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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 8 November 1890


Fine sunny day mild—was out in wheel chair2 two hours yesterday 12 to 2—sick but expect to go out a little—bad grip & gastric & bladder trouble—y'r letters rec'd3—See you dont like "Old Poets"4—it don't am't to much any how—sent off another article "National Literature"5 (!!) to North A Rev.6 last evn'g—ab't same style—am having 100 complete works bound up same style as the first (boards) with printed back-label & ab't 200 folded in sheets (with plates, autos, &c: all complete in sets) & tied & stored away—send you copy of Truth Seeker with Ing's7 lecture,8 complete (& appears correct & full)9—hear f'm Kennedy,10 is all right, & with Trans the same11—enclose Logan Smith's12 last to me13—had a lively gent visitor day before yesterday f'm Eng.14 gives a strong acc't of L of G receptivity & popularity am'g choice circles, students, (the big colleges) & younger folk there—middle aged man very gentlemanly & pleasant—

Horace15 is well, is invaluable & faithful to me—I am tickled hugely with the election16 ("Do you think the common people are logs or boulders" said a first rate lady friend Mrs. E L Rose17 to me once in N Y, anent old French Revo)—A bad head and belly ache as I end this—the children are playing & laughing in the street—

Walt Whitman  loc_zs.00128.jpg  loc_zs.00129.jpg

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. | Nov 8 | 430 PM | 90, London | AM | NO 10 | [illegible]0 | Canada, NY | 11-8-90 | 1130 PM. [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. See Bucke's letter of November 2, 1890. [back]
  • 4. On October 3, 1890, Whitman had accepted an invitation to write for The North American Review. He sent them "Old Poets," the first of a two-part prose contribution, on October 9. "Old Poets" was published in the November 1890 issue of the magazine, and Whitman's "Have We a National Literature?" was published in the March 1891 issue. [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. 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]
  • 7. 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 Horace 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" (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]
  • 8. On October 21, 1890, at Horticultural Hall in Philadelphia, Robert Ingersoll delivered a lecture in honor of Walt Whitman titled Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman. Whitman recorded in his Commonplace Book that the lecture was "a noble, (very eulogistic to WW & L of G) eloquent speech, well responded to by the audience," and the speech itself was published in New York by the Truth Seeker Company in 1890 (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]). [back]
  • 9. Whitman noted in his Commonplace Book the receipt of 30 copies of The Truth Seeker, which printed Ingersoll's "Testimonial to Walt Whitman" on November 1 (Volume 17 [1890], 690–693 and 700). See Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. [back]
  • 10. 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]
  • 11. See Kennedy's letter of November 3, 1890. [back]
  • 12. Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946) was an essayist and literary critic. He was the son of Robert Pearsall Smith, a minister and writer who befriended Whitman, and he was the brother of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, one of Whitman's most avid followers. For more information on Logan, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Logan Pearsall (1865–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 13. Logan Smith wrote from Oxford on October 27, 1890 at the beginning of the college year. [back]
  • 14. Gleeson White, an Englishman whom Whitman described as a "middle-aged man very gentlemanly & pleasant," visited Whitman in Camden on November 4, 1890, and gave the poet a "strong acc't of L of G receptivity and popularity" in England See Daybooks & Notebooks, ed. William White (New York: New York University Press, 1978), 2:575. White had requested permission to visit in his letter of November 2, 1890. [back]
  • 15. 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). [back]
  • 16. The 1890 election was held during Republican President Benjamin Harrison's term of office. Republicans suffered major losses, with Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives, but with Republicans hanging onto control of the Senate. The Populist Party had some surprising successes, electing two U.S. Senators. [back]
  • 17. Ernestine L. Rose (1810–1892) is regarded as one of the earliest advocates of women's enfranchisement in America and is remembered as a suffragist, abolitionist, and feminist. Rose's comment to Whitman describing French revolutionists as being wood or stone is a line that Whitman uses in Leaves of Grass in his 1860 poem, "France, The 18th Year of These States." For more on Rose's relationship to Whitman, see Sherry Ceniza's Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1998). [back]
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