Commentary

Disciples


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 304] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Thursday, November 27, 1890

     Thanksgiving Day. First thing that struck my eye in Press were these notices:

Obituary.
Thomas J. Whitman, mechanical engineer, St. Louis, 57 years. He was a brother of Walt Whitman.

OBITUARY.
Thomas J. Whitman, a Brother of Walt Whitman, the Poet.
St. Louis, Nov. 26 (Special).—Thomas J. Whitman died last night at his home in this city, after a brief illness, of typhoid pneumonia. The deceased was 57 years of age and was an expert mechanical engineer, devoting himself almost entirely to water works engineering.

He was a brother of Walt Whitman, the poet. He was born in Brooklyn and spent his boyhood days there. He came to St. Louis in the sixties. Mr. Whitman's last big piece of work was the building of water works at Memphis.

     Went on with my Whitman piece and finished. Then took down to him. Suggested to him to make as many marginal notes as he chose. "I shall be quite free about it," he said. "I am obedient." Was aware of the death of Jeff. "I had a telegram here," he said, and relapsed into a great quiet—not for five full minutes disturbed. Then he spoke of the beauty of the day: "How good it must be to be free to live out of doors"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 305] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
the weather cold but serene—of his doubt if he would get his "daily trip," etc. "If I could," he said, "I would give the pictures to Mrs. Ingersoll today. But they'll wait till you can take them—they'll wait. But they're all ready—right on the sofa there." How had he woke up this morning? "Poorly—poorly. I am in a bad way today—these days—a very bad way. I set it down as catarrh of the stomach—that this catarrh of the head—this grip—has gone down and settled in my stomach. If you write the Doctor today," here he laughed merriment, "tell him this, that I call it catarrh. Of course he will laugh, but that is my way of describing it." Had not seen the Press paragraphs about his brother, but read when I called attention to them. He had not said a word to me about it, yet I learned on going downstairs that Weir Mitchell had been over the day before or Tuesday, and had said to Mrs. Davis that it was probably some indigestion that was troubling W.—recommending several things in way of diet—so far as she knew putting no serious face at all on the matter.

     Letter from Stoddart this morning as follows:


LIPPINCOTT'S Monthly Magazine
Philadelphia, Nov. 25, 1890.

Dear Sir:—

We are in no very great hurry for the article on Mr. Whitman and as I told you before I will try to see Mr. Whitman in a few days and talk it over with him.

Yours truly,

J. M. Stoddart


     I gave to W. to read with the remark, "That means to me, don't go on with it." W. looking it over, "It's rather the cold shoulder, true enough." And then: "Well, if he comes over we'll see," etc.

     W. spoke in a feeling way of the death of B. P. Shillaber.

     Has postal from Morse calling his attention to Burnell's Century piece on Rodin and Dalou (sculptors). Has not read.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 306] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     W. says again, "I think I am in a bad way—this is a bad disturbance, now, whatever you call it," etc.

     Letter from Johnston as follows this morning:


November 25, 1890

Dear Traubel,

When I went into Ingersoll's office and asked him to give me a check for Walt, my plan was to let the amount go into the joint purse; and when he volunteered to give the lecture, what I expected was that the amount would be placed in the hands of the committee and thus save us all for the next year at least.

Now, I hardly know what to say.

Who are the subscribers and what amounts are they giving? Let's get down into it and see if you and I cannot devise some plan to make it easy all around.

Would it do to have Dr. Bucke let Walt know just what has been done and suggest to him that the Ingersoll fund should be used by the committee and when it is used up we can get up another testimonial.

I know it's a delicate subject, and I only hint it—I hope you will come over next week.

Sincerely yours,

J. H. Johnston

As long as it's necessary of course I will help.


