Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, November 29, 1888.

     10 A. M. Thanksgiving Day. Doctor not yet over. Ed reported W. not up. Would stay in bed a while longer. W. looking bad: is very pale, unrested. Speaks of himself as "sinking." All of us rather despondent. I wrote Bucke a dubious note, expressing the hope that in the morning I might have better news. Called at Harned's. H. not at home: took Anna along—going to church in the city. W. said this morning about eating: "Give me nothing: send me a little something to drink—coffee." Did not myself see W. Ed said: "Go in." But I thought it best not.

     11.30 A. M. Down again. Saw W. Had just got up. Took a cup of coffee—nothing more. Spoke of himself as "in a poor way": "a little better than when in bed." This

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did not last long. In the course of our talk he said: "I feel better after all in bed." When I mentioned Osler he said: "I am glad you went, but I don't see that he can do anything for me: the best course for me to follow is to get rest—just rest:—to lie down: for lying down always seems somehow to restore me." "I feel so weak," he said again: "I cannot stand up—I have no equilibrium." Ed said W. dressed himself but was most unsteady: would have fallen once if Ed had not caught him: another time took to the bed "feeling like a stick of wood." This is the sensation W. described to me. Yet his color is good. I told him so, but he seems to be afraid of optimism. Had been reading papers—trying to: "it goes hard," he said. The Press was on the table, The Record was in his hand. Cited the ruin up the coast by the recent storms. Was sympathetically interested. W. made a comparison between Ferguson's type letter and Osgood's: "It is a little more aristocratic: finer in face: of more exquisite cast." Questioned about the book. "You don't go to Ferguson's to-day? Yes, yes, I see: it is a holiday: but to-morrow take them." He reached back to the table, produced an envelope containing Curtz's quaint slips for the complete Whitman. W. gave me the copy for the label and a copy of the label. He had it all diagrammed out for Curtz and besides drawing the design added these black ink directions: "for a label for back of book—the above (in blue pencil) is a facsimile of the size of back of book, which you must get inside of. If convenient set it up and bring me around a proof this afternoon." He thought Mrs. Davis was having a poor Thanksgiving with him sick. She wanted W. to have some turkey. He said: "Practically nothing: very little at the most." I got up to go. Advised Ed to make the bed, which he did, W. then at once lying down again, dressed. Letter from his sister at Burlington, Vermont. Could stand no rubbing last night. Our anxiety is great. W.'s manner with me markedly sweet—memorable. He refers quietly tenderly to the book. "So near port—in sight of port—

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and now!"
He is anxious about the books. "If I get them out why—well, then let happen what may."

     3.15 P. M. Found Tom Donaldson in parlor: had had what he called an hour's talk with W. I did not think it advisable for me to go up myself after that. Would wait till evening. Went over the river with Donaldson, who had brought W. fruit and wine and taken away with him the ten copies of November Boughs, which W. had got up (was lying down when Donaldson came) and autographed. D. vociferous regarding W.'s strength—his ability to maintain himself ten years yet. "Why, he 's hardly noticeably sick at all!" W. brightened when D. arrived: when the reaction came D. was gone. Donaldson with others are misled into believing W. almost well.

     7.15. Again down. Osler had been over towards evening. Was not at all alarmed. I did not see him. He instructed Mrs. Davis minutely how to reach him at certain hours should an emergency arise: after all evidently fearing something. Will be over Saturday or Sunday anyhow. Advised: keep W.'s bowels open: the tendency with him is to constipation: insure a pssage at least once in every two days. Ed went up stairs through his room to W.'s. I followed. W. was standing up leaning heavily on the bed, putting on his coat. He described Osler's visit at once. "Osler was over—came at last: Dr. Osler: he finds nothing to excite alarm—thinks it mainly indigestion: that a day or two will restore me." I looked at him. "I mean counted my pulse, questioned me—went through all the technicalities: but—!" Which is a way he has of dismissing doctors and doctrinaires. It was characteristic of him that, bad as he felt, with Ed standing attentively near, and I with my hat in my hand, he arose from his sitting posture on the bed, reached forward, leaned heavily against the wall, and turned the key in the door. "I want you two fellows here but I want to lock the rest of the world out," he said. Then he went back to bed, very laboriously—lay down dressed.

     Ed left the room. We talked some. He stayed where he

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was. Said he had eaten nothing at all. "I have not even the suspicion of an appetite: no hunger: absolutely none." Did no work. I showed him a portrait of Verestchagin with Crucifixion and Sepoy pictures found in Harper's Weekly. "Leave them," he said: "I much want to look at them: will do so to-morrow." Spoke pathetically of his entire helplessness. When I said: "Should you ever need a Secretary, let me serve," he fervently responded: "Bless you, my boy! I shall! I shall! I often feel that I may yet have to call upon you." He said: "Donaldson was over to-day: among other things he brought me a bottle of wine." I asked: "Will you dare use it now?" "Oh yes! I shall take some of it to-morrow!" "Tom talked about Sheridan: told me new things: interested me—cheered me: he knew Sheridan: caught glimpses, lights, not allowed those of us who lived outside." I told W. what Donaldson had said of his prospects—of his ten years yet. W. said: "Well, we 'll wait till the ten years are over before we talk of that." Added, too: "Yesterday was a close call: I fully realize it."

