Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 23 October 1889

Date: October 23, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07716

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, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden
early PM Oct:23 '891

Quite a spiteful east wind snow storm all this forenoon (it melted as it fell)—have some fulness & pain in head but am getting along fairly—bowel action (middling)—I have been sitting here, trying to interest myself in the mn'g papers—have three of them—& my mail—hasty note frequently f'm Kennedy2 (one enclosed)—McKay3 sent over yesterday for one of the big books (the "complete")4 for a customer—McK has them from me for $4—I suppose you got Tennyson's5 "Throstle" I sent6—(rayther funny)—y'r letter just rec'd7—you must have all had a jolly time Delaware ward & there—where is Pardee?8 & how is he developing? tell the boy I have not forgot him—Best love & respects to Mrs. B9 too—

Is Beemer10 there yet! & how is he? if there give him my love. W F (Warren Fritzinger)11 has just (1 p m) given me a good currying (with a horse brush) & will give me another ab't 9 1/2—they are very acceptable to me—sting a little & make my flesh all red—

One of the Cambridge, Mass: College fellows has just sent to get L of G, the pk't b'k ed'n12—sent the money—several have been b't there before—I shall have some adv: circulars printed soon, & will send you some—It is stormy looking enough out, n e wind, but the snow fall stopt & no signs of it on the ground—

Love to you & God bless you all,
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. | Oct 23 | [8?]PM; London | PM | OC 25 | 89 | Canada. [back]

2. 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]

3. David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–2. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the publisher Whitman had originally contracted with for publication of the volume, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, and Complete Prose Works. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Whitman often referred to Complete Poems & Prose (1888) as his "big book." With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions, and Frederick Oldach bound the volume, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. Philadelphia publisher David McKay published the book in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [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. 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]

6. "Throstle" was a parody of Tennyson by the English poet and author Edmund Gosse (1849–1928). Whitman also mentions "Throstle" in his letters to Bucke of October 27–28, 1889, and October 31, 1889[back]

7. Whitman is referring to Bucke's letter of October 18, 1889[back]

8. Whitman is referring to Bucke's son, apparently named after Bucke's friend Timothy Blair Pardee, who died in July. See the letter from Whitman to Bucke of July 26, 1889[back]

9. Jessie Maria Gurd (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Jessie married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]

10. Dr. Beemer was in charge of the "Refractory Building" at Bucke's asylum. Whitman met Beemer during his visit there in the summer of 1880. See James H. Coyne, Richard Maurice Bucke: A Sketch (Toronto: Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 1906), 52. [back]

11. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate.  [back]

12. The book was sent to Edmund B. Delebarre (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]). [back]


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