Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, June 9, 1888.

      [See indexical note p288.3] In at eight. W. stretched at full length on the sofa, Dr. Bucke taking his pulse, Harned looking on much concerned. W. recognized me even in the half light. "Ah! Horace! Is that you? And what have you got?"—seeing the rolls in my hand. I had manuscript and proofs and a copy of The American containing the first part of Frank Williams' paper on the The Poetry of Walt Whitman. W. shook hands

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with me and took the rolls. Harned got up and whispered to me: "The old man's in a bad way. Bucke says he is passing through a very serious phase of his trouble. [See indexical note p289.1] He's mentally sort of mixed up. When we came in ten minutes ago he was up stairs. Mrs. Davis called him and he came down alone. He got down without an accident." It seems, however, that their presence saved W. from a serious fall. When he reached the parlor he was about gone.

     For some time after I got in W. remained in a dazed condition—now perfectly rational, then wandering some. Bucke said: "Keep plying him with questions—keep him awake. I thought he was dying a few minutes ago. He is slowly coming round." [See indexical note p289.2] W. tried to tell us about a call of Frank Williams', today or yesterday. "Frank says they propose to have a Whitman symposium in The American. His own article initiates the series." He stopped short on Frank and got talking of Corning, who had also been in. I went out to say a word to Mrs. Davis. On my return I took the chair at the foot of the sofa. There was no light in the room. Yet W. saw me. "Who's that?" he asked, and on Harned saying "Horace" he wished to know "who passed back awhile ago?" I said: "I did Walt—Horace" [See indexical note p289.3] "But who did you go to see? "Mrs. Davis" "Ah! I thought it might be some other particular friend of mine." That was the way his mind cavorted about. "There's William—William O'Connor—he's alive, too: God bless William! And your mother? You, too? Why here I am with everybody."

      [See indexical note p289.4] Gradually, however, W. came out of the mist as clear as day. Afterwards tried to get up and could not do so. "Give me your hand, Horace!" he said. I did so and he undertook to rise, intending to go to the chair opposite. He could not budge his left leg, which I had to literally lift and drop upon the sofa. The three of us then placed him in the chair in the middle of the room, where he stayed as long as we were

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there. Then he tried to describe his trouble of this evening. "I had a miserable—a very miserable—day. Towards evening I tried to do some proof reading but could not keep myself awake—felt very languid, heavy-like. [See indexical note p290.1] I went to the bed—fell asleep—must have slept soundly—was aroused by Mary, who told me Harned and the Doctor were here. Should they be sent up? I said: 'No—never mind,—I will go down'—coming down as you saw, in that way—overstraining myself, I think, so that when I got here I was in rather confused condition." Bucke said: "I'd give anything to have you stay upstairs!" [See indexical note p290.2] W. replying: "No, Maurice—don't worry—it's all right: you fellows must not feel alarmed: somebody get up and make a noise—don't let's be solemn about it. I have had fifty and more such spells—the first of them hardest, those after diminishing in force—some of them in Stevens Street, clusters of them, of spells. I am of course aware that with each one I am less eligible to meet those that follow. [See indexical note p290.3] Some day there will be a final spell—and then"—he was bright about it, stopped an instant, then proceeded: "But then we are not going to discuss that final spell until we have got out November Boughs, are we, Horace?"

     Bucke has been in New York. Saw Gilder. "I do not think he wished to see me," said Bucke. "Don't say that, Maurice," put in W. W. referred to the Lounger in The Critic—Jennie Gilder. [See indexical note p290.4] "She calls attention to the money I am making on my poems—says it is rare. Tom, do you want to borrow some of my poetry money? Somehow the New York set hate to think that I receive help from England: they repeat it, that I am not poor: as Richard Watson Gilder puts it, it 'galls' them like the mischief to read the false reports that get about concerning my finances—the New York crowd is a rather snaky one anyway—always excepting Gilder, Stedman, and a few others (very few) who are consistently friendly—even affectionate."


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     Bucke asked W. if anything remained unpaid on the house. [See indexical note p291.1] "No, Maurice: it is all paid for. The house was first offered me for eighteen hundred dollars. I said I would take it, paying part cash. The owners then offered it for seventeen fifty spot cash. I took up with this proposition. I had twelve hundred and fifty of my own—George W. Childs advanced me the other five hundred, which I afterwards returned—every cent. You may wonder how I came by so much money one bunch? [See indexical note p291.2] I was making money then—just after the Massachusetts expulsion: the first Philadelphia edition netted me thirteen hundred dollars. I made a little hay while the sun was out that time—and it was lucky for me that I did: for the sale of the book got right down to a poverty level soon after and has continued there without a break."

      [See indexical note p291.3] Bucke approached W. on the subject of a nurse. He demurred at first but wound up by saying: "I suppose I must submit. What you three fellows agree on together I will say amen to. For one thing: be sure you get a large man—no slim, slight fellow. Mary has shown me great consideration but if I am going to be more than ever helpless it will not do for me to impose upon her for more service." [See indexical note p291.4] Bucke and Harned went off together. When we were alone we talked proof a little, W. saying: "I do not want to delay the printers: must not: I want to rally from this, at least to finish the Hicks, if not for more." Bucke this evening instituted some comparison, or parallel, between Faust and Leaves of Grass. W. profoundly interested. "It is very striking, Maurice, though I don't know how well you could hold it up against the scholars if they slapped back at you."

