Commentary

Disciples


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Monday, March 21, 1892

     Very bad night for W. More turnings. Less food. Some moaning and outward expression of pain. Lay easily at this hour (8:20) with a slight flush on either cheek.

     Bucke's letters of 18th and 19th arrived, and a letter from Wallace dated the 11th:
Anderton near Chorley
Lancashire, England
11 March 1892

My dear Traubel,

This morning's post brought me from J. your two letters of Feb 29th & March 1st, with an enclosure in the former from Anne. I myself recd. one from her last night which I have partly replied to.


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But the chief item in this last mail is your copy of Longaker's memm. & Bucke's comment on same. After the partial hope roused by your last previous letter it is doubly painful to ascertain the true nature of the case. Of course I cannot venture to give my opinion on the matter. But, with all due reservations, I confess to believing that the Doctors are right, & I unhesitatingly accept their judgement in all its main features.

It is a very terrible prospect. It is heartbreaking to look forward to the probable future: Walt lingering on & on in slowly deepening pain & exhaustion—slow torture—the slowest imaginable—till every minutest spark of vitality & strength passes gradually away, till the last embers are consumed, & the flame of life almost imperceptibly goes out.

It is very terrible—but it has got to be accepted! And whatever passionate protest may naturally & instinctively rise from our hearts, we must learn to accept it in Walt's own spirit of faith & trust.

I scarcely know how to write to you. What can I say? My eyes grow moist as I realize the sad, sad situation. Dear brother, dear friend, I send you my love—& that is all.

But there is one duty which I must discharge, & which I feel more incumbent upon me than ever. And that is to warn you once more, gravely, solemnly, & lovingly, to take care of yourself.

Dear Horace, I want to come very near you, & I want my words to have effect upon you. Do you not see what serious issues are at stake?

I know your gallant & heroic spirit. I admire, as well as wonder at, your marvellous energy, industry & devotion. "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre!"

You know as no one else can, the terrible strain & toil of the last 3 months. Do you really think that you are equal to six months more of a more terrible strain still—hopeless, hopeless—till the last grim climax of the tragedy? I know your health & strength. Rightly rejoicing in it, you are in greater danger of seriously injuring it—with disastrous results to your whole future life, & all that depends on it—than you are aware.

Do you doubt the truth of my words? How can you? You, who have for so many long years had a living object lesson of this truth in Walt himself!

Do I need to remind you that Walt once thought that he too was invulnerable? In a great national crisis he did a stupendous & heroic

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work. But what has been the result? You know what his condition has been for 20 years & in its final stage now.


The fact is that great excitement & exaltation of mind calls into action all the forces of nature & of energy, which ordinarily are kept in reserve, & which in ordinary cases of exhaustion soon bring about the recuperation of the patient. But when the reserves are exhausted, then indeed bankruptcy! —then indeed the quick descent to hell, from which it is a heavy task & long toilsome labour to return to the sweet airs & sunshine of healthy life.

Dear Horace, I speak from experience. May Heaven in mercy preserve you from a similar one!

I repeat that the danger lies in your unconsciousness of it—in the fatal idea that additional powers are given to meet special emergencies. Additional powers are not given in the least degree. Powers which should be kept in reserve may be summoned out, & by their help it happens sometimes that victory is won. But if the reserves too are outnumbered—if the Imperial Guard itself is shattered or insidiously betrayed to ruin—then not only is that one battle lost, but all future campaigns are forever prevented.

And no man—not the wisest—can tell in the heat of action where the limits are which it is ruin to exceed. Have you never discovered this in minor matters? I have, scores of times.

Think of your future—your developing powers—the rich future—blessed & blessing—that is yours—think of Walt's own future influence & its inextricable dependence to a large extent on you—think of Anne, your best beloved, your wife, & her absolute dependence on you, on your health & strength & happiness.

Do not be offended by my insistence—nor impatient at it. I won't say much on this subject again. But now—when our eyes are opened to the real facts of Walt's condition & we realize the issues—the long, long wasting & deepening gloom—it would be criminal in us not to speak.

Yours now the responsibility of action. May heaven guide you to wisdom, my dear friend, my comrade indeed, my brother beloved. God bless you.

I scribble hastily—when in some respects I ought to write but briefly. Forgive the defects of my letter.

Its practical conclusion is that I think you should immediately reduce your correspondence to its narrowest possible limits (including of

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course your letters to us) that you should seek relief altogether (if practicable) from your work for the Ethical Society & The Conservator. (Surely something may be arranged for 6 months to come)—that you should attend no labour meetings that can be avoided—& that you limit yourself as rigidly as possible to your attendance on Walt & fulfilling his wishes. Of course I know that you cannot do all this. But you should certainly do so as far as possible.


(Exit Mentor—sorrowfully shaking his head & sighing.)

Johnston is reading a paper (quite a long one—he told me it would take him 2 hours!) on W.W. to the Bolton Literary Society tonight. The Society was formed last winter (after a course of lectures by Hutton on Browning) as a Browning Society. It was decided at the close of the session to drop the name & call it a Literary Society & admit other subjects. Hutton is president & Johnston was asked 6 months or so ago for a paper on W.W. which he agreed to give.

So he has gradually prepared it in his leisure hours. He lent me the MSS the other week & I thought it pretty good for its purpose. I am sorry that I can't attend. However J. will write to you tomorrow & will tell you all about it.

