Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 14 September 1889

Date: September 14, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07701

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 as usual
Saturday P M Sept:14 '891

The sun shining this afternoon & pleasant after four or five days of rain & gale, very bad around here and at sea but nothing specially alarming here—I am much the same—not feeling at all easy & free f'm disturbance—Sir Edwin Arnold2 here yesterday afternoon ab't an hour—a tann'd English traveler—I liked him—an actor from Phila. theatre also here yesterday.3

I sit here in 2d story room, alone—rather expect to go out later in wheel chair,4 first time in ab't a week.

Ed5 is well, went to see "Bohemian Girl"6 Eng: opera—Horace7 comes regularly—you will see Mrs. O'C's8 letter, just rec'd—y'rs come9 & welcomed always.

I will keep you posted when any new little pieces of mine come out—


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. | SEP 14 | 8 PM | 89; NY | 9-15-89 | [illegible] | [illegible]; London | PM | SP 18 | 89 | Canada. [back]

2. On September 12, 1889, Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904) wrote from Washington, D. C. requesting permission to visit Whitman. (The Boston Traveller on October 5, 1889, however reprinted a purported letter from Arnold to Whitman dated September 12, written from New York, in a flamboyant style not found in the actual letter.) For an account of Arnold's visit, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, September 12, 1889 and Saturday, September 14, 1889: "My main objection to him, if objection at all, would be, that he is too eulogistic—too flattering." Arnold published his own version of the interview in Seas and Lands (1891), in which he averred that the two read from Leaves of Grass, surrounded by Mrs. Davis, knitting, a handsome young man (Wilkins), and "a big setter." There are at least two additional accounts of Arnold's visit with Whitman; "Arnold and Whitman" was published anonymously in The Times (Philadelphia, PA) on September 15, 1889 and a different article, also titled "Arnold and Whitman" was published anonymously in The Daily Picayune (New Orleans, LA) on September 26, 1889. Arnold was best known for his long narrative poem, The Light of Asia (1879), which tells the life story and philosophy of Gautama Buddha and was largely responsible for introducing Buddhism to Western audiences. [back]

3. The actor, Whitman informed Traubel, was "a hearty fellow, too—Hanson, I think was his name" (Horace Traubel With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, September 13, 1889). [back]

4. 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]

5. 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]

6. The Bohemian Girl (1843) was a ballad opera by Irish composer Michael William Balfe (1808–1870) that enjoyed many revivals in Europe and the U.S. during the nineteenth century. [back]

7. 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]

8. 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]

9. Whitman is referring to Ellen O'Connor's letter of September 12, 1889 and Bucke's letter of September 9, 1889[back]


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