Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, [25]–26 May [1889]

Date: May [25]–26, [1889]

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07626

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.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Caterina Bernardini, Ryan Furlong, Ashlyn Stewart, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden Mickle street1

Well Maurice every thing here goes on much the same, & fairly enough—As I write it is abt 1 pm, Saturday, clear but not sunny & neither cool nor warm—I have just had a midday currying—partial bowel action two hours ago—feel middling (but cold in the head, or catarrh or gathering or whatever it is yet)—get out a little in the wheel chair2—they are all going out Mrs. D3 and all to an East Indian ship for two or three hours this afternoon—I told Ed4 to go too as he was invited, (& he will go)—the ship is here from Bombay, & our sailor boys know some of their sailors—We broke a big bottle of good wine yesterday & all of us (seven—me at the head) drank health & respects to Queen Victoria—(it was her birth day you know—)—

—My big dinner5 (wh' however I shall probably not eat, and only be there a few minutes if at all) is coming on swimmingly they say—Herbert Gilchrist6 is to make the responsive speech to the British toast to friends—Col. Ingersoll's7 coming is uncertain—not Howells8 nor Burroughs9 nor Aldrich10 nor Kennedy11 to be here—no word yet fr'm Stedman12 (Achilles laid up in his tent moody, am rather sorry but not to blame)—

Night—9½—Have been out twice to day in the wheel-chair—short excursions—T B H13 has been here this evn'g—150 dinner tickets taken now—y'r letter rec'd by H14—(I have not seen it yet)—coolish temperature three days & now stopping sweat exudation & somewhat bad for me but well enough as I sit here alone every thing quiet, but some sailors from the ship down stairs

Sunday toward noon May 26 A clouded rather rawish day—Am going up to my friends Mr & Mrs: Harned's in an hour, in my wheel chair—to stay a few minutes & probably get a drink of champagne—(of which H always has the best & treats me to galore)—

—Havn't now had such a tipple for a year.

—Nothing particular to write—my head is a little heavy & thick—no pocket-book copies15 yet, but I count on them in a couple of days—All goes fairly as c'd be expected—


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. Walt Whitman's address is printed on the envelope as follows: Walt. Whitman, | Camden | New Jersey, | U.S. America. The letter is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | May 26 | 5 PM | 89; Philadelphia | 6PM | 1889 | Transit; London | AM | MY 28 | 89 | Canada. There is a Buffalo, NY postmark, but only the city name and the year "1889" are clearly legible.  [back]

2. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

3. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. 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]

5. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]

6. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

8. William Dean Howells (1837–1920) was an American realist novelist and literary critic, serving the staff of the New York Nation and Harper's Magazine during the mid 1860s. During his tenure as editor-in-chief of The Atlantic Monthly from 1871 to 1880, he was one of the foremost critics in New York, and used his influence to support American authors like Hamlin Garland, Stephen Crane, and Emily Dickinson. He also brought attention to European authors like Henrik Ibsen, Giovanni Verga, and Leo Tolstoy in particular. Howells was highly skeptical of Whitman's poetry, however, and frequently questioned his literary merit. In an Ashtabula Sentinel review of the 1860 edition Leaves of Grass, Howells wrote, "If he is indeed 'the distinctive poet of America,' then the office of poet is one which must be left hereafter to the shameless and the friendless. for WALT WHITMAN is not a man whom you would like to know." In 1865, Howells would write the first important review of Drum-Taps in the Round Table, demonstrating early signs of his conflicted opinion about Whitman. For more information on Howells, see Goodman, Susan & Dawson, Carl, William Dean Howells: A Writer's Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005). [back]

9. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. 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]

11. 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]

12. 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]

13. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel (1856–1914), was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on his relationship with Whitman, see Thomas Biggs Harned, Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]

14. 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]

15. 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]


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