Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 14 May 1890

Date: May 14, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07866

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: Breanna Himschoot, Ian Faith, Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Zainab Saleh, and Stephanie Blalock



page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3


Camden1
PM May 14 '90

Y'rs rec'd f'm "the Aldine"2—all right—come on Friday—say 3 P M—When the weather is right I go out lately—to-day have been out f'm two to three hours—start at 11 abt—Stopt at Harleigh Cemetery to look again at my burial lot3—(it suits me)—then went on the Haddonfield pike three or four miles, and then wheeling around & home—all in a comfortable hansom—a friend sends it—good driver I like4

Alys Smith5 here yesterday—(nothing further ab't Mary's6 coming)—I invited Alys to the dinner7—several ladies will be present—(I was afraid they would try to make it large & elegant—happy to say it will probably be neither)—I am feeling pretty well—eat strawberries a good deal—sold several books lately & got the money—a fine day, sunny-hazy so far but now (3.20) looks like a shower before dark—Horace8 reported seeing you—I am sitting here same as of old in chair, site, &c—no fire needed (but I have a little mornings & evn'gs)—Who is with you? Mrs: B?9 Pardee?10 Give my love to all—I most envy the S W salt air that must be breezing in there to day—


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 R M Bucke | Aldine hotel Decatur Street | Cape May City | New Jersey. It is postmarked: [illegible] | May 14 | 5 PM | 90; Phila [illegible] | M [illegible] | 1 [illegible] | 1890 | Transit; Cape May City | May | 15 | 12PM | 1890 | N. J. [back]

2. Dr. Bucke had decided to get some "fresh sea air" and so spent some time on the southern New Jersey shore at the Aldine Cottage on Cape May (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, April 9, 1890), after which he came to Philadelphia and Camden and stayed to attend the poet's seventy-first birthday dinner. [back]

3. Whitman was buried in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, New Jersey, on March 30, 1892, four days after his death, in an elaborate granite tomb that he designed. Reinhalter and Company of Philadelphia built the tomb, at a cost of $4,000. Whitman covered a portion of these costs with money that his Boston friends had raised so that the poet could purchase a summer cottage; the remaining balance was paid by Whitman's literary executor, Thomas Harned. For more information on the cemetery and Whitman's tomb, see See Geoffrey M. Still, "Harleigh Cemetery" Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. The driver on this excursion—"the longest 'outing' for two years nearly"—was Edwin R. Stead, of 2226 Jefferson Street, Philadelphia (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). In the Gopsill Philadelphia City Directory for 1890 Stead was listed as a coppersmith. [back]

5. Alyssa ("Alys") Whitall Pearsall Smith (1867–1951) was born in Philadelphia and became a Quaker relief organizer. She attended Bryn Mawr College and was a graduate of the class of 1890. She and her family lived in Britain for two years during her childhood and again beginning in 1888. She married the philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1894; the couple later separated, and they divorced in 1921. Smith also served as the chair of a society committee that set up the "Mothers and Babies Welcome" (the St Pancras School for Mothers) in London in 1907; this health center, dedicated to reducing the infant mortality rate, provided a range of medical and educational services for women. Smith was the daughter of Robert Pearsall and Hannah Whitall Smith, and she was the sister of Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945), the political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." [back]

6. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." For more information about Costelloe, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. For Whitman's seventy-first birthday, Horace Traubel and a group of Whitman's friends (including Richard Maurice Bucke, Thomas Harned, and Daniel Brinton) arranged for a dinner on May 31, 1890, at Reisser's restaurant in Philadelphia. Compared to the festive seventieth-birthday celebration, this one was a smaller affair with only thirty-one guests, four of them women. For the planning of the dinner, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 20, 1890. Traubel also offers a full description of the event, including the speakers and the lively conversation in his entry for Saturday, May 31, 1890[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. 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]

10. Whitman is referring to Bucke's son, Edward Pardee Bucke (1875–1913), apparently named after Dr. Bucke's friend Timothy Blair Pardee. [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. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.