Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, June 17, 1888.

     W. got his bath today. Was up a great part of the afternoon. Wrote somewhat. Read some. "Drowsed a good deal," as he said. [See indexical note p340.4] "I am still in the woods—I thought I was out, escaped: but still there, still doing rather poorly."

     W. spoke of the Chicago Republican convention. Harned a delegate from New Jersey. "A rather dubious compli-

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ment for Tom,"
said W. Again: "I hardly seem in line with the Republican party any more—in fact, the Republican party is hardly in line with itself. What next? Something will come next—something better." [See indexical note p341.1] Had he entirely lost his old faith in the party? "I never had entire faith—now I hardly have any faith at all. It is not impossible they will rise to the occasion—it's not improbable they'll sink to the bottom and go to the devil! What a chaos and a chaos it is, mixed with extra chaos! But perhaps they'll pluck the flower safety from the nettle danger. It is hardly likely, however. When these institutions start to die they die on—nothing stops the process." Did he think the party likely to get licked in the election? [See indexical note p341.2] "I was not thinking of elections. A party may win elections and be defeated anyway. The Republican party as it is constituted now might win twenty elections without a single moral victory: the moral victories are the only victories that count." How about the Democratic alternative? [See indexical note p341.3] "Almost as bad—almost." He pointed to a paper on the table: "I've been looking through the gossip of the convention. I see Smith is there—our Charles Emory Smith. I have read the protection editorials in the Press carefully now for three years and have never yet seen it make a respectable presentation of the subject. Yet one is possible. [See indexical note p341.4] There's Dudley, now—our Dudley here—and even Pig-iron Kelley: they make some show of thought, and their figures are at least interesting—but Smith talks on and on, forever on, in the air. [See indexical note p341.5] Smith is backed by a man of millions—a manufacturer—whose settled policy it is to push Smith forward into notice on every occasion, proper or improper. Smith has his parts, no doubt, but he ought to play his piece in some village backyard: he don't seem to belong to the big republic. [See indexical note p341.6] The only thing that saves the Press from entire damnation is the presence of Talcott Williams. Now, there's a man with some stuff to 'im."


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     W. called my attention to a contemporary copy of the Long Islander—the paper he had founded in his youth at Huntington. The editor had indited a paragraph referring to W.'s approaching end, and "hoping a heavenly father would smooth his way," quoted W. W. asked me: "What do you think of that? Smooth my way—with all the aches and pains I've had for a week! [See indexical note p342.1] I don't know why it is—I approve of piety and all that, but somehow piety turns sour." I could not help laughing at W.'s queer visage. Wasn't the wish sincere? "I can't tell what soured the mix—I only know it's sour!" W. always shies at conventionally pious condolences.

     Proofs still untouched. [See indexical note p342.2] "It seems to be wholly a matter of grip, and that I seem to have lost—to have lost entirely—beyond recovery. I am fighting for a chance to finish the book—after that I can die in peace." Should I try to do the proof-reading? "If I don't rally in a day or two I will turn the whole thing over to you—you may wrestle with it your own way." He is very anxious to do the work of the book himself. Complains that his "mind is a chaos"—that the instant he "tries to concentrate coherency flies." [See indexical note p342.3] He is perceptibly slower in enunciation—sometimes his words come out mixed up. His mind itself is clear. Osler was over today. His opinion was very encouraging. Mrs. Davis said so to W., who, however, was sceptical, pointing in reply to "the almost death-like pall that has settled down over" his "consciousness." [See indexical note p342.4] Expresses no desire to go down stairs. Asks that Mrs. Davis and Warren should often come in— "just for a look—perhaps not to say anything at all." Warren today took out W.'s horse. A little girl neighbor asked about coming in. [See indexical note p342.5] W. told Baker she should be admitted next time— "but only for a minute or two," saying further: "I love the little dear but my mind will not stand too much strain." Referred to the newspaper stories current about his condition: "I am dying, dead—

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almost buried."
Asked me to have my sister Gussie prepare him some mutton—described how, &c., with amusing detail. "Mrs. Harned has a perfect genius for divining just what a particular man wants for a particular stomach at a particular time!" Agnes had left some flowers. Anne Montgomerie sent some over by me. [See indexical note p343.1] W. said: "It is very sweet of them. Why don't they come in to see me? Just to see me? To give me a kiss—let me look at them a minute—then go? Tell them I feel neglected." He lifts the flowers to his nose again and again: looks at them, smells them. "They are reminiscent," he says: "they take me out doors! God bless out doors!" Rather sadly said: "This is Sunday? [See indexical note p343.2] Yes, it is Sunday. This is my Harned day. I wonder if the Harned Sundays will ever return?" Was very particular to have me keep up my writing to O'Connor and Bucke. "Tell them the best and the worst."

     W. had laid aside for me a Conway envelope. He called my attention to it. [See indexical note p343.3] I asked: "Are you sure this is not a love letter? Are you sure you shouldn't burn it up?" He didn't seem to be in a mood to parry. He only said: "You may see for youself. Half a dozen fellows over there in England who were trying to help me got at loose ends over my poverty. Was I poor or not poor? Was I starving or did I have enough to eat? [See indexical note p343.4] It don't seem to me my part to take sides as between them: the thing finally found its own legitimate level. Rossetti, Carpenter, Conway, Buchanan, Symonds, Dowden, such men, there in England—all of them are loyal, all of them always meant best things for me—staunch, loving, open-handed—oh! all the little irritations disappear in the stronger note of the affections. [See indexical note p343.5] When I look back over that period—well, it was all sad enough (glad enough, too): I was down, down, physically down, my outlook was clouded: the appearance of that English group seemed like a flash out of heaven. I never felt like reproaching anyone here—why should I? Con-

