Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 2 January 1889

Date: January 2, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00618

Source: The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:261. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Caterina Bernardini, Stefan Schöberlein, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden1
noon
Jan: 2 '89

Every thing keeps on with even way. A slight head ache, or muddled condition. Y'r "impromptu criticism" letter corrected has been furnished me by the printer after all, & I will send you 15 copies2—The cards in the little envelope are my dear friend Mrs: Harned3 & the new baby boy's, Herbert Spencer H[arned]4—both are flourishing tip-top. Tom H.5 comes every day—my brother George6 also—my sister Lou7 has just visited me this mn'g—Y'r letter came this mn'g—The Boston Trans[script] (Kennedy)8 has a ¶ (Dec: 29) merely narrating that the big Vol. is printed & out—I have taken up & find myself curious enough, perhaps interested, to probably go thro' Tolstoi's9 "Confessions"10—a strange product of our time, from Russia there—it is natural certainly, but morbific—a sort of Jack the Ripper treatment applied to himself—it is autobiographic of course—pathologic—

It grows cloudy & cooler—have had my ice cream & milk—your good letter of Dec: 31 comes11—yes "hurrah for 89!"—letter rec'd from J H Johnston12—his new store Christmas sales reach'd $45000—I have just scribbled a little 10-line poemet I think I'll sent to Century13—Am sitting here alone by the wood fire—


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 R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden (?) | Jan 2 | 6 AM | 89. [back]

2. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of December 27, 1888[back]

3. Augusta Anna Traubel Harned (1856–1914) was Horace Traubel's sister. She married Thomas Biggs Harned, a lawyer in Philadelphia and, later, one of Whitman's literary executors. [back]

4. The card announced the child's birth on December 2, 1888 (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

5. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel, was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted in 1861 and remained on active duty until the end of the Civil War. He was wounded in the First Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Poplar Grove (September 1864). As a Civil War correspondent, Walt wrote warmly about George's service, such as in "Our Brooklyn Boys in the War" (January 5, 1863); "A Brooklyn Soldier, and a Noble One" (January 19, 1865); "Return of a Brooklyn Veteran" (March 12, 1865); and "Our Veterans Mustering Out" (August 5, 1865). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with partner Mr. Smith and later a mason named French. George also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. Walt and George lived together for several years in Camden, but when Walt decided not to move with George and his wife Louisa in 1884, a rift occurred that was ultimately not mended before Walt's 1892 death. For more information on George Washington Whitman, see Martin G. Murray, "Whitman, George Washington," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," married Walt's brother George Whitman on April 14, 1871. Their son, Walter Orr Whitman, was born in 1875 but died the following year. A second son was stillborn. Walt lived in Camden, New Jersey, with George and Louisa from 1873 until 1884, when George and Louisa moved to a farm outside of Camden and Whitman decided to stay in the city. Louisa and Walt had a warm relationship during the poet's final decades. For more, see Karen Wolfe, "Whitman, Louisa Orr Haslam (Mrs. George) (1842–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828–1910) was a Russian realist writer of novels, plays, short stories and novellas. [back]

10. Tolstoy's A Confession is a short autobiographical treatise with a focus on religious and philosophical issues. It was first published in 1882. [back]

11. See Bucke's letter to Whitman of December 31, 1888. [back]

12. John H. Johnston (1837–1919) was a New York jeweler and close friend of Whitman. Johnston was also a friend of Joaquin Miller (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1915], 2:139). Whitman visited the Johnstons for the first time early in 1877. In 1888 he observed to Horace Traubel: "I count [Johnston] as in our inner circle, among the chosen few" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, October 3, 1888). See also Johnston's letter about Whitman, printed in Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1915), 149–174. For more on Johnston, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder" Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

13. Century published "Old Age's Ship & Crafty Death's" in February, 1890. Whitman was paid $12 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]


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