Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, June 10, 1888.

      [See indexical note p294.4] W. in bad shape all day—sleepy, confused, somnolent. Now and then stirred up but going into a cloud again. Voice thick, enunciation impaired. I was at 328 by ten o'clock and Harned came along in about ten minutes, the two of us going up to W.'s bedroom together, W. then in a chair dressing. We at once noticed his shaky mental condition. Not irrational—only not consecutive. He said:

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"I seem to be between a fever and a frost: first I burn up—then I feel like a man in a freezer." [See indexical note p295.1] Harned had brought along some ice-cream which W., sitting there in his shirt and drawers, ate with avidity, saying: "I feel very hot—I put the cream in on my fire: it is just the thing—just the thing." Looked haggard, his eyes being very dull, complexion off color. Yet he said: "I slept well."

     I picked up a copy of Leaves of Grass Imprints (1860) he seeing what it was and saying: "You ought to keep that for yourself—there are others here. [See indexical note p295.2] It was originally intended as a sort of barricade: I set it up to hold back the deperate assaults of my enemies. When most everybody lied about me it seemed to me to be in point to tell the truth about myself." W. tried to describe a picture I was looking at over against the wall but could not do it. [See indexical note p295.3] The right words would not come together. He seemed to be aware of it and gave up trying. Harned entered into some side-talk with him while I questioned Mrs. Davis, who was in the room. She said W. had some trouble with himself after I left last night. He tried in vain to ask her if there was a light in his room. This morning he told her he thought he was "decidedly better." [See indexical note p295.4] But he still suffers from indecision of speech and inability to do any connected thinking. Yet he was only intermittently depressed. He talked a little about the book: "I am sorry I seem to be in a condition of half-suspended life"—adding: "Do you just keep things moving until I get balanced on my pins again." Seemed aware of his plight. Went astray again. The door down stairs banged. He listened—was perfectly quiet for two or three minutes. [See indexical note p295.5] Then he addressed me: "What do you suppose they have come for, Horace?" "Who?" "John and William." "John and William who?" "O'Connor—Burroughs. Didn't you say they were down stairs? Why does Mary detain them? Why don't she send them right up?" Seemed a bit peevish over it. While

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I waited wondering what to say in reply to his illusion—Harned all this time looking on, going about the room—saying nothing—the fancy seemed to pass away and he resumed his more lucid mood. [See indexical note p296.1] Doctor has been giving me some advice about November Boughs but I've got no time now to stop for advice: our train is started—we had better not halt it again until we arrive at our destination: I may never get another wind."

     In spite of "feeling like hell," as he described it, W. kept us busy answering questions—Harned about his children and I about my mother and father and Anne. [See indexical note p296.2] He was even merry, here and there, as when he said: "I have my suspicions of you and Anne Montgomerie." After which he dropped into another very sluggish humor during which his face grew deadly pale and he said nothing. Then the flush returned and he turned his face away and smiled.

     I left with Harned at about eleven. Arranged with Mrs. Davis to be called in case anything turned up. [See indexical note p296.3] Harned had gone down stairs, I was to follow. W. called me back to hand me a Dowden envelope. "I dragged this out of the wreckage for you: I remember what you said about your interest in Dowden. Dowden is not the very best but he is next to the very best. [See indexical note p296.4] I suppose Symonds must always be first: his loyalty takes such an ardent personal form: it has not the literary tang, except incidentally. I never feel quite as close by when Dowden is around: there always seems to be something or other left between us—some qualifying no: with Symonds everything is down—we are face to face. Not that I miss the crystal quality of Dowden's loyalty, either: it has its own beauty: I acquiesce in it too. [See indexical note p296.5] It is not easy for me to get Symonds, Carpenter, Dowden, together, and attempt to parse them." That was clear enough. I took W.'s hand, reached over, kissed him. "God bless you, boy! You say you will be back by and bye? That's right. Come."


