Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 29 September 1890

Date: September 29, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08234

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: Andy King, Zainab Saleh, Stephanie Blalock, and Breanna Himschoot



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Camden1
Sept: 29 1890

Rec'd word from Mrs: O'Connor2—She has moved to 112 M Street N W, Washington D C wh' is now her address—She has a brief (two months') appt'm't in the Census Bureau—appears to be ab't as usual—asks me to designate some title for the book3—I have suggested the Brazen Android and other tales By — —

I enclose Wallace's4 letter just rec'd5 I was out to Harned's6 to supper ¼ past 5 yesterday—John Burroughs7 is here to see me—was at the Supper—is well & in good spirits—has grown quite gray—left here to-day—was down some days at R U Johnsons8 at Babylon L I, & thinks of going on to see Herbert Gilchrist9 at Centreport—Still bother'd with my grip & bladder trouble—pretty cold here (I have fire)—but fine sunny bright day out—nothing newer ab't the Ing:10 affair—it will be in Phila: (I have not interposed)11

—The cemetery Sup't: and monument architect12 have just been here to talk ab't and see me anent of the tomb—I enclose a (very hasty, crude) outline of it, as I have the idea & will probably direct it done—very plain & massive quite alone on a side (moderate) hill & trees—Mrs: Davis13 has return'd from Kansas14 well & hearty—I have grapes & eat heartily of them


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, [illegible] | Sep 29 | 8 PM | 90; Philadelphia, PA | Sep | 29 | 1890 | Transit; London | PM | OC | 9 | Canada. [back]

2. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae 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]

3. On May 29, 1890, Ellen O'Connor asked Whitman to write a preface for a collection of tales by her husband, the late William Douglas O'Connor, which she hoped to publish—The Brazen Android and Other Tales (later entitled Three Tales). After the poet's approval was conveyed to her through Bucke, Mrs. O'Connor wrote on June 1, 1890: "Your name & William's will be associated in many ways, & this loving word from you will be a comfort to me for all time." Not having heard directly from him, she wrote about the preface once more on June 30, 1890[back]

4. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Along with John Johnston (d. 1918), a physician from Bolton, he 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]

5. Whitman is probably referring to Wallace's letter of September 19, 1890[back]

6. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel, was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Robert Underwood Johnson (1853–1937) was on the staff of The Century Magazine from 1873 to 1913, and was U. S. ambassador to Italy in 1920 and 1921. [back]

9. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

11. John H. Johnston (of New York) and Bucke were in the process of planning a lecture event in Whitman's honor, which would take place October 21 at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall. Robert Ingersoll delivered the lecture: "Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman." See Ingersoll's October 12, 1890 and October 20, 1890, letters to Whitman. [back]

12. Ralph Moore was the superintendent of Harleigh Cemetery. Moore, along with J. E. Reinhalter, a designer from P. Reinhalter & Co., had called on Whitman on July 11, 1890, to discuss plans for Whitman's tomb (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

13. 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]

14. Mrs. Davis had gone to visit relatives in Kansas; see Whitman's letter to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke of September 13, 1890. [back]


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