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Wednesday, December 16, 1891

Wednesday, December 16, 1891

5:15 P.M. La Grippe very prevalent again. We are seriously troubled for W., who seems weak and for physical purposes "worthless," as he puts it. Found him on his bed—head full of voice and hope—cheery to the last degree—and affectionate in mention of friends. Mrs. Davis said he had not got up again till one or after. He remarks when I say, "It is comfortable in this room," "Yes, so far as heat is concerned. But I don't enjoy much comfort, as these days run." Had he not slept well? "No! And the belly and head perturbations crowd thicker and thicker. Longaker not over today—no, though I almost hoped he had come." Tomorrow is the Drexel dedication. W. says, "Oh! that I could get out, that I could practically demonstrate my admiration, my applause! I am tied here by cords of fate. No more to break loose." Had any city two such institutions as Gerard College and the Drexel Institute? "Has any one? And I don't know but the Drexel is better than Gerard College—more near our time, necessities." Childs very sick with grip, W. lamenting, "I almost feel to send him a message." But he remarks his own "growing lethargy and incompetence" and "can only wish Childs well." I think Morris also sick and his mother steadily worse—W.'s pity all excited for this old woman whom he has never seen. Again "curious" to know if there were "odors of a sickroom" here. "Of all things we must battle off that."

Drifted now to other themes. "Tom was here yesterday. And by the way, he borrowed the Ingersoll letter—wished to show it to Mrs. Harned. I wish you would get the letter for me. I told Tom I wanted it back. Oh! It was a rich letter—a big, broad letter—free as air—free as the Colonel! I was thinking perhaps there should be some way to have the two letters published together—his, mine: though we should have to write to him first to know if he felt willing." I suggested, "How would it do to use them in 'Walt Whitman and Some of His Friends'?" "Just the thing, if it could be done. And it could be done, if not in the body, then in a note somewhere."

Where was Warrie? "Oh! I have sent him to Blackwood to see Eddy. Eddy? O yes! He keeps quite well, I believe!" Had provided a carriage for Warrie, who drove out. We developed an interesting chat about Shakespeare. Said W., "I have read Trumbull's article today with some care." "Could you make anything of it? I could hardly tell what he started out to tell." "That was my own feeling: I wondered if he had anything to say. But there are fingermarks of something." "Was it evolution?" "Perhaps. I am at a loss. What was he getting at? The article is well put together, and it treats us kindly: these are virtues—especially the last," with a laugh. But after a pause, "I should not like to go on record as picking flaws in Shakespeare—as standing in the attitude of critic, questioner—for that would be unjust to me. And not, besides, be square with my known principles, for, as with Emerson, I claim Shakespeare for the top—as the justification of many things but for them questioned. Nor do I know but Shakespeare after all levelled his lances—some of his lances—low enough—against many things we are against. Nor should science be given too much—I allow it a great deal, no one more—but not all: there is a limit to its scope. There is something above that, even. As to William O'Connor's idea of Shakespeare, I don't know. How often I have heard him argue that the plays were no defense of feudalism—that no man who meant to bolster, to applaud, feudalism, would have pictured it as faithfully as Shakespeare did. That the picture itself was exposure, allurement to the modern, invitation to democracy, all that. Yes, that the writer of the plays, whoever, could have been no friend of the great figures even of feudal epochs—since all the grace, beauty of the picture was away from feudalistic ideals. I don't know how far I was prepared to follow William in this, but it always seemed to me a profound statement. What I have written of Shakespeare has been written in the face of that—of all our long talks. It was the idea of Machiavelli: I will expose you by telling the truth about you! I will expose you by the exactness of my portrait! To William O'Connor that was the spirit which moved the writer of the plays."

W. expressed curiosity over Conway's life of Paine. It is said to reveal new and creditable traits—noble means and purposes—sufficient to give shame to all old pictures of Paine. W. saying, "I supposed as much. I have always been looking for such a life—knew it was possible and necessary. I shall look forward to this with a good deal of curiosity." I reminded him of George's remark to me in front of Independence Hall, "If Paine had not written that one unfortunate book, he would probably have been with the first of the list there!" W. exclaimed, "He would! He would! Then it would have been Washington, Franklin, Paine."

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