Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 6 November 1889

Date: November 6, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07724

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: Kirby Little, Braden Krien, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden
Wednesday Nov: 6 A M '891

Feeling fairly—bright sunny day—cool—was out yesterday ab't 2 in wheel chair2 (first time in three weeks) but it was markedly coolish, & I didn't feel to stay out long—had turn'd cool since noon—send you French paper Le Temps with "Bravo! Paris Exposition"—I am still scribbing a little—y'rs (two)3 came last evn'g—thanks—We have sent the Compliment4 to most of the foreign friends—am a good deal exercised ab't Mary Costelloe5—I too feared a sort of collapse or break-down6—(am a little fearful that the Spanish journey & racket will feed the enemy as much as it saps him)—

2 P M—Have had a strong currying & pummeling—good—quiet election yesterday & quiet to-day—(Harrisonian-Republicanism is losing its grip as is to have been expected)—the party-politics businesss here is a sad muddle every way. Scrawl just rec'd fr'm Kennedy7—enclosed—


Walt Whitman


Belmont
Nov 5. 89

good morning.
to W. W.

Fred. Wilson8 writes me that if he publishes I must pay cost of production. I can't, so I write him to return the MS. to me.9 I must wait till I get able. I "some" expect a little wad of money from an uncle who left his estate to revert to his nephews & nieces on the death of his wife.

I was very much impressed by the affectionate personal confessions of the dinner10 book.11

bye bye, dear friend
affec. & revere-ingly
W. S. K.


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. | Nov 6 | 8 PM | 89. [back]

2. 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]

3. Bucke had written to Whitman on October 30, 1889 and on November 5, 1889; he may have also written additional letters during this period. [back]

4. 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]

5. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." For more information about Costelloe, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. On November 6, 1889, Bucke with his usual bluntness wrote: "I am exceedingly sorry for Mrs. Costelloe but the fact is the life she went in for (an attempt to carry all London on her back) was simply suicidal. Should she fully recover from this breakdown (as I trust and think she will) she will no doubt be wiser and do better in future." [back]

7. 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]

8. 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]

9. Kennedy had reported in a letter to Whitman of January 2, 1888 that Frederick W. Wilson was willing to publish his study of Whitman. Kennedy's manuscript eventually became two books, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896) and The Fight of a Book for the World (1926). Alexander Gardner (1821–1882) of Paisley, Scotland, a publisher who reissued a number of books by and about Whitman, ultimately published Reminiscences of Walt Whitman in 1896 after a long and contentious battle with Kennedy over editing the book. [back]

10. 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]

11. 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]


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