Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

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

Date: July 25, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07683

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: Braden Krien, Ryan Furlong, Breanna Himschoot, Ashlyn Stewart, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden
P M July 25 '891

Dull & quiet—Slightly more ill than usual—half cloudy & warmish—Kennedy's2 book is at sea again as you will learn by enclosed3—Herbert Gilc4 comes frequently—often strangers, visitors, sometimes queer ones—

I get out in the wheel chair5—was out last evening till dark—acts as sort o' pacifyer—The Staffords6 are well—


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. Whitman has reused an envelope, marking through the previous addressee and the printed return address and writing in Dr. Bucke's name and address. The letter is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jul 25 | 8 PM | 89; London | AM | JY 27 | 89 | Canada. [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. On July 24, 1889 Kennedy sent Gardner's letter of rejection—"the pultroon's letter"—and observed: "I guess we have to wait for the book & pub[lish] it here sometime . . . . I am going to let Fred [W] Wilson look at the MS again. He has never refused it, you know." Only the envelope, with the second quoted sentence written on it, is extant. On August 4, 1889, he commented "I kind o' hope Fred. Wilson will tackle in some way my Whitman." On September 5 he rationalized: Gardner "publishes highly respectable religious books (not our cosmic-pantheistic kind, of course)"—even though Gardner was the English publisher of November Boughs. Kennedy's books on Whitman would not be published until after the poet's death. [back]

4. 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]

5. 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]

6. Susan and George Stafford were the parents of Whitman's young friend, Harry Stafford. Whitman often visited the family at their farm at Timber Creek in Laurel Springs (near Glendale), New Jersey, and was sometimes accompanied by Herbert Gilchrist; in the 1880s, the Staffords sold the farm and moved to nearby Glendale. For more, see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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