With Walt Whitman in Camden, by Horace Traubel
Copyright 1996 by Fellowship of Friends. All Rights Reserved.

On the Real and the Ephemeral

Saturday, December 12, 1891

Brinton lectures for Ethical Society tomorrow. Suggests coming over to see W. after lecture. W. himself, "Let him come--you come with him--he is always welcome." Then, "What does he lecture about?" "Recent religious movements in Europe." This moved W. into some energetic utterances. "Carry me a message to Brinton. Say to him: it is my opinion that the great affairs of our time (perhaps of any time--certainly of ours) go their way, revolutionize things, re-make, re-form, away, apart from, all churches, societies, liberalizations of any sort; that beneath all the surface-shows are influences--great undertows--through which the world is pressed on and on. Not by cries of priests or tabernacles, but in the human heart. I should say that even to Adler, though Adler knows it as well as I do. We misplace our confidence--see to the wrong place--get hold of the wrong string--admit mistaken credits. It is not in forms, institutions, railroads, telegraphs, factories, stores--all our parades--no, no: these are but fleeting ephemera--these alone are nothing, absolutely nothing; only the absorbent spirit enveloping, penetrating, going beneath, above, all--only this is something. And a ferment on the surface--how little it may mean! And observations--how short the road they lead us!"