We had no intention to stay beyond briefest five or ten minutes, but his ready and consuming flood of talk (eloquent, a great deal of it) made us forget time. Wallace seemed astonished and Gilbert pleased and happy. But the room was warm—very warm (a big log burning in the stove), and we all felt its effects. It was four o'clock and after before we got back to Philadelphia and up to French Street, where the Gilberts live.

What of W.'s talk? It spread over a great field. We had met Ed Lindell at the ferry. I introduced Wallace to him, and we found Ed to be chewing on a bit of calamus root. He had bought it of some negroes crossing the ferry. Broke off a bit for Wallace, who had discovered it was their English sweet-scented flag. Bucke had mystified them in England when they had asked him what calamus was, they supposing it indigenous here—not there at all. But J.W.W. says, "I find Doctor Bucke does not know much about trees and such things." W. himself now spoke of it as "sweet flag," saying, "We used to call it sweet flag—I suppose our old people do call it that now." (Asked me to secure roots and leaves through Ed for J.W.W.) Then of Ed Lindell, "He's a queer 'un—a curious fellow—but we can say of Ed as of the singed cat—he's not as bad as he looks!" W.'s reference to Lindell induced Wallace's question, "Are there not a good many folks like that?" W. then specifying, "Some famous, wise, profound man, a cute critic, said we can't know anyone thoroughly, spinally, exhaustively, from all sides, long, without liking him or her—seeing they deserved pity or compassion—affection—or tolerating, accepting her or him. Which I suppose is true—which is probable—because after all we condemn people for the least significant of their errors, giving too much to shows, appearances."

In speaking of buckwheat cakes (he had had 'em for breakfast) he said, "There are buckwheat cakes and buckwheat cakes," which Wallace was "glad to hear" as some he had had in Albany disappointed him. Speaking of Lindell and calamus and the darkies who bring it into town, W. quite indulged himself, talked on a long time about "the darkey population" as he had known it in South Jersey and Washington. "There are queer interesting old figures in South Jersey—I have met many—but the queerest, interestingest in Washington, in the markets there, with their odd ramshackle rigs—the gearing of the barges, old arms, metal, anything—a curious spectacle. Burroughs would delight in nothing better than to get one of these old gray-haired darkeys on market days—talk with him, question him, get at his queer notions—and they were very queer." To W. the darkeys were "a superstitious, ignorant, thievish race," yet "full of good nature, good heart," too. "Yet O'Connor would not have it this way—found excuses, palliatives, illuminations—had his defense." "The best real Southern samples" were "rare birds here but a plenty at Washington" and these were best worth seeing. But when at the Staffords he had had negro experiences worth noting—talked of them at some length—laughed that the darkey settlement nearby should be called Snow Hill. Described the darkies: walking great distances to save their few cents, a darkey returning from town with a couple of quarters or a half, the magnate of his neighborhood.

Talk wandered to Canada and Canadians, too—inimitably of French Canada and his experiences there—the Saguenay, the French there, "their patois," ignorance of English, "removed from sophistications of civilized life." The priests, many—he had met them, they treated him well—trained in France—their suavity. W. said then too, "I was never more tickled then when one of the old priests told me that my politeness was different from theirs—that it was better, which I of course knew was nonsense but which nonetheless tickled me."

Spoke in midst of his other talk of his headache, "Yet I like you to come—it lifts me out of this lethargy and discomfort." Giving me letter for Forman and postal for Bucke to mail, said of Forman he had given him power to treat with Balestier, "to act as my ambassador, representative," to illustrate quoting inimitably and in speech and gesture, Richelieu, as he exacts power from the king from the midst of the king's troubles. W. in voice and power striking and beautiful at this. To Wallace, "Have you never seen the play? I should advise you to take the first chance." Then, "Bulwer has made his title clear by several of his plays, if no way else: by this, by 'The Maid of Lyons,' by 'Money'—'Richelieu' the best without a doubt—though all of them vital, triumphant. 'Richelieu' not a work of genius but of first-rate talent—with dashes of genius—with great situations." He had given Forman such power—such "absolute authority" as depicted in Richelieu, "Yet I hope he will not abuse it in exerting it!" Referred to Fanny Kemble as supreme among the artists he had seen. Spoke of Alboni, the Italian opera—no being more than Alboni had moved and possessed him. "She roused whirlwinds of feeling within me." And to him, "After all the Italian opera has gone deepest, probably because I was trained in, for, it. My friends tell me—no, no, that is not for you, Wagner is for you. But somehow the old music lasts—perhaps because, for one thing, the only one or two Wagner performances I have seen were not good ones. Indeed, I have been told that is the explanation." Alboni a woman, to him, beautiful, though others ("none about me or people generally or wholly at that time") would not admit it—her "low brow, fat body, black hair and eyes." And whether Italian opera possessed the greatness of which he was conscious when she sung it, "she, at least, must have had it—bestowed it. If it was not in the opera then it was in her. She shed tears, real tears. I have been near—often within a seat or two—and seen her." About Alboni and her two children in Italy greatly moving: her evident thought of them as she played Lucia.

It was all in this strain—an atmosphere thrown out, crimsoned with good blood and sympathy.

After we had retired I went back an instant to ask about the Emerson letters. He said, "I have forgotten—let it be till tomorrow."

Afternoon and evening then at Gilbert's.

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