Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 27 March 1891

Date: March 27, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08018

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, Andrew David King, Jason McCormick, Stephanie Blalock, and Breanna Himschoot



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Camden1
Friday P M March 27 '91

Getting along still—Dr Foraker2 here yesterday (comes ab't every 2d day) am taking medicine pills (I suppose to placate the digestive parts & produce evacuation)—sort of (very moderate) bowel movements the last three or four days—water works I guess better action—use the catheter—feelings dull & heavy enough nearly all time—have my daily massage (generally on going to be[d], a little after 9)—eat my two meals tolerably yet—rice, sago, roast apple, stew'd mutton, &c: I send a full set printing office proofs, the poetic pp:3—Enc'd4 J A Symonds5 to J W W.6 Horace T7 was just in—

God bless you
W W


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.] | Mar 2[7] | 8 PM | 91; Philadelphia, [PA.] | Mar | 27 | [illegible] | [illegible]; [London] | AM | Mar 30 | Canada. [back]

2. Bucke alluded to Whitman's misspelling of Longaker's name on March 30: "But whatever you may call or miscall him he is certainly doing you good." Daniel Longaker (1858–1949) was a Philadelphia physician who specialized in obstetrics. He became Whitman's doctor in early 1891 and provided treatment during the poet's final illness. For more information, see Carol J. Singley, "Longaker, Dr. Daniel [1858–1949]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Whitman is referring to the group of thirty-one poems taken from the book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) that were reprinted as the second annex to Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves published in Whitman's lifetime. For more information on Good-Bye My Fancy, as a book and an annex, 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. On March 7 John Addington Symonds wrote to James W. Wallace of his health, of his fears for his family, of an autobiography ("which perhaps may yet be published; if its candour permits publication"), and of his affection for Walt Whitman: "What is beautiful in this sunset of a great strong soul, is the man's own cheerful & calm acceptance of the situation. 'It will be all right either way.' Ab eo disce vivere ac mori!" (Wallace's transcription: Charles E. Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.) Wallace on March 13–14, 1891, delighted especially in Symonds' phrase "'sealed of the tribe of Walt.'" [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. 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]

7. 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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