Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 30–31 March 1891

Date: March 30–31, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07640

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: Cristin Noonan, Andrew David King, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden1
'91
March 30 P M

—Bright sunny day—Am getting along—no worse—if anything indications of better—the obstinate long bowel-chock shows a suspicion of being started, (but I mustn't hurrah before clearing the woods)—something like a (limited but decided) bowel discharge last evn'g—& another slight one to-day—

Mrs. D2 has just bro't me a small cup of hot wheat gruel (salt) wh' tastes good & I have taken—J W W3 has sent me the Nat. Review Eng.4 wherein I read the piece by Wm Sharp on Amer National Literature5—nothing deep6—my Bolton friends7 are very kind & punctual—O'Connor's8 "Android" begins (half printed I guess) in the Atlantic for April9—the print adjoining is to-day's Phil. Inquirer.10



"The Brazen Andriod" is the curious title of a story by the late William D. O'Connor, which has been found among his papers since his death. The first part appears in the April Atlantic. It gives a vivid picture of mediæval London, and its chief characters are the King, Henry III, Simon de Montfort, and Roger Bacon—the artificer of the prophetic android. Mr. O'Connor's previous stories, "The Carpenter," and "The Ghost," made some stir in the literary world at the time they were published: and this posthumous work stands out amid the mass of every-day short stories with startling distinctness.

Y'rs of 27th came to-day11—I continue to like the visits of Dr Longaker12—Van Stafford13 (one of the boys) was here last evn'g—the S's are there yet ab't same—the elder George14 keeps up but I am afraid is substantially dismantled (I don't know—may be better than I think for)—Poor Harry15 has moved home to his parents with his wife16 & two young ones—I take pills, the Fred.17 water & use the catheter—

Tuesday 1½ P M—March 31 Dr L has been—thinks the affair is going on satisfactory—& I guess it is—bowel action not copious but decided every day the last three days—McKay18 just orders six sets big books19 in sheets—the "Truth"20 people have paid me ($26) for two moderate contributions21—I don't think Ing's22 Shakspere piece in N Y.23 has been reported or printed—(kept back I guess for fuller corrections)—dark glum weather to-day—lots of grip around & I have mine plain & settled—have just sent Warry24 up for more Fred: bottles (take a little in hot water every mn'g)—have just written to Dr Johnston25—have just sent back some proofs (to page 36)26—Mrs: O'C27 is still in office at Wash'n—Chief Kimball28 has sent the Life-Service Reports to H T.29 who thinks of excerpting W D O'C's special parts,30 as I suppose you know. It is 2 P M as I close & all goes fairly


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 Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Apr 1 | 6 AM | 91; N. Y. | 4-1-91 | 10 30 AM | 7; London | [illegible] | 91 | [Canada]. Whitman wrote this letter on stationery printed with the following notice from the Boston Evening Transcript: "From the Boston Eve'g Transcript, May 7, '91.—The Epictetus saying, as given by Walt Whitman in his own quite utterly dilapidated physical case is, a 'little spark of soul dragging a great lumux of corpse-body clumsily to and fro around.'" [back]

2. 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]

3. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Along with John Johnston (1852–1927), a physician from Bolton, he founded the "Bolton College" of English admirers of the poet. Johnston and Wallace corresponded with Whitman and with Horace Traubel and other members of the Whitman circle in the United States, and they separately visited the poet and published memoirs of their trips in John Johnston and James William Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917). For more information on Wallace, see Larry D. Griffin, "Wallace, James William (1853–1926)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. The British magazine The National Review was co-founded in 1883 by the English poets Alfred Austin (1835–1913) and William Courthope (1842–1917) in 1883. The magazine was an organ for the British Conservative Party's views. Austin was the sole editor from 1887 to 1896, when he was appointed the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom. [back]

5. The anthology A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: Charles L. Webster, 1889–90) was compiled by Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) and Ellen MacKay Hutchinson (1851–1933). [back]

6. Whitman is referring to a review of Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) and Ellen MacKay Hutchinson's (1851–1933) A Library of American Literature, by William Sharp (1855–1905). Sharp was a Scottish poet and literary biographer, who sometimes wrote under the pseudonym Fiona Macleod. See The National Review 17 (1891), 56–71. Sharp visited Walt Whitman on January 23, 1892, with a letter of introduction from Arthur Stedman. Through Mrs. McKay (the wife of Philadelphia publisher David McKay), he obtained a copy of the final edition, in which he wrote the following: "'William Sharp, when you go back to England, tell those friends of whom we have been speaking and all others whom you may know though I do not, that words fail me to express my deep gratitude to them for sympathy and aid truly enough beyond acknowledgment. Good-bye to you and to them—the last greetings of a tired old poet.'" Said to me at the last, with difficulty and halting breath by Walt Whitman, when I took farewell of him to-day at his bedside. W.S. 23:1:'92" (Catalog of Alan G. Thomas, Bournemouth, England, 1963). [back]

7. Whitman is referring to James W. Wallace (1853–1926) and Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927) of Bolton, England, the co-founders of the Bolton College of Whitman admirers. [back]

8. 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]

9. First written in 1862 but not published until 1891, William D. O'Connor's story appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in two installments: Part 1, vol. 67, no. 402, April 1891, pp. 433–454; Part 2, vol. 67, no. 403, May 1891, pp. 577–599. The story also appeared in the collection Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1892), for which Whitman wrote the Preface (which he later included in Good-Bye My Fancy [Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891], 51–53). [back]

