Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 12 October 1890

Date: October 12, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07118

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes, 10/14/90," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Insane
Asylum London
Ontario1
12 Oct '90

Your card of 9th2 to hand yesterday. Long letter from Horace.3 Seems to be some excitement4 down your way about some man named Walt Whitman and another man named Ingersoll.5 What is it all about, anyhow?6

Sorry to hear that grip. and bladder troubles still stick to you—they seem to have come to stay—worse luck. It is good news however that you have sent off the "Old Poets" piece7 to N.A. Review8—I look forwards with most pleasant anticipations to seeing it—I think if any thing your prose gets better lately—though the best piece you (or almost any one) ever wrote was the '55 preface.

Yes "Liberty and Literature" is good—no title could be better, and won't Ingersoll make a splendid address on such a subject? I guess it will be the biggest thing yet.

I hope to see you a week tomorrow at the latest—i.e. Monday 20th—I think if I was sick a bed and no money I would find a way to attend this circus. Keep writing meanwhile untill say thursday evening (and tell Horace same) I want to be kept posted.

My annual Report is most done hope to finish it tomorrow—all well here!

Love to you
R M Bucke


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: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey U.S.A. It is postmarked: London | AM | OC 13 | 90 | Canada; N.Y. | 10-14-90 | 930 AM | [illegible]; Camden, N.J. | Oct | 14 | 4PM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]

2. See Whitman's postcard of October 9, 1890[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. The jeweler John H. Johnston of New York and Bucke were in the process of planning a lecture event in Whitman's honor, which was to take place October 21 at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall. Robert Ingersoll was the speaker for the event and would deliver the lecture: "Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman." See Ingersoll's October 12, 1890 and October 20, 1890, letters to Whitman. [back]

5. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

6. Of course, Bucke was completely aware of what this was all about. In his letter of September 17 Bucke quoted a letter from John H. Johnston: "This morning an hours talk with Ingersoll and I got his promise and authority to proceed and get up a lecture entertainment by him for Walt's benefit—in Phila I guess—Shall I put you on committee?" In his September 19 letter to Bucke, Whitman wrote that being affiliated with Ingersoll and "freethinking folks" was "annoying" to him, despite the poet's deep respect for Ingersoll. See also Whitman's September 20 letter to John H. Johnston. [back]

7. On October 3, 1890, Whitman had accepted an invitation to write for The North American Review. He sent them "Old Poets," the first of a two-part contribution, on October 9. "Old Poets" was published in the November 1890 issue of the magazine, and Whitman's "Have We a National Literature?" was published in the March 1891 issue. [back]

8. The North American Review was the first literary magazine in the United States. The journalist Charles Allen Thorndike Rice (1851–1889) edited and published the magazine in New York from 1876 until his death. After Rice's death, Lloyd Bryce became owner and editor, and he held these positions at the time the journal solicited this essay from Whitman. [back]


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