Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 22 November 1890

Date: November 22, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08240

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 created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Contributors to digital file: William Nordhorn, Aubrey Maciaszek, Clara Nithiaparan, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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early pm
Nov: 22 '90

Have sent off some poemets to make two pages for Arena magazine2 printed in Boston to I N Baker3( with R G Ingersoll)4—ask $100 for the whole5—No proof or news rec'd by me of my "National Literature"6 piece sent to N A Review7—probably dont suit—Stoddart8 (Lippincott's Mag)9 contemplates a full page of my poemets in mag10—suppose you got the slips "Sunset Breeze"11 bit—

Sunny to day, sharp cold, squally wind gales here—am beleagured with belly-ache quite bad is apt to begin at day break—is on me now—diaphragm region & upper breast at times sore and achy—(probably bad digestion)—bowel voiding action (tho not good) is by no means as obstinately bad as a year ago, & as it has been past—Enclose letters, (tho' not knowing whether they may interest you)—send also a little ¶ in "Munyon's Ill: World"12—am sitting here as usual in my den—oak wood fire—big wolf skin over back of chair—Warry13 is downstairs practicing on his fiddle—Mrs. D14 is out in the kitchen room cooking—she has just bro't up a dish of nice crispy sweet cakes, (but I set them away & think I best not eat them, at any rate at present)—Horace15 here last evn'g—a small earthquake in the financial world just now,16 as you see in the papers—well the money question is the least of my troubles—yr letters rec'd & always cheer me—Respect & love to Mrs. B.17 (the 15th page of the paper is for her to read to the young children)18

Walt Whitman

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: [Camden, N.J.] | Nov 23 | 6 PM | 90; [illegible]; London | PM | NO 24 | 90 | Canada; Philadelphia, P.A. | Nov | 23 | 6 30 PM | 1890 | Transit; Buffalo, N.Y. | Nov | 24 | 10 AM | 1890 | Transit. [back]

2. Founded by the American journalist and reform writer Benjamin Orange Flower (1858–1918),The Arena was a monthly magazine that advocated social reform movements including socialism, prohibition, and trade unionism, and published work from authors Stephen Crane, Hamiln Garland, and Upton Sinclair. The Arena ceased publication in 1909. [back]

3. Isaac Newton Baker (1838–1923) of Philadelphia, Pennslyvania, was an American writer and the editor of the American Sunday-School Times. He served as the private secretary to the orator Robert G. Ingersoll, and also became Ingersoll's biographer. [back]

4. 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 Horace 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" (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]

5. Whitman sent six poems to Isaac N. Baker, who was apparently associated with The Arena at that time: "Old Chants," "On, on the Same, Ye Jocund Twain!," "Sail Out for Good, Eidólon Yacht," "L. of G.'s Purport," "For Us Two, Reader Dear," and "My Task" (?). The cluster was rejected by Benjamin Orange Flower, the editor of the magazine, on December 2, 1890; he preferred "an essay from your pen to poems." [back]

6. Whitman is referring to his essay "Have We a National Literature?," which was published in The North American Review 125 (March 1891), 332–338. [back]

7. The North American Review was the first literary magazine in the United States. The journalist Charles Allen Thorndike Rice (1851–1889) edited and published the magazine in New York from 1876 until his death. After Rice's death, Lloyd Bryce became owner and editor, and he held these positions at the time of Rideing's letter. [back]

8. Joseph Marshall Stoddart (1845–1921) was the Editor of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine from 1886–1894 and later of the New Science Review. He, along with Oscar Wilde, met with Whitman in his home on January 18, 1882[back]

9. Lippincott's Monthly Magazine was a literary magazine published in Philadelphia from 1868 to 1915. Joseph Marshall Stoddart was the editor of the magazine from 1886 to 1894, and he frequently published material by and about Whitman. For more information on Whitman's numerous publications here, see Susan Belasco, "Lippincott's Magazine." [back]

10. Stoddart is referring to plans for the March issue of Lippincott's in 1891 (Volume 47, pages 376–389). The issue contained Whitman's portrait as a frontispiece, "Old Age Echoes" (including "Sounds of Winter," "The Unexpress'd," "Sail Out for Good, Eidólon Yacht!" and "After the Argument"), Whitman's "Some Personal and Old-Age Memoranda," and Horace Traubel's "Walt Whitman: The Poet and Philosopher of Man," and "The Old Man Himself. A Postscript." [back]

11. Whitman's "To the Sunset Breeze" was first published in Lippincott's Magazine in December 1890. [back]

12. Whitman is probably referring to "The Perfect Human Voice." See Whitman's letter to Bucke of February 2–3, 1890[back]

13. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. A picture of Warry is displayed in the May 1891 New England Magazine (278). See Joann P. Krieg, "Fritzinger, Frederick Warren (1866–1899)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 240. [back]

14. 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]

15. 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 late 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]

16. Whitman is referring to the threat of collapse faced by the House of Baring Brothers Bank in England, which invested in both North America and Argentina. Although the bank was saved by a consortium of national banks, by November 1890 the resulting financial panic bankrupted Decker, Howell, & Co., a brokerage firm in New York that was backed by the Bank of North America. The financier J. P. Morgan persuaded a consortium of New York banks to support the Bank of North America, averting the failure of the financial institution. [back]

17. Jessie Maria Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Gurd married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]

18. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) and his wife Jessie Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) had three daughters and five sons: Clare Georgina (1866–1867), Maurice Andrews (1868–1899), Jessie Clare (1870–1943), William Augustus (1873–1933), Edward Pardee (1875–1913), Ina Matilda (1877–1968), Harold Langmuir (1879–1951), and Robert Walpole (1881–1923). [back]


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