Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 7 September 1890

Date: September 7, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07943

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



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Camden1
Sunday Sept: 7 P M '90

Quiet day—All goes well as usual with me—am sitting here same—Sarrazin2 has gone to New Caledonia a French colony, where he has a post (magistrat) at town of Nouméa—has written to me,3 nothing new or important seems to keep up his view of L of G.—

—Y'r letters rec'd4—John Burroughs5 has sent me a good basket of grapes, & the word is that he will soon come himself—meanwhile he seems to be working & flourishing there on his fruit farm on Hudson river shore—no word very lately f'm the Smiths6 who are probably all down doing happily in the country at Haslemere (dear Mrs: Gilchrist's7 country)8—Herbert9 is still out at Centreport, Suffolk Co: Long Island—was here in N J ten days ago, but did not call on me—Horace10 comes daily, is very good to me—is cooking up the piece all ab't me for Boston N E Magazine "W W at date"11 (good title I say) collating all sorts of concrete & personal bits not literary criticism (first rate)—

The 50 big books12 have been box'd up & sent off to England13—have eaten oysters my meals several times lately they are good, plenty & cheap here now, (& for coming season)—Mrs: D14 cooks them to just suit me—agree with me markedly—Enclose J W Wallace's15 letter16 lately rec'd (can send photo: of him & friends on a card if you care to have it—I have two such cards)—

—Did I tell you I am composing a prose piece under the name of "Old Poets—(and other things)"17—don't know what I sh' make of it—moderately short—ab't 2½ as I close this—Shall lie down now a little—in ab't two hours have my supper & then get out an hour two in wheel chair18


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, N.J. | Sep 8 | 6 AM | 90; London | PM | SP 9 | 90 | Can [illegible]; NY | 9-8-90 | 1130AM | 8. [back]

2. Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France, who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. See Sarrazin's letter of July 3, 1890. [back]

4. See Bucke's letter to Whitman of September 2, 1890[back]

5. 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]

6. Whitman is referring to the family of his Philadelphia Quaker friend Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898), with whom and with whose children he had a close relationship; the family moved to England in 1888. For more information on Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Anne Burrows Gilchrist (1828–1885) was the author of one of the first significant pieces of criticism on Leaves of Grass, titled "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman (From Late Letters by an English Lady to W. M. Rossetti)," Radical 7 (May 1870), 345–59. Gilchrist's long correspondence with Whitman indicates that she had fallen in love with the poet after reading his work; when the pair met in 1876 when she moved to Philadelphia, Whitman never fully returned her affection, although their friendship deepened after that meeting. For more information on their relationship, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Anne Burrows (1828–1885)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Walt Whitman had not received Robert Pearsall Smith's letter of August 28, 1890 from Haslemere, in which he observed: "When, oh, when! will there be a vista through the perplexing obstructing surroundings of life to show us the eternal verities. We are both near the disrobing—where & how will come 'the clothing upon' of eternity. Do you feel any nearer to the solution of this than when we last talked it all over?" [back]

9. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. 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]

11. Whitman is referring to Horace Traubel's "Walt Whitman at Date," which was published in the New England Magazine 4 (May 1891): 275–292. [back]

12. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," 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 for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, 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. See Whitman's August 27, 1890, letter to Frederick Oldach. [back]

14. 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]

15. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Along with John Johnston (d. 1918), a physician from Bolton, he 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 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]

16. See Wallace's letter to Whitman of September 5, 1890[back]

17. See also Whitman's January 4, 1890, letter to Richard Maurice Bucke. "Old Poets" appeared in the North American Review in November. [back]

18. 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]


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