Skip to main content

Thursday, January 21, 1892

Thursday, January 21, 1892

W. was sleeping peacefully at 8:15 when I happened in. Did not wait. He looked rather bad—less color than often before—breathing easy. Some cough. Lay on his side, his face towards the window. He had several letters. Now opens his mail.

When I told McKay what W. had said about the 84-cent schedule, he replied, "Thirty-five of that he gets back as royalty." This will of course square up, bringing the sheets within W.'s own figures.

To Reisser's and from the chef there (Falkenberg) got verifiable brandy for W.—distillation 1825.

Brinton writes happily of his mother and accepts Harned's word as to W.'s prospects.

Eyre's greeting to W. for the gift of the book felicitous. Weir Mitchell acknowledges book through his clerk.

Kennedy's letter to the Transcript (1/18):

WALT WHITMAN. To the Editor of the Transcript. The pluck and bull-dog tenacity of life exhibited by the dying Hollandisk-American bard, Walt Whitman, is worthy of his brave Netherland and English ancestry. Although absolutely unable to move hand or foot, he is yet thinking kind thoughts, and by the help of his faithful volunteer amanuensis and friend, H.L.T., is sending out a few gift copies of the very latest and farewell (1892) edition of his "Leaves of Grass"—rustic manilla covers with pretty buff label À la Leipzig. Thus the brave and defiant little flag of poetry run up on "Atlantica's rim" thirty-seven years ago still floats in triumph over the white-haired old poet's dying couch. "O hasten, flag of man! Run up above them all Flag of stars! thick-sprinkled bunting!" To few creative artists has it been given to see the completion of their work in so satisfactory a manner—to supervise so thoroughly its mechanical reproduction and see it finished in the last and minutest particulars. - K. 
6:35 P.M. Carriage in front of 328. Who was there? A bright light up in W.'s room. Entered (door not fastened). In parlor a couple of hats and coats and a strange umbrella. I heard the rumble of voices upstairs. Hurrying up and in W.'s room I found Ingersoll and Farrell. Great the picture of that group. The light on the table turned up (the green shade tempering its show)—Ingersoll at W.'s right—Farrell in a chair at the foot of the bed—Ingersoll's ruddy complexion and ready voice and word—W. pale and laboring, speaking in verbal gasps, coughing now and then—the wood burning with a bright flame in the stove—the strange huddle and medley of papers and letters about the room—boxes, pictures—the crowded tables—our breaks and pauses and the eloquent touching float of the talk. The guests had been in but a few minutes. W. had replied to Ingersoll's first greeting by quoting his favorite couplet closing: "And I have had my hour." Ingersoll throughout all the conversation shaking his head at ideas of death and destruction and telling W. he must be in for new songs yet. They were talking of Edwin Arnold on my entrance. Ingersoll hearing me sprang up with warm hand. "Well, Traubel, luck to you, here you are: and how is the wife?" And Farrell just as cordial. On then with Arnold—W. very frank to speak of his good qualities, "his warmth, affection, conciliatingness," but avoiding discussion of his books, saying finally that Arnold possessed "that chiefest thing of all—good will," which was not be despised. Ingersoll spoke of Arnold's two books, "There is all the difference between 'The Light of Asia' and 'The Light of the World' that there is between a spring and a pump." And he drifted off into a poetic contrast, "What is more beautiful than a spring which bubbles up without care, as a song from the throat of a bird—which seems to have no duties, no responsibilities, which bubbles and sputters unvexed by the worries of the world. When I think of the pump, I think of the man to drive it, as when I see a factory run I go back to the men who run it, and the steam in the boiler, and the fire, and the man who feeds the fire—yes, to the whole mechanism of the performance. But a spring! It is a cry from the heart—it is the prize at faro, or in a lottery, which you seem to get for nothing, without effort or sorrow." W. murmured, "Splendid, Colonel—splendid!" And then said Ingersoll again, "Arnold is a park—a canal—splendid—splendid; with fine views and happy grasses and all the sublime fixedness of the commonplace. But he has no time for crags, for clouds, for tempests, for the wild life of the forests," etc. He had not met Arnold, but believed him to be a good fellow, "frank, candid, sincere," and spoke of his first book as having all these qualities. W. interrupted Ingersoll, "John Burroughs knows all about the springs." And Ingersoll, "Yes, he does, and that's a man I like: he lives out of doors—he has the soul of the woods—I can hear the birds sing in him and catch the rustle of leaves." W. thereupon, "You are right, Colonel: John belonged to out-of-doors from the first."

