Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 4 December 1886

Date: December 4, 1886

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07037

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), 30–31. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

[London, Ontario]
4 Dec [188]6

My dear Walt

The "After All" parcel1 came to hand last evening to my great relief for I had almost given it up and had written to Washington about it. I see it was returned to you for more stamps. Thank you very much for the new (1886) portrait,2 I like it very much & thanks too for the facsimile letter with English list of contributors.3 I have the Centenial ed. both of L of G. & 2 Riv. (sent on last order) but nothing further so far. You know I asked you also for L. of G. author's Ed. 1882—also current Ed. of L. of G. & specimen days, also for any thing you might have and be willing to part with earlier than 1870—

By the way I want, both '71 and '72 L of G. but I do not think you have them. I have sent to McKay4 for some portraits for Harry Forman5 and myself and have told McKay when he has them collected to send them over to you to be signed and dated. I hope you will kindly do this for me. Is the new portrait for "Autumn Boughs"? and are you thinking of bringing that book out soon.6 I hope so. Do not forget that you are to be ready to move in May bag & baggage & make your calculations accordingly. Mercury fell to zero here this morning, a lovely bright morning—good sleighing here now. Remember me very kindly to Mrs Stafford & all the family when you see them—Has Harry had his neck attended to yet?7

Please send on the book as soon as convenient.

Always Affectionately
R M 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. The parcel contained two sets of proof sheets for After All, Not to Create Only and photographs of Whitman. Both copies of the bound proofs are in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

2. This portrait is unidentified. [back]

3. William Michael Rossetti distributed a facsimile of Whitman's letter to him of May 30, 1886, in which the poet thanked his English friends for gifts totalling £155. Among those who contributed were Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson. [back]

4. David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–2. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the publisher Whitman had originally contracted with for publication of the volume, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, and Complete Prose Works. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Henry "Harry" Buxton Forman (1842–1917) was a British man-of-letters, an editor of and authority on the works of Keats and Shelley, and, starting in 1887, a conspirator in literary forgeries that were exposed after his death. The correspondence at this time between Bucke and Forman makes it clear that Bucke was also building up Forman's collection of Whitman materials (D. B. Weldon Library, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario). [back]

6. Traubel brought Whitman the first batch of copies of November Boughs for distribution to friends on October 4, 1888 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, October 4, 1888). [back]

7. Whitman's relations with the Stafford family of Kirkwood, New Jersey, especially with Harry Stafford, are perceptively described by Miller (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., Walt Whitman: The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 4:2–9). Harry had recently had a throat operation. For a summary of Whitman's relationship to the Staffords, 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). For a further discussion of Harry Stafford, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Stafford, Harry L. (b.1858)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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