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Thursday, May 9, 1889

Thursday, May 9, 1889

10:45 A.M. Mrs. Mapes just came out of the room as I went up stairs. W. not doing anything at the moment. Ed had gone to Bonsall this morning. Bonsall said we had best leave matters as to the chair till Saturday. But our fears lest the one chair we wished would go before that date constrained protest. W. at first said: "Let it be done their way." But afterwards: "I think the chair you describe is just the chair I want—should not like to lose it. What do you think?" And then again: "You go to Harry yourself and explain—take Ed with you. Then Ed can go right across the river and have it sent." W. spoke of the day, of the desire to get out. I argued: "I hate to miss all these fine days"—but he smiled—"Oh! well—there are plenty more to come!" He speaks to everyone of the possibility of getting out at last. Pointed to flowers in a glass on the table. "Little Anna Harned was down—brought me these—wisteria. Oh! how tender and beautiful!—I have never known any of them more so!" Outside the door, on the floor, was a pitcher of lilacs. I had seen them on entering. Now went out and brought them in. "Are they condemned?" I asked. He said pleasantly, "Oh! no indeed! I put them out there last night—I thought them too heavy for a sleeping room—now I will have them back on the table there. They were brought me yesterday by Mrs. Allen—you don't know her? They have an unusually strong odor—that is distinctly the case with some of them. I cannot imagine any odor more delicious than this in sunlight, in an open room: but at night—the room closed—they seem out of place."

Said: "No word from Washington this morning—nor from Bucke—indeed, no word from anybody." Spoke of Brown and the book. "If you don't get the sheet today [I do not expect to] I shall be greatly disappointed. Brown promised them Tuesday of last week. He never acted in this way before." W. gave me a check for $12.30 for McCollin and money to pay insurance policy. As to cover, he said: "I shall trust to Oldach's taste. But the important thing now is the sheet. We can do little without that." We talked about stamping, and where. "This—to put it on the page with the flap—is the polite way: but the question is—is it the right way for us?" As to what should be the nature of the flap—"I am unable to make up my mind. You may get two models, one each way: then I can quickly tell which one I prefer."

I received a letter from Gilder this morning, enclosing one from Bush. I read these to W., who was visibly touched. " 'Lachine Falls'—yes—I know the place—have been near it." And then of "the unknown friends" who everywhere in his old age "seem to be given voice to greet" him. He said to me: "You should write—or Gilder—you more properly." I called his attention to Gilder's note again. "He has already advised Bush to write to me." W. hereupon: "Oh yes! then wait." Someone spoke to Clifford the other day as if adverse words on W. W. were written in Edward Emerson's book. W. curious. "It would be well to see the book in a library first—wouldn't it?" he asked, when I suggested I might buy a copy. Yet he looked forward to seeing it himself.

After leaving W. I went down to Bonsall—talked with him—and he gave me an order on Wanamaker for chair—only, asked that I go over with or instead of Ed and explain. Asked me to attend a meeting at 4:30 this afternoon at which preliminaries for the celebration are to be arranged. They seem to have some idea of getting W. to a hall, but that would be impossible. Still nothing is formulated. Possibly there won't be a dinner. I suggested a wholesale purchase of W.'s anniversary book to be issued that day. Bonsall did not think it a bad idea.