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way was right in that. The people here owed me nothing: why should I have presented a bill for goods the people did not order? [See indexical note p344.1] I have made my mistakes too—have not always got events, myself, into right perspectives: have said things that should not have been said—have been silent when I should have spoken: in all that, I, too, have been guilty enough."
"Bucke says you are sore on Conway." "That is a mistake—I am sore on nobody. How could I be sore on Conway? [See indexical note p344.2] Conway was always my friend—always stood round ready to help: was very considerate—did yeoman service in assisting to bring out the English editions. I do not think Conway ever quite understood the full vehemence of the opposition on this side of the water—how solidly the powers that be were arrayed against me." "But you got into the magazines, some—you were received here and there—you didn't have any more fight to go through than any rebel must expect to encounter. [See indexical note p344.3] Why should you growl?" "I don't: did you ever hear me growl?" "A little, sometimes—yes." [See indexical note p344.4] "Is that so? Then I take the growl back. A man who proposes something new and will not give people time to see it is not worthy of his message."

     We sat there in silence ten or fifteen minutes together. Then I passed out. W. said nothing further except as to Ferguson: "Try to keep Ferguson patient." I did not wait to examine the Conway envelope, which contained a letter from Conway to Rossetti, a newspaper clipping and a letter from Conway to W.

     I.


2 Pembroke Gardens,
Kensington, W. Apr. 21, '76.

Dear Rossetti,

 [See indexical note p344.5] I send you a note received from Roden Noel, to whom you had best send circulars.

Thanks for your note. I don't know what the synopsis telegraphed to America was, which troubles Whitman, but the basis of it was a paragraph running thus:


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"Walt Whitman. Mr. M. D. Conway writes us concerning the letters which have appeared in our columns, that the reports that Walt Whitman is in want, or dependent on his relatives, is unfounded. [See indexical note p345.1] At the same time Mr. Whitman is gratified at the proposition of his friends in this country to circulate his works more widely, as in his present state of health he must depend upon the sales of his poems."

I have quoted the paragraph from memory, but nothing material is left out of it. [See indexical note p345.2] Of course, if I had permitted the assertion of Austin ("while we talk, he starves") to pass uncorrected, I would have been a conniver with falsehood; and should have consented to the dishonor of the whole Whitman family; and should have allowed Whitman to suffer a danger,—that of being charged with obtaining money under false pretences.

 [See indexical note p345.3] The letter of Buchanan was sure to bring upon W. W. serious damage if he could be supposed to let it go uncontradicted; for everybody in America knows that it would be just as easy to collect money for him in America as in England, and that in a country where two volumes have been written in eulogy of him, and where he has as many admirers as here, he is in no more danger of starving than the President.

Ever yours,

M. D. Conway.


     II.

     [NEWSPAPER PARAGRAPH.]

      [See indexical note p345.4] Our friend Mr. M. D. Conway has written to the Daily News in reference to letters which have appeared in that journal appealing for assitance for Mr. Walt Whitman. He says, on the strength of a letter just received from Mr. Whitman, that the idea that he is in distress or dependent upon his relatives is unfounded. But while at present surrounded with comfort, Mr. Whitman views with satisfaction

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the proposition of his friends to promote the larger sale of his works in England, as, in his condition of health, his dependence for the future must be on the income derived from the sale of his books.

     III.


2 Pembroke Gardens, W.
London, April 24, '76.

Dear Whitman,

 [See indexical note p346.1] William Rossetti has shown me your letter indicating annoyance at some telegram which has reached America concerning a statement of mine in the Daily News. There was no letter of mine in the paper or any paper, but a paragraph which I enclose to you written by the editor on the basis of a private letter from me. I wrote to him on receipt of a letter from you saying that you wished money to build on your Camden lot and paid board to your relatives. [See indexical note p346.2] My motive was the necessity of saving you and your relatives from the degradation implied in Mr. Austin's letter to the same paper in which he said "While we talk, he starves"; to defend your American friends (such as Burroughs, O'Connor, myself and others) from the outrageous insults heaped by that fellow Buchanan upon those of your countrymen who would share their last loaf with you; and to free you from the charge of getting aid on false pretences of which you were in danger, and myself from equal peril of abetting what I knew to be a lie by silence; and you are not the man I take you for if you would have had me act otherwise. [See indexical note p346.3] I can only suppose you have seen some bungled and mutilated telegram embodying part of the statement of which I now send you the whole. You may remember that I talked to you in my bedroom about your circumstances, after I had conversed with your sister-in-law, and gathered from you just what you have been kind enough to write to me, except that you did not tell me that you wished to build.


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In such matters as this the true thing is obviously the politic thing to do. [See indexical note p347.1] It is ludicrously false for Buchanan to say that you are in danger of starving, or that you have no appreciation in America (where books have been written about you, and where you have enthusiastic admirers!)—such absurd and false statements are sure to bring down contempt on those who make them, and sometimes imperil the good fame of those about whom they are made. Your friends here are quite at one on the subject, and Rossetti wrote to me that he knew Buchanan's statements were "exaggerations," before I wrote to the News. The effort to circulate your books by a subscription will be successful. [See indexical note p347.2] Rossetti has had printed for private circulation your letter to him which gives substantially the same account of your affairs which is contained in the paragraph of the Daily News enclosed.

I am much oppressed with work, and cannot write letters. I trust this will find you improving in health. Pray remember me kindly to Mr. and Mrs. Whitman and believe me your faithful friend

M. D. Conway.



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