Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 30 November 1890

Date: November 30, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07130

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 The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Marie Ernster, Stephanie Blalock, and Amanda J. Axley



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30 Nov. 18901

[illegible] [d]ear Walt, of the [death of Thomas?]2 [Je]fferson3 and Horace4 tells me [in the] same letter that you are not feeling well yourself. I feel a good deal of anxiety about you, I know your wonderful constitution but for all that bl[ows] like this must produce their effect. You will not I know give way to depression more than you can help. I wish I could bear part of this shock for you. Do not forget that your life and health are very precious to many of us and try to bear up for our sake as well as for your own. I have had no account directly or indirectly yet as to how Dr. Mitchell5 found you or what he thought of you, neither do I know whether he was able


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. Only one leaf of this letter is extant, and it is in poor condition: a portion of the upper left corner has been cut away, and there is water damage. Whitman has drawn a diagonal cancellation mark across the leaf, suggesting that he planned to use the verso as scrap paper. [back]

2. Walt Whitman's brother Thomas Jefferson Whitman died unexpectedly from typhoid pneumonia on November 25, 1890. [back]

3. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff eventually became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized name. Whitman probably had his brother in mind when he praised the marvels of civil engineering in poems like "Passage to India." Though their correspondence slowed in the middle of their lives, the brothers were brought together again by the deaths of Jeff's wife Martha (known as Matty) in 1873 and his daughter Manahatta in 1886. Jeff's death on November 25, 1890 caused Walt to reminisce in his obituary, "how we loved each other—how many jovial good times we had!" For more on Thomas Jefferson Whitman, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. 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]

5. Dr. S. (Silas) Weir Mitchell (1829–1914) was a specialist in nervous disorders as well as a poet and a novelist. On April 18, 1878, Whitman had his second interview with Dr. Mitchell, who attributed his earlier paralysis to a small rupture of a blood vessel in the brain but termed Whitman's heart "normal and healthy." Whitman also noted that "the bad spells [Mitchell] tho't recurrences by habit (? sort of automatic)" (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Mitchell was the first physician to theorize the psychosomatic nature of many of Whitman's ailments: Whitman's 1879 lecture on the death of Lincoln might have unconsciously brought back the emotional involvements of his hospital experiences with comrades whom he had come to love only to be separated from them. [back]


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