Commentary

Disciples

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Tuesday, November 6, 1888.

     7.15 P. M. W. lying on the bed when I came, but at once got up and with my assistance crossed the room to his chair. Seemed extra heavy and weak on his pins. Very bright. Talked of many things. I had brought him The Impressions of Theophrastus Such. He took it, repeated its title line, went over the subheads. "No doubt," he said, "the matter is better than the manner"—putting his forefinger down on the list of themes: "The old essayists, the Addison fellows, would say, On Power, On Love—all that: it was their custom, tradition: on this, on the other." I said: "Emerson used the simplified caption—Power, Love, and so on.""Yes," W. nodded: "it was justified in him: I only hope my own titles will be justified in me.""George

 
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Eliot hasn't your gift for headlining.""I don't know about myself: she seems to have no great trick in that direction: yet I would be happy if I felt that I could do as well." He asked: "Have you ever seen a portrait of George Eliot that impressed you as being adequate? I never have. I have seen portraits, but they don't look probable: they are heavy, torpid, inert. George Sand's face was alluring: it was aged in the portraits I saw, but still cheerful, bright: it was poetic, expressed power, saw up and around." He brushed his hand across the hair on the top of his head. "She wore her hair so.""Do you rather prefer Sand?""I can hardly say that: both women were formidable: they had, each one had, their own perfections: I am not inclined to decide between them: I consider them essentially akin in their exceptional eminent exalted genius. Yet my heart turns to Sand: I regard her as the brightest woman ever born." Better than Hugo as a novel writer? "Oh! greatly! Why, read Consuelo: see if you don't think so yourself: it will open your eyes: it displays the most marvellous verity and temperance: no false color—not a bit: no superfluous flesh—not an ounce: suggests an athlete, a soldier, stripped of all ornament, prepared for the fight—absolutely no flummery about her. She was Dantesque in her rigid fidelity to nature—her imagery: she led a peculiar life—obeyed the law of her personal temperament: she redeems woman.""Do you think woman needs redeeming?""No indeed: no, no, no: I do not use the word in that sense: I had in mind the question, what is woman's place, function, in the complexity of our social life? Can women create, as man creates, in the arts? rank with the master craftsmen? I mean it in that way. It has been a historic question. Well—George Eliot, George Sand, have answered it: have contradicted the denial with a supreme affirmation."

     Reference having been made to Shakespeare, W. said: "Shakespeare shows undoubted defects: he often uses a hundred words where a dozen would do: it is true that there

 
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are many pithy terse sentences everywhere: but there are countless prolixities: though as for the overabundances of words more might be said: as, for instance, that he was not ignorantly prolific: that he was like nature itself: nature, with her trees, the oceans: nature, saying 'there 's lots of this, infinitudes of it—therefore, why spare it? If you ask for ten I give you a hundred, for a hundred I give you a thousand, for a thousand I give you ten thousand.' It may be that we should look at it in that way: not complain of it: rather understand its amazing intimations."

     W. had read the George Eliot letters "after a fashion," as he described it: "Looked over them: but I want to particularize: I want to go carefully through the whole series." W. gave me Bucke's letter of the 4th. "Read the first sentence or two," he said: "it 's rich." I opened the letter and did so. Bucke wrote: "Gave the first lecture of the course yesterday morning—a demonstration of the brain—cerebral statics—the next will deal with cerebral dynamics (what grand names we give to our various ignorances!)." W. laughed. "Our various ignorances! how immense that is! it specifies, contains, the whole of a great truth: exhibits the whole weakness of professionalism in three words: 'what grand names we give our various ignorances': how perfect that is—how it says all, leaves nothing to be added: our various ignorances: scientific, priestly, literary: our various ignorances: oh! Maurice, you are none too vehement: 'our various ignorances': Amen! Amen!" I said: "Bucke is impatient for the big book." He said: "Tell Maurice to give the big book time: you can't shift the tide ahead of its own pleasure: it comes in, it goes out, according to its own leisurely law." Read Donaldson's piece in to-day's Press on Phil Sheridan: called it "wonderfully interesting"—adding: "Sheridan is always a fierce flaming fiery figure." I laughed: "What are you laughing about?" he asked. "Your alliteration: it sounds like Swinburne." He was unconscious of what he had done. I repeated the phrase back to him. "Sure enough—that

 
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has a Swinburnesque fling: we must n't flirt our phrases so much." He said: "A letter came along to-day from Tom: quite a fat one: and then something more: wine, California wine—some he said he had had eighteen years: champagne: and back here," he added, pointing behind the chair, "some fruit—the best: I shall surely make a raid on it pretty soon.""What about that wine? Bucke puts a ban upon it.""The way I have felt the last two or three days I owe myself a glass now and then: Maurice is all right: the wine is all right, too: sometimes even Maurice must be adjourned!"