Turning to me Ingersoll said with a laugh, "I wanted to telegraph you, but I couldn't think of the name of your damned bank." And explained, "We came here right out of court—didn't we Farrell? Right out of court after a busy day." At this moment W. called out to me, "And the book, Horace, did you bring it?" I simply said, "Tomorrow," but with rather poor voice—knowing he would be disappointed—and he, with sad voice, "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow," and Ingersoll at this point taking it up and finishing the Shakespearean line. A great touch of unstudied music. W. put his right hand up to his ear, the better to take in what the Colonel was saying. Ingersoll made some reference to Unitarian Club speech. "Yes, I was glad to go and speak; it was their first invitation to me—and we had a good time," turning to me with a significant look, "Our spiritual friend, Chadwick, was there." W. asking, "Is Chadwick about? What is he doing nowadays?" Adding then, "Horace left the speech here—I have read it."

W. asked after Baker. "He is well, well: I have never known Baker to look so well: he is fat, hearty. I have been telling him—if you know anybody who is especially weak or fragile, anybody who is sick—the lame, the halt or the blind—go have him shot. Why, damn it, Baker was so weak before this thing happened, I only asked him to do one or two things a week for fear he'd break in pieces—and I should have thought simply to have shot at him would have meant destruction: but here he is today, miraculously recovered from the whole trouble, full of bullet holes, asking no favors of anyone." W. put in, "I knew a very similar case—a young friend of mine—in Brooklyn—many many years ago—a poor consumptive critter, like as not to vanish in some night and be seen of men no more. He caught smallpox—suffered—didn't die—recovered—came out of it an athlete." I suggested, "An American will not rest: it takes a fever to make him rest." They all laughed, but when they were done, Ingersoll protested, "But I am not sure that we are any worse off than some of the others: I imagine men are pretty much the same, all over; and then, famine has its advantages, too. I don't know but I believe in feast and famine. Look abroad—see the fellows there with petty incomes—incomes without uncertainties—75 pounds a year say. A fellow with 75 pounds a year will live to narrow himself within that amount: I mean the man with no hope of more or danger of less—will cut a little here and pare a little there and clip a little beyond—till he is crowded down into that little life. Give him a little uncertainty—not enough to make him miserable, just enough to keep him hustling—and his whole life expands."

Some mention was made of Conway, at which after W.'s remark, "He was here not very long ago," Ingersoll reported, "Among other things which Conway has unearthed is a letter of Paine's day, written from America to someone in England, by a man named Hughes." W. interrupting, "What name?" "Hughes! Hughes!" After which Ingersoll resuming, "It describes Paine's funeral, which was the most pathetic thing in history—or among pathetic things. This letter says that the writer witnessed that funeral, and it goes into some detail." W. quickly cried, "Tell me about it—tell me." And Ingersoll proceeded, "It is probably the only authentic account of the funeral anywhere to be found. We seem to look in vain elsewhere for any report. Hughes goes on to say, he was travelling on the high road, leading out from New York to New Rochelle, and that he passed this curious cortege—this cavalcade—that it was simple, pathetic; that it was composed of the undertaker's wagon, in which were the undertaker and his assistant, of a man on horseback, following, who turned out to be Willett Hicks, and of three negroes, trudging along on foot. Hughes was led by the curious nature of the scene to ask whose funeral it was, and was told it was Thomas Paine's!" W. broke out at this point, "How tragic! How striking! How it appeals—appeals—appeals! And poor, poor Paine!" Ingersoll's recital had been inimitable and full of pathos. He now remarked to W., "How I wish you could write a poem about that!" "How I wish I could!" "And you will live yet to do it!" W. shook his head, "No, Colonel, no—my work is all done." Ingersoll then taking up the thread, "Think of it! Think of it! This man who probably did more than any other man of his time for freedom—for freedom in America, for freedom of thought, for the liberty of a world—and then that sacred, simple, almost ludicrous cortege, shadowed by the pitiful and the pathetic: nothing but an undertaker's wagon, a Quaker on horseback, and three negroes, trudging afoot—trudging 21 weary miles, out of respect for the dead: an undertaker's wagon, a Quaker on horseback, and three negroes, trudging afoot: that was all, that was all! What could have been more simple, good, and majestic—to make the day holy! I tell you, Whitman, it takes a piece out of your heart to think of all that!" W. fervently, "It does! It does! Noble, noble Paine!" Ingersoll continuing, "I was curious to know why the negroes were there, and Hughes tells us that, too, for he inquired. What he found was the fact that these negroes came and marched and paid this last act of respect to Paine because his first, or one of his first, printed pleas, had been for the abolition of slavery." W., yes all of us, were intensely moved and W. said, "It is all new to me, Colonel, all of it." The Colonel nodding, "And to me, too, but it is a lucky find." To which W. with an ardent look assented. It was a heart-theme for W. When Ingersoll had just mentioned the story and was about to name the writer of the letter, W. eagerly inquired, "Was it Fellows? Colonel Fellows?" Warm to think it might have been his old friend, and I think rather disappointed that it was not.

