Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 28 March 1889

Date: March 28, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07590

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: Ashlyn Stewart, Alex Ashland, Ryan Furlong, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden1
March 28 '89

Every thing keeps on abt the same as of late. Somewhat of a lull in O'C's2 sufferings—Y'r letter came at noon3—(a beautiful bunch of flowers from Mrs. Spaulding,4 Boston, same time—they are scenting the room as I write.)5 Horace6 and Mr Blake,7 Unitarian minister f'm Chicago, here this mn'g—pleasant visit—a spell of my currying (massage) f'm Ed8 at noon to me—(generally have two spells in the twenty four hours, one at bed time)—am getting ready for the special L of G. ed'n9 I spoke of—

Horace has just gone over to the printer's & paper supplier's—Dave McKay10 has been over to day—paid me the royalty $55.64 cts. for sales of L of G. and S D11 on the last six months—& $100 on acc't of big books12 he has had & sold13—write out on a slip all the typo: errors in L of G.—Annex—& Backward Glance—you find—& send me at early convenience—I ask you to write a line to D McK. to let me have a few copies (whatever I require) of your book in sheets,14 you waiving the royalty—I of course paying him the cost price—


W W


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. | Mar 2[7 ?]| 6 AM | 89; N. Y. | [illegible] | 1030 AM | 2; London | PM | MR 30 | 89 | Canada. [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. Whitman is likely referring to Bucke's letter of March 27, 1889.  [back]

4. Ada H. Spaulding (b. 1841), née Pearsons, was a socialite and active member of various reform-movements and women's clubs. She served as the President of the Home Club of East Boston and was a member of the Women's Educational and Industrial Union. She married Ebenezer Spaulding, an Assistant Surgeon during the Civil War, and, later, a homeopathic physician and surgeon who practiced in Boston. Spaulding read and admired Whitman's poetry, she visited the poet, and wrote him a number of letters in his final years. For more on Spaulding, see Sherry Ceniza, "Women's Letters to Walt Whitman: Some Corrections," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 9 (Winter 1992), 142–147.  [back]

5. On March 17, 1889, Spaulding visited Whitman in Camden. When she returned to Boston, she wrote to thank him for the visit; on March 28, 1889, she sent Whitman flowers. [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. Probably James Vila Blake (1842–1925), a Unitarian minister at the Third Unitarian Church in Chicago during the 1880s and 1890s. He was also a poet, hymn writer, and playwright. [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. Whitman had a limited and 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. For more information on the book see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary [back]

10. 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]

11. The first issue of Whitman's Specimen Days and Collect was published by the Philadelphia firm of Rees Welsh and Company in 1882. The second issue was published by David McKay. Many of the autobiographical notes, sketches, and essays that focus on the poet's life during and beyond the Civil War had been previously published in periodicals or in Memoranda During the War (1875–1876). For more information on Specimen Days, see George Hutchinson and David Drews "Specimen Days [1882]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

12. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," was published by Philadelphia publisher David McKay in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, he made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, 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]

13. The receipt and the financial statement appear in Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, March 28, 1889[back]

14. Whitman is referring to Bucke's book Walt Whitman, published by Philadelphia publisher David McKay in 1883. [back]


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