Commentary

Disciples


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Friday, February 5, 1892

     Forenoon, between eight and nine, at W.'s, inquiring as to things there and finding all well, with W. sleeping. No mail again. How strangely all that has fallen off! As if in still air, silence and death! Among my own letters, one from Bucke—February 3rd—and one from Burroughs.
3 Feb 1892

My dear Horace

Last evening came your letters of Sat. e'g. & Sun. m'g.

My idea is that we want $300 or $400 to carry this thing thro'—H[arned] you & I have (in one way or another) put our hands very deep in our pockets for W. within the last few years—for my part (as I know is true of H. & you) I would gladly do it again but these things must have a limit when one has a moderate income and a family. I think you should go quietly to New York & Boston—consult J. H. Johnston, Col. I., Mrs. Child (?)—I believe that is the name of a rich friend of Walt's there. Would also consult Child of Phila. I would not go to them as begging but lay the case fully before them and ask their advice and assistance if they feel like giving it. The fund would of course pay your traveling expenses. Walt must know nothing about it. Circumstances have thrown this matter onto our shoulders and we must carry it ourselves the best we know how. It is my belief that the

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people mentioned would gladly put up the small amount needed or that one or other of them would send you to a person who would do it but supposing they did not we are no further behind than at present. Should the above not commend itself to you or should it be tried and fail then H. must see local man (as spoken of before) and I will be good (at all events) for the $25 mentioned. All well here. Love to Anne. Tell Walt that I never cease to think of him.


So long!

R. M. Bucke



West Park, New York
Feb. 3d 92

Dear Horace:

I am hoping every day to hear that the tide has turned again or shows signs of turning in favor of Walt, but I fear, I fear. Tell me if he takes much nourishment, & if you think it would be worth while for me to come down again. If he does not talk any, or if he is anywhere near as low as he was when I was there I will not come. I am thinking about going to New York for a week or so, & if I do I would run down & see him again if you advise it.

I asked the Critic to send you proof of my little paper on Howells & Walt. It is not much, only contains a hint or two. My new writing on Walt takes quite a different turn from the old. I think I shall put it in the form of a letter to a young man asking about W., one who is an admirer of Arnold etc. This gives me a tangible mark to aim at & will check my besetting sin of talking in the air. I shall aim to show what Walt's working ideas are, the ideas from which his book starts & in which it has root—what his criticism of life is, in Arnold's phrase; how he is saturated with the idea of America & democracy, as much as the old prophets of Israel were with the idea of the chosen people; that his is indeed the same passion flaring up with the same vitality & power, the same passion enlightened by science & ennobled by the idea of universal brotherhood etc. I want to show that he does not speak as a man, but as Man, that he personates the Genius of Democracy, & that it is in filling this character that many of his utterances have been too large & bold & all-inclusive for the wit of most of his readers etc.

I find I gain much by freely admitting that the book displeases as well as pleases, & that people are not to be blamed for at first being bewildered & shocked. I have my material all out, & I have now to sort

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out & reject & put it together. My deepest love to the dear old man. I keep well, but need a change. Remember me to Harned & his family, & to Annie.


Sincerely,

John Burroughs


Late afternoon called at Poet-Lore office and long talk there with Miss Porter. They intend moving the whole establishment to Boston next month. She gave me a beautiful volume of Poet-Lore bound, with loose sheet inscription from both to W. The two have written together "Parleyings with Poets,"—or something to that purpose—a little volume still in manuscript. Among others, a parley between Lanier and Walt Whitman. Would W. care to look at this? I thought, yes; so they will see that he gets it. Miss Porter asked, "Would he like or care to see us?" To my, "Yes, if in fair condition," she replied, "Suppose we make the parley the excuse of a trip over—yes, take it to him ourselves?" I liked that, but I cautioned her, "Should you get there at an unfortunate hour, you must not feel hurt if he does not see you." She gave me in some detail account of a talk with Stedman. As to "Lowell-Whitman: A Contrast" she assured me, "We thought it very good, though this is a blunt way to say it. And at all events it is the piece of the number—it is much noticed: we find that readers pick it out." She seemed proud of their title-page of the last year with its escutcheoned Whitmanism. "That," she said, opening a copy at W.'s poem, "that contains all that can be said on the subject." I advised her to get Kennedy and Burroughs to write for Poet-Lore—even promised to intercede for her and to arrange a visit from Burroughs when he came down. They tire of the snobbishness of Philadelphia—so she says—and believe they can prosper better in Boston. So the talk, running into a miscellany on art and literature, with W. for thread of gold. She differed with Stedman's view of my paper. "You never would know Lowell better," she said. "You give him more than he deserves."


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     Thence to Camden. Had written Burroughs, "come down," inviting him to stay with me.