      [See indexical note p291.5] W. spoke of "a letter written by Watson Gilder for one English and one American periodical disapproving of the current stories of my poverty." Bucke asked: "How do you know Gilder wrote the letters—did he sign them?" "No—but I know it on good authority from some one near

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the throne."
"Who was that?" "Who? Who? Well—it was John Burroughs." W. received three instead of two Carlyle photographs from England. Bucke questioned W. about his diet. "I never indulge in extras except now and then at Tom's. [See indexical note p292.1] Mrs. Harned's cooking is always very tempting." Bucke asked: "And how about the cooking here?" W. answering: "That was unjust to Mary—yes, so it was: her food, too, cooking, is always good—very good"—determined not to do Mrs. Davis any discourtesy: though as a matter of fact he said to me just a day or two ago: "Mary's heart is all right—she studies to please me—to feed me right—but she lacks in that finer something or other which the best cooks possess—which is so inestimably precious to a sick man: which anticipates conditions." W. had a note from Kennedy in which K. again tilts at Rhys. [See indexical note p292.2] W. laughed. "I won't commit myself. I want both of them: I am not willing to give either up. When the ocean gets between them again they will forget all about their grievances." Let me have a Rhys letter. "I intended it for you when it came but it got mixed up with things generally here. It will help along your records." The letter was written from the Union League Club.


New York, 21st May, '88.

My dear Walt Whitman,

 [See indexical note p292.3] I have just been reading your lines in The Herald for this morning which hold in them a message full of meaning, for all of us who know you well. We think of your approaching birthday with sorrowful, and yet glad, remembrance of the years that you have lived so well.

My adventures since leaving you have not been very startling, but they have been full of everyday life and energy. Here in Fifth Avenue, or more often in Broadway and the less-known haunts, I have been seeing all sorts of memorable things and men and women. Yesterday my good friend Cyrus Butler, a kind and wealthy old gentleman, took me quite a round of studios, &c. We began by break-

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fasting sumptuously here, (fried shad, omelettes, tomatoes, buckwheat cakes, strawberries, coffee, &c.) and then turned in to see Col. Bob Ingersoll, meeting there Lawrence Barrett the actor, and others. [See indexical note p293.1] Then onto Beard's studios, &c. Over to Brooklyn to see a crazy rhymester—winding up again by having supper near midnight.


 [See indexical note p293.2] Today promises to be even more memorable; I expect to steam up the Hudson River by the Mary Powell (fastest boat in the world, they say!) and then to catch a late train up at Newburgh on to Buffalo, &c. Thence to Dr. Bucke's place on Wednesday, where I will look to send you a further note on my doings.

I have good news of my brother at last, and so am free to sail for England in a fortnight.

With love,

Ernest Rhys.


      [See indexical note p293.3] "I don't envy Rhys his big breakfasts and dinners and all that—I only envy him his call at Colonel Bob's! I am told those nights at Bob's are halcyon nights. Next to being lucky enough to be there yourself is being lucky enough to hear about them from others who have been there. I don't believe the conventional literary class take any part in the Colonel's gatherings but all the unusual fellows seem to turn up there one time or another." [See indexical note p293.4] "I like Rhys," said W.; "when you get underneath his very heavy exterior—under the impressive crust—you find a real human figure. I don't think Sloane ever got underneath: he is impetuous—was probably discouraged first time and didn't persevere. [See indexical note p293.5] They're both my men—I wouldn't give either one up for the other: I am greedy—I want both." W. handed me a "family memorandum" saying no more about that than this: "It will give you some detail in a matter on which you have questioned me. Take good care of it—I will leave it here."


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Kings County Lunatic Asylum.
Flatbush, L.I., Mch 22d, 1870.

Mr. Walter Whitman.
Dear Sir:


 [See indexical note p294.1] Your brother Jesse Whitman died very suddenly yesterday from the rupture of an aneurism. As it is uncertain whether this reaches you or not we shall bury the body tomorrow.

Yours respectfully,

E. Warner,
Assist. Phys.



      [See indexical note p294.2] W. had indorsed the sheet with red ink in this way: "Announcing the death of brother Jesse, March 22, 1870. Jesse Died March 21, 1870." I waited for W. to say something. He said nothing. Looked rather serious about it. "Do I understand that I am to take this?" "Yes—take it—put it away where it will be preserved." I left shortly after. W. by this time pretty well recovered. "I have got rid of the unsteadiness," he said, "but am very weak—very weak." I offered to help him up the stairs before leaving. He dissented. [See indexical note p294.3] "I like to do all I can for myself as long as I can. You fellows have about convinced me that I should have a nurse. You don't know how I resent the idea—yet how ready I am to acquiesce in it." We kissed for good night. He called after me when I was at the door: "Remember the book! Remember the book!"


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