Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 26–[27] September 1890

Date: September 26–[27], 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07842

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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1890
Friday Sept: 26 PM
Camden1

Cloudy & wet & inclined to chilly—feeling ab't usual—fairly enough—(thankful it is no worse)—grip & bladder bother—have started a little fire in the stove & had the old wolfskin spread back of chair—Appears to be settled decided that Ing's2 address shall be in Phila3:—just as well (I appreciate Horace's4 and Frank Williams'5 vehement point that it will not do to give up here after the Academy Directors' action to say nothing of the Y M Christ: Ass: bluff)6—I believe I told you that I had sent the O'C7 bit to Mrs. O'C8 (printed slip)9—I wrote to J Burroughs10 yesterday—expect him here before long—

5¼ quite a hearty supper—oysters vegetables coffee—all eaten with relish—still dark & rainy—quite a copious mail to day—y'rs rec'd11

Saturday noon—Cloudy & wet still—feeling badly—the change of weather & coming on cool bad for me, less cool to day—sitting here newspaper reading &c: no mail this mn'g—Mrs: D12 expected back this evn'g f'm her long western jaunt (Kansas & Colorado &c)—Horticultural Hall ($75) Phila: will probably be hired for the Ing: address—well on in next month the date—Enc'd the first proof of the O'C bit—& will give you the copy (a terrible mangle) if it is not destroy'd—the Critic13 prints my little Shakspere bit f'm the Poet-Lore14—(I suppose you got the one I sent)—the tariff bill of the bandit-combination is pass'd or is sure to be15—("Keep on, sir, if you think there's no hell" said the girl)—

God bless you 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. This letter is addressed: Dr Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden (?) | Sep 27 | 8 PM | 90; London | PM | SP 29 | 90 | Canada. [back]

2. 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]

3. 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]

4. 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]

5. Francis ("Frank") Howard Williams (1844–1922) was a poet and playwright from Germantown in Philadelphia. Frank and his wife Mary Bartholomew Houston Williams (1844–1920) had a wide circle of literary acquaintances. He wrote a number of essays about Whitman, and Whitman often visited the Williams family and once was photographed with them. Whitman mentions them frequently to Horace Traubel, recalling "how splendidly the Williamses have always received me in their home" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, September 18, 1888). [back]

6. The hostility in Philadelphia to the Ingersoll lecture 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 O'C[onnor] would be tickled to be in the middle of the thing!" [back]

7. 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]

8. 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]

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. 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]

11. See Bucke's letter of September 24, 1890[back]

12. 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]

13. The Critic (1881–1906) was a literary magazine co-edited by Joseph Benson Gilder (1858–1936), with his sister Jeannette Leonard Gilder (1849–1916). Whitman's poems "The Pallid Wreath" (January 10, 1891) and "To The Year 1889" (January 5, 1889) were first published in The Critic[back]

14. 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]

15. The Tariff Act of 1890 was passed into law on October 1, 1890, increasing duties across all imports. [back]


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