Commentary

Disciples


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Tuesday, January 26, 1892

     8:20 A.M. For a few minutes' stop at 328—to find W. asleep after a mainly restless night. Face pale and hands thrown out on coverlet. Looked at him some minutes, without any trace of wakefulness appearing—then away.

     Many callers at the Bank and inquiries by mail and telegraph. Everybody seems anxious and I have little hope to give them.

     McKay went over about middle of afternoon. I saw him at four. Said he, "I was prepared to see a great change in Walt, but I was shocked: he has changed more than I could have believed possible. It is dreadful—dreadful: it is death itself." W. consented to drop "Walt Whitman's" and use the autograph "Walt Whitman," telling him, "I have no great objection: I yield to you." Nurse told McKay, "You find him at his best," and Dave argues, "If that was the best, what is his worst?" McKay wishes to be prepared for a big sale of books in case of W.'s demise. Will push stamp. W. eager. (Said to me the other day: "I can die easier, seeing these things all in order." Yet again, "Though you know what is their order quite as well as I do—in which respect I am fortunate.") W. had spoken to Dave about the loss of his father, calmly, with evident profound sympathy.

     6:10 P.M. At Camden again. Examined Post. No advertisement there. But found Bonsall had been in and seen W. and left slips. Sat in Warrie's room writing a letter to Bolton. W. tapped and we both went into the other room. Warrie to turn him over—I to talk with him. Quite as feeble as yesterday. Day had been "horribly weary, restless," he said. Then no return of strength? "No, nothing—loss, if anything. Horace, it is all retrograde—all retrograde." This he had told McKay. "Yet," he added, "I seem to eat plenty, too." Such a bad blow as December's hard to rally from. "Yes, hard—I guess impossible. But it was not December's alone—this thing has a long history: it is our cat with the long tail again." Had he his slips? "Yes, but wasn't the ad in the paper?" "No." "Well, we have the slips, anyhow—and I want you to take some of them." Directed me where

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they were to be found. I took the bundle over to the light and counted out twenty, which he wished me to have. There were 125 in all. He remarked, "I expected a hundred—asked for them. Take 25, and let the fellows have them liberally: yes, cut off the advertisement part and send it to the papers as a literary item—that part of it, at least—those eight or ten lines—in which I make my personal statement." After a pause continuing, "As I have said to you before, the point is, to substitute this for all other editions—to make of it my final, conclusive utterance and message—a declaration of my realized intentions—and all you can do to have this understood belongs as a duty to us all. Don't you have that same feeling? It is our cause—our standard—something to hold to and affirm. Not 'Leaves of Grass' simply, or even principally, but the things in nature, life, which it stands for or hints of."

     Had I heard more from Burroughs? "Dear, dear John!" And further questions of Mrs. O'Connor. "Dave was over—I yielded to you fellows. I am not sure but you are right, and anyway I am in no way to make a fight of it." Pause and rest (as often required). Then, "Anne was here today—dear girl! But I was at the time passing through a dreadful, deathly spell and could not see her. Tell her for me: she will understand—the darling girl!" Asked me, "What news can you bring me? I ache for news—for the best things from all the fellows: it is my balm, after lying here, unvarying hour after unvarying hour!" Had he a message for Bolton? "No, nothing—only the slips: send them the slips." He had looked at the papers. "I hate that snarl with Chile: it is a game of brag, bluster—we are making a big noise. Meanwhile, what of America—the essential America?" Mentioning letter from Gilchrist, he advised me, "Always remember me to Herbert—yes, and write him when you can. And you keep up your line with Bucke? Doctor chiefest of all—and Ingersoll—and throw in what you can, to keep us all in touch."

     He spoke majestically of his work, of "its now near close" and of the "doors soon to be shut." Then suddenly—I standing at foot of the bed, he almost raised from his pillow—spoke these

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solemn words, as if with the air of a charge and farewell, "I have read the New England Magazine piece from Harte, the newest star." I asked, "He is new, but is he a star?" "Yes, he is a star—though not of any first magnitude, and not lustrous in our heavens. He is very critical—makes several good points—and he writes well, very well. He is sharp, raspy—is a sort of male Agnes Repplier." I had met Miss Repplier personally the other day—described her prevailing manner. W. took up the thread, "Yes, that's the woman, and that's Harte, too. He is well-booked—has knowledge of many things of the bookiest order, but he fails to know, understand, that last fruit of philosophy, of poetry, as I call it, which controls, or shows, the large reserves of nature. Nature only gives us a little of her territory, her domain—and retains the rest: retains it for her own modesties, for reasons of her own. These other fellows—the orthodox—call that waste—but no, it is something else—something far else. And out of this principle—these recognitions—came 'Leaves of Grass.' And it, I, must be, are, more indebted to nature than we know. All writings heretofore have been done on other suppositions—even Shakespeare's, Virgil's—yes, after a big, big drop, Lowell's. But my own departure has been quite definite and conclusive: and here, today, at the end, with the book closed or closing, I glory in the surrender—have no regrets, have nothing to recall. It is by such unhesitating lines I have aimed to draw, or remain, near the mysteries of nature: near them, to feel their breath, even when I knew nothing of what they meant, and could but wonder and listen, as if to vague music. I had all this clear from the start—I had all these determinations—I never erred—never strayed. And now, whether to be charged as a fool, or as reckoned victor, I am sure my choice, at least for me, was well-taken—was, finally, the only path possible for me to foot."

     This was all uttered as readily as his physical condition would allow, with tones almost of vigor, and with eyes wide open, and several times even the lifting of his hands. I could have wept and laughed, with the conflict of my feelings. I exclaimed, "Yes, yes, Walt—I hear it all—I love it all." And he, "Love it? Yes! And I

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loved it—oh! so much!—and now an end! But the book, Horace: there are things resting on you, too, to fulfill—many things—many—many. Keep a firm hand—stand on your own feet. Long have I kept my road—made my road: long, long! Now I am at bay—the last mile is driven: but the book—the book is safe!"

     I left the room—he seemed to relax from the mere force of this utterance. Yet had seemed to need to say it. I went back a minute to give him some jelly sent over again by Mrs. T. Williams. "Bless her good heart!" said W. And I told him of several things I had in hand to do for him—letters to be written and papers sent away. "It is all right, boy, I know they will find themselves all done. I must leave them with you." Then to next room, a finish to Johnston's letter, and home.

     9:20 P.M. Met Harned by appointment, finding him already in the back bedroom. There discussing affairs for some time. W. asleep or seeming so, and we did not go in. Once he called Warrie by the tap-tap of his cane, and asked to be turned. Warrie spoke several things to him, telling him a story—a fling at the Jews—but W. took no notice of it except in a monosyllabic way, seeming to wish to be let alone.

     Some more of the books have been moved from the front to the back room. Mrs. Keller has abandoned all idea of a remaking of the room and house. She looks upon it as impossible to disturb W. in his present low condition and that it is hardly worth while to undertake so large a contract for the short term she thinks yet belonging to W. Harned had been misled as to W.'s real condition by McAlister's unreasonably favorable reports. He was startled when I reported the result of Longaker's examination.


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