     Johnston evidently thinks W. does not know about the fund: he knows all about it. This lecture matter was between Ingersoll and W.—I had no right to step in—nor anyone. I so told Johnston the night of the lecture, Bucke, when I acquainted him with it, approving. Shall so write Johnston today. Fund is not run on score of W.'s poverty but as a graceful final act from a group of his friends. I told W. frankly my view and he said, "I so understand it, too—so from the Colonel. What do you think?" I shall insist upon this interpretation. If Johnston is inclined to withdraw from the fund I cannot help it. Bucke told me of an incident that occurred on the trip from New

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 307] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
York the day of the lecture: a man named Beers, a New York printer, giving Johnston ten dollars for a seat. Bucke asked me, "Did Johnston give you that money?" No. Had he passed it in at ticket office? No. What then had become of it? Johnston must have forgotten. I had it in mind to speak to Johnston about it. But perhaps he had given it direct to W.? I asked W. today. "No, not a cent. This is the first I have heard of it." Then with a smile, "Perhaps one of us had better jog John's memory: it must be a lapsus; could not be anything more." I wrote Bucke about all this.

     5:10 P.M. Down to W.'s again. Spent 15 to 20 minutes with him. Keeps in his own room. I took current Scribner's—first article of Sir Edwin Arnold's "Japonica." He wished to read. Was looking over one of Scott's novels. Had not taken any meal of account— "almost refused dinner." Was depressed. Room merging towards the dark. Would not go out. Clouded overhead and much colder. Did not say a word about my manuscript nor did I ask him. I told him of a visitor I had this afternoon: Ackland, in charge West Philadelphia branch mercantile. He told me that since Ingersoll lecture there had been a demand for "Leaves of Grass," both in his branch and the main library. W. said, "It is as I should have expected. Bob is a mighty power—his lecture a bugle call, which will be heard all over this continent, perhaps across the globe." And then: "I hope the New York people will not produce it too cheap—it should be ten cents anyway—I should say, a quarter—bound. A cheap stiff cover should be put upon it." And as to our seeing the proofs, "Oh! We must: it is indispensable that the thing should be right: it will have such circulation, not a word should go astray."

     I told him I had sent his message to Bucke. He laughed, "Well, it has a queer sound—it may be—yet it is our way of putting it. My head seems a very eligible evil for this thing they call cold in the head, grip. I seem to invite it, welcome it, hold it fast—and now it is the stomach—the belly: it seems

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 308] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
to offer me to the sacrifice."
Had Mitchell seen the gravity of the thing, if it was grave? "No, I do not think he did. He thought I would be benefitted by taking to eat and drink just before going to bed, and sent some medicine over. Oh! where is it now?"—looking about on the floor— "I don't know—did not even read his directions for taking it. The other night Mary went to a wedding—bringing me from it some wine and cake which, being hungry and thirsty, I took." And it had done him good? "No, it did not—harm, rather—I spent a bad night, a bad next day. It is the devil with general rules. Doctors, priests, may make a rule for the whole world, but when it comes to apply them to individuals, it won't work. There are so many exceptional circumstances in every life—so many, I say—we are at sea at once." And of himself personally, "It is so with me: they may make an undoubted course for me. Yet I see more and see why I should not take it. Now and then I may be wrong—in the main I must be right, for I make up my own case from a consensus of which they know nothing. Three or four doctors used to agree that I needed quinine—so as I was ever anxious to do something for myself I took quinine. But it set my head whirling round like the worlds. I could not stand it—stopped. Then when Doctor sent his tonic later on I took that—but I knew at once that it had quinine as one of its parts—my head again went spinning—so again I stopped. That is the kind of evidence that is unmistakable—which no outside authority can foresee."

     Expressed his dislike for Johnston's wharf picture, taken when he was here and a copy of which has arrived with others. Bucke rather affects. But W. says, "It is a damnable photographic utterance—damnable. No, I don't like it at all: yet it might be just one of the things to be popular, for the popular thing nowadays is not the honest thing—but the peculiar, the phantasmic, the curio-ish, the distortion, the worldly—and this might come under all these heads." I was rather surprised at the strong dislike this betrayed.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [Begin page 309] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     Had he read the Murger translations from Fox? "No—only glanced at them—I will give them to you to take back. I took them up—somehow the tone, mood, what-not, was against. I did not get far." In fact the manuscripts were bad, and I think stories somewhat disappointed him.


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.