Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 17 August 1888

Date: August 17, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00536

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial notes: The annotations, "[Gables?] Here is a Bucke letter which you may stick into the proper place of my vol 2 With W.W. in Camden H.T.: 1909.," and "See notes Aug 20 1888," are in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Jeannette Schollaert, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

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Superintendent's Office.1
London, Ont.,
17 Aug 1888

I have today your letter of 14th enclosing p. 110 with portrait of E.H.2 I have the book3 complete now from p. 5 to p 140 both inclusive. Your idea seems to be to sell Nov. Boughs at a reasonable price, and for a special vol. get up the Complete works4 all in one cover. I like this notion, think it is the best plan altogether and hope you will carry it out. The big vol. should contain several portraits of yourself and perhaps other illustrations (why not use the phototypes of your father & mother that Gutekunst got up for my book?)—Should have (each copy) an actual autograph. I wish you would use the little introductory poem to "As a strong bird" and sign it—no lithograph—and number each copy as you sell it. The paper should be very good hand made but rather thin so as not to make the vol. too bulky—wide margins—uncut edges except the top which should be gilt—the cover should be best cloth, green, with a sprig of grass & flowers in gold on the back below the title. Book to be sold only by yourself for $10.

I like the "N.B." (and especially the "Sands" & "E.H.") more and more (,the "Backward Glance" and "Last of War Cases" about as valuable) I think the little vol. a most admirable contribution.5—Pardee6 is back from the Sea7 side, very little better I fear. I expect to go to Sarnia tomorrow to spend Sunday with him.

Your friend
RM Bucke

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: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey | U.S.A. It is postmarked: LONDON | PM | AU 17 | 88 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | AUG | 19 | 1PM | 1888 | REC'D. [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. Bucke is referring to Whitman's November Boughs, which would be published in October 1888. Whitman was having friends help him read proofs for this book. For more on its publication and reception, see November Boughs [1888][back]

4. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman 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, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

5. The short titles Bucke lists here are all parts of November Boughs— a collection of poems called "Sands at Seventy" and essays titled "Elias Hicks, Notes (such as they are)," "A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads," and "Last of the War Cases." [back]

6. Timothy Blair Pardee (1830–1889) was a Canadian lawyer and politician, member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontaria, Canada, and Minister of the Crown. Pardee appointed Richard Maurice Bucke, with whom he was a close friend, as the Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in Hamilton at its founding in 1876, and then the next year as Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in London. For more on Pardee, see H. V. Nelles, "Pardee, Timothy Blair," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Vol. 11 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982). [back]

7. This letter is continued at the top of the first page. [back]


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