Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 12 December 1891

Date: December 12, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07973

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: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, Zainab Saleh, Stephanie Blalock, and Kevin McMullen



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Camden1
Dec: 12 '91

I saw an item of Balestier's2 death four days ago, but tho't it needed authentication (& seems to me yet), but I find this printed in Bost.3

He was the proposer of the foreign edn L of G.4 I spoke of—

Was any thing done—or is there any thing further—of sending5 the plaster bust6 to Dr Johnston?7

—fine sunny Dec: weather—

Bad condition with me—"Keep good heart—the worst is to come"—was one of the sayings of my dear old father8

Ingram9 has moved into Phila: for the winter—I have sent paper-b'd copies of the new L of G.10 to Dr. J. & J W W.11

Horace12 here last evn'g as usual—just taken a cool refreshing glass buttermilk—tolerable night last—sitting here ab't as ever big chair, wolf-skin, oak fire. God bless you


Walt Whitman


WOLCOTT BALESTIER.13

The cable has done few things more tragic, in its own terse and terrible way, than to announce the sudden death, last Sunday, December 6th, at Dresden, of Wolcott Balestier. To those who knew him, the news will forever remain incredible, he was so full of active boyish interest in life and work, of plans and criticism, of real promise and personal significance. He would make on a stranger the impression of one who meant to last long, and yet he was not of robust build. He had a look not unlike the portraits of Hazlitt14 in his youth; slight, fair, decisive of step and speech; and his whole character was almost typically American, as befitted the descendant of Wolcott the Signer.15 He had written two novels. His "Common Story"16 in a recent Century17 won smiling praise everywhere for its shrewd and tender comprehension of women; and he had the glorious fun (it would have been his own word), of building and launching "The Naulahka,"18 pegging away, day by day, with his dear friend Rudyard Kipling.19 He had passed most of his life with books, and he found, without trouble, his vocation as publisher. The new firm of Heinemann20 & Balestier started out with a vast stock of courage, and many English and American authors have reason to know that it made an instant, an honorable success. Press of pleasant affairs, and the occult duty of dethroning the kings of the house of Tauchnitz, carried him this month as often before, to Germany; and here, in his thirtieth year, is the inscrutable end. Ships at sea, the noisy New York highways where first he studied the humanities, the all-but-uninterrupted stretch of grass from Dean's Yard, Westminster, to his door at Kensington, which made his daily walk, and which he pointed out with great mischief to New Yorkers reared on din and dust—these shall know him no more.

He had many illustrious friends in his delightful exile; Mr.21 and Mrs. Edmund Gosse,22 with their lovely little children, will miss him most of all. What his loss is to his mother23 and his sisters,24 one of whom, long in England at his side, was his devoted playmate, comforter and stay, cannot be put into words. I shall think of him always as last I saw him—loving games and dogs and natural laughter; full of enthusiasm for literature and for old London; full of kindness for every creature about him; the busy, happy, unsoiled young heart! "The peace of Heaven, The fellowship of all great souls, go with thee."

LOUISE IMOGEN GUINEY.25

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. | DEC 12 | 8 PM | 91; PHILADELPHIA, P.A. | DEC | 12 | 930 PM | 91 | TRANSIT; LONDON | PM | DE 14 | 91 | CANADA. Whitman's return address is printed on the envelope as follows: WALT WHITMAN, | CAMDEN, | NEW JERSEY. [back]

2. Wolcott Balestier (1861–1891) was an American writer who went to London, England, in 1888 as an agent for the publisher John W. Lovell. He became close friends with Henry James and Rudyard Kipling, who married Balestier's sister. Balestier joined with William Heinemann to form a publishing house in 1890, located in Leipzig, Germany, and dedicated to publishing continental editions of English writers. They launched their series, "The English Library," in 1891. Balestier died in December 1891 of typhoid fever in Dresden; he was a week away from his thirtieth birthday. [back]

3. Mounted on the right-hand side is a clipping from the Boston Evening Transcript of December 10, 1891, recounting the "sudden death" of Balestier in Germany. [back]

4. In a letter to Richard Maurice Bucke dated November 22, 1891, Whitman noted that "Heineman, Balestier, & Lovell want to purchase the American copyright [to Leaves of Grass]—I do not care to sell it as at present minded." [back]

5. See the letter from Whitman to Dr. John Johnston of August 16–17, 1891, and the letter from Whitman to Bucke of January 23, 1892. [back]

