Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 21 July 1888
Date: July 21, 1888
Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:189–190. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.07486
Contributors to digital file: Ryan Furlong, Alex Ashland, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock
Saturday PM July 21 '88
Rather an easier day—the Doctor, young Mitchell,2 has call'd— weather pleasant—bowel action very favorably for three consecutive days —(no drugs)—Mrs: Stafford3 visited me yesterday, very acceptable— broil'd or stewed chicken yesterday—& this morning's breakfast—"Nov: Boughs" has stretch'd to 104 pages corrected—If "Elias Hicks"4 fragments get into a paper it may reach to ab't 120—remain in good spirits—
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 R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jul 21 | 8 PM | 88; Philadelphia | Jul | 21 | 9 PM | 1888 | Transit. [back]
2. Dr. John Kearsley Mitchell II (1859–1935) was the son of S. Weir Mitchell, the noted American physician and writer of historical fiction; the young Mitchell looked in on Whitman when his regular physician, William Osler, was unavailable. Whitman was not overly impressed with the Mitchells: "The young man Mitchell did not take me by storm—he did not impress me. I start off with a prejudice against doctors anyway. I know J. K.'s father somewhat—Weir: he is of the intellectual type—a scholar, writer, and all that: very good—an adept: very important in his sphere—a little bitter I should say—a little bitter—touched just a touch by the frosts of culture, society, worldliness—as how few are not!" (Horace Traubel With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, July 12, 1888). [back]
3. Susan M. Stafford was the mother of Harry Stafford, who, in 1876, became a close friend of Whitman while working at the printing office of the Camden New Republic. Whitman regularly visited the Staffords at their family farm near Kirkwood, New Jersey. Whitman enjoyed the atmosphere and tranquility that the farm provided and would often stay for weeks at a time (see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998], 685). [back]
4. Elias Hicks (1748–1830) was a Quaker from Long Island whose controversial teachings led to a split in the Religious Society of Friends in 1827, a division that was not resolved until 1955. Hicks had been a friend of Whitman's father and grandfather, and Whitman himself was a supporter and proponent of Hicks's teachings, writing about him in Specimen Days (see "Reminiscence of Elias Hicks") and November Boughs (see "Elias Hicks, Notes (such as they are)"). For more on Hicks and his influence on Whitman, see David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Knopf, 1995), 37–39. [back]
5. Whitman described his nurse, W. A. Musgrove, as "kind active & considerate all through" (See the letter from Whitman to Bucke of November 3–4, 1888). [back]
6. 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]
7. On July 9–10 Rhys had informed Whitman of his arrival in England. [back]