Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 11–12 February 1889

Date: February 11–12, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07580

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



page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4
page image
image 5
page image
image 6
page image
image 7
page image
image 8
page image
image 9


Camden1
Monday P M Feb: 11, '89

Quite a steady snow to-day, half melting after it falls—I have written2 to Kennedy3—nothing to-day (to my disappointment) from Mrs: O'C4—Knortz5 says the German trans: (Zurich) is out—advertised there—but I have not seen any thing of it—Your MS trans: of Sarrazin6 rec'd, & it completes much to me—letter with it—thanks—Have you the Atlantic magazine Aug: 1887 or w'd you like a second with the notice of Mrs: Gilchrist7—in which I & mine are spoken of quite largely?8—If not I will send you a copy I see I have in the rubbish—Rec'd yesterday a good warm letter9 f'm Addington Symonds10 from Switzerland (anent of Nov: Boughs,11 wh' he has, & dwells on)—also a photo, large, head of S. himself & very fine—

Tuesday Feb: 12— A short note from Rolleston,12 Ireland, acknowledging his "Complete"13—He says "I like much your one volume plan—It's a book one can walk about in, as in a great land, & see things of inexhaustible meaning & promise."14

The Chicago Morning News Feb 9 has a long review (anent of Nov. B) wh' may probably have to go in range with Sarrazin's15—may even satisfy you—I will send you one—Sun shining to-day here, but the youngsters out with skates & sleds—

Am thinking much of O'C16—I enclose Symonds's letter17—So far my "cold in the head" shows in a stuff'd & heavy half-dizzy feeling (nothing intense) in the said head & in occasional soreness in neck & shoulder joints.


Walt Whitman


AM HOF,
DAVOS PLATZ,
SWITZERLAND.
Jany 29 1889

Dear Mr. Whitman

I have to thank you for many mementoes in the shape of newspapers. One which lately reached me, of Dec 27 1888, contains the welcome news that you are recovering from your last severe & tedious attack of illness.

Your "November Boughs" has been my companion during the last week. I have read it with the deepest interest, finding the autobiographical passages regarding your early life & the development of your great scheme particularly valuable. Rejoicing also in the delightful rigour of your critical notes.

Now I am eager to get the 900 page volume of your Complete Works, & do not know where it is published. I shall try to obtain it through my London bookseller.

I have long wished to write about your views regarding the literature of the future. Each time I have attempted to do so, I have quailed before my own inadequacy to grapple with the theme. But I have in preparation a collection of essays on speculative & critical problems, one of which will be called "Democratic Art"18 & will be based upon your "Democratic Vistas"19 & "Leaves of Grass." This I have been working at during the last month; & however imperfect it may be, I have contrived to state in it a portion of what I think the world owes to you both for your suggestions & for the illustrations you have given in your poems—not only by asserting the necessity of a new literature adequate to the people & pregnant with the modern scientific spirit, but also by projecting & to a large extent realizing that literature in your own work.

Meanwhile I am able to echo the words of your friend Dr. Bucke20 in his "impromptu criticism,"21 & to congratulate you now in the autumn of your life upon the achievement of a monument "more enduring than brass or marble."

Believe me, dear master, to be, though a silent & uncommunicative friend, your true respectful & loving disciple


John Addington Symonds.


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 12 | 8 PM | 89; [illegible] | Feb 12 | 8 P M | 89; London | AM | FE 14 | 89 | Canada. [back]

2. See Whitman's letter to Kennedy of February 11, 1889[back]

3. 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]

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, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Karl Knortz (1841–1918) was born in Prussia and came to the U.S. in 1863. He was the author of many books and articles on German-American affairs and was superintendent of German instruction in Evansville, Ind., from 1892 to 1905. See The American-German Review 13 (December 1946), 27–30. His first published criticism of Whitman appeared in the New York Staats-Zeitung Sonntagsblatt on December 17, 1882, and he worked with Thomas W. H. Rolleston on the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry, published as Grashalme in 1889. For more information about Knortz, see Walter Grünzweig, "Knortz, Karl (1841–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. 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]

