Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 4–5 May 1889

Date: May 4–5, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07618

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), 331–332. 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, Alex Ashland, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
May 4 '891

Sarrazin's2 book (from him from Paris) has come,3 & looks wonderfully inviting all through but is of course sealed to me4—I enclose a slip of title detailedly, as you may want to get one from New York—(but of course you can have my copy as much as you want)—I have written to Knortz5 (540 East 155th St New York)—& a card acknowledging reception to S, Paris—

Fine & sunny here—am rather heavy-headed—& hefty anyhow to-day—nothing specially to particularize—ate my breakfast, (mutton broth & Graham bread with some stew'd apple,) with ab't usual zest—(nothing at all sharp, but will do, & even thankful it's as well as it is)—The "Literary News" (N Y) book &c monthly, May, has a good two page biography6 & notice—wh' I send (or will send soon)—Did you get a letter in wh' I asked you to write out & enclose in my letter for Dr Brown,7 (apothecary here) a proper calomel powder prescription a little stronger (if you thought right)—did you get the letter?—Did you send your WW book to Sarrazin?

Sunday May 5

Fine & sunny to-day—feeling fairly—all going smoothly—In general ab't the world, I guess we are now floating on dead water in literature, politics, theology, even science—resting on our oars &c. &c.—criticising, resuming—at any rate chattering a good deal (of course the simmering, gestation, &c. &c. are going on just the same)—but a sort of lull—a good coming summer to you & Mrs. B8 & all of you—


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. | May 5 | 5 PM | 89. [back]

2. 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]

3. Whitman is referring to La Renaissance de la Poésie Anglaise 1798–1889. See his May 4, 1889, letter to William Sloane Kennedy. [back]

4. The presentation copy to Whitman, inscribed April 19, is now in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection. [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. Whitman is referring to the notice that was printed in The Literary News, 10 (May, 1889): 180–181. [back]

7. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

8. Jessie Maria Gurd (1839–1926) married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]


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