Early Evening: 5.45 W. sitting—had just finished his dinner. "Here I am," he said, offering me a damp hand. "I have been washing my hands and eyes—to ease them. It has been a hot day, hasn't it?" And when I asked him: "But do you suffer from it?" he shook his head. "No—I can't say that at all." I said to W.: "I could not get back in time for the meeting this afternoon." W.: "What meeting was that?" I explained. "Oh! and for me!" and here he relapsed. "Horace," he said after a pause, "you must warn them all not to make too much of a racket—make them see I only hold a pint." As to meeting in a hall—"It is as you say, boy, out of the question—entirely out of the question. I don't get credit for half the decrepitude I realize myself. Nobody believes I am badly off—yet I am a fearfully banged up cuss. Of course I am always glad to see my friends. It is to my interest to put my best foot forward. So they come and go, believing I am only half as sick as I pretend, if sick at all." "Even the house here, I cannot see any reason for decorating it. I know you understand—I think Bonsall does, too—and there is Tom. But Buckwalter—oh! I think he is inclined to be a little flamboyant—to like to make a big stir—to be party to a big stir—to see himself in it, for one reason, and then for another out of an inherent good-feeling in the matter for itself. But I am wholly opposed to anything in the way of a splurge. I think some of my friends imagine that my condition bites—that I feel the bite of poverty, inattention, poor quarters, neglect, hatred. I know you do not—I know you see the case exactly as it is. But many—even of the good fellows—go off the handle, thinking I sit and brood over it. But it is a great mistake—I don't care a damn for it, whether or no. I have quite enough fame in quarters where I should desire it." "Yet I hold up pretty well—they are deceived, many of them, who come here. Though badly gone in body, my talking, thinking powers remain, perhaps as good as ever they were. When the fellows come and warm me up I get almost voluble: from that comes the mistake."

I explained to W. my plan in connection with the books: that the friends desiring come and receive a copy: that so W. would be helped, the visitor have a souvenir, and an event more consistent with W.'s feelings be sustained. He appeared to take to it at once. "It is certainly an admirable idea—the best yet. If they came in and bought 50 or 100 of these books, it would settle the question of expense. It would be a sort of Burns matter over again. You know: the poor fellow was far down that time—all for being off for Madeira—creditors everywhere—he in despair. Then came forward the friends—a hundred or so—took the books at a handsome price—I don't say such a price as ours—and Burns was saved. Instead of running off to Madeira, cocked his head"—W. simulated it—"and told his creditors to go to hell. Then this would do another thing—it would answer Dave's question, what are you going to do with the books after you get them?" I asked him if he thought Dave was exerting himself to sell the big book. "No—I do not—not at all." So in face of the additional good reasons for having the books out on his birthday, W. remarked: "We'll certainly have them. I'll have a hundred made up in the first lot. What was the price he gave you—Oldach?—68¢? And that includes a gilt edge?" And he said again as to imitation: "I don't want it—would not have it? I expected the price to be much higher than that, anyhow. The morocco must be green." We had some discussion as to the proper place for stamping. "I cannot see the objection to having the flap on the bottom of the book instead of the top. Is there a law for it?" I asked if there was a law for paging books from left to right? "But," returned W., "that is made as it is by the unbroken consent of centuries of experience. I am not disinclined to consider things which have by long usage been established and recognized. Just now I don't see why my objection in the case of the book is not legitimate. Yet there may be something which of necessity disproves me." I explained my talk with Oldach today. Oldach will make W. the two models he desires, has already ordered stamps, does not like idea of stamping on bottom, or of putting flap there. "There is no better way," he said, "than to make all lettering free flowing in generous open space." McKay had initially got a line to put about the script "Walt Whitman," but had subsequently cut it out, W. thereat much pleased.