     Had he done any work on the Note to-day? "No: I did not touch it: it does not come to me: something holds me back: if a day or two more passes without an inspiration I'll let the thing drop.""But they won't," I put in: "the inspiration always comes in the end.""Yes: that has been so far true.""If you could lay it aside, take a walk out, ride across the river, loaf a bit in the streets, the secret would come back to you at once!""Ah!" he said: "that would be the solution of it all: that was my old way: a walk to the river, a look up at the stars, a trip to Timber Creek: oh! those days at Timber Creek! If anything went wrong I would get my stick and hobble down to the water." Then he paused, closed his eyes. "Those old days! those old days! they are past—gone forever!" I said to him: "After awhileI 'm going over to the city to mix in the crowd and see the election returns." He was immediately interested. "If I had leges for it I'd go with you: in the old days I never missed it: until very lately, never missed it: as long as I could keep on my pins: now that I cannot go you must be my scout: you must go around, peering into everything, reporting by and by at headquarters!" He asked: "Did you hear anything on your way home to-night? It 's just as well not to get into a stew over it. I think of Emerson's 'why so hot, my little man?' That seems to me to apply—I adopt it. Have you noticed how these tides—these

 
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noisy currents—rush past, and the people hardly give them a thought? There may be a quarter of a million people out on the streets of Philadelphia to-night: yet the vast majority of people stay at home, pay little attention to the splutter, attend to their own personal affairs—go their own individual ways: and the great world goes on and goes on whatever for God knows: on and on unhurried, undeterred."

     I find Clifford a Shakespeare sceptic. He said Sunday: "The assurance O'Connor displays in his reference to Bacon as the author of the Plays is contagious." W. now said: "If Clifford takes an interest in the problem he should read Hamlet's Note Book: I have it here, somewhere here, I guess: will hunt it out for him." Harned has the book. I told W. so. He replied: "Well, take it from Tom's then: tell Clifford I advise him to read it." He called it, "every way quite characteristic of William: sharp, keen, decisive—full of fine fence and masterful learning." And yet: "Donnelly's is the book if you wish to go conclusively into the subject: Donnelly has done the best with the problem so far: I don't say is final: I say, has done more than any other." He asked: "Have you noticed the dirty tricks to which Donnelly's enemies resort to discredit him? I put no faith in the stories of his political crookedness: his literary enemies make a lot of it: consider it a final adverse argument—though what that has to do with Shakespeare versus Bacon I don't see. The typical literary man is no more able to examine this question dispassionately than a priest is to pass on objections to the doctrine of the atonement, hell, heaven: not a bit more able: the scribblers are blind from the start: they are after effects, technique, what a thing looks like, not what it is: they don't read farther up or farther down than the surface of the ground they walk on: Donnelly comes in on a general stream: there is a spirit abroad in our age which is bent upon the destruction of falsely cherished stories, historic marvels, maudlin theological

 
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superstitions. The one thing I have against Donnelly—if I have anything against him—is that he is a searcher after things out of the normal: not abnormal—I should not say that: but out of the normal: a man who likes to go about showing us how we have made mistakes—put a wrong twist into facts: that Judas was a pretty good fellow, of some use, after all: that Cæsar was not thus and so, but thus and so: that there was no William Tell—that the William Tell story was wholly a myth: that Columbus did not do this or that on the voyage to America—but rather did that or this: all of which might be true and might serve a purpose, but tends to over-refine a man's sense of general right and wrong. This sort of thing inheres in modern criticism: it demonstrates the temper of the age: I do not complain of it—indeed, welcome it: the arguments are at bottom irrefutable: but the letter of destructive criticism must not be pushed too far—it tends to render a man unfit to build. Have you read Grote? There has been no man equal to Grote in calm dispassionate disregard of traditions, prejudices: he dissects, resates, things: masterfully: take his version of the last days of Socrates: it is wonderfully cute, keen, undeniable: he complained that the usual stories were onesided, therefore almost worthless. Grote had a peculiar way of putting his stories into shape: I might express his Socrates version in such a way as this: modernize it this way: There is a Cleveland meeting being held somewhere in one of the big halls: the audience is aroused: excited, clamorous, threatening: suddenly a stranger enters, places himself in the middle of the crowd, yells: Hurrah for Harrison! What would be the result? Grote would say Socrates did just that thing: he would say there are many causes and effects to be included in an examination of such an episode: that it is not all onesided: who, then, is to blame? This is Grote's way of looking at it: I don't call it the right way: I call it a right way: not the view—a view: the point is, that we should regard the problem all around—not decide
 
