Skip to main content

Thursday, December 20, 1888.

Thursday, December 20, 1888.

7.45 P. M. W. reading. Ed reported him as having one of the best days. W. quiet, looking pretty well. Few visitors to-day. George Whitman, for one. Ingram up stairs for a minute—brief visit from him. Sorely tries W.'s patience sometimes. Yet W. loves him. Very kind—generous: sends W. coffees, teas, fruits, home-made wines, &c. W. always grateful, "seeing the beautiful good heart below his peculiarities." W. had been up all day. Busy. Arranging Christmas gifts. Got Ed to draw a hundred dollars from bank, part or all of which he sent off by post-office money orders. Wanted three three-dollar gold pieces: Ed could not get them: got two fives. W. asked me to secure them in Philiadelphia if possible, "unless it should be troublesome," &c.: no other pieces would do. "I have always had a peculiar liking for three-dollar pieces: something in their shape attracts me." Had his big bulging purse in inside vest pocket: in taking it out to get the coins spilled them all over his lap and about the floor. We gathered them up. "I have threatened for a year to get a new purse and yet I seem to cling to this one, which is miserable enough." Said he wanted Kennedy to get his books for a Christmas present, "though I have had no word from him yet." Fears if nothing comes to-morrow it will be too late. Yet is "not willing to pay the postage on four or five volumes."

Walsh was in to-day. "Very bright: Thinks I am better, as, indeed, I feel I am." I asked: "Did he leave you any medicine?" "Oh no! he knew better—knew I would not take it." He had eaten well. Drinks considerable milk. When I entered he was reading the Leaves of Grass I took him last evening. He said: "I like the Annex—like the way it flows in there: found it all correct,—pagination, appearance, all." I said: "The book gets thicker: every now and then you add twenty or thirty pages to celebrate a new period passed through." He looked at me quite earnestly. "Yes—that is the way it has come to be: but there will be no more: that is the last." Woman in to-day to buy a copy of L. of G. Did not see W. nor ask for his autograph. W. wrote Bucke. Sent him the Logan Smith and McCarthy letters. "I did not write much much—a little towards evening." Picked up the McKay L. of G. Pointed out the stamping. "Our big book must be better than that"—indicating the title line, L. of G., "almost hid among the flowers in the background": "Except to those who already know it is a medley—conveys no intelligence: I never did like it: it is a New England notion: the Osgoods': they paid several dollars for it—probably thought it just the thing: to me it seems wishy-washy." I suggested the Author's Edition, 1882—stamping free, strong, characteristic. W. approved. "We should look up something like it: I want something strong, characteristic: too often heretofore we have adopted things not of my choice. It seems to me anyhow that the modern stamping on books is thoroughly devilish, horrible: I can conceive of nothing that could be so little suggestive, so characterless. Look at the lettering Dave has stuck on that book—Charles Brock- den Brown." As to cover he said again: "Of all things, I should least think of vellum—white vellum especially."

I was rejoiced to have him show marked interest in the subject: just this forenoon had written B. I doubted if W. would ever resume business. Referred to Bucke: "The letter came to-day: came this morning. It is a wonderfully inspiring letter: yet it 's not long." He handed it to me. I started to read it. He stopped me. "No: I want you to take it where you can read it more carefully than you can here: it is much like the letter you gave me to read: the substance of it: elaborated." He is generally calm—almost provokingly so—in taking the good words of his friends. This letter moved him. "Doctor seems impressed with the autobiographicality of the book—that from beginning to end it is autobiographical: not in the ususal sense—but in a sense that makes it strikingly mine. I confess the letter impressed me more than I could have believed it possible. It contains but a few lines—yet these are pressed in deep—are put there to stay." He, too, "realized a sense in which the book is deeply personal""no breaks in its continuity""the statement of a life." Then he said: "I want you to read it very carefully: we must discuss some of these matters together: for myself there can be no explanation—no formulated explanation: it is because it is." He continued: "One thing I can say: I am satisfied: I feel that we have won a victory: much is left undone but some things we have done." He thought Bucke's letter "vehemently Buckeian."

