Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 26 October 1888

Date: October 26, 1888

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 227–228. 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.07535

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




Camden
Friday noon
Oct 26 '881

Yours came this morning, & I am satisfied & agreeable—Edward Wilkins2 (tell me more ab't him—is he a Canadian?) should understand that it is not a soft or profitable job, & some features not very nice either—I have tho't of dispensing any caretaker, but I believe I get no nearer to even the middling-get-along-condition-of-myself before this spell—with a sort of prospect (if I live at all) of getting in a more immobile situation than ever—(am indeed in a pretty bad way now)—But you & Horace3 manage it, & I shall be docile—If E W is indeed the proper one & willing I shall be glad enough to have him—

I rec'd a nice letter f'm E C Stedman4 (44 East 26th St New York) this mn'g—He likes Nov. B.5" and has considerable to say of my "fame"—(I am not sure but we are to put E C S on our list of real permanent friends & understanders)6

I suppose you have got (or will soon get) the Springfield Republican short notice of Nov: B7—I rec'd a note from Hamlin Garland,8 Jamaica Plain, Mass. asking me to send Nov. B. to W D Howells9, wh' I did.

I am sitting in my big chair by the oak wood fire as I write—it is a darkish, damp, heavy-air'd day & I am not feeling my easiest—Mr Ingram10 has just been in & bo't a copy of Nov: B. for a Quakeress friend, & got some loose reading matter for a prisoner in jail I send to sometimes11—my head is weighty & sore to-day—

Dave McKay12 is behaving very well—he takes the whole ed'n, & pays me $313.50 on Jan 10 '89—& pays the binder—I retain 100 (printed 1100)13—Did I tell you I rec'd a strong affectionate literary & personal letter from Kennedy14—I repeat that last photo of you in hat &c. is one of the very best could be made—there is nothing better made here or in N Y—


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. | Oct 26 | 8 PM | 88. [back]

2. On October 24, 1888, Bucke reported that he was sending Edward Wilkins as a replacement for Musgrove: "He is a real good, nice looking, young fellow. I have known him some years—he is as good as he looks" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, October 26, 1888). Wilkins (1865–1936) arrived in Camden on November 5, 1888 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). He stayed for a year, then returned to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary College in Toronto. After graduation in 1893 he moved to Alexandria, Indiana, where he married and spent the rest of his life. For this biographical information I am indebted to Bert A. Thompson, Director of Libraries at Kearney State College, Nebraska. [back]

3. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America , 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time , 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). [back]

5. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. On October 25, 1888 Stedman wrote: "In many respects this collection (so strikingly and fittingly got up) is one of the most significant—as it is the most various—of your enduring works" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, October 26, 1888[back]

7. The notice appeared on the editorial page on October 23, 1888. For Whitman's taste, "there's too much of the battered old veteran business" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, October 26, 1888). [back]

8. Hamlin Garland (1860–1940) was an American novelist and autobiographer, known especially for his works about the hardships of farm life in the American Midwest. For his relationship to Whitman, see Thomas K. Dean, "Garland, Hamlin," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. William Dean Howells (1837–1920) was the novelist and "Dean of American Letters" who wrote The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) among other works. He described his first meeting with Walt Whitman at Pfaff's in Literary Friends and Acquaintances (New York: Harper & Bros., 1900), 73–76. [back]

10. William Ingram, a Quaker, kept a tea store in Philadelphia. Of Ingram, Whitman observed to Horace Traubel: "He is a man of the Thomas Paine stripe—full of benevolent impulses, of radicalism, of the desire to alleviate the sufferings of the world—especially the sufferings of prisoners in jails, who are his protégés" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, May 20, 1888). [back]

11. When William Ingram called on August 3, Walt Whitman gave him a copy of Specimen Days for George Rush, Jr., who was in prison in Bucks Country, Pennsylvania (Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Ingram's letter of August 10, 1888 reported how gratified Rush was to receive the gift and recounted in great detail the death and cremation of the "free thinker" William Cooper. [back]

12. David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–2. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the publisher Whitman had originally contracted with for publication of the volume, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, and Complete Prose Works. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

13. McKay had 950 copies to sell, 50 copies were distributed to reviewers, and Whitman retained 100 copies, some of which he sold but many of which he gave to friends. [back]

14. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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