Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 6–8 September 1889

Date: September 6–8, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07700

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, Caterina Bernardini, Ryan Furlong, Ashlyn Stewart, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden
1889
Sept: 6—early P M1

A warm rather oppressive day—these middle hours—not well—lying down a good deal—bowel action yesterday— y'rs rec'd2—out to river side last evn'g by wheel chair3

Sept: 7—P M—ab't same—rather bad, but nothing extreme—had a partially good night—a card from Kennedy,4 nothing very significant5— good memoriam article in "Liberty" Boston Sept. 7, by Horace6 ab't O'Connor7—I expect some copies & then I will send you one—Ed8 has been over to the big launch, the new war ship "Philadelphia" noon to-day— weather middling to-day, warmish, a little air—Horace's dinner9 book10 will be out next week—I am sitting here in big chair—alternate to bed—

Sept: 8—noon—a shade easier—rather extra breakfast, a rare fried egg, Graham toast, roast apple & tea—bowel action—cloudy, still day, not warm—T B11 and Mr Green, English Unitarian preacher, just here—card f'm Kennedy enc'd: just rec'd—also an old letter12 f'm Dowden13


Walt Whitman


Sept 5.14

Dear Dad:

I wish I cd give your dear hand a good grip to-day, I am now reading 1st proof at Riverside Press,—a nice berth for me. I have abt 10 minutes a day to my self! I find that that Gardner15 publishes highly respectable religious books (not our cosmic=pantheistic kind, of course)! I suppose Fredk. Wilson16 has my MS now.17 Am going to take a vacation in a month. Do drop me a line dear & revered papa, & relieve my anxiety abt you.


W. S. Kennedy.


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, NJ | Sept 8 | 5PM | 89; Philadelphia, PA | [illegible] | 6 PM | 1889 | Transit; Buffalo, NY | SEP | 9 | 11AM | 1889 | Transit; London | AM | SP 10 | 89 | Canada. [back]

2. Whitman is likely referring to Bucke's letter of September 5, 1889[back]

3. 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]

4. 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]

5. Whitman is referring to Willam Sloane Kennedy's letter of September 5, 1889[back]

6. 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]

7. 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]

8. 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. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]

9. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]

10. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration on May 31, 1889 in Camden, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. The volume was titled Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman, and it included a photo of Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman as the frontispiece. The book was published in 1889 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. [back]

11. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel (1856–1914), was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on his relationship with Whitman, see Thomas Biggs Harned, Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]

12. Whitman may be referring to Edward Dowden's letter of June 26 1889, but it is also possible that he enclosed a different "old letter" from Dowden. [back]

13. Edward Dowden (1843–1913), professor of English literature at the University of Dublin, was one of the first to critically appreciate Whitman's poetry, particularly abroad, and was primarily responsible for Whitman's popularity among students in Dublin. In July 1871, Dowden penned a glowing review of Whitman's work in the Westminster Review entitled "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," in which Dowden described Whitman as "a man unlike any of his predecessors . . . Bard of America, and Bard of democracy." In 1888 Whitman observed to Traubel: "Dowden is a book-man: but he is also and more particularly a man-man: I guess that is where we connect" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 10, 1888). For more, see Philip W. Leon, "Dowden, Edward (1843–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

14. This postal card is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Camden, NJ | Sep 7 | 10AM | 1889 | Rec'd. [back]

15. Alexander Gardner (1821–1882) of Paisley, Scotland, was a publisher who reissued a number of books by and about Whitman; he ultimately published William Sloane Kennedy's Reminiscences of Walt Whitman in 1896 after a long and contentious battle with Kennedy over editing the book. Gardner published and co-edited the Scottish Review from 1882 to 1886. [back]

16. 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]

17. Kennedy's manuscript, "Walt Whitman, the Poet of Humanity," eventually became two books, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896) and The Fight of a Book for the World (1926). [back]


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