Skip to main content

Wednesday, December 23, 1891

Wednesday, December 23, 1891

At W.'s by 8:15, to find Warrie and Mrs. Davis impressed with the fact that W. was "much worse." Mrs. Davis had essayed to lie down on lounge near the bed, and he detecting her had suggested he would prefer to be alone. I went up into the bedroom with Warrie and found W. looking worse than at any time since he had been sick. Nose, lips and eyes blue—mouth wide open, as if to get over severe difficulties of breathing—the breath itself seeming thick and portentous. He slept—we did not disturb him, but I regarded him "long and long." The cheeks are much sunken. He was on his left side. In left hand clasped a handkerchief. First joints of fingers dark underneath and milky white on top. The stray light from the window threw a strange sadness into the face—seemed to give it no relief. His whole appearance more labored and shattered than last night. Still takes no nourishment—cries every now and then for water—and always says it is "good." For full ten minutes I stood and gazed at him, wondering to myself if anywhere could be spur to bring this wreck back to life. Bucke not expected down till nine, when McAlister is to be here. Bucke anxious to have Longaker give him details of the case from the first. The outlook gloomy for today. I go to Philadelphia and to my desk with a heavy heart. Cheered by a beautiful note from Baker and solicitous words from Wilkinson: Law Office, Robert G. Ingersoll 45 Wall Street New York, Decm. 22d 1891. My dear Traubel: I am more pained than I can express to see, by the morning papers, that dear, good, great Walt Whitman is lying at the mouth of death. My hope is that the reports are exaggerated, but I fear the worst. After my own tussle with the Angel, however, I am constrained to send a message of Life and Hope. If not for the dear Life's sake—for I know he can and does calmly, even wooingly, embrace the "cool, delicious" messenger—yet for the sake of those myriads whose loving admiration and devotion demand that he live still further to illumine and electrify them by his living words and presence, he must not die now, he must not leave us solitary, he must live. I yearn for his life, with a yearning that all the pleadings of right, propriety, necessity,—backed by a million voices—urge and insist with. He must not leave us now—cannot, shall not. His light, though presently dim, must not yet go out. Tell him to hold high the torch, and countless hands that he has held up will now pour in the oil of life. This will be. This must be. Tell him this from me, if he can, or when he can, receive the message—from one who thought to precede him in the precedence and preferment of Fate. With a loving and strengthening word to you, also, my dear friend, in these hours of watching, I am, as always, Your friend and comrade, I. N. Baker I telegraphed Ingersoll as follows: "Whitman sinking. All hope gone. May die today or tomorrow. Believe you long ago acquiesced in Johnston's proposition to speak. We can depend upon you? Wire me 427 Chestnut Phila. at once. Walt's friends grouped here send love. Traubel."

Baker shortly replying: "Ingersoll in Toledo have repeated your telegram to him. I send Love and Hope. I. N. Baker."

And I then telegraphing Baker: "Telegraph instantly Ingersoll replies. Will be at 427 till 3.30. Send then to 328 Mickle, Camden. Letter here. Grateful. Urge Colonel for us. When is he due home? Indispensable. Traubel."

To which Baker a second time answering says: "I repeated your telegram to Toledo. Expect Ingersoll home tonight or tomorrow better wire him again tonight 400 5th ave. I. N. Baker."

Brinton in to see me—consenting to speak—showing in every way tender consideration and desire. And Frank Williams will read, at once and easily comprehending the situation and acquiescing with noble and faithful air. Edelheim in, too, and Morris half a dozen times—all hoping against hope, as I do, and all anxious to do something. Late in afternoon in to see Frank Williams, then to look up Murray, at Eakins', for taking cast, in case of emergency—failing, however, to find him.

Hastened then to Camden and to 328. Met there Bucke. I was late but Bucke was patient. On the chair a telegram for me, which I opened and found was from Ingersoll: "Give the great good man my love. I shall reach home tomorrow." And here, too, had come one direct for W.: "After the day the night and after the night the dawn. Yours with words of love and hope. R. G. Ingersoll." Bucke said, "Wonderful! Wonderful!" as he repeated it and added, "I gave it to the old man: he was deeply moved."

