Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 12 October 1890

Date: October 12, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07845

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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Camden N J1
Sunday PM
Oct: 12 '90

Sorry to hear (by H)2 of the pain &c: f'm the bruise & fracture (is it fracture?)3—if it is eligible to irritiation & feverishness don't come down here 21st inst4:—I have sort of fear ab't it—I will send you all accts & reports—All goes well—you will get a sample of big poster just up—I shall go to the Hall & show myself, & just say publicly a word or so (as I wish to definitely settle my identification, sympathy & gratitude, & there has been some dodging & perhaps cowardice here)5—I am keep fairly but the grip is on me bad yet—am writing.

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 postal card is addressed: Dr Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Oct 12 | 5 PM | 90; London | PM | OC 13 | 90 | Canada. [back]

2. 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]

3. Sometime before October 10, 1890, Bucke suffered a fall in which he injured his right arm. That same day, he wrote Horace Traubel: "I am over my eyes in work and my right arm is helpless and painfull—it keeps me from getting good rest at night so that I am not in the best of trim by day." [back]

4. 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]

5. 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]


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