Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 31 December 1890–1 January 1891

Date: December 31, 1890–January 1, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08085

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: Andrew David King and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden New Jersey1

Am writing this late evening Dec: 31, '90, & tho't I w'd send you a line—We all have deep sympathy with you in y'r painful dislocation2 & sleeplessness—all continues as before here—Horace3 is at work at the bank all night—a splendid etching "Milton Visiting Galileo"4 f'm Johnston5

Jan: 1, '91—Well it arrives here in the shape of a dark stormy morning—but it will soon clear—


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 | London | Asylum | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: CAMDEN, N.J. | JAN 1 | 10 AM | 91; LONDON | PM | JA 2 | 91 | CANADA; [illegible]. [back]

2. Bucke had injured himself in an accident that he described to Horace Traubel in his letter of December 25, 1890: "I had a fall last evening and dislocated my left shoulder (it was the right arm last time, three months ago)." This letter is held in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. [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. In his speech Areopagitica (1644), the English poet John Milton says that he visited the Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei while Galilei had been placed under house arrest by church authorities for his belief that the sun—rather than the Earth—was at the center of the universe. The etching Whitman references depicted this meeting. [back]

5. Dr. John Johnston (d. 1918) was a physician from Bolton, England, who, with James W. Wallace, 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 Johnston, see Larry D. Griffin, "Johnston, Dr. John (d.1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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