Ingersoll remarked to W., "I have been a long time getting over—a long time—but now I have commenced, I will be here often. I will come in a few days again—in a week, anyhow. I am over a good deal, attending to trifles which the world calls important business"—with a sniff and a turn and a laugh towards me, I throwing in, "Such as the purchase of a railroad," and Farrell, "With its $360,000 profit: trifles!" Ingersoll very easy, floating from one subject to another—once saying, "I often say to myself that if there is a god, he must be as much mystified with the universe—with all its gorgeous shows and acts, its panoramas—as we are—for neither can he get back himself," and he cited the illustration of the mirror and the belief that "if we were quick enough we catch the image back of it. But no, no, no, it is all this side!"

When he thought the time had come for him to leave, he rose from his chair, looked over towards me, "Well, Traubel, I guess we have stayed long enough"—turning then to W. and taking his hand, "And you, Whitman, good luck to you still: longer life, better health, superber joy, a voice to sing us songs again." I heard W. ejaculate, "Bless you for all that, Colonel—I attend every word!" And then Ingersoll again, "And I am charged by Mrs. Ingersoll, by Mrs. Brown, my daughter, and by Miss Maud, my other daughter, to say to you, that you must not leave us yet—that you still have your say to say, that your notes are not yet all struck, that some things yet remain to be done and you must stay to do them: they send you that, and send with that their true love and sympathy for all these hours of pain." The tears almost gushed to W.'s eyes. "And of course, Whitman, you have come to be very dear to us, and I second all they felt to say and send. And for me, I wish to add, whatever you wish—of word, act or anything—whatever you need, I am here, I am to serve, my hand is to prove its pledge." W. could only say, "It is too much, Colonel—too much! But God bless you! I know it all—I believe it all—it needs no evidence beyond what I have—beyond what you are in yourself." Ingersoll moved off, himself much moved, and Farrell approached, with warm loving hand and word. But Ingersoll, after moving across the room, seemed loth to go—passing back to the bed, with gentle hand pushing the hair back from W.'s brow—then softly saluting him with a last word, "Good night again, Whitman—good night, good night!" and W. responding, "I am proud and glad to have you come." Ingersoll then turning to Farrell and in his imperative laughing way saying, "Come," going over first to shake hands with Warrie and to say to him, "Don't forget the chicken—boil it all day!" (This reference to chicken was caused by his earlier advice to Warren to put a chicken in a pot, boil it all day and then give it to W.) Yet still hesitating and facing the bed again and lifting his arm high towards W., "It is all right, Whitman—I can assure you that whether you live or die, whatever may come—storm, struggle, suffering—you will find one defender, one voice, one fortress, in me: I swear it!" And as he glided from the room, I heard W. say, "Strange and great—strange and great!" And I hurried after Ingersoll, who exclaimed to me, "What a cosmos is that man! He is a vastness of thought and life, studded with stars!"

