Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 24 August 1889

Date: August 24, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07693

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: Braden Krien, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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Aug 24 '891

Am easier than during the week, but bad enough yet—Have made away with my breakfast (wet Graham toast, honey & tea) though—(living mostly on toast & tea the last three or four days)—am sitting here in the big chair, by window—cloudy & half rainy to-day—a jolly letter2 f'm Ernest Rhys3 f'm Wales wh' I enclose—yr's rec'd this mn'g4—thanks—was formally requested (did I tell you?) to write an article "Tennyson at 81"5 for the Oct. No of the N A Review—by the new owners—but have been too ill to try it, & shall probably give it the go-by—(I don't know but I have said all I want to say ab't T any how)6—the sun out—& warm—It is ab't noon as I finish—I am feeling sort o' comfortable—Mrs. D7 and one of the boys have gone over to Phila: wharf somewhere to see an old staunch ship the "Emily Reed"8 involved in their family history9—Ed10 is here taking care—

Luck & prayers.
Walt Whitman

The Camelot Series. Edited by Ernest Rhys.
Walter Scott,
24 Warwick Lane,
London, E.C.
c/o Walter Scott,
W. W.
14th Aug. '89

My dear Walt Whitman,

Your welcome p'card of July 23rd11 reminds me how the time has slipped away since my last letter to you. I have now been here in North Wales for nearly six weeks, having retreated to these mountains very soon after returning from Paris. I am lodged very comfortably in the cottage of a quarry-man,—William Davies,12 who works at Festiniog, 5 or 6 miles from here. He is a very good type,—healthy, well-built, good-natured, impulsive, with the over-carefulness of the average Welshman tempered by his experiences of American life, for "he went to the states," as they say here, some years back, & travelled far & wide, working in mines & quarries. Even now he does not talk English very fluently, & prefers his native Welsh, in which he gives me lessons every night on his return from work. Many people in the district speak no English at all. The Welsh are a peculiarly adhesive race, & stick to their language & old customs, &, it must be added, to their money, with a somewhat dubious devotion. An infusion of American generosity & freedom would do them great good. As it is, Methodism & money-making is the formula of the lives of most of them,—their redeeming quality being their love of music & oratory!

I found the change here from Paris very striking. The French are exactly opposite in every way,—those who live in Paris at any rate. There the sunshine & the gaiety & general friendliness are very pleasantly in contrast with the grey skies & the somewhat montonous routine of London. Paris is a sort of ideal New York,—a New York touched with Romance & the finer graces of the Past, but without the youthful ardency that pulses in Mannahatta. Paris would delight you greatly, I know, though you might have misgivings at last about a life so frivolously secular, so wanting (as it seemed to me) in humane & religious aims of the higher kind. But this notwithstanding, the charm of those sunny streets, & good-natured irresponsible faces, is something to remember.

The Exhibition, I daresay, you have heard enough of. What struck me most of all—much more than the Eiffel Tower & other nine-days wonders, was the endless cosmopolitan ebb & flow of the peoples of the world,—American, Arabian, Japanese, Indian, Egyptian, English, Norse:—a wonderful, indescribable Concourse de Monde!

I must stop here to-day—Post-time!—hoping to take up the story at greater length shortly. Luck has been dead against me of late. I suppose I shall have to turn Quarry-man presently,—Scottish Art Review & other papers not paying up!

With love & remembrances to Camden friends, yrs.
Ernest Rhys

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).


1. This letter is addressed: Dr Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Aug 24 | 8 PM | 89; London | PM | AU 26 | 89 | CANADA; [illegible] | 8-25-89 | 11 AM | [illegible]. The envelope is printed with Whitman's return address: Walt Whitman, | Camden | New Jersey, | U. S. America. [back]

2. See Ernest Rhys' August 14, 1889 letter to Whitman. [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. It is uncertain which of Bucke's letters Whitman is referring to here. [back]

5. 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. Whitman wrote to Tennyson in 1871 or late 1870, probably shortly after the visit of Cyril Flower in December, 1870, but the letter is not extant (see Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: F. P. Harper, 1896], 223). Tennyson's first letter to Whitman is dated July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]

6. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, August 22, 1889[back]

7. 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]

8. The "Emily Reed" was an American sailing ship known as a "Downeaster"; it was launched in 1880, when it made a maiden voyage from New York to Calcutta. The year after this letter was written, the ship was badly damaged in a storm at sea and maneuvered into port in Rio de Janeiro before eventually continuing on to San Francisco. [back]

9. Whitman is likely referring to either Harry or Warren Fritzinger. The Fritzinger brothers were the children of a blind sea captain, Henry Whireman Fritzinger, for whom Whitman's housekeeper Mary Davis had previously served as a nurse. [back]

10. 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. Wilkins graduated on March 24, 1893, and then he returned to the United States to commence his practice in Alexandria, Indiana. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]

11. See Whitman's April 23, 1889, postcard to Ernest Rhys. [back]

12. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]


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