Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 18–19 September 1888

Date: September 18–19, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07528

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 Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 211–212. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

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

9 P M
Sept: 18

Some days now since I have written—but nothing notable or different—rather a bad dull time the last two days—indigestion—bad weather—muggy warm, the air a sort of diluted tar—a promise of better weather hence, this evening—Herbert Gilchrist2 here quite a long while this afternoon—talks well—says his price for that portrait of me is 300 pounds—studio (& address) 1708 Chestnut St. Phila—Harry Stafford3 here too to-day, he is hard at work (printing & his RR position)—looks well—physique—Horace4 regular—the books proceeding—Baker comes occasionally—no news yet of Ostler5 here—

Wednesday noon Sept: 19 '88

Feeling perceptibly better—fair bowel motion—(I take calomel powders)—has been dark moist bad forenoon but just now the sun is out good—the enclosed letter is from Logan Smith6—& the Herald extract is from Habberton (staff H[erald])7—I am sitting here in my big chair pretty comfortable considering—as I close—

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. This letter is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Sep 19 | 8 PM | 88. [back]

2. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Walt Whitman met the 18-year-old Harry Lamb Stafford (1858–1918) in 1876, beginning a relationship which was almost entirely overlooked by early Whitman scholarship, in part because Stafford's name appears nowhere in the first six volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden—though it does appear frequently in the last three volumes, which were published only in the 1990s. Whitman occasionally referred to Stafford as "My (adopted) son" (as in a December 13, 1876, letter to John H. Johnston), but the relationship between the two also had a romantic, erotic charge to it. In 1883, Harry married Eva Westcott. For further discussion of 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]

4. 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 late 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]

5. Sir William Osler (1849–1919) was a Canadian physician and one of the four founding staff members of Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he served as the first Chief of Medicine. Richard Maurice Bucke introduced Osler to Whitman in 1885 in order to care for the aging poet. Osler wrote a manuscript about his personal and professional relationship with Whitman in 1919; see Philip W. Leon, Walt Whitman and Sir William Osler: A Poet and His Physician [Toronto: ECW Press, 1995]). For more on Osler, see Philip W. Leon, "Osler, Dr. William (1849–1919)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on the relationship of Osler and Whitman, see Michael Bliss, William Osler: A Life in Medicine (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999). [back]

6. Logan Smith wrote a letter from Wales on September 7, 1888[back]

7. See Whitman's September 6, 1888, letter to the New York Herald. (See also Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, September 19, 1888). About this time Bennett himself dropped a line to the poet: "Herald wanted to do you a favor by early notice of your new book. Sorry you didn't get the idea." On September 23, in an article entitled "Walt Whitman's Words," a Herald reporter, probably John Habberton, quoted the following from his "notes of Whitman's opinions, which were revised by him": "I am an old bachelor who never had a love affair. Nature supplied the place of a bride, with suffering to be nursed and scenes[?] to be poetically clothed." Walt Whitman denied that he had revised the article (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, September 28, 1888 and Wednesday, October 3, 1888). Despite the inaccuracies, the poet found the piece "friendly"; (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, September 26, 1888, Thursday, September 27, 1888, Tuesday, October 9, 1888, and Friday, October 12, 1888). [back]


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