Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

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

Date: August 14, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07922

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: Ryan Furlong, Zainab Saleh, Stephanie Blalock, and Breanna Himschoot



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Camden1
Aug: 14 '90
the noon whistle is just blowing

Continue pretty well considering—had a good breakfast, a bit of mutton chop, bread, raspberry jam & coffee—now the fourth day of fine weather, pleasantly cool—go out in wheel chair2 every day a little—am pottering at my "annex"3—have a little piece in (probably) the forthcoming Critic (16th Aug:)4 anent of Symonds'5 Essay "Democratic Art"6 & me —Shall send you a copy probably in a slip—Suppose you got what I sent ab't that ridiculous Prof: Woodberry7—("the foe dies hard—& dying fights, or living fights")—

—Havn't yet written the O'C8 preface,9 but feel to, & will, & likely soon. Logan Smith10 has bo't twelve copies of the pocket-b'k-b'd L of G.11 & sent the money—the dear, good, loving faithful young man—I sell occasionally a big book (complete works)12—likely they have nearly repaid the expense of their printing & binding, & I have 3/5ths left. A letter this mn'g f'm W S K13 —he is well—letter f'm Mr Wallace,14 Eng:—photo enc—good fellow—friend of Dr Johnston15 (no word of him, since he left here, Camden)

Harry Stafford16 was here yesterday—he is pretty well—is on the farm—am sitting here as usual alone all day—fair condition as c'd be expected I guess—fair bodily secretive & excretive affairs considering—dawdle on writing or reading—the summer will soon be through—Love to Mrs: B17 and W G18— & 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: CA [illegible] | AUG 14 | 6 PM | 90;LONDON | AU [illegible] 5 | O | CANADA; PHILADELPHIA, PA. | 1890 | TRANSIT; BUFFALO, N.Y. | AUG | 15 | 11AM | 1890 | TRANSIT. [back]

2. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

3. Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy 2d Annex" to Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. "An Old Man's Rejoinder" was published in The Critic 17 (August 16, 1890), 85–86. The "Rejoinder" was later reprinted in Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) (see Prose Works 1892, Volume 2: Collect and Other Prose, ed. Floyd Stovall [New York: New York University Press, 1964], 655–658). [back]

5. 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]

6. Whitman is referring to John Addington Symonds's Essays Speculative and Suggestive (London: Chapman and Hall, 1890). The chapter on "Democratic Art" is mainly inspired by Whitman. In his August 20–22, 1890, letter, Bucke remarked: "The whole article is 'flat, stale and unprofitable'—a saw dust chewing business—dealing with the hull, the shell, the superfices, never for one line, one flash of insight penetrating to the heart of the business." On August 24, 1890, Whitman observed: "you are a little more severe on Symonds than I sh'd be." [back]

7. Charles J. Woodbury published "Emerson's Talks with a College Boy" in the Century in February 1890 (621–627) and his book Talks with Ralph Waldo Emerson later in the same year. In the latter he averred that Emerson told him Whitman appeared coatless at a dinner party (128). The poet denied the accusation in an unsigned article in the Camden Post on August 12, which he reprinted, again anonymously, in Lippincott's in March, 1891; see Complete Poems & Prose (1888), 774–775. Bucke commented on the matter on August 17: "These foolish, would be visions, lies, & liars will one day come to an end—in the meantime I do not know but they do more good than harm—Keep things stirred up." Woodbury also praised Whitman both in the Century (625) and in his book (62–63). On February 21, 1866, Woodbury, then twenty-one years old, wrote an exuberant letter to Whitman in which he averred that "Emmerson did not say the best things." For his retraction, see Whitman's letter to Bucke of July 5–6, 1891, n.43. [back]

8. 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]

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[back]

10. Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946) was an essayist and literary critic. He was the son of Robert Pearsall Smith, a minister and writer who befriended Whitman, and he was the brother of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, one of Whitman's most avid followers. For more information on Logan, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Logan Pearsall (1865–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. Whitman had a limited and pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass printed in honor of his 70th birthday, on May 31, 1889, through special arrangement with Frederick Oldach. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. The volume also included the annex Sands at Seventy and his essay A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads. For more information on the book see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary [back]

12. Whitman often referred to Complete Poems & Prose (1888) as his "big book." The volume was published by the poet himself in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions, and Frederick Oldach bound the volume, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

13. 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]

14. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. For more information on Wallace, see Larry D. Griffin, "Wallace, James William (1853–1926)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

15. 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]

16. Walt Whitman met the 18-year-old Harry Lamb Stafford (b. 1858) in 1876, beginning a relationship which was almost entirely overlooked by early Whitman scholarship, in part because Stafford's name appears nowhere in the first six volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden—though it does appear frequently in the last three volumes, which were published only in the 1990s. Whitman occasionally referred to Stafford as "My (adopted) son" (as in a December 13, 1876, letter to John H. Johnston), but the relationship between the two also had a romantic, erotic charge to it. In 1884, Harry married Eva Westcott. For further discussion of Stafford, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Stafford, Harry L. (b.1858)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

17. 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]

18. William John Gurd (1845–1903) was Richard Maurice Bucke's brother-in-law, with whom he was designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. Bucke believed the meter would be worth "millions of dollars," while Whitman remained skeptical, sometimes to Bucke's annoyance. In a March 18, 1888, letter to William D. O'Connor, Whitman wrote, "The practical outset of the meter enterprise collapsed at the last moment for the want of capital investors." For additional information, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 17, 1889, Monday, March 18, 1889, Friday, March 22, 1889, and Wednesday, April 3, 1889. [back]


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