Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 10 October 1890

Date: October 10, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07746

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.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Zainab Saleh, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden
P M Oct: 10 '90

Nothing very different with me—fair enough—Did I tell you I sent off "Old Poets"1 (5 pages—maybe minus) to N A Rev2?—(I rec'd yesterday mn'g a telegram3 f'm them soliciting it)—I guess the Ing:4 enterprise5 continues to move well—Horace6 is nearer excited than I ever saw him—I was out an hour in wheel-chair7 yesterday—am very susceptible to the jolting—always come back with a confused, topsy-turvy head-achy feeling—sunny to-day—Enclose two MSS the O'C8 preface9 & the little Shakspere bit,10 (both w'd take prize for dilapitated printer's copy)—we are surfeited with horrible murder cases & such here—there visits f'm the g't miners, engineers, & the French prince—I welcome 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. On October 3, 1890 Whitman accepted the invitation to write for The North American Review. He sent them "Old Poets," the first of a two-part contribution, on October 9, 1890[back]

2. The North American Review was the first literary magazine in the United States. The journalist Charles Allen Thorndike Rice (1851–1889) edited and published the magazine in New York from 1876 until his death. After Rice's death, Lloyd Bryce became owner and editor, and he held these positions at the time of Rideing's letter. [back]

3. See William H. Rideing's telegram of October 9, 1890[back]

4. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

5. Whitman is referring to the lecture in his honor, which would take place on October 21 at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall. The New York jeweler John H. Johnston and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke planned the event, and the orator and agnostic Robert Ingersoll delivered the lecture: "Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman." See Ingersoll's October 12 and October 20 letters to Whitman. [back]

6. 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]

7. 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]

8. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. On May 29, 1890, Ellen O'Connor asked Whitman to write a preface for a collection of tales by her husband, the late William Douglas O'Connor, which she hoped to publish—The Brazen Android and Other Tales (later entitled Three Tales). After the poet's approval was conveyed to her through Bucke, Mrs. O'Connor wrote on June 1, 1890: "Your name & William's will be associated in many ways, & this loving word from you will be a comfort to me for all time." Not having heard directly from him, she wrote about the preface once more on June 30, 1890. Whitman enclosed the preface with his letter to Mrs. O'Connor of September 25, 1890. [back]

10. Jonathan Trumbull published "Walt Whitman's View of Shakspere" in Poet-lore, 2 (July 1890), 368–371. Whitman's reply, "Shakspere for America," appeared in Poet-lore 2 (October 1890), 492–493, and was reprinted in The Critic on September 27. [back]


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