Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 13 October 1888

Date: October 13, 1888

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:222. 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.07525

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

Saturday P M
Oct: 13 '881

Yours came this mn'g—welcome as always—the photo has not come yet2—Thankful & even exulting that you are satisfied with Nov: Boughs3 inward & outward—It is upon the whole what I wanted & planned, especially the "Backwards Road" piece (as O'C[onnor]4 says "that's what I deliberately said, & I stand by it")—with that, & Nov. B. & probably all I have uttered, I have a considerate eye not at all to itself alone, but to its place with all the rest I have uttered, & also to the future & permanency—many sharp readers might not think so, but I have—Don't make much calculation of the complete Vol.5 It will be I hope a respectable looking piece of typography &c. but nothing to brag of—but it authenticates probably better than any thing yet—there were several errors hitherto—not serious perhaps but errors—all these have of course been corrected, & as I look over the pp. there appears not to be any typographical or any other blemish—(I am quite sure of that with L of G. throughout)—& there will be five or six likenesses from life—& autograph—Then this ensemble idea haunts me till I get it realized in an identity volume6

I am a little fearful ab't our dear O'C—eagerly look for word7—Matters so so with me—good bowel clearance to-day—word from my friend Linton8 from Eng[land] to-day—he is well—Shall have some oysters for my dinner ab't 4—made my breakfast of a big roast apple & some Graham bread—the sun is out—

Walt Whitman

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. | Oct 14 | 5 PM | 88. [back]

2. According to his letter to Whitman of September 30, 1888, Richard Maurice Bucke explained that he had his picture taken because John H. Johnston had requested "a likeness of myself to be used in an article on 'Walt and his friends.'" He sent the portrait with his letter to Whitman of October 11, 1888[back]

3. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, he made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

6. On August 3, 1889, Whitman wrote to Bucke about the possibility of printing a select group of photos on uniform cards and arranging them in "a good handsome fitting envelope (? perhaps album)." At this time he even wrote up instructions to the printer specifying a run of 200 copies with gilt labeling and the title Pictures from life of WW. The project, like many others in Whitman's final years, was never completed (though a smaller edition of six portraits in a ribbon-tied envelope did appear in 1889). [back]

7. On October 9, 1888, O'Connor wrote: "My eye is now under battery treatment (assault-and-battery treatment, you would think to look at it!)." [back]

8. Whitman is referring to a letter he received from the wood-engraver William J. Linton on October 3, 1888. See also Whitman's September 13, 1888, letter to Linton. [back]


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