Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

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

Date: April 12, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08028

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: Cristin Noonan, Jason McCormick, Stephanie Blalock, and Alex Ashland



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Camden1
Sunday noon Apr: 12 '91

Cloudy & damp yet—am feeling a shade better this forenoon—bowel actions (more or less,—generally less, but I believe decided at that) each of the three past days—wh' is of course a great gain,—Tom Harned2 was here last evn'g—he is busy & prosperous (very poss[i]bly going off on business to San Francisco, fo[r] a few days)—Horace3 here as usual—proof4 will soon be done—enclosed a MS fro[m] J W W5 of Bolton, Eng:6

God bless [y]ou all—
Walt [Wh]itman


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. | Apr 12 | 5 PM | 91; London | PM | 91 | Canada.; Philadelphia, P [illegible] | Apr | 12 | 6 30 PM | 1891 | Transit; Buffalo, N.Y. | Apr | 16 | 9 AM | 1891 | Transit. [back]

2. 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]

3. 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]

4. Whitman is referring to the proofs for his book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891). In his letter to Bucke of May 14, 1891, the poet writes that Horace Traubel has also just sent Bucke "a full set (66p) 'Good-Bye' annex." Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was Whitman's 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. 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]

6. Whitman may be referring to Wallace's letter of March 27, 1891, in which Wallace outlined a speech he was to deliver to the County Borough of Bolton (England) Public Libraries "college" on April 10. Bucke notes on April 14, 1891: "It is a noble production and raises Wallace even higher than ever in my regard—I know W. pretty well and between ourselves I think he is a very choice spirit—his spiritual insight is especially keen and fine—I guess there is no man understands L. of G. more profoundly." [back]


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