Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, January 29, 1892

     8:15 A.M. W. awake. I went into room. He was on the left side, face towards light. Fearfully pale—wearied. Rather restless all

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night. He saw me: struggled to get his hands out from the cover. "Horace," he said briefly, and after we had shaken hands, "Isn't it very early, Horace?" "No, it is nearly half past eight." "So late? I thought it was very early." "I am down at the Bank at nine." "As early as that?" "Yes, the superstition is that the Bank people work from ten to three—but the fact is, that we work from nine to four and any time after." He, "Do you stick to it as long as that? You are very busy." I asked him then, "How did you pass the night?" "Only fairly—only fairly." "Strength?" He shook his head several times—a negative. "None—none." Left with him letters from Burroughs and Morse. "Put them on the table—I know I shall delight in them both." I quoted him all Ingersoll's message but the first paragraph:
Law Office, Robert G. Ingersoll
45 Wall Street, New York
Jan'y 27th. 1892

My dear Traubel,

Your letter of yesterday gives me great anxiety and pain. I do hope that he is again to see the spring, and another summer.

Give him my love over and over again.

I shall come to see him, if possible.

Yours,

R. G. Ingersoll.


"The dear dear Colonel!" W. exclaimed. "Dear—loyal—great! Dear Colonel!" Seemed exhausted. On table beside the bed an opened letter from Dr. Johnston (arrived yesterday), and Warrie busy in the next room writing Johnston. W. curiously asked, "You keep our affairs well in rein?" And after a pause, "I would watch Dave—see that the books are forthcoming." Then we shook hands again and I left.

     Another letter from Wallace.

     (Mrs. Davis went in to W. just before I left. She stopped at foot of bed—saying "morning!" and he saying "morning!" in response, and saying no more.)


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     Later at McKay's, not finding books, yet received promise of them for tomorrow or Monday. Met Clifford. He had asked city editor, or managing, if anything had been done about Walt Whitman? Yes, obituary in type. Who wrote it? Lambdin. What was its purport? That W. was "a rowdy Emerson." McKay ships today the 50 green copies "Leaves of Grass" to Gardner, Glasgow.

     6:35 P.M. Arrived at W.'s. Mrs. Keller, "He has passed a dreadfully quiet day. It always frightens me." In sleep? Not always sleep—much of it something like stupor. I went into W.'s room. He at once realized my presence and called me. We shook hands and he pulled me down to the bed. "Sit here," he said, "let us talk a while." He held my hand then without change till I said good-bye. I put the question to W., and he replied, "A bad day—quiet: a deathly weakness—almost stupor. I have not written anything—read little. Strength—strength—strength: that does not come—I guess we are baffled." Yet we "must still wait." He seemed to breathe with labor and to articulate with difficulty. "I have read the letters you left me. They were both pleasant reading—both. I am glad Sidney is pleased; the dear Sidney! And John writes a good note—very good." I spoke of Burroughs' "exceptions," and W., "They don't any of them know the game as we do—not even John."
West Park, New York
Jany 26

Dear Horace:

I have been looking over your Lowell-Whitman essay again, & think much better of it than what I said in my other letter would indicate. It abounds in fine penetrating thoughts. There are sentences in it that have rare force & felicity. How fine these about Lowell, "He owed no apologies for merits betrayed," "he shared the impulse of freedom." Or this one on W., "Poets touched with prophecy divulge the cosmic order," & many more I could point out. I think you do better for Lowell than you do for Whitman. W. is so hard to grasp, to put in a statement. One cannot get to the bottom of him; he has so many bottoms, he is bottomed in Nature, in democracy, in science, in personality—but you did well in getting your lever under him as far as you did.


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I cannot quite rest content with your contrast, & what you imply by it, between the castle on the hill, & the ruined wall overrun with vines & mosses. I think Walt too builds a house for the soul: at least, he protects one from the cosmic chill, he surrounds him with friendly & congenial influences. I am not content to leave him with disorganized nature or disorganized art befriended by nature. It has been often charged against him, you know, that he only brings the raw material of poetry—brick & mortar & lumber, but not a house. All these analogies are more or less misleading. The art impulse lies back of his work the same as any, namely the need for expression. But in him the art impulse is kept in abeyance; he brings to the front life & fervor—he makes his verse "the free channel of himself," he permits to speak "Nature, without check, with original force."

