Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 24 July 1888

Date: July 24, 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), 4:191–192. 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.07646

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

July 24 '881

Better quite perceptibly—fluctuating considerable, with bad days or hours—but a general and prevailing improvement—

—I have put together the Elias Hicks2 fragments & last night sent off the "paper" to the printer—not knowing how it will look in print—but with some fear & trembling—then three or so pages (all done now) on George Fox3—evolutionary on the E[lias] H[icks] piece—& the Nov. Boughs4 will be done—will make from 120 to 130 (or possibly 135) pages—(those solid long primer pages eat up the copy at a terribly rate!)—I have not worried at it—& do not5—indeed it has probably been more benefit to me than hurt—I have been unspeakably helped by Horace Traubel6—& by the best printers I have ever yet had—The Century people have just sent me again my Army Hospitals & Cases proof7—I judge it is intended for the October number—bowel movements continue every day or other day—I take no drugs at all—have not moved from my room yet—keep good spirits—young Dr. Mitchell8 has just come—weather pleasant continued—warmish but I am satisfied—Tom Harned9 comes every day, often bringing his nice always welcome children—

2 pm—y'rs of 22d has come—I have enjoy'd a partial wash

Walt Whitman

I send you proof pp 97 to 104 inclusive10—as I understand you have all preceding—

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 to: Dr R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jul 24 | 8 PM | 88. [back]

2. 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]

3. George Fox (1624–1691), an English dissenter, was a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, a group that came to be known as Quakers. [back]

4. 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]

5. On July 22, 1888 Bucke had offered advice that Whitman, characteristically, rejected: "I wish you wd hand over the balance of the M.S. to Traubel to do the best he could with it. It is not good for you to be trying at it and failing—you ought to let it go and forget it as soon as possible. In your present state you would not do any good with the Hicks if you did go through it. Let Traubel have it and tell him to alter nothing except where necessary to make sense and connection, and let it be printed and the book brought to an end." [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 could not publish November Boughs (1888) until after the appearance of "Army and Hospital Cases" in the October issue of Century (see also Whitman's September 22, 1888, letter to Richard Maurice Bucke). [back]

8. During Dr. William Osler's absence, beginning on July 8, Whitman was attended by Dr. J. K. Mitchell, son of S. Weir Mitchell (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, July 8, 1888). For Whitman's opinion of the young man, see Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, July 12, 1888[back]

9. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel (1856–1914), 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). For more on his relationship with Whitman, see Thomas Biggs Harned, Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]

10. Whitman was at this time reading proofs for November Boughs and asking friends to read them as well. [back]


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