Skip to main content

Monday, June 25, 1888.

Monday, June 25, 1888.

In at 7.45. W. sitting on bed, scantily dressed. [See indexical note p378.3] Rose on my entrance, and went, with my assistance, to the chair. Seems to grow daily less steady on his feet. He has not been dressed for two days, feeling rather too feeble and rather too hot. For the first time since his sickness he permitted me to fix the windows and light the gas. Threw himself back in his chair and fanned himself. "Mrs. Davis tells me you have been better today." He shook his head. [See indexical note p378.4] "Mary takes too much for granted: I am always improved in the evenings. Then again I don't like to put on a poor mouth when she's round—so when she comes in I am apt to steady up and look almost proper." He paused and then asked me a question. "Have you heard of my latest splurge? No? Well—listen: I pulled a tooth today! The next thing you will hear I have amputated one of my own legs!" No letters of importance. Day depressing.

[See indexical note p379.1] "So it is to be Harrison!" W. exclaimed referring to the Presidential nomination: "I don't think I take much interest in Harrison either as a man or as a principle. I am losing interest in the old political policies." Referring to November Boughs. "The Hicks is simple disjecta membra: a pretty good dig which will make about thirty pages in the book, which I think now will go as high as a hundred and fifteen pages. I am sure to get the Lincoln article in, too. The fact is, I am on the move again, in spite of my disabilities." W. actually let me look for half an hour among his papers for a memorandum. As a rule he does this himself. [See indexical note p379.2] He suddenly looked about him, took up a bundle of papers, and, finally handing me a reprint slip of his Five Thousand Poems, said: "I thought you would like that for your records"—then going on to fan himself again. I had pushed several documents out of the pile I was examining. We talked of them. One was a William Rossetti letter. First he said: "Let me see it." He put on his glasses and started to read. Stopped. "My eyes are poorly. It's so hot. You read it—read it for yourself—read it aloud." I read.

56 Euston Sq. London, N.W. 9 Jany. '70. Dear Mr. Whitman:

[See indexical note p379.3] I was exceedingly pleased at receiving your recent letter, and the photograph wh. followed it immediately afterwards. [See indexical note p379.4] I admire the photograph very much; rather grudge its having the hat on, and so cutting one out of the full portraiture of your face, but have little doubt, allowing for this detail, it brings me very near your external aspect. May I be allowed to send you, as a very meagre requital, the enclosed likeness of myself?

I gave your letter, and the second copy of your portrait, to the lady you refer to, and need scarcely say how truly delighted she was. [See indexical note p380.1] She has asked me to say that you cd not have devised for her a more welcome pleasure, and that she feels grateful to me for having sent to America the extracts from what she had written, since they have been a satisfaction to you. She also begs leave, with much deference, to offer a practical suggestion:—that if you see no reason against it, the new edition might be issued in 2 vols, lettered, not vols. 1 and 2, but 1st series and 2nd series, so that they cd be priced and sold separately when so desired. [See indexical note p380.2] She adds: "This simple expedient wd, I think, overcome a serious difficulty. Those who are not able to receive aright all Mr. Whitman has written might, to their own infinite gain, have what they can receive, and grow by means of that food and be capable of the whole perhaps; while he wd stand as unflinchingly as hitherto by what he has written. I know I am glad that your selections were put into my hands first, so that I was lifted up by them to stand firm on higher ground than I had ever stood on before, and furnished with a golden key before approaching the rest of the poems." She also, as a hearty admirer of your original Preface, hopes that that may reappear—either whole or such portions as have not since been used in other forms.

[See indexical note p380.3] I know, by a letter from O'Connor, that, since you wrote, you have seen the further observations of this lady wh. I sent over in Novr. I replied to O'Connor the other day; also, still more recently, took the liberty of posting to you a little essay of mine, written for one of our literary societies, on Italian Courtesy-books of the Middle Ages. Some of the extracts I have translated in it may, I hope, be found not without their charm and value. [See indexical note p380.4] I wrote to Conway giving him your cordial message: probably you know that he was not long ago in Russia. Also I heard the other day from a man I am much attracted to, Stillman, of his having re-encountered you in Washington. [See indexical note p381.1] As he told you, there is a chance—not as yet more than a chance—that I may make my way over the Atlantic for a glimpse of America in the summer. If so, how great a delight it will be to me to see and know you need not, I hope, be stated in words.

Perhaps before that I shall have received here the new edition you refer to—another deep draught of satisfaction.

I cd run on a great deal further on these and other topics; but shd have to come to a close at last somewhere and may perhaps as well do so now.

Yours in reverence and love, W. M. Rossetti.

[See indexical note p381.2] When I had finished W. said: "The mysterious lady is Mrs. Gilchrist. She, too, like Sloane Kennedy (we talked of him yesterday), shied at the Children of Adam poems at the start. Sex is a red rag to most people. It takes some time to get accustomed to me, but if the folks will only persevere they will finally feel right comfortable in my presence. Children of Adam—the poems—are very innocent: they will not shake down a house. [See indexical note p381.3] A man was here the other day who asked me: 'Don't you feel rather sorry on the whole that you wrote the sex poems?' I answered him by asking another question: 'Don't you feel rather sorry on the whole that I am Walt Whitman?' I never met Rossetti—he did not get over after all."

[See indexical note p381.4] There was another document I upset with the Rossetti letter. W. asked me to tell him what it was. Four pages of manuscript in his own hand indorsed in this way: "Part of Wm. O'Connor's letter to Conway, Nov. 10, 1867—good for use in review of Leaves of Grass." As this letter was originally written and all studied over and fixed up in W.'s own hand I asked him to tell me about it. He did not remember clearly whether O'C. had used it or not. "I must have been intending to assist him in something he was to say to Conway. If he used it at all he probably recast it in his own manner." W. added that I "might take it along if" I chose. I did choose.

[See indexical note p382.1] W. had forgotten about the will today. "I did nothing but wander from my bed to the chair and back again—nothing but that: it was all a great weariness. I am not losing ground but I do seem almost to stand still." Is thinner. Eats little. Digestion generally good. Pulse strong. Looks uncomfortable—ill at ease—is very lethargic—quiet. [See indexical note p382.2] Says his head is "gummy—sticky." Dr. Osler was not over today, W. objecting to having him come. Did no writing. Expresses no desire to leave his room or get out doors. Warren exercised his horse today. Baker says he and Mrs. Davis never say anything more to W. than they have to. [See indexical note p382.3] B. says: "You are about the only one he talks to at all freely." W. gave me half a dozen names of people he wished me to write to about his health. "I am unable to do it myself: my pen can't go even on crutches." [See indexical note p382.4] Recalling the Kennedy letter we discussed yesterday W. laughingly said: "Sloane is in general very techy—he flies off at the first touch: has a womanish excess of nerves: but below all that he is a loyal guardsman." I took the Whitman-O'Connor manuscript along with me to read at home, W. said: "I won't need it again—keep it in a safe place."

Back to top