Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 2 October 1890

Date: October 2, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07970

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.

Contributors to digital file: Zainab Saleh, Stephanie Blalock, and Breanna Himschoot



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Camden PM1
Oct: 2 '90

Yr's of 30th Sept: rec'd2—Mr Baker3 (from Ing:4) is in Phila conferring with Horace5 ab't place, date, &c. &c.6

—We will see what comes of it all—I rode out to Harleigh Cem't'y7 yesterday after noon—they have commenced the tomb, broke ground yesterday & will build the vault proper—the stone quarried at Quincy Mass: will be a month yet—Splendid day yesterday enjoy'd my hour's drive R Moore8 Sup't took me—grip and bladder bother on me


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: London | AM | OC 4 | [illegible]O | Canada; N. Y. | 10-2-90 | 12PM | 8; Camden, N.J. | Oct 2 | 3pm | 90. [back]

2. See Bucke's letter of September 30, 1890[back]

3. Isaac Newton Baker (1838–1923) was the private secretary and biographer of the orator Robert Green Ingersoll. [back]

4. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Horace Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

5. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was a close acquaintance of Walt Whitman and one of the poet's literary executors. He met Whitman in 1873 and proceeded to visit the aging author almost daily beginning in the late 1880s. The result of these meetings—during which Traubel took meticulous notes—is the nine-volume collection With Walt Whitman in Camden. Later in life, Traubel also published Whitmanesque poetry and revolutionary essays. He died in 1919, shortly after he claimed to have seen a vision of Whitman beckoning him to 'Come on'. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. (1858–1919), Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 740–741. [back]

6. John H. Johnston (of New York) and Bucke were in the process of planning a lecture event in Whitman's honor, which would take place October 21 at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall. Robert Ingersoll delivered the lecture: "Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman." See Ingersoll's October 12, 1890 and October 20, 1890, letters to Whitman. [back]

7. 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]

8. Ralph Moore was the superintendent of Harleigh Cemetery. Moore, along with J. E. Reinhalter, a designer from P. Reinhalter & Co., had called on Whitman on July 11, 1890, to discuss plans for Whitman's tomb (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]


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