     Donaldson to-day spoke of Kennedy as "a half-crazy curiosity." W. repeated the epithet to me and asked: "What do you make out of such a phrase? I don't see how it applies to Kennedy at all but Donaldson was stubborn about it. When Ernest Rhys was here he met the Kennedys—came to know them pretty well—probably met them often. Ernest called them 'shocks': that is, as I understand it, they were both afflicted with nerves: which may be true—which is no crime, however unfortunate. For instance, it can be illustrated in this way: one comes into the room, fixes all the things on the mantelpiece, passes out: then another comes along, takes everything that was just put up down again, putting something else in place of it. Rhys seems to have seen that sort of thing going on—came to extreme conclusions regarding it: called them the nervousest couple he had ever met. But how unimportant all that is: Kennedy does not begin and end with such an

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incident. Then Kennedy had some objections to Rhys: I also heard them: Rhys was selfish—rode over people: was arbitrary. Well, maybe some of that was true, too: but that again is not the whole of Rhys: he is more than that. As I see more of Sloane I am impressed with his strong, remarkable, moral nature—his moral, intellectual nature, I may call it: and when I speak of his moral nature I don't mean morals but that highest something which makes life steadfast and ample. Of all things in Kennedy that moral entity appeals to me most surely—is most convincing: his honesty, his love of truth: perhaps honesty alone would say it—honesty with all that it implies: the fellow who at the last is found not to deflect from the truth—from thinking truth, uttering truth, being truthful."

     W. spoke of O'Connor: "William is all gentleman: however strong, however impetuous, however overwhelming, never a bragger, never a boaster: always gentleman: always." And of Harned: "Harned stands for force: he is a man's man: he is frankly, almost brutally, honest: goes his own way: gets down on his knees to nobody." Corning in but did not see W. W. shows his renewal of vigor in his voice and in his greater alertness. W. handed me as I left a letter from what I call his "amen" corner. "We were in much distress of mind about George at that time: my dear mother was terribly exercised: she was heroic, loyal, uncompromising: but she loved George—was profoundly disturbed over the mystery of his movements, whereabouts." "Did you mean for me to read or keep this?" "Both: it will interest you to read: as to keeping it, well, it embodies a piece of history: it is likely to be safer in your keeping than in my own: so you had better take it along." The envelope was postmarked New York. W.'s inquiry comes first. Cook answers on the same sheet of paper.
Washington, Feb. 27, 1865.

Captain:

Could you give me a little further information about my brother Capt. George W. Whitman 51st New

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York, who gave you the slip you sent from Annapolis Feb 19 with his and mother's address, Feb 14th?—Why did not he, and the other officers, 51st N. Y. come up with the main body, for exchange?—were the other officers 51st there at Danville, time you left?—Please tell me all you know, or think probable, on this subject of why they did not come. Have they been sent further south, to avoid exchanging them, or are they still at Danville?—Was my brother really well & hearty—was Lieut. Sam'l Pooley, 51st N.Y. there, & how was he?—Do you know whether my brother got letters & boxes we sent him?—Was he in the attempt to escape, Dec. 10, last?—My dear Sir, if you could take a leisure half hour and write me, soon as possible, what you know on these or other points relating to my brother, it would deeply oblige me—


Address—

Walt Whitman

Washington, D. C.



New York Feb. 28th, 1865.

Dear Sir:

I have just received the letter on the back of which I am writing. Your brother is now, I have no doubt, in Annapolis, awaiting his leave of absence, unless, as some of my brother officers did, he donned citizen's costume and made tracks for home before receiving it. With me, only nine other officers were exchanged, but a few days after I reached Annapolis, all that were in Danville, or had been there rather, arrived in town also. They came in two batches, the 23rd and 24th I think. I knew quite a number of officers in the 51st, all of whom came to Annapolis. They were quartered either in the hotels or in the hospitals; not in the latter from illness so much as because the town could furnish no more accommodations. I do not remember your brother, but I have no doubt that his indisposition if it exists at all is such as plentiful food and pure air will remove at once. While almost all of us were weak and slightly ailing as I may say, almost none of us were seriously affected. I venture to suggest that a letter addressed Care of Dr. Vander-

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kuft, Surg. U. S. Army, in charge of General Hospital, might reach your brother sooner than if it bore his name only. You will hear so soon from your brother that it will not be worth while for me to answer your other questions, except to say that the Danville Prison was emptied of officers and that they are all in Annapolis. There I left them at least the 25th.


Very respectfully,

William Cook
Capt. 19th U.S.C.T.


92 W. 10th
New York.



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