Skip to main content

Horace Traubel to Walt Whitman, 11 June 1891

 loc_vm.00636_large.jpg Dear Walt—

Your letter of 7th & 8th came yesterday afternoon2 & this morn Doctor3 recieved a postal written on the 9th.4 We are happy to learn  loc_vm.00637_large.jpg that you continue well. I am busy as a bee today over my reprint.5 The letters will have to be cut badly6—even Symonds'7—and all we can promise ourselves is this—that some other way may be found eventually to make  loc_vm.00638_large.jpg full use of them. I feel to not use Kennedy's8 at all on account of the mention of Christianity in a way that would excite Stoddart's9 alarm. I may modify this intention but at the present moment feel it strongly. I have to thank  loc_vm.00639_large.jpg you again & again for the papers. They are daylight after this darkness of Canadian localism. Things pass in happiness. Dark day today—tomorrow we aim to have a long drive.

Goodbye! The mail waits! Horace  loc_vm.00634_large.jpg  loc_vm.00635_large.jpg

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 late 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).


  • 1. At the time of this letter, Horace Traubel and his wife Anne Mongomerie, were visiting the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke at Bucke's home in London, Ontario, Canada. The couple returned to Camden, New Jersey, on June 14. [back]
  • 2. This letter has not been located. [back]
  • 3. 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). [back]
  • 4. See Whitman's postal card to Bucke of June 9, 1891. [back]
  • 5. Traubel is referring to his article "Walt Whitman's Birthday, May 31, 1891," which offered a detailed account of Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday celebration at the poet's home on Mickle Street. Traubel's article was published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in August 1891. [back]
  • 6. Traubel's piece in Lippincott's records many of the comments made at Whitman's last birthday dinner, but Traubel notes on the first page of his article that "for lack of space much that is valuable must be omitted," and, while he records the reading of some of the letters that were sent for Whitman's birthday, including John Addington Symonds's letter, he omits others, including William Sloane Kennedy's. [back]
  • 7. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," 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 the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 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. 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]
Back to top