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offhand from one glimpse from one point of the compass. Grote was first class in that: he was among the noblest of men—scholarly, democratic: democratic—not exactly as we are wont to play on that term to-day, but in the sense of the Elizabethans: defiant of the hightoned flumpishness of the rich titled superior classes—perhaps even intolerant of it. Oh! read Grote: don't believe those who tell you he was only a scholar, a pedant—anything of either in a bad sense: you must not take him en passant: take him up at a moment when you are prepared to tackle a big job: there are volumes of him: not one only, or even two or three, but eight or nine: I have read them all—carefully, fully, more than once—more deliberately than usual for me: there is no work near the equal of it treating of the Greeks. Some people class Grote with Southey: that 's a mistake: there 's not the slightest resemblance: Grote is all that we mean by vigor, originality, force: Southey in every way contrasts with him. Picture to yourself a sailor, a first mate—strong, lithe—standing at the wheel: his raincoat, rainproof—the skies clouded: a great storm: this man at his post: no ornament—every stitch he wears necessary, useful, protective: then think of a man all perfumes—silk coated: all his appointments elegant, scarce: hangings, courtesies, parlors: kid gloves: think of him, of all that he implies: well, Grote is no more like Southey than this sailor is like this dandy. Grote's integrity was absolute: I know of no historic writer who is more guarded, more subtly straightforward: as a young man you should particularly read Grote: he is an equipment in himself."

     W. had referred to the Cæsar myth when he spoke of Donnelly. I mentioned Froude's Cæsar. "Ah!" exclaimed W.: "Have you got it?" and when he learned that I had asked to see it. "Froude is brilliant: I think a whole big heap of him: he is always readable: I accept him: on the whole trust him. I have no sympathy with the people who accuse him of a lack of veracity: he has faults, no doubt."

 
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Later he said: "Now don't forget the Froude book: you have made me anxious to see it." I went into the next room before I left to say a word to Wilkins, who was sitting there, writing. When I came back a moment later W. was reading The Impressions of Theophrastus Such. "Caught in the act," I said. He laughed. "Yes, when I 'm interested in such a book a bit I 'm interested a good deal. Then I 'm the same as others—I have a curiosity as well as interest." Bilstein to-day handed me a bill for nine dollars and eighty-five cents for printing the title page (two printings) and the Lincoln portrait. I had said good night and was at the door when W. called me back. "I almost forgot," he said. "To-day in turning over some scraps looking for something else I came upon a Dowden letter which it struck me you should have. It is a loving loyal letter—has a captivating swing: names some of the fellows: tells about them: Roden Noel, Rossetti, O'Grady, Tennyson: oh! you will find it worth keeping as a Whitman memorandum!" I stopped a few minutes to read the letter.

50 Wellington Road, Dublin, Oct. 15, 1871.


My Dear Sir:

     I ought before now to have thanked you for the poem, After All, not to Create Only, which I read with very great interest and pleasure. The evening I came to Dublin, a friend—Todhunter—offered to lend me a copy cut out of a New York newspaper, not knowing I had seen it. Much work lying before me on my return here prevented me from thanking you sooner.

     Probably the Hon. Roden Noel, almost certainly Mr. Rossetti, has sent you a copy of this month's Dark Blue—nevertheless on the chance of your not having seen it I post a copy. I think you can hardly fail to be pleased with the article upon your poems. The essay in the same number upon Robert Browning is by Max West, whom I have named to you as one who knew and loved what you have written.

 
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     I also send you the first morsel of O'Grady's writing (I named him to you also) which he has got into print—Apollo. You will see, I think, that he springs from Carlyle on one side, and from you on the other, and is an aristocratic-democrat or democratic-aristocrat. I do not wholly like Apollo. I think he has made Apollo (and his English fellow) too idle, a god of glorious play merely, whereas he really does each day a good day's joyous work, illuminating the world, and slaying Python, and doctoring sick folk in a magnificent manner.

     We have heard here that Mr. Tennyson has asked you to come to him. I hope you will come. And if to England—to Ireland too. And if to Ireland, would you not come to this house if you had not pleasanter quarters? Your welcome, at least, would be very sincere.


Yours very truly,


Edward Dowden.

     W. asked, as I folded the Dowden letter: "Does that strike you as going too far? I enjoy its personal tone: it is a man's letter to a man: I like to be simply a man—taken so: one of them: not singled out as a professional: Dowden is quiet-hearty without being effusive: he has trained himself against effusiveness: a whole far-seeing far-loving man: I have always felt as if, if I have any right to pride at all, I might be proud to have convinced Dowden that I am not entirely useless."

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