Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

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

Date: April 29, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08035

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
well on P M
Apr: 29 '91

Seven or eight bad days & in one now—bowel action (restricted) yesterday evn'g—Dr L2 comes faithfully—pretty fair nights yet—have been formally invited by a N Y Club3 (quite swell) to a public dinner, my birth night anniversary4—of course shall decline5


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 postal card is addressed: Dr Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Apr 29 | 8 PM | 91. [back]

2. 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. The Quaint Club was a social club that met monthly at different hotels and luxury steamers around New York City from 1889 to about 1910. One observer writes that the Quaint Club is "composed of journalists and artists who make a feature of stated dinners which are enlivened with caricature and song" (Frederick G. Mather, "Club Life in New-York City," The Memorial History of the City of New-York, ed. James Grant Wilson [New York: New-York History Company, 1893], 4:255). A newspaper account of these dinners suggests that they were scenes of biting comedy, often at the guest of honor's expense: "Its habit is to secure the wittiest and most eloquent speakers in the country and guy the wit and eloquence out of them when they get on their feet. They are lucky if they survive one of its dinners. Few persons really like this, but the process has the same power as the candle flame exerts toward the moth" ("Fun for the Quaint Club," The Sun, [March 21, 1891], 9). Horace Trabuel notes that Whitman received this letter; see With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, April 29, 1891[back]

4. Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday was celebrated with friends at his home on Mickle Street. He described the celebration in a letter to Dr. John Johnston, of Bolton, England, dated June 1, 1891: "We had our birth anniversary spree last evn'g—ab't 40 people, choice friends mostly—12 or so women—[Alfred, Lord] Tennyson sent a short and sweet letter over his own sign manual . . . lots of bits of speeches, with gems in them—we had a capital good supper." [back]

5. Julius Chambers extended the invitation on April 25 on behalf of the Quaint Club. He also noted that he had reprinted a paper Whitman had sent in the New York World on the preceding day. [back]


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