Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 4 Feburary 1891

Date: February 4, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07993

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

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Feb: 4 '91

No word f'm you yesterday, nor yet to-day—feeling uneasy—quite unwell with me—abdominal bothers (doubtless some inward fermentations or something in spite of all my care in eating &c).—Grace Johnston2 (the new wife3 N Y) has borne a girl baby—John Swinton4 writes in N Y Sun (alludes to me)—Harry Stafford5 was here yesterday—is well—my sister Lou6 just here—all well—Cold & sunny to-day—Tom Harned7 and Horace8 here last evn'g Hope to hear f'm you yet to day as there is a mail ab't 5—

Walt Whitman

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 Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden [illegible] | Feb 4 | 8 PM | 91. [back]

2. Grace McAlpine Johnston (1866–1935), born in Mount Vernon, New York, was the daughter of Walt Whitman's friend John Henry Johnston (1837–1919), a jeweler, and Johnston's first wife, Amelia F. Many (1839–1877). From 1927 to 1931, she served as the President of the oldest women's club in the United States: the Sorosis Club. She was married first to William J. Johnston (1853–1907), a publisher of telegraphic literature and founder of Electrical World; the couple had at least three children. She later married William McCarroll (1851–1933), a Public Service Commissioner ("Mrs. Wm McCarroll, Ex-Sorosis Head, Dies," New York Times [March 11, 1935], 17). For genealogical information on the ancestors and descendants of Grace's father, John H. Johnston, see "John H. Johnston," Families of Dickerman Ancestry: Descendants of Thomas Dickerman an Early Settler of Dorchester, Massachusetts (New Haven, CT: The Tuttle, Morehouse, & Taylor Press, 1897), 267–268. [back]

3. In an undated letter probably written in 1890, Alma C. Johnston informed the poet that Grace, her step-daughter, was to marry an unnamed man who "has both children and money" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.). [back]

4. Scottish-born John Swinton (1829–1901), a journalist and friend of Karl Marx, became acquainted with Whitman during the Civil War. Swinton, managing editor of the New York Times, frequented Pfaff's beer cellar, where he probably met Whitman. Whitman's correspondence with Swinton began on February 23, 1863. Swinton's enthusiasm for Whitman was unbounded. On September 25, 1868, Swinton wrote: "I am profoundly impressed with the great humanity, or genius, that expresses itself through you. I read this afternoon in the book. I read its first division which I never before read. I could convey no idea to you of how it affects my soul. It is more to me than all other books and poetry." On January 23, 1874, Swinton wrote what the poet termed "almost like a love letter": "It was perhaps the very day of the publication of the first edition of the 'Leaves of Grass' that I saw a copy of it at a newspaper stand in Fulton street, Brooklyn. I got it, looked into it with wonder, and felt that here was something that touched on depths of my humanity. Since then you have grown before me, grown around me, and grown into me" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, April 10, 1888). He praised Whitman in the New York Herald on April 1, 1876 (reprinted in Richard Maurice Bucke, Walt Whitman [Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883], 36–37). Swinton was in 1874 a candidate of the Industrial Political Party for the mayoralty of New York. From 1875 to 1883, he was with the New York Sun, and for the next four years edited the weekly labor journal, John Swinton's Paper. When this publication folded, he returned to the Sun. See Robert Waters, Career and Conversation of John Swinton (Chicago: C.H. Kerr, 1902), and Meyer Berger, The History of The New York Times, 1851–1951 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1951), 250–251. See also Donald Yannella, "Swinton, John (1829–1901)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Harry Stafford (b. 1858) was eighteen when he met Whitman. The two began 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. 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]

6. Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," married Walt's brother George Whitman on April 14, 1871. Their son, Walter Orr Whitman, was born in 1875 but died the following year. A second son was stillborn. Walt lived in Camden, New Jersey, with George and Louisa from 1873 until 1884, when George and Louisa moved to a farm outside of Camden and Whitman decided to stay in the city. Louisa and Walt had a warm relationship during the poet's final decades. For more, see Karen Wolfe, "Whitman, Louisa Orr Haslam (Mrs. George) (1842–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel (1856–1914), was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on his relationship with Whitman, see Thomas Biggs Harned, Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]

8. 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]


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