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Monday, December 21, 1891

Monday, December 21, 1891

To Philadelphia usual time but stopped on way at W.'s, finding his night reported decently good, with no increase of discomfort but with an undoubted heavier pressure of sleep. Warrie had just woke him and he had protested, as he always does. "O Warrie! Why did you wake me? Don't you know that every minute's sleep is golden?" Later in the day he said again, "Warrie, it was such a sweet sleep! I was in Paradise. Why did you wake me? You startled me." His whole disposition towards the somnolent. I did not linger long in the morning. McKay had sent over for a couple of books, which they could not deliver at the time and which I now took.

At the Bank a whole string of visitors and inquirers, among them Brinton, Frank Williams, H. S. Morris, Edelheim, Morris Lychenheim. My whole day full of business and anxiety. Brinton startled at the knowledge I gave him. "I am afraid it signifies an end." Questioned me like a surgeon. Morris asks, "Do you really give up hope?" "No, but I cannot give up my fears and convictions either." The morning papers quite moved by the occurrence: Press to greatest length, Inquirer not at all. Found something in the New York Tribune, but not in Herald or World. The Post in afternoon brightly conservative—a fine solid item:

WHITMAN'S CONDITION. He is Believed to be Rapidly Nearing His End.  
  The physicians in attendance upon Walt Whitman have practically given up all hope of his recovery. His friends still have some faint hope, but expect the worst. He is suffering from bronchial pneumonia. His right lung is in a state of collapse, and his left lung is partially affected. All remedies have thus far failed to produce favorable results. His condition this morning is "no better" and in fact somewhat worse. He takes some little nourishment. He is cheerful, but has a desire to sleep all the time. No one is permitted to see him. He may pass into a comatose condition at any time. His physicians have told him of his exact condition, but he pleasantly said to his nurse, "We may beat them yet." He faces death with great calmness and courage and awaits the final summons as if nothing extraordinary was going to happen. This perfect calmness may tide him over, but no one expects a favorable turn. At 3 o'clock there was no change in Mr. Whitman's condition. [Post, Dec. 21, 1891]

Letters from Johnston and Wallace (one of Wallace's containing the cipher, providentially!):

12 Dec 91 Telegraphic Cypher—re Walt Whitman  
  Very ill, no alarm at present.......................Paumanok 
  D[itt]o alarming..................................Ontario 
  Do doctor fears immediately fatal results..........Navesink 
  Do no hope—have sent for Dr. Bucke...........Osceola 
  Remains the same, neither better nor worse............Average 
  A little better.......................................Pioneers 
  Steadily improving....................................Road 
  Much better...........................................Joys 
  Out of danger.........................................Song 
  A little worse........................................Time 
  Much worse............................................Prelude 
  Worse alarming..................................Whispers 
  Do likely to be fatal..............................Starry 
  Do expect death in a few days....................Parting 
  Do do in a day or two.....................Sunset 
  Funeral in 3 days...................................Memories 
  Do day after tomorrow..............................Lilacs 
  Do tomorrow........................................Captain 

Also from Bucke: 18 Dec 1891 My dear Horace I have yours of 16th and am a little relieved to hear that W. is some easier. You say that nearly every one has the grip there. Should W. get it as he is very likely to do, it would probably quite or nearly end him. You will no doubt have a chance to see the speculations on the cause & meaning of insanity later as it is almost sure to grow into a paper or book eventually and get itself published—but so far I have written nothing down but a few notes. The ground is white but not enough snow to make decent sleighing which is aggravating. I feel constantly very anxious about Walt. Write me a line often. I look for a complete collapse before spring. Afftely R. M. Bucke Bucke's seeming to fore-fear something, and even Johnston giving a solemn quotation from one of W.'s recent postals to him.

McKay sent to Bank for the books. (I should have said yesterday I had a short talk with Mrs. George Whitman, who was just going at the time of my entrance.) W. had told Mrs. Davis, "Don't let anybody in to see me today, Mary: let me sleep." Not even George? "No, not even George: some other time, Mary." After hours at Bank (how hard and horrible—how long—the day!). I took a run to McKay's, where I had some talk with him (his busy holiday season on). It appears his own father had been sick. For several days at the point of death but had now rallied. McKay wishes to name a big edition of "Leaves of Grass" instantly on a fatal termination of W.'s illness—should things really turn the bad way. He had received still another order for big book. (How these orders used to stir up W.'s old heart!)

After leaving him and taking a very brief run in on Billstein, I hurried towards Camden, meeting Frank Williams coming off the boat. "I have just been there. There seems to be no change in Walt. Harned, whom I met on the step as I came away said he was worse, though I don't know on what he based it." Some further talk with Frank, who mentioned the weariness of Warrie and Mrs. Davis and offered to help relieve them. But what could he do? "They seem to look on it as only a matter of a few days," says Frank, "which, if so, they seem to think they can manage without assistance." Then good-bye to Frank and to Camden. (Frank had further remarked, "The doctors were there while I was there—consulting.")

