Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 27–28 September 1889

Date: September 27–28, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07705

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
noon Sept.27 '891

Bright sunny day—quite cool—Ed2 has just built a fire—I am sitting here as usual in the big chair—suppose you get the Harper's Weekly I sent yesterday with my little poemet "Bravo Paris Exposition!"3 —Nothing very new or notable—bowel action—no medicines, no doctor-visits for a long time—Mrs: O'C[onnor]4 must be still in Boston, (she went temporarily thence to Nantucket but I guess has return'd)—I guess R P Smith5 has return'd to 44 Grosvenor Road, London—(I have sent of late by mail to him at Haselmere)—y'rs rec'd—welcomed—have not been out in wheel chair6 many days—shall probably get out this after-noon—

Sept. 28 noon—Sunny & cool continued. Am feeling fairly—John Burroughs7 is here this forenoon—has been at Asbury Park (a nice place on the Jersey sea shore) the last week, with his wife8 & boy9—all well—the last two have gone back to Po'keepsie—& John jaunts on here, & to New York to-night, & back to West Park. J is well, & looks well, works in his vineyard & farm, & feels well10—Dr Brinton11 here last evn'g (with Horace12)—talked interestingly of Arabia where he has lived lately—of the common people & their ways, looks, & life—the bulk of Arabs—

I have grapes quite copiously of late, & eat them—Shall send this off Saturday night—


Walt Whitman

letters to-day (28th) f'm Mrs. O'C and Kennedy13—all well—


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 28 | 8 PM | 89; Philadelphia, PA | Sep | 28 | 9 PM | 1889 | Transit; NY | 9-29-89 | 1030AM | 8; Lon [illegible] PM | S [illegible] 30 | 8 [illegible] | Canada. [back]

2. 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]

3. Whitman sent "Bravo, Paris Exposition!" to Harper's Weekly on September 18, 1889 (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]); on the following day editor John Foord (1862–1922) accepted the poem and enclosed $10 in payment in his letter of September 19, 1889. It appeared on September 28. See also Whitman's letter to Bucke of June 8–9, 1889, note 10. [back]

4. 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]

5. Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) was a Quaker who became an evangelical minister associated with the "Holiness movement." He was also a writer and businessman. Whitman often stayed at his Philadelphia home, where the poet became friendly with the Smith children—Mary, Logan, and Alys. For more information about Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. 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]

7. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Ursula North Burroughs (1836–1917) was John Burroughs's wife. Ursula and John were married on September 12, 1857. The couple maintained a small farm overlooking the Hudson River in West Park, Ulster County. They adopted a son, Julian, at two months of age. It was only later revealed that John himself was the biological father of Julian. [back]

9. Julian Burroughs (1878–1954), the only son of John and Ursula Burroughs, later became a landscape painter, writer, and photographer. [back]

10. For Burroughs' account of his visit, see (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1931], 289). [back]

11. Daniel Garrison Brinton (1837–1899) was a surgeon in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and then practiced medicine in Pennsylvania. He went on to become a professor at the Academy of Natural Sciences, where he taught archaelogy and ethnology, and, later, he worked as a professor of linguistics and archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. Whitman admired Brinton, who would speak at the poet's funeral. [back]

12. 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]

13. 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]


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