Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 6 January 1888

Date: January 6, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07629

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.

Related item: Whitman wrote this letter to Bucke on the the back of a January 2, 1889, letter from William Sloane Kennedy. Whitman sent Kennedy's letter to Bucke as an enclosure. Whitman included two other enclosures along with the letter to Bucke: a January 3, 1889, letter from William D. O'Connor and a January 4, 1889, letter from Ernest Rhys. See loc.07694.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Jeannette Schollaert, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, Stephanie Blalock, and Ashlyn Stewart



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Camden
Jan 6 '88
P M1

A quiet dull day with me—bad obstinate cold in the head, the old inveterate constipation, & bad kidney tribulation, day & night—but I am up & dressed & sitting here by the fire, & my bird is singing cheerily behind my big chair—I send you Kennedy's2 and Rhys's3 and O'Connor's4 last letters—return me the printed Nation slip (wh' you may have seen before)—

Rhys is to be communicated with at present, care of Kennedy, as you will see—Morse5 is still at Richmond, Indiana—yours of rec'd,6 acknowledg'g "Time" &c.—poor Harry Stafford's7 throat trouble is the same as ever—


Walt Whitman


Belmont
Jan 2 '88

To Walt Whitman:
Dear Friend:—

A letter rec'd from Fredk W. Wilson of Glasgow,8 encouraging me to go on & get subscribers for my "Walt Whitman,"— saying that I may announce his name as publisher, & that he will receive subscriptions,9 & announce that work in his lists.10

This afternoon I came home early & wrote off a rough draft of a circular for above purpose.

When Rhys comes he & I will talk it over.

Wd you be willing (I hardly dare to ask it) to send me for two yr book of addresses (sent by Express at my cost)—so I cd send out the circulars? Or shd I have to come on & copy them out of it in yr study?

I read to-day yr beautiful little poem in The Century.11 (I keep up my bibliogr. record always (in the "Whitman")]

I made a trip to the art museum recently to see Gen. C. G. Loring, the Director,12 about the bust. Will report later. Baxter13 has gone to Arizona, & left bust in my care. With heartiest love & greetings & Happy New Years I am as ever yr faithful son, & lover


Wm S. Kennedy

———

My idea is to charge $5. or a guinea for the vol. & print it in good style.

———

Subscribers' names be sent to me and to Wilson, and to Ernest Rhys c/o Walter Scott.14 (if I cd arrange with Rhys)

———


P.O. Box 22, Orange,
New Jersey,
4th January 1888

Dear Walt Whitman,

Back here again last night—after a fine time of it at Mrs. Nordhoff's,15 where everyone was so kind & the fun so continued all day long, that I did not find time to write you even a line.

There were some jolly young fellows there, & some splendid girls, but among the last I think Alys Smith16 may be said to have "taken the cake." Dressed as Portia, when a Shakespeare masquerade (in which everyone took some part from the plays) was being enacted, it would have delighted your eyes to see her dance,—"A wild Bacchante passionate of foot!"—The house itself stands on the Palisades of the Hudson, about 500 feet or so above the river on a steep cliff, commanding a superb view right over to the sea & far away up & down the Hudson. The place [would?] have thoroughly suited you for a camping spot.

Passing through New York yesterday, in a bright, splendid sunlight, the rush of life in Broadway made me wish you could have been with me there.

After the stupid, half-&-half pretence of Philadelphia, the reckless, go-ahead life in New York is very refreshing. Tell this not to the Philadelphians!

No letters arrived at Alpine Bergen for me,—so I suppose none have reached you! If there are any waiting now, will you mail them on here. I expect to go to Boston on Friday or Saturday—after which my address will be to the care of Kennedy at Belmont.

I hope you are feeling well these bright days. I am trying to persuade myself that from this New Year forward everything is to be first-rate with me & with all my friends—in the higher, eternal sense, if not always & altogether in the other!

With much love,
Ernest Rhys

Best rememberances to Mrs. Davies!17


Washington, D.C.
Life-Saving Service,
January 3, 1888.

Dear Walt:

A Happy New Year!

I send you the article on Mrs Gilchrist's book from the Nation, for which I have never ceased hunting, and which I found where it had no business to be. You will observe that the holy Father sprinkles us with an aspergillus full of ice water. The cold impudence of that Nation surpasses.

Sometime when you are sending you can return me the article for my collection.

I have for some time wanted to write to you, but have been strangely ill, and only just able to walk through the office duties. I keep up my spirits as well as I can, but find it all pretty depressing.

The article by the wretch named Willard18 in the American Magazine filled me with indignation. What a beast a man must be who comes to you with a letter of introduction, and goes off to caricature and lampoon you in a magazine!

I hope you have read "King Solomon's Mines."19 It is immense. I have read it forty times, I do believe. The battle chapters let one into the spirit of Homer as the translations cannot do. I wish somebody would rightly review it for the benefit of the Boston school.

