Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 24–25 September 1890

Date: September 24–25, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07841

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

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

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Sept: 24—noon

—Sunny cool day—Warry2 (my nurse) proposes that we get a horse and wagon & drive down to the Staffords's,3 but I dont feel for it somehow—I enclose the O'C4 preface,5 such as it is6—I wanted to put on record my personal tribute—I havn't heard for some time f'm Mrs: O'C7—don't know whether the Tales have settled on publisher, & when to appear—

—Y'r letter rec'd8—don't misconstrue me—I only deprecate any solicitation of Ing:9 but am wholly & deeply proud & responsive to his good will &c—(shall probably go & sit in propria personae on the platform or front seat)—consider Ing: as one of the very few first class individual American typical men of the present time, wholly worthy of the land and day—his very specialties & points (oddments—marks) prove the rule—prove his splendid freedom & individuality—have rec'd letters10 f'm J H Johnston11—am unshaken in my preference of N Y city for the Ing: speech12

Sept: 25—Rec'd this mn'g the enc'd13 f'm Dr Johnston14—also letter f'm J H Johnston15, advocating New York as place for Ing: speech—you know what my feeling (or preference) is, but I believe I don't care to interpose definitely in deciding it, as Horace16 & the Phila: friends are quite vehement for Phila: since the action of the Academy Directors17—you know too the Y. M. Christ: Ass: Directors refused me their Hall to address on Elias Hicks18—so our friends are on their mettle here—cold spell of weather here—grip bad on me to-day side, back of neck sore & swelled—of course have written to Mrs: O'C & sent the preface19—sun shining brightly out.

Walt Whitman

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 [illegible] | Sep 25 | 8 PM | 90; Philadelpia, PA | Sep | 25 | 9 PM | 1890 | Transit; London | PM | SP 27 | 9 | Canada. [back]

2. 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. [back]

3. Susan and George Stafford were the parents of Whitman's young friend, Harry Stafford. Whitman often visited the family at their farm at Timber Creek in Laurel Springs (near Glendale), New Jersey, and was sometimes accompanied by Herbert Gilchrist; in the 1880s, the Staffords sold the farm and moved to nearby Glendale. For more, see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. 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]

5. 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 the Canadian physician Richard Maurice 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[back]

6. Three of O'Connor's stories with a preface by Whitman were published in Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1892). The preface was included in Good-Bye My Fancy (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891), 51–53. [back]

7. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor 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 black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae 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]

8. See Bucke's letter of September 22, 1890[back]

9. 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]

10. See Johnston's first and second letters of September 22, 1890. [back]

11. John H. Johnston (1837–1919) was a New York jeweler and close friend of Whitman. Johnston was also a friend of Joaquin Miller (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1915], 2:139). Whitman visited the Johnstons for the first time early in 1877. In 1888 he observed to Horace Traubel: "I count [Johnston] as in our inner circle, among the chosen few" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, October 3, 1888). See also Johnston's letter about Whitman, printed in Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1915), 149–174. For more on Johnston, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

12. Whitman expresses his preference for New York in his September 19, 1890, letter to Richard Maurice Bucke. [back]

13. See Dr. John Johnston's letter of September 13, 1890[back]

14. Dr. John Johnston (d. 1918) was a physician from Bolton, England, who, with James W. Wallace, founded the "Bolton College" of English admirers of the poet. Johnston and Wallace corresponded with Whitman and with Horace Traubel and other members of the Whitman circle in the United States, and they separately visited the poet and published memoirs of their trips in John Johnston and James William Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917). For more information on Johnston, see Larry D. Griffin, "Johnston, Dr. John (d.1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

15. See Johnston's letter of September 23, 1890[back]

16. 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]

17. The hostility in Philadelphia to the orator and agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll's (1833–1899) lecture in honor of Whitman aroused the wrath of the Whitmanites, although they secretly delighted in the opportunity to battle with the "enemy." Bucke, who had wanted a New York lecture, sputtered on September 28, "Now I am in favor of Phila for the sake of the dear Pharisees there. If I were down East and assisting to run the thing I would give them (at least try to give them) a dose that they would remember and that would do them good." He returned to the subject on September 30: "Chaff the Pharisees and tell them to 'come on!' Lord how dear old [William] O'C[onnor] would be tickled to be in the middle of the thing!" [back]

18. Elias Hicks (1748–1830) was a traveling Quaker preacher and anti-slavery activist from Long Island, New York. Whitman's essay on Hicks, "Notes (such as they are) founded on Elias Hicks," appeared in November Boughs (1888). For more on Hicks, see Henry Watson Wilbur, The Life and Labors of Elias Hicks (Philadelphia: Friends' General Conference Advancement Committee, 1910). [back]

19. Whitman enclosed the preface with his letter to Ellen O'Connor of September 25, 1890[back]


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