I am glad you had a letter from Howells. I have just written & sent off to "the Critic" a short paper pointing out how Howell's criticism justifies Walt. In his criticism in his last book called "Criticism & Fiction," I think H. is fast coming around, & that he may save his soul yet.

I do hope Walt will continue to mend & find some joy in life yet. Tell him my love is with him daily & hourly. Also give my love to that little wife Annie whom I forgot in my other letter. Spare youself & take time to breathe a little.

Very sincerely,

John Burroughs


And then, "I take no 'exceptions'—I see the case clear." As to B.'s projected article, "I think it will be a brave thing for us all: I have an instinct that John will speak strongly and to the point." And further, "The Critic needs it: John will give them a fresh breeze." Asked after the January Century. "I have felt a little curiosity to look over it." He asked how Spurgeon was. The papers have him very sick. At a mention of Lincoln he exclaimed, "Dear Lincoln! The noblest of us all!"

     Asked if he had any message for Bolton? He did not reply direct but he inquired, "Did Johnston tell you, too, of the safe arrival in Bolton of Sidney's bust?" And to my assent, "And did he say it was all in good order, in no way damaged?" I thought he had but could not quote him to the effect. Said W. thereupon,

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"My latest judgment is like my first—that this is far and above the best thing we have—the most like a revelation of the critter—the most ample, broad—the fullest of the divine touch which belongs to the best work anywhere, in anything: and I want you to stick to it, that my notion is in no way shaken by any attempts I have seen elsewhere by other people." I thought Burroughs rather better disposed towards the bust than in years past. This seemed to please W., and he exclaimed, "Good for John!" Could the bust be put in marble? "I suppose it would cost an awful lot of money," he argued, "enough to make it impossible." I asked him if he did not think it would be wonderfully effective, so cut in stone, and he assented but still dwelt upon the cost. Reminded him of Bush's proposition to buy one of the casts. "Bush shall have one," W. responded, "I feel warm to Bush. And do you hear from them?" I had found from Harry Walsh that Harte was assistant editor of New England Magazine and some further personal facts—such as that he was a journalist (I think he said from Canada) and young, but bright. W. interested in all this. "Yes, bright," he allowed, "with a certain sharp literary swing; but do you notice, Horace, how many of the fellows get that? It is a glib gift."

     Had me turn up light and look for a New York letter proposing an interview for Telegram. "Take it along," he said, "it will please you." Should I write him to come? "No, I would not do that. But if he comes, I will see him for a minute." Repeated Clifford's story of Lambdin, W. remarking, "I know Lambdin: he is a bad egg—bad, bad. God help us if we fall into his hands!" I laughed and protested, "But we don't fall into the hands of every man who attempts to handle us." This moved him to laughter also, "You are right, Horace, but it is bad anyway." He adding without any word of mine after a pause, "But let them whack away! It is a necessary part of the story." Referring to Chile, "How absurd we are! But for Blaine, the administration would have no redeeming feature. But Blaine, say what may be said of him, will never narrow himself down to the Harrison measure."


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     A little further talk, then I left—he, first, saying to me, "Do not get reckless of your youth, Horace. You are our staff, and if you break, what will hold us up?" I kissed him good night. "Brave boy! God bless you forever!" On my departure Warrie entered room, but W. had already relapsed—replying to some tenders of conversation with a "yes" or "no," Warrie shortly coming out with me in next room.

     10:48 P.M. Again in at W.'s and loafed a while in back room. Could hear W.'s labored breathing, and hear an occasional cough. At very long intervals a slight touch of hiccoughs. Mrs. Keller thinks they will return. W. tapped for Warrie at 11:10—for the second time only since nine o'clock—asking to be turned but vouchsafing no talk whatever, even in reply to questions. I have written many letters today.

     Letter from Johnston, Bolton.


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