I see the little pieces you send forth. "Yonnondio" is beautiful.20 The Boston Advertiser, which also has for you an aspergil of ice-water, copied it, which is an act of tribute.—I think your term, "Shakespeare-Bacon,"21 will stick to Verulam.22 Donnelly23 is, I guess, in England, getting out his English edition. I have not heard from him since October, and await his movements on tiptoe.

I hope you are keeping reasonably well. Au revoir.

Always affectionately
WDO'Connor

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. | Jan 7 | 6 PM | 88. [back]

2. 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]

3. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. 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]

5. Sidney H. Morse (1832–1903) was a self-taught sculptor as well as a Unitarian minister and, from 1866 to 1872, editor of The Radical. He visited Whitman in Camden many times and made various busts of him. Whitman had commented on an earlier bust by Morse that it was "wretchedly bad." For more on this, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 105–109. [back]

6. Whitman forgot to insert the date of Bucke's (lost) letter. [back]

7. Walt Whitman met the 18-year-old Harry Lamb Stafford (b. 1858) in 1876, beginning a relationship which was almost entirely overlooked by early Whitman scholarship, in part because Stafford's name appears nowhere in the first six volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden—though it does appear frequently in the last three volumes, which were published only in the 1990s. Whitman occasionally referred to Stafford as "My (adopted) son" (as in a December 13, 1876, letter to John H. Johnston), but the relationship between the two also had a romantic, erotic charge to it. For further discussion of Stafford, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Stafford, Harry L. (b.1858)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Frederick W. Wilson was a member of the Glasgow firm of Wilson & McCormick that published the 1883 British edition of Specimen Days and Collect[back]

9. More than a year later, in his letter to Whitman of November 5, 1889, Kennedy wrote that Wilson would publish his book on Whitman only if Kennedy paid the costs of production. [back]

10. Kennedy's manuscript eventually became two books, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896) and The Fight of a Book for the World (1926). Alexander Gardner (1821–1882) of Paisley, Scotland, a publisher who reissued a number of books by and about Whitman, ultimately published Reminiscences of Walt Whitman in 1896 after a long and contentious battle with Kennedy over editing the book. [back]

11. Kennedy is likely referring to Whitman's poem "Twilight," which had been published in the December 1887 issue of Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine[back]

12. Charles G. (C. G.) Loring (?–1902) was a Civil War veteran and the director of the Boston Museum of Fine Art. [back]

13. Sylvester Baxter (1850–1927) was on the staff of the Boston Herald. Apparently he met Whitman for the first time when the poet delivered his Lincoln address in Boston in April, 1881; see Rufus A. Coleman, "Whitman and Trowbridge," PMLA 63 (1948), 268. Baxter wrote many newspaper columns in praise of Whitman's writings, and in 1886 attempted to obtain a pension for the poet. For more, see Christopher O. Griffin, "Baxter, Sylvester [1850–1927]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

14. Walter Scott was a railway contractor and a publisher in London. His publishing firm, Walter Scott, was based in London and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and it was the imprint under which Whitman's books appeared in England. Walter Scott's managing editor was bookbinder David Gordon, and Ernest Rhys—one of Whitman's major promoters in England—worked with the firm. Rhys included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. Walter Scott also published Whitman's 1886 English edition of Leaves of Grass and the English editions of Specimen Days in America (1887) and Democratic Vistas, and Other Papers (1888). [back]

15. Lida Nordhoff was the wife of author and New York Evening Post and Herald newspaper correspondent and editor Charles Nordhoff (1830–1901); they were among the first of the wealthy families to build vacation estates on the New Jersey Palisades in the late 1800s. [back]

16. Alys Smith (1867–1951) was a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith and the sister of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe. She eventually married the philosopher Bertrand Russell. [back]

17. 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]

18. O'Connor is likely referring to Cyrus Field Willard (1858–1942), an American journalist, political activist, and theosophist. In the December 1887 edition of The American Magazine, Willard dramatizes an interview he conducted with Whitman. Willard's depiction of Whitman is as a venerated but paralyzed man, whose speech is overwrought with contractions and elided syllables. Willard ends by appropriating Whitman's free verse and form in an improvised, perhaps satirical, poem entitled "America's Greeting to Walt." For the published interview, see Cyrus Williard, "A Chat With The Good Gray Poet." [back]

19. British adventure writer H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885), the first novel in English about "deepest" Africa, was a best seller. [back]

20. Whitman's poem "Yonnondio" was published in the Critic on November 26, 1887. [back]

21. Whitman's short poem, "Shakspere-Bacon's Cipher," was published in The Cosmopolitan, October 1887. [back]

22. Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was the 1st Baron Verulam. [back]

23. Ignatius Loyola Donnelly (1831–1901) was a politician and writer, well known for his notions of Atlantis as an antediluvian civilization and for his belief that Shakespeare's plays had been written by Francis Bacon, an idea he argued in his book The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon's Cipher in Shakespeare's Plays, published in 1888. [back]


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