Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 19 March 1888

Date: March 19, 1888

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:157. 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.07636

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
9 P M March 19
'881

I was out yesterday to my friends the Harneds2, & took a 3 or 4 mile drive afterward at sunset. The weather is pleasent—seems settled—I still write bits for the H[erald]3—Haywood4 the Mass: free lover here to-day, very cordial &c. I treat him politely but that is all.5 I rec'd yrs: with L[ippincott]'s declination6—Eakin[s]7 has taken away his picture & I havn't seen him for ten days8


W W


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 postal card is addressed: Dr R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Mar | 20 | 10 30 AM | 88 | Transit. [back]

2. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel (1856–1914), 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). For more on his relationship with Whitman, see Thomas Biggs Harned, Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]

3. In late 1887, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., editor of the New York Herald, invited Whitman to contribute a series of poems and prose pieces for the paper. From December 1887 through August 1888, 33 of Whitman's poems appeared. [back]

4. Ezra H. Heywood (1829–1893), a radical reformer and an advocate of free love, was arrested on October 26, 1881, because he printed "To a Common Prostitute" and "A Woman Waits for Me" in The Word and attempted to mail the journals. On October 27, 1882, O'Connor noted a newspaper report of Heywood's arrest: "I don't like Heywood's ways, and I don't like the Free-Love theories at all, but he has his rights, which these devils trample on" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, March 11, 1889). See also the letter from Whitman to O'Connor of November 12, 1882[back]

5. On March 23, 1888, Whitman lent Heywood $15 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

6. On his way back from Florida Bucke stayed briefly in Philadelphia and discussed publication of Whitman's poetry with J. B. Lippincott Company. On March 6 the publisher wrote to Bucke: "We have carefully considered the question of making a proposition for the publication of Walt Whitman's Poems, but have concluded that we could not use his works to advantage" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

7. Thomas Eakins (1844–1919) was an American painter. His relationship with Whitman was characterized by deep mutual respect, and he soon became a close friend of the poet. For more on Eakins, see Philip W. Leon, "Eakins, Thomas (1844–1916)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Apparently Eakins brought his painting of Whitman back to Camden on March 23, 1888 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, and see also Whitman's letter to Bucke dated April 8, 1888). William Sloane Kennedy noted that it was hanging in Whitman's "shanty" in May, and commented: "It is a work of fine technical merit, has power in it beyond a doubt; but the expression and pose are not liked by many. To me it has something of the look of a jovial and somewhat dissipated old Dutch toper, such as Rubens or Teniers might have painted" (Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardner, 1896], 30). [back]


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