Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 5 August 1889

Date: August 5, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07688

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, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden
Aug:5 '891

Feeling fairly—moist continued less warm—Yes I like the Tennyson2 head in Century3 too (that T Johnson engraver4 is best of 'em all)—A T5 is getting splendid notices in the papers for his old birthday to-morrow, & deserves them—Mrs: O'Connor6 is at North Perry, Maine—I have just sent her a packet of papers there—


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. [back]

2. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Tennyson began a correspondence with Whitman on July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]

3. Whitman is referring to the engraving of Tennyson on page 482 of volume 38 of The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine (August 1889). [back]

4. Thomas Johnson (1843–1904) worked as an engraver in Brooklyn, New York. He did engravings of Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, and the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ("Johnson, Thomas," Benezit Dictionary of Artists [Oxford: University of Oxford Press, 2011]). [back]

5. Whitman is referring to British poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892), whose eightieth birthday was the next day, August 6. [back]

6. 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, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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