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Friday, May 17, 1889

Friday, May 17, 1889

7.40 P.M. Went down with Tom Harned. W. sitting in front of the house, his chair drawn next the step. A couple of boys, quite small ones, lounging there with him. These slid away in a little while after we had sat down. W. greeted us heartily, two or three flowers in one hand, his glasses in the other, the inevitable cane blocked up between the knees. People came up and shook hands with him, now one, now another. The city editor of the Post was carefully greeted. Once a little girl of the neighborhood who shyly shook hands, W. asking: "How is Ruth? How is little sister Ruth?" Then he suddenly turned to us. "Now that I have two able-bodied men with me, I shall take advantage of it"—rising slowly from his chair, I did not know for what. "I want to go next door," he explained, "take my arm, Horace"—then going toilsomely on, step by step. We did not go up on the steps at Mrs. Button's, only stood there and had a little boy who was near ring the bell. W. said to me, "My friend, John Forney, used to say that one of the best parts about having a good thing was in being able to share it with the neighbors." And he added: "Colonel Forney was a good fellow!" I espied Ed coming down the street. "And here comes another good fellow!" I exclaimed. W. looked—his eyes did not reveal Ed at first, but when he was near W. broke into a laugh. "Why, it is Ed—the rascal!—and a good fellow, too!" The door here opened, and W. handed up and in the flowers he had in his hand. A little girl took them. "Give them to Mrs. Button: tell her they are from Walt Whitman—that he left them at the door himself." Then we started back again. It was a duty he had not wished to delegate. "Mrs. Button is sick—is an invalid," he said explanatorily. Finally he got down in the chair again. He had seemed to me to walk a little better than when indoors. I asked: "Do you find yourself getting stronger in the legs?" But he shook his head. "No, not at all, not stronger in the legs: my strength does not come back to me." Tom dwelt upon the good fortune of his getting out. W. responded: "It is a great joy—a great joy simply to get out of my cell." But somehow, power would not return. "But to get into freedom—even this freedom, to get sun and air—is greatly a gain on the old condition." Then he said laughingly to Tom, "Why, Tom, we have just now come back from a drive: we drove down to the foot of Cooper Street—to the wharf there!" But he spoke of his head. "Getting out seems rather to aggravate than to benefit that. Yet even with that it is worth while. I have not been to the ferry yet: I am waiting till I have gathered strength for it. I find no sudden return—but perhaps it will come bye and bye. The great thing with me is the spirit: as the old man said, my spirit is tremenjuoustremenjuous, thanks to myself in part, thanks in part to on occasional sip of sherry!" Tom laughed at this: said to W., "I don't think the sherry you take would ever add much to your spirit!" But W. expostulated, "Never mind about that, Tom: I don't always take it—I wait for the right time to come—then take a swig of it: I can swear that it goes to the right spot, too!" Then he went on: "Anyhow, I am on the go. Ed is very faithful to me—sticks by me honestly—we go out often. This morning we went out even before my breakfast—took a trip around the block." Tom asked him if he had his breakfast served upstairs, and he replied, "I have had it so, so far."

W. talked with Harned somewhat about Rice. He acquiesced seriously in Tom's lamentation. "Yes, it was a great loss—Rice seemed to be a fellow big in promise. He was said to be irrepressible—an immense worker—and rich, too—well using his riches—full of determination to have certain things done and to do them himself. The great feature about Rice was his promise—Oh! his promise! And he appeared to be a handsome and quite a young man too. Rice was very generous towards me: I had a letter from him once which was very warm, if not enthusiastic: it must be about here still—I do not think I have given it away, though I know I am apt to." And W. continued after some questions: "No—I do not think you have seen it—it dates several years ago. I had at his solicitation written him a piece for the magazine, for which he paid me a hundred dollars—and a good hundred it was—for I needed it much at the time. About ten days after the article had appeared, Rice wrote me a letter warmly commenting upon it!" He thought Rice had "improved vastly the tone of the Review."

I had secured the first sheets for W. from Oldach today. He would have it that they be safely placed up in his room. Commented on the book again—its printing—"greatly a disappointment to me—bad—bad: a sickly green—as I told you last night, bad ink and not enough of it at that!" "If our printing was in accord with the cover, how handsomely we would appear!" Promised to sign a hundred of the sheets for me by Monday morning. Harned going over this evening to hear Herbert Gilchrist's closing lecture of the course. I turned to W.: "Aren't you sorry you can't go?" He laughed in his quiet way: "Oh no! Not at all—I should not be disposed to go if I had means of going. Of late years especially, I have noticed that I never get in a hall and am there to stay, but soon there comes upon me a terrible inclination to get up and scamper out. This in my invariable feeling. Meeting I do not seem to take naturally, even under the best circumstances. Wilson Barrett there several years ago—I remember well—I sat that out—it was 'Clito'—and somehow I persevered through. And there was the other Barrett, too—the play from Boker—'Francesca Da Rimini' he calls it—I mainly held up under that: in fact, liked it—thought even Lawrence did well—though not as well as Marie Wainright: She pleased me greatly." Asked if we had heard from Ingersoll. We talked of slang. W. of the "naturalness" and "fittingness" of some of it. "The boys in the army were first-rate slangists—invented lots of words—'switching-off'—'skedaddle'—lots of others. And genuine creations, too—words that will last." Tom had subscribed for the Century Dictionary. From which had arisen this theme. W. said: "I have almost been disposed to write to Gilder or one of the fellows myself, cautioning them not to omit my word 'Presidentiad.' Oh! that is eminently a word to be cherished—adopted. Its allusion, the four years of the Presidency: its origin that of the Olympiad—but as I flatter myself, bravely appropriate, where not another one word, signifying the same thing, exists!"

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