7. Anne Burrows Gilchrist (1828–1885) was the author of one of the first significant pieces of criticism on Leaves of Grass, titled "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman (From Late Letters by an English Lady to W. M. Rossetti)," Radical 7 (May 1870), 345–59. Gilchrist's long correspondence with Whitman indicates that she had fallen in love with the poet after reading his work; when the pair met in 1876 when she moved to Philadelphia, Whitman never fully returned her affection, although their friendship deepened after that meeting. For more information on their relationship, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Anne Burrows (1828–1885)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. The Atlantic Monthly, 60 (1887), 275–281, contained a judicious review of Anne Gilchrist, but the writer took exception to her enthusiasm for Whitman's creed: "But we think she was wrong, fundamentally, in her philosophy; for materialism, however far it may be developed, never has accounted, and never can account, for the sons of God" (280). Whitman considered the review "malodorous" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 6, 1889). [back]

9. See Symonds' letter to Whitman of January 29, 1889[back]

10. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. 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]

12. Thomas William Hazen Rolleston (1857–1920) was an Irish poet and journalist. After attending college in Dublin, he moved to Germany for a period of time. He wrote to Whitman frequently, beginning in 1880, and later produced with Karl Knortz the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry into German. In 1889, the collection Grashalme: Gedichte [Leaves of Grass: Poems] was published by Verlags-Magazin in Zurich, Switzerland. See Walter Grünzweig, Constructing the German Walt Whitman (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995). For more information on Rolleston, see Walter Grünzweig, "Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (1857–1920)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

13. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose was published in December 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. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

14. See Rolleston's letter to Whitman of February 2, 1889. On January 7, 1889, Rolleston informed the poet that he had just returned the proofs to the publisher and that he would send on thirty copies of the German translation. [back]

15. The notice appeared on February 9 and was written by Francis M. Larned (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, March 29, 1889). Whitman pronounced it "a noble piece indeed: that man knows, understands!" (Wednesday, February 20, 1889). Larned's review was euologistic, though, not especially perceptive—the response of an idolator who admired the person as much as the poet: "With 'November Boughs' the work of Walt Whitman may be considered finished. The age of the poet (he was born in 1819), his infirmity, the suggestive title of the volume, and the character of its contents all indicate that it is the final word, the last farewell, of one who awaits death with the tranquil mind and the clear vision of the prophet. . . . It is impossible to contemplate the life of this man, with a thorough knowledge of his work or even with an imperfect realization of it, without experiencing a feeling of profound and reverential respect. But we are too near him now to get other than an imperfect view of him: his personality is so great that it crowds the narrow field of our vision; to be adequately grasped and appreciated he must be seen in the perspective of at least one hundred years. His figure then will be sharply outlined against the background of history, and the future will see with unshaded eye and in a light softened and tempered by time that of which the present can get but a partial view." (Edwin Haviland Miller credits the Newberry Library for Larned's notice.) [back]

16. 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]

17. Whitman is referring to Symonds' letter of January 29, 1889[back]

18. For Symonds' essay, see his book, Essays Speculative and Suggestive, Volume 2 (London: Chapman and Hall, 1890), 30–77. [back]

19. Whitman's Democratic Vistas was first published in 1871 in New York by J.S. Redfield. The volume was an eighty-four-page pamphlet that consisted of three essays titled "Democracy," "Personalism," and "Orbic Literature," all of which Whitman intended to publish in the Galaxy magazine. Only "Democracy" and "Personalism" appeared in the magazine. For more information on Democratic Vistas, see Arthur Wrobel, "Democratic Vistas [1871]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

20. 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). [back]

21. Bucke had written to Whitman on December 20, 1888, registering at length his enthusiasm for Whitman's just-published Complete Poems and Prose. Whitman decided to have Bucke's letter printed for distribution among his friends and disciples, and he titled it "An impromptu criticism on the 900 page Volume, 'The Complete Poems and Prose of Walt Whitman,' first issued December, 1888." The first printing had several typos, including the addition of an acute accent over the first "e" of "Goethe," so Whitman had the errors corrected in a second printing that was completed by January 2, 1889. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, December 27, 1888[back]


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.