Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 25–26 September 1888

Date: September 25–26, 1888

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 215–216. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07533

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Stefan Schöberlein, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
Sept: 25 '881

Of late I have two or three times occupied spells of hours or two hours by running over with best & alertest sense & mellowed & ripened by five years your 1883 book (biographical & critical) about me2 & L of G—& my very deliberate & serious mind to you is that you let it stand just as it is—& if you have any thing farther to write or print book shape, you do so in an additional or further annex (of say 100 pages to its present 236 ones)—leaving the present 1883 vol. intact as it is, any verbal errors excepted—& the further pages as (mainly) reference to and furthermore &c. of the original vol.—the text, O'C[onnor]'s3 letters, the appendix—every page of the 236 left as now—This is my spinal and deliberate request—the conviction the main thing—the details & reasons not put down.4

Sept: 26 noon

Dr Osler5 has call'd—evidently all right—I have a good deal of pain (often sort of spasmodic, not markedly violent) in the chest & "pit of the stomach" for the last three days. O says it is nothing serious or important—& prescribes a mustard plaster—lately we have a sort of cold wave & I shouldn't wonder if that was behind it—(I have the mustard plaster on now)—It is bright & sunny—rather cool—I have rec'd a long letter from Sidney Morse6 from Chicago7—no special news—Mr Summers,8 M P from England, has just call'd & we've had a talk9—a nice fellow (how much more & more the resemblance between the cultivated Englisher and Americaner)—I have been reading Miss Pardoe's "Louis XIIII"10—I wonder if as a sort of foil to the Carlyle reminiscences (T[homas]'s and J[ane]'s)—the same sort of business in another sphere & land—Your letters come & are always welcome—As I close I am sitting in my big chair in my room 1½ p m quiet & measurably comfortable—


Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Dr R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Sep | 26 | 8 PM | 88. [back]

2. Whitman is referring to Bucke's book Walt Whitman, published by Philadelphia publisher David McKay in 1883. [back]

3. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Bucke replied on September 28, 1888: "I note all you say about my 'W. W.' Your wishes will be religiously respected. I did think of considerable changes (for I am certain the book will sell by & by) but was never set on them and less so lately. Yes, I shall leave it stand as it is and add under a later date what else I may have to say." [back]

5. Sir William Osler (1849–1919) was a Canadian physician and one of the four founding staff members of Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he served as the first Chief of Medicine. Richard Maurice Bucke introduced Osler to Whitman in 1885 in order to care for the aging poet. Osler wrote a manuscript about his personal and professional relationship with Whitman in 1919; see Walt Whitman and Sir William Osler: A Poet and his Physician [Toronto: ECW Press, 1995]). For more on Osler, see Philip W. Leon, "Osler, Dr. William (1849–1919)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on the relationship of Osler and Whitman, see Michael Bliss, William Osler: A Life in Medicine (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999). [back]

6. Sidney H. Morse (1832–1903) was a self-taught sculptor as well as a Unitarian minister and, from 1866 to 1872, editor of The Radical. He visited Whitman in Camden many times and made various busts of him. Whitman had commented on an earlier bust by Morse that it was "wretchedly bad." For more on this, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 105–109. [back]

7. Whitman may be referring to Morse's letter of September 2, 1888. [back]

8. The Irishman William Summers (1853–1893) was a member of the British Parliament, junior whip of the Liberal Party, and strong proponent of Irish home rule. He visited Whitman on September 26, 1888. His account of the visit was published in The Pall Mall Gazette on October 18, 1888 . Whitman said of the visit that "Summers hit me hard. He made a grand show-up—had fine ways—was young, strong, optimistic" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, September 26, 1888).Summers came with a letter of introduction from Mrs. Costelloe dated September 1; see also Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1915), 2: 384-385, 390-391. Of Summers' article in Pall Mall Gazette, "A Visit to Walt Whitman," on October 18, Walt Whitman observed: "It is good --pretty good: nothing to brag of, but passable" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1914], 3: 14).  [back]

9. William Summers came with a letter of introduction from Mrs. Costelloe dated September 1, 1888. See also Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, September 26, 1888, and Thursday, September 27, 1888. Of Summers' article in Pall Mall Gazette, "A Visit to Walt Whitman," on October 18, Walt Whitman observed: "It is good —pretty good: nothing to brag of, but passable" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, November 3, 1888[back]

10. Julia Pardoe's Louis the Fourteenth and the Court of France in the Seventeenth Century (1855), 2 vols., are now in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection. Walt Whitman made the same point on September 28, 1888 to Traubel: "Here is another world—. . . opposite to the gloominess, irascibility, of Carlyle and his extreme dissatisfaction with the condition of the world" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, September 28, 1888). Carlyle's Reminiscences appeared in 1881. [back]


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