Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 11 April 1890

Date: April 11, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07766

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:36. 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, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
Noon April 11 '901

Bad night ag'n—heavy tussel strangling spell (phlegm &c) bet. 12 and 1—& more or less all night but fell asleep utterly worried & tired out toward morning—must have had sleep of a couple of hours—A suspicion of better, very faint but palpable, this forenoon—ate all my breakfast (egg, toast, coffee & dab of raspberry) for the first time in three weeks—& have a slight glint of strength instead of the deadly weakness & inertia of past month—head ache all the forenoon—rather pleasant day, sun out most of the time—anxious abt my Tuesday evn'g engagement2 next, want much to carry it out—but very uncertain as I write—Y'rs of 8th3 rec'd last evn'g—have just sent off a "Bruno"4 to Burroughs5 and Stedman6 (at Horace's7 request) also to Edw'd Bertz8 Potsdam & R P Smith9 London—

5 p m—have had my supper—beef & onion stew to which in moderation I have seriously inclined—have just had to deny myself to a bevy of visitors—y'rs of even'g 9th10 just rec'd—thanks—have not had any doctor in yet & probably will not—what I have is mainly an expansion & perhaps concentration of my long long chronic botherations, bad enough before & when this is off, I sh'l feel sort o' well—how long the light day is getting—the sun is well up here yet—


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 (?) | Apr 12 | 6 AM | (?). [back]

2. This is a reference to Whitman's lecture entitled "The Death of Abraham Lincoln." He first delivered this lecture in New York in 1879 and would deliver it at least eight other times over the succeeding years, delivering it for the last time on April 15, 1890. He had published a version of the lecture as "Death of Abraham Lincoln" in Specimen Days and Collect (1882–83). For more on the lecture, see Larry D. Griffin, "'Death of Abraham Lincoln,'" Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. This letter is not extant. [back]

4. Giordano Bruno: Philosopher and Martyr (1890) consisted of two speeches before the Philadelphia Contemporary Club by Daniel G. Brinton (1837–1899), a pioneer in the study of anthropology and a professor of linguistics and archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania, and by Thomas Davidson (1840–1900), a Scottish philosopher and author. It included a prefatory note by Whitman dated February 24, 1890 (see The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: Prose Works 1892, ed. by Floyd Stovall, 2 vols. [1963–1964], 2:676–677). In his essay Brinton links the poet with Bruno in his rejection of the "Christian notion of sin as a positive entity" (34). On April 4, 1890, Whitman sent copies of the book to John Addington Symonds, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Gabriel Sarrazin, T. H. Rolleston, and W. M. Rossetti (The Commonplace-Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). See also Whitman's April 11, 1890, letter to Bucke. After the poet presented him with a copy of Complete Poems & Prose, Brinton expressed his thanks effusively on April 12, 1890. [back]

5. 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]

6. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. 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]

8. Edward Bertz (1853–1931), also spelled "Eduard," was a German writer and translator from Potsdam, who became involved with social democracy movements and signed a petition against the criminalization of homosexuality in Germany. For more information on Bertz, see Grünzweig, Walter, "Bertz, Eduard (1853–1931)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland, 1998). [back]

9. 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]

10. This letter is not extant. [back]


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