Skip to main content

Friday, June 22, 1888.

Friday, June 22, 1888.

[See indexical note p365.3] To W.'s at 7.45, evening. W. lying down. Rose on my entrance. Today I got from Ferguson revised proofs reaching to page fifty-six. These I gave to W. I suggested the removal of the small notes he sent in yesterday for blank pages forty-six and fifty-four. He listened amiably to my argument and said: "You make me think seriously of dropping the extra matter altogether." I objected. He continued: "Well—perhaps I won't do that, but I am inclined to think it is not suitable for use that way." Spoke with renewed regret of the Hicks—of his inability to touch it. "I am subject to a new development of my trouble—a new phase—seen the last few days—what is it I do not know—shall not until I have seen more if it". I asked him what he meant. [See indexical note p366.1] He described it as "a strange, soggy, wet, sticky ineligibility as of tar, falling down over me each morning for three or four hours, putting me into a state of almost death—like impotency—though I am always aware of things all the time just the same." I referred this to Baker, who said it was an important fact for Osler to know, W. being so exceedingly reticent with both of them.

[See indexical note p366.2] Yesterday W. wrote this on the margin of one of the proofs: "To proof reader—My dear sir, I shall mainly have to depend on you—shall mainly have to rely on your judgment and the copy—I find my brain has no grip on the copy and proof—I have done the best I can—my head is sick and weak—after the corrections and renewed pagination (45 to 55) with the added matter &c. I w'd like revised proof (complete set)—will send it back at noon (if Mr. Traubel will come over and get it)." [See indexical note p366.3] W. said of this to me: "It's just about so—you and the proof-reader will have to do the work—I don't seem to be worth the work—I don't seem to be worth my weight in feathers."

[See indexical note p366.4] Had he any mail today? "I have no mail today except an autograph mail—an autograph mail, yes, and that I get every day. They all write me—hundreds write—strangers—they all beg autographs—tell funny tales about it, give funny reasons (some of them are pitiful—some of them are almost piteous)—I practically never answer them anymore. It takes about all the strength I have nowadays to keep the flies off. I make what use I can of the return stamps and let the rest of the matter go."

[See indexical note p366.5] W. has all along been curious about the convention, speaking of it among first things this evening. "Who is the man? or likely to be? or best to be? Blaine? Well, after all, perhaps that's the best thing they can do. And there's the inevitable protection platform, too: inevitable. [See indexical note p367.1] When I hear those politicians making such noisy thunder about their American protection—on the platform, in speeches, in editorial platitudes—I think of Carlyle—of his brave, contemptuous smile—yes I see Carlyle—thrown back in his chair—so, so—and having his hell of a laugh!" He was silent for a minute and then added: "It all seems so stale—so stale: these conventions are dead, stone dead: they never realize their age and its lessons—their age and its demands—the cry to them to get out of the ditch, up into the road, and push on, on, on, with a new impulse of life. [See indexical note p367.2] The real questions waiting to be studied, threshed out, these fellows never suspect."

[See indexical note p367.3] Eakins was over today. W. could not see him. "I told Mary to tell him my head was too sore. You can imagine how I must have felt at the time to refuse to see Eakins. He is always welcome—always: except. Today it was except." In reply to a question W. said: "I have lots of pictures of myself about here—I want you to take any of them any time that you choose. [See indexical note p367.4] I am not afraid that you will wish many—not afraid—but two or three you must take as a special gift from me. I have been photographed, photographed, photographed, until the cameras themselves are tired of me."

Reference being again made to his own condition he submitted this notable statement: "I suppose I should have been free of all this today—free at least in part—if in those last years 63-4-5 I had gone off to a place of safety, avoided the hospitals—kept away from them—taken special care of my own person: but here I am, sick, nearly gone, and I do not regret what I did. [See indexical note p367.5] That was no time for doubt—no time for questions—no time to think about either staying or running away: there was but one thing to do, one part to accept, one way of duty: only one: I never have ac- knowledged that I could have done what I did not do: and you know, Horace, you know, I have nothing to regret in all that—nothing—all was as it should have been—all was right, all: and here I am today: dying here today I have nothing to regret! [See indexical note p368.1] Doctor Drinkard used to say: 'Whitman, you could have saved yourself this!' Yes, so I could. But if I had saved myself this I would have lost myself something infinitely more precious."