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     I was to go to Philadelphia to the First Unitarian church to hear Clifford's sermon. Read the Dowden letter on the boat going over. [See indexical note p297.1] Very dubious about W. Worried. Stopped at Osler's on my way to church. Not at home. Returned to 328 immediately after lunch, about two, finding W. no better—rather worse. Donaldson, Harned and Bucke in the parlor. Mrs. Davis called Bucke and took him up stairs. After a few minutes Bucke returned and asked me to hurry to Philadelphia and do everything I could to find Osler. "It looks to me as if the old man was dying," Bucke said. I rushed off. Osler was not at his office. I then went to the Rittenhouse and from that to the University Club failing everywhere to connect. [See indexical note p297.2] I left a note for him on the desk of his office. Then back. W. no better. I was up stairs only a minute. The four of us walked over to Harned's office. Bucke asked me: "Did Walt ever tell you that he had made a will?" I answered: "He has told me that he has not made a will." "Lately?" "Just the other day." Bucke argued the matter over some, with Harned particularly. [See indexical note p297.3] Harned then sat down and made a hasty draft of a will making Donaldson, Bucke and Harned executors and trustees. Had early dinner at Harned's and returned to 328. Donaldson in the meantime had gone home.

     Osler finally appeared in the early evening. Examined W. Seemed to be as dubious as Bucke and just as much mystified. We all agreed that a nurse should be secured at once. Bucke went over with Osler, designing to bring a nurse back with him. I went to W.'s bedroom at 9.45. W. seemed then quite clear. "Eh, Horace, is that you? I was wondering whether you would break your promise to come back." [See indexical note p297.4] I asked him if the heat was troublesome. "Yes—I guess it is—a little." Was very feeble. Went off rambling in some talk about Ellen O'Connor, the drift of which I could not catch. Then he seemed to get hold of himself again.


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      [See indexical note p298.1] "Did you find some meat in the Dowden letters?" asked W. "Yes? There's always meat in Dowden—always. He never sets an empty table. Some day you must read his Westminster Review essay on the Leaves: it adds up a pretty big sum, all in our favor!" Then he went astray again talking wierd things about his friends, seeming to get them all jumbled together. Once he mentioned Peter Doyle. [See indexical note p298.2] "Where are you Pete? Oh! I'm feeling rather kinky—not at all peart, Pete—not at all." He lay there with his clothes on, though complaining of the heat. Would he not be more comfortable with the clothes off? "Perhaps I would but never mind—it will do this way." Bucke argued with him about this in the afternoon but with no effect. I asked W.: "Is there anything I can do for you now?" He replied: "Is that you, Horace, at last? You have been away a long time. [See indexical note p298.3] No—you can do nothing. I don't feel well—I seem to be slipping down, down—I don't know where I will stop: but nothing can be done." Spoke sluggishly, with great difficulty.

     I had a few words with Mrs. Davis, who was full of concern, and then whisked off to Harned's, returning with him at 10.30. [See indexical note p298.4] W. could hardly be called either asleep ot awake. Bucke arrived an hour later, bringing a young doctor named Baker as nurse. Bucke sent me to Brown, apothecary, for some powders. Bucke and Baker had already on my return decisively set about undressing W., who was kicking like a steer. He also objected to having the nurse sleep there in the room with him. [See indexical note p298.5] "I am all right—good for the night: let him come back in the morning. I would rather be alone. I hate to have anybody around, right in my room, watching me. Maurice, do I need to be watched?" [See indexical note p298.6] He was finally persuaded, "browbeaten," he said. He was still clear about the courtesies for he said to me: "Of course the nurse knows that my objection is not personal to him." So we all bade him good-night and left him alone with Baker, who was to

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send for us instantly if anything occured. It was 12.30 by this time.