At W.'s found Longaker had left a note for me, as follows: "Dear T., W. W. no better. If any change at all slightly weaker. No change otherwise. Longaker. 12. 21. 91." This was rather discouraging and confirmed by all that Warrie told me. W. never wakes except when waked—is somnolent—resents all breaks up of his repose—takes medicine (says less about it than formerly) then relapses. George here in course of day but W. had not seen him. "Give my love to George: tell him I am glad he came, but say I will see him when I am stronger." To Longaker he had said, "Doctor, you always have the bad luck to catch me at my worst. I was better this morning, wasn't I Doctor?" Appealing to McAlister, who assented. But did not indicate same inclination to press a joke or any casual talk as yesterday. Reporters here—plenty of them. Harned had been in and had said Bucke telegraphed this morning to know if any change in W.? And on Harned's "no" had again telegraphed that he would come at once, and was probably now on the way. Letter from Burroughs in this afternoon: West Park New York Dec 20, 1891 Dear Walt, I was reading in your Nov. Boughs the other night & was for a long time thinking of you intently. I seemed to realize you very vividly & of all you had been to me, & of all you still are. I have had no word directly from you in a long time. I thought I should see you before this, but here I am in the old ruts. I must get down your way this winter. I keep pretty well & lead an eventless life: read a few books, write a little now & then, & work on my place. I saw by the paper you were not as well as usual which made me grieve. I hope you are able to send me a card: if you are not, have Horace do it. I long to have some word from you. Not much winter here yet—no snow at all, Julian has just had his first skate. He grows finely & is getting to be an omnivorous reader. Wife is well except rheumatism. I go to Roxbury to-morrow on business. Hoping you will be able to eat your Christmas turkey with relish I am with much love John Burroughs I took the privilege of opening it, and it proved well I did. And then sat down and wrote on W.'s pad, which Warrie brought me down from W.'s room, letters to Burroughs and Ingersoll. Thence to my mother's, where I found a cable message from Bolton: "Wire again. Love to Walt. Wallace, Johnston."

To 537 York. Anne not extra well—a sweet supper and talk—she aiding me every way in the work and having written letters today to Johnston and Wallace, to Mrs. O'Connor, Johnston (N.Y.) and the Bushes. Now again downtown to mail these and other papers and letters and to Western Union to send Wallace and Johnston the cable, which I put into these words: "Sunset-Osceola," translated: "Worse—expect death in a day or two. No hope. Have sent for Dr. Bucke." When at 328 again I found Warrie much exhausted and Mrs. Davis wishing to go out for a few minutes or more, so offered to stay on watch—which I did while I engaged on these notes. I wrote in the parlor on one sofa, Warrie on another sofa soon falling into a deep sleep. I would go up to W. every ten minutes—turn the light up in back room—go in—watch him—listen to his breathing—then to retire. He lay on his right side—never seemed to stir hand outside the cover—drawn up into small compass. Once Warrie went up to give him some of the flax-seed tea (Mrs. Davis had been up—thought his throat full—had aroused him by touching his hand)—I went with Warrie. W. remarked, "It tastes good, Warrie." Then, "Lift me up to the side of the bed, Warrie," which was done. And in this position he took the tea. Warrie, after replacing him in the bed, remarked, "Now I'll leave you for a little while." W. then, "Before you go, Warrie, give me a little more to drink." And as he took it, "It does me good, Warrie. I feel much better tonight—much brighter—than last night. I have no fever—I almost burned up last night. My mouth, jaw, tongue are sore from the amount of medicine I have taken." Yet seems never to say a word save when stimulated. Warrie said to me, "That's the most he has said all day." When Warrie told him of McKay's father, he first exclaimed "Oh!" and then, "Poor old man!" And from that point collapsed. Expresses no curiosity in anything going on around him. Would sleep on forever if not shaken up. One of our trips upstairs he says, "O Warrie, give me the water! It is so good!" Again he says, "Warrie, get some fresh water—that seems better." And once when asked how he was he speaks, "Fairly—fairly—considering!" Warrie made some remark about the fog out of doors and he did not notice it. Before he got into the deep of this stupor, he once asked Warrie about Morris' mother, "There's another poor devil who has a heap of trouble!" He seems now to take the medicine without a murmur, and without opening his eyes. Often when I would go into the room and to the bed and gaze at him—listen to his breathing—my own heart would throb wildly, almost with hope. He seemed so peaceful. Once he lay in such a way as let the light fall on his face. The face was peaceful—the two hands together—the body pulled together—all childlike and beautiful, and the breathing stately and steady, like the long lines of his poems. To touch his head—to touch his hand (the head warm—the hand cool)! He would never wake. I would never say a word—out on tip-toe as I had come in.

We watched even more closely at midnight, but not the least change appeared. A couple of reporters pulled the bell. I went to the door and talked with them (one from Ledger). One asked me, "Is it worth while for us to sit on the doorstep all night?" A damp foggy night—sultry. It seemed almost ludicrous. "No, I don't think there's any danger of his dying tonight. I am so sure of it, I'm going away home myself in a few minutes." Just before it struck I went upstairs for a last look at W.—close to the bed—leaned over him. He was on left side, one hand under his cheek and holding handkerchief—the other out of coverlet and hanging down. A moment's prayer of love and gazing—a silent, solemn prayer—then good night to all and home.

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