Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 8 January 1889

Date: January 8, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07771

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 Richard Maurice Bucke, The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), 101. 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, Breanna Himschoot, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock




[London, Ont.,]
8 Jan [188]91

Yours of 5th/ and 6th/2 came to hand this a.m. The little piece to "The year '89"3 enclosed. It is fierce and strong, do not see where (in your condition) the force comes from to write such lines so savage and bitter with their double and treble meaning.4 I trust you are (even if "very very slowly") gaining and am glad to have you say that you believe in my diagnosis of letter of 24th Dec.5 If you can only be sure and not take more than the system can day by day dispose of (and excrete the waste from), you may do pretty well for a long time. The fault is not that you eat too much—(I do not suppose you are inclined to eat more than would be good for you) but that your excretary organs (especially bowels & kidneys) are in such poor trim. I note what you say of Sylvester Baxter's6 criticism in Boston Herald.7 He has not sent me a copy and I have not seen it yet—I hope either you or Traubel8 will send it me at once. The big book9 ought to be on the market. When will it be? Binding I suppose not settled upon yet?

Yesterday was municipal election day with us here. Today the children begin going to school again. No winter yet, soft, dirty, muggy weather [/] All however goes quietly and well

Love to you
R M Bucke


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. Five of Bucke's letters to Whitman (January 8, 1889, January 20, 1889, April 28, 1890, August 24, 1890, and March 6, 1891) were miscatalogued as being from Bucke to Traubel. Edwin Haviland Miller has not listed these letters in his "Calendar of Letters Written to Whitman" (The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Correspondence New York: New York University Press, Volume 4, 428–441; Volume 5, 333–349). [back]

2. See Whitman's January 5–6, 1889 letter to Bucke. [back]

3. "To the Year 1889" (later titled "To the Pending Year") appeared in the Critic on January 5, 1889; Whitman received $6 for the piece (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C.) [back]

4. See Whitman's December 24, 1888 letter to Bucke. [back]

5. Bucke is referring to a lost letter. For Lozynsky's reconstruction see The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), 98–99. [back]

6. Sylvester Baxter (1850–1927) was on the staff of the Boston Herald. Apparently he met Whitman for the first time when the poet delivered his Lincoln address in Boston in April, 1881; see Rufus A. Coleman, "Whitman and Trowbridge," PMLA 63 (1948), 268. Baxter wrote many newspaper columns in praise of Whitman's writings, and in 1886 attempted to obtain a pension for the poet. For more, see Christopher O. Griffin, "Baxter, Sylvester [1850–1927]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. See Whitman's January 5–6, 1889 letter to Bucke. [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 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]

9. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, he made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.