Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, August 26, 1888.

     When I reached W's. in the evening I met Harned coming off the step. "Walt is in very bad shape to-night," he said. Musgrove indoors said the same thing. I went upstairs, however, and saw W., who sat in his chair reading Scott, and looking, sure enough, very worn, very tired, very much distressed. His greeting was nevertheless prompt and cordial. "Ah! Horace! another day—another day has gone: a damned bad day, too, and I'm not sorry to say good bye to it"—laying his book down and offering me his hand. "Won't you sit down? there's a chair: take it"—pointing. I protested: "No—no—I won't stay to-night—you are not well." He replied: "Oh, nonsense! Not well? Of course not well—but always well to you!" I said: "That's a sweet compliment—I shan't forget it." Then he went on: "Stay a bit of a bit of a time, anyhow—long enough for me to get a look at you. You look fresh to-night—glowing: it helps my sore eyes to see your face." I still stood up. "Well if you don't want to sit down I won't force you to. I have had a bad day—a very miserable bad day: but I notice my bad days often come just before my best days—so you see I have reasons for hope as well as reasons for despair."

     He handed me a proof of the frontispiece page on which he had written "The 70th year—taken from life." He had penned

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on it some instructions for the printer: "Under the picture as it seems to me would be best in two lines—the upper one caps, O. S. Roman—say l.p. the lower one lower case Roman (but use your own taste) 'The 70th year Taken from life.'" W. said as to this: "I suggest several things but you need not adopt them if you like your own ideas better." Hunter in today. Did not like the picture. "But that makes no difference to me—not the slightest: the point with me is that I be suited, and when I am suited (and I am suited now) that settles the question. Besides, this picture belongs to this particular book—it has the same air, tone, ring, color: the same ruggedness, unstudiedness, unconventionality. I am more likely any time to be governed by my intuitive than by my critical self, anyhow. On top of all my self-analysis is the fact that Aggie was in today, saw the picture, liked it, said I should use it, and, as a wise, good woman is very apt to do in my case, put a clincher on my own intentions in the matter."

     He is anxious to push the books along. Whenever he has a particularly bad day he wants to rush the work. "It admonishes me against delay." Asked me to see McKay. "I should prefer that you deal with him for me—I must be spared the worry of it." He looked at me affectionately and said this: "Whenever I think of your perfect health I think of you as a duplicate of myself as I was at the end of the war"—then after a stop— "or I might say it in another way—I think of myself as your embodied prophet." He related an experience. "It illustrates official lassitude and stupidity—one or both. I have tried again and again to find by inquiry at our post office how long it takes to carry a letter from Camden to London—to Bucke. Nobody can tell me—nobody knows—nobody seems to care to know. They put Mr. Musgrove off without even an attempt to find out or a regret expressed that they do not know." "Someone needs to go into that office with a kicker on the toe of his boot." "That's so: and what's more he needs to exercise it roundly on the whole gang." W. laughed quietly, tiredly: "I get mad at people, then people get mad at me: that's the way we even up."


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     W. had tied together in a string for me a little bunch of stuff of which he said: "These are acceptances and declinations of editors—invitations to write, invitations not to write, such things: I put them together for you out of this helter-skelter mass thinking you might like to see how some things came and some things didn't come my way. We have often talked of editors—of their curses, their blessings (both deserved, no doubt): the open hand, the clenched fist: the hems and haws of editors who would and who wouldn't and always wound up with wouldn't: such like stuff. That's what you'll find in this bundle. They have no interest except possibly as superficial biographical tattle." I took the stuff out of his hand. "You may get along with this to-night instead of a talk," he said, weariedly: "If you have any questions to ask anent the letters you can ask them another time. I want to give you all the pro and con in these matters that I can—all, all, not withholding anything intentionally. Horace, you are the only person in the world whose questions I tolerate: questions are my bete noir: even you at times, damn you, try me: but I answer your questions because you seem to me to have a superior right to ask them, if anyone has, which may be doubted. Cross-examinations are not in the terms of our contract but you do certainly sometimes put me through the fire in great shape." He laughed. "Now, Horace, you see how much I love you: you have extorted my last secret. You have made me tell why you are an exceptional person—you have forced from me an avowal of affection." He was quite lively for an instant while making this sally. Then he relapsed—looked miserable, as if to go to pieces. I went to him. "Help me to the bed," he said. This I did. He sank on the pillow. Closed his eyes. I reached down and kissed him. He said "Good night." without opening his eyes. I said "Good night" and left. As I stood in the doorway an instant he cried: "And will you come tomorrow again? that everlasting, that sweet, tomorrow! Yes, yes; I'll be cautious"—replying to my injunction— "I'll not do anything reckless: I'll come round by morning, I know."

     My sister Agnes had gone today to take W. fruit. He was

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very loving with her. Kissed her affectionately—talked freely for fifteen minutes. Alluded to me: "Horace has wonderful intuition: he divines me, perceives me, almost before I divine, perceive, myself." He said to me regarding myself: "Horace, how it happens you fall to my lot—you, being just what you are—now, in my need: who can tell? There certainly was a divinity that shaped this end." To my sister and my father who in these last few days have seen W. for the first time since his present sickness began his bodily decline has seemed shocking. Those of us who have been with him every day have not so well perceived the subtle change. My father says: "His mind to me seemed if anything clearer, firmer, more sure of itself, if possible, than ever before." My father is a materialist in philosophy. So he says: "That was of course not what I expected and it is therefore what I cannot explain." W. handed me what he called "a family memorandum" a day or two ago. "It's only a bit about George—a war bit. Can you make room for it in your bulging pigeon-holes?" He laughed. I will put it in right here:
New York, 16th April, 1862.

Lt. Geo. W. Whitman,
Newbern, N. C.
Lieutenant:


Enclosed I have the pleasure of handing you your commission, and congratulate you upon your promotion.

In the 51st, more especially than in almost any other regiment, promotion has been made to depend upon gallant action—and this is now doubly in your favor.

I shall always be glad to hear from you.

I am, Lt. Very Truly Yours

Elliott F. Shepard.


Another letter W. gave me the same day was this from Linton:
New Haven, Conn., Aug: 21, 1875.

My dear Whitman:

First—how are you getting on? Second (like a woman's postscript) have I told you at any time that I

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have been and am preparing a vol: of Amer: poetry up to your Centennial, for English publication? I would like, if I may, to use as frontispiece your head, which will not hurt your fame on the other side; and three thousand miles off will not, I think, interfere with the appearance of the same head here with those new things which I want to see. May I use it? Say honestly yes or no, as you feel. I do not want to do what you might not like, whether in matters of interest or feeling. But I can have nothing I should like so well.


I wish you were here now that the storms seem over. We have had such a spell of bad weather as I have never before been treated to by U.S.

Yours always,

W. J. Linton


     W's. reply to this was written on the foot of the sheet:






"You are entirely welcome to use the eng: as you desire. I am about as usual—not any worse. Feel or fancy I feel relief already as summer wanes. One of my doctors thinks much of my head trouble the past three months is from the sun. I am almost always easier as day departs."







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