Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 25 November 1890

Date: November 25, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08241

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: Emma Porter, Anna Seahill, Dom Torres, Stephanie Blalock, Ryan Furlong, Alex Ashland, and Amanda J. Axley



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Camden1
early P M
Nov: 25 '90

Y'rs of three days since rec'd2 & welcomed—the enclosed is just rec'd f'm Dr Johnston3—his celluloid photo plate I have consigned to be used in Horace's4 article ab't me in NE Magazine5 if they print it6—I am easier to-day belly ache milder but still not gone—sunny & cold—shall probably get out an hour or so hence in wheel chair7 (first in three days)—am to send Mrs: Ingersoll8 400 5th av: NY. some good photos of self in big handsome envelope for Christmas present.—oysters plenty & good, ate them yesterday & to-day—the papers copy "sunset Breeze"9—Horace's sister Agnes,10 do you remember Agnes? (a nice healthy, cute, womanly Americo-German girl, a great friend of mine)—has just gone & got married—still apparently some flurry & sporadic failures in financial & brokers' circles11 hereabout—but I guess nothing serious, nothing chronic—a fair normal bowel passage this fore'n—Young Dr Mitchell12 (he said his father13 sent him) was here f'm Phila. yesterday evn'g—fine y'ng fellow—no medicine (at least yet)—some head ache to-day—have just sent off a ¶ to the Critic14 announcem't number (Nov. 29) for O'Connor's15 book16 (no news of its publication yet)—Well I will now put on a top coat & see if Warry17 is ready to propel me out18


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: Camd[en, N.J.] | Nov. 2 [illegible] | 4 30 PM | 90; London | AM | NO 27 | 90 | Canada; NY | 11–25–90 | 11 PM | 11. [back]

2. See Bucke's letter to Whitman of November 22, 1890[back]

3. Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927) of Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, was a physician, photographer, and avid cyclist. Johnston was trained in Edinburgh and served as a hospital surgeon in West Bromwich for two years before moving to Bolton, England, in 1876. Johnston worked as a general practitioner in Bolton and as an instructor of ambulance classes for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways. He served at Whalley Military Hospital during World War I and became Medical Superintendent of Townley's Hospital in 1917 (John Anson, "Bolton's Illustrious Doctor Johnston—a man of many talents," Bolton News [March 28, 2021]; Paul Salveson, Moorlands, Memories, and Reflections: A Centenary Celebration of Allen Clarke's Moorlands and Memories [Lancashire Loominary, 2020]). Johnston, along with the architect 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 (1852–1927)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was a close acquaintance of Walt Whitman and one of the poet's literary executors. He met Whitman in 1873 and proceeded to visit the aging author almost daily beginning in the late 1880s. The result of these meetings—during which Traubel took meticulous notes—is the nine-volume collection With Walt Whitman in Camden. Later in life, Traubel also published Whitmanesque poetry and revolutionary essays. He died in 1919, shortly after he claimed to have seen a vision of Whitman beckoning him to 'Come on'. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. (1858–1919), Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 740–741. [back]

5. Whitman is referring to Horace Traubel's "Walt Whitman at Date," which was published in the New England Magazine 4 (May 1891), 275–292. [back]

6. Traubel's article was accompanied by several illustrations, both photographs and engravings based on photos, but it is unclear if any of these was based on the photographic plate Dr. Johnston had sent to Whitman. [back]

7. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

8. Eva Amelia Parker Ingersoll (1841–1923) of Groveland, Illinois, was the daughter of Benjamin Weld Parker and his wife Harriet E. Lyon Parker. She married Robert G. Ingersoll in 1862, and they had two daughters, Eva Ingersoll Brown (1863–1928) and Maude Ingersoll Probasco (1864–1936). [back]

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

10. Agnes Traubel Lychenheim (1881–1923) was Horace Traubel's sister. She married Dr. Morris Lychenheim, an osteopathic physician from Chicago. [back]

11. 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]

12. During Dr. William Osler's absence, beginning on July 8, Whitman was attended by Dr. J. K. Mitchell, son of S. Weir Mitchell (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, July 8, 1888). For Whitman's opinion of the young man, see Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, July 12, 1888[back]

13. Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell (1829–1914) was a specialist in nervous disorders as well as a poet and a novelist. In 1878, Whitman met with Dr. Mitchell, who attributed his earlier paralysis to a small rupture of a blood vessel in the brain but termed Whitman's heart "normal and healthy" (see Whitman's letter to Louisa Orr Whitman of April 13–14, 1878). Whitman also noted that "the bad spells [Mitchell] tho't recurrences by habit (? sort of automatic)" (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). For more, see Jennifer A. Hynes, "Mitchell, Silas Weir (1829–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

14. The Critic was a literary magazine published in New York from 1881 until 1906. Four of Whitman's poems were published in the magazine: "The Dead Tenor" (1884), "Yonnondio" (1887), "To the Year 1889" (1889), and "The Pallid Wreath" (1891). [back]

15. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. 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]

16. 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]

17. 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]

18. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]


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