Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 8–9 January 1889

Date: January 8–9, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07570

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 265–266. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

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




Camden
Jan: 8 '891

Perfect weather here continued—I feel comparatively easier & freer also continued—sat for 40 minutes in the sun ab't 1, (in the back room, open window—Ed2 fixed it for me)—am still extremely weak—legs give out—

Dave McKay3 has been over here—pays me for 950 "Nov: Boughs"4 $313.50—and we try to fix on some style—(calf or more likely half-calf)—for the better binding of the big book5—he & Horace6 & the binder (a Swiss, an expert journeyman) who made the present one—are commissioned by me to get up a good strong handsome cover &c & submit to me, soon—as purchasers are nibbling at Dave for it already—Boston & elsewhere—(but I shall not sell any for less than $6, even at present style)—have not rec'd any copies yet of Boston Herald Jan. 3 but expect some—(or perhaps one will be sent you f'm Boston—If no other way, I shall send you my copy)—the big book grows on me & satisfies me better—(Y'r "impromptu criticism" has been a 10-strike to me)—

Jan: 9 noon

All well—the weather-scene has changed completely—not cold, but dark & rainy & glum—Ed has been down to the bank to deposit my checks7—I am now sitting here alone by the stove—partial bowel action this forenoon—the room here is ab't the same in almost every respect, chair, bed, &c &c—they say I have not fallen away in flesh (ab't face &c) since my sick spell—my best strength is in my right arm, hand & side—I can get out of bed quite well now wh' I couldn't do (hardly at all) five weeks ago—no Dr Walsh8 for four or five days—

God bless you & all—
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. | Jan 9 | 8 PM | 89. [back]

2. 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]

3. 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]

4. 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]

5. Whitman often referred to Complete Poems & Prose (1888) as his "big book." With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions, and Frederick Oldach bound the volume, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. Philadelphia publisher David McKay published the book in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

6. 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]

7. Whitman received $307.91 from McKay, $5.59 being deducted for an unspecified reason (The Commonplace-Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

8. Dr. Walsh was the brother of William S. Walsh (1854–1919), an American author and editor of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. Richard Maurice Bucke arranged to have him accompany Dr. William Osler to see Whitman, since Bucke believed it would be useful to have a younger doctor examine the poet. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, December 5, 1888[back]


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