      [See indexical note p299.1] No attempt was made to broach the subject of the will today. W. had left the proofs untouched. A long day full of unspeakable anxieties. W. had written on the Dowden envelope: "from Dowden Feb. 6 and Feb. 16 1876." Sorry I could not talk with him more about them. [See indexical note p299.2] I recall this further note on Dowden by him to me some days ago: "Dowden represents the English literary elite—not the caste elite but the spiritual elite: the finer development of that English consciousness which articulates itself these days in the language of the international democracy. Dowden is a book-man: but he is also and more particularly a man-man: I guess that is where we connect."


Winstead, Temple Road,
Rathmines, Dublin, Feb. 6, 1876.

Dear Mr. Whitman:

 [See indexical note p299.3] Since I last wrote I received a letter from you, acknowledging my Shakespere book, the E. A. Poe newspaper, and that with the lecture on Shakespere in it. Thank you for all. It is very pleasant to think that you remember me.

The news of your health is that of the chief interest to me. And in one way or another I have heard about you several times. I trust you do not work when you ought to rest. For any affection such as yours I should suppose entire rest and open air to be essential conditions of recovery; and such lying fallow would be fruitful in the end with you.

 [See indexical note p299.4] Nevertheless I rejoice to hear of the Two Rivulets and your Memoranda of the War being ready. I enclose a draft or bill on the Bank of England for what they tell me is the equivalent of ten dollars. Would you please send me the new edition of L. of G. and Two Rivulets, and Memoranda, but if the postage is heavy do not send the Memoranda, and let that so far compensate you for your loss by postage

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to Ireland. I should like to have my name written in each book by you (unless you object).


 [See indexical note p300.1] I suppose you have seen Peter Bayne's very vicious (and the word is applicable in a literary sense as well as an ethical) article on your writings in The Contemporary Review. As to myself I feel that I have a small grievance to complain of—his selecting scraps from my Westminster article, out of connection with their environment, to employ against you an admissions of one who stands on your side. I trust that you have not so far forgotten my article as to think my meaning was that attributed to me by Peter Bayne. [See indexical note p300.2] Such an article as this may with some readers delay the understanding of your book, but others, as I know, will have their curiosity quickened by it to see for themselves what the phenomonon—L of G—really is. I see on all sides tokens of a continuous advance in England toward appreciation of your poetry. Occasional references to Walt Whitman in reviews and magazine articles now, as a rule, tacitly admit your position as secured, instead of being, as once was the case, contemptuous.

 [See indexical note p300.3] I will find, if I can find it, a copy of an article by a young barrister friend of mine, O'Grady, which appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine the same month in which Peter Bayne's article appeared.

Lately I read a paper on your poems before a Club here—The Fortnightly Club. [See indexical note p300.4] The feeling was, to a degree which surprised me, favorable to your writings; and in College I read the same paper to a large class of students, reading aloud passages from your Vistas and L of G, to which a response of almost involuntary applause was given,—a murmur and a low response of satisfaction after complete silence and attention.

I had a pleasant letter from John Burroughs and got from him a copy of his Winter Sunshine. This is to me a delightful little book. He lies so close to nature, yet with such a quick, living human consciousness. His writing has some

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of the wholesome influence upon me that the sunshine and snow, the apples and the birds themselves have: and this is all the more precious to me because my work as Professor has a constant tendency to tide me away from what is fresh and vital into mere accumulation, and "culture," of a kind which is not life, but mere apparatus, machinery, and dead pelf of knowledge. [See indexical note p301.1]


A friend of mine—Miss West—has printed a little pamphlet of verses which perhaps she may send to you. They are some in sonnet form; and as regards executive power very unequal. [See indexical note p301.2] The spirit of them is somewhat stern and self-repressive; yet a capacity for joy is apparent in them; several are occupied with religious doubt, and emotions connected with it; and in the last two or three the result arrived at is declared—a stoical acceptance of our ignorance of the mystery of the world; with a certain amount of hope, founded upon the good things of human friendship and fellowship which life has revealed to the writer. (I write of what you have not seen, and I am not sure that she will think them worth sending to you.)

I am, dear friend, yours most truly,

Edward Dowden.


     Too tired tonight to copy Dowden's second letter. Will include it tomorrow.


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