Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 29 March 1891

Date: March 29, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08019

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
Noon March 29 '91

Still keep up (but it is a heavy pull part of the time)—No worse.2 Dr L3 comes, & is valuable to me—dark glum weather all the time—proofs of "Good-Bye"4 get slowly on—have sent back to 31st page —there will not be much more than 40 unless I put Sarrazin5 &c: in an appendix (wh' I believe I sh'l not, as you and H T6 are decidedly against)7—Suppose you rec'd the full proofs of the L of G. 2d annex8 I sent—am having distress in head to-day—

God bless you all
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. | Mar 30 | 6 AM | 91; London | PM | Mr 31 | 91 | Canada. [back]

2. Bucke commented to Whitman's biographer and literary executor Horace Traubel on April 1 on the gravity of the poet's condition: "The great trouble with W. is that his reflex nerve centres-cord &c. are in such bad shape —I am looking (week by week) for W. to break down badly" (The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C). [back]

3. 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]

4. Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy 2d Annex" to Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information 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]

5. 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]

6. 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]

7. On February 14, Bucke protested Whitman's tentative decision to include critical pieces by others in an appendix to Good-bye My Fancy. Of Whitman's decision to exclude Sarrazin's essay, Bucke wrote to Traubel, on April 1: "By all means keep him in this mind" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection). Meanwhile Traubel and Bucke were preparing a collection of critical (eulogistic) essays. Together, Whitman's three literary executors, Bucke, Traubel, and Thomas Harned, edited In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893). [back]

8. 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]


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