Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 19 September 1890

Date: September 19, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07837

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), 5:87–88. 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, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
1890
Sept: 191

Perfect sunny day—am feeling pretty well—grip palpable tho'—(cold in the head feeling)—ate my breakfast with rather subdued appetite—bowel action this forenoon—miss Mrs: D[avis]2 somewhat3—call f'm my sister & niece this mn'g4—Ab't the Ingersoll5 affair I am in favor of New York decidedly, but it is probable they will have it in Phila:6—there is some opposition to me or my cause being identified with I. wh' seems to make the special I[ngersoll] and freethinking folks more intense in identifying this W W affair with mark'd freethinking and non-orthodox (almost) passion—all of wh' is annoying to me—But I let the current move as it will or may, & shall not meddle—but there are items ab't it that are not acceptable to me—for instance I do not like Col. I being solicited to do this as he appears to have been—of course it is not his fault in the least degree—Certainly I have neither prompted nor authorized any thing of the kind—I welcome him & applaud him—he is a noble & frank man, and I am proud of his endorsement & advocacy, & think that speech at the Reisser dinner7 one of the chief pinnacles of my life—but I wince f'm any solicitation of that kind utterly—but enough of all that8—I have just had a nice basket of seckel pears (f'm Prof: J McK Cattell,9 Penn. University) & have sent some to old & sick neighbors—(best tasting pears ever was)—

later P M—the grip trouble is middling pronounced—sit here & read & write—day continues extra fine—am worried a good deal ab't a dear sister Mrs: Heyde10 (aged, sick, nervous) at Burlington Vermont a noble woman, her life (& mine too) made miserable by the damndest whelp of a husband11 ever allow'd on earth (the snakes & bed-bugs are not half as loathesome as some humans can be)—I call the H man whelp altogether in my private letters—so you see I have some worries12

Love to Mrs: B13 and the childer—
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, N.J. | Sep 19 | 6 PM | 90. [back]

2. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Mrs. Davis had gone to visit relatives in Kansas; see Whitman's letter to Bucke of September 13, 1890. [back]

4. Louisa Orr Whitman, wife of the poet's brother George, and Jessie Louisa Whitman, daughter of the poet's brother Jeff, came to discuss their visit to Burlington, Vermont, where Hannah was ill (The Commonplace-Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

5. 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]

6. On September 17, 1890 Bucke quoted from a letter from John H. Johnston: "This morning an hours talk with Ingersoll and I got his promise and authority to proceed and get up a lecture entertainment by him for Walt's benefit—in Phila I guess—Shall I put you on committee?" Almost invariably Johnston was the instigator of the remunerative benefits given for Walt Whitman in the last decade of his life. [back]

7. Whitman's friends gave him a birthday supper on May 31 at Reisser's Restaurant in Philadelphia, at which Ingersoll gave a "grand speech, never to be forgotten by me" (The Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Daniel Brinton, a professor of linguistics and archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania, presided, and other speakers included Bucke and Silas Weir Mitchell, a writer and a physician specializing in nervous disorders. The Philadelphia Inquirer carried the story on the front page on the following day, and the account in the Camden Post on June 2 the poet reprinted in Good-bye My Fancy (Prose Works, 1892, ed. Floyd Stovall, 2 vols. [New York: New York University Press: 1963–1964], 686–687). On June 5 Bucke asked Whitman whether Traubel was responsibe for the article in the Post. Later Traubel wrote "Walt Whitman's Birthday" for Unity (25 [August 28, 1890], 215). On June 5 Ingersoll wrote to Whitman: "I can hardly tell you what pleasure it gave me to meet you—to look into your eyes, to hear your voice, to grasp your hands and to thank you for the brave and splendid words you have uttered." [back]

8. Bucke replied to this objection on September 22, 1890: "I think you are right to stand aside (personally) from this I[ngersoll] demonstration but for my part (as a friend of the cause) I look upon it (and think you should) with great complacency. I think therefore that you are entirely wrong to be 'annoyed' at a demonstration in your favor even if it were entirely by freethinker[s]—they cannot alter you or your teaching and (on the contrary) you will undoubtedly, in the end, alter many of them and will have (in the end) in all probability your most extreme partisans & lovers in this section of humanity." [back]

9. James McKeen Cattell (1860–1944) was professor of psychology (the first to hold such a position in the U.S.) at the University of Pennsylvania from 1888 to 1891; later he taught at Columbia University and was editor of The Psychological Review, Scientific Monthly, and School and Science[back]

10. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), youngest sister of Walt Whitman, married Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1890), a French-born landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. Hannah and Charles Heyde lived in Burlington, Vermont. For more, see Paula K. Garrett, "Whitman (Heyde), Hannah Louisa (d. 1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1890), a French-born landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1890), Walt Whitman's sister, and they lived in Burlington, Vermont. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. For more information about Heyde, see Steven Schroeder, "Heyde, Charles Louis (1822–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

12. According to Heyde's letter on August 28, 1890, Louisa and Jessie had cleaned the house, bought various necessities, but had failed to leave "25 dollars for the taxes." Heyde complained again on September 8 that "no money was bestowed," and said that he was consulting real estate agents in Camden about buying a house there (no doubt a threat). On November 5 and again on December 3, after effusive praise, he reminded the poet of the $25 needed to pay taxes and interest. [back]

13. Jessie Maria Gurd (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Jessie married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [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.