Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 14 October 1890

Date: October 14, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07119

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.

Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Editorial notes: The annotation, "burning with fervent but forbidden," is in an unknown hand. The annotation, "See notes Oct 17, '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
Ontario
14 Oct '90

A thousand thanks, dear Walt, for your note of 10th enclosing M.S.1 of O'Connor2 piece.3 You know I guess by this time that Mrs O'C.4 is pleased with the "preface"—In her last letter to me she says "yes, I am very much pleased with what Walt has written." She only wishes (like me) that it was longer—but it is as long (I guess) as either of us expected it would be. And, in fact, I do not know but it is long enough. I am real glad to hear that "Old Poets"5 has gone—shall hope to read it soon. This morning came your card of 12th6 do not worry about me, I am better and shall be down without fail7—expect to reach Phila Sunday morning, have written Horace8 to meet me at Dooner's to breakfast that day—hope to see you toward noon—same day—Sunday—

No, my arm was not broken, bad bruise was all9—it is much better but still a little stiff and weak. I have the big poster today from Horace—I judge all is going well and I hope we shall have a big crowd.10 You will not, of course, write here again at present—I leave London Saturday forenoon


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. On May 29, 1890, Ellen O'Connor asked Whitman to write a preface for a collection of tales by her husband, the late William Douglas O'Connor, which she hoped to publish—The Brazen Android and Other Tales (later entitled Three Tales). After the poet's approval was conveyed to her through Bucke, Mrs. O'Connor wrote on June 1, 1890: "Your name & William's will be associated in many ways, & this loving word from you will be a comfort to me for all time." Not having heard directly from him, she wrote about the preface once more on June 30, 1890[back]

2. 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]

3. See Whitman's letter of October 10, with which he enclosed the manuscript of his preface to O'Connor's Three Tales. With a collector's avidity Bucke requested the manuscript of the preface if Mrs. O'Connor was not to receive it. Whitman sent Bucke a draft with his September 24–25, 1890, letter and the proof with his September 26–[27] letter, where he also claimed to have sent a copy to Mrs. O'Connor. He promised Bucke the manuscript in his letter of October 3–4[back]

4. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship 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, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. On October 3 Whitman 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[back]

6. See Whitman's October 12 postal card to Bucke. [back]

7. Bucke is referring to the lecture event in honor of Whitman, which took place October 21 at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall. Robert Ingersoll delivered the lecture: "Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman." See Ingersoll's October 12 and October 20 letters to Whitman. Planning for the event had been underway for about a month. In his letter of September 17 Bucke quoted a letter from New York jeweler 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?" [back]

8. 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]

9. Sometime before October 10, 1890, Bucke suffered a fall in which he injured his right arm. That same day, he wrote Horace Traubel: "I am over my eyes in work and my right arm is helpless and painfull—it keeps me from getting good rest at night so that I am not in the best of trim by day." [back]

10. Bucke is referring to the lecture event in honor of Whitman, which took place October 21 at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall. Robert Ingersoll delivered the lecture: "Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman." See Ingersoll's October 12 and October 20 letters to Whitman. Planning for the event had been underway for about a month. In his letter of September 17 Bucke quoted a letter from New York jeweler 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?" [back]


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