Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 31 October 1888

Date: October 31, 1888

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:229–230. 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.07538

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




Camden
Wednesday noon
Oct 31 '881

Yours came yesterday evn'g—Mrs. Stafford2 here yesterday—Harry3 has the still same trouble with the throat—it gets neither worse [nor]4 better—H seems interested in what they call "politics"—he is I suppose greatly anxious ab't Harrison's election—the whole thing is mixed—I shall myself be content (following Epictetus's advice to those who watch the great games) with whoever the people put in

Nothing new or special in my affairs—I sit here ab't the same—Mr Musgrove5 rec'd a note from our friend Harned6 this morning that after Monday next a new nurse & help carer7 for me w'd be install'd—M has always been kind & attentive to me—I suppose you have got the copy of Nov. B8 in McKay's9 style of binding—McK has been (is) off N Y & Boston ward "drumming"—is expected to come back to-day or to-morrow—Sorry indeed to hear such bad prospects of Pardee10—I recd a few lines dated Oct 27 from O'C[onnor],11 also a postal from Mrs. O'C12—the eye trouble still continued—lively letter in ab't the same as usual—kind, affectionate, & sparkling. Horace13 comes unfailingly & is a main reliance—

I feel half & half—pretty fair bowel movements—no Osler14 for ten days—bright & sunny to-day—Have been reading Matthew Arnold's15 "Heine"16—also George Elliot17 on same18—both good (but probably not exhaustive)—

God bless you—
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 31 | 8 PM | 88. [back]

2. Susan M. Stafford was the mother of Harry Stafford, who, in 1876, became a close friend of Whitman while working at the printing office of the Camden New Republic. Whitman regularly visited the Staffords at their family farm near Kirkwood, New Jersey. Whitman enjoyed the atmosphere and tranquility that the farm provided and would often stay for weeks at a time (see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998], 685). [back]

3. Walt Whitman met the 18-year-old Harry Lamb Stafford (b. 1858) in 1876, beginning a relationship which was almost entirely overlooked by early Whitman scholarship, in part because Stafford's name appears nowhere in the first six volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden—though it does appear frequently in the last three volumes, which were published only in the 1990s. Whitman occasionally referred to Stafford as "My (adopted) son" (as in a December 13, 1876, letter to John H. Johnston), but the relationship between the two also had a romantic, erotic charge to it. For further discussion of Stafford, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Stafford, Harry L. (b.1858)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Whitman wrote "than." [back]

5. Nathan M. Baker, one of Whitman's caregivers, would leave on July 15, 1888, to resume his medical training. Baker was replaced by W.A. Musgrove. For Whitman's comments on the transition, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, July 16, 1888[back]

6. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel, was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]

8. 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]

9. 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]

10. Timothy Blair Pardee (1830–1889) was a Canadian lawyer and politician, member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontaria, Canada, and Minister of the Crown. Pardee appointed Richard Maurice Bucke, with whom he was a close friend, as the Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in Hamilton at its founding in 1876, and then the next year as Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in London. For more on Pardee, see H. V. Nelles, "Pardee, Timothy Blair," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Vol. 11 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982).  [back]

11. 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]

12. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would break in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "William Douglas O'Connor," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

13. 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]

14. 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]

15. The English poet and critic Matthew Arnold (1822–1888) first came to America on a lecture tour in October, 1883, and remained until March, 1884. He "returned to England confirmed by experience in his conception of the average American as a hard uninteresting type of Philistine." After a second trip to the United States in the summer of 1886, Arnold commented on American life being "uninteresting, so without savour and without depth" (Stuart P. Sherman, Matthew Arnold [Indianapolis, 1917], 46–49). [back]

16. Matthew Arnold's essay, "Heinrich Heine," in which he calls the German poet and essayist (1797–1856) the "the successor and continuator of Goethe" as a "soldier in the war of liberation of humanity," was part of Arnold's Essays in Criticism (1865). [back]

17. "George Eliot" was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans (1819–1880), one of the most influential British writers of the nineteenth century. Her works include The Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch, and Daniel Deronda. Whitman was especially enamored by Eliot's essay writing: "She is profound, masterful: her analysis is perfect: she chases her game without tremor to the very limit of its endurance" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, October 31, 1888). [back]

18. George Eliot wrote four essays on Heine, including her 1856 "German Wit: Heinrich Heine," published in the Westminster Review[back]


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