I went downstairs with Ingersoll and Farrell. In the parlor, while they were getting ready, a little talk. Says Ingersoll, "Why the old man has considerable strength left. He took my hand with a good sound grasp. And he is better, anyway, than I expected to find him." To Mrs. Davis, "And good-bye, Madam! I am glad to have met you!" And to me, as he heartily extended his hand, "Well, Traubel, here we are, all together again. Good-bye again, too, and take good care of yourself." And as we edged towards the door, "If there's anything the old man wants and I can do it for him, call on me: I am here, always at hand." Someone came downstairs to say, "Mr. Whitman says one of the effects of your visit is to make him wish to eat." Ingersoll turning to me at that, "See, see: if I talked with him a little more about eating, I would get him well." And on the way out to the carriage, "Don't forget me to the wife, Traubel: give her my love. She is well?" Asking the driver, then asking me, "We want to go to the nearest ferry." Drove off. I hurried back into the house and upstairs. W. a bit tired from the exertion but mentally happy. I spoke of Ingersoll as "a wonderful man" and W. exclaimed, "Indeed! Indeed!" And again remarked, "Yes, his eyes—his complexion—that divine voice—divine—divine—but, best thing of all, that atmosphere—rich, inspiring, magnetic, satisfying. Oh! that, I was going to say, majestic atmosphere! I am sure but few people are sensible of the splendor of that in him—and I claim to be one of the few." And another time said, "His very atmosphere uplifts and refreshes." How well had he noted Ingersoll's tale of the Paine funeral? "Well, well—I seized the whole picture. Who would not, limned by his rapid lines—shaded by his strong colors? Poor, poor Paine! And I can see Willett Hicks—the younger, I think he said—laboring along there on horseback—and the three negroes. Tragic—tragic! Hicks was of the best type of that simple Quaker wholesomeness and strength—purity, breadth. Poor, poor Paine!" Who was Farrell? he asked, and when I explained, "Oh! He, too, is good to look at—a bright, fresh man!"

I went into the next room and brought W. the brandy. He was pleased—his face lighted up. "I have great faith in that man over there—he knows—seems born to it: you say he is called Falkenberg? Well, Falkenberg, then; I see he sees—and that is enough. He reminds me of Pfaff. You knew about Pfaff? When I would go to see Pfaff after an interval from absence he would say, 'First of all, before anything else, let us have a drink of something,' and would go down in his cellar and bring out from his cobwebs a bottle of choice champagne—the best. Cobwebs are no discount for champagne!"—laughing. "And Pfaff never made a mistake—he instinctively apprehended liquors—having his talent, and that talent in curious prolixity, almost. Often I would wonder—can he go wrong?" (Later W., after mixing the brandy into toddy, approved of it as "the right stuff, unmistakably.")

I asked W. if he had read Ingersoll's Unitarian Club speech. He answered "yes," and spoke of it as "very good—more than good." I am to give it to Harned to read. Ingersoll had left proof copy of Young's second article—evidently given him by Young. W. waited patiently for his food, being prepared by Mrs. Keller. Asked me, "What news, Horace? Have you seen the fellows? And what do they tell you?" Further, "I am glad Tom is up and about again. I had a strong feeling against his getting sick." I explained to W. Dave's explanation of the charge and he was satisfied. "Go on," he said, "Make your own settlement, standing for me." Royalties not due till April. Had he done any reading today? "Some—but not enough to carry me far. I can't do anything at a stretch—only in bits. Stronger? I am not sure. Only so-so, so-so—at the best you can set." I told him Conway speaks Sunday for Ethical Society. "Is it so? And you say about Paine? It would be a prize to hear it." Of him, he said, "Paine is of the first importance," his "historic as well as personal" interest in him "never knowing abatement." I have known this, always—and even a stranger could have detected it in his quick response to Ingersoll.

Shortly Mrs. Keller came in with the food and I proposed to leave. "You must be pretty well tired out with this much talking," he responding, "I suppose—I suppose." Shook hands and each said, "Good night." (Ingersoll on his way to Clover Club dinner tonight.)

10:48 P.M. Down to Post Office to mail letters and then in and saw W. again as he slept. A markedly peaceful evening again— Warrie only called once or twice and having in fact and at last an easy time of it. Will this lull continue?

I wrote Burroughs, Ingersoll, Kennedy, Bucke, Johnston (England) and several others: I suppose 25 or 30 letters in all today.

(Ingersoll told me about his daughter, Mrs. Brown—that she and her child prospered beautifully. Both he and Farrell urged me, "You will come to New York soon? We want to see you in our home." This Ingersoll's first glimpse of W. in his. They were both in high good humor. Ingersoll said, "I am a great wanderer—going, going, going all the time.") Ingersoll goes home on the midnight train.

Back to top