Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 18 May 1890

Date: May 18, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07868

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

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May 18 noon '90

Bright sunny day—am feeling fairly—had a mutton-chop for breakfast, ate all—hope to get out early afternoon—Warren2 has gone off in the country—Lezinsky3 was here last evn'g—goes off west (to Chicago) to-day, en route I suppose to Cal—I could not make any thing very definite or satisfactory from his talk (wh' was very profuse) & I told him finally & summarily I guess I was exhausted, & to write plainly what he proposed & send me, when I w'd give him categorical reply—(If he writes, proposing any thing I will first show it you, & probably to Horace4 too)—

It is probable I shall not see the hansom any more5—went out four miles north hence to what we call Pea Ridge Shore, a shallow bay of the Delaware, yesterday midday, in hansom—an enjoyable country drive—have rec'd a book ab't Dante6 &c. (pretty good, interesting) f'm Addington Symonds7—a letter f'm Dowden8—I send to both & many others, foreigners &c y'r piece in "Conservator," wh' reads well to me9—have not sent my piece to Scribners, likely shall not—the enc: are a letter f'm Kennedy10 to you, (marked for me to open)—also an old one f'm K11—I shall look for you Tuesday—


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 R M Bucke | the Aldine hotel Decatur Street | Cape May City | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Cape May City | May 19 | 12 Pm | 1890 | N. J.; Camden, N. J. | May 18 | 5PM | 90. [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. David L. Lezinsky was an 1884 graduate of the University of California, who wrote poetry and visited Whitman on May 17, 1890, while setting out on a trip to California. Whitman wrote letters to him and sent him a copy of his Complete Poems & Prose, but there is no information about what his "proposition" to Whitman was, and he remains something of a mystery. See Whitman's letters to Bucke of June 5, 1890 and to Lezinsky of October 28, 1890. [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. In his Commonplace Book, Whitman noted on May 17 "the imminent (dangerous) at Market st: wharf"—which may explain this sentence. However, William T. Stead took him for a "drive to Gloucester" on May 19 (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

6. John Addington Symonds's An Introduction to the Study of Dante (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1872) was reissued in May 1890. [back]

7. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Edward Dowden (1843–1913), professor of English literature at the University of Dublin, was one of the first to critically appreciate Whitman's poetry, particularly abroad, and was primarily responsible for Whitman's popularity among students in Dublin. In July 1871, Dowden penned a glowing review of Whitman's work in the Westminster Review entitled "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," in which Dowden described Whitman as "a man unlike any of his predecessors . . . Bard of America, and Bard of democracy." In 1888 Whitman observed to Traubel: "Dowden is a book-man: but he is also and more particularly a man-man: I guess that is where we connect" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 10, 1888). For more, see Philip W. Leon, "Dowden, Edward (1843–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of April 28, 1890[back]

10. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. According Edwin Haviland Miller, Whitman is referring to Kennedy's letter to Bucke on May 15 and one page of a letter written about April, 1887, dealing with Thomas Wentworth Higginson's criticism of Walt Whitman in Harper's Bazar. See Whitman's letter to Kennedy, Bucke, and the naturalist John Burroughs of April 21, 1887, n1. [back]


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