6. Bucke is referring to one of the four plaster busts of Whitman that were sculpted by Sidney Morse. [back]

7. Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927) of Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, was a physician, photographer, and avid cyclist. Johnston was trained in Edinburgh and served as a hospital surgeon in West Bromwich for two years before moving to Bolton, England, in 1876. Johnston worked as a general practitioner in Bolton and as an instructor of ambulance classes for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways. He served at Whalley Military Hospital during World War One and became Medical Superintendent of Townley's Hospital in 1917 (John Anson, "Bolton's Illustrious Doctor Johnston—a man of many talents," Bolton News [March 28, 2021]; Paul Salveson, Moorlands, Memories, and reflections: A Centenary Celebration of Allen Clarke's Moorlands and Memories [Lancashire Loominary, 2020]). Johnston, along 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 (1852–1927)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Walter Whitman, Sr. (1789–1855), married Louisa Van Velsor in 1816. Together they had nine children, the second of whom was his namesake and future poet, Walt Jr. Well-connected and politically radical, Walter's personality was rigid and stern, a temperament that alienated his poet son. For more on Walter Sr. and his relationship with his son, see "Whitman, Walter, Sr. (1789–1855)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. William Ingram, a Quaker, kept a tea store—William Ingram and Son Tea Dealers—in Philadelphia. Of Ingram, Whitman observed to Horace Traubel: "He is a man of the Thomas Paine stripe—full of benevolent impulses, of radicalism, of the desire to alleviate the sufferings of the world—especially the sufferings of prisoners in jails, who are his protégés" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, May 20, 1888). Ingram and his wife visited the physician Richard Maurice Bucke and his family in Canada in 1890. [back]

10. Whitman wanted to have a copy of the final Leaves of Grass before his death, and he also wanted to be able to present copies to his friends. A version of the 1891–1892 Leaves of Grass, often referred to as the "deathbed edition," was bound in December of 1891 so that Whitman could give the volume to friends at Christmas. [back]

11. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Along with John Johnston (1852–1927), 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]

12. 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]

13. Whitman has written the following source information at the bottom of the newspaper clipping: "Bost Trans | Dec 10 '91." [back]

14. William Hazlitt (1778–1830) was well known as an English essayist. He was also a literary critic and a painter, and was considered to be one the finest art critics of his time. [back]

15. The politician Oliver Wolcott (1726–1791) signed the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of Connecticut. [back]

16. Baletsier's "A Common Story," was publshed by Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine in August 1891. [back]

17. The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, the successor of Scribner's Monthly Magazine was first published in 1881 by the Century Company of New York City. Richard Watson Gilder served as the magazine's editor until his death in 1909. Five of Whitman's poems were first published in the magazine: "Twilight" (December 1887), "Old Age's Lamben Peaks" (September 1888), "My 71st Year," (November 1889), "Old Age's Ship and Crafty Death's" (February 1890), and "A Twilight Song"(May 1890). [back]

18. The Naulahka: A Story of West and East was a novel set in the fictional state of "Rahore" in India by Rudyard Kipling and Wolcott Balestier. It was first published as a serial novel in Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine from November 1891 to July 1892. [back]

19. Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936) was an English novelist, poet, and short-story writer. India, the country of his birth, inspired his most remembered literary works, such as The Jungle Book (1894) and Kim (1901). Kipling was just beginning his rise to international celebrity in the early 1890s. He married Carolina Starr Balestier (1862–1939) in 1892. [back]

20. William Heinemann (1863–1920) was an English publisher of Jewish heritage who published the series, "The English Library," with Wolcott Balestier (1861–1891) and founded the Heinemann publishing house in London. [back]

21. Sir Edmund William Gosse (1849–1928) was an English poet and the author of Father and Son (a memoir published in 1907). Gosse wrote to Whitman on December 12, 1873: "I can but thank you for all that I have learned from you, all the beauty you have taught me to see in the common life of healthy men and women, and all the pleasure there is in the mere humanity of other people" (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, June 1, 1888). Gosse reviewed Two Rivulets in "Walt Whitman's New Book," The Academy, 9 (24 June 1876), 602–603, and visited Whitman in 1885 (see Whitman's letter inviting Gosse to visit on December 28, 1884 and The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977], 3:384 n80). In a letter to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke on October 31, 1889, Whitman characterized Gosse as "one of the amiable conventional wall-flowers of literature" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection). For more about Gosse, see Jerry F. King, "Gosse, Sir Edmund (1849–1928)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

22. Ellen Epps Gosse (1850–1929) was a Pre-Raphaelite painter and a writer for various publications. She and her husband Edmund were the parents of three children: Emily Teresa (b. 1877), Philip Henry George (1879–1959), and Laura Sylvia (1881–1968). [back]

23. Wolcott Balestier (1861–1891) was the son of Henry Wolcott Balestier (1840–1870) and Anna Smith Balestier (1838–1919). [back]

24. Balestier had two sisters, Caroline Starr Balestier Kipling (1862–1939) and Josephine Balestier (b. ca. 1870). [back]

25. Louise Imogen Guiney (1861–1920), of Roxbury, Massachusetts, was an essayist, poet, and editor. She held jobs ranging from postmistress to cataloging at the Boston Public Library. She moved to Oxford, England, in 1901, and she contributed to The Atlantic Monthly, Scribner's, and the Dublin Review, among other magazines. [back]


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