Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, November 28, 1888.

     8 P. M. I can find W.'s condition generally signified as I approach the house by the lights shining through the slats of the shutters upstairs. To-night all was dark. Eight o'clock is his good hour invariably if there is a good hour in the day. For that reason I have mostly made it the hour for consultation. My heart foreboding much, I rang the bell, Mrs. Davis admitting me—telling me at once (what I had feared) that W. had experienced a bad day indeed. W. lying on the bed—not asleep. Greeted me with outstretched hand. "Ah!" he said: "You come at the last hour!" His hand was hot, ferevish. I inquired: "How has it gone with you?" "Ill!" he exclaimed— "ill indeed: one of the worst of days—the very worst: ah! my boy I have gone far under! It is time for another peg to be taken out: one peg more: more even that that—who knows?" spoke huskily, weariedly: mentally clear but hesitating. He motioned for me to sit down: I took a chair near the bed. Then he went on: "I have felt so weak: oh! so weak! so weak I cannot stand! I cannot tell you how weak!" Then: "I have done nothing to-day: for the first time my appetite has positively, wholly, given out." He drank a cup of chocolate in the morning: took a little chicken broth: in the afternoon had a cup of tea and some pumpkin pie.

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"That more from necessity's sake than from desire." Said he felt now a sort of "qualmishness"—a stomachic reaction—although his digestion was good, he thought. Whether fever or not? "I do not know," he said.

     As is generally the case when W. suffers physical depression he was eager about the book. Had the binder stitched his sample copy? No? He was a little disappointed—saying the next instant: "Well, I trust it to you: guide, guard it." But I had brought the design for stamping and this revived him a little. Should I put it over on the table? No. He was eager to have it there by his side. "I will see that no harm comes of it." Made me think of the old days when he would take the proofs affectionately and tuck them under his pillow. No mail to-day "except a letter from Mary Costelloe: it contains no news—no news at all: all are well, bright: there they enjoy society, friends, good living." Then he wondered whether R. P. S. was "gone from America for good?" Reflecting: "That seems neither settled yes nor settled no. Pearsall likes English living—service, servants, finger bowls, a big fellow back of your chair attending every beck and call: all that: so he may stay: but nothing appears certain about it."

     I did not propose to remain: he seemed utterly exhausted. But when he spoke again of going down another peg I protested: "But if it is to be withdrawn don't you help to withdraw it!" pointing out to him the record of his summer when his quiet confidence showed that he knew the possibilities of his vitality better than either doctors or friends. He said: "It is good advice: I will heed it." I urged, moreover: why not have the doctor come in the morning to see him, anywhow: it would do no harm: having always to regard his usual aversion to professional attendance. He said: "I don't know but you are right: do your own choosing: it might be better to have him come." The room was hot. Yet he suddenly turned his head on the pillow. (I stood up, hat in hand, ready to go): "Horace, I think I'll get you to close that window," pointing to the middle win-

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dow, lowered about ten inches. The shutters inside were closely fastened—so little air could in any event have got it. "I am cold," he added. There was no more to do. We shook hands. I reached down, kissed him: he kissed me, saying thickly: "Bless you, my boy! bless you!"

     I had got outside the door. I heard W. call: "Horace! Horace!" I returned to his bedside. He reached under the pillow, pulled out an envelope and handed it to me. "What's that?" he asked. I moved over under the dim light and opened the letter. "It appears to be from Symonds," I said. "Exactly," W. responded: "Symonds: yes, Symonds: take it along: I want you to have it: it 's not Symonds alone— it 's his nephew, also: a boy, I imagine, and lots to him too, I should judge: he includes a poem." I waited to see whether he would say more. He did, briefly: "That Symonds blood seems to be good stuff: it comes from the top rather than from the bottom up, to be sure (it should come the other way) but nevertheless it tingles, stirs, thrills, with genuine humanism." He stopped, turned his head over on the pillow. "Good night!" I said. "Good night, God bless you!" he said: "We may talk of the letter to-morrow if I am better." Then away, to the city. To Osler's, where I left a note (putting it on his desk) asking him to call to see W. in the morning. Mrs. Davis is greatly exercised: spoke of W.'s haggard appearance—of his despondent talk with her: "things are nearly up with me." W. noticeably fine: always so in these spells: uncomplaining: his despair, if he has any, is always only physical—never affects his spiritual life. Who could share with me the thought of that evening's ride across the river? I stood alone on the deck of the boat—leaned over the rail: no one else near: the sky was clouded, it was dark overhead: the wind was high: the water was rough: I just had Walt with me and was wondering what crisis we were coming to. I will add the Symonds letter.

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Clifton Hill House, Clifton, Bristol,
July 12, 1877.

Dear Mr. Whitman:

I was away from England when your welcome volumes reached me, and since my return (during the last six weeks) I have been very ill with an attack of hemorrhage from the lung—brought on while I was riding a pulling horse at a time when I was weak and cold. This must account for my delay in writing to thank you for them and to express the great pleasure which your inscription in two of the volumes has given me.

I intend to put into my envelope a letter to you with some verses from one of your great admirers in England. It is my nephew—the second son of my sister. I gave him a copy of Leaves of Grass in 1874, and he knows a great portion of it now by heart. Though still so young, he has developed a considerable faculty for writing and is an enthusiastic student of literature as well as a frank vigorous lively young fellow. I thought you might like to see how some of the youth of England is being drawn towards you.

Believe me always sincerely and affectionately yours.

J. A. Symonds.



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