Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 17 April 1890

Date: April 17, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08238

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:39. 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, Cristin Noonan, Yara Moustafa, Marie Ernster, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden1
near noon April 17 '90

Much the same—stupid condition—fine sunny day—passable night—buckwheat cakes honey & coffee for my breakfast—eat pretty light—appitite not really bad—the reading Tuesday night2 seems to have been satisfactory—Get the "Illustrated American"3 of April 19, (25cts New York) it has a pretty good portrait from Sarony's4 old photo5, &c—Did you note what I told you ab't the (London Eng.) "Universal Review" of Feb: 15 last, with Sarrazin's6 piece in French in full?7—I have lots of visitors & compliments—yesterday one the sweetest red-cheek'd prettiest young naieve Boston women8 did me good to see me & hear her—I have had the Canadian cloth made up in an entire suit & wore to appear in Tuesday night last9—went first rate & just opportune—dull monotonous heavy times with—Publishers Dodd, Mead,10 & Co: N Y have written for me to furnish them in MSS a new book (60,000 words) on Abrm Lincoln, for a new series Makers of America—my pay to be 10 per cent on sales, or $500 in lump—I think favorably—

God be with you—
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 18 | 8 PM | 90; N. Y. | 4-18-90 | 1030AM; London | PM | AP 19 | 90 | Canada. [back]

2. Whitman is referring to his lecture on Lincoln, "Death of Abraham Lincoln," which he delivered for the last time on April 15, 1890 in the Arts Room in Philadelphia, where he was part of a reception given that evening by the Contemporary Club. He included a newspaper clipping from the Philadephia Record that reported on the event in his April 16, 1890, letter to Bucke. For more information, see Larry D. Griffin, "'Death of Abraham Lincoln' (1879)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. The Illustrated American publication was a weekly photographic news magazine published at the Bible House in New York. The editor, writer, and politician Maurice Meyer Minton (1859–1926) founded The Illustrated American in 1890 and was editor and owner until 1894; Whitman appeared on the cover of the magazine in the April 19, 1890, issue.  [back]

4. Napoleon Sarony (1821–1896) was an eccentric lithographer and photographer who took at least nine pictures of the grey-bearded Whitman in 1878. Besides Whitman, Sarony's clients included well-known literary figures like Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde. One of the trailblazers of modern celebrity culture, Sarony invited public figures to sit for him and be included in his catalogues. Whitman enjoyed the experience, writing Harry Stafford that he "had a real pleasant time" and calling the studio a "great photographic establishment" (see his letter to Stafford of July 6–7, 1878). For more on Sarony, see Ed Folsom, "Nineteenth-century Visual Culture," A Companion to Walt Whitman, ed. Donald D. Kummings (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2009), 272–288. [back]

5. A sketch of Whitman based on this photograph of the poet taken by Sarony in 1878 became the frontispiece of the issue of The Illustrated American for the week ending on April 19, 1890. On March 9, 1890, Maurice M. Minton, of The Illustrated American, had requested a few lines of verse to accompany the photograph. In a lost letter, on March 11, Whitman transcribed three lines from Section 16 of "Song of Myself," which appeared in facsimile (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). The magazine pronounced Whitman "The greatest figure—almost without question—in contemporary American literature" (203). Minton, on April 2, had also asked Whitman to answer the question, "Why am I a bachelor?." [back]

6. Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France, who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Gabriel Sarrazin's "Poètes modernes de l'Amérique—Walt Whitman" appeared in La Nouvelle Revue 52 (May 1888), 164–184. The Universal Review reprinted Sarrazin's essay in French. See The Universal Review 6 (1890), 247–269. [back]

8. As yet we have no information about this visitor. [back]

9. On April 4, 1890, Whitman noted in his Commonplace Book the "new togs (coat, vest, trousers) of the Canada gray cloth sent me by Dr B" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

10. See the letter from Dodd, Mead & Company to Whitman of April 15, 1890. [back]


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