Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 2–3 February 1889

Date: February 2–3, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07575

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.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Breanna Himschoot, Ashlyn Stewart, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden1
PM
Feb: 2 '89

Y'rs of Jan: 31 have come (two)2—yes I value Sarrazin's review3 the more & more I get at it—(Curious that there in feudalistic Europe we find fellows that give us all odds, & go all above & under us we in practice they in theory) The easy handling & simple insousiance of incredible claims is the most remarkable of S's piece—

Mrs: Davis4 had a verdict yesterday ag't W H D5 (for $190)6—I continue on ab't the same—small bowel dejections—(use the ordinary injection pipe)—weather turn'd to cold & cloudy—feels like snow—I write a few words to O'C7 every other day or so nothing further rec'd f'm there—Evn'g: have had my dinner, stew'd chicken & roast apples—no visitors to-day—no doctors—Cold night in prospect—

Sunday noon Feb: 3

Night not so very cold—yr photo came—it seems to me one of the best pictures ever made—Mr & Mrs: Harned8 paid me a nice visit this mn'g—(the madame is one of my favorites)—have had a call also from three y'ng men of Phila (artists I think)9—take y'r time leisurely in making the abstract of Sarrazin, with careful reference to the critical & general features—Am sitting by the oak fire as usual—have to-day's Tribune and Press—(send the former to O'C—think of him very often)—Burroughs10 is stopping temporarily (for a change I suppose) in Po'keepsie with (I suppose) his wife11 & boy12—I enclose Edw'd Carpenter's13 last14


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 | Feb 3 | 5 PM | 89; Philadelphia, PA | Feb | 3 | 6 PM | 1889 | Buffalo, NY | FB | 4 | 2PM | 1889 | Transit; London | AM | FE 5 | Canada. [back]

2. Bucke's letters to Whitman of January 31, 1889 do not seem to be extant. [back]

3. Gabriel Sarrazin's "Poetes modernes de l'Amerique, Walt Whitman," which appeared in La Nouvelle Revue, 52 (May 1, 1888), 164–184. Whitman had asked both William Sloane Kennedy and Richard Maurice Bucke to make an abstract in English of it (see Whitman's letter to Kennedy of January 22, 1889, and to Bucke of January 27, 1889). Sarrazin's piece is reprinted in an English translation by Harrison S. Morris in In Re (1893, pp. 159–94). Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France, who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 609. [back]

4. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. William H. Duckett (1869–?), Whitman's young Camden friend, who drove the poet's horse and buggy, lived for a while in Whitman's house, and accompanied Whitman on numerous trips. [back]

6. Davis received $140 after paying her attorney's fee of $50 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

7. 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]

8. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, later, one of Whitman's literary executors. His wife, Augusta Anna Traubel Harned (1856–1914), was Horace Traubel's sister. [back]

9. One of the young men was Bilstein, a printer (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, February 3, 1889). [back]

10. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. Ursula North Burroughs (1836–1917) was John Burroughs's wife. Ursula and John were married on September 12, 1857. The couple maintained a small farm overlooking the Hudson River in West Park, Ulster County. They adopted a son, Julian, at two months of age. It was only later revealed that John himself was the biological father of Julian. [back]

12. Julian Burroughs (1878–1954), the only son of John and Ursula Burroughs, later became a landscape painter, writer, and photographer. [back]

13. Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) was an English writer and Whitman disciple. Like many other young disillusioned Englishmen, he deemed Whitman a prophetic spokesman of an ideal state cemented in the bonds of brotherhood. Carpenter—a socialist philosopher who in his book Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure posited civilization as a "disease" with a lifespan of approximately one thousand years before human society cured itself—became an advocate for same-sex love and a contributing early founder of Britain's Labour Party. On July 12, 1874, he wrote for the first time to Whitman: "Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart. . . . For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature." For further discussion of Carpenter, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Carpenter, Edward [1844–1929]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

14. Whitman may be referring to Carpenter's letter of January 27, 1889[back]


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