Skip to main content

Monday, June 11, 1888.

Monday, June 11, 1888.

This is Dowden's second letter:

Temple Road, Dublin, Feb. 16, 1876. My dear Mr. Whitman,

[See indexical note p301.3] I received a few days since your last letter. It is very pleasant to me to find you liked my Shakespere book, but much more to know that you are not indifferent to me, myself, and do not think of me as a stranger.

The report of your health makes me both hopeful and anxious. I do not know whether your American summers are as health-bringing as our summers, but I should suppose they had a decided advantage over your winters in this respect (notwithstanding all John Burroughs says of Winter Sunshine) for an invalid; so it is chiefly from the summer that we shall look for an advance towards recovery.

[See indexical note p302.1] The newspaper statement of the attitude of the American public towards you is a surprise and a disappointment. We had been misled by a correspondent of The Academy, which is a paper always friendly to you, into quite a different view of things. I am waiting until next Saturday to see whether Rossetti has inserted this statement in The Academy. If he has not, I will write to him and try to get it printed there.

[See indexical note p302.2] Two friends, Professor Atkinson of Trin. Coll. Dublin, and Stoker, who writes to you, have asked me to get copies of your three volumes, L of G, Two Rivulets and Memoranda. But I do not doubt that half-a-dozen of my friends will wish to have the books, so I should be obliged if you would send a parcel containing six copies of each book—the Autograph 1876 edition. Stoker writes me to ask you to put, if you do not object, his name (Abraham Stoker) and your own in the copies for him.

[See indexical note p302.3] He has told you perhaps of a very lively debate we had at our Fortnightly Club on The Genius of Walt Whitman last Monday evening Feb 14th. A most savage, but ill-planned, attack opened the discussion. I followed with a speech which consisted in the main of apt selections from L. of G. and Democratic Vistas, and these were felt by my hearers to be a very effective answer to the previous speaker's extravagant statements. [See indexical note p302.4] Then, to my surprise and great satisfaction, followed speaker after speaker on the Whitman side—a barrister, a young clergyman, a man in business, and others, while the remaining speakers were three, one who placed you below Victor Hugo on the ground of alleged deficiency of form and beauty in your poems, one who announced that he had never read your books but was sure you could have written nothing as good as Burns' Cotter's Saturday Night, and a third recently introduced to L. of G. and who confessed to having discovered some few great poems, but much that baffled him, and that should be challenged. The result was on the whole highly satisfactory. It was the second evening occupied by you during the present season.

[See indexical note p303.1] These little skirmishes, however, are only occasional incidents in the quiet progress which as I said before I am convinced your writings are making.

I was very glad to hear of Burroughs. I still owe him a letter of thanks for his Winter Sunshine.

I enclose a draft for the equivalent of sixty dollars. Please send the parcel to me at the following address: Winstead, Temple Road, Rathmines, Dublin.

And now, dear friend, good-bye. Be sure that any tidings of you, good or the reverse of good, will always be of great concern to me, and write a line when it suits you, but at no other time.

Yours always, Edward Dowden.

P.S. If you have any Magazine articles why not try The Gentleman's Magazine if a poem, or—better—if prose, the Fortnightly Review? But have a second copy of the MS. made to avoid the risk of its being lost. [See indexical note p303.2] I strongly incline to think Morley of the Fortnightly Review would be glad to hear from you, if you have anything suitable. It also occurs to me that some arrangement might be come to with Messrs. Chatto & Windus to publish your Two Rivulets &c., and give you a royalty on copies sold. I will write to Rossetti about this.

I dropped in to see W. in the morning before going to Philadelphia. Asleep, looking better. I reached over his pillow and kissed him. [See indexical note p304.1] Baker said W. persisted in his objections to attendance, though not disagreeably so, making it clear to B. that the objection had no reference to him in particular but was general. "He seemed to be very anxious to have me understand him on that point," said Baker. The powders had acted to some extent. He was relieved. Then I went over the river and at once to Ferguson's, where I talked with Myrick, head of the composing room. [See indexical note p304.2] M. was willing to hold up things a bit until we had seen what W.'s next turn might be, whether for better or worse. Several newspaper men after me for facts. Saw Osler, who spoke of W.'s condition as "very serious but not necessarily fatal or even likely to be." Spent all the evening at 328. W. slept most of the time. Bucke there. Talked about the book. [See indexical note p304.3] Bucke said: "Go on without the old man. What else can you do?" But I objected. Said I would not. W. had seemed better all day and generally lucid, though now and then going clean off again. I saw him just for a few minutes. I said: "Bucke thinks we should go on with the proofs in your place until you come around. The printers are waiting. But I object. Myrick says he can delay a day or two. I told Bucke you would object, too." [See indexical note p304.4] "I do object, Horace. Let them wait. If this business passes off we can make up for lost time." I had no other talk with him. Even this was dragged out. Utterance rather full, choked. I went down stairs and told Bucke what W. had said. B. remarked: "He said the same thing to me today. If I was in your place I'd proceed without him. He may be a long time getting on his feet again." Ferguson has got all his spare long primer tied up in our job. Cannot wait many days. Still, I am going to chance some delay.

[See indexical note p304.5] Few visitors today. Talcott Williams was over. Some reporters. Donaldson came to consult with Bucke about a nurse circular but missed Bucke. Harned of course around off and on. Bucke is to go home tomorrow evening. Ar- ranged to meet me at the Broad Street station at 6.30. Will not go if W. gets worse or will come back at once after going if events seem to warrant our call. [See indexical note p305.1] Bucke said: "Osler thinks, as I think, that the old man is on tenter-hooks. A little something either way may kill or cure him." The three of us talked over the possibility of Walt's death. What should we do? We felt that no minister should officiate at his funeral. [See indexical note p305.2] [See indexical note p305.3] Bucke suggested that Ingersoll should be asked to say a few informal words. "Ingersoll in one of his affirmative moods," I suggested. Bucke replied: "That's just it. And no man but a man who was Walt's friend would have a right to be present and speak." [See indexical note p305.4] W. had himself said to me: "Most formal funerals are insults: they belittle the dead. If anything should be honest a funeral should be honest." Harned added: "That's the only position possible for us to take. If we have Ingersoll—or whoever we have—to speak it will not be because of his views but because he was one of the old man's associates in life."

[See indexical note p305.5] We went up stairs and Bucke made an effort to get W. to say something on the subject of a will. Baker was present. But little could be got from W. He did not seem mixed. He seemed to understand what was wanted—twice said "Yes, yes," to Bucke's sharp questions—but showed on the whole that he did not wish to be disturbed. Bucke laughed. [See indexical note p305.6] "The old man is just as hard as ever to manage." I asked Baker how W. had spent his evening and how he promised to pass the night. "I think he is mending," said Baker: "he is less confused—he helps his nurse: he ought to show a decided improvement by morning." "How is he taking you by this time?" [See indexical note p305.7] "He is getting reconciled to me but I can see that I am the hardest dose of all." W. only said one other thing to me: "Horace, boy, hold everything just where it is. I am commencing to feel my grip coming back." Looked ghastly blue and languid, the lustre all out of his eyes, his hands very cold. I do not feel so certain myself about the grip, though I am not ready to give up. The last three or four days have been the most desperately anxious days of my life.

Back to top