[See indexical note p368.2] Reminded of an old affair by the draft of a letter W. to Robert Buchanan (1876) which we turned up on the table while looking for something else, W. said to me: "There was a great rattling of dry bones over there and here that time about my poverty—whether I was starving to death or wasn't—whether the Americans deserted me or didn't desert me: Conway particularly seemed to take it particularly hard that America should be supposed to have neglected me. [See indexical note p368.3] It was during that period that I wrote Buchanan several letters—this is one of them—in which I tried to calm the waters even while frankly confessing my financial disabilities. [See indexical note p368.4] But you will see for yourself what I mean: you have other documents relating to the same incident. [See indexical note p368.5] I think a little blood was spilled but no one was really hurt. If a man sells goods—well, selling them seems all right: but if he sells poems, selling is degrading, wrong. [See indexical note p368.6] When I confessed to those Englishmen that I had written and written and no one—or almost no one—here wanted what I wrote—said so honestly to the few on the other side who did care a little for me—accepted their help here and there, when I needed it (I often gave help where help was needed) I was regarded as a beggar, charged with misrepresenting America, and so on, and so on. [See indexical note p368.7] What I said was true, true, every word of it. I didn't blame America for not wanting me—I only remarked it. Maybe it was America that was right and England that was wrong: I do not know. But you will read the Buchanan letter—now I am tired: let's say good-night." He took my hand. "You are sensitive—I know you well, well, so you must believe me when I say that my good-night is not a dismissal—it is only good-night! A good-night and a God bless you!" [See indexical note p369.1] He kissed me. I did not read the letter until I got home. W. certainly was very clear tonight. Speech very slow, hard, but straight—noway confused. Baker says he is rather mixed up when he first comes out of his sleep in the morning but that he seems afterwards rational enough however physically depressed.

[See indexical note p369.2] The Buchanan letter is in a very decrepit condition—written on sheets of very thin and now attenuated paper of irregular sizes and texture and color pinned together. It is dated May 16, 1876, and starts off with this memorandum: "(must have gone 17th by Scotia from N.Y.")

[See indexical note p369.3] "Your two letters including the cheque for £25 reached me, for which accept deepest thanks. I have already written you my approval of your three communications in L. D. News and saying that in my opinion (and now with fullest deliberation reaffirming it) all the points assumed as facts on which your letter of March 13 is grounded are substantially true and most of them are true to the minutest particular as far as could be stated in a one column letter.

"Then let me quite definitely explain myself about one or two things. [See indexical note p369.4] I should not have instigated this English move, and if I had been consulted should have peremptorily stopped it—but now that it has started and grown, and under the circumstances, and by the person, and in the spirit, (and especially as I can and will give, to each generous donor, my book, portrait, autograph, myself as it were) I am determined to respond to it in the same spirit in which it has risen—to accept most thankfully, cordially and unhesitatingly all that my friends feel to convey to me, which de- termination I here deliberately express once for all. This you are at liberty to make known to all who feel any interest in the matter.

[See indexical note p370.1] "The situation at present may be briefly and candidly told. I am, and have for three years during my paralysis, been boarding here with a relative, comfortable and nice enough, but steadily paying just the same as at an inn,—and the whole affair in precisely the same business spirit. My means would by this time have entirely given out but that have been temporarily replenished from sales of my new edition and as now by this most welcome present and purchase—the £25 herein acknowledged.

"Though without employment, means or income you augur truly that I am not in what may be called pinching want—nor do I anticipate it.

[See indexical note p370.2] "My object I may say farther has lately been and still is to build a cheap little three or four room house on a little lot I own in a rural skirt of this town—for a nook, where I can haul in and eke out in a sort of independent economy and comfort and as satisfactorily as may be the rest of my years—for I may live several of them yet.—To attain this would be quite a triumph, and I feel assured I could then live very nicely indeed on the income from my books.

[See indexical note p370.3] "I shall (as I see now) continue to be my own publisher and bookseller. Accept all subscriptions to the New Edition. All will be supplied upon remittance. There are Two Volumes. Leaves of Grass, 384 pages, $5, has two portraits. Then Two Rivulets, poems and prose, (including Memoranda of the War) with photos, 359 pages—also $5. Each book has my autograph. The Two Volumes are my complete works, $10 the set.

"I wish the particular address of each generous friend given, so as he or she can be reach'd by mail or express—either with the autographic volume Two Rivulets or a com- plete set of my works in Two Volumes, with autograph and portraits, or some other of my books.

"It may be some while before the books arrive but they will arrive in time.

[See indexical note p371.1] A marked out passage in the letter was this: "There is doubtless a point of view from which Mr. Conway's statement of April 4th might hold technically—but essentially, and under the circumstances—" There was no more.

Back to top