Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 21 April 1891

Date: April 21, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08034

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 Alex Ashland



page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3


Camden1
sunset April 21 '91

Y'rs rec'd2—hope this will reach you over at the big building & moving around as usual3—Have read the printed sheets of Horace's4 article in May N E Magazine5—I was anticipating a great dislocation & many outs, but am relieved & find it very passable & satisfactory6—Have not had the Mag. itself yet—Fine & warm here—am getting along fairly—not the deadly weakness of yesterday—have just eaten a good supper, stew'd chicken farina & tea—no bowel action yesterday or to day—Mrs. D7 is away—an old man, Warry's8 grandfather is very low, may be dying—(lots of death & bad sickness all around here)—have the window by me, open for a half hour,—reading skimpily an article on the Eng. Contemporary by E Gosse9 (I call him young Capt. Cuttle)10 on Democracy in Literature11 (wh' he is no more able to grasp than a neat cockroach w'd one of Kepler's12 principal laws)—It is most 6—Horace has been here—says the printer-foreman w'd like six pages more (to make 72, good job) if possible13—fearful tho't—


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. | Apr 2 [illegible] | 8 PM | 91; Philadelphia, PA | Apr | 21 | 9 30 [illegible]M | 1891 | Transit. The postmark from London, Ontario is entirely illegible. Whitman has crossed out the name and address written on this envelope and written Bucke's name and address at the top. [back]

2. Whitman may be referring to Bucke's letter of April 19, 1891[back]

3. According to his letter of April 19 Bucke was still confined to his room. Two days later when he wrote to Whitman's biographer and literary executor Horace Traubel, Bucke was back in his hospital office (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

4. 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]

5. Whitman is referring to Horace Traubel's "Walt Whitman at Date," which was published in the New England Magazine 4 (May 1891), 275–292. [back]

6. Traubel evidently lamented these excisions from his article in letters he sent to Bucke and James W. Wallace, co-founder of the Bolton group of English Whitman admirers; see Bucke's letters to Traubel on April 21 and 24 (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.) and Wallace's letter to Whitman on April 30, 1891 (typescript in Bolton). The article, unabridged, appears in Horace Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned, ed., In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), 109–147. On May 7 Bucke wrote to Traubel in its praise: "Its only fault is that it ends too soon—I should like a big Vol. of just such pages—I could read in it day and night. And by & by (thanks to you) we shall have such vols! Think how people today delight to read great volumes of [Samuel] Pepys and [John] Boswell—that being so, how much more will they rejoice in years to come to read similar volumes (as characteristic and as truthful) about this far greater man? My dear boy, you are in a great position. You have a big morgage on the future and don't you forget it!" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

7. 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]

8. 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]

9. Sir Edmund William Gosse (1849–1928), English poet and author of Father and Son (a memoir published in 1907), had written to Whitman on December 12, 1873: "I can but thank you for all that I have learned from you, all the beauty you have taught me to see in the common life of healthy men and women, and all the pleasure there is in the mere humanity of other people" (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, June 1, 1888). Gosse reviewed Two Rivulets in "Walt Whitman's New Book," The Academy, 9 (24 June 1876), 602–603, and visited Whitman in 1885 (see Whitman's letter inviting Gosse to visit on December 28, 1884 and The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977], 3:384 n80). In a letter to Richard Maurice Bucke on October 31, 1889, Whitman characterized Gosse as "one of the amiable conventional wall-flowers of literature" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection). For more about Gosse, see Jerry F. King, "Gosse, Sir Edmund (1849–1928)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Captain Edward Cuttle is a character in Charles Dickens's Dombey and Son[back]

11. Whitman is referring to Gosse's "The Influence of Democracy on Literature," The Contemporary Review, 59 (April, 1891), 523–536. Gosse failed to mention Whitman in the essay, although he considered the novelist and literary critic William Dean Howells "inspired by the democratic spirit" (535) of Whitman. [back]

12. Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) was a German astronomer and a mathematician. He is known for his laws of planetary motion, and his writings proved foundational for Isaac Newton's theory of universal gravitation. [back]

13. Whitman is referring to the proofs for his book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891). The book 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]


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.