But I must stop. I feel reluctant to leave what is the only medium between us. When this paper comes to your hands if only it could convey the tender sympathy & loving solicitude I feel about you! Good night dear friend. May all good influences be with you to help & guide & cheer you on your path. Cherish your wife—let her loving care for you have full free play. And for her sake keep yourself strong in body & soul.

God bless you,

Your loving friend

Wallace

PS Don't answer this. And don't write any more nonsense about your "neglect" of us. Oh, how ridiculous it is of you! But don't neglect any counsel. Love to you, & love's kiss!


McKay sent advertising page down to me. I added advertisement of pocket edition and mailed it special to Arthur Stedman asking him for proof to show W. Longaker meets McAlister today. Called at Levick's and looked at samples of water-bed, deciding finally to refer all to Longaker.


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     6:18 P.M. W. just being turned to left and I went quickly in, he seeing and instantly calling my name—Mrs. Davis retiring. I sat on edge of the bed and we talked for full 20 minutes. When I asked him, "How have you passed today?" he answered, "It has been a dreadful day: I suffer all the time. I have no relief, no escape—it is monotony, monotony, monotony—in pain!" Yet not uttered complainingly at all. Coughed violently, choking a good deal, and the constant rattling of mucus in the throat. His words throughout our talk uttered feebly—brokenly—but the sentences and thought coherent and clear as 20 years gone. Hand cold—forehead warm. He pressed my hand again and again while I stayed.

     I read him Rossetti's letter. He called it "very remarkable—very sweet, too," and then added, "I am happy to know he got the book." "They are all acknowledged now." "So? And you sent Joe Gilder's?" "Long ago." "No, I meant the copy for Roger Riordon." "Oh! That was mailed yesterday." "Good, good!" And I read him also Kennedy's letter. He felt moved to hear this, too. "The good Baxter, too." And then, "Rossetti has been a long and faithful friend, has been loyal from the first. And he says he has read the entire book through once more? It is a tribute—a good deal. Things seem to have taken a turn for us, eh? Horace? Do you think?" And after a pause, "Any more letters?" At which I read him William Clarke's, sent by Johnston. "Who is he?" —when I was done. "I don't quite remember him." And yet at the close, "I remember the printers—that was a famous time we had. But Clarke? No, no. You say he is an able fellow? I suppose, I suppose. England is sending up these days some as good specimens—young men, firm, big, royal in everything—as ever stalked into history. We have known more than a few, and there must be many more than we knoW." Several times choking painfully and some of his words only whispered. What of Nellie O'Connor? "There's a color of mystery about her silence, Horace. You say you haven't heard from her in eight weeks?" And he advised, "Write—write until you hear."


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     Miss Porter wished to print the Whitman-Ingersoll letters. Should I let her? "Yes, if you wish, do it. But if you do, get me a proof—let me see how they show up in the type." "But you don't make a point of having them printed just now?" "O no! I leave the when in your hands." Then I asked, "What do you think of another piece from me on Whitman-Lowell?" "Do you mean it?" "They will print it. Miss Porter has so written me." He was silent a bit. "Do you have any real intentions?"—ending in that curious way. "Yes, some. Do you see any reason against it?" "None at all. On the contrary I can see reasons why you might wish to go on—yes, in several directions." "I am glad." "But keep the reins in your hands! Though I need hardly warn you that." I was silent, looking out the northern window in deep thought. Suddenly his voice rose, quite firm and easy again for a minute at the start, then lapsing into the disastrous struggle now becoming his norm. "Horace," he said—and his voice stirred me by a something mandatory in his tone, "Horace, if I wrote anything more, I would compare Tennyson, Whittier and me, dwelling quite a bit on the three ways we each have treated the death subject: Tennyson in 'Crossing the Bar,' Whittier in 'Driftwood'—both ecclesiastical, theoretical—and my 'Good-Bye, My Fancy'—based, absorbed in, the natural. That that I've just said is quite a significant"—here he broke off from vain effort to say more. I had whipped a pencil out of my pocket and written as he spoke, he seeing me and nodding assent. I commented, "That is perfect in itself: one needs hardly to say more: people may find the rest for themselves." He first responded, "True, true—perhaps," and then, "But it will bear saying in full: it tells the whole story of 'Leaves of Grass.'" I saw him getting very weak. "The girls have gone to Boston. I will write them." "Yes, give them my love." "And now, good night, Walt—you are wearied out." "It is easy for me to get so: there's nothing to me anymore." And he added, "I have had several foreign letters. Warrie read them to me. But I hardly know who from. Good fellows, all!" And as he pressed my hand, he said slowly, "Good night." Mrs. Davis, in next room, said she had hardly heard W. talk. His voice very weak and full.


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     11:20 P.M. To W.'s—Mrs. Davis on watch. Warrie still asleep. No brandy since last night. "The left leg is paining me like fury," he says. "There's no relief, refuge, but in a change of position." When I referred to Longaker's hope that he could be more on right side, thus to get rid of the mucus, he said, "Does he want to kill me off at once?" Nearly suffocating as soon as turned this way. Once last night he so gasped, Warrie quickly threw him over without asking if the time had come, and then he caught his breath again—almost as if brought to life again out of death. Now, further, when right, he throws all the bedclothes down. Spends but few minutes turned this way. Often only points. Asks for nothing to eat or drink, though accepts when reminded. 11:20 was turned left and then 11:42 turned right. He slept a little while, till 11:55, then we heard him moan and Mrs. Davis went in. "Right, Mary—turn." Do not ever lower light now when and after W. is turned to the right; his summons is so inevitable and quick. In the several turnings during my stay he made no move to talk. Once or twice he only motioned for the turn.


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