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Sunday, December 13, 1891

Sunday, December 13, 1891

1:10 P.M. After Brinton's lecture we went to Camden and to W.'s together, being admitted by Warrie and going straight upstairs to find the room rather confused—the bed all laid off and W. eating his breakfast. "I am just up," he said, "having spent a horrible night." Brinton congratulated him that he was "even that well." W. to that, "Which is not much well, the best you put it. For about three years past I have been little by little deleted—robbed of one thing after another—till now I am in a low tide indeed." He looked very bad—strangely and ominously feeble—and for ten minutes or so appeared to find it a wrench to emit a word. But finally he warmed up and spoke with both pathos and fire about several of the topics introduced. (Brinton remarked a greater deafness, after, to me, and added, "I can see how enfeebled he is. I should say he would not weather the winter.")

Conversation passed from one topic to another. I picked up a copy of Illustrated American from the floor and handed to Brinton, who "liked" the portrait, W. however saying, "Though I like it, Mary Davis don't." I also showed Brinton Johnson's etching—which he, too, thought askew. W. himself admitting, "There's a bad twist to it someway." Gave Brinton a copy of "Leaves of Grass"—the paper-covered—autographing it—handing it to him with the remark, "Here is the book, with all its sins upon its head." Then suddenly said to Brinton, "I see Doctor how wide is the ravine between you and me—how very wide. It is a subject of never-ending wonder to me how you, how Ingersoll, should so stalwartly find recognitions in 'Leaves of Grass'—should hold to, cleave to, me as you do." Brinton protesting, "It's because we find in you hooks to climb by!" W. fervently, "Which I hope you do! Yes, I hope 'Leaves of Grass' gives you hooks to climb by, as you say. There are two things in 'Leaves of Grass' which dominate everything else—which give it meaning and coherency—two things, found, I hope, in every page—I was going to say, every word. The first is atmosphere: that what we call phenomena, facts, reason, intellect, are not the explications of life—that that lies deeper, is a more penetrating factor—is deep, deep, deep below all casual eyesight or insight either." (Brinton afterwards said to me he could not understand this point.) "The other principle, to call it that, is that man is in process of being—that his justification is not in himself, today, but in something yet to come—something ahead." And so proceeded for some length, at one point saying, "Under what we see is something else, and under that something again, and under that something, and something, something!" And again spoke of "the Almighty, if there be such a being."

Brinton dined with Conway and Dixon (the lawyer) last evening. Dixon asked Conway, "Has the time yet come for a truthful history of the American Revolution?" Conway reflected a minute and said, "No, it has not. Even if anyone existed competent to write such a history, he would not dare do it. Perhaps a century from today it might be done—but now? Impossible!" Brinton told this to W., who remarked, "Could a truthful history of anything, of any individual, be told? A truthful history of an individual means to bring out folly, mistake, error, crime, devilishness, poison. Who can do that? Who could even write a history of our own rebellion—a truthful history, even if he dared? I was in Washington for three years behind the scenes, practically—having access to men, events. In all the crowds of actors how many could have been picked out for even a reasonable degree of sacrifice? Except Lincoln, Grant, Stanton, I hardly know one whose every act was not a calculation—done with reference to private interests, advancement. These three alone standing free. And any one of these, I am sure, willing at any time to lay down his life for a great victory. I don't know but I might add Burnside to this cluster—Burnside—yes, him—for though Burnside was a pretty dull fellow for the occasion, he was heroic, modest, patriotic. But apart from these, I saw plot, scheme, scandal—God knows what not. Poor Lincoln! Poor Lincoln! Poor Lincoln! What a seething world about him—trouble, misunderstanding, slander, finally murder! Poor Lincoln! Yet he to stem all—to keep at the helm—to control the ship!" And so again with eloquence about the war.

He himself introduced the Russian question by asking Brinton, "Doctor, I have intended to ask you: What are your views—have you any views? What are your observations on the Russian question, the cruel barbarous treatment of the Jews in Russia?" Brinton then covered a pretty ample descriptive ground, W. listening. Brinton more or less accepting the argument of Russian loyalists that the Jew himself, by his unpatriotic attitude, is mainly responsible. But to W. this was "no excuse for expatriation," and he said to Brinton at one point, "I am glad, Doctor, to hear all that you have to say, but nothing you have told me moves me an inch from my old convictions." Brinton educed our own treatment of the Chinese but W. shook his head, "That will not convince me." But was it not the custom all along the line of our national policy? "No matter—if it is a custom, it is a damned bad custom. The exclusion of the Chinese, the tariff, prohibition, all that is of one piece, and I for one not only despise it but always denounce it—lose no occasion. The policy which allows some fellow who wishes to make buttons or some fellow who wishes to make tin to go to Washington and set matters up there so that the foreign fellows with their tin and buttons are barred out is no policy of mine. And it is besides a damnable horrible mistake, to be some day discovered. If the Jews in Russia are unpatriotic, who can wonder? How could they be otherwise, treating with such a government? All our own laws, which tell us that workmen who choose to come here under contract, or fiddlers to fiddle, or professors to teach must be warned off, are bad in themselves, bad in everything they suggest." Brinton suggested the analogy of our war, "It is a complete one. It parallels the Russian case perfectly." Still W. shook his head, "I do not admit that—do not admit it for a moment. On the contrary it is not analogous at all. We came here in this country to the point where nothing was left to us but to give up the Union all together or cement it by fire and sword. There is no such issue in Russia: all the facts, conditions, are different." Then again W. said, "It is not rules, policies, that control the fate of nations. The emotional critter settles many things ahead of elaborate policies."

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