At times the tragedy unnerved him, so that even his native optimism was clouded. “I believe there is not much but trouble in this world,” we find him writing to his mother, and the page hardly reads like one of his; “if one hasn’t any for himself, he has it made up by having it brought close to him through others, and that is sometimes worse than to have it touch oneself.” He had already learnt the primer of sorrow; now he was studying the lore in which he was to become so deeply read.
Even that first summer the malarial climate and excessive heat of Washington, with the close watching in the wards, and the continual draught upon 长沙桑拿中心 his vital forces, affected him perceptibly. In his letters home he mentions heavy colds, with deafness and trouble in his head caused by the awful heat, as giving him some anxiety. He seems to have had a slight sun-stroke in earlier years, which made him more susceptible to this[Pg 201] kind of weakness; and on hot days he went armed with a big umbrella and a fan. But through all this time he seemed to his friends the very incarnation of his “robust soul”.
Picture of John Burroughs at sixty-three.
JOHN BURROUGHS AT SIXTY-THREE
Though he shuddered sometimes as he recalled the sights of the wards, the life outside was a pleasant one. He loved to take long midnight rambles about the city and over the surrounding hills, with his friends. In spring, he delighted in the bird-song, the colour and fragrance of the 长沙桑拿最好最高端 flowers which lined the banks of Rock Creek, a stream which, entering the broad Potomac a mile above the Treasury building, separated Washington from the narrow ivy-clad streets of suburban Georgetown.
And the stir and life of the capital always interested him. He loved to watch the marching of the troops; and the martial music and flying colours always delighted him as though he were a boy. He frequently met the President, blanched and worn with anxiety and sorrow, riding in from his breezier lodging at the Soldiers’ Home on the north side of the city, to his official residence. They would exchange the salutations of street acquaintances, each man admiring the patent manliness of the other.
In Washington, as in New York, Whitman was speedily making himself at home with everybody; eating melons in the street with a countryman, or chatting at the Capitol with a member of Congress; for men or women, black or white, he always had his own friendly word. He had besides, as we have seen, his inner circle at O’Connor’s.
He was often at the Capitol, that noble, but somewhat uninteresting building which overlooks the city; and if he deplored the low level of the Congressional debates, he found some compensation among the trees without; for fine trees were already a feature of Washington, which now appears, as one looks down upon it,[Pg 202] like a city builded in a wood. About sundown, too, he liked to stand where he could see the level light blazing like a star upon the bronze figure of Liberty, newly mounted above the dome.
It was in the summer of 1864, when Whitman was forty-five years of age, that he had his first serious illness. He had never been really out of health before. The preceding autumn he had paid a short visit to his home, and in February had gone down to the front at Culpepper, thinking that his services might be needed nearer to the actual scene of battle. But he found that he could do better work in Washington. The cases there seemed to grow more desperate as the long strain of the war made itself felt upon the men in the ranks.
It was immediately after this that Grant was given the supreme command; and at the close of March, Whitman, who foresaw the real meaning of the task of crushing Lee, wrote of it thus: “O mother, to think that we are to have here soon what I have seen so many times; the awful loads and trains and boat-loads of poor, bloody and pale, and wounded young men again…. I see all the little signs—getting ready in the hospitals, etc. It is dreadful when one thinks about it. I sometimes think over the sights I have myself seen: the arrival of the wounded after a battle; and the scenes on the field too; and I can hardly believe my own recollections. What an awful thing war is! Mother, it seems not men, but a lot of devils and butchers, butchering one another.”
A week later, describing the frightful sufferings of the soldiers, and the callous selfishness of their attendants, he says: “I get almost frightened at the world”. Again, two days after: “I have been in the midst of suffering and death for two months, worse than ever. The only comfort is that I have been the cause of some beams of sunshine upon their suffering and gloomy souls and bodies too.” And he adds: “Oh, it is terrible, and getting worse, worse, worse”.
Rumours spread in the city of the probable character of Grant’s campaign; and as he realised more and more fully what would be its inevitable cost, a sort of terror took hold of him. Yet he believed in Grant, as well as in Lincoln. And hating war as he did, he could not see any other course possible now than to complete its work. He was solemnly ready to take his part in those ranks of men converted, as it were, into “devils and butchers,” if need be, if he could feel assured that he was more use to America upon the field than in the wards among the sick and dying.
Meanwhile, he shared the old mother’
s anxiety about George, who was always in the thick of the fighting. News, both true and false, was arriving; and his letters are always seeking to support the old woman’s faith, and to give her the plain truth with all the hope that might be.
He was kept very closely occupied now in the hospitals; and especially at Armory Square, where some 200 desperate cases were collected; men who had lain on the field, or otherwise unattended, until their wounds and amputations had mortified. He had always made a rule of going where he was most needed. But now he began to suffer severely from what he describes as fulness in the head, to have fits of faintness, and to be troubled with sore throat.
To add to the horrors of those days, a number of the wounded lads went crazy; and at last the strain became so manifestly too much for
his failing vitality, that his friends and the doctors bade him go North for a time. But he hung on still; hoping, like Grant, for the war to end with the summer, and writing to his mother that he cannot bear to leave and be absent if George should be hit and brought into Washington. However, with midsummer upon him and its deadly heat, he became really ill, and had to relinquish his post. For nearly six months he remained restlessly at home.
Whitman never fully recovered. We may perhaps be surprised at this, and wonder that he should have broken down, even under the circumstances. Was he not in such relations with the Universal Life that he should daily have been able to replenish the storehouse of his physical and emotional forces?
He was no spendthrift, and husbanded them as well as he might, knowing their value; and doubtless he asked himself this very question many a time. Doubtless, too, he was confident, at least during the earlier months, that after the strain was over his resilient nature would regain its normal tone. But on the other hand, he had volunteered for a service to whose claims he was ready to respond to the uttermost farthing. Where others gave their lives, who was he to hold back anything of his?
The soul, one may say, never gives more than it can afford; for the soul is divinely prudent, and knows the worthlessness of such a gift. And giving with that prudence, it never seeks repayment; 长沙桑拿洗浴休闲会所 what it gives, it gives. But the body, even at its best, is not as the soul. And when the soul gives the vital and emotional forces of its body to invigorate other bodies, it may give more of these, and more continuously, than the body can replace. And so it was with Whitman. He gave, and I think he gave deliberately, for he was an extraordinarily deliberate man, that for which he cared far more than life; he gave his health to the friends, the strangers, whom he loved; and thus his “spiritualised body” found its use.