Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 18–20 December 1890

Date: December 18–20, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08278

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: Cristin Noonan, Amanda J. Axley, Marie Ernster, and Stephanie Blalock

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Thursday forenoon Dec. 18 '90

Yr's of 16th recd2—thanks—a storm wind rain &c yesterday & preceding night—but comfortable & snug here for me—my locale seems to be out f'm stress of winds & waters, & we have a capital roof over the shanty—appetite good—made my breakfast of buckwheat cakes & tea—you must not worry ab't me—I am undoubtedly getting along here as well is practicable (perhaps possible)—Mrs. Davis3 is & has always been good & kind & willing ready to cook any thing I wish—& always genial & respectful—I now feel & have always felt to have her mind for me as long as I live—Rec'd word f'm NA Rev4: that my piece will not be printed (as at first announced) in Jan: number5—some hitch—what exactly we may or may not find out.—sold two books yesterday6—suppose you rec'd the Eng'g Record (with obituary7 of my dear brother Jeff8)—& the Chester (Eng:) paper9 I sent—Have heard nothing more of late f'm Stoddart10 (Lippincott's11) or Talcott Williams12 (the Ingersoll13 talk14)—2½ pm the sun is out again

Dec: 19 am—Fine & sunny out—cold—Wm Ingram15 here—all well with him—yr's of 17th rec'd16 & welcomed—feeling poorly enough this forenoon—head bad, belly ditto—pain (dots of sort o' spasms) in left breast heart region—

7 pm—Easier three hours or so—Mrs. D at my request made me a big cup of hot tea early in middle of afternoon, wh I sipp'd, drank & enjoyed & a sort of mild sweat follow'd. At any rate I am easier—H T17 here this evn'g—has seen Stoddart (Lippincott's) who wants (proposes) to make his March number what he calls a Whitman number with articles (some of mine, with name) & picture18

Dec: 20 noon—fine sunny day—pains in left breast, with lancinating dashes—am sitting here writing—Merry Christmas to you to Mrs. B19 and to all the childer

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. | Dec 20 | 6PM | 90; Philadelphia, P.A.| DEC | 20 | 730 PM | 1890 | Transit; Buffalo, N.Y. | DE | 21 | 11AM | 1890 | Transit; London | DE22 | 9[0] | Canada. [back]

2. See Bucke's letter to Whitman of December 16, 1890[back]

3. 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]

4. 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. Whitman's friend James Redpath joined the North American Review as managing editor in 1886. After Rice's death, Lloyd Bryce (1852–1915) became owner and editor. At the time of this letter, William Rideing (1853–1918) was assistant editor of the magazine. [back]

5. 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]

6. Whitman records in his Commonplace Book that two books had been purchased by a "Mr. Sheppard," a family friend of Thomas Harned, Whitman's literary executor (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

7. In his November 28, 1890 letter to Bucke, Whitman tells of the passing of his brother Jeff in St. Louis from typhoid pneumonia. The Engineering Record (New York) of December 13, 1890, contained an obituary of Thomas Jefferson Whitman, which Whitman wrote and reprinted in Good-Bye My Fancy (1891). [back]

8. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff eventually became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized figure. For more on Jeff, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. As yet we have no information about this publication. [back]

10. Joseph Marshall Stoddart (1845–1921) published Stoddart's Encyclopaedia America, established Stoddart's Review in 1880, which was merged with The American in 1882, and became the editor of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1886. On January 11, 1882, Whitman received an invitation from Stoddart through J. E. Wainer, one of his associates, to dine with Oscar Wilde on January 14 (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 235n). [back]

11. 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]

12. 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]

13. 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]

14. In his December 8–9, 1890, letter to Bucke, Whitman noted that Talcott Williams of the Philadelphia Press had a stenographer present at Whitman's birthday celebration at Reisser's Restaurant in Philadelphia on May 31, 1889. The main speaker that evening was Col. Robert Ingersoll, who also had a conversation with Whitman on the subject of immortality—a conversation that the stenographer transcribed. Williams planned to type up the conversation and send copies to Whitman; however, in a December 16, 1890, letter to Williams, Whitman informed the editor that he had not yet received the typed conversation. [back]

15. William Ingram, a Quaker, kept a tea store—William Ingram and Son Tea Dealers—in Philadelphia. Of Ingram, Whitman observed to Horace Traubel: "He is a man of the Thomas Paine stripe—full of benevolent impulses, of radicalism, of the desire to alleviate the sufferings of the world—especially the sufferings of prisoners in jails, who are his protégés" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, May 20, 1888). Ingram and his wife visited the physician Richard Maurice Bucke and his family in Canada in 1890. [back]

16. This letter has not been located. [back]

17. 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]

18. Joseph Marshall Stoddart, editor of Lippincott's, wrote to Whitman regarding plans to feature a Whitman page in the magazine on October 10, 1890. The March issue of Lippincott's in 1891 (Volume 47, pages 376–389) 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," Horace Traubel's "Walt Whitman: The Poet and Philosopher of Man," and "The Old Man Himself. A Postscript." [back]

19. 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]


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