Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, December 15, 1888.

     After I left last night a Press reporter stopped in at W.'s—had a talk with Ed: gleaned enough to make up this paragraph, which appeared in this morning's paper:

      "There was a marked change for the better yesterday in the condition of Walt Whitman, the poet. He sat up the greater part of the day, rising a little after 12 o'clock, and did not retire until 9.30 last night. His nurse, Wilkins, said Mr. Whitman's improvement was marked, but that his physicians would say nothing of hopes of recovery."

     W. himself only glanced at the papers this morning. I fancy he did not see that.

     7 o'clock, morning. I got to W.'s before he was up. He had had a quiet night. Then to town. In at McKay's and Oldach's. Got bill from O. Wrote to Bucke and Clifford—yesterday or day before to Morse.


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     Again to W.'s at 4 o'clock. W. unchanged. He had got up—been what Ed calls "up" all day—(that is, he got dressed—laid on instead of under the cover)—Ed's "up" to the reporter yesterday not covering the exact truth. W. sat up very little. W. begins to feel his own incapacity. He said to Ed to-day: "Eddy, I wish you would come in every ten minutes or so"—seeming to anticipate some extreme need. Also submitting to help in everything. Ed was up till two this morning, keeping watch, room warm, &c. He is assiduous. Stays about. W. got up late last evening: sat up some time—till after ten even—the light half on: did nothing—seemed to think, doze. It 's rest for him to sit. Osler over to-day: Walsh not in: Osler cheery: W. "mending," &c. W. himself said of this: "You are right—he is not only cheery but cheer-dispensing—disperses an inspiration: even I feel it, am better for it." W. lying on the bed—on his side. Looking very ill. My first glimpse of him by sunlight this week. Face pale, eyes bad—a generally haggard aspect. Talk perfectly coherent though difficult. Strange how exact his sentences are but how long they are coming. There were times to-day, Ed says, when W. seemed mentally considerably confused. Looks his worst about eight in the morning. "Scares me sometimes, how he looks then," says Ed. W. inquires where I had been. "What is new in our affairs?" Christmas. The streets are full of people—men, women, children. "They enjoy it—some enjoy it: I like to hear you tell of it." "But for me," said W., "but for me—well, what is there for me? And the weariness of it all—the close confinement in a room: I feel that I am slowly—I think I can say slowly—moving onward, out." But: "What a poor miserable critter man is! A joker—a great joker for his little time: then nature comes along, buffets him once or twice, gives him two or three knocks: nature, the strong, the irresistible, the great bear: then what is man? where is the joker?" There was a note of pathos, not of complaint, in this. He shifted his talk. "Did you hear from Bucke?

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What has he to say?"
"Nothing but things about the cover for the big book." W.: "Well—whatever: I hope he gets his books to-day." I then quoted this to him: "Am on the lookout for book or books (by mail or express) from W." W. smiled: "I don't know why he is anxious about it: he 's had all that three times over." W. again: "I for my part accept the cheap cover just as it is: it has a meaning." And he paused before adding: "I remember the boys in the West—the farmers, cowboys—stockmen—in the western lands: how they would come into town—the queerest rigs—horses, nags—the finest, purest—with harness the greatest mess—string, rope, wood, leather, metal: anything, everything: yet the nags themselves always beyond question." I suggested the boy fishing, sure of his hook who utilized anything for line and a rod. W. laughed: "So with the book: if the nag is pure, the hook is right, then we are safe!" W. alluded to McKay: "This must be Dave's harvest—this period of his life: now or never!"

     George Whitman in twice to-day. Saw W. the second time. Gilchrist over this afternoon. Did not go up stairs. Harned in in the evening. Saw W. Remained only a few minutes. Two visitors this forenoon—women: one of them left a card—Mrs. William Tebb (Surrey, England). They were greatly disappointed W. not being able to see them. Nothing from Bucke. W. gave Ed a copy of the big book saying he would write in it to-morrow. Has been up a number of times: seems restless: does no writing or reading. Walsh and Osler have advised against reading. W. said: "I need no advice: I am not tempted." I picked up a sheet of paper off the floor. W. asked: "What is it?" I found it was a letter written W. from China by John Russell Young. W. had blue pencilled it, intending to use the other side for writing. "Read it to me," he said. The light was bad and Y's writing is diminutive but I managed to do so.


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Legation of the United States,
Peking, Feb. 3d, 1883.

My dear Mr. Whitman:

I have seen a paragraph in the press to the effect that you are not in good health. I am sorry to read it, and trust you will not regard as an intrusion a word of kindness and good will from an admirer and friend, ten thousand miles away. I was glad to have seen you before I left, and apparently destined to live many many years. I trust that what I have read was a mere newspaper exaggeration, and in sending you this wish I send the assurances of my gratitude and esteem, and pray that it may find you enjoying a very happy New Year.

Yours sincerely,

John Russell Young.


     W. said: "Dear Young! He is a lovable cuss: you rememeber he went round the world with Grant: he is the higher type of the newspaper man—a man with real guts to him—no mere penny a line liar as so many of the boys are: God bless 'em, too! —I suppose they have to lie: only, I can't quite get used to their point of view!" I was down in the evening again at eight. Advising with Ed. W. lying on the bed. I did not disturb him. Shall let my Rossetti questions hold over. Looked about a little, provided for some little matter Ed needed attended to, then left. Ed is disturbed by reporters every night. They come at unconscionable hours. One came at 2 A. M. Rang lustily. Ed did not answer. He went away. Weather moderated. Less wind. Warmer. Still keeps clear.


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