Harned dropped in and the three of us went off immediately to his house, Bucke meanwhile telling us the story of the day. "I had quite a talk with the old man just a while ago, in the dark. Better? No, not better: not worse, either. When I got there this afternoon, the old man was up in a chair and I said at once to the doctors, 'Now would be a good time to sound him,' which we did, very thoroughly. There was a suspicion of action in the right lung. To show how weak he was, he sat up only about two minutes before we came and about five after and was completely tuckered out. The doctors finally decided he was a shade better, though they even hesitated to grant that. I am much in doubt myself. The old man may peg out any day, may float along this way for many days. His vitality is remarkable—remarkable. But his weakness—that, too, is remarkable and not to be denied. No, I don't see a ghost of a chance for him, and yet"—and so Bucke ended. As to their talk together Bucke said, "I brought up that matter of the children—told him, Mr. Harned, what you said. But he seemed to question whether they would ever assert themselves. He said to me what he said to you, that the women were high-born—proud. And he said further that he did not think there was the least probability that they would ever come forward—ever make any claims—that on the contrary their inclination was to keep quiet, to stay away. Walt don't seem at all averse to telling it, but I don't think he wants to tell part—he feels that a part would put him in a wrong light—while he is not able to tell the whole story, which is a long one." Did Bucke think W. would ever tell it? "No, I don't think he will. I don't believe he will ever be able to tell it." And after a silence, "There was another thing he said to me: he wants to see the will—wants to make some changes in it." Harned said quickly, "That would be dangerous business. He'll have to be careful what he does." Bucke thereupon, "When I promised him to bring it down tomorrow, I felt for myself that I would bring you with it." Harned, "He could draw a codicil." "That is about what he wants, I judge. I think he wants to leave that house to Mrs. Davis." And further, "He said the will answered for its time but that it did not completely satisfy him now. God knows what changes he'll want to make on it—maybe many." Harned rather serious over the thing.

Mrs. Davis said to W. once today, "These doctors will get you up," but he shook his head, "No more getting up for me, Mary." And Bucke informs me he said something to the same effect to the doctors. Bucke hardly encouraged by W.'s condition but attentive to the rally. Will it last? "I can't see how it can. Suppose, too, we did patch him up for a few weeks: he would have to go through this whole business again before long. Is it worth while?"

Bucke did not go down again to W.'s. We took supper at Harned's and Bucke went early to bed. I went up home a while, then at ten to W.'s, where I spent a couple of hours—seeing him a number of times—going into the room—never waking him. Certainly much less restless than last night. I found at 509 Arch a cable from Wallace: "Have wired English friends. Carpenter Johnston join love to Walt. Wallace."

And at home had received a letter from Garland: Dear Traubel: I read with alarm that our poet is suffering with the grip. Please convey to him my love and sympathy and tell him that the Arena has a fine study of him in the Jan. number doubtless you've seen it already. Written by D. G. Watts. I see Kennedy occasionally and he keeps me informed of all the main happenings down there at Camden. There is coming a vast change over the world concerning Whitman. It does not wait for his death—it is here. Yours as ever, Hamlin Garland

I expect to pass through Phil. about Jan. 4. I may stop.
Cabled Bolton tonight, "Average," which leaves them to know W. as neither better nor worse. Bucke counselled me, "For God's sake don't say anything to encourage them." I telegraphed to Morris, Frank Williams and others: "Holds his own." And wrote letters to that effect—one of these being to Ingersoll. Several times today W. said to Mrs. Davis, "I prefer to be alone, Mary." Will talk freely with no one but the doctors. I spent time from ten to twelve at the house. Warrie went up to nap it a while. I in room to see W. I looked at him a long while—he not waking. Certainly appeared better than this morning—almost encouraging, could that be—but Bucke several times has said, "Don't build up false hopes. Prepare for the worst." McAlister there at ten and when he came downstairs, and in reply to my question, said, "I see no change in him—nothing on which to build any hope."

Bucke and Harned will go down in the morning with the will. We regard Bob's telegram as an acceptance—a response to my morning's telegraphic message. We retire with grave doubt of everything, as if the earth was slipping away from under our feet. Jessie Whitman here today. W. saw her—only, however, for a few words of greeting, a kiss and good-bye.

Back to top