Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 25 April 1889

Date: April 25, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07609

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 The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:325. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Caterina Bernardini, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
April 25 '891

Not much difference—restricted bowel action, every day or two, (enough "to swear by")—still live on mutton-broth, Graham bread, coffee or tea, mainly—appetite fair—nights fair—no doctors, not one, now for two months—(is it a good sign?)—have taken a calomel powder three or four evn'gs ago, & shall probably take another to-night—write for me plainly the proper calomel prescription—a trifle stronger dose if you think proper—& send me in your next—(I think I w'd prefer to have it from Brown's place 5th and Federal)—

Pleasantish weather, a little raw and dusty—we need rain, & will probably soon have it—

Stedman2 is mad over that Japanee's item in the Herald of my (invented opinion) lines ab't him—he, S, has written to Horace T.3 in answer to H T's to him, disavowing the authenticity4—Much furore & newspaper reporting here in Phila: over Capt: Murrell of the Missouri the last three days5—I see by the slip in this mn'g's Phil: Record a great change, wh' see.6 I had not heard of it before—

All y'r letters come & are welcome. The enc: card rec'd from Mrs: O'C[onnor]7 to day8—New ed'n of L of G.9 progressing—Horace was here to-day—My "cold in the head" still adheres to me—Ed10 is well—Am sitting here in the big chair alone comparatively comfortable—

Best love to you & all—
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 (?) | Apr 25 | 8 PM | 89. [back]

2. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [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. Stedman was hurt because Whitman refused to disavow publicly C. Sadakichi Hartmann's report that the poet considered Stedman a "dancing master"; see Stedman's letter to Horace Traubel, published in Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, April 22, 1889[back]

5. On April 25, 1889, the New-York Tribune reported that Captain Hamilton Murrell of the steamship Missouri "now has the record of saving more human beings from death than any master of a ship in the past." [back]

6. The item, pasted on the letter, referred to a government proclamation that would prevent Canada from being "a haven" for American criminals. [back]

7. 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]

8. Nelly O'Connor reported on April 24 that William was still "very sick & weak since I wrote you . . 'throwing up' at all times of day & night." [back]

9. Whitman had a limited and autographed 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]

10. 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]


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