Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 23–24 March 1889

Date: March 23–24, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07586

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, Caterina Bernardini, Breanna Himschoot, Ashlyn Stewart, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden1
Saturday
March 23 '89

Noon—another sunny beautiful day—am in fair order (for me)—secretions & excretions not to be complained of—have just sold a big book2 & got the money for it—Horace3 has been in this mn'g—I sent word to McKay4 (who wants more big books—he has had 45) that I w'd let him have the sheets entire with autograph & plates for $3.33 a set, he to bind them—(this charge I have to pay of $1.28 for binding the vol. half chokes me)—I must get more out of it5—The proposed ed'n of L of G. with Annex & Backward Glance (ab't 420 pp) is to be—bound (probably) in handsome morocco, pocket-book style, six or eight portraits, & autograph—$5—(shall probably bring it out to commemorate my finishing my 70th year)—a little inscription on title6

Afternoon—another big book sale—T B Aldrich,7 Boston, who sends $25 for it!—Ed8 has resumed his flesh-brushing & half-massage on me—had a spell two hours ago—

Sunday 24th—Bright fine weather continued (couldn't be finer)—Hope you have it too & enjoy it—& deeply hope O'C9 is easier & comfortable. Had my breakfast ab't 9, hot oysters & chocolate & Graham bread—McK declines my proposition—I am sitting here in the big chair—bowel action an hour ago—hope to get downstairs few moments to day—


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 [illegible] | Mar 24 | 5 PM | 89. [back]

2. 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]

3. 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]

4. 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]

5. On March 27, 1889, Bucke observed bluntly: "the price of the book once established cannot well be changed and if McK paid $3.33 and $1.28 for binding = $4.61 he would have too little profit." [back]

6. Whitman had a limited pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass printed in honor of his 70th birthday, on May 31, 1889, through special arrangement with Frederick Oldach. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. The volume also included the annex Sands at Seventy and his essay A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads. See Whitman's May 16, 1889, letter to Oldach. For more information on the book see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary[back]

7. Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836–1907) was an American poet, story-writer, and novelist who also served as the editor of the Atlantic Monthly (The Writings of Thomas Bailey Aldrich: Poems, Volume I [Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1907]). [back]

8. 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]

9. 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]


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