Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 22 September 1888

Date: September 22, 1888

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:214–215. 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.07530

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

Saturday noon
Sept. 22 '881

Still here in my big chair in the sick room yet—a coolish wave to-day, but pleasant enough—John Burroughs2 has been to see me, the good hearty affectionate nature-scented fellow, very welcome3—he left yesterday en route to visit Johnson4 (Century staff) at Sea Girt, on the N J sea coast—J B lodged at Tom Harned's,5 & T H and Horace6 liked him muchly—J B is not so hardy & brown & stout as formerly—that bad fiend insomnia haunts him as of old—he thinks himself it affects his literary power, (style, even matter)—Horace told him my half-suspicion that his association with the superciliousness & sort o' vitriolic veneering of the New York literati had eat into him, but he denied & pooh-pooh'd it—attributed it to his bad health, insomnia &c—said he knew himself he could not (or did not) write with the vim of his better days—(probably makes more acc't of that by far, than really is)—

I expect to get a specimen copy of November Boughs7 from the binder this evening—Shall not feel out of the woods & all safe, until I see the October Century, with my Army Hospital piece printed—accepted & paid for by them two years ago—as I consider myself obligated not to print from it until it has been first published by them—(But I have heard they give it—intend to—in the Oct. number)—

Afternoon—Horace comes with spec[imen] of Nov: B bound for sample—it is satisfactory—looks plain, larger than expected—I give an order or two changing the lettering on cover, &c.—the picture printing gives satisfaction—In fact all will do—("Only think" said the Irish girl "what ye'd said if it was ever so worser")—I have been expecting Alma Johnston8 of N Y to-day (or yesterday)—but no sign—a dear & prized friend—"good roots" for the meter9 (slang from N Y vagabonds, for favorable prophecy)—It gets cooler & I have donn'd my big blue wool overgown—as I end with love & thanks to you—

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. | Sep 22 | 8 PM | 88. [back]

2. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Burroughs was in Camden on September 19 and 20. In his journal he wrote of their farewell: "He presses my hand long and tenderly; we kiss and part, probably for the last time. I think he has in his own mind given up the fight, and awaits the end" (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1931], 283). [back]

4. Robert Underwood Johnson (1853–1937) was on the staff of The Century Magazine from 1873 to 1913, and was U. S. ambassador to Italy in 1920 and 1921. Whitman included in this letter a news release based on an interview printed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on October 17, in which he criticized Bryant, Whittier, and Longfellow (reprinted in American Literature, 14 [1942–1943], 144–147). See also Johnson, Remembered Yesterdays (Boston: Little, Brown, 1923), 336, and Specimen Days, ed. Floyd Stovall (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 167. [back]

5. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel, was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. 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 mid-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]

7. 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]

8. Alma Calder Johnston was an author and the second wife of John H. Johnston. For more on the Johnstons, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder" (Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. In his letter of September 20, 1888, Bucke, expressed great confidence in the water meter he was developing—"we expect to astonish the Water Works people." [back]


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