He returned me Unity left yesterday. Had read Black's piece:—"read it carefully—it is good—read every word of it." He said it had "aroused new thoughts" in him—"seemed to prompt a revison of some" of his "former ideas of Tolstoy.": had "never known Tolstoy presented in that way." "Who is the writer—who is Black?"He certainly strikes his crowbar very deep: he is not making sport—is in dead earnest." He felt "convinced" that "Tolstoy has much for us—is one of our men." He had been "particularly moved by the article" and what I had said of the parallelisms of W. with T. "One of the things that impresses me is this: that to the fellows over there, the miseries, gloom, uneasiness, messiness, of things, comes very close—the outlook is painful, dismal: feelings are naturally excited in them that could not come to us here." But he "did not speak of this complainfully." "They are right to feel this environment—must feel it: they are subjected to an experience we cannot realize here—the circumstances of our birth and all the rest are so different: the whole atmosphere on this side is charged with the idea of liberty." He attributed "a great deal of our good fortune" to the fact that the land is at present still measurably free." But he "had no idea that with tendencies as they are this can continue long." "We have free land—now: much of it: land that will be free for a couple of generations more: but—what then?" There he was "troubled." "We have our hoggishnesses, miseries, wrongs, horrors—but none that press us quite so hard and so close." He "at last understands better" my very "frequent association of" his own name "with Tolstoy's." "I can't endorse you: it 's hardly for me to say you are right or wrong: but I see what you mean and I appreciate your intention. You have good reasons: that 's as much, as far, as I can go." I asked W. about the land. "Won't we have the European problems just the same here in a little time?" "Yes." "All the poverty problems—about the land, about machinery, ownership of things—just the same?" W. nodded: "Why not? surely? what can prevent it? we seem to be travelling the same damnable road." "Inevitable road," I put in. "Yes—but damnable, too." "We will get out of it?" "Yes, we must: money must take second place!"

Yesterday was my birthday. W. was inquisitive—congratulatory—saying of my health so far (I have never been in a doctor's hands): "Certainly that is the whole story: it seems to me that tells all: the thirtieth year! and health, vim, hope! What is there more thant that?" He humorously questioned me. Had I no rules of life—no dietary doctrine? No. "Good! good!" "Except," as I put it—"no tobacco, no whiskey." Ah! that is wise—a wise precaution: I should say, persevere on that point—everything is to be gained by it, nothing lost!" I said: You said to Harned the other day talking of smoking that no doubt you had lost a lot by not learning how to do it." He laughed gently: "Well—I don't like to insult the smokers: I let them have their own way with themselves. Did I say I had no doubt I had lost a lot? Well, that is still true. But I may add that I have no doubt gained an immense lot more than I have lost." "Do you ever have any regrets?" "I would as lief regret that I had not murdered my mother." Showed me a picture of one of Johnston's daughters. "It 's Katy," he said: "a dear girl: more mature there than in fact: only fifteen or so: bright, happy."

W. sat to-night on his chair: talked easily: his hair glowing: hand firm and warm: eye better, clearer, than any day in the fortnight past. But he declines "to express hope of rehabilitation": feels "now that this is only a lull on the way down.": realizes that every "spell," as he calls the bad phases, puts him "a little lower in the measure" of his "vitality." Speaks of having "grown old" and "being near the end." Ed is better. Gets his full sleep. Says he nearly suffocated the two or three nights he slept in W.'s room: light down, every window closed: Ed sleeping on the lounge: W. waking every now and then and admonishing him: "Eddy, stir the fire." When he is well and up, stirring the fire is W.'s own monopolized and enjoyed job.

W. thinks Gardner, in Washington, has so far done the best portraits of him. He always refers to Gardner with great respect and says beautiful things always of that particular Gardner picture, the 1863 picture, which he gave me. To-day he turned up a Gardner letter which he brought to my notice before I left. "It shows when and in a certain way how Buchanan became interested in me: throws an interesting sidelight on the Buchanan adhesion, which had its ups and downs. Gardner was always a mighty fellow—also mightily my friend: he was always loving: I feel near to him—always—to this day: years, deaths, severances, don't seem to make much difference when you have once loved a man: Gardner was a real artist—had the feel of his work—the inner feel, if I may say it so: he was not a workman—only a workman (which God knows is a lot in itself, too!)—but he was also beyond his craft—saw farther than his camera—saw more: his pictures are an evidence of his endowment." Then he paused. "How garrulous I get on the least provocation! Read the letter." I did so, aloud:

Washington, 26 November, 1886. My dear Whitman,

I received this morning from an old friend (Mr. Robert Buchanan) in England a letter and among other things he asks me to send him Leaves of Grass, Drum Taps and any other works by the author Walt Whitman of the Attorney General's department, Washington, and a portrait if it can be got by hook or crook. I shall make a copy from each negative. Please tell me if there are any other works of yours than the above and where I can get them. He desires also that I should send him a portrait of Emerson. Can you tell me where I can get a good one?

Yours respectfully, Alex. Gardner.

I asked W.: "Up to that time you had not heard direct from Buchanan?" "I think not." "Did Gardner send him the books?" "O yes! I helped him out: also sent things to Buchanan direct."

Back to top