Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 18 April 1891

Date: April 18, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08032

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, Jason McCormick, Stephanie Blalock, and Alex Ashland



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Camden1
April 18 noon '91

Nothing very different—nothing worse quite certainly—but uncomfortable worst kind, head, stomach &c. feelings—fact is, grip, & gastric & bladder maladies have deep possession of corpus & are not going to be dislodged, probably here to stay—letter f'm J W Alexander2 the N Y portrait painter that some admirer of the pict. & him & me has bo't the pict. & put it in the Met. Art Ex. for good3—the proofs of "Good-Bye"4 are essentially done & pass'd in—Al Johnston5 was here yesterday—have many visitors, often have to decline seeing—Horace6 is faithful to the last—long interregnum without any word f'm R P S7 or Mrs. C8—very frequent word from the Bolton, Eng. friends9—Am sitting here same—have just taken a pill, & am sipping a cup of cocoa Mrs. D10 has bro't in—the sculptor11 has gone back to N Y—returns early in the week I believe to pitch in for real12

after 2 P M—fine & sunny out—am fearfully torpid, or w'd try to get—have been talking to Warry13 ab't India, the Ganges, & Benares (He has been there)—

God bless you
Walt Whitman

y'rs of 16th just rec'd14


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 18 | 6 PM | 91; [illegible] | PM | AP 20 | 1891 | Transit. Whitman has crossed out a typed address on the envelope and written Bucke's address at the top of the envelope. [back]

2. John White Alexander (1856-1915) was an American painter and illustrator, well known for his portraits of famous Americans including Oliver Wendell Holmes and John Burroughs, as well as Whitman, whose portrait he worked on from 1886–1889. [back]

3. For three days beginning on Monday, February 22, 1886, Whitman sat for a portrait by Alexander. On April 17, 1891, Alexander informed Whitman that one of the poet's admirers had purchased and presented the painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: "I am delighted to have been the means of giving to future generations a portrait of you that is certainly one of my best works" (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). The naturalist John Burroughs, however, termed the portrait "a Bostonese Whitman—an emasculated Whitman—failing to show his power and ruggedness" (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 261). Whitman himself was not impressed (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, May 10, 1888 and Friday, June 8, 1888). [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. Albert Johnston was the son of John H. Johnston, a New York jeweler and friend of Whitman. [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. Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) was a Quaker who became an evangelical minister associated with the "Holiness movement." He was also a writer and businessman. Whitman often stayed at his Philadelphia home, where the poet became friendly with the Smith children—Mary, Logan, and Alys. For more information about Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. See Whitman's letter to Richard Maurice Bucke of July 10, 1891[back]

10. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. William Rudolph O'Donovan (1844–1920) was an American sculptor. He was an associate of American artist Thomas Eakins and accompanied Eakins to Whitman's Camden home and fashioned a large bust of Whitman. Whitman liked O'Donovan but did not care for the bust, which he found "too hunched" and the head "too broad" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, July 15, 1891). [back]

12. Apparently O'Donovan was again in Camden on April 24, when an entry in Whitman's Commonplace Book read, "the hand sculping" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.) [back]

13. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. [back]

14. Whitman has written this note on the flap of the envelope. [back]


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