Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 16 September 1891

Date: September 16, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08243

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), 5:243–244. 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, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden NJ1
Sept: 16 1 P M '91

Perfect weather continued—am feeling fairly—oysters for my breakfast—am getting the changed title & other pp: necessary for the (really, doubtless final) ed'n L of G. 438 pp:2 & shall send you one, soon as ready, (probably two or three weeks yet)—y'r letters rec'd3 (short but sweet)—J W W[allace]'s4 good letters5 rec'd too—expect T Williams6 & an oculist Dr this afternoon—my eyes bothering—Horace7 well—faithful as ever—Did you ever send y'r book to Tennyson?8—I just send you the Boston "Literary World" with notice of "Good-Bye"9—Did you get the N Y "Critic" Sept 5?10 If not I can send you one—

5 P M—T C11 came with Dr Schweinitz oculist M D12—impress'd me favorably, made a quite varied examination, result much more comforting than I anticipated (I have been dreading blindness or close on it)—T C will get more propitious glasses—(with these I have my sight blurs badly)—have had my supper with zest—appetite quite good—The enc'd printed slip is f'm Bayard Taylor13 in an old N Y Tribune14—the MS bit appears to be an acknowledgment sent to me to Pall Mall Gaz[ette] nearly five y'rs ago (the Sir Edw'd Malet fund sent me then)—But I must stop for the night is falling—I can't see—


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 (?) | Sep 16 | 8 PM | 91. [back]

2. Whitman is referring to the 1891–1892 "deathbed" edition of Leaves of Grass. See R.W. French, "Leaves of Grass, 1891–1892, Deathbed Edition," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Whitman is likely referring to Bucke's letters dated September 11, 1891 and September 13, 1891. [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 likely referring to Wallace's letters dated September 11, 1891 and September 13, 1891. [back]

6. Talcott Williams (1849–1928) was associated with the New York Sun and World as well as the Springfield Republican before he became the editor of the Philadelphia Press in 1879. His newspaper vigorously defended Whitman in news articles and editorials after the Boston censorship of 1882. For more information about Williams, see Philip W. Leon, "Williams, Talcott (1849–1928)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. 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 mid-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]

8. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Tennyson began a correspondence with Whitman on July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]

9. Thirty-one poems from Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy 2d Annex" to Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Whitman is referring to The Literary World, 22 (September 22, 1891), 305. He is also referencing The Critic, which contained a flattering review of Good-bye My Fancy.  [back]

11. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

12. Dr. G. E. de Schweinitz, of Philadelphia, whose calling card is mounted in Whitman's Commonplace Book (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). On September 14 Williams had suggested that Whitman have his eyes examined. [back]

13. Bayard Taylor (1825–1878), translator of Goethe's Faust, journalist, and traveler, sent his "Picture of St. John" to Whitman on November 12, 1866. He commended Whitman's "remarkable powers of expression" and "deep and tender reverence for Man." His letter of December 2, 1866 was even more unreserved in its praise. Later Taylor's response to Whitman would change dramatically. Taylor used his influence on the New York Tribune to turn it from a supporter of Whitman and his work to a hostile critic. In The Echo Club (2d ed., 1876), 154–158, 168–169, Taylor burlesqued Whitman's poetry. William Sloane Kennedy lists him among Whitman's "Bitter and Relentless Foes and Villifiers"; see The Fight of a Book for the World (West Yarmouth, MA: The Stonecroft Press, 1926), 288. See also the letter from Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman of January 1, 1867[back]

14. The references are probably to one of Taylor's articles in 1876. [back]


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