Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 21 November 1889

Date: November 21, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07735

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 created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Nov: 21 '891

Cloudy now the third day—Nothing very new—my little poemet (welcoming Brazil republic) return'd from Harper's Weekly rejected2—I am feeling fairly—the suspicion (not at all decided) of fairer strength continued—the bad weather however has kept me in the last four days—rest &c: last night satisfactory—rare fried eggs, Graham bread, stew'd prunes & tea for my breakfast—am sitting here (same, same old story) in the big rocking chair alone in den—the elder of the two young sailor men, Harry Fritzinger,3 has just been up to see me—I like the two fellows, & they do me good (his brother Warren4 is my nurse)—I sent you "the American" with the notice of Sarrazins5 book in it6—Send me word if you get the bundle safe—the Boston Transcript has printed a good little notice of the Compliment7 wh' I have given to Horace,8 as he likes to collect all such—I enclose Mrs: O'C's9 card just rec'd10—She has in view to get an appointment as woman clerk in some Dep't there, & will probably get such—Donnely's11 (Cryptogram12) pubr's have issued a little livraison of favorable criticisms—& sent me one—Shall I send it to you? or have you rec'd one? I send another piece ab't Dr Sequard13—it is just past noon & I am ab't having my currying.

God bless you all—
Walt Whitman

1015 O St. N. W.
Nov. 20. 1889

I am at home, but not yet sleeping in the home, as the stove has to be repaired, & the men are slow. Hope you are all right!

With love—
Nelly O'Connor.

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).


1. This letter is addressed: Dr Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Nov 21 | 8 PM | 89; Philadelphia, PA | Nov 21 | [illegible]PM | Transit; London | AM | No 25 | 89 | Canada. [back]

2. Whitman sent the poem (later entitled "A Christmas Greeting") to John Foord of Harper's Weekly and asked $10. When it was rejected, he sent the manuscript on December 4 to S. S. McClure (see his December 9–10 letter to Bucke), who paid $11 for the rights to publish the poem in his syndicate of newspapers; whether it was ever published is still unknown (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

3. Harry Fritzinger (about 1866–?) was the brother of Warren Fritzinger, who would serve as Whitman's nurse beginning in October 1889. Harry worked as an office boy in Camden when he was fourteen. He also worked as a sailor. Later, he became a railroad conductor. Mary Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, took care of both Harry and Warren after the death of their father, the sea captain Henry W. Fritzinger. Davis had looked after Capt. Fritzinger, who went blind, before she started to perform the same housekeeping services for Whitman. Harry married Rebecca Heisler on September 15, 1890. [back]

4. 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. A picture of Warry is displayed in the May 1891 New England Magazine (278). See Joann P. Krieg, "Fritzinger, Frederick Warren (1866–1899)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 240. [back]

5. Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. The Critic of December 21, 1889 contained an extract from Harrison S. Morris's article in The American entitled "Whitman's 'Indescribable Masculinity,'" a review of Sarrazin's book by his American translator. [back]

7. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration in Camden, on May 31, 1889, 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]

8. 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 late 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]

9. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) 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 African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Whitman is referring to O'Connor's card of November 20, 1889, noting her arrival in Washington. [back]

11. Ignatius Loyola Donnelly (1831–1901) was a politician and writer, well known for his notions of Atlantis as an antediluvian civilization and for his belief that Shakespeare's plays had been written by Francis Bacon, an idea he argued in his book The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon's Cipher in Shakespeare's Plays, published in 1888. The "programme" referred to here was probably an announcement of the publication of that book. [back]

12. Ignatius Donnelly's The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon's Cipher in the So-Called Shakespeare Plays. was published by R.S. Peale & Company in 1888. [back]

13. Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard (1817–1894) was a physiologist and neurologist who identified the sensory pathways of the spinal cord, anticipating modern ideas on how the brain operates, as well as leading towards the development of modern hormone replacement therapy (Michael J. Aminoff, Brown–Sequard: An Improbable Genius Who Transformed Medicine [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011]). [back]


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