Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 1 November 1890

Date: November 1, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08249

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), 5:109. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Ryan Furlong, Stephanie Blalock, and Alex Ashland

3½ P M Nov: 1 '90

Have been out in wheel chair2 for hour & half, & enjoy'd it—all goes as usual—sunny to day cool—I send slip of "Old Poets"3 —Horace4 here last evn'g—he will delay sending back the signatured books for reasons—Partly promised the N[orth] A[merican] Rev[iew]5 I w'd give them a 2d article ab't American Literature6 (enormous name!) or something that sort7—& I think I will get at it, but it must be a rehash of what I have already said—still grip—bad head, pains &c:—am sitting here by stove in my den, same as ever—Horace will send you Morris's8 piece (contra-Ingersoll)9 in American10—I cannot find fault with M sharply (as H does) while I thank & side with & even espouse Ing-ism & Ing: himself—(he has treated me so splendidly too)—

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 (?) | Nov 1 | 6 PM | 90. [back]

2. 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]

3. On October 3, 1890, William H. Rideing, the assistant editor, requested an article of about "4000 words" on "Recent aspects of American literature" for "the sum of Two hundred dollars" or on "some other subject on which you would be more willing to write." Whitman sent "Old Poets" to the magazine on October 9, returned proof on October 18, and received $75 (The Commonplace-Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

4. 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]

5. 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]

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. See Whitman's letter of November 4, 1890. [back]

8. Harrison Smith Morris (1856–1948) was a businessman and man of letters. Traubel published Morris's translation of French critic Gabriel Sarrazin's essay "Walt Whitman" in the tribute collection In Re Walt Whitman, ed. Horace Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned [Philadelphia: McKay, 1893], 159–194. Morris also wrote a biography of the poet, Walt Whitman: A Brief Biography with Reminiscences (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1929). [back]

9. 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]

10. Harrison Morris published an article on Whitman and Robert Ingersoll in the American (October 25, 1890). For Whitman's and Horace Traubel's reaction, see With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, October 31, 1890[back]


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