Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 3 November 1891

Date: November 3, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08222

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: Ryan Furlong, Jason McCormick, Stephanie Blalock, and Breanna Himschoot

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Nov: 3 '91

Wallace2 went off this mrn'g, to start out in the City of Berlin3 f'm NY. to-morrow mn'g goes aboard to night—in good spirits & well & after a wonderfully happy visit,4 in wh' you & Canada have big part.

—Sir Edwin Arnold,5 John Russell Young,6 & Major Pond7 paid me a visit yesterday—all went right—Here is the adv't8 of O'C's9 book10

Sunny cool weather here—I am up here as usual—had pann'd oysters & coffee for b'kf'st—Arnold is cutting quite a swathe here—he is so genial —he is one of my most determined friends—Major P wants to take me out on lecture platform but of course it is out of question—

Walt Whitman

Three Tales. By W. D. O'Connor. $1.25

The three tales are, "The Brazen Andriod," a striking historical romance; "The Ghost" and "The Carpenter," two notatble Christmas stories.

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).


1. This letter is addressed: Dr Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Cam(?).J. | Nov 3 | 8 PM | 91, London | PM | NO 5 | 91 | Canada, Philadelphia, PA. | Nov | 3 | 9 PM | 1891 | Transit. Whitman's address is printed as follows in the lower left corner of the front of the envelope: Walt Whitman, | Camden, | New Jersey, | U.S. America. Whitman wrote this letter on stationery printed with the following notice from the Boston Evening Transcript: "From the Boston Eve'g Transcript, May 7, '91.—The Epictetus saying, as given by Walt Whitman in his own quite utterly dilapidated physical case is, a 'little spark of soul dragging a great lumux of corpse-body clumsily to and fro around.'" [back]

2. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Wallace, along with Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927), a physician in Bolton, 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]

3. The SS City of Berlin was a British ocean liner which began transatlantic operation in 1875 and for a while was the fastest liner on the Atlantic; it stayed in passenger service until 1898. [back]

4. James W. Wallace arrived at Philadelphia on September 8, 1891 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, September 8, 1891). After spending a few days with Whitman, Wallace traveled to London, Ontario, Canada, where he visited with Dr. Bucke and his family and friends, and then continued his tour in New York and New Jersey before returning to England. [back]

5. Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904) was a British poet and journalist best known for his long narrative poem, The Light of Asia (1879), which tells the life story and philosophy of Gautama Buddha and was largely responsible for introducing Buddhism to Western audiences. Arnold visited Whitman in Camden in 1889. For an account of Arnold's visit, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, September 12, 1889 and Saturday, September 14, 1889: "My main objection to him, if objection at all, would be, that he is too eulogistic—too flattering." Arnold published his own version of the interview in Seas and Lands (1891), in which he averred that the two read from Leaves of Grass, surrounded by Mrs. Davis, knitting, a handsome young man (Ned Wilkins), and "a big setter." There are at least two additional accounts of Arnold's visit with Whitman; "Arnold and Whitman" was published anonymously in The Times (Philadelphia, PA) on September 15, 1889, and a different article, also titled "Arnold and Whitman" was published anonymously in The Daily Picayune (New Orleans, LA) on September 26, 1889.  [back]

6. John Russell Young (1840–1899) was a journalist and formerly minister to China; he was an admirer of Whitman's. [back]

7. James Burton Pond (1838–1903) was a famous lecture-manager and printer. He was also awarded the Medal of Honor for his services in the Civil War. In his 1900 autobiography Eccentricities of Genius (G. W. Dillingham Co: New York), he writes of Whitman: "Whitman gave a few readings under my management during his life. They were mostly testimonials from friends, and benefits given in the theatres of New York City"; Pond concludes with an anecdote about the poet's meeting with Sir Edwin Arnold (497–501). [back]

8. Whitman has pasted a printed advertisement for O'Connor's book Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter (1892) into this letter just below this sentence. [back]

9. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Three of William D. O'Connor's stories with a preface by Whitman were published in Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1892). Whitman's preface was also included in Good-Bye My Fancy (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891), 51–53. [back]


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