10. At this point, Whitman mounted a clipping from the newspaper announcing the appearance of the tale. [back]

11. Whitman appears to refer here to Bucke's letter dated March 27, 1891. In this letter Bucke alluded to a communication received directly from Longaker: "He finds nothing the matter with you that is threatening to life tho' much that would be absolutely destructive of all comfort unless looked sharp after" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection). [back]

12. Daniel Longaker (1858–1949) was a Philadelphia physician who specialized in obstetrics. He became Whitman's doctor in early 1891 and provided treatment during the poet's final illness. For more information, see Carol J. Singley, "Longaker, Dr. Daniel [1858–1949]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R.LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

13. Van Doran Stafford (1864–1914) was one of Harry Stafford's brothers. Harry (1858–1918) was was a close friend of Whitman's; the poet had befriended the young man in 1876 when Harry was working in a Camden printing office. [back]

14. George Stafford (1827–1892) was the father of Harry Stafford, a young man whom Whitman befriended in 1876 in Camden. Harry's parents, George and Susan Stafford, were tenant farmers at White Horse Farm near Kirkwood, New Jersey, where Whitman visited them on several occasions. For more on Whitman and the Staffords, see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M." Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 685. [back]

15. Walt Whitman met the 18-year-old Harry Lamb Stafford (1858–1918) 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. In 1883, Harry married Eva Westcott. 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]

16. Eva M. Westcott (1857–1939) was born in Michigan and later became a teacher in New Jersey. She married Harry Lamb Stafford, a close acquantaince of Whitman, on June 25, 1883. The couple had three children. [back]

17. Friedrichshall water is a purgative mineral water from springs located near Heidelberg, Germany. It was one of several mineral waters commonly used in the late nineteenth century to treat constipation. (See C. R. C. Tichborne, The Mineral Waters of Europe [London: Baillière, Tindall & Cox, 1883], Chapter 3, "Chemistry of the Purgative Waters.") [back]

18. 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]

19. Whitman often referred to Complete Poems & Prose (1888) as his "big book." The volume was published by the poet himself in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions, and Frederick Oldach bound the volume, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

20. Truth began as a weekly magazine in New York in 1881. After a hiatus from 1884 to 1886, a new editor, Blakely Hall, revitalized the magazine with lavish illustrations, fiction, humor, poetry, and cartoons. For more information, see Susan Belasco's "Truth." [back]

21. "Old Chants" appeared in Truth on March 19 (William Sloane Kennedy, The Fight of a Book for the World (1926), 272); it was "sent . . . by y'ng Mr [Joseph Alfred] Stoddart [the son of Joseph Marshall Stoddart, editor of Lippincott's Magazine]" on March 15, and Walt Whitman received $12 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). On March 24, Whitman tells Horace Traubel that he is happy with how "Old Chants" was published and that he has already sent his essay, "Old Actors, Singers, Shows, &c., in New York" to Truth. Whitman noted that he had asked for $16 in payment for the essay and had indicated that he wanted the piece to appear in print the following week (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, March 24, 1891). After a delay of several weeks, Traubel recorded that a version of the piece had "at last appeared" in Truth, where it filled only a single column (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, April 30, 1891). [back]

22. 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]

23. Robert Ingersoll gave his lecture on Shakespeare in the early 1890s in several places and published it in 1895 as Shakespeare: A Lecture[back]

24. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. [back]

25. Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927) of Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, was a physician, photographer, and avid cyclist. Johnston was trained in Edinburgh and served as a hospital surgeon in West Bromwich for two years before moving to Bolton, England, in 1876. Johnston worked as a general practitioner in Bolton and as an instructor of ambulance classes for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways. He served at Whalley Military Hospital during World War One and became Medical Superintendent of Townley's Hospital in 1917 (John Anson, "Bolton's Illustrious Doctor Johnston—a man of many talents," Bolton News [March 28, 2021]; Paul Salveson, Moorlands, Memories, and reflections: A Centenary Celebration of Allen Clarke's Moorlands and Memories [Lancashire Loominary, 2020]). Johnston, along with James W. Wallace, founded the "Bolton College" of English admirers of the poet. Johnston and Wallace corresponded with Whitman and with Horace Traubel and other members of the Whitman circle in the United States, and they separately visited the poet and published memoirs of their trips in John Johnston and James William Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917). For more information on Johnston, see Larry D. Griffin, "Johnston, Dr. John (1852–1927)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

26. Whitman was working on the proofs of "Good-Bye My Fancy," which he intended "to be bound in with 'November Boughs' & make it supplementary," as he notes in his letter to Dr. John Johnston of March 30–31, 1891[back]

27. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. 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, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

28. Sumner I. Kimball was chief of the Life-Saving Service in the Treasury Department. On March 5, 1891, Ellen O'Connor sent a eulogy written by Kimball for the Life-Saving Report. [back]

29. 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]

30. William Douglas O'Connor worked for the United States Lighthouse Board (eventually the Life Saving Service) for many years, becoming Assistant General Superintendent in 1878; his book of nonfiction about lighthouse keepers, Heroes of the Storm, was eventually published in 1904. [back]


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