     6:40 P.M. My evening's talk with W. I learned he had spent a quiet day, having little to say to anything except when questioned. Greeted me with warm manner but cold hand. "It's a poor look-out," he said, "poor—poor. I have spent a decent quiet day, but that's about all that is to be said. The hours drag wearily through. I have practically done nothing—just glimpsed the papers a bit—nothing more." And had there been any sign of strength? "Not a suspicion—nothing, nothing." Sat down on side of the bed, took his hand. Read him Burroughs' letter, after going across the room and turning up the light. The long sentence, "I shall aim to show what Walt's working ideas are," he had me read a second time. "How subtle and profound that is! That ought to go in just as it is—not a word left out or changed to weaken it. Tell John for me." And the next sentence, "I want to show that he does not speak as a man, but as Man," likewise arrested him, and that I had to read again, W. at the end saying, "John still holds the reins—still commands—still strikes a strong note. I am glad to know it. That which you have just read to me is very subtle, very penetrating—it knifes itself deep, deep, deep." And I put in, "Undoes the knot?" And he, with a smile, "Helps to—helps grandly."

     In writing Kennedy today I repeated what W. had said about Baxter. W. now assured me, "I am glad you did. I want to hear about Sylvester: he is one of our genuine friends—concrete, full of detail, knows affairs." "Yet with an eye upward?" I asked. "Yes, just that: a bright, subtle American, wholesome for America, democracy," and "Yes, send a book to Baxter when you learn, if you learn, he is still on the Herald."

     He received the Poet-Lore volume sweetly. "Put it on the table. I will look at it tomorrow—and in the meantime, anyhow, thank them for it: say I am here in my bed, helpless, but with the best heart for them and all others of our circle." Would he have the "Parleyings"? "Gladly—if they bring them—I shall

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be glad to see them."
Telling him what they said of my article: "I don't wonder, I doubt if anybody would pass it by: it has an unmistakable flavor—a prompt call, whatever the ear—and after all, the world is pretty wide awake to its best concerns." Herald column referred to by Kennedy only reprint of recent Sunday article in Press. "I looked at the Review of Reviews today—looked at that page—but I made no effort to read anything. Stead seems well disposed our way," and with a laugh, "and we ought to encourage that." Morris met Brinton last night, B. saying to him, "When I saw Whitman, I told him I expected to see him at the head of the table again next 31st May, but I don't."

     Just then across in the south-western sky tonight Venus crossing Jupiter: the two beauteous stars now nearly together—the night luminous and cold—everything propitious. I had watched the approach from the boat and the shore. W. said to my description, "How glorious! I can feel it all. I can almost dare to be carried out to see it." And again, "How rare—how rare—how rare! Celestial! Celestial!" In taking his hand I had excused its cold, but W. responded, "Never mind—it does not shock me—I like it: it is fresh air, life, power!"

     Read W. a great part of this, from Athenaeum: The news of Walt Whitman received by post as we went to press was of the gloomiest. Although he has thrown off the bronchial distress which was the first indication of his serious condition, he remained up to the 4th inst. in a state of singular weakness and prostration, which left his friends no room for hoping that he was not upon his death-bed. He is watched day and night by nurses who never quit him together; and his young friend Mr. Horace Traubel is in constant attendance at the house in Mickle Street, Camden, New Jersey. Mr. Whitman's magnificent constitution is at length giving way. One of the most significant symptoms is that the poet, who has taken for years the keenest interest in his large correspondence, no longer even asks what letters have arrived, and frankly avows that he would now gladly "shake off this burden," and go to his rest.



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He remarked, "That is authentic—that is as good as need be. I suppose the report is about a month old—and it was in its time essentially true. It sounds authoritative, too. I guess some of our own fellows there must have sent it." He called Warrie to turn him over. Warrie not there—Mrs. Keller answered. She took off the mustard plaster which had been applied to his side. Did it help him? "That is what we wait to see," and he complained of "the exquisite sorification of that side."

     When I departed and he said "good-bye," I protested, "Is it good-bye?" to which he responded, "So long then—let that be the word!"

     10:38 P.M. W. calls for Warrie, who goes in.

     Warrie: "Want to be turned?"

     W.: "I am feeling very uncomfortable."

     Warrie: "If it wasn't for being easier days than nights, it would be rough altogether, wouldn't it Mr. Whitman?"

     W.: "Yes indeed, Warrie."

     Warrie: "How does the side feel?"

     W.: "It's horrible—horrible."

     Warrie: "Do you think the mustard plaster does any good?"

     W.: "Yes, yes, it takes off the edge. Warrie, give me a little ice in the mug, or is there some in?"

     Warrie: "Here we are. How does the strength feel?"

     W.: "Nothing more."

     Warrie: "Don't you think the brandy helps build it up?"

     W.: "Well, I don't know—hope—"

     Warrie: "It don't have the effect to make you boozy?"

     W.: "No, I'm not."

     Warrie: "Which do you like better—brandy or champagne?"

     W.: "Brandy."

     Warrie: "I guess the brandy's the oldest. Feel warm enough?"

     W.: "What, Warrie?"

     Warrie: "Feel warm enough?"

     W.: "Yes, keep up a good fire, though."

     Warrie then brushed up the fire a bit, put down the light and came out. W.'s voice not strong.


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