Skip to main content

Saturday, December 26, 1891

Saturday, December 26, 1891

Breakfast towards eight, after which Burroughs and I started down for 328. Burroughs meaning to go home if W. proved much better.

Warren opened door to us and said, "Oh! He is much worse this morning—much: at four o'clock I thought he was in danger of dying and went up for Dr. Bucke and Dr. McAlister. They came down. Bucke said he was worse than at any time since he had come down." Burroughs and I went upstairs and into W.'s room. He lay there, breathing with difficulty. Did not appear to observe us—at least, did not remark us. Eyes closed. Called out, "Warrie!" "Well, Mr. Whitman—here." "Bring me some water." Warrie picked up the mug. W. asked, "Is it cold?" "No." "Get some cold." And as Warrie dashed out the room, "Hurry, Warrie, hurry!" Eyes still unopened. When Warrie came in, W. took mug—or part of it (Warrie directing it)—and eagerly drank. And when Warrie had put it down said, "More, Warrie!" and took a second swig. He had asked Warrie, "Lift me up on the pillow." And when it was done said gratefully, though feebly, "Thank you, boy!"

Burroughs and I left—went downstairs—and I to Philadelphia. Sent Ingersoll telegram to this effect: "Whitman much worse and Doctor says may last two days. Mind clear and calm. Is grateful and loving for your concern. 'God bless him!' he exclaimed last night. Gives up all hope. Will wire later in day." Received proof of Poet-Lore article this morning. Burroughs telephoned me from Harned's office towards twelve to say, "Walt a bit better. Doctor Longaker says he may last two days. I go off from Broad Street on ten o'clock train." Morris, Frank Williams and Brinton solicitous and tender. Brinton's mother (84 years) suddenly ill with grip. Morris quotes from a note from Arthur Stedman. Arthur went to see Stoddard the other day and reference was made to W.'s condition. Stoddard only exclaimed, "Fraud!"—which is very significant.

Bucke reports a scene with Mrs. Davis (the 24th). She cried and went on at some rate about the unfairness of W.'s treatment of her, seeming to know the terms of the will. How could she? Did she listen at the keyhole, or did W. tell her his intentions? She really knew all about her own part in the will. Says that $3000 would no more than pay her. (One of W.'s grants was for her to live in the 328 house for a year after he died.) Bucke says, "I confess my opinion of Mrs. Davis is entirely changed in the last 48 hours." Harned remarked, "I understood from Walt that their agreement was: to let her have the use of the house and she to board him in return. If this be so, we none of us see how Walt owes her. Warrie's services have all been paid for, and gifts without count have come to the house for W. and gone into general use. I likewise have for four years furnished half of the coal." Burroughs out of patience with her and with the disorder of the house. "I am free to say I do not like the woman. I think her a good deal of a humbug." When Mrs. Davis yesterday told W. the old hen had laid another egg, he jovially remarked, "Good for the old hen!"

To W.'s about five. The door was opened by Bucke, who had a rather dismal story to tell. "The old man is practically dying now—has been sinking since one o'clock. His heart is giving out. Pulse is now 95 and going up. He is near the end—very near. I doubt if he will live the night through—if he can live till daybreak. He has said nothing today—literally nothing. Once or twice when I spoke to him, he answered me—but he has volunteered nothing. He wants to die—oh! wants, is eager, to die—to have an end of all this. No, he don't say so directly, but notice: when McAlister went in the room this afternoon, he asked Walt, 'Well, Mr. Whitman, how are you passing the day? How are you?' And Walt answered him, 'Slow—slow—slow.' Which no doubt had a double meaning." Harned came in upon us and we all started off together, I not going up to see W. but appointing to be down after tea.

Telegram from Edwin Arnold today, dated St. Paul: "Our hearts are with you, great and noble friend." Joseph B. Gilder telegraphed: "You are making splendid fight. Don't give up the ship." Also a telegram from Richard and Helena Gilder. I telegraphed "Time" to Bolton ("a little worse"), and to Ingersoll: "Today's telegram holds good in the main. We fear the night." At 9:30 when McAlister and Bucke met at 328 and examined W., they reported pulse fallen to 88. At 2 A.M. (Sunday) Warrie tried pulse and found it 90 and at 7:40 pulse was 88. The slight improvement induced Bucke to go to Harned's and to bed. He had originally determined to stay down all the night. Jessie and George Whitman there, intending to watch—to stay over. I there until 7:45 Sunday morning. Reporters frequent and I gave them such "aid and comfort" as good sense and caution allowed. Talcott Williams glided silently in towards 12 and stayed till 12:20.

At 12:40 W. called Warrie, who was fast asleep in the chair in the next room. I had great difficulty getting him awake. Mrs. Davis asleep on the bed nearby. "Some water, Warrie!" said W. "Not much—but water." And after he had sipped, "I am troubled so with the dreadful hiccoughs." He complained of this all night—I could hear him—the short breath and these hiccoughings between. Voice seemed to me clearer and stronger. When the doctors were here, it was thick and choked, but it cleared in the night. Longaker telegraphed his inability to come till 10:30 in the morning. W. called Warrie quite often for the water, at one time saying, "Lift my head a little higher, boy," and again, "Put my leg in the bed, Warrie"—the leg hanging out and he unable to withdraw it. He kept a keen eye about for details. He would advise Warrie, "Keep the light low!" And again, "Rake up the fire a little." A strong wind rose in the night and the temperature fell roundly. I believe it benefitted him. The whole night easy, without perturbations. We all got some sleep, except Jessie, who sat and rocked her parlor chair the whole night through. George went to sleep in a rocker. I slept on the bed upstairs next W.'s, relieving Warrie part of the time. Frank Williams over and had talk with Bucke anent funeral, and will be over again Sunday morning.

Cables yesterday and today from Bolton.

Last night (Saturday) W. expressed wish for a peach. "And don't forget the sugar, Warrie!" he said. Half expected Johnston from New York, but he did not come. Mrs. O'Connor writes a loving letter from Providence. Johnston in letter to Bucke said he would come over if he had any notion he would be permitted to see W. Bucke telegraphed diplomatically that W. had no inclination to interest himself in persons or things and indicating that J. might take his chances. But J. did not appear.

Back to top