Commentary

Disciples


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Wednesday, March 16, 1892

     8:20 A.M. At 328. W. had just been turned and slept—lightly however. But I did not disturb him. Complains some of pains

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when moved. Now and then will exclaim, "Oh!" and again will sigh and groan—hardly audibly and yet unmistakably. The worn face flushed. Lying mainly on his back. Seems to breathe laboredly and to be in considerable disquiet. Hands out on cover and very white. Latterly hardly ever asks for food, but when asked, assents to it. A couple of letters for him but both from strangers and concerning autographs, etc.

     Last night wrote Ingersoll, Bucke, Johnston (England), Burroughs, Brinton and others. I had a letter from Burroughs, dated 14th:
West Park
Mch 14, 92

Dear Horace:

I have thought a good deal lately about coming down to Camden, but matters here do not seem to shape themselves favorably for my getting away. I have to go to Delaware Co. soon too, don't know how soon. I hope I shall hear from you that W. is no worse at least. May be the coming of Spring will revive him. I trust you will give him the assurance of my love & solicitude for his health, that he may pull up again.

I have at last finished what I was writing about him. It took quite a different turn from what I at one time indicated to you. I have two articles of 5000 words each discussing his poems from different points of view. The N.A. Review has signified its willingness to look at one of them—may not take it. Don't know what I shall do with the other. I hope you & your wife keep well. My love to her. It is curious you do not hear from Mrs. O'Connor.

Very truly yours

John Burroughs


Likewise note from Bucke (13th). Letter from Wallace, March 4th, sweet and helpful. Hoped yesterday to be able to read a part of it to W., but it seemed out of the question. Perhaps today. W. himself yesterday called my attention to a letter he had from Smith College (March 8th). It reflects curiously on his past. He was rather moved, but would not pronounce it as a question of fact.


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     Added to telegram to W. yesterday Ingersoll sent me the following note:
Law Office, Robert G. Ingersoll
45 Wall Street, New York
Mch 15, 1892

My dear Traubel,

A thousand thanks for your letters about Whitman. His condition is such that one can hardly hope for any recovery, and under such circumstances hardly dares to dread the approach of death. At the same time, I cannot help hoping that recovery is possible.

Give him my love again and again.

Yours always,

R. G. Ingersoll.


6:15 P.M. W. in unchanged condition. Passed a day of unbroken monotony—the two turns an hour invariable. Longaker over—McAlister not in. W. has eaten little—hardly eats at all—rarely making any suggestions in that direction. Even the brandy is disused for cold water, which he often calls for. Moaned a good deal this forenoon from suffering—the laying on left side growing very painful. So they put the rubber ring under him and he has since been somewhat eased. Certainly has had no occasion to moan and has in fact confessed that he felt better. No improvement. Expressed no wish for paper or mail. Two letters, arrived forenoon, unopened: I opening them now, finding one an application for an autograph and another a labored description of some public movement in the West to have the pansy made our national flower and emblem and substituted for the stars in the flag. But this afternoon, when a letter arrived from his sister, he wished to hear and listened as Mrs. Davis read it. Longaker had come and gone without word with the others further than to say W. was no better. W. is pitiably helpless—for instance, is always fed—cannot wield knife and fork and even tires using his fingers, as I have seen him do, the nurse (one or the other, often Mrs. Keller) holding the tray. Still realizes the same right-side difficulties and the same suffering in the left leg,

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which, whenever he lies left, is put out of the bed. He was not asleep on my entrance—his eyes wide open, facing the light. Instead of usual exclamations he only said, "Day." After shaking hands I said, getting at once to business, "I have had a letter from Burroughs."

      "With you?"

      "Yes," opening my pocket and producing it.

      "Read."

      "You are not too tired?"

      "No, read." Which I did promptly.

      "Good John!" he exclaimed at the expression of love and hope. When I had got to the end, "Do you know more?"

      "About what?"

      "The pieces."

      "O no! But I am quite sure they will be important."

      "So am I—yes, yes." After a pause he asked, "Arthur?"

      "No answer yet—I sort of expect an answer today, here."

      "We will wait."

      "We must. But he will do his best."

      "Yes, surely!"

     I quoted Ingersoll's warm wishes.

      "Noble fellow! Always with the right word and time to fit!" And after a pause, in which I said nothing, he inquired, "News?" And further, a few minutes later, "How is the weather?"

      "The snow is nearly all gone."

      "So soon?"

      "We touch the spring—the sun is warm!"

      "The spring! Who would have predicted it?"

     I looked at him—his eyes were closed—the face had the hue of death. Who would have predicted it? That he would live to the spring?

     His breath came and went laboredly—now and then seemed as if suspended. Finally he opened his eyes again, but said nothing. Then I asked, "You wish Dave to use a thinner paper in the new edition of 'Leaves'?"

      "Yes, that is my idea, but I leave the final decision to him."


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      "You think the book too much in bulk?"

      "A shade or two—it could be shaved down a little."

      "I am to tell him that?"

      "Yes, say it is my wish—wish, not order: I acknowledge his privilege."

      "I am afraid we are too late for Webster."

      "I too. But there's no worse thing can happen than failure, which we are not afraid of."

     Several times he only answered me in looks and nods. It was easy to see his exhaustion and determination to spare all the words possible. Finally I rose to go—dropping his hand on the coverlet—kissing him.

      "If I hear from Arthur, I will let you know at once."

      "Do—yes, do."

     Very tender, his tone, broken as it was, as he said, "Good night!" to my "Good night."

     I was hardly back in next room till he rang and was turned to the right. Then the old program—great coughing and choking for about three minutes—another ring at the bell—a shift back to the left. Often in turning him right they will themselves say, "I will be in again in a few minutes to make another change," and he will respond, "I shall expect you," or "Yes," simply—and always welcomes it when they come. Has better color tonight. Hands, however, cold and general decrepitude visible.

     Picked up big envelope off floor marked in blue pencil "Columbus." Thought it additions to the Columbus poem of which he long ago gave me manuscript. He offered no objection to my having it.

     11:47 P.M. Back from Philadelphia. Same program continued. Very restless. Warrie evidently had not improved his day and was himself sleepy. Light in W.'s room as I approached the house. Heard him cough violently. When Warrie opened the door I said, "He has been turned right?" "Yes, how did you know?" "The cough: I heard it from the street." Then said, "We are having a devil of a time again: he is being turned and turned." Back then into the room. Why didn't he put down the

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light? "The old man is contrary—he says he is not ready to have the urinal on the bed." But in a minute he was ready and Warrie put down the light. "I won't be there very long," he said. Nor was he. Warrie had scarcely rejoined me when the bell rang again, Warrie hastening in. "Do you wish to go back?" No answer at all. So Warrie went on with the work. "Any water?" "Eh!" uttered in a tone which we knew to mean "yes." Warrie went out and downstairs—chopped up some ice—brought him his mug, replenished, from which he drank eagerly. For the present asks no more for brandy. We are also on Ingersoll's last bottle of champagne. I wrote Ingersoll yesterday: "We are nearly all out—use your own judgment about sending more."

     Found my letter from Arthur Stedman awaiting me. It had arrived several hours before, Warrie telling W. and asking him, "Do you want to see Horace tonight about it?" And he answering, "No, not tonight, but perhaps he will leave it, or tell you what it contains." Which, however, I did not do. I needed rather to talk it over with him.


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