Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 9–10 February 1889

Date: February 9–10, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07579

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), 4:284–285. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Caterina Bernardini, Stefan Schöberlein, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden1
Feb: 9 '89

All goes well & as usual—A sunny day, pleasant, fairly cool—bowel dejection—have been thinking a good deal of O'Connor2—sent to him a letter & papers last night—

Y'rs of 7th has come by the 2 p m mail3—you have of course by this time the printed slip-sheet of the Sarrazin4 trans: by K[ennedy]5 & it is good—but I suspect there is plenty left of the S review,6 more that I sh'd like well to have—if (quite when opportune) you feel to make such additional trans: do so—but do not bother or hurry ab't it—but you probably have trans: & I shall get it to-morrow—Upon the whole I opine S's piece is the best we have rec'd in Europe—& that's saying a good deal. I have sent you six copies the S piece—Would it facilitate any when you come, (& supposing the leave obtained)—if you went directly from London to Washington, to see & be a few hours with O'C?—or is it best to come to Phila: & go hence to W?

Sunday p m Feb: 10

Still all well, I believe—Horace7 last evn'g bro't over four copies of the "Complete"8 in their good half-calf binding—they are superb, the best part being the substantiality, with the rich plainness of the look of them, one is for H himself with a dedication (wh' I have written in just now) & one I keep for you—Look for word f'm Mrs: O'C9 to morrow.

I enc: Mary Costelloe's10 letter,11 tho' I dare say you have every minute occupied—


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. | Feb 10 | 5 PM | 89. [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 Bucke's letter to Whitman of February 7, 1889[back]

4. Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France, who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. 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). [back]

5. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Whitman had asked both Kennedy and Bucke to make an abstract in English of Sarrazin's "Poétes moderns de l'amérique, Walt Whitman," La Nouvelle Revue, 52 (May 1888), 164–84 (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 Walt Whitman (1893, pp. 159–194). The letter is discussed in Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, February 5, 1889, and Saturday, February 9, 1889[back]

7. 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]

8. Whitman is referring to Complete Poems & Prose (1888). 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. The book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

9. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. 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, "William Douglas O'Connor," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." For more information about Costelloe, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).  [back]

11. See Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe's letter to Whitman of January 25–26, 1889. [back]


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