I had got sheets unexpectedly from Ferguson today. Gave me six sets, one of them cut. W. handled them in all ways—scanned, felt, ruminated. "So these are the sheets?" I still dissented from the printing. It did not strike me as being at all adequate. W.: "Well—never mind: it might have been worse, if that is any comfort. It certainly is not a thing to be proud of. Yet we ought not to growl that things are not perfect—that we cannot have everything as we want it is no wonder. Considering our plans—arbitrariness—we do well to get along as well as we do. I thought to send a copy to France—to the American book department there—but I can't, for one thing, find out who is the man in charge—do you know?" I said I thought we could easily secure that. But W.: "Well, we will let the matter simmer for a couple of days—then see what it suggests." Then after a pause: "But Ferguson ought to be ashamed of himself—ashamed; it comes hard to send such printing over there when they are always sending us such beautiful work—the rarest, finest." I said: "Ferguson would probably not get made to hear that, but Brown would." W.: "Well, we won't say it to make anybody mad—only say it out of justice, because it ought to be said. Oh! You may tell it to Ferguson that way—tell him we had aimed to send a copy abroad, to France, but were ashamed to do so. If he is a true printer—and he is—he can have no deeper damnation to contemplate than that." "Considering that we were willing to pay for it done well—it is a great pity we were not gratified. We did not stint them in any particular." But "we will submit, knowing we came out pretty well on the whole. Besides, handsomely bound, as it will be, the defects in printing will not be so striking." Thought we had best push things. Would get up one set of sheets with portraits for me at once, so Oldach could proceed. "Come tomorrow, about noon," he said jokingly, "and the victim will be ready." We discussed the flap again. He seemed to understand my point—but still said: "I don't think I shall be able to tell until I see them in the flesh." He endorsed a set of the sheets for me, with the legend above, "Horace L. Traubel from his friend the author."

Then referred to the reception matter again: "I have no doubt you and Tom and Harry will be able to keep things within bounds, in taste. It would never do to have any display performance—would not fit me, the occasion, most of all my present condition." I had great difficulty in getting the chair. At Wanamaker's they would not charge it to Bonsall. Finally, the telephoned Tom at my suggestion and he had it put on his account there. Promised to deliver it in the morning. There is but one delivery to Camden per day. W. discussed it. "The getting downstairs—I think that will be the difficult point—if I can get over that I have some hopes of getting over others." I had told Captain Lindell, when he asked after Walt today at the ferry, that he should not be surprised to have W. appear in person there within a few days. W. said: "Yes—and to see Ed will be one of my first points if I get down there at all." His thirst to see the river is great—spoke of it again. Very carefully took up and folded the several brown sheets in which the printed matter had come. "I'll keep it—it will do to put up the great morocco book. I'll have to make them up handsome—a nice, fine little bundle for Mary Costelloe first of all—for others abroad there, too." Mrs. Davis came in for W.'s tray. She said Captain Adams was in to see her and W. asked: "Is he here now?" And then: "Did he leave you any money?" Mrs. Davis hereupon explaining to me that Adams years ago had failed, owing her $1800—and had ever since little by little been paying the debt off. Mrs. D. told W. Adams had brought money—also: "He sent me some from Matanzas, but I never got it." W. did not just hear, and got out his "Good! Good!" much to our hearty laughter and eventually his own when he found some other person had got the money.

The Sarrazin book, lightly pasted in covers, has been coming apart—so W. has tied it up with a piece of red tape. I asked him if I should write to Dr. Gould about translating it—but he said: "Let us have it here—rest—for the present." Paid for photographs today and ordered them sent to Oldach. Insurance paper not yet ready, though I called for it. Account from Billstein only a little over seven dollars. W. thought it "cheaper." Billstein also will send pictures to Oldach. Now nothing remains but for us to take over such portraits as we have in Camden. W. said: "I have not all the packages fully endorsed, but will finish them at once. I intend getting them together in such shape that even a very dumb man could understand what we wanted." Asking after Tom's baby, I spoke of walking it, and his pleasure therein. W. reflected: "The wonderful new babies! Oh! how fully I have entered into them! It used to be my delight to get the youngsters, the very young ones, take them in my arms, walk them—often sing to them—hours and hours and hours. I don't know who got the most joy out of it—it seems to me the baby's could never have equalled mine: the wonderful alluring babies!"

I sold a book for W.—a complete Whitman—to Fred L. May. W. asked: "Who is he? Do I know him?" And finally did remember a copy of Specimen Days May had purchased of him last summer. A meeting of some sort was held this afternoon, but Harned not home when I called in the evening so could not get particulars. Fear plans are such that W. would not approve. Harned had intended seeing W. on his way to Philadelphia. I think they have provided for a banquet. But W. insists to me: "What good is a banquet? In the first place I don't like the idea of it for itself: then it would be impossible for me to attend: then if I did attend I could not eat."

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