Mr. W. J. Stillman's Honesty


IN reading the essay on Beauty, contributed to the September Atlantic by the late W. J. Still-man, I was singularly conscious of one quality of its author. I recall the same impression, several years ago, upon reading his Atlantic essays upon Journalism and Literature and The Revival of Art, and it was renewed last spring, when his remarkable Autobiography was published. I mean Mr. Stillman’s intellectual integrity. It is difficult for a layman to assess the value of his philosophy of art, or to follow in the Autobiography all the intricate politics of the Cretan and Herzegovinian insurrections. But both the Autobiography and the essays have left me wondering whether honesty is not, after all, one of the rarest equipments of a writer. “ As honest as old Joe Stillman ” was a proverb in the younger Stillman’s native town, and it is pleasant to think that, however far the son wandered “ on the track of Ulysses,” however varied were his excursions into the fields of art and thought and personal converse in many countries, he always kept this best inheritance from the upright but unlucky mechanic of Schenectady. It satisfies one’s sense of the fitness of things thus to find W. J. Stillman his father’s son to the very last; to recognize even in his argument for an intuitive sense of Beauty the born woodsman’s instinct for striking across country, confident of reaching his goal. It was an endowment, I suppose, of a sort of primitive candor and faith, a matter of character rather than of capacity. He was on good terms with his own conscience, whatever ill fortune he may have suffered in his brave adventures in a fast-changing world ; sure-footed in traversing the Adirondack wilderness and the maze of European revolutions and the unblazed paths of intuitive philosophy, because he was first of all sure of himself.