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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 30–31 January 1891


Friday, sunset—Just finish'd supper—toasted bread & stew'd tomatoes & tea (had a nice steak & egg, but did not touch them) appetite fair—sweating—fair bowel action last evn'g, (after four or five days' stoppage)—upon the whole statu quo, if anything easier than lately—my article does not appear in Feb: N A Rev2—still anticipate the pieces in Lippincotts3 but we will wait & see (Stoddart4 I guess is friendly to me, but publishers generally are cold—or worse)—Suppose you rec'd the good photo cards I sent—hope you will like them as I do—am getting the little 2d annex5 in printerial shape—I like to get it & put it like tanners' skins in soak awhile I suppose—it will be very brief & most of the pieces you have seen already—the days are lengthening—here as I write by daylight it is ½ past 5

Col: Ingersoll6 & his chief clerks have gone off to Montana to take hand in a big will case—see this item7

A Fight Over an Estate of $13,000,000.

HELENA, Mont. Jan. 30.—The fight over Banker Davis' $13,000,000 commenced in earnest yesterday, the new issue being the will alleged to have been made by the late millionaire and recently found in Iowa. The New York and Illinois contesting heirs claim it is a forgery, and urge that it not be admitted. Argument on this motion commenced this morning. Nathaniel Myers, of New York, and Robert Ingersoll are among counsel.

I have sent a few of his Phila: address to friends—have you some?—had a letter f'm Lezinsky,8 my California (?Jewish) friend—

Jan: 31 just before noon—very light breakfast—cup of tea & a small graham biscuit—pretty fair night last—uneasy stomachic condition—thirsty—the Feb: Century comes & I have been looking over it—rather interesting—dark dampish day—did I tell you Ernest Rhys9 is married?—headache as I write—am sitting here same—Warry10 is downstairs practising on his fiddle—

God bless you all Walt Whitman  loc_zs.00246.jpg  loc_zs.00247.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. | Jan 31 | 3 PM | 91; LONDON | AM | FE 2 | 91 | CANADA. The verso of the envelope includes the faint outline of a third postmark, but it is entirely illegible. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. In March 1891, Lippincott's published "Old Age Echoes," a cycle of four poems including "Sounds of the Winter," "The Unexpress'd," "Sail Out for Good, Eidólon Yacht," and "After the Argument," accompanied by an extensive autobiographical note called "Some Personal and Old-Age Memoranda." [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy" in Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. The newspaper article pasted on the page at this point refers to a legal suit over an estate worth $13,000,000 and names Ingersoll as one of the lawyers involved in the case. [back]
  • 8. David L. Lezinsky was an 1884 graduate of the University of California, who wrote poetry and visited Whitman on May 13, 1890, while setting out on a trip to California. Whitman wrote letters to him and sent him a copy of his Complete Poems & Prose, but there is minimal information about what his "proposition" to Whitman was, and he remains something of a mystery. Whitman related his impressions of Lezinsky to Horace Traubel, saying of Lezinsky, "The tone of the man—his startling propositions, all confound me. As I understand, he comes from California, must have money, has become possessed of ideas about Walt Whitman. Today he went off to Washington, to be back again in several days. Why, Horace, you have no idea of the exuberance of the man: he talks of buying all my books, of buying a share in the copyrights, paying me several thousand dollars, having me write no more but by consultation with him: a series of surprising stipulations" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, May 13, 1890). See Whitman's letters to Bucke of June 5, 1890 and to Lezinsky of October 28, 1890. [back]
  • 9. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 10. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. A picture of Warry is displayed in the May 1891 New England Magazine (278). See Joann P. Krieg, "Fritzinger, Frederick Warren (1866–1899)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 240. [back]
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