Commentary

Disciples

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Saturday, August 16, 1890

     4:30 P.M. W. not yet out, nor arranging to go, but had eaten a hearty meal and was in good trim. He said, "I have eaten copiously of beans, tomatoes, potatoes, rice pudding—too copiously, probably. I often think I eat too much, anyhow. My appetite keeps at a high grade, probably three-quarters of the

 
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time, for about one-quarter it flunks." He thought "a good appetite is a good sign, but a great one may have its evil."

     Told him I had read "An Old Man's Rejoinder" in Critic on my way over. We at once entered into discussion of the piece. He asked me if it was "clear-sailing," and "if clear, easy?" When I asked, "I wonder how Symonds will take it?" he responded, "I wonder! How does it seem to you?" I felt that if I did not know W.'s opinion by other means, this perhaps getting mixed with the printed matter, I should think he and Symonds were good friends and that W. was saying in as gentle a way as he could that Symonds had not hit the nail on the head—had even missed badly. W. remarked: "It is not so much negative as not affirmative—it has its reserve." But he said afterwards, "I am anxious about what you have told me. Perhaps your feeling is a little mixed with what you know of my criticism from the talks here." But he pulled himself instantly and continued, "I cannot say I think that—quite the contrary—I know your habits are all cautious, judicial: that you are careful not to go astray—are not tinged by outside influences." As to Symonds' extreme placidity of statement—"so differentiated from his notes"—W. said, "The high fellows in art, like Symonds, Gilder, would justify that in theories their own." I reminded him of his one-time remark, discussing Greek life, that "one of its features was that when they were moved to cry they cried like hell, and when to laugh, laughed like hell." He now laughed heartily enough. "Did I say that? It would be my argument still. With me it would be the Quaker spirit—the spirit which says, obey the spirit—speak when moved to, what. And this may account for my article; having these things in me, they were bound to come out." He asked, "Didn't the opening sentence from Symonds impress you? It has a grand sound—'the kingdom of the father has passed; the kingdom of the son is passing; the kingdom of the spirit begins.' Oh! that is profoundly moving! Symonds has it in him to say such things. The severest thing I could say of the book would be, that it is chestnutty—they open no new

 
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field—no fresh vista." Of the sentence—"for I have been and am rejected of all the great magazines"—he felt it was "in all respects true, however unpalatable." Gave me one of the Critic slips, and promised on my urging to send a copy to Burroughs: "I shall send him the Woodberry piece, too—though I don't know how he will take that." His own Critic not yet come. I asked if he thought Sanborn would object to his quoting piratically what he did (as from letter to me). "No—I guess not: I am sure he will understand. Besides he has said just such things to me direct. I can easily understand his position, however. He feels under some obligation, if for no more than for neighborliness." Did he really think Edward Emerson had any slight scrap written by [R. W.] Emerson derogatory to W.? "No, I do not, I think you are right. If he had had it he would have produced it." So that, when I said, "I still think of writing to him," W. put in with a laugh—"Remember my prophecy, then: you won't bring down the game. He will have nothing to say."

     Again—"What we need in art, in literature, are more fellows like O'Reilly—spontaneity innate—the absolute frank contact with life on all its sides." He said Burroughs had never written him about Kennedy's piece, "